15th January 2015

Car-Free In Leeds

One of our customers, Rob Greenland, from Leeds – a place that once billed itself as The Motorway City of the 70s – sent us this inspiring piece about learning to live without the convenience of car ownership.

If you have a similar tale about going car free, email it to promotions@edinburghbicycycle.com and we’ll consider publishing it on this blog.

It’s over three years now since we made the decision as a family to get rid of our car. And one thing’s for sure – we wouldn’t still be car-free if it wasn’t for our bikes.

My commuter bike – a Revolution Courier

My commuter bike – a Revolution Courier

We sold our car in October 2011 – having made a conscious decision 18 months previously to reduce the number of journeys we made by car as much as we could.

There were a few reasons why we wanted to drive less. There was a green motive – we were wanting to explore how to reduce our carbon footprint. And there were other factors too – a vague desire to try to live a bit differently – not constantly ferrying our son around in the back of the car – whilst also wanting to save a bit of money.

So during 2010 we made an effort to leave the car on the drive – and take the bus or train instead. I also got out on my bike more. We still drove a fair bit – but in 2010 instead of doing 10,000 miles (as we’d consistently done in previous years) we drove around 7000. The gradual shift in how we got around had begun.

We moved house early in 2011. A bit by luck, a bit by design, we ended up somewhere within walking distance of my son’s school, and close to a few decent bus routes. As a result the car stayed on the drive even more – and we began to think about selling it.

We eventually went car-free in October 2011 – hiring cars when we needed them, instead of owning one. So how have we got on? I’ve written a fair bit on my blog over the last three years, but in summary we’re pretty much agreed that it’s one of the best decisions we’ve taken as a family.

All the clichéd stuff is true. We now do more stuff locally – like walking or cycling to our local shops instead of driving to the supermarket. We walk to the local park – rather than driving to the bigger one a couple of miles away. And whilst I wouldn’t pretend we’re friends with everyone on our street, we now know more of our neighbours – because we walk or cycle up our street a few times a day – and have a chance to say hello.

More than anything, selling the car has got me out on my bike a lot more. I’ve always been a pretty keen cyclist – but mainly at weekends. Now I cycle to work just about every day – and I feel better for it – fitter, happier, less stressed. I cycle because it’s the most convenient way to get around – and, of course, because I can’t just jump into the car – because we haven’t got one sat on the drive any more.

And whilst Leeds really isn’t that great for cycling, I’ve found a pretty decent route to take me the 5 miles to work every day. I really miss it when for whatever reason I can’t ride to work.

And have we saved money? In short, yes. I know this because I’ve kept track of everything we’ve spent over the last three years – such as bus fares, car hire, fuel, bikes and bike maintenance. And here’s how things have changed:

Travel costs graph

You can see how we now spend far less on hiring cars – in 2014 we spent 50% less on car hire and fuel than we did in 2012. At the same time we’ve spent more on bikes each year – in fact last year we spent nearly as much on bikes as we did on cars! This is partly because my son learnt to ride – and also because daily cycling pushed up the amount I spent on getting my bike repaired at a certain bike shop you may have heard of.

I never pretend that everyone can make the same choices that we have as a family. But I hope it shows that choosing to drive less – and ride your bikes more – can bring all sorts of benefits. More than anything, I’m thrilled to see my son embrace cycling as a normal, everyday way to get around his city. That’s got to be a good thing.

Rob’s son Francis riding around Leeds on a #space4cycling ride organised by Leeds Cycling Campaign in December 2014. Photo credit: Steve Jones, Leeds Cycling Campaign http://www.leedscyclingcampaign.co.uk

Rob’s son Francis riding around Leeds on a #space4cycling ride organised by Leeds Cycling Campaign in December 2014. Photo credit: Steve Jones, Leeds Cycling Campaign www.leedscyclingcampaign.co.uk

Rob Greenland is co-director of Leeds social enterprise Leeds Empties. You can find him on Twitter at @TheSocBiz.

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