The One-Car Family

What it’s like to give up the second set of wheels.

Illustration:  Laura Mccabe

Call it a side effect of law school. My husband gave up the company truck when he became a full-time student and we found ourselves wondering if we could put our money where our Earth-loving, energy-conscious mouths were. We are now five people, one car, a bike, a bus pass and a skateboard.

We are deeply settled into Suburbia, Oahu. If you have enough children, it’s a land where minivans can hit 100,000 miles per year without ever leaving the neighborhood. Our Hawaii Kai neighbors are likely taking bets on how long we’ll last. We live walking distance to nothing. We’re raising a gaggle of kids that can’t yet handle the two-mile walk to school, and we’re not on the bus line. My husband is buried in a book at the University of Hawaii 60 hours per week, and I am fulltime as an environmental scientist in a downtown high-rise. Add in baseball for two boys, swim team for all and ballet for the princess and it’s not the children that are overscheduled. It’s the Volvo.

We have long supported bike commuters, thinking good for you! as we drive past on Kalanianaole Highway. Both my husband and I are recreational cyclists. We have done this before. But back then we only had one job (his) and two kids—one for each hand. We lived in Berkeley, the view from our kitchen window was into Trader Joe’s, the BART roared by every 15 minutes, and there were two Starbucks within 400 steps. It’s harder in Honolulu.

I ride into town early each morning, on a bike or TheBus. My husband Mr.-Moms the morning routine, getting the kids, and then himself, to school. We meet up mid-afternoon and head home together, then take turns running the kids all over Hawaii Kai.

The up-side isn’t solely financial. One car means more time spent with my husband during shared commutes, and efficiently planned days. There is new-found bike fitness, and an excuse to buy his-and-her messenger bags. I hadn’t ridden TheBus since eighth grade, and it really is a nice place to read a book.

There are challenging days. I have found myself marooned, and have tortured colleagues with the occasional sweaty office meeting. The discovery that my downtown building doesn’t allow bikes inside means I bus more than cycle. I am limited by a carbon-fiber racing bike that might not survive the bike rack in the back alley. I begged building management, offering to ride up the parking ramp to get it inside, to no avail. I found out the hard way that there are cameras in the service elevator. I asked around on the Sunday group ride and found that most buildings downtown have the same policy. No wonder the bikes most frequently seen on Bishop Street are the black, static kind with mopeds locked to them.

Two months in, my 8-year old, the most observant of my children, realized something had changed. “Hey,” he asked, “where’s Dad’s truck?”