The happiest mode of transportation in the world – Streetsblog San Francisco

Editor’s note: too many times, we have read comments, sometimes even supervisors and other legislators who should know better– that it is impossible to raise a family without a car. This is, of course, complete nonsense. If it’s difficult, it’s because cities have built streets that serve cars at the expense of all other modes of transport. That’s why when we saw that feature on the Stanford University website we thought it worth sharing with Streetsblog readers, with their permission.

At 4:30 p.m. on a cool fall day, two bikers pedaled to the Madera Grove Children’s Center on the Stanford campus. The rosy-cheeked duo were Arnout and Nicole Zoeller Boelens, who had picked up their two-year-old daughter Ava from daycare. Arnout, a physical scientist at Stanford, was carrying valuable cargo – the couple’s son, Filip. Snuggled under a blue blanket, the four-month-old sat in her car seat secured inside the box of the cargo bike with an adaptor.

Lest you think it was unique, it wasn’t. Without a car for 11 years, the Boelens drive exclusively on two wheels. They say they wouldn’t trade their adventurous, low-stress biking lifestyle for anything.

The Flying Dutchman

For Arnout, who grew up in the Netherlands, cycling is in his blood. He met his wife Nicole while living in Chicago. Driving without a car in the Windy City was child’s play, especially for Nicole, who had moved from Los Angeles and was no longer stuck in traffic. However, after deciding to move to the Bay Area for Arnout’s job in 2017, Nicole needed a little convincing.

let’s try

The couple deliberately chose to live in downtown Palo Alto so both could be within walking distance of work. Besides renting a car initially to buy expensive items for the move, they decided to “give it a shot” and never looked back.

“We find it just as easy to get around a five-mile radius by bike as it is by car. We get exercise, fresh air and save a lot of money,” Arnout said. Statistics show that 48% of car trips are less than three miles. AAA research indicates that the average annual cost to own and operate a new vehicle is $10,728, or $894 per month.

Daily errands are a breeze: Arnout and Nicole go everywhere, including grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments. For outings in San Francisco, the couple hop on Caltrain (using Stanford’s Go Pass, free for eligible affiliates). They take Uber to the airport, use local host ride-sharing app Turo, and rely on friends with cars for jaunts to Yosemite and Carmel. On average, the Boelens rent a car three times a year. “Honestly, going without a car here is so much easier than I expected,” Nicole said.

Converted to a Dutch-style cruiser, it appreciates the model’s low (or step-style) frame, allowing for easy assembly and disassembly. The upright riding position is comfortable and allows Nicole to easily see and be seen in traffic – a big improvement over the lean-over position on a road or hybrid bike. Another advantage: the parcels are stored in panniers instead of putting everything in a heavy backpack. For longer excursions, Nicole opts for a Dutch electric bike.

Bianca the Shar-Pei calls shotgun. Photo: Arnout Boelens

And baby make it three

When her daughter Ava was born, the pursuit of the lifestyle was never in doubt. So, along with a crib and high chair, a cargo bike tops the list of must-haves for future parents.

Definition: A cargo bike is a human-powered vehicle designed and built specifically for carrying loads. Borrowed from Dutch bakfiets, from bak (“vessel such as a box, crate or pot”) + fiets (“bicycle”).
For Arnout, many benefits resonate, but perhaps none more than quality time with loved ones. “It’s fun to cycle as a family. I can see the children and talk to them. Filip smiles at me and I give him a little wave. Ava and I play games where we try to spot buses and trains. Horseback riding is such a social activity and makes you feel connected as a family.

The most sustainable mode, too

From a sustainability perspective, replacing car miles with bike miles is one of the best ways to achieve carbon neutrality. Although his cargo bike is electrically assisted, Arnout primarily uses pedal power when riding.

There will be Snafus – stranded at Larkspur

Sometimes when challenges arise, improvisation is key. Once the family planned a nice weekend getaway to Larkspur. Weather reports predicted an atmospheric river, but Arnout felt that the prediction was most likely overstated. Turns out the storm was as torrential as expected. On the trip home, the couple, accompanied by one-year-old Ava, waited for public transport in the deluge. A commuter bus arrived but bikes could only be stored underneath. The problem? Ava’s child seat was locked to the back of Nicole’s bike with the key to the house. Fortunately, Arnout kept calm and realized he hadn’t locked the car seat. So ! It came. The trio hopped on the bus and headed home.

Off the sunset they rode

Back in Madera Grove, Ava walked out the front door smiling and hugging Winnie the Pooh. She is mounted in the box. Once she and Winnie were strapped onto a bench next to Filip, mum and dad hopped on their bikes and prepared for the twenty minute ride home.

Whether you’re considering a car-free lifestyle or just exploring the bakfiet route, Arnout said, “The most important thing I recommend is to give it a try.”

“It really is the most enjoyable form of transportation,” added Nicole.

With that, the Boelens cycled off into the sunset.

Video by Justin Narayan

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