Having a Kid Doesn’t Mean Having a Car

birthdayparty2_1.jpgBus Chick’s "Chicklet" is happy to take public transit.

One of our favorite recent discoveries on the national transpo blogging scene is Carla Saulter, a third-generation Seattleite who documents her transit-going life in a blog called Bus Chick for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A lot of people who do without cars before they become parents think that once they do have a kid, life without a vehicle is no longer possible. Not Carla, who recently wrote a post about what she’s learned in her first year as a "bus parent." Here’s some of what she has to say:

Planning is essential.
The single biggest difference between being a bus parent and being a car parent is the amount of mental energy that’s required to make it through the day efficiently, productively, and free of stress.

Comfort is key.
As a childless bus chick, I advocated shoes that were comfortable and cute. Today, I say: Cute, schmute! When I’m traveling with Chicklet, it’s all about comfort.

Crying is not an option.
If you take a cranky baby on a car trip, you’re the only one who has to endure the howling. Cranky babies on buses, on the other hand, share their howling with dozens of innocent bystanders. Because of this, I consider it my responsibility to keep Chicklet content and well-behaved for the duration of every ride.

On the plus side:

Car free is gear free. (or, Who needs a baby travel system?)

Busing means bonding.
Attachment parents–listen up: Unlike car moms, who have to strap their kids into car seats, I get to ride face to face with my chicklet. We read, talk, cuddle, make new friends, and watch the world together.

Bus moms are buff moms.
A year after waddling to the hospital to deliver, I’m back at my pre-pregnancy weight (after gaining a wee bit–OK, a lot–more than my doctor recommended), and I haven’t counted a single calorie or even considered visiting a gym. ā€¦Believe me, my life as a bus parent is exercise enough.

I’ve made plenty of adjustments this year, but then, what new parent doesn’t make adjustments? The good news is, Chicklet has not been deprived of any advantage or experience that is available to the children of car-owning parents, yet she’s been enriched and educated in many ways that car kids have not. I can honestly say that the benefits (to my family and to the planet) of my first year bus parenting far outweigh any challenges. Bring on the next 17!

  • MrManhattan

    “Crying is not an option. If you take a cranky baby on a car trip, you’re the only one who has to endure the howling. Cranky babies on buses, on the other hand, share their howling with dozens of innocent bystanders. Because of this, I consider it my responsibility to keep Chicklet content and well-behaved for the duration of every ride.”

    Bus Chick: I admire and thank you for your understanding and consideration. Could you please have a word on the subject with your somewhat richer counterpart “Plane Chick”? She clearly didn’t get the memo.

  • Car Free Nation

    We have 3 children (the youngest is 3), and have now been car free for six years or so. We use a combination of buses, subways, bicycles, and the occasional car service or rental car. Recently, we added an Xtracycle, which has further reduced our needs.

    While there are times when it would be easier to just throw the kids in the back of a car, overall our life is richer because we don’t drive. We do more things in our neighborhood (using our imputed savings to take the family out, for example). We also get a lot more exercise.

    For the kids, it’s been great. They experience much more of life walking or biking the streets. If there’s an issue with behavior, you can look them in the eye.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I honestly believe that the cocoon life inside the car seat is responsible for a great deal of mental and physical health problems in the latest generation. Kids need to see and interact with the world to develop their brains and staring at the back of the front seat in mommy’s BMW X5 just isn’t cutting it.

  • A friend gave our 1 1/2 year old a book “Subway” for his birthday. It’s been a regular in his bedtime routine. Now every time we pass a subway station he reaches for it and whimpers because he wants to ride the subway.

    On the other hand, when he was an infant, the very infrequent car trips he had to take were absolute torture for everyone. The only situation in which he’d cry for long periods. I love it!

  • Streetsman

    Remember this as well – you are in an enormous, heavy, slow-moving vehicle operated by a professional driver. The safety records of urban bus systems are MUCH higher than private automobiles. It is extremely rare to have a serious injury or fatality on an urban bus. And if any kind of accident should occur, you are not liable, because you are not driving.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, we got a car with the kid, and it did make some things easier, particularly visiting out of town relatives on the weekend.

    On the other hand, now that they are teens, we are blessed to have transit, since they can get around on their own. Unfortuantely the presence of the car causes them to ask for rides sometimes to avoid having to walk or take transit, leading to offetting whining, hassles and aggravation.

    Big picture — it is perhaps a break even.

  • My dad didn’t drive at all between when I was born and when I was about 13. We took a LOT of bus and train rides together. It only occurs to me now, reading Bus Chick, what good bonding experiences those were for us.

  • Grew up in a small town in Jersey. Both of my parents went everywhere in cars, which meant that when I went with them, I went in a car. But I walked to all my schools, the library, and a nearby shopping center with everything you could want (supermarket, pharmacy, hardware, etc.).

    My mom’s car was basically a luxury. But my dad worked in locations all over the state, so he really needed a car.

    My mom can no longer drive and my dad may not be able to driver much longer. I recently Googled-mapped my parents’ house to see if they could walk to doctors, restaurants, etc. It’s all there within a 10-minute walk of their house.

    Those old inner suburbs have plenty of life left in them, even in the peak oil era.

  • Felix

    We have 2 kids and no car. It’s very rare that we’re in a situation where it seems that one would be useful. We’re definitely lucky to be in NYC – no planning involved. Bikes, buses and subways take us everywhere we need to go.

  • My parents split up when I was two years old. My mom moved us to the country and got a car; my dad stayed in the city and never had a driver’s license. But before the breakup they raised my sister and me in the city with no problem. I’m so glad I got to experience a lifestyle that was perfectly comfortable – and could even be luxurious – without a car, so I knew all along that there was a perfectly respectable alternative to the car lifestyle.

    My wife and I had a car for six months (1999-2000) and gave it back, so when our son was on the way there was no question of getting one “for the kid.” Living in the city, I still can’t really imagine any way that a car would have given us a net increase in comfort or convenience, child or no child.

    Crying has always been an option on the bus or the subway. It’s a fact of life! (Less so the older he gets.) Of course we’ve tried to avoid it out of courtesy to our fellow passengers … or at least to sit next to the obnoxious cell-phone talkers: who are they to complain?

    Transit is a great way to travel with kids. You can’t do this while driving an SUV!

  • Hans

    We are living in NYC (that helps, of course), have three kids, and never owned a car. While it could be useful with those Costco runs it’s not really a necessity at all. It’s just for convenience. It always amazes me to see how many parents pick up their kids from school by car. In the middle of freaking Manhattan. Once you reach a certain income level public transit is becoming a big no-no for many. Especially when children are involved.

  • ARK

    My son is 19 months old. We live in Philadelphia — car free. Well, mostly car free. We belong to Phillycarshare and Zipcar, and this makes the car(e)free lifestyle possible.

    Morning routine (typical for any family): then put child in backpack. Walk four blocks to trolley. Ride trolley to downtown office building. Leave child at daycare in my building with backpack. Wife picks up child at the end of day. Meet back at home.

    My son almost never cries on transit. But things were often far worse in a car.

    One caveat for parents using transit with small kids — my son behaves on the bus and the trolley. On a train (e.g. Amtrak) he wants to run around.

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