Living without a car in Huntington is not just for those with DUIs, as Jenny Hobson explains in my second interview with a citizen of Huntington, WV who chooses to live with fewer cars than adults in their household. If you missed the first interview last week, you can find it here. I hope you enjoy what Jenny has to say about family life with one car and a bicycle.
|The Hobson Green’s at the 2011 Buns on Bikes ride.|
Jenny Hobson and Chris Green: Huntington, WV
Could you please introduce yourself and your family? How many adults and how many vehicles?
My name is Jenny Hobson, and I live with my husband, Chris Green. We have two children, one in elementary school and one in preschool. We have one vehicle, a ten year old Honda Accord.
How long have you been car-lite/free in Huntington (and before living here)? How did you come to the decision to have fewer automobiles than adults?
We’ve been car-lite for so long that I can’t quite remember when we got rid of our second car. It was some time shortly after we moved to West Virginia, and it became clear that our mid-80s Toyota wasn’t going to pass inspection without more costly repairs than the car was worth. Inspired by some friends who had also recently donated a dying car and became a one car family, we donated our Toyota to the Good News Mountaineer Garage. We’ve been car-lite ever since. I think maybe we donated the car in 2006.
What’s your current transportation situation? What are your methods for getting about Huntington? What about leaving town? Or when one adult stays and one goes?
Chris bicycle commutes to Marshall every day of the year. It’s around a 3 mile round trip. If it’s icy, I drive him to work. Otherwise, he bikes. We live within walking distance of my work and the kids’ schools. When we can, we walk or bike. When the weather’s bad, we usually drive. Because I’m a preschool teacher, I often have large props or materials to take to school, and that necessitates a lot of driving, too. I have to say that I don’t hesitate to drive around town to run errands though I work my hardest to consolidate them. It helps that I loathe driving, not necessarily from any ethical point of view. I just don’t enjoy it and never have. When one of us has to leave town, we often rent a car for the adult who’s staying in town. Thankfully, neither of us has jobs that necessitates frequent travel. Chris travels five or six times a year, and we usually rent a car.One new thing that we’re currently trying to do is increase our overall car-free commuting. For example, if we go all week without using our car to get to/from work and school, then we’re ordering pizza from Papa John’s on Friday night. The kids love Papa John’s, so this is a big motivator for them. On the other hand, knowing how often I have to transport big stuff to the preschool in my car, I also know that I’ll be buying pizza often enough to motivate the kids, but not so often that I break the bank.
We live close to work and school, so that’s a big help. It’s also a help that we do own one car. I would find it a challenge to do what needs to be done in Huntington without the option of a car. I work part-time, and I think I would find transportation to the store, doctors, etc. a full time job if we were completely car-free. I think it can be done in Huntington. I don’t think it can be done by us, with the needs we have in our lives.
What have the challenges been? Does anything change with the seasons?
One unexpected challenge has come from Chris’s bicycle getting stolen. We’re now on his third bike since we started this adventure. Both previous bikes were stolen from Marshall’s campus where they were locked up outside the building where he works. It’s certainly less of a hassle and less expensive to replace a bicycle than a car, but it’s still demoralizing. And it’s now something that we kind of have to count on.There aren’t really any seasonal changes for Chris, because he’s got appropriate weather gear and he’s stalwart. For the rest of us, I definitely drive us around more in the murky months. I look forward to doing less of this as Paul gets older, longer legs and a more focused mind that can take us to school more rapidly in the cold. I don’t mind walking in the cold for umpteen hours, but I do mind listening to a preschooler whining about it. In the realm of parental “battle picking,” I’ve found that it’s not one I’m interested in fighting.
What have been the responses of your peers/colleagues been when they find out you live a car-lite/free life?
Initially, people were concerned that Chris, as a dad, would take the risk of biking around Huntington. When he first began, I remember that some older colleagues had some serious conversations with him about it. I cannot emphasize how much the culture for bicycling and walking has changed since we first began this adventure. I used to joke that, when we started, the bicyclists were just Chris, Dave Lavender, a few other Marshall profs, and then all those guys with DUIs. You could tell the bicycle dads from the DUI guys because the dads wore helmets. Now, you see lots of folks out on bikes, including more and more Marshall students. That makes me super happy. And of course, there is the Critical Mass ride, recreational bike rides like Buns on Bikes, and even some bicycle lanes on the streets. We’re certainly not a perfect community for car-lite living, but the changes in the last 8 years give me a lot of hope.At this point, I’m not sure that most people even know about our car situation. I think it’s probably just one of the many weird things that we do, like own one TV, go to a very progressive church, eat dinner together, and minimize structured activities for our kids.
Were there any unforeseen benefits to living with the decision to have one car? Or if you foresaw them all, what have been those benefits?
When we got rid of our other car, I thought it was going to be a pain. Owning only one car has been nothing but joy. Very occasionally, there are scheduling hassles. I’ve been astonished by the spiritual and mental health benefits of owning only one gigantic hunk of metal that needs maintenance, insurance, etc. Owning only one car just takes an enormous amount of stress away. It’s like Calgon!! When you have two cars, I think that maintenance and repairs become hassles because somewhere in your mind there’s the thought that there’s always the other car. When you have just the one car, there’s no choice about fixing the car when it breaks down. There’s no point in stressing over it. It has to be done. Same thing with the bicycles. It’s demoralizing when Chris’s bike is stolen, but it’s his mode of transportation. When it’s stolen, it has to be replaced.Also, although making the decision to go “car-lite” takes some set-up, it doesn’t take much time once you’ve got your infrastructure in place. When we moved to Huntington, we came from an old suburb where we could walk almost everywhere we needed to go, and we lived in a “front porch” neighborhood. We wanted to do that again when we came to Huntington, so that’s how we found our house. Coincidentally, it turned out that what we were looking for in a neighborhood worked very well for “car-lite” living even though we were not thinking about that when we moved. When we got rid of our second car, there were a few adjustments, like making sure Chris was properly geared up for biking in all weather and making sure our car was reliable. Beyond that, there haven’t been many adjustments.
I would love to see universal bike safety education for children, something along the lines of the “Safety Town” program for 2nd graders. We teach our kids, but I think they would all “listen” better to official grownups. I would also love to see improvements to the sidewalks, especially for walkers. I think the sidewalks are a major barrier for safe walking for people with children, elderly people, people with disabilities, etc. I would love to see the addition of flashing yellow/red lights at some of our more dangerous and weird not-quite intersections (e.g., near the park). I would also love to see better lighting at night in all of our neighborhoods, not just for bicyclists and walkers, but for everybody.
Do you have any advice for other families similar to your own who may want to reduce the automobiles in their lives?
I’m thrilled with all the changes in Huntington’s bicycling and walking culture since we moved here. Frankly, we haven’t been too involved in those changes. We’ve just been quietly living the “car lite” life we’d probably be living wherever we were. In fact, when you asked me about answering some questions about “car lite” life, my first question was “How on Earth is our family ‘car lite?'” It’s been so long that I just don’t think about it. So it’s just to say that once you set up your infrastructure, minimizing your car use can take as little or as much time as you want. For us, having one car frees us to focus on our passions for our families and for our work. Chris is passionate about his job working with college students in Appalachia; I’m passionate about my job in Early Childhood Education; we adore our family. For us, living with one car is a sideline. If you want it to be a sideline, it absolutely can be. But if reducing your auto use and your carbon footprint is your passion, it absolutely can be, too. God knows, we need many, many people who will make it their passion if we want to see our planet survive and thrive. I say, if you can go “car-lite” or “car-free,” go for it! You will love it!
*Do you live car free or car lite in the Tri-State area? I would love to hear your story. Please contact me, asimplesix[at]gmail.com