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Carless with Kids
I'm expecting my first child in September and I don't currently have a car because I prefer to bike and it is so feasible in this area. I'd like to hear what has worked for other parents in terms of managing without a car with an infant. I *could* get a car if I absolutely needed it but I feel like in this area it is not necessary even with a baby.
Some advice I'd like is: what's the best bike option for a young baby (I've heard bike trailer + car seat has worked for some)? How young have you taken your baby on a bike? What bike seats have you found effective and what's your experience with them (I've heard that it's hard to keep the bike balanced with some types)? How old does baby have to be before taking her on bike is a safe option?
Baby on bus? Is it feasible to get a stroller on the bus? How does that work -- do you have to use the wheelchair ramp or lift the stroller w/ babe up the stairs? It seems like it would be such a hassle especially if there are groceries in the stroller. What are people's experience with this? Hard on packed buses/rush hour?
The other option I can think of is just walking a lot! That makes me think I should probably get a jogging type stroller because it might be more comfortable for baby for long walks. But I also think a smaller more lightweight stroller would be good because it wouldn't be so bulky. If I'm not jogging, but just walking long distances (ie a couple miles to and from the grocery store) what stroller type would you recommend?
Thank you for helping me find creative ways to avoid buying a car! Amy
You may also find that getting around with a baby requires a lot more stuff -- diaper bag, toys, snacks, more stuff to bring home from the grocery store, etc. Having a baby also means you have less time and less flexibility about things like rain and cold weather. I wouldn't think twice about riding a bike in the rain myself, but I never put my kids in a bike trailer when it was raining -- seems like it would be really stuffy under the plastic cover. (Walking in the rain is another story -- pop the kid in a front carrier or backpack, grab an oversized umbrella, and you're good to go.)
Of course, even if you don't own a car when your baby is born, you can always get one later. Or you can own a car while your child is an infant and sell it in a few years. But my experience is that even though I hardly ever used a car before I had kids, having a baby and no car seems like a royal hassle. Cycling mama
Now, he's on a Burley Piccolo bike tag-along (piece that fits to the bike rack & he pedals which is awesome!) He also had his own Skuut bike (from REI) which he ran about on simultaneously once he was about 2.5 years old. He has his own bike now too (no training wheels necessary cuz he learned on the Skuut) but for rides to get somewhere (e.g. pre-school), we use the tag-along.
I love biking with him! Buy a good helmet, flags & lights & enjoy.
Since I also had a car, I can't speak to the bus issues. But, you definitely want a BOB stroller (REI) - I have a two strollers - one small & lightweight and one for real walks/carrying groceries when they are older & walking. When they are babies, you either carry them on your body with a baby carrier or buy a car seat that fits your stroller.
The other type of bike to consider is that new, longer bike made in Berkeley - I am forgetting the name. It's great if you don't live in the hills and will use it primarily on flat streets. It has space for a bike seat in back & bags for groceries simultaneously. Cost-$1000, but worth it if you are dedicated to a car-free life with kid(s)! cvg
Standard recommendation is babies under 1 year old should NEVER ride on a bike in any way. Reason being, a relatively weak spine and large head mean that baby cannot support the weight of a helmet on his head (that's why there's no such thing as bike helmet sized for a baby under 12 months), and he is susceptible to serious injury from the 'shaking' motion of the bike. Some people decide to use an infant carseat installed in a bike trailer, which seems like the best option if you really must transport baby by bike - so if you're going to do that, make sure you choose a carseat and a trailer capable of being used that way for at least 1 year. Still, neither carseats nor bike trailers are really designed or tested for this and you will have to balance the benefit and risk for yourself.
After 1 year of age - or once baby is walking - you can put a helmet on baby and put baby in a trailer or a bike- mounted seat. Arguments rage about which of those options is really safer. I'm firmly in the trailer camp, because (in a nutshell) I think falls from a bike are a MUCH higher risk than a car hitting a trailer - and it's the bike-mounted seats you've heard about causing balance problems. But there's very little in the way of hard evidence and you'll have to do your own research and consider your own biking habits when you decide.
As far as traveling by bus and/or on foot, babywear! A sling, wrap, mei tai or buckle carrier allows you to easily navigate steps, escalators, narrow aisles, and all sorts of other situations where a stroller is a hassle. Strollers are mostly useful when you need to carry a lot of ''stuff'' - possible alternatives being a wagon, granny cart, or capacious backpack - or if you're going to literally jog or run, in which case you do need a jogging stroller. Jogging strollers, by the way, are not appropriate for newborns; the risks are essentially the same as for putting small babies on a bike. Wait until the baby can sit up and always always always (1) ensure all folding parts are properly locked in place and (2) use the harness. (You might be interested in a bike trailer that converts to a jogger.) Holly
If you're planning to use a stroller pretty heavily, I'd recommend getting one that's well-balanced (as in, won't fall over backward if you've got bags hanging off the handle when you need to pick your child up out of the seat). A well- balanced stroller is also much easier to push. This usually means getting one that's not an umbrella stroller. Our Bugaboo Bee was incredibly stable, though I don't know what the newer model is like (our kid outgrew the old Bee pretty early, but I hear the newer ones are bigger). Our Citi Mini is pretty decent in that regard, too. We haven't had trouble rolling strollers onto AC Transit buses or Bart, so we haven't minded that our strollers didn't fold up as small or light as a lightweight umbrella stroller. We have a lightweight Maclaren that we use for travel sometimes, and our other strollers are much nicer to push--they roll and steer more easily. Berkeley mom
Re: walking, I am a fan of carriers rather than strollers but have used a stroller plenty. I have a Bob, and it is great for running errands around town bc it's so light and easy to steer that I can control it with one hand (this is HUGELY helpful, trust me). It's also great bc it can handle all kinds of terrain, and you know what? The sidewalks of Oakland are bumpy and rough and all-around crappy. I have a Bob and a snap n go, and the snap n go's little wheels get hung up on sidewalk cracks or going up and down curbs, but the Bob handles it all really well. Best gift we ever got! A Rockridge Mom
Even with the bike trailer, a helmet is required and babies do not have the neck strength for a helmet until they are 1. Even then, you need to be careful to ensure that the helmet fits well.
My twins just turned 1 and we were very excited to be finally able to take them on family bike rides. We have the Chariot 2. Since my husband is a much stronger rider than I am, he has been the one to haul the kids. He really likes the trailer. It is a lot harder and heavier than when you are just pulling yourself, but it works well.
Also, I would recommend sticking to bike paths whenever possible. Just last November a dad was riding with his toddler in a trailer on Masonic Ave in Albany and a person in a car doored them. It hit the trailer and the son was injured and had to go to the hospital. Here is a link to the article: http://albany.patch.com/articles/toddler-father-on-bicycle-sent-to-hospital-after-getting-doored-by-driver. Kate
Regarding public transport, my advice is don't bother with a stroller at all! There are many wonderful baby carriers out there that are perfect for keeping baby close to you on public transit. Then you don't have to worry about lifts/elevators/crowds, etc. For a newborn, ring slings are my favorite, but some folks like wraps. For babies a few months old, soft structured carriers (ergo, boba, and beco are the easiest to find brands) are fabulous and will last until toddlerhood. If you value your back or your baby's hips, I do not recommend Bjorns. There is a great site called http://www.thebabywearer.com where you can ask for carrier recommendations and also buy used ones.
My son lived in an ergo when we were out and about --- if he was awake he wouldn't tolerate being in a stroller anyway. It was great for grocery shopping when he was too small to sit in the cart. If you do chose to rely on a stroller, get one that is lightweight, folds small (and preferably with one hand since you'll be holding the baby while hustling onto the bus), and can recline for an infant. Many people I know who make do without cars have two strollers, one lightweight for this sort of thing, and a bigger jogging type stroller for long walks.
Even if you have no car of your own, have a plan for access to one (a friend, city car share, taxi numbers at hand) and a carseat that you know how to install in a pinch. You never know when you'll need a car---emergencies happen---and you can't rely on taxis or other people to have an appropriate seat available. Unless you are giving birth at home, You will also need something to drive home from the hospital, and probably to the first few pediatrician appointments. Believe me, depending on how your birth goes, you may not be in any shape for long walks (or bicycle rides) for several weeks! Good luck mama. Walking mama
In general: When he was really little I popped him in a carrier (Bjorn/Ergo) and could jump on the bus or just walk wherever I needed to go. I didn't take up extra room in the bus and he liked the stimulation of being outdoors and seeing lots of things and people, etc. We had two small strollers once he could hold his head up -- a Maclaren Techno XT from when he was 3 months old and a tiny Maclaren Volo from when he was about a year. The XT was our walking around the neighborhood stroller or for longer trips where we knew he would nap. (The seat reclines all the way) The Volo was great for bus rides because it folds up to the size of a large umbrella. Lots of other umbrella strollers are available too; I like the Maclarens because I'm tall and they aren't stubby and short-handled like some of the other umbrella strollers.
Buses: In SF I almost always folded up the stroller and put the baby either in a carrier or on my lap. It was a little annoying carrying around a baby carrier in the bottom on the stroller but I was always grateful for it when I needed two hands for the stroller, baby, bags, etc. Not sure how baby + stroller would work on AC Transit, but I believe those buses are roomier than Muni.
Lots of smiles to the bus driver and other passengers usually avoided anyone getting testy about the stroller. The many bus riders who clearly had families of their own were always so accommodating and kind, as were many others, and I was often offered a seat during rush hour. Sometimes with a baby in a carrier it really is easier to stand on a bus. Often on crowded buses whenever I was standing and the bus lurched and I lurched with it I was invariably offered a seat anyway.
Bus/... Don't expect a bus driver to let you use the wheelchair ramp. I also didn't find a backpack helpful when grocery shopping, FWIW. It was actually easier to have good over-the-shoulder bags I could pull out of the stroller quickly when preparing to board the bus.
Jogging strollers: We never had a jogging stroller but with our newest baby I have finally coughed up for one. After a lot of deliberation -- and fruitless scouring of Craigslist -- I chose a BOB Revolution SE. It has incredible suspension and tight pivoting and is *way* better than the car seat carrier strollers (Snap-and-go, etc.), which are great for smooth rides (in stores/malls/city streets, etc.) but horrible on suburban streets that have bumpy sidewalks, tree roots, etc. to deal with. Those strollers really are meant for long walks. The BOB Revolution CE model has smaller wheels for navigating stores, etc.
Know that if you are not jogging exclusively you need to get one that has a front wheel that can swivel. Many older joggers and certain newer ones have large fixed front wheels that are important for jogging but a total PITA when maneuvering around tight corners. FWIW you can get a new BOB (which since 2010 has had a better seat harness system and several other new features) for about 25% more than people are asking for their 4- or 5-year-old ones on Craigslist. (Go figure!) It took me a while to decide to splurge on one but by all accounts they are indestructible and last a long time (and resell well, if Craigslist is anything to go by).
Good luck! Was also carless
I realized the other day that selling our car could be beneficial for many reasons: we could pay off our debt, invest in biking gear ( rain gear, burley, stuff to get the kids around easily), reduce our footprint and lose insurance, gas and maintenance costs; not to mention teaching our kids a healthier lifestyle and more exercise for us. I know the obvious thing is just to drive less and use the bike more, but we can't afford the bike gear. We do drive to sonoma county twice a month, but thought that we could use city car share for that. We have a 3 yo and a 3 mo, and we both work at home. We have a gas efficient car that we own and could sell for around 10K. Has anyone tried this? Any advice, for or against? I tend to assume things will work out and my husband is better at spotting pitfalls ahead of time and is not enthusiastic about the idea. I thought we could get perspective from the community. Thanks for any input. want to be greener
There are definite downsides I shouldn't sugarcoat: a lack of impulsiveness and a smaller day-to-day radius. Some places are not public-transit friendly... and with zipcar sometimes you're just looking at the clock too much, hoping you can get the car back in time. Also, a tantrum on a crowded 51 bus (my kids are 4, 2.5 and 7 weeks) is a whole lot crappier than a tantrum within the privacy of your own van.
Email me if you want to talk further! You can do it!!! If for no other reason, do it for the moral superiority you will feel when you tell others about your decision! Sarah
Things to consider:
- Think closely about where you live and what you can walk to in your neighborhood. We can walk to the store, school, bart, church, the park, doctor's office and most places we need to go. Riding on the bike is certainly more challenging than walking.
- As your kids get older, think closely about what activities they will be involved in. Getting to baseball practice has been our biggest challenge. We'll need to find a new place for ballet lessons.
- What you miss out on is social events and spontaneity. We can't just say - It's a beautiful day, let's drive to the beach. And we have a hard time making it to parties since very few of our friends live within walking/biking distance.
But again, we are certainly saving money, living greener, and teaching our kids to lead a more active & moderated lifestyle. I expect we'll buy a new car within the year. The crazy woman you've seen on the streets towing three kids on a bike
Also, if you're driving long distances (like to sonoma) it probably makes more sense to rent a car from a regular car rental place instead. CCS has a deal with Enterprise so CCS members get special rates. You also should plan to pay the daily insurance, since you won't have your own insurance any more.
But...from your post it sounds like you guys aren't able/willing to get on your bikes right now. How about starting off with one day a week, now when the weather is good, of biking? That could get you used to it, and you might love the way you feel after the bike ride, and it could inspire you to move forward with car-free living. And...remember the bus can be your friend too! Rahel
I guess what I'm saying is, think about everything you currently drive to and would you still go there and how would you get there? Maybe keep a log in your car for a month and then look back at it and determine what alternative transportation would look like and how much longer it would take. Then, before selling your car, I would try not using it for a month and see how it works for you.
Of course there are advantages too, like saving money and having a smaller footprint. Also, it forces you to be conscientious of how you use a car and even opens up opportunities you might otherwise overlook, such as places easier to get to with public transportation. And it builds community if you do things with others to facilitate transportation.
Like I said, we didn't use bikes, so i can't really speak to that, but one concern I would have would be safety. I wouldn't feel comfortable biking my kids around in bay area traffic for everyday errands. When we go on bike rides we avoid busy streets and try to find bike trails. (Our limited bike rides are for pleasure and not as a mode of transportation.) anon
My son and I stay home a lot, going out mostly on weekends with Daddy to parks, etc, or running errands. I am getting increasingly frustrated with our situation, having applied and turned away at 2 preschools that would have been perfect because we liked their philosophies, and they fit with our transportation needs. I don't seem to be able to find a cooperative school or one that welcomes a strong parent involvement/presence in my area that I can get my son to and from. I live in an area with very poor and limited bus service, although we use it when we can, and I have been known many times to walk with a stroller and ride the bus for a total of three hours to try to get to an activity in Berkeley from Oakland Montclair just to get us out of the house to be with other kids and parents. To get to anything other than rows of houses, one has to walk 2 miles up and down hills, which I'm willing to do and do all the time. So the problem is about our need to connect socially and how being so physically isolated prevents us from doing that enough. I have posted about this a few different times in a few different ways, but I'm not getting many answers that are sensitive to the transportation issue. Maybe that is because it is hard for people to imagine not using a car, or maybe because there just aren't any solutions. I don't know, but I welcome any suggestions the wise and creative parents of BPN may have! Bonnie
As for the preschool situation, again, have you made your plea to them? Did you lock into these two because they were the only options? I really don't know what to tell you. It sounds like you do what you can by walking three hours to do things. That is really rough especially with a small child. Maybe you need to consider getting a cheap car. I'd go nuts if I couldn't get out during the week and run errands. One of the advantages of me being home for a while was that I took care of all errands and household things so we were free to do other things on the weekend. Maybe you need to reevaluate your needs and do something practical and save your sanity. woefully car attached
I'm just curious: Are there other UCB parents like us, who DON'T have cars? My husband and I have a 19 month old daughter; we live on the top of a very steep hill; and we don't have a car. Since we are sort of minimalists, we haven't wanted one. Unfortunately, life without a car can be tiring and isolating, especially in the rainy season. I'm beginning to think we were insane to have resisted owning a car (even though it means more debt). Are there others who are or were in a similar situation? (that is, not having, wanting, or being able to afford an automobile, but feeling pressure to buy one anyway.) Lara
I too am opposed to our excessive dependance on cars and all that it implies (compulsive consumerism-malls, lack of urban social interaction-suburbs, excessive time constraints-taking kids to a thousand lessons and sports activities intended to developp their social, artistic, etc skills).
So on my free time with my son, I WALK with him to the library, to the playground, etc amidst scores of cars on busy streets. We ride the bus and walk to his daycare, which necessitates me carrying a stroller, my backpack, my lunch cooler and a coffe mug onto the bus. Sure, it's not easy, but it's doable.
In general, in the Albany-Berkeley area, AC Transit is great, but I've found that at times, in other areas, there can be hostility, which I can take, but in the company of my son, this can become difficult, as is the manifestation of other pathological behaviors (in such cases though, the drivers are good at keeping a lid on the situation).
Now for the other side: I use our car to get groceries (there is just too much to carry on a bike or to put in a stroller, and some stores are far away). Our car also gives us access to great places like Point Reyes or Mount Tamalpais.
You do have quite a few options, one of which is to forego a car and rent one or use a taxi when you need this form of transportation. Indeed, even a used car will cost you in insurance and maintenance. For example, when you're on a tight budget, there is nothing more depressing than having to foot a steep car repair bill. So ownership of a used car should be accompanied by the development of an emergency fund to cover such mishaps. You could also exchange use of a friend's car for a service.
Finally, in my present situation at least, I know that I could live without a car and cover almost all my transportation needs with my bike (equipped with baby seet), the bus, our stroller and my own two feet. That's the key, I think, to avoid depending on your car for everything from social life to entertainment, to avoid seeing it as a necessity rather than what it is: a privilege by world standards. Good luck in your decision.
My husband and I each work full-time, and we have two kids to schlep around. We're trying hard to hold at one car. Some of the things we do may also be applicable to the struggle to stay car-free.
1) Set up trades for regular car rides. For example, now that it's snowy (here in upstate NY) and I can't bike with my 2-year-old to child care, I get a ride with another parent to child care and then to work. It's just a bit out of her way, and we trade 15 minutes of babysitting for each day she gives me a ride.
2) Rent cars and take cabs liberally, if you can afford it. Not having a car saves you $4000-$8000 per year, when you include the purchase cost of the car (averaged over its lifetime), insurance, maintenance, gasoline, registration, etc. If you try to get by without ever renting or taking taxis, especially when you have a child, chances are you'll get fed up after a few years and buy a car. If, instead, you budget $1000 per year for "sanity" rides, you may hang on a lot longer.
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