We recently sat down with Adele Houghton who chooses to walk and use Austin’s public transit as often as possible, rather than drive. With her background in public health and sustainability, she shares details of her experiences on her blog, Multimodal Memoir.
Q: What prompted you to go car-lite?
I’ve worked and lived in a number of different cities, many of which are walkable. I grew up in Houston and most recently lived in Cambridge, MA where they have all these options for moving around and it’s actually a pain to have a car because you can never find parking, once you do it’s expensive, and it just ends up being faster and easier to walk or take the bus or T somewhere.
When we moved back we still had one car down here in Texas, so the question was do we buy another car or stay with the one. I guess I sort of made this mental shift as to what convenience is—convenience was no longer ‘I can get into my car and go wherever I want,’ it became, ‘I can get wherever I want regardless of how I get there.’ When I’m tied to my car, it actually cramps my style.
I discovered that with Austin’s size it’s really not that hard living and walking in the central city. I think it’s a mental thing. I think that once I looked around I realized there are so many options in Austin: biking, the bus, Zipcar, Car2Go and then there’s walking because it’s a lot smaller than its population makes it appear in terms of the geography of the city.
Q: What’s your daily route? How do you get from home to work and back home again?
I have my own company, so in that sense I’m lucky because I’m a little flexible in terms of where I work. Today I took the bus and it dropped me at Chicon and I walked from there. Sometimes I take the bus downtown and then walk. Once it cools down I may consider riding my bike. It’s about the same amount of time to take the bus or bike.
Q: What challenges have you incurred thus far in this quest to change your lifestyle, and how long have you been trying to make the shift?
I don’t dislike cars, I really like my car, but somewhere in High School I began to dislike feeling like I’m forced to use it.
A problem is that the bus does not have real time feeds so you don’t know where it is. That’s the worst, when you get somewhere and realize you can’t get back because you missed your bus. And it needs to be easier to get bus passes because it’s not convenient now. In general it’s been really great though. All the bus drivers are really helpful and nice and they’re usually on time or early—which is good unless you get there late.
Q: Has blogging helped increase your motivation? What encourages you?
Well what encouraged me to do it is that everybody thinks I’m totally insane, which is funny because in so many parts of the world it’s just normal to get to and from places in something other than your own car by yourself. That’s why I think it’s a mental shift that I don’t think has really happened in a lot of people’s minds. When I decide I want to go somewhere the first thing I think about is time, because sometimes it can take a lot longer to not drive your own car somewhere, unless you get stuck in traffic. So once you get over that, it’s not really that much of a difference in time—maybe 10 or 15 minutes longer.
I applaud the city and organizations like MA in trying to raise the profile of what would be the benefits of it.
Q: What technology has helped in your day to day?
I use Google Maps as my primary directions one, it connects to the CapMetro schedule but of course it doesn’t have the link to where the bus is, then I use the Zipcar app & the Car2Go app. Mainly those are the ones I use right now.
Q: What other rewards do you feel you’ve achieved from your experiences?
On a human level, coming from Houston, Austin felt a little white bread upper middle class student world, particularly living in central Austin, but when we came back and I started taking the bus it opened my eyes to the tunnel vision, and I have interacted more with people on the bus and on the street. It makes me feel like Austin is more of a city and less of a college town, feels like it’s not so homogeneous.