Green Fire Times

OP-ED: Lena Hakim Lessons Learned from Five Years without a Car in Santa Fe

All of Santa Fe is accessible by walking, biking, bus or the Rail Runner.

As horrifying as the impacts of climate change are, so too is the absolute lack of individual accountability or action in response to this reality. The fact is that we are now in full swing of global warming with extreme weather patterns, which include droughts and floods, along with an exponential loss of species and wild habitats. And it’s only getting worse.

You will cough up money for worthy organizations, drive and fly to climate marches, sign umpteen petitions; yet you will do nothing to inconvenience your personal lifestyle? Are you waiting for electric cars to become affordable? That may not happen very soon, as the status quo is working relatively well. Wake up, people! Real change only happens when we change ourselves.

We know that any generation of carbon dioxide contributes to climate change. The U.S. automotive industry—cars, trucks, planes and trains—accounts for 33 percent of all emissions generated in this country (2015 data, Union of Concerned Scientists). Thus, personal vehicles are a major source of global warming. For the past 100 years America has been the largest contributor of carbon dioxide in the world. China surpassed the U.S. only recently, and India is now close behind.

So, what is the one thing individuals can do to make a profound difference to stop climate change? Stop driving! It has been five years since I’ve had a car. I rely on walking and Santa Fe’s public bus system. I never burden friends for rides and I am 100 percent independent. I’m going to tell you how I’ve done it and the lessons I’ve learned that can make your transition painless.

First and foremost, know that Santa Fe is one of the best cities in America to be without a car. Maybe New York is first. Portland is definitely in the top five, but it’s nowhere close to as exceptional as Santa Fe. I could write an entire article on Santa Fe’s beautiful bike trails, some of which make you feel like you are on remote alpine trails. If you are ever going to help change climate reality, this is the place. Why? The weather in Santa Fe is pleasant most of the time, with only a handful of days each year the city may close some locations due to snow. Even icy days can be maneuvered safely with anti-slip shoe covers, making the worst black-iced sidewalks manageable with bags of groceries.

Second, the city is small. If you bike or take the bus, you can easily zip back and forth several times across town in half a day. One can accomplish many chores just by walking around downtown. Third, and most important, the entire city is now accessible via bike routes, trails, public buses and the RailRunner train (which all run on natural gas…a.k.a. No Emissions!). The Blue Bus system can take you to the ski basin, Taos, Los Alamos, Española and Eldorado for free (most days). Do you know that if you can take the public bus to the RailRunner, get to Albuquerque and take the five-minute shuttle to the airport, it takes only 90 minutes more than personally driving? I speak from experience. With three suitcases, I managed to get from my home in downtown Santa Fe to the Albuquerque airport departure terminal for only $6 in two hours. I didn’t struggle with my bags, nor was I having to share a crowded van with seven other people, and I didn’t have to pay the $30 plus tips or have to stop at every hotel in the city while the van collected passengers. Yes, driving in a private car and parking for $15 per day is a luxury, but I’m now committed to make a difference: no auto emissions from me. It’s actually insane that more Santa Fe residents who claim to care so much for the environment don’t tap in on the zero-emission public transit options available. It can be more challenging as you sit waiting at a bus stopbut put your classism and elitism asideit’s time to get humble for the Earth. Do it for your own integrity. Do it for the world!

The benefits greatly outweigh the obstacles. Living without a car makes you slow down and become conscientious. Everything you do becomes meaningful. You must plan what groceries you need, and you must plan to stock up on items you frequently use, because hopping in a car or burdening friends for rides are not sustainable options. Visits to museums, concerts, or lectures must be well coordinated. Deciding whom to visit and spend your time with becomes a deeper assessment of the people in your life and who you call friends. The health benefits of a carless life are numerous. (Just as crazy as driving to climate action events may be driving to a gym to use a treadmill.) Simply making a conscious decision about emissions automatically makes you a conscientious person on many levels. This is humbled, Zen living in action.

Santa Fe is an exceptional biking city. If you can ride a bike, no matter your age, invest in detachable shopping bags on the back or a basket in the front and all the accoutrements for safety and comfort you need. Recently, the solar-generated covered electric bike known as ELF (https://organictransit.com) became available for purchase. Competitive models such as Canada’s Vemoo, a three-wheeled bike-car (www.velometer.com/Vemoo/) should be available soon. All solar bike-cars can be ridden on the bike trails. All bike trails and walking maps are available free at any tourist bureau and at REI (or other bike distributors). All city buses allow you to put your standard bike on a rack on the front of the bus.

So what are my lessons for living without a car in Santa Fe? Here is a list of things I’ve had to consider and incorporate towards zero automobile usage:

1.) Live in the city limits. If you are close to Blue Bus access in Eldorado or Española, then ignore this point. Living in Santa Fe County can be challenging without a car, as public or Blue buses are not accessible. Since the majority of Santa Feans live away from city services, other options for the environment should be implemented, such as carpooling or car-park services (the City of Santa Fe has an exceptional Park and Ride service, so contact the city and minimize all driving). Plant lots of indigenous trees on your property (trees absorb enormous amounts of CO2) and invest in solar or passive-solar systems for your home (and seriously consider eating fewer meat and animal products*).

2.) Download the Santa Fe Bus app on your phone and carry a schedule wherever you go. Also, keep the bus phone number (505.955.2001) on speed-dial, as you never know when you might need to check if you missed a bus or hold the city accountable if they don’t show up on time (yeah, it happens). All bus locations are supposed to be live-tracked via satellite on the app, but some drivers don’t turn it on, and it’s up to us to push the city to be accountable for the commitments it makes.

3.) Carry a walking/bike map with you. Often it is quicker to walk from a bus stop than to wait for a connecting bus. Santa Fe is a small, twisty town, so cutting across a parking lot often gets you to your destination quicker than any car route. Because Santa Fe is not on a grid, it is critical to know the city’s layout. For instance, I can walk to the hospital area from my home in half the miles it would take to drive. If biking, you can often reach your destination quicker than by car, and certainly quicker than the bus. Shortcuts are everywhere, so learn the city layout well. 

4.) Plan shopping days wisely. Because everything takes longer when you walk or bus, plan to do your food shopping once a week. Impromptu visits to Bed Bath and Beyond will be greatly limited, but it’s time to embrace minimalism, which is also good for the Earth, and nothing will curb you from shopping and materialism like a carless life. You will (eventually) hate shopping altogether, especially when you have to lug things around. There may be certain things you like to stock up on that are difficult to take on a bus. If you like cases of sparkling water, or if you like to do a huge shopping haul in one outing, then once every three months you may want to arrange a ride with friends or family. Again, it is necessary to know your household usage; keep running lists of items and plan accordingly. 

5.) Be prepared. Most of the city bus routes are pleasant, but certain routes are inundated with homeless and intoxicated people. Santa Fe’s homeless and drug problems are nothing compared to Albuquerque, and the city does try to stop inebriated people from getting on the bus, but it happens. Route 2 is the most noticeable as it goes up and down Cerrillos, dropping the homeless off at hotels, Pete’s Place and Life-Link. Wear headphones and/or sunglasses and invest in a reflective vest or headlamp, so if you are walking in the dark or waiting for a bus, you will easily be spotted, and transients will be less likely to bother you.

6.) Things happen. If you suddenly find yourself across town, it’s dark, and/or you’ve missed the last bus, work it out in advance to have a person you can call for a ride. And if you or your pets become ill, determine whom you would rely on for emergency trips. Don’t rely on Uber to pick you up. Taxi services are no longer available in Santa Fe. Take full responsibility for your choice to be carless. It’s time to be accountable to yourself, your friends and your Earth.

The more people who walk, bus and bike, the more pleasant it will become for everyone, and the City of Santa Fe will address gaps in services. The more people stop generating emissions, the better it will become for the whole world. Please, for the Earth’s sake, just do it now. 

See you on the bus or trail! 

* The consumption of meat and animal products is also a major contributor to global warming. This is a subject that deserves an article of its own.

Lena Hakim is one of thousands of Santa Feans who can no longer drive. Not driving was forced upon her, but she now fully embraces her walkable zero-emissions lifestyle. She considers a carless life in Santa Fe trendy, chic and very Euro; only enhancing the “City Different.” lenahakim@yahoo.com