Low car diet becomes lifestyle for couple

SAN FRANCISCO Need a car? Suzanne Henricksen and her husband Christian are selling their two-year-old Nissan Altima.

"Since he's the only one who really uses the car, I've been pushing to sell it for a little while. Do we really need it? Let's really think about it. Is it a nicety versus do we really have to be using it?" said Suzanne Henricksen.

After putting themselves on a low car diet the answer appears to be no.

In late July, the Henricksens were among 20 San Franciscans who gave up their car keys for a month as part of a pilot project to see how lifestyle changes could reduce a persons' carbon footprint. Rather than drive, participants agreed to bike, take public transit like Muni or BART, or walk.

If they couldn't avoid driving, they agreed to use the car-sharing service Zipcar - which helped sponsor the program. It wasn't easy at first. Especially since Christian tore his achilles tendon two months ago playing basketball.

"I've spent most of my life having a car of some sort, so I've lived in the suburbs in various areas and I've always driven. I'm very much a part of the car culture," said Christian Henricksen.

But it was rewarding. The couple found the joys of shopping at local markets instead one big trip to the grocery store. The Henricksens also figured out how much money they could save without a car or car payment.

"Owning a car in the city is close to $500 a month maybe more," said Christian Henricksen.

"If you're not using it, it's crazy to take up a parking spot, use up the gas, the emissions you know," said Suzanne Henricksen.

The Henricksen's figure between public transit and a $75 dollar monthly Zipcar fee, they now spend closer to $250 per month on transportation. That makes their car expendable. Their new lifestyle means getting around takes a little planning now. But, they say it's worth it.

"It makes you think outside the box on how you're going to get somewhere," said Christian Henricksen.

"When the time comes for us to have kids, we want to be leading by example of how to leave the least amount of impact behind, and how to care for the earth and leave things for future generations," said Suzanne Henricksen.

Not everybody who took part in the diet is permanently leaving the car behind. But, everyone learned that having a car is important, though not a necessity. Still, the Henricksens admit is easier to do what they did in the middle of a big city where many things are within walking distance. The suburbs might be a different story.

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