In the summer of 2010, our family of four made a decision that would transform our lives for the better, although not for reasons we could have ever anticipated. After moving blocks from Commercial-Broadway Station in East Vancouver, and finding our car collecting dust in the garage, we decided to ditch it, and make all of our trips by foot, bicycle, transit, and car-sharing (in the rare instance that we needed to borrow one).
Allow us to stress this was solely a practical, and not an ideological decision. Living in a compact, walkable neighbourhood afforded us the luxury of having everything within a 20-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride, which we quickly discovered could be replaced with a 5-minute bike ride. Above all, this resulted in an extra $800 in our pockets each and every month, an incentive enabled by the diverse transportation choices offered by our city. This includes car-share, which was what ultimately convinced us to “take the leap”, and give up car ownership for good.
Within months, we began documenting this newfound freedom, mobility, and simplicity via words, photography and film. Perhaps unsurprisingly, spending less time commuting by car, circling to find that coveted parking space, or contributing to the congestion on our city streets, in effect, afforded us more time to share our stories. And our active forms of transportation were generating inspiration and creativity that fuels our content even today.
Over the past five years, this work has taken us places we could have never imagined, as we garnered a global audience on social media, and ended up speaking about the (many) triumphs and (few) challenges of our car-lite lifestyle in cities as far away as Auckland, New Zealand. It also formed the basis of Modacity – our fledgling communications firm that now works with transportation agencies across North America, including the Arlington County Department of Transportation.
In July 2015, we were approached by a producer at the CBC to appear in an upcoming documentary for The National, their flagship nightly news and current affairs program. The concept was a simple one: “What if a Canadian city such as Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal invested hundreds of millions of dollars into bicycle infrastructure?” A film crew followed our family around for three days in July as we went about our daily routine and illustrated that very scenario to viewers: What would that investment look like “on the ground” for regular Canadian families? The finished piece - which included an interview with our friend, UBC Professor Kay Teschke - generated a great deal of attention and discussion about building better bike lanes.
Of the incredible interest that drove this crazy adventure, we can only offer the following explanation: our followers are intrigued to view a liveable, life-sized city through the eyes of one (or four) of its users. This has turned our family’s unremarkable day-to-day existence into something truly remarkable, where the simple act of getting from A to B is a memorable, shareable, and joyous experience.
From a more personal perspective, while it can be said we take it for granted at times, our decision seven years ago has had a tremendous effect on our relationship to each other as a family.
Raising children is a challenging endeavour, and dedicating to more active modes certainly adds to the challenge. But what we have found is that making a trip on foot or bike has led to very meaningful conversations with our children, because we can focus more on them, and not what is happening through a windshield. It is an outcome we could have never anticipated, but we feel we have a better understanding of our children’s experiences and developing personalities, all because of the human scale at which we travel through our city.
It has also had an effect on our relationship with each other, both personally and professionally. Every walk or bike ride becomes an opportunity to brainstorm for our latest project, or discuss exciting new adventures for our family, or simply an opportunity to reconnect through all the daily stresses most couples and families experiences.
Our little family does not identify ourselves as “car-free”, nor are we stubborn radicals trying to save the world. We chose more humble means – foot or bicycle - for the majority of our daily trips because they are by far the most practical, efficient, and enjoyable ways to get from A to B.
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(All photos courtesy of Modacity)
About the Authors
Chris and Melissa Bruntlett are the co-founders of Modacity, a multi-service communications and marketing firm focused on inspiring healthier, happier, simpler forms of urban mobility through words, photography and film. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.