Car Free in Carrboro

Living without a car in small town NC




Sorry for the radio silence (blog silence?) this week. The election results hit me and the rest of the planning grad student community here pretty hard.

Among the many things on my mind is what the future of transportation planning looks like in the new administration. Streetsblog sums it up in their piece this week, Democrats Who Embrace the Trump Infrastructure Plan are Deluding Themselves. While infrastructure has been a campaign focus, and  make the argument that infrastructure probably means more highways, highway expansions, and projects that appease rural rather than urban voters (although rural appeal isn’t a problem by itself). Essentially, transit and biking/walking improvements will have little political appeal and little incentive for private investment (can’t put a money-generating toll on a bike lane, can you?), and if there are significant federal spending cuts, that leaves us with potentially no funding for transit, biking, or walking projects.

Not sure what that means going forward, but just one more thing to think about.


Even for an enthusiast, learning a new transit system takes time

My dear friend EDT came to stay with me in Carrboro this week while she was in town for a conference. We both had a lot of grad school work to do, but managed to carve out some time to enjoy Carrboro and reminisce over our memories from DC.

Despite my self-identification as a transit enthusiast and general bus-system-know-it-all, when she asked me for the best route to take from Carrboro to the conference center, I had to pause…and look it up.

Full disclosure: I do not take the bus regularly here in North Carolina. Chapel Hill Transit has many, many positive qualities (#1 being that it is free, which EDT had quite a hard time believing), but taking it does not dramatically decrease the time of my “commute” to and from class, so I don’t often take it. Sure, it increases the comfort when it is super hot or rainy or freezing, but I enjoy walking 99% of the time. As a result, I haven’t reached the level of familiarity and comfort with the system that I would have if I was on it every day. I am lucky enough to live close enough to where I “work” that I can walk.

Long story short, I put her on the wrong bus. But EDT is a city-living, transit-taking pro and managed to hop quickly off of her bus and get on the bus behind it after she received my frantic text.

It served as a reminder to me that: 1) getting used to a transit system takes work – either through some dedicated memorization of maps or by putting in the time to take physical transit trips; and 2) for occasional users, this unfamiliarity and resultant fear of taking the wrong route (especially for bus) is an enormous barrier to taking transit.

Trip: Carrboro to Friday Center
Total trip time: 33 minutes, plus a few for the accidental transfer!
Total trip distance: 5 miles
Mode: Bus
Line: CW or J, and transfer to the FCX
Frequency: Between 3-14 minute headways in the morning
Cost: $0
Level of crowding: Moderate
Trip quality: 4 of 5 stars
+ for convenience, speed, and price
– for transfer and no place to sit at bus stop, plus the confusion for the occasional user (some of which was user error)

Try Transit 2016

Remember, September is Try Transit Month! With the recent gas shortage causing long waits at the pump, it’s a good time to try taking transit around the Triangle area. Or, switch to an active mode such as biking or walking, at least for a portion of your trip (which extends the life of your current tank of gas, too). Check out or ask me how!

Car-Free Resources Roundup

I thought it might be useful to compile a list of resources for getting around without a car. These can be helpful even if you own a car! Maybe you want to use transit more, get healthier, experience your community, or you find yourself car-free here in the CH/Carrboro area temporarily. Or maybe you’re here as a visitor! (hint hint)

I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. The area has many transit agencies with great resources, and UNC’s Transportation & Parking department has some great programs, but I’ll re-share them here so they’re all in one place.

Also, I know that lack of experience riding transit (and ensuing anxiety about where you can get to, how to pay the fare, etc.) is a huge barrier to entry for first-time users. Even if you’ve taken the bus or subway in other cities, using a new bus line can be intimidating. Hopefully my perspectives on these resources will help remove some of that anxiety.


My Personal Resources for Car-Freedom

  • Google Maps. This is my first source for transit information in a new area. Other apps are better for real-time arrivals, but this is how I figure out “can I even get from A to B without a car?”
  • Nextbus. This is my #1 app for real-time travel information. It reads your location and shows which bus stops/routes are nearby. Great for when you already know where you’re going, and need to find out when.
  • Zipcar. Zipcar lets you rent a car for a very low hourly rate after paying a yearly membership fee. The one major drawback is that you still pay even when you’re not physically in the car (e.g., you go on a hike) and you have to return at the pick-up location.
  • Lyft. For when you get stranded.
  • Amazon Prime. For groceries or pantry items (e.g., antibacterial wipes) that are bulky or that I buy regularly, I use Amazon Prime to restock. This saves me from having to make a transit trip 18x a week to run out and buy simple non-perishable stuff that I don’t need to see in person. Peapod is a similar concept, but for groceries. I don’t use Peapod because I love going to the grocery store, but people love it.
  • Other car-free tips:
    • Make your trips efficient. Going to the store twice because you forgot something is 10x more frustrating when you have to wait for the bus…for the second time that day. Combine your trips and minimize the back and forth. On the flip side, when I have a long day of class I’ll pack everything I need for the day.
    • Choose the best quality shoes you can afford. I go through shoes very quickly with all of the walking I do. It makes your walk experience a lot better (and your motivation to take active transportation) if your feet don’t hurt all the time.
    • Be prepared for weather. It makes the car-free journey a lot more pleasant if you have a rain jacket, umbrella, rain shoes, or the appropriate cold-weather gear to keep you toasty as you go.
    • Be generous to those who give you rides. This depends on your personality, but when I grab a ride with someone I try to be effusive in my thanks, pay for gas occasionally and/or reimburse them for gas each trip, and offer something in return (cookies!) every once in a while.

Other Official Resources for Taking Transit

Bonus Resource…

So when you don’t own your own car, what do you do about car insurance? In all my digging, the most helpful online dialogue was the Popville post on driver-only car insuranceDisclaimer: Everyone’s insurance situation is unique, and this isn’t a specialty area of mine, but I do think it’s helpful to share what I do know.

I personally don’t have auto insurance, so here’s how I cover myself when I do happen to drive a car:

  • When renting a car: I opt for the supplemental liability protection and the personal accident insurance (~$20 per day). You can get this directly through the rental company at the counter when you pick up the car. Yes, credit cards come with some coverage, but typically only for collision damage – think damage to the car. But if I happen to injure another person, and they sue me for their medical costs, the supplemental liability protection protects me. (Note: how good the protection is, and how much of a pain the process is, remains to be seen, and hopefully I’ll never have to know).
  • When driving a friend’s car: This is sticky depending on their policy and the state. Many policies (like my parents’ policy) cover occasional non-cohabiting drivers. Again this depends on the state as each state has different penalties for driving without insurance of your own, particularly for liability.
  • When driving a roommate’s car: Since I don’t have non-driver insurance of my own, I don’t! Insurance companies will consider a roommate part of your household and require that you’re on their insurance to be covered at all.
  • Zipcar and Car2Go: These include minimal coverage with your use of the shared cars.

If anyone has other info to add about non-driver insurance or how they cover themselves, please add! I’ve been thinking about getting some non-driver insurance of my own, so I’d welcome a dialogue on that.

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