In today's world of the three-car garage and the drive-through espresso shop, the notion of getting around Toledo as a one-vehicle family can seem quaint and impractical.
Few shopping venues are within walking distance of each other and often involve a trip on an interstate highway. Most other amenities are so spread out that relying on a TARTA bus - the city's only public transportation option - can make just getting there a day's errand.
If today's Toledo is built for the convenience of anything, it's the automobile.
As Andy Stepnick says, "The car is almighty here."
He and his wife, Jennifer, and their 2-year-old daughter are one of the few Toledo families that have decided to own just one vehicle. Mr. Stepnick said they have the money for two cars but for environmental and cost-saving reasons chose to own just one, a Toyota Prius.
He acknowledged he felt a bit guilty for not buying from a U.S. company but said he and Mrs. Stepnick could not find a similar environmentally friendly vehicle from an American automaker.
Fair enough. But when one Stepnick needs the car for an errand across the city, just how does the other get to and from work? Like flotsam in an ocean of endless concrete and asphalt, are they stranded?
Their solution is walking, biking, and carpooling, said Mr. Stepnick, 25, a Perrysburg native who lives in the Old West End. Occasionally, the Stepnicks take the bus.
"It just comes with the territory," he said of their lifestyle. "Anybody can do it."
Indeed, if gas prices continue to rise toward the $4 a gallon mark and beyond, more Toledo families could find themselves living like the Stepnicks, incorporating into their lives modes of transportation that reduce the need for fossil fuel.
"We made a conscious decision to work close to home and work close to each other," he said.
The Stepnicks both work downtown; he is an engineer for the city and she is a teacher at a charter school. On most days of the week they ride their bikes to work after using the car to drop off their daughter for child care. When it gets cold outside, Mr. Stepnick said he takes a TARTA bus downtown or carpools with a coworker.
Linda and Ronald Henderson are another Toledo couple who have chosen to live with just one vehicle. They live in South Toledo and drive together each day to downtown, where Mrs. Henderson works as an administrative assistant at the Toledo Community Foundation, and Mr. Henderson is a financial officer for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.
Mrs. Henderson, 59, said they once owned two vehicles. Now that their children are grown, living with one car, a Honda CRV, is easier and more cost-efficient.
While this setup can become somewhat inconvenient on days on which Mr. Henderson needs to stay late at work, Mrs. Henderson said she doesn't mind waiting for the ride home because she packs a book to read. Since they consolidated to one car, the Hendersons have begun scheduling their hair appointments together at the same salon.
"Right now there's absolutely no reason for us to have two cars," she said. "We schedule things around what each other has to do. It's usually not a problem."
Mr. Stepnick, who is trim and sports a thin dark beard, goes as far as to call his family's one-car lifestyle liberating. There is less money spent on gas, and it frees them from the common habit of taking the car for an impulse shopping trip. He said they get as much shopping as they can done at neighborhood stores, rather than traveling by car to big-box retailers.
"You're not just hopping into your car every time you want to buy something," he said.
Also important to Mr. Stepnick is knowing that his lifestyle benefits the environment. His car is seldom on the road, and when it is, it is sipping fuel at a slower rate than most other vehicles.
When automobiles burn fuel they produce carbon dioxide (CO2), which accounts for more than 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and are believed by scientists to be the cause of the recent global rise in temperatures. They are considered air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
The United States is the world's largest contributor of CO2 emissions, although China is projected to soon eclipse this lead. Automobiles and other transportation sources are responsible for one-third of U.S. CO2 emissions from energy consumption; power plants are the largest source.
On average, U.S. passenger cars run 24 miles on a gallon of fuel, and emit 369 grams of CO2 each mile, or about 9,760 pounds a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles get 17.3 miles per gallon on average and emit about one-quarter more CO2 per mile than cars.
A Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle such as the Stepnicks bought boasts an estimated 55 miles per gallon.
The United States and its territories emitted more than six billion metric tons of CO2 in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy. Ohio was responsible for approximately 265 1/2 million metric tons of CO2 in 2003, the most recent year for which state figures are available.
When he's not busy at work or being a dad, Mr. Stepnick is also a co-collaborator of the Toledo City Bicycle Co-Op, which helps area youth fix up bikes and promotes the type of urban bike riding that he enjoys: "exploratory joyrides around the city."
Yet when everyone else is driving, pedaling Toledo's streets on two wheels can get a bit hairy.
"If everybody hopped on a bike, it would be no problem," Mr. Stepnick said.
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