WATERVILLE — Gina Colombatto is a community artist who has worked on projects such as the mosaic outside Waterville Public Library.
Colby College sociology professor Matthew Archibald teaches courses on health and medicine, research methods, global health and other topics.
Bill Basford is an engineer who gives public talks on energy related issues and makes furniture in his spare time.
What the three have in common is that they prefer to walk or bicycle rather than drive.
Colombatto and Archibald do not even own cars. Basford plans to give up his car, which he rarely drives anyway.
Colombatto, 57, lives downtown on Center Street. She doesn’t understand why someone would choose to drive rather than walk to a destination a few blocks away.
For instance, a friend will call and invite her to a show at the Opera House or a movie at Railroad Square Cinema, and Colombatto suggests they meet at her home.
“I say, ‘Why don’t you come to my house and we’ll walk over?’ and they say, ‘No, I can drive,’ and it’s only three blocks. They don’t want to walk even that distance. So I say, ‘OK, I’ll meet you there.’”
Archibald, 56, walks 30 minutes from his Center Street home to his job at Colby.
“I sit at my desk. I type or write a lot,” he said. “Walking around is a good way of getting exercise. I just don’t need a car. My world is small enough that I don’t need to drive.”
Basford, 67, of Benton, bicycles about five miles to Waterville nearly every day and walks a lot. A semi-retired energy engineer, he has a 17-year-old Chevrolet Lumina he plans to give up the minute he takes it to the inspection station and it does not pass.
“I’m planning to move to Portland to be closer to my favorite Buddhist center, and Portland has a good bus system,” he said.
Colombatto, Archibald and Basford are not alone in their decision to give up driving.
A study released this month by the public policy advocacy group U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows that people in the U.S. now drive less than they did eight years ago, and the driving boom that began after World War II has ended. Americans in their teens and 20s tend not to drive, due, in part, to the economic recession and younger people living in urban settings and take public transportation, according to the report.
The Boston-based group’s recommendations include reassessing transportation policies and helping those seeking alternatives to car travel.
Walking has its health benefits, both physical and emotional. Colombatto, Archibald and Basford are lithe, fit and adventurous. All three said Waterville is user-friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Archibald and Colombatto use Concord Coach, a regional bus service, if they need to take trips to Portland or Boston. The bus service stops at Colby during the school year.
They also use national bus service Greyhound, which stops at J&S Oil on Kennedy Memorial Drive. Renting Zipcars also is an option, they say. Zipcar is a national vehicle-sharing network with a site at Colby. It is open to students and staff at the college to join for a fee. Users reserve a car online, pick it up locally and pay by the hour to use it.
Archibald shops for food at Barrels Community Market and Save-A-Lot near his downtown home. If he needs to go to a Hannaford store outside the city center — there’s a Hannaford at Elm Plaza and one at JFK Plaza — he typically rents a Zipcar, he said.
He likes not driving.
“I’ve never lived in a rural environment,” he said. “This is a beautiful environment to walk around. The world goes by really fast when you’re in a car.”
Archibald recently rented a car to go to Boston and noticed, after a couple of hours of being in the car, that he was just like the other drivers — trying to go too fast and getting impatient in traffic.
“I thought, ‘Wow — what if I was like this all the time? I’d be a different person. I’d be all stressed out,’” he said.
Colombatto gave up her car whe she moved from California to Waterville three years ago to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. She sometimes rents a car to visit an aunt in Kennebunkport, but when she gets there, she leaves the car in the driveway and walks everywhere, she said.
In Waterville, she shops at both Barrels on Main Street downtown and at Uncle Dean’s Good Groceries about a mile away on Grove Street. She said walking is an adventure.
“I get very distracted on walks. I meet people. There’s so much going on in a walk,” she said. “It’s kind of a creative walk. I love not having a car. To me, it just adds so much. It gives you more free time and more spontaneity.”
Aside from the health benefits of walking or biking, Basford also notes the environmental benefits. His public talks focus on the benefits of “de-motorization.”
He is part of a bicycling group that is planning an event for this summer in which participants will be shown how to bike to specific locations via routes that are safe and efficient.
Colombatto said the same can be done for people who walk a lot. She said she has noticed that walking to Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream on Silver Street is tricky, because there is no crosswalk. That strikes her as odd, particularly because ice cream, children and summer go together.
“There’s no place to cross to get into Gifford’s,” she said. “Shouldn’t there be kids walking for ice cream?”
She, Archibald and Basford say giving up driving to walk and bicycle requires changing one’s habits and that is a difficult thing to do.
“And I don’t think it’s risk-free,” Colombatto said. “You have to be more aware of where you are.”
Amy Calder — 861-9247