Accidentally car-free: an unexpected experiment from two years ago revisited

Henderson Road sign in article about Henderson Road parkSign at Henderson Road and Veterans Memorial Highway (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

[As the readership of the Cobb County Courier continues to climb, we’re republishing earlier “evergreen” articles that we think might be of interest to our newer readers. This was originally published in August of 2022]

At various points in my just over 70 years of life I’ve lived without a car, sometimes deliberately, sometimes of necessity.

But I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of seeing how little use I can make of the pollution-belching monsters without spending impossibly long travel times as I work, shop and visit people. Diminishing or eliminating trips by car would help the environment, and at the same time clearly give me more exercise.

Thirty years ago when I lived in East Atlanta and worked downtown it was easy. There were eight bus routes crisscrossing within a three-block radius of my house, the train station was about a 20 minute walk away, and I could cycle all the way to my workplace, including parking the bike in a storage room, in 20-25 minutes. There were two Krogers and a Publix easily reachable by bicycle or bus, and the post office, a hardware store, a coffee shop and a public library were within a three-block radius.

At the same time, I’ve been fond of my 1994 Honda Civic, which seemed like it would go chugging along forever, with routine maintenance and the occasional repair.

Last week a recurring problem with the old car (refusing to quickly start in high outside temperatures) got bad enough that I suspect it’s time for the car to retire.

I intend to take the car to my mechanic, but I’m pessimistic about the prognosis, and if the car needs replacing, I’ve determined to not be in any hurry as I research my options and shop for a good used auto.

I decided it’s time for an experiment, and I’m going to do periodic progress reports here.

So I parked the car, and started mapping out how to get various places I need to go on foot, bicycle and public transit.

One thing that makes this easier to do now than it would have been twenty years ago is that most of my work is done via phone, Zoom and email, so my need for in-person contact is less.

Another is that a lot of shopping can be done online. I haven’t studied the environmental trade-offs involved in having someone else deliver stuff to me, but I assume that some aggregation of the deliveries are done, and at minimum I’m certain the delivery services have more efficient routing worked out than I do.

I live on the eastern edge of Mableton, surrounded by the City of Smyrna, and this is a public transit desert, so public transit is not going to be a good primary option until the county has decent transit service. The nearest stop is the Route 20 at Cumberland Boulevard, which might be good for a bicycle/bus combination trip (Google maps calculates that its a 26 minute bike ride from my house, which seems about right), but transportation mode transfers generally add a lot of time.

So my best bets are foot and bicycle.

I’ve already started going to one destination by foot. It’s the Publix on Veterans Memorial. To walk there, shop, and walk back took me about two hours. It might sound like a lot of time for a shopping trip to a nearby store, but bear in mind I also got over five miles worth of exercise.

The other realistic destinations by foot that I’ve found so far are the clusters of retail and services on Veterans Memorial Highway just beyond the Publix (the Walgreen’s, the Bank of America, and a couple of dollar stores).

There are a number of recreational destinations near me. Nickajack Park, Discovery Park, the upcoming Henderson Road Park, Chattahoochee Coffee Roasters at Riverview Landing, along with the park nearby, and hopefully sooner rather than later, the Chattahoochee River Trail.

A more promising direction in terms of utility shopping is northward along South Cobb Drive, but the distances are really better suited for cycling than walking. About 4-5 miles north of me are the Sprouts and Publix on the East West Connector, and in a slightly different direction, the Atlanta Road Kroger (I’d go South Cobb Drive to Church Street to North Church Lane, then right into the Kroger parking lot. Or Riverview Road to Maner Road to Plant Atkinson to North Church Lane).

But before I do any substantial cycling I need to take the bike into the shop for a maintenance check. It’s been sitting in the garage untouched for over two years.

I intend to have some fun with this, and to get some exercise in the process.

I’ll take photos along my various routes beginning tomorrow. One thing both walking and cycling do is give you a much more intimate connection with the surroundings than a car ever will.

Hopefully the next update I’ll report that I took my old Raleigh bike in for maintenance.

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