Evacuation, sans Car

I don’t own a car, and yet (to the great surprise of many relatives and family friends) I can pretty much get everywhere I need to without feeling like I’m sacrificing anything. Most of the time I bike, and that is plenty fast and convenient for me (not to mention freeing me up from needing to go to the gym). When I need to get somewhere farther away, I usually combine bus or MAX and bike, which works great, or I’ll take transit the whole way (such as to the airport). When I need to haul something around, or get out of town, Flexcar hooks me up real good. And the thousands I save on not owning a car go straight to my yearly 3-week overseas vacation…so I really don’t feel deprived.

Watching the news coverage of the New Orleans evacuation, though, was sobering. It sure looked like car was the only way to get out of the city. What would we have done? Would we have tried to hitch a ride with a friend? What if we couldn’t find anyone in the chaos? Would we have tried to go to the corner and find a generous stranger? Would we have reserved—or just plain taken—a Flexcar, figuring that we’d have to work it out with the company after the emergency? Or tried to get a rental car? Would transit have been available or reliable?

None of those options seem like the rock-solid emergency plan you want to have in case of an emergency. That got me to thinking about the vehicles we do have—bikes. Could we have evacuated on bikes? Most of the evacuees, at least at first, were going a mere 30 miles away. 30 miles is definitely bikeable, especially with the traffic on the freeways slowed to a crawl or even stopped. Assuming our evacuation distance would be similar, could we have brought what we needed?

We discussed things, and the only things we felt like we really couldn’t leave behind would be our important papers, our laptops, and our two cats. Two cat carriers couldn’t fit in our one trailer, though. Should we get a second trailer just in case? Or would a better solution be to put two cats in one carrier, which does fit in the trailer? Of course, the trailer would be completely full with a cat carrier, plus food, cat food, and water. I suppose if you’re biking, you’d want to bring warm clothes, rain gear, a tent and sleeping bags, because you’re more exposed to the elements, and you might not be able to get far enough in one day. Now we’re talking a decent load…but I still think you could bring that with two people and a trailer, plus panniers and/or backpacks.

So, to conclude, I don’t think it would be impossible to evacuate on bicycles. But, most importantly: just because you could do it, should you? Would it be a bad idea to not have the warmth and relative safety of a car? On the other hand, you wouldn’t have to worry about filling up on gas, so maybe it would be a smarter option.

What do you think? Are there any flaws in my plan? Would you advise against bike evacuation and tell us to find a car at any cost? In case of an emergency, could bike organizations spread the word to car-free people about how to evacuate by bike? How about a giant bike caravan, for safety and shared carrying power?

Hopefully we’ll never have to evacuate…but just in case, I’d like to have a good plan in place.

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