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Former St. Lousian Authors New Book on Car-Free Living

September 1, 2006 Bicycling, Books, Public Transit 15 Comments

Check out an article in the current West End Word on a new book by former St. Louisan Chris Balish, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car:

Balish is disarmingly frank about his own situation. In the book he tells his personal story of going “accidentally car free” while working for KSDK-TV Channel 5 as the host of Show Me St. Louis. At the time he worked in downtown St. Louis and lived on the western edge of the Central West End.

“In 2002 I was driving a shiny new $36,000 SUV,” he writes. “It was a dark blue Toyota Sequoia with a big V8 engine, power everything and enough seats to fit all my friends. I loved that thing, and I kept it immaculate. It was expensive, but I thought my status as a TV news anchorman necessitated an impressive ride and a flashy image.” Then when gas prices spiked, he thought about selling the SUV and downsizing. But, as it happened, the first person to respond to his classified ad bought the vehicle on the spot, before Balish had a new set of wheels lined up.

Balish was still living and working in St. Louis while writing the book and interviewed a number of locals, such as my friend Jeff Jackson, that manage without a car. From the promotional website for the book:

Despite what $20 billion of automobile advertising every year would have us all believe, buying or leasing a car, truck, or SUV is the worst financial move most people make in their lifetime. And they make this mistake again and again, at a cost of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. High gas prices, car payments, insurance, depreciation, parking, repairs, maintenance, and nearly one hundred other expenses add up so quickly and silently that most car owners don’t even notice—they just see how little money they have left at the end of the month and wonder why.

The first two chapters are available as a free download on his website, LiveCarFree.com. You can order the book from locally-owned Left Bank Books for the published price of $12.95.

I’m going to move in this direction by selling my ’06 Scion and getting an old basic car outright. Goodbye car payments and goodbye expensive full coverage insurance. The trick is finding something that is cheap, reliable and not overly embarrassing. With my scooter serving more and more of my daily needs the car becomes less and less important.

– Steve


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Your Virtual Alderman says:

    “The trick is finding something that is cheap, reliable and not overly embarrassing”

    Cheap and reliable are the hard part. It’s tough to get both.

    About the time your new car is paid off, it’s no longer very reliable.

    A $300 per month car repair, with an unreliable car, is not a workable situation for most people.

    Living simpler without a car, means having less ability to get up and go when you please.

    A scooter is great, but it’s not family transporation.

    Single people have many more transit options than family units.

    Hopefully you made a big down payment on your ’06 Scion, otherwise a sale now would likely mean you’d owe more than you could get for the car.

    What about car sharing?

    I can see the downside being dividing the liability.

    If I share a car with you, and you have a bad driving record, how do we deal with insuring the car?

    Users could pay an actuarially calculated fee, with lowest costs going to users with clean driving records, and the highest costs to those with points on their record.

    Likewise, what about maintenance…

    If I drive like a fiend, and my sharing partner drives easy, the easy driver should pay less for car maintenance than the driver who spins donuts in the Gravois Plaza parking lot.

    No easy answers.

  2. Tom says:

    Citizens for Modern Transit been trying to launch a car sharing program in St. Louis, using Flexcar of Zipcar. (Both have websites.) The snag is they both want a commitment of 10 cars to locate in St. Louis. I have a commitments right now for 3 but will be contacting developers, Metro and the city. Talks with the city last year were non commital. I hope to interst the Downtown Partnership is supporting the effort.


  3. Douglas Duckworth says:

    A good solution for people with kids is to get a job in the City. Live near their school and within bus/metro for your job. Kids walk to school and parents can take mass transit. If one of the parents is not close enough then purchase a small sedan. Make sure it is used as well.

  4. Your Virtual Alderman says:


    I like your idea, but here’s my dilemma. Families with kids move out of the city because of the public schools, and most progressives oppose programs like vouchers which would provide an alternative to city households with school age kids.

    City employees traditionally have been a source of families with kids in the city. Now the police department is trying to move out of the city. Can the fire department be far behind? What about the rest of the city employees.

    As an elected official, the fire department and police departments were always a good source of (democratic, unionized) loyal voters. But now they want to move out of the city, so what good is it for me to be loyal to them?

    The good news is that city neighborhoods are popular with gays, empty nesters, and young couples with no kids.

    Let me share with you some of my thinking…

    How can we find auto-oriented, chain stores, that are attractive to gays, empty nesters, and young people with no kids?

    I’m thinking Pier One.

  5. Douglas Duckworth says:


    Idealistically you should be against allowing these city employees to leave; yet if they stay, they will probably vote against you in the next election.

    The solution to this problem is to give incentives to these people. Make them exempt from the earnings tax or lower their property taxes. Do something to get them to stay in the City. If business can get tax incentives so should our hard working city employees!

    First say no you can’t leave, but we understand your concerns, and here is your incentive. If that does not work, give them the 7-year ceiling plus the incentive. If that does not work then well you as an elected official have made enough compromises and they should simply get a different job.

    Regarding development. These companies want our markets. Wal-Mart wants to come to St. Louis to access the disposable income of the gay population and the very affluent markets present in St. Louis. We can kindly work with them to achieve an urban design like the Boulevard with peripheral stores as well as residential and office. Have this be TOD as well. Wal-Mart would benefit greatly with people living next door in walking distance while their employees would surely enjoy walking to a adjacent store for lunch. TOD enables greater access to the Wal-Mart as even more disposable income is available due to less spent on gasoline. Urban mixed use will work for even the big corporations if they simply reduce their size and have an open mind. More customers accessing that 24H store as they live right next-door or dare I say even above it! Think of the media exposure they would recieve. Every City across the USA would want an urban Wal-Mart if they had a revolutionary and functional design.

  6. LisaS says:

    I like Doug’s idea too, but for City families, it’s not really a choice until we develop a more viable school situation, more stability in affordable housing areas close to efficient transit (more than half of married-couple families make $50k or more, but that only translates into $150k mortgage … ), and greater availability of above-average salary jobs in the City.

    Is this the type of big-box development you had in mind?


    Why can it be done in Atlanta and not here? Lack of political will? YVA, care to speak to this?

  7. Kara says:

    I’m a St. Louis native, though I’ve lived in Tampa for the last 4 years. I’ve been enjoying your blog.

    I lived without a car for many years in St. Louis and have lived for periods without a car in Tampa. The number one problem I’ve experienced is access to a grocery store. With the replacement of many small neighborhood stores for one large supermarket serving several neighborhoods, it is not possible for most to live within walking distance of a grocery store. This basic need alone requires one to purchase a car. Once a car is needed even for one thing, it becomes easier to rely on the car as the primary means of transportation. An effort should be made to encourage smaller scale grocery stores to move into all neighborhoods and be within walking distance of everyone, similar to the methods of Walgreens. (I have always lived within walking distance of a Walgreens without ever trying).

    During the time I briefly lived in Europe I lived 1/4 mile from the subway and used public transit exclusively to get around. It was wonderful to stop off at the store on my walk home from the subway station and buy food for dinner and the next couple days. There were 3 grocery stores within walking distance of my apartment. They were small, but they provided my needs and most of my wants.

  8. Adam says:

    amen, kara.

  9. Your Virtual Alderman says:

    Lisa asks re. urban scale commercial developments:


    Why can it be done in Atlanta and not here? Lack of political will? YVA, care to speak to this?”

    Rollin Stanley, the city’s top planner, is advocating for this sort of development at the NE corner of Delmar and Kinsghighway, the site of an abandoned Schnucks store.

    Also, the city has developed marketing information on a number of city locations, demonstrating stronger purchasing power at urban locations than suburban settings, such as the mega-big box corner of Lindbergh and I-44 in southwest St. Louis County.

    There was an attempt a number of years ago by a group of South City neighborhood organizations to bring urban scaled development to the corner of Kingshighway and Chippewa.

    This blog has covered the general area around the southeast corner of Chippewa and Kingshighway. Rumor and speculation have circulated around the idea of Walmart buying out the area, including the Magdalen parish soccer fields and parish hall, to build a big box store facing Kingshighway.

    Others have talked about developing new housing on the same site.

    Development projects with real aldermen usually happen long before there is much community input.
    If urbanists want to see a certain outcome, they need to get more on the front end of the curve.

  10. Heather says:

    Please not Pier One or WalMart.

    And Amen to Kara on the grocery store issue. If I had a good grocery store within walking distance, my car would stay in the garage most of the time. Loading groceries onto a bus with three children is doable just not enjoyable.

  11. Susanne says:

    Doug –

    Let me guess . . .you don’t have kids.

    I might have posted something similar before I became a parent.

    I love living in the city, but let’s face it: it’s not safe enough for my son to walk the 7 blocks to the nearest elementary school. And even if that changed, the St. Louis schools are totally unacceptable. Unfortunatly, that won’t be fixed before he goes to the prom. So, if we stay in the city, we drive him to a private school.

    Plus, jobs are moving to the county (mine, for example)and lots of city residents are driving to the suburbs each day to work (sad, but we need the paycheck).

    Until Metrolink starts expanding at warp speep, cars are a necessary evil.

  12. Katy says:

    A lot of lower-income folks do manage to do their grocery shopping via public transit and w/kids. A lot of those kids are riding the bus to school. So, it can be done, but it seems like a lot of us who can choose to avoid buses do avoid them. The grocery store issue is a problem. There is very little in the way of quality and choice for low income families in the way of groceries, so a lot of Walgreens do end up as the local market (that’s why they’re always advertising milk prices). I’m trying to wean myself off of the car to save on parking tickets, and so far I’m really pleased with the decision. I’m not car free yet, but hoping to get disciplined enough with my time to catch the bus and avoid the short drive to the metrolink station.

  13. Heather says:

    Kara I agreed with you on the grocery issues. I said it was DOABLE not ENJOYABLE. I try to take public transportation when I can and I’m lucky enough to have a bus stop in front of my house. I would love to ride my bike around the city but with three children under 5 there is no safe way for me to do it. Once my oldest is confident on his bike and my 3 year old turns 4 so he can ride the school bus, our van will stay in the garage 95% of the time.

  14. Dustin says:

    ^Heather, you say you are lucky you have a bus stop in front of your house. Perhaps it was less luck and more good planning on your part. Part of my choice of where to buy hinged on access to public transportation though I own a car. There have been times that I have been uncontrollably without a car or just chose not to drive. I mean who wants to park at Soulard Mardi Gras? I just hop on the bus and I can fill my gullet with beer (I don’t like Hurricanes) and not worry about driving home. Having access to multilple means of transport is important to me. I’ll probably always have a car and maybe a truck and a motorcycle and… but its how and when I choose to use them that is important to me.

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