One of the primary factors in our ability to switch to living car-free was our move to Portland’s inner southeast. We’re due east of downtown, just up a hill, and have easy access to four of the city’s most bike-friendly bridges – the Steel, the Burnside, the Morrison, and the Hawthorne – as well as greenways and bike lanes. We’re surrounded by bus lines, close to the streetcar, and close to shopping and everything we need.
We got here through an unusual set of circumstances. We sold our house in Seattle in 2005 and moved to Phoenix, Arizona so I could undertake a career overhaul. In easily the best investment decision of our lives, we guessed that the Phoenix housing market was overheated and we began renting houses to live in. Because we weren’t tied down with an underwater mortgage (which we definitely would have been if we had bought a house in Phoenix in 2005), we were able to jump at an opportunity to move to Portland in 2011. We continued renting here and as a result we were able to quickly snap up our current house when it came available.
As we were deciding whether to stay in our Maywood Park house or move somewhere else, we discussed the concept of our center of gravity – the place that allows us the best access to work and school. As mentioned in my earlier post, I had a 10.5 mile trip to work each way and the kids had 6 and 4 mile treks. Additionally, Sarah had tired of using the car every time she wanted to go anywhere and so she was particularly insistent that our next house be close enough to walk or bike to grocery stores, playgrounds, parks, libraries, coffee shops, cheap but tasty restaurants, and one close to my heart: beer.
While the same can be said for all the other stuff, access to beer provides a nice subject to compare and contrast between our old and new neighborhoods.
In the old neighborhood, going on a beer run to a place with a good selection meant getting in the car and driving to the Gateway Fred Meyer, 3.5 miles distant. Going out for a beer was even worse. The bars in the neighborhood were dives and I’m not talking about the fun and friendly kind of dive (one had a handwritten sign on the door: NO HOODIES, NO SUNGLASSES). Most often, Sarah and the kids got in the car and drove 5+ miles to meet me at Hopworks Bike Bar on N. Williams – one of the many kid-friendly brewpubs in Portland and the halfway point in my ride home from work.
Now? Well, within a 20-30 minute walk or 5-10 minute bike ride of our house we have the following places that make and serve their own beer: Basecamp, Burnside, Hair of the Dog, Commons, Coalition, Migration, Buckman, Captured by Porches, Upright, Cascade Mountain, Lucky Lab, and Fire on the Mountain. If you want bars and restaurants with well-curated beer selections and generous happy hours, then there’s another 50 or so. We’re even closer to Hopworks Bike Bar! To top it all off, the week we moved in, a bottle shop and taproom opened two blocks away.
The point is that I don’t think that we could have even considered giving up on car ownership in our old house. Any bike trip required contending with hills, high and fast traffic streets, and/or significant distances. My son and I could make our daily commutes, but we were able to travel light with fairly speedy bikes. Sarah needed to make her trips on a cargo bike with a toddler in the trailer and an inexperienced tween rider on her own bike. There was a fantastic Southeast Asian grocery within walking distance but little else (we ate a lot of homemade Phad Thai). Public transit out there could be infrequent and often required multiple transfers and/or lots of walking. Other people still do it, and I applaud them. It wasn’t going to work for us.
In short, where you live can be a very important piece in pulling this off and we’re exceedingly fortunate to be in the situation we’re in.