In my last blog post, I briefly reflected on my years of living car-free here in Memphis. In these years, and in the past month, I have endured a myriad of both positive and challenging experiences. While being car-free isn’t necessarily feasible for everyone’s circumstances, I firmly believe that anyone who can try it should try it – at least to gain a different perspective.
Living where I do in East Memphis, I have relatively excellent access to bus options. I live within a mile of four bus routes that regularly operate during weekdays. These routes take me where I need to go – to work, shopping, and recreation destinations. I even have the flexibility of taking one of two bus routes from my work to get to lunch options in Midtown, Cooper Young, or East Memphis and get back to work within an hour. However, at nights and on weekends, bus options dwindle to one or two routes from my house. When buses stop running, it clearly takes longer to make connections in this city. Many of the north-south bus connections disappear at night and on weekends, making transfers a challenge and trip times a lot longer.
During the car-free challenge, aside from my regular travels, I looked at visiting some destinations that I had previously frequented via the bus. At one point, I found myself needing to visit the University of Memphis. I had previously taken the bus there every day to attend classes as a student, but the route that I had used back then had been eliminated as part of MATA service changes some time ago. What would have taken me less than half an hour, including walking, now takes me closer to 50 minutes via bus. Another route that provided me access to a great internship opportunity in graduate school no longer exists. While I certainly still have pretty great access to bus options, I am disappointed to see that some of the service changes that MATA has had to implement due to budget constraints over the recent years have reduced my ability to access parts of the city that have previously given me great personal opportunities for growth and development.
One thing the car-free challenge helped to highlight is that long transit times can sometimes be reduced by creatively combining transit options – like biking with taking the bus. However, this isn’t an option for everyone. People who don’t live near or with as many transit options face long – sometimes prohibitive – transit times. This makes living car-free more difficult for those with automobiles, and makes access to basic necessities like employment more challenging for those without. The car-free challenge is really an opportunity to understand how living without a car can fundamentally change your lifestyle, whether it’s getting to work or getting groceries back home – for better and for worse.
While there are challenges to living car-free, there are also great benefits. In my last blog post, I highlighted the financial and physical activity benefits. I truly enjoy riding the bus, and relish in the walking that is a natural part of my lifestyle throughout the day. I also love the social component of riding the bus – in greeting friendly bus operators, to seeing regular acquaintances, to being able to study, read, chat, or de-stress during my commute. For sure, there are some challenges to living car-free in Memphis. However, we can’t help to improve the system unless we actively strive to do so. There are people working very hard at MATA every day, but they can’t improve the system – and serve the citizens of Memphis – without the resources to do so. Collectively, we absolutely must support a system that keeps tens of thousands of our Memphian brothers and sisters employed and tapped into our city every day, and also helps reduce traffic and keep pollution out of the air. Try going car-free for a day, a week, or a month. You’ll at the very least gain some perspective, but will probably gain a lot more.