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Why Car-Free Outdoors?

While I am excited about making more car-free adventure routes available, this week’s post expands on the About page to give you a more detailed overview of why I started this project, and what I hope it will provide for others.

An idea generated on a walk

Back in 2007, while walking in the Berkeley hills, I observed that an AC Transit bus stopped right at Tilden Park. I wondered just how many other parks and trails in the Bay Area were accessible either directly by transit or by finding an interesting neighborhood route from a transit stop to the location:

I hope eventually to research the best car-free ways to get to parks and recreation areas in the Bay Area, as it is often confusing to figure out and sometimes involves two or three different transit agencies. …. I also want to know what the shortest route on foot is from the North Berkeley and downtown BART stations to Tilden. One of the nice things about Berkeley’s stairways is that a pleasant walk could be had up the various stairways from the flatlands to the park, avoiding some of the steep and winding streets.

This idea was added to the growing list of thoughts generated while walking and observing Berkeley. After finishing the Walking Berkeley project at the end of 2007, I revisited the idea and eventually started gathering a list of possible parks, trails, and routes. I tried out a couple of hikes, which turned out to be fun adventures. Finally, after lots of research, I was ready to start documenting the adventures and presenting them for you to enjoy!

An outdoor guidebook where every trip can be done without a car

While I greatly enjoyed the idea of getting outdoors without a car, I was not sure at first whether the results of my research were worth sharing with a wider audience. There are plenty of good books and websites for hikes, camping, and cycling in the San Francisco Bay Area. A variety of maps and tools are available online for planning your transit trip, and a few park agencies and print guidebooks even note transit-accessible hikes.

Planning a car-free hike required a lot of time and resources. Every time I went out, my backpack was loaded with guidebooks, maps, printed transit schedules and directions. In short, it was a lot of work just to get out for a hike! Additionally, I started discovering that more parks and trails were actually accessible than I first thought; even if a transit stop was a ways from the trailhead, some could be reached by using stairways and paths, rail-trails and multi-use paths, and other interesting routes through surrounding neighborhoods.

What I really wished for was something exactly like a standard outdoor guidebook except that each and every trip could be done without a car. If I hoped for car-free outdoors guide, I figured there were at least a few more people out there who would find it useful as well. My goal for Car-Free Outdoors is to present thorough hike descriptions to help save hours of planning and research on your part. If you just want to get out for a hike, you can follow the routes exactly as described. Or, you can adapt the routes to incorporate your own ideas or preferences.

Focus on what is possible

Although I have not owned a car for several years, I have often found it faster and easier to walk and ride a bicycle to reach a destination. Some buses don’t run very often, don’t run late enough in the evening, and don’t run on weekends. Transit systems are not always as efficient as they could be and they do use some fuel and resources. Decisions about changes to existing transit and the development of new transit are endlessly debated and argued by government agencies, transportation policy groups, and the press. Meanwhile, there a lot of people out there who don’t own a car or don’t want to drive as often, but just want to get outside for some fun and exercise! Car-Free Outdoors is focused on finding solutions for getting outdoors using what is currently possible using existing transit systems.

Car-free outings are fun

Perhaps a more lofty goal I have is to show that car-free outings can be just as fun if not more so than driving to the trailhead. As my partner Joe (who has come along on many of the hikes and who has enthusiastically supported the project) mentioned: “The adventure starts when you walk out the door.” When you go on a car-free hike, you get the experience not just of the hike, but the transit ride, the neighborhoods surrounding the park or open space, and the connections and distinctions between urban/suburban and natural areas. While public transit can seem challenging at times, I have found the car-free hike experience is a whole lot more fun and interesting than driving a car to a trailhead, taking a hike, and getting back in the car and driving home again. I hope some users of this resource will have that experience as well!

Categories: General Information
  1. October 1, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Here, here.

  2. Dan
    October 15, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and wow, thanks for providing your own, just what I love to read about. I think you are definitely not alone. I would love to see a guidebook on the subject. I’ll be following along for your future updates, cheers! 🙂

  3. October 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks, Dan! I will eventually be compiling an annotated page here of other car-free resources, at which point I’ll include your blog. Other readers – until then, take a look at Bike Man Dan’s link above for interesting and fun posts about bikes and riding, including some Bay Area posts!

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