Most U.S. residents live in a household with at least one car. But millions of U.S. residents do not. In this series, How I Live Car-Free, Motherboard speaks to some of the people living car-free, either by choice or by necessity, in places without robust public transportation options like New York City and parts of Washington, D.C., and Boston.
In this edition, Motherboard speaks with Kerri Provost, a 42-year-old lifelong Connecticutian who works for a nonprofit and writes the Car-Free Diaries for RealHartford.org. She lives in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford, and has been car-free since 2017. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Do you live car-free in the U.S. somewhere other than New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston? Would you be willing to tell Motherboard about your experience? Please fill out this form.
Are you car-free by choice or necessity?
It’s both. I have a valid driver’s license and bought my house close to a decade before my car died. And I had looked for a place in this neighborhood because I knew I wouldn’t need a car to survive. But I also thought I would be moving up income levels as I got older and going car-free would be entirely my choice for environmental reasons. But I’ve basically stagnated in wages. And a car doesn't add enough to my life to make me want to work harder. I'd rather spend it on things like records and coffee and wine. I suppose I could afford a car if I really, really wanted one, but it would make my finances a lot tighter.
How do you get around? Do you have a commute?
Mostly, I walk. It takes about a half hour to get to work. I sometimes bike, but the infrastructure in Hartford is not great. There is a bus that kind of goes the way I’m going but doesn’t shorten my commute enough to be worthwhile.
For grocery shopping and other essentials, I live near Park Street, which has lots of restaurants and bakeries and grocery stores. There are a couple of larger grocery stores within a 20-minute walk. I have options.
Do you feel safe from traffic walking around?
It depends. It’s not always terrible. But often, it is. As a pedestrian, you learn very quickly that you’re a second- or third-class citizen.
It’s funny, most people ask me, as a five-foot female, if I feel safe walking around. As in, aren’t I afraid of getting mugged or whatever. But I feel safe in regard to strangers. Nobody bothers me. Drivers are a different story. If someone, like, started to beat me with a baseball bat on the sidewalk, it would be all over the news, they’re going to do time. But if someone hits me with their car, nothing will probably happen to them. And drivers know this, I think, and behave accordingly. So I feel very worried about that.
How is your local public transportation system? Do you use it often?
It depends on where and when you’re going. I would say that in general, it’s not great. It’s affordable and easy to use, but it’s very 9-5 commuter-oriented. Sometimes I want to do things on weekends and the bus will be running every hour instead of every half hour or not at all on Sundays. And at night service stops around 5:30.
But there are some useful lines. We now have the Fastrak, a busway between New Britain and Hartford that runs frequent and late service. So a couple of weekends ago I went to the New Britain Museum of American Art and had no trouble. But if I wanted to visit rural parts of the state, that’s not happening. I have rented a car or used ZipCar maybe 10 times since I went car-free. If I’m going for a hike or something with a friend, they’ll pick me up.
I’ll also take the train. This weekend, I’m going down to New Haven. I’ve got a trip planned for Providence, Rhode Island in a couple of weeks. I’ll take the train there, too.
What is the most common question you get when people find out you don’t own a car?
I think a lot of times what they’re asking is, how did you fuck up your life? Or, are you afraid of somebody jumping out of the bushes and raping you? They’ll say, how are you going to get home? And I’ll reply, how do you think I got here?
A lot of the questions can be very silly. People ask what I do in winter. It’s like, I put on more clothes.
The other night I got out of a movie around 9:30. I was walking home and I was the only one out there. And I thought of all the times people have told me to be careful walking home because you don’t know what kind of people are out there at night. And I realized, I’m the one that’s out there.
What I’m doing is not special. Lots of people in Hartford don’t have cars, but most of them don’t look like the white middle class that lives in the suburbs, the people who are often making these kinds of statements about my safety or how I get places. But these are the same people who will drive to a train station, park their car, take the train to New York or Boston, then walk around there. But they don’t do that here, because they don’t see it as a normal thing for people in their socioeconomic class.
What do you wish more people living in the U.S. knew about going car-free?
First of all, you save money. That’s pretty cool.
But beyond that, people put up a lot of mental barriers. I know I did. If I had known that it would be this easy, I would have sold my car years earlier.
But you have to plan in advance to live a car-free life. I specifically looked to buy a house in a neighborhood where I could walk to grocery stores and whatnot. And I am not rich, trust me. I do not live in a wealthy neighborhood. But I knew one day I hoped to not need a car just to live my life and planned accordingly. That’s something a lot more people can do, especially people with jobs in cities. Instead, they move to the suburbs and think public transportation is what poor people ride.