Aug 1, 2017 - Things to Do

I tried to live without a car in Charlotte, but it only lasted 4 months

[Note: This is part of our first person series. Submit your own experiences and views. David is a rambling historian, compulsive writer, rabid Seminole, exiled Scotsman and martini aficionado.]

It may sound un-American, and living in the heart of NASCAR Country it could be sacrilegious, but can you live in Charlotte without a car?

Coming back to the city after more than a decade, we moved Uptown, bought bus passes, made sure the Lyft and Uber apps were working, found the local rental car offices and decided to give it a shot.

There were naysayers. When my wife got her driver’s license, the examiner told her it was impossible to live here without a car. A fellow on the local planning council acted like I was an alien from another world. Most people simply can’t consider the possibility of life without a car.

Okay, it takes courage, but having lived in several large cities, it didn’t seem unreasonable. Public transportation in Charlotte isn’t perfect, but it’s improving. We’ve walked to the grocery store, taken the Blue Line for dinner, ridden the trolley to the ABC Store and climbed aboard buses for shopping, church and the Symphony at South Park.

Overall, we’ve averaged about $150 a month for transportation, certainly cheaper than car payments, insurance, repairs, parking expense, and gas.

The secret is simple. Plan ahead, don’t get in a hurry, and don’t get upset if you encounter a glitch in the system – like the ticket machines on the light rail, which always seem to be broken. Flexibility is the key.

Besides, driving isn’t what’s it’s cracked up to be. Thanks to Madison Avenue, cars have become a symbol of freedom and independence, interestingly the names of two major boulevards in Charlotte. Car commercials show happy folks speeding along in a convertible on an open country road, the sun shining and the wind blowing through their hair. That certainly isn’t I-77 at rush hour.

There are disadvantages. Uptown shopping is limited, and not top quality. It’s a pain to find a reasonably priced rental car for spur of the moment travel. There was the threatening panhandler on the free trolley and the terrifying experience of trying to cross a busy Charlotte street.

no car charlotte

But after four months, what did we do?

You guessed it, we bought a car – a small red convertible. Thank you Madison Avenue for the dream. Our first trip was to Fresh Market in Dilworth, where I wandered about as if I had been transported to gourmet wonderland.

I will still take public transportation to work, walk to restaurants, museums and concerts in the Uptown parks, enjoying life in the center city, but I now have the freedom and independence to escape to the mountains and the seashore.

Yes, you can live in Charlotte without a car, but it is better with one, especially a little red convertible.


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