Thursday, September 4, 2014

Our Three Least Favorite Times To Be Carless In OKC

Hello, everyone! Our goal here at Carless In OKC is to show everyone that it's possible to live without a car, even in a city without good walkability or extensive public transit options. We've been carless for almost a year now, and I would definitely say that we're succeeding

However. As positive and dedicated as we are, there are a few aspects of daily life that are surprisingly difficult with a carless lifestyle. It's not necessarily what you would think, and these are, for the most part, specific to Oklahoma City. 

1. Banking

Banking has been a problem for us since day one. Neither of the banks we used in Georgia are in Oklahoma City, so we had to open new accounts here. Determined to avoid the big banks, we chose a credit union upon our arrival, and while we're happy with their service in general, we made that choice before we decided to go carless. We've been dealing with a bank that is not only not very close to our home, but isn't even located on a bus line, and that is only open during business hours. We would probably switch banks, but that would mean we'd have to take time off during the workday and then rent a Timecar to get there, and so far, we've been unwilling to do the former just to change banks. 

Our view. So many banks that we can't even use.
I never imagined that banking, of all things, would be such a problem. Maybe I've always been spoiled, but I'm used to extended hours, Saturday banking, and a branch on every corner. And living downtown, where we can literally see at least 4 banking headquarters from our living room window, it seems ridiculous that we can't even use one of those banks. They're located mere blocks away from our apartment, but they're only open when we're at work, Monday through Friday, which renders them useless to us. That's the paradox of living in downtown Oklahoma City - in most places, downtown is where the action is. Here, however, when everyone goes back home to the suburbs after 5:00pm, everything closes. Sure, we have some great restaurants, but those of us who live downtown are left without access to some basic goods and services, like banking and...

2. Grocery Shopping

Forgive me if I'm beating a dead horse here, but it's ridiculous to me that there's not a walkable, full-service grocery store in or near downtown Oklahoma City. That's not to say that there aren't any grocery options, but I don't feel that I'm being overly nitpicky to say that they don't fulfill my needs. I love Native Roots, and I shop there regularly, but they don't carry everything that I buy on a weekly basis. Homeland is also located somewhat nearby, but I prefer a wider selection of organic foods. And since it's located about a mile away, it's just far enough of a trek to make carrying groceries home a pain, but also just close enough to make taking a cab seem like a waste. We used to solve this by walking to the store, and then taking a cab home with all of our purchases. 

Then came Timecar. Once we discovered this service, we were then able to make our weekly trip out to Sprouts or Whole Foods with relative ease. As much as we love Timecar, though, we shouldn't have to go to 63rd and May to get groceries. Downtown (or more likely, Midtown) Oklahoma City needs a smaller-format, full-service grocery store, period. It's not like they don't exist elsewhere. Trader Joe's or Earth Fare, where are you?

Earth Fare - the best store. I want it here so badly.
3. Nature

I'll be honest: I know we're a little spoiled. Before we moved, our home in Georgia was surrounded by woods. Our backyard actually connected with the hiking trails of the State Botanical Gardens. We were living in the midst of the great outdoors, and our house was only a couple of miles from downtown Athens. Pretty much anywhere in Georgia, you have the feeling that nature could take back over within a couple of years if given the chance; the flora seems to be barely contained. Even when I lived in Atlanta, I never felt like I was that far from nature. 

Another concession I'll make is that we're kind of comparing apples to oranges with the outdoors experience there versus here. Flat, grassy prairie will never feel the same as the hilly, tree-covered Piedmont region that we grew up with. Therefore, when we start craving nature, part of us is looking for the Deep South experience we're used to, and it's harder to get that here. Trying to achieve that without a car, we've learned, is not easy. 

Last weekend, for example, we wanted to go check out the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge. Like we always do, we researched the best way to get there. No bus route stops there, of course, but neither does one even get close enough for us to ride the bus with our bikes and then cycle the rest of the way. It's possible, I'm sure, but in this heat, it didn't seem like a viable or pleasant option. Not to mention, I'd be afraid to ride on the roads that far out from downtown - I doubt that it's very safe for cyclists. Again, of course it's possible, but the bottom line to me is that the transit system fails if it doesn't take people to recreation areas. There's not a Lake Hefner stop - the closest you can get to Hefner on the bus is about a half mile to a mile - nor is there a stop for Lake Overholser itself or Lake Draper. These recreation areas are pretty much only accessible by car, which I don't think is very good public health policy. 

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge
There are plenty of parks that are on bus routes, yes. The Oklahoma River Trails are located close to downtown and have great connectivity with Bricktown, but at least on the north side, the sidewalk and bike lane access is inconsistent. Again, it's possible to reach them on foot or by bike, but those paths are poorly marked and/or maintained in many areas, and it sends a clear message that pedestrian and bike access to the trails is not a priority. 

I was a lot more accepting of this situation until our trip to Portland, Oregon. Before that trip, I had never personally used such an effective array of transportation options, and I was thrilled by just how much we were able to do without a rental car while we were in the city - including taking a bus directly to a wilderness trailhead, taking a 7 mile hike which passed multiple bus stops at road crossings in the middle of the woods, and then being able to hop onto the MAX light rail at the end of the trail to head back into the city. Now I just feel indignant that I have to work so hard to experience the outdoors. 

Ah, Portland: Ride a bus to the middle of a hike if you want.
None of these issues is severe enough to deter us from our car-free mission, but we'd be lying if we said everything we do is a cakewalk. We live in a place where we have to make it work, because we want to, and these are the three areas where making it work is a mild, yet consistent, annoyance. One reason why it's frustrating is because this state of affairs is so counter to our ideals. We support walkability and alternative transportation options because we want accessibility for everyone, regardless of where they live and how they choose to travel. 

Tune in to KOSU 91.7 FM and listen for us on the radio in the coming weeks, as we begin a series of radio segments about the blog. We don't have a set time yet, but follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC and when we find out, we'll let you know when to listen. Hope you enjoy!


  1. I like what you're saying. There's a crucial difference I think between Portland and TriMet and OKC and EMBARK. From what I read, TriMet is a regional service - "TriMet provides bus, light rail and commuter rail transit services in the Portland, Oregon, metro area." EMABRK is just within the City of Oklahoma City. So no, there was no way to get to Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge because it's not in OKC. Should there be a regional transportation service of some sort, yes there should be that sounds like a great idea. There's a group, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, that is looking at regional transportation planning. But it's a long way away from what you found in Portland. I guess I'm really trying to say that yeah the OKC area is severely lacking, but comparing it to Portland is kind of apples or oranges. I don't know if there is another metro area of this size/population without a regional mass transit solution to be honest.

    1. Yeah, it's definitely not fair to compare OKC and Portland when it comes to transit. Fair point. Stinchcomb is within the OKC city limits (though it does show up with a Yukon address when you type it into Google). I posted a link to the map below. However, you're right about the importance of a regional transit authority. I know there was state legislation empowering ACOG to take action on the RTA front; hopefully connectivity to outdoor recreation is considered!,+OK/@35.5423129,-97.602107,12z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x87ad8a547ef8d281:0x33a21274d14f3a9d

    2. I stand corrected about Stinchomb.

  2. Huge fan of the approach. Just one suggestion on banks. I've used Schwab for years. Tons of online options, and they will repay any fees you incur by using any other bank. Every bank is effectively your bank. Pretty great.

    1. Thanks for the advice! We'll check it out for sure.

  3. There's a crappy homeland on 18th and classen. Should work in a pinch.

    TFCU, I use the phone app and almost never have to go there. I think you can get cash at any credit union ATM without a fee.

    I live on the NE side a few miles from downtown and there isn't any grocery there either. It's go to braums, dollar store, or CVS unless you want to head to Midwest City or Belle Isle.

    Drivers are terrible this near downtown even. I got passed on a 25 mph service road on my bicycle by a dude going 80 mph or so yesterday. Blew through the stop sign at the offramp and just about killed everybody. Happens weekly.

    1. That Homeland is the one we used to use. I'm just admittedly a food snob and don't like shopping there. I'll go there to pick up something in a pinch, like you said, but my weekly shopping is done elsewhere.

      Our problem with our credit union is that there's no mobile app, and to set up online banking, you literally have to set it up via snail mail. Thankfully we do have access to free credit union ATMs, at least.

      I don't doubt that you're getting almost run down by drivers close to downtown. My husband almost gets run over on his walk to work downtown every day; it's ridiculous how little regard drivers have for anyone else on the road or sidewalk.

  4. You should rethink how you bank. I live in California and use a credit union I started at in Pennsylvania back in college. I do all my banking by ATM, mobile phone, and mail. I rarely even need to mail anything, because check cashing by phone is prevalent now, and I can reorder personal checks online.

    For groceries, our savior when going carless in San Jose, another car centric city, was a BOB trailer for my bike. I actually miss those days now that we're lazy and have a car again.

    On the nature point, I'm with you there. That's actually the main reason I wanted a car again, to get to the great national and state parks that are available in our area.

    1. That's actually one of our big issues with our current bank - you have to sign up for online banking via snail mail (I'm serious), and who the hell is going to do that? And they definitely don't have any mobile apps or anything. I like the idea of entirely mobile banking but there's a part of me that wants access to a branch should I need it. Call me old-fashioned.

      If we lived in a place where we had access to great national and state parks, I would be more tempted to own a car for that reason, but we just don't have them here. I'm jealous!

    2. Where is a place that has parks that you would consider great as compared to Oklahoma's? And how far as you willing to drive? I guess I mean what are you looking for in a state or national park that makes it "great", Oklahoma has a few that are rather blah, but I'm just curious which state/location you think has the better ones. The Anonymous poster above said he or she lives in California, that's a whole lot of territory.

    3. Well, we had grown particularly fond of the Blue Ridge forest in Georgia. It's tough to go from lush undulating Piedmont to the flat scrubby plains of the Midwest. I have been interested in checking out the Great Salt Plains in Oklahoma -- it seems otherworldly. I imagine eastern Oklahoma has some pretty well-vegetated and hilly/mountainous areas, so that would be worth checking out.

      The cities in Georgia are in constant battle with the vegetative wildlife in Georgia, and there's just something comforting about being able to run through trails in the woods, or drift down a river. Athens, where we're from, had several very nice parks, and the Georgia Botanical Gardens was beyond our back yard when we left. We went from being smack in the middle of nature to a highrise with limited mobility around the city. Granted, this was our decision, and when the trail system is complete, there will be really good access to natural areas.