Lessons Learned from 5 Years Car-Free In Santa Fe & Commentary on Systems vs. Personal Change

Saturday’s post republishes a Green Fire Times article by Lena Hakim focusing on the value of personal sacrifice and change in personal behavior as a means of challenging the status quo. I add a few comments, but otherwise let Lena’s article speak for itself.

Today’s Radio Show & Next Week’s Blogs:  Next week’s blog posts will mostly focus on lessons we are learning from the Road Trip. For those who can’t wait, Roxanne and I devoted the entire 30 minutes of the Retake Our Democracy radio show (today at 11 on KSFR 101.1 FM, to our experience in Detroit and Cleveland. If you miss it, check out the podcasts at ksfr.org, go to the programs menu, scroll to ‘podcasts’ and then scroll down to Retake Our Democracy. Saturday’s show should be available by Monday. Sometimes it is posted on Saturday. And remember, that starting on the 28th, our show moves to 8:30am every Saturday where we will follow the Richard Wolff show. 90 minutes of progressive breakfast each Saturday.

Personal Action vs. System Change.  There is no question about it: each of us bears responsibility for our individual contribution to climate change and our disposable economy. Each of us could, by making adjustments in our personal choices, reduce our carbon footprint significantly and in making public those personal choices we can challenge others to make similar changes, creating a cascade of change. Lena Hakim’s article below represents an extreme and admirable commitment to personal change and her observations about five years of living a car-less life in Santa Fe could well trigger in you ideas for you, without going completely car-less, to reduce significantly your use of a personal vehicle.

Is personal sacrifice a sufficient response to climate change? Hakim never asserts that personal sacrifice, even if embraced by millions of others, would be sufficient to addressing climate change.  I don’t think that personal changes in behaviors ultimately will solve climate change and that systemic solutions are much more important. Even with massive, broad adoption of personal changes, the choices made by industrial/manufacturing/farming/extractive industries in their use of water and other resources has an exponentially larger impact on our planet than anything we, as individuals or a movement of individuals can do. Still,  there is much to be learned from those who do make large personal changes in behaviors, as described below. They make us realize that our personal choices do matter and that we are making personal choices all day, every day. Read on.

“Hey all you Climate Change Activists! This article is for YOU!”

As horrifying as the impacts of climate change are, so too is the absolute lack of individual accountability or action in response to this reality. The fact is we are now in full swing of global warming with extreme weather patterns which include droughts and floods, along with an exponential loss of species and wild habitats, and it’s only getting worse.

You will cough money out for worthy organizations, drive and fly to climate marches, sign umpteen petitions, yet you will do nothing to inconvenience your personal lifestyle? Are you waiting for electric cars to become affordable? It may not happen any time soon, as the status quo is working relatively well. Wake up people! Real change only happens when we change ourselves.

We know any generation of carbon dioxide contributes to climate change. The US automotive industry -cars, trucks, planes, and trains- account for 33% of all emissions generated in this country (2015 data Union of Concerned Scientists). Thus, personal vehicles are a major source of global warming*. For the past 100 years America has been the largest contributor of carbon dioxide in the world. Only recently China surpassed the US, and India is now close behind.

So what is the one thing individuals can do to make a profound difference to stop climate change? Stop Driving! It has been five years since I’ve had a car. I rely on walking and Santa Fe’s public bus system only. I never burden friends for rides, and I am 100% independent. I’m going to tell you how I’ve done it, and the lessons I’ve learned to make your transition painless.

First and foremost, know Santa Fe is one of the best cities in America to be without a car. Maybe New York is first, and Portland is definitely in the top five. But, neither is close to as exceptional as Santa Fe. I could write an entire article on how beautiful Santa Fe’s bike trails, which make you feel like you are on the most remote alpine trails. If you are going to change climate reality, this is the place. Why? The weather in Santa Fe is pleasant most of the time, with only a handful of days per year the city may close locations due to snow.  Icy days can easily be maneuvered safely with anti-slip shoe covers, making the worst black-iced sidewalks manageable with bags of groceries.

Second, the city is small. If you bike or take the bus, you can easily zip back and forth several times across town in half a day. One can accomplish many chores just by walking around downtown.

Third, and most important, the entire city is now accessible via bike routes, trails, public buses, and the RailRunner train (which all run on natural gas…a.k.a. NO EMISSIONS!). The Blue Bus system can take you to the ski basin, Taos, Los Alamos, Espanola, and Eldoado for free (most days). Did you know you can take the public bus to the RailRunner, go to Albuquerque, then take the five minute shuttle to the airport for 90 minutes more than personally driving? I speak from experience. With three suitcases, I managed to get from my home in downtown Santa Fe to the Albuquerque airport departure terminal for only $6 in two hours. I didn’t struggle with my bags, nor was I having to share a crowded van with 7 other people, and I didn’t have to pay the $30+ tips, or have to stop at every hotel in the city while the van collected passengers. Yes, driving in a private car and parking for $15 per day is a luxury, but I’m now committed to make a difference: no auto emissions from me. It’s actually insane more Santa Fe residents who claim to care so much for the environment don’t tap in on the zero-emission public transit options available to them. It can be more challenging as you sit waiting at a bus stop -but put your classism and elitism aside- it’s time to get humble for the Earth. Do it for your own integrity. Do it for the world!

The benefits greatly outweigh the obstacles. Living without a car makes you slow down and become conscientious. Everything you do becomes meaningful. You must plan what groceries you need and you must plan to stock up on items which you frequently use, because hoping in a car or burdening friends for rides are not sustainable options. Visits to museums, concerts, or lectures must be well coordinated. Deciding who to visit and spend your time becomes a deeper assessment of the people in your life and who you call friends. The health benefits of a car-less life are numerous; Just as crazy as driving to climate action events may be driving to a gym to use a treadmill. By simply making a conscious decision about emissions automatically make you a conscientious person on many levels. This is humbled, Zen living in action.

Santa Fe is an exceptional biking city. If you can ride a bike, no matter your age, invest in detachable shopping bags on the back or a basket in the front, and all the accoutrements you need. Recently, the solar generated covered electric bike known as ELF (https://organictransit.com) became available for purchase. Competitive models such as Canada’s Vemoo, a three-wheeled bike-car (www.velometer.com/Vemoo/) should be available soon. All solar bike-cars can be ridden on the bike trails. All bike trails and bike maps are available free at any tourist bureau and at REI (or other bike distributors). All city buses allow you to put your standard bike on a bike rack in the front of the bus.

So what are my lessons for living without a car in Santa Fe? Here is a list of things I’ve had to consider and incorporate towards zero automobile usage:

1.) Live in the city limits. If you are close to Blue Bus access in Eldorado or Espanola, then ignore this point. Living in Santa Fe county can be challenging without a car, as public or Blue Buses are not accessible. Since the majority of Santa Feans live away from the city’s services, other options for the environment should be implemented, such as carpooling or car-park services (the City of Santa Fe has an exceptional Park and Ride service, so contact the city and minimize all driving). Plant lots of indigenous trees on your property (trees absorb enormous amounts of CO2), and invest in solar, or passive solar, systems for your home (and seriously consider eating less meat and animal products*).

2.) Download the Santa Fe Bus app on your phone and carry a bus schedule where ever you go. Also, keep the bus phone number (505-955-2001) on speed dial, as you never know when you might need to check if you missed a bus or hold the city accountable if they don’t show up on time (yeah, it happens). All bus locations are supposed to be live-tracked via satellite on the app but some drivers don’t turn it on, and it’s up to us to push the city to be accountable for the commitments they make.

3.) Carry a walking/bike map with you. Often it is quicker to walk from a bus stop than to wait for a connecting bus. Santa Fe is a small twisty town, so cutting across a parking lot often gets you to your destination quicker than any car route. Because Santa Fe is not on a grid, it is critical to know the city’s layout. For instance, I can walk to the hospital area from my home in half the miles it would take to drive. If biking, you can often reach your destination quicker than car, and certainly quicker than bus. Shortcuts are everywhere, so learn the city layout well.

4.) Plan shopping days wisely. Because everything takes longer when you walk or bus, plan your food shopping once a week. Impromptu visits to Bed Bath and Beyond will be greatly limited, but it’s time to embrace minimalism, which is also good for the earth, and nothing will curb you from shopping and materialism like a car-less life. You will (eventually) hate shopping all together, especially when you have to lug it around. There may be certain things you like to stock up on which are difficult to take on a bus. If you like cases of sparkling water, or if you like to do a huge shopping haul in one outing, then once every three months you may want to arrange a ride with friends or family. Again, it is necessary to know your house hold usage, keep running lists of items, and plan accordingly.

5.) Be prepared. Most of the city bus routes are pleasant, but certain routes are inundated with homeless and intoxicated people. Santa Fe’s homeless and drug problems are nothing compared to Albuquerque, and the city does try to stop inuberated people from getting on the bus, but it happens. Route 2 is the most noticeable as it goes up and down Cerillos, dropping the homeless off at hotels, Pete’s Place, and Life-Link. Wear headphones and/or sunglasses and invest in either a reflective vest or headlamp/light for your body and/or bags, so if you are walking in the dark or waiting for a bus, you will easily be spotted, and transients are less likely to bother you.

6.) Things happen. If you suddenly find yourself across town, it’s dark, and/or you’ve missed the last bus, work it out in advance to have a person you can call for a ride. If you or your pets become ill, determine who you would rely upon for emergency trips. Don’t rely on Uber to pick you up. Taxi services are no longer available in Santa Fe. Take full responsibility for your choice to be car-less. It’s time to be accountable to yourself, your friends, and your Earth.

The more people who walk, bus, and bike, the more pleasant it will become for everyone, and the City of Santa Fe will address gaps in services. The more people stop generating emissions, the better it will become for the whole world. Please, do it now. For the Earth’s  sake, just do it now.

See you on the bus or trail!

*The consumption of meats and animal products is also a major contributor to global warming. This is a subject which deserves an article of its own.

Lena is one of thousands of Santa Feans who can no longer drive. Not driving was forced upon her, but she now fully embraces her walkable zero-emissions lifestyle. She considers a car-less life in Santa Fe trendy, chic, and very Euro, only enhancing the “City Different”. lenahakim@yahoo.com

Thank you Lena.  That’s it for today.

From Minneapolis, Minnesota,

Paul & Roxanne.

Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife, Personal & Collective Action

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2 replies

  1. Car free can be great. I think carpooling needs be implemented on a grand scale. In the current heat waiting at a red light on a bike is pretty unbearable and lots of people cannot bike or walk very far. For the time being, buses need to appeal, not sexy currently. Jiggling schedules can be work. A good article. To be forced to be car free is different than doing it by choice.

  2. Just a quick correction … natural gas fuel is not “no emissions”, however it is better than diesel or gasoline. Even electric vehicles (like buses), if powered from fossil fueled electric power plants are questionable to call “no emissions”. I think this goes to the argument that personal choices are important but that systemic solutions are more effective. Maybe the most effective choice to reduce one’s individual carbon foot prints would be to become a vegan (and walk or cycle for transportation if feasible).

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