Life without a car simpler, cleaner, advocates say
Lu Mellado hasn’t owned a car in almost five years.
When he tells people about it, they’re surprised, said Mellado, a librarian at Nevada County’s law library.
“Their lives are structured so they wouldn’t be able to function. But I turned it around. I structured my life around not having a car,” said Mellado, who lives two blocks from work.
Mellado’s not alone. He’s among the western Nevada County residents who for financial, environmental or other reasons, made a conscious choice not to drive.
And these converts to carlessness are firm in their fossil fuel-free faith.
“I don’t mind at all,” said Mellado, who makes ceramic beads as a side job and sold his Datsun 310 hatchback partly to get the money to buy an electric kiln.
Other factors in his choice were the expenses of owning a vehicle: insurance, maintenance and registration.
Also, he said, “After I thought about it more and more, I just couldn’t stand the idea of the environmental impact of an automobile.”
Most of the year, Mellado rides a mountain bike, appropriately painted green, which he’s equipped with a generator-powered headlight, splash guards over the wheels and large brake pads that grip better in the rain.
“One difficulty in biking has been I am limited on what I can carry. I have to buy groceries in a limited amount,” he said.
So Mellado recently bought an Xtracycle, an accessory made by a San Juan Ridge company. It bolts to the back of a bicycle, making it longer and adding a large wooden carrying platform with side pockets.
Mellado mainly bikes in the spring, summer and fall.
“Right now, in the winter, I walk and take the bus,” he said.
He’s got Internet access on his computer at home and said, “If I can’t find it locally, I can have it shipped to me online.”
One benefit of being carless, Mellado said, is having “more money to buy things I want to buy when I want to buy them.”
Other benefits are less obvious.
Alan Stahler, who writes a weekly science column for The Union, hasn’t owned a car for more than a decade.
Stahler also gets by without caffeine; he recently gave up coffee.
But when he hops on his bike, he said, “I find it’s really a good wake-up in the morning. After a morning ride, I feel like everybody around me is going in slow motion, because I really feel alive.”
He also thinks biking can be just as quick as driving.
“When I first started riding my bike around town, I was surprised that it took no longer to commute from, say, the Brunswick area to Grass Valley,” he said. “Even though it took a little bit longer to ride, you could, for one thing, pass all the traffic (at stops) and always go to the head of the line.
“But not having to look for a place to park and being able to ride from door to door to door, that’s the main thing – not having to park,” Stahler said.
Ken Krugler didn’t sell his car when he moved near downtown Nevada City three years ago from Santa Clara.
Instead, Krugler left his Honda parked in a lot near a train station.
Once a week when Krugler, who co-owns a software consulting business, needs to do business in the Bay Area, he takes Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor train to Santa Clara. He catches an Amtrak bus on Sacramento Street in Nevada City at 5:25 a.m. which takes him to Auburn, where the train leaves for the Bay Area at 6:26 a.m.
“I get so much work done on that train,” Krugler said.
In Nevada County, he mainly bikes or walks. If he needs to, he can use the car of his wife, Chris. The couple kept that partly because they have a young daughter, Jenna, whom Ken Krugler often totes to town on his back.
“I don’t really need (a car). Most of the stuff I do, I can do right in town,” said Krugler.
Krugler’s business partner, Chris Schneider, also uses a bike as his primary source of transportation. His wife, Cindy Branscum, has a car he can use if he needs it.
Schneider teaches physics alternate days at Bitney Springs Charter High School and bikes there whenever he can. It’s a hilly, eight-mile trip that takes 35 minutes from his Boulder Street home. And 45 minutes back, because it’s uphill.
“It’s also gorgeous,” Schneider said.
Exercise is one reason Schneider bikes. He’s a self-described “speed freak” who likes racing downhill.
But concern about greenhouse gases emitted by cars is Schneider’s main reason for biking.
Schneider belongs to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
If an individual wants to have a positive impact on the environment, all three groups recommend the “the first thing is to become vegetarian. The second thing is, don’t drive your car,” Schneider said.
“It’s a sacrifice,” Schneider said. “(But) everybody has to make sacrifices. Life’s pretty good for an American. Why not cut the rest of the world some slack?”
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