GCAT - Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation

Suzanne Gates, Surviving and Thriving Without a Car

Suzanne Gates, on the front page of the Guelph Tribune, Jan. 15, 2015. Photo by Ned Bekavac

Suzanne Gates, on the front page of the Guelph Tribune, Jan. 15, 2015. Photo by Ned Bekavac

Suzanne is a founding member of Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation.  She is also a car free, year round cyclist.  How has she managed, to not just survive, but actually thrive without a car?
While certainly not everyone can forgo car ownership, this committed soul has demonstrated that it can be possible.
 Suzanne is a retired teacher who volunteers at the YMCA, the organic garden at the University of  Guelph,  the Julien Project at St. Ignatius, and helps young children with their reading in a grade one class.  She has many other interests, including gardening, hiking and canoeing.
I asked her why she sold her car many years ago.  She said that when she lived in Manitoba seven years ago, she didn’t need a car. The aboriginal community in which she taught was small enough to make it easy to get around by bike.  When she moved to Guelph, she decided not to purchase a car because she had gotten so used to living without one.
What were her prime motivators for going car free?  Many of her answers were not surprising…good health, not wanting to pollute, saving money, being closer to nature, etc.   She has always been an advocate for active transportation.   I was, however, surprised to hear that, in her case, being car free enhanced her quality of life.
Most people would envision that going without a car would force them to be less social than they would like.  They might worry that they would opt to stay home rather than biking or taking the bus somewhere, because of the time and trouble involved.  In Suzanne’s case, however, cycling all over Guelph has allowed her the opportunity to meet new people who have similar interests to her own, to the point where cycling has actually expanded her social circle. 
As the above photo suggests, Suzanne doesn’t even let winter weather deter her from cycling. In both Northern Manitoba and in Guelph, she rides her bike all winter long.  She has a special beater bike with studded tires for snowy and icy conditions. The winter conditions barely even slow her down.  She even uses the bike to go to Waterdown on a regular basis to meet one of her friends.
I asked Suzanne what she misses most about not having a car.  She said that she misses going to interesting places that are a longer distance than what bike travel allows.  However, being ever resourceful, Suzanne has found ways to offset these disadvantages.  She uses the bus, train, plane, and is not afraid to carpool.  She makes a point of paying her share of gas and has enjoyed some great conversations when sharing the drive instead of everyone going to the same place in their own car.
Suzanne’s adventurous spirit and positive outlook are contagious.  I wonder if she has been that way all of her life, or if she has become happier since she has gained the health and financial freedom that have come from relying on two wheels instead of four.

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