Seniors & Aging

Bellingham retirees doing just fine without a car

Shown in February 2016, retirees Jane and Terry Brooks, and their dog, Duffy, enjoy life without a car in Bellingham. With smart planning, they get where they need to go by walking, bicycling, riding buses, and, on rare occasions, renting a car.
Shown in February 2016, retirees Jane and Terry Brooks, and their dog, Duffy, enjoy life without a car in Bellingham. With smart planning, they get where they need to go by walking, bicycling, riding buses, and, on rare occasions, renting a car. For The Bellingham Herald

Three years ago, Bellingham retirees Terry and Jane Brooks donated their vehicle to a public radio station and launched their car-free lifestyle.

Their new life, they say, is simpler, healthier, and convenient as ever.

It takes them 12 minutes to walk from their home to the grocery store at Barkley Village. Trader Joe’s, on James Street, is even closer. Their two-wheeled, pull-behind cart makes it easy to tote groceries.

Getting from home to Fred Meyer on a bike is amazingly easy. Exercise is now built into our lifestyle.

Terry Brooks

They can walk to their doctor’s office in 15 minutes. The YMCA, library, post office, Pickford Film Center, Mount Baker Theatre, and any other downtown business is 40 minutes away on foot, quicker on a bicycle.

“Getting from home to Fred Meyer on a bike is amazingly easy,” Terry says. “Exercise is now built into our lifestyle.”

The couple owns three bicycles, plus one tandem bike and two bike trailers.

Terry bought one trailer secondhand for $20 and repurposed it to carry supplies. An artist, he uses a bike and trailer to haul art supplies to his outdoor painting sites.

If it’s raining in the morning, I’m just as happy to put on boots and a hat and walk to the Y, instead of drive.

Jane Brooks

He once used his bike trailer to transport concrete garden pavers from Lowe’s Home Improvement to his front yard.

They park their bikes in their attached two-car garage. The tiled-floor garage, minus a car, adds 600 square feet of space to their house.

“Walking is good for you, and feels good,” Jane says. “If it’s raining in the morning, I’m just as happy to put on boots and a hat and walk to the Y, instead of drive.”

Jane, 65, goes to the YMCA for aerobics and swimming. Terry, 70, goes for yoga.

Critical to living car-free is careful consideration of where to live. Terry and Jane were living in Seattle in 2012 when he retired after 26 years of teaching library science at University of Washington.

They were familiar with Bellingham because their two children attended Western Washington University. When they found a house for sale in Bellingham’s Roosevelt neighborhood next to the Railroad Trail, they knew it was right for them.

The trail gets them where they need to go, but it’s also a place to meet people face-to-face. Neighbors exercise their dogs, kids walk to school, and parents push strollers along the converted railroad right-of-way that runs from Memorial Park by Sunnyland Elementary School to Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Falls Park.

“It’s a village path,” Terry says.

Even without a car, it’s easy for the Brooks to visit their grown children in Seattle. They catch a Whatcom Transportation Authority bus (50 cents with a senior discount) to the Cordata bus station, get on the BoltBus to Seattle (fare varies), then take a King County Metro Transit bus to their daughter’s home. Terry and Jane have ORCA cards, which simplifies fare-paying on Seattle buses and trains.

You can turn Bellingham into a village. You don’t need an auto to get around.

Terry Brooks

If they want to drive to Seattle, or rent a van to go camping, they walk to Enterprise Rent-A-Car on North State Street. In 2015, they spent $250 on car rentals; in 2014, $450.

They were surprised how infrequently they need a rental car. In contrast, owning a vehicle costs about $3,500 a year, Terry estimates.

They thought that getting to airports without a car would be difficult, but have found otherwise. Wearing carry-on backpacks, or with a rolling suitcase, they walk 15 minutes to Iowa Street to catch a shuttle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Or, they take the BoltBus to Vancouver, B.C., and catch the SkyTrain to that city’s airport.

As the Brooks demonstrate, a car-free life can work for healthy adults who walk well, don’t need to transport children or elders, and can situate themselves near shopping and other activities. Terry and Jane intentionally chose a house in a flat neighborhood that’s near a bus line and trail, to facilitate their car-free life.

“Nothing is that inconvenient,” Jane says.

“That’s due to good planning,” Terry says. “You can turn Bellingham into a village. You don’t need an auto to get around.”

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