You can have children in Chicago without a car and do it well. One of the great advantages to living in this city is how relatively easy it is to live without a car. Easy, and it will save more than $7,000 a year for each car you are not paying to own and operate, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology. After my husband and I decided to move here from Cleveland, we gleefully got rid of one car after another. We had briefly owned a nearly classic, two-door Mercedes; an almost as old, but definitely not classic Toyota Tercel; and a functional, used Subaru station wagon (there was also a motorcycle but that is another story). We arrived, however, with just one car and got rid of it soon after we came. We joined iGo, but mostly we rode our bikes and took the train and bus. When we got tired of how hard it was to get to the lake, we moved closer.
Then we had a child. And despite what everyone said, I still loved not having a car. Driving with a screaming newborn is no picnic, neither is finding parking, or having to go with a toddler to get an oil change.
Yet, here I am today, the owner of a (used, low-emissions) car. And (deep, guilty sigh) I love it. When I was looking for a car this time, I did my homework to find something that would get good gas mileage, need little repair, fit two dogs and a kid, and yet be compact, and I wanted a manual. As my husband said: I wanted my car to drive like a bicycle.
The problem with getting a car is that it is easy to use it. I find excuses: I could ride my bike to the zoo today, but what if my daughter is tired and wants to fall asleep on the way home? Or, I know the grocery store isn’t far, but I need a lot of stuff today. Really, though, it is just about habit. Driving is an easy habit to get into. Once I find myself in the routine of going down the back steps and out to the garage, it becomes autopilot and a lot about having a kid for me is letting my body go through the motions while my mind tries to figure out why she is crying, looking sleepy, yelling…
So, you can imagine, how desperately I have LOVED having the chance to ride a De Fietsfabriek. This is a Dutch bike designed to ride like a car. There are models that can hold a few hundred pounds and 5 kids. I love riding it. It is recreation, yes, but it also feels incredibly practical. I can take my daughter and her friend and all the stuff we might need for a day at the zoo and fit easily. My daughter can fall asleep in it (and has). I can stop and get a lot of groceries. It also feels safe. It id perfectly designed for the relative flatness of Chicago where the low-center of gravity is easily propelled and the weight of the bike isn’t noticeable.
The De Fietsfabriek comes in many models. I am riding the biggest two-wheeled version, but for those less certain or with more kids, there is a very attractive three-wheeled model as well. Check one out for yourself: there is a store-front in Chicago where you can test drive all the different models at 1309 N. Wells or visit them online at www.defeatsthecar.com.