Car Free with Kids?

During the month of May, all city buses and green bikes were FREE. This seemed like a great opportunity to test out being car-lite (down to one car for our family of four)! Coming from Bellingham, WA, where we had lived without a car much of the time I have missed the luxury of free time during commuting. Boise public transit is a whole different animal. The buses run extraordinarily infrequent, are often behind, and offer limited route coverage. Setting all those obstacles aside, our biggest challenge has always been…

How do you commute car free with kids?

Maybe the ultimate solution is to limit your travel circles to distances that are more walkable, but we decided to take the month of May as an opportunity to experiment with busing as an option for our current geographically far-reaching life.

We both work downtown (the most frequently serviced destination in town) so we were able to plot this solution: Parent #1 takes the children to school and commutes by car. Parent #2 commutes by bus. When the day is done, we alternate. Parent #2 walks over to pick up the car from Parent #1’s office, and drives to pick up the kids. Parent #2 take the bus home.

Though this sounds overly complicated, it was actually really nice! Not only were we able to commute by bus, but it also added walking to our daily schedules. I SO enjoyed this part of my day! It also allowed us to share the burden (driving in awful traffic) as well as benefit (hanging out with the munchkins) of carting our kids to two separate schools.

What we learned

We learned early on that we were lucky enough to live within easy walking distance of two different bus lines that run on alternating schedules, that proved convenient! We also happen to live close to one of the routes that runs twice an hour as well as on the weekends, two RARE features for the majority of the bus routes in Boise.

I learned that a smart phone is a MUST when navigating Boise buses. On more than one occasion the bus was running over 30 minutes late. Had I not had their real-time transit tracker I would have assumed that I had missed the bus or that it just wasn’t running.

I also learned that I WAY prefer walking, but really 20-30 minutes is about as far as I go without feeling like it becomes a chore.

Circles of Walkability

One of the biggest eye openers for me was the freedoms afforded to me and my family by the ownership of TWO family cars. But I didn’t walk away feeling thankful for that ownership. I walked away feeling like we’ve taken the liberty of car ownership a bit too far.

When I was working with the URA in Twin Falls, I remember a planner with Otak presenting a map with “circles of walkability” from city attractions (Similar to these from Pittsburgh). It is such an eye opening visual for me! Right in line with what I discovered during this month. I enjoy walking about 20-30 minutes to a destination. That’s EXACTLY how far their maps had shown as “circles of walkability.”

This really makes me question the viability of rehabbing the suburbs. If this is the distance that makes sense to walk, how do we back-fill to create those “circles of walkability” in this built environment?

If we can’t create that in this environment, perhaps I need to hit the refresh button on how my family is functioning. Take those elements that are working well, for example, my daughter’s school, and move myself within walking distance of that destination, then fill in the other family elements from there (walkable grocery shopping, walkable job, etc). At this point, I think either option would be just as challenging (rehabbing my neighborhood vs uprooting my family and starting fresh). I will DEFINITELY be chewing on this idea for some time to come…

One final note

I’d like to dispel the rumors that the busses are not used in this town. Yes, I’m sure there were more people using them because they were free, but if you look at the busses during the busiest commuting times, the buses are FULL. Every day I rode the 5:15pm bus leaving downtown, and every day that bus was full.

May in Motion bus riders#9 leaving downtown at 5:15pm – FULL!

If done correctly, this is a totally viable option to ease road congestion. Think about it. That bus held 30+ people. Without that bus, that would mean an additional 30+ solo driving commuters on the road. That’s a big deal!