By Joe Baur
Twitter proved useful for me the other day when searching for a new Cool Cleveland topic. I put it out to the #Cleveland universe, wondering what’s on the mind of Downtown residents and workers. David Van Hal reached out with a topic I’m surprised I haven’t covered already.
“My wife and I just sold our car and moved downtown CLE,” he tweeted. “Would you write a blog on your tips for living downtown car-free?”
Brilliant! And considering David’s picture shows him and (presumably) his wife canoodling on the Rapid – my favorite mode of Cleveland transportation – I knew I had to help.
Before we begin, let’s define car-free. When Downtown neighbors and friends from across the region first learned I was without vehicle, they went with the term “car-less.” This implies I or anyone else who considers calls themselves car-free would like to own a 4,000-pound polluting deathbox, much in the same way “homeless” generally implies someone is without shelter but would like some.
Car-free is a choice. A kickass choice if you’re able to pull it off. It’s very different than a guy at Avon High who might consider himself “car-less,” because they’re without motorized wheels and you essentially need them to get around the auto-oriented hellholes we’ve developed along the fringes of civilization.
However, the choice of going car-free is still admittedly difficult in a majority of Cleveland neighborhoods. Of course car-free should be easier than owning a car in the city limits, but that’s another story.
For those who can afford the lure to Downtown Cleveland’s growing presence of mid and high-rise apartments, this truly is the best neighborhood to go car-free. It’s why I decided to move here. A HealthLine stop is literally right outside my building’s door, the Rapid is an easy six block walk away, and even Laketran – the Lake County transit system – is just a few blocks away to take me back to my hometown where my parents still live.
Living car-free has alleviated the financial and mental stress of constantly maintaining a perpetually depreciating thing. So I offer these tips not only to answer Mr. Van Hal’s question, but also to show that living car-free in Downtown Cleveland is ultimately better and easier than either living with a car Downtown or even the suburbs.
“But where do you grocery shop!?” is a question I somehow still get, even as those most terrified of urban environments begin to relent that Downtown Cleveland is no longer a bombed-out Hellscape. The question is almost always drenched in a horrific tone.
The fact is I likely have more grocery options than any Greater Cleveland suburbanite. Within a 1.5-mile radius, I have two Dave’s Markets in Ohio City and AsiaTown, Constantino’s in the Warehouse District, and the West Side-freaking-Market, which gives Cleveland-living bonus points if you’re keeping score. Not to mention Heinen’s will be opening up on the corner of Euclid and E. 9th in the later summer or early fall.
So while I appreciate the concern from my suburban friends, I humbly suggest they turn their starvation concerns elsewhere. David and myself are eating just fine.
I chuckled a little when David asked me about guest parking and venture to guess a family member was the one to ask, “But where will your friends park?” in the same horrific tone we’ve already covered.
Suffice it to say, Cleveland is not hurting for parking. Downtown is sadly riddled with surface and garage lots that feature cheaper rates than other American cities. But since many outside of the city insist on free parking, as if it’s some sort of inalienable right like food and air, I usually relent and take the Rapid over to Ohio City where there’s an overabundance of free parking. If I’m feeling crazy, I’ll convince them to join me back Downtown via the Rapid to show them how convenient and stress-free it is.
There’s no shortage of traveling options for the Downtown Clevelander. RTA will get you to any corner of the city by bus or rail, the airport is a short Rapid trip away, or you can simply invest in a decent urban commuter bike with all that money you’re saving by not owning a pile of rusting metal.
I recommend heading over to Joy Machines Bike Shop in Ohio City, where I picked up my first urban commuter a few months after selling my car. Or you can wait until bike sharing inevitably comes to Cleveland, whenever the powers that be finish whatever study they’re working on to find out if something that has worked remarkably well in other cities will work here.
If you’re looking for a bit more efficiency than what RTA can provide to Tremont or even some inner-ring suburbs, cabs are grotesquely cheap in this town. With the Taxi Magic app, my fiancée and I did a trip from The BottleHouse Brewing Company in Cleveland Heights for $16. Again, shelling out $16 isn’t a big deal when you’re saving the approximately $10,000 annually AAA estimates for car ownership. But even if you’re not too keen on a $16 cab ride, it’s doubtful you’ll make a habit of it. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and other nightlife within a short walk, bike or RTA trip that you will rarely feel the need to trek out too far.
RTA Bonus Tip
It makes little sense for most living downtown to invest in an RTA monthly or unlimited pass. My suggestion is to purchase a five-trip pass for about $11 that you can use at your leisure. When you swipe them, a time will be printed on the ticket that lets you know how long you have to get a free transfer. This is very rarely a problem and I never feel rushed.
Five-trip tickets can be purchased at a variety of convenience stores downtown, but not at all ticket vending machines. Just make a point to grab one at Tower City – where so many of your trips will begin and end – and you’ll be fine.
When you’re done walking your friends and family through how you’re able to live car-free, they’ll inevitably comment that they’re jealous. Jealous that you don’t have to drive to work, worry about insurance, or y’know, getting killed by maniacs on the highway. They say this as if there is some sort of lottery-esque limit on who can live car-free.
This is when you open the invitation to join them back to city living and selling their car.
Are you car-free? Have your own tips I’ve missed? Let me know how I’ve disappointed you below.
[Photo: Elisa Vietri]
Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at http://JoeBaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe.