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Did You Know?

Half of school children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent were doing it in 2009.

31-days of car-free suburban life

Growing up middle class in rural Pennsylvania, Katie Shaw Thompson never imagined life without a car.

Now a resident in the City of Elgin, Katie’s opinion on transportation, what’s possible and what should be possible, has shifted. Katie is a proud four-season bike commuter, a mother of two squirrely preschoolers, and an ordained pastor.

Over her adult moves from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to California to Indiana to Iowa and now Illinois, she has directly seen a wide variety of ways transportation and infrastructure effect our lives in the US.

That's a big reason why she feels so fortunate to be living in a suburban city with great bones for bike commuting and a big part of why she's so passionate about working toward more equitable access to active transportation and the infrastructure that supports it.

This December, Katie and her family decided to embark on an experiment -- a month of carfree suburban living.

To document and reflect on the experience, Katie has taken to blogging every day about her bicycle and bus commutes and her adventures with her kids on a cargo bike.

In her first blog post, Katie explains how this idea came about:

Some months ago, I approached some of the leaders at my church where I am the pastor and asked them what they thought about my selling my family's car in favor of switching to active transportation (bikes, walking, buses) and when needed ride hailing (Lyft, Uber, traditional taxis) or renting (Enterprise will pick you up!). None of them voiced any strong objections or doubts that this would seriously inhibit my ability to do my job. However, one shared the wisdom that in that person's family when they make major decisions they like to try it for a month first. I thought that was a great idea, and now I'm finally ready to give it a shot.

Throughout her daily posts, she dives into many topics including both the joys and the very real challenges that accompany biking, walking or taking transit in the suburbs. Her blog also includes many interesting tid-bits:

University of Zurich economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer claim in their 2002 World Economics piece, "The Economics of Happiness,"  that shifting from a long driving commute to a short walking commute has the same effect on a person's rates of reported happiness as falling in love. There are many factors that go into that, including increased social interaction and more time engaging in incidental exercise. But if you don't believe them, take my anecdotal evidence for it. A bike commute beats a car commute for happiness levels almost any day of the week almost any day of the year. I never regret choosing my bike over my car.

We challenge you to take Katie’s lead. Try something new for a month! Perhaps that could be walking, biking or taking transit to your local grocery store, the library or some other place you regularly visit.

You can follow Katie’s journey on the Elgin Bike Hub, a project that focuses on making biking a fun, safe and effective form of transportation for people of all ages and abilities in the City of Elgin.

This blog post was authored jointly by Katie Shaw Thompson and Maggie Melin.

Image Credit: Katie Shaw Thompson.