Car-free in Cork: week two
Crisp, chilly weather makes cycling a pleasure this week, and there's zero spend on transport.
“I’ve a new word for ye: polyamory.”
It’s Wednesday afternoon and the pensioners in the sauna are in fine fettle.
“I heard about it on Moncrieff. It’s when you want to have more than one partner. There’s all sorts now. There’s different ones for if you want to have partners but only for a while, like. There’s poly this, poly that, poly the other.” The gentleman leans forward to deliver his punchline, rivulets of sweat streaming down his grey chest hair.
“The only one they didn’t have is the only one I’m interested in: Polly-put-the-kettle-on.”
Cackles of laughter. God, I love the sauna. There’s nothing like being locked in a tiny room at 85 degrees with a random selection of people for entertainment and to keep you in touch with the variety of opinions and outlooks out there.
But this is my first time here this week. When I was driving, it was my regular start to the day, my daily wellbeing gift to myself. But I’m not driving: I’ve gone car-free, and I’m writing a diary-style article each week about it for a month.
It’s the second week of my car-free experiment and loads of comment and feedback have been coming in.
Rural living, car-free?
Tehmina Kazi sends me an email: she lives in Leamlara with her husband, who farms, and their three-year-old, and she works in Cork city. At the moment, she relies on her husband giving her a lift to the train in Carrigtwohill in the mornings. He also gives their son a lift to preschool.
Tehmina is currently taking driving lessons and although she’d prefer not to, will take on the expense of becoming a two-car family soon: there just aren’t the transport links available to give her any independence, she says.
“I am from London, and lived three minutes walk from a Tube station, which explains why I never bothered learning to drive before,” she writes to me. She would prefer not to bother with a car, but feels she doesn’t have a choice. There’s a Local Link bus service but it’s so infrequent and at such off-peak times as to be useless to her, she says.
“The service is clearly designed for country-dwellers who just need it to do a bit of shopping in the city, rather than to enable non-drivers commute to work in the city. If this service became more frequent and more work-oriented in terms of timings, I would prefer to use this over learning to drive and buying a second car.”
Allison Roberts from Clonakilty Bike Festival gets in touch too. She and her husband Justin have had no car for the bones of 12 years. They have two children, and their lives are admittedly unusual: they both work from home at their house near Clonakilty town centre, and they homeschool their children. Over time, Allison says, their life choices have been shaped by their transport decisions.
“We’ve made our choices with car free living in mind,” she tells me in an email. “For people who have made car reliant decisions on where to live etc it would be very hard to give it up and make a change. I reckon car shares/car pooling and businesses like Go Car are viable alternatives.”
Even without needing a car for day-to-day use, Allison and Justin still sometimes borrow one, like last week, when they had to go to a hospital appointment in the city. A West Cork rail line would be a big qualitative change in their lives, she says.
It’s a more geographically restricted life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an adventure.
“I do wish more people could get an idea that ‘sustainable choices’ don’t always always equate to ‘boring’ or ‘less than,’” she says. “We get a lot of fun and new encounters from the restraints we have put on our life. It makes life a bit more of an adventure, though longer and less convenient for sure. It actually affects how we live a lot, how we shop, how we enjoy our surroundings, visit beaches etc. Things become special occasions because of the bit of effort involved.”
Longer and less convenient are the big ones, though. So many people have made life choices based on the cost of housing, and face daily commutes and car costs that have been factored in to their cost of living.
This week, out of interest, I’m keeping an eye on the number of kilometres I cycle, using Google maps.
Monday: I stayed on with my partner in Waterford on Sunday night following a busy weekend working on our double decker bus/tiny home conversion, so I have to make it back to Cork first thing.
I cycle 12km Tramore to Waterford, and make it onto the 9am Expressway bus back to Cork. I manage to answer some emails on the bus, so I’m not losing my entire morning’s work. A text comes in from my daughter’s school: left to get to school herself, she’s late.
The bus arrives in at 11.30 and I cycle home, making it back for just after 12, sweating up the steep hill home, an aching gradient from nearly sea level to the heights above the city in under a kilometre.
The bus actually comes into Cork city on the dual carriageway that passes right below my house, but there’s no stop permitted: I have to go all the way into town and then cycle 5.5km back on myself, which feels frustrating. Glanmire, a large population base, is right around the corner, surely a stop that end of town would make sense?
At home, the fridge is bare. I’m going to have to go back out. I use lunchtime to cycle the hilly round 4km trip to the nearest supermarket, which is not where I would choose to shop, but I really can’t be losing any more time.
Total distance: 21.5km
Tuesday: I work from home all day until I’m crosseyed from looking at a screen. I don’t have time to make the round trip to the pool. It snows, and up on our hill, it sticks.
Wednesday: I have some business in the city centre, so I work from home until lunchtime, and cycle into town. I’m happy to wait for any ice to melt: my worst ever fall from a bike was on a patch of ice about five years ago, and I’m wary of it ever since.
It’s a sparkly day, clear and crisp, and after being housebound for a day and a half, it’s great to be out. I love cycling. I love the way it forces you to observe more about the world: smells and sounds and sensations that would pass you by in a car. I think this experiential divide is part of the reason for the seemingly increasingly prevalent aggravation between drivers and cyclists, actually. Drivers don’t know how loud they are, can’t hear their own beeps and revs and the sound of their engine, don’t know the visceral, heart-in-mouth fear cyclists are experiencing with a close pass or a moment of impatience.
You’re privy to so many moments of beauty as well as moments of threat on your bike, though. As well as the smells and sounds of traffic and the near-constant sight of litter thrown from cars along verges, so much is positive, like today.
A pair of cormorants sit on a rotting piling on the water on my way in along the Lee. My hands are sore with cold, despite my gloves.
After doing what I needed to and having my swim and sauna, I leave the city headed for home at 4.30pm and the temperature has started to drop again. Down by the ships and the silos, every gull is suddenly airborne as a cloud of sleet bursts itself on the city. It’s 5.05pm when I get home, much better than I could expect if I were waiting on buses.
The Neighbourfood delivery has arrived when I get home. Having part of my weekly shopping delivered is definitely helping with hauling groceries.
Total distance: 14km
Thursday: I have an interview in Blackrock and I’m relieved it’s in the afternoon: posts on social media that I see during the morning show me that there’s still plenty ice out there.
It’s another beautiful day, but it’s very cold by the time I’m headed for home at sunset.
Total distance: 20 km
Friday: Lots of work on, and I won’t be going to my partner and our bus conversion project in Waterford for the weekend, because it’s my daughter’s 18th birthday on Saturday, so I’m making a birthday lunch. The weather has broken and there’s a steady drizzle outside.
Mid-morning, I have the time to go to the shops but I don’t have the carrying capacity for everything I need to buy. My partner will be down in the evening to help with the party preparations and I text him: will he bring me on a shopping trip? He does, and I use the opportunity to stock up on bulky, heavy things for at least the next week. Hauling shopping is one very serious time sink because you have to make multiple trips each week.
Saturday and Sunday: I’m home all weekend, cooking and celebrating Saturday, and doing DIY, domestic chores and gardening jobs on Sunday. I would have preferred to be able to collect my daughter after her evening’s celebrations on Saturday night, but she has to get a taxi home and I lie sleepless until I hear her get in. I also would have preferred to get some time in on the bus renovations on Sunday, but there’s no point in spending five hours on the bus getting to and from Waterford in one day.
On Sunday I read an article about how ditching a car could save up to €10,000 per year.
And at the end of the week, I’ve spent nothing on transport at all, because my Monday morning Expressway trip was technically booked the week before. I’ve done a very modest 55.5km on my bike this week, much less than I’d do in a day if I was off touring.
Time and the lack of ability to choose to do things in the manner that I want to have have remained my big problems in this second week. I miss my swims and resolve to try to carve out the time for them in week three.
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