Car Free in Cortland

My intention was to stow away the car keys this week for Bike/Walk to Work Week and write about my adventure. But I got sick on Monday and still didn’t feel so great on Tuesday morning. So I’m trying to walk as much as possible the rest of this week but will plan to do the whole car free thing another week.

However, we have someone in our office who has been living the car free life since January and I asked her to write about her experience of living without a car in Cortland. Here is Emma’s story. – Jan

Car Free in Cortland, Part I:
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, member of a one-car family in a nation where drivers who share a car with three others are quickly becoming extinct. Then again, I didn’t drive much, as I calmly let my learner’s permit expire at 17 and ignored acquiring a license until I was 22. I hitched rides with my friends, carpooled, walked and rode the city bus to school with my sister. After I graduated, Phoenix built a light-rail system, which only made it easier for my sister, who developed impressive familiarity and ease with the public transportation system.

In college, I didn’t need to drive. And it was pleasant, walking the hills of Ithaca, loving the feel of sunshine and snowflakes on my nose. Through the rain, I participated in umbrella parades, yellows and reds and polka-dots studding the bluster and blue. I exchanged smiles with people I knew, people I didn’t know.

When I told my grandparents (who lived in Steuben County for seventy years) that I was moving to Cortland, my grandpa said, “So you’re getting a car, then.” It wasn’t a question for him. But it was for me – would I need one?
I’m an AmeriCorps service member, fresh out of college. I don’t have much money, and I’m not making much money. A car seems excessive to me, a luxury. I have the good fortune of working with very generous and friendly people, who gave me rides through February and the hairier parts of March. But I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty, knowing that, if I were still in school, I wouldn’t even think twice about walking through a blizzard. Walking is the most natural and instinctual mode of transportation.

It’s my home base, the context I live in. I buy small batches of groceries every few days on my way home from work, but it’s not a hassle. It’s just what I do. Yesterday, I walked 2.4 miles round-trip to and from work. In the evening, I also walked 3 miles round-trip to the bank so I could deposit my paycheck. It takes time and effort. But I also had the opportunity to enjoy how the sun pushed through the sleet and made the budding trees that much brighter against the cobalt sky. I listened to a podcast about a man who can play piano, each hand a different rhythm, have a conversation, and listen to a completely different imaginary symphony in his head.

Walking is sort of like that – it has so many purposes. It’s my transportation, sure, but it’s also exercise. It’s human connection – I have positive interactions passing people on sidewalks (and I’m pretty sure most notable interactions that happen between vehicles are of the negative ilk). I use the time to reflect, to learn (I’ve developed a keen fondness for radio shows), to listen to music. It’s therapeutic. It’s also a gentle transition, giving me time to gear up for work, to gradually relax after work so I don’t walk in the door and plop down, mentally or physically exhausted. It’s exhilarating on cooler mornings like today’s. It puts a bit of spring in my step, especially now that the crabapples and magnolias are blooming. It makes me happy.

This is Part I of a multi-part series, Car Free in Cortland.


One response to this post.

  1. Hello Jan, hope you feel better soon. 🙂

    Emma’s post is a great one! It is very encouraging to hear from others that choose to live car free, especially from our younger community. Cortland is a great place to live car free… I’ve been doing it now, for over a year. Most everything I need is located within biking distance. If it’s not, or I feel the need to explore, I can throw the bike on a bus. It’s pretty cool to know that we can hop a bus at the CCOB, and end up most anywhere, via public transportation. Bringing the bike along, helps between connections and is my prefered method of getting around, once I arrive.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the story 🙂


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