Thursday, December 10, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I've also noticed that having a car allowed us to be complacent about the professional services we receive. When we first moved to Boston in 2000, it took a while to find a pediatric dentist. My son has some special needs that made finding the right dentist pretty important. Even though we lived in Roxbury, we ended up going to a dentist in Cambridge. Even after we moved to Brookline, we kept going to Cambridge. But we had a car, so it could work. Even though we could have looked for someone closer, we never took the trouble. It's a hassle to change your dentist, doctor, vet, hairdresser. It's much easier to stay in the same routine. But going to professionals outside your neighborhood comes at a cost--there is an environmental impact of the travel, it eats up extra time from your life, and your money supports an office and workers in a town that's not your own.
A couple weeks ago, I had to take the kids to the dentist for checkups. But the appointment was too close to the end of school to effectively get there by bus, so I ended up renting a zipcar. With traffic, it took us almost an hour to get there (it's about 4 miles from home). Going to the dentist ended up consuming three hours and cost $30 in car rental fees. When I had our own car, I wouldn't have noticed the cost (though it was still costing me), and I would have ignored the time spent.
I've since found a new dentist for the kids, one that we can walk or bike to. And all it took was a couple e-mails to other parents at my son's school, and a phone call to the dental offices. I should have made the change years ago, but the convenience of the car allowed the situation to continue (even though it actually was less convenient).
(It turns out that our old dentist is retiring anyway, so we wouldn't have gotten to see him much anymore anyway.)
More and more, we're rethinking how we're accessing life around us and bringing it back closer to home.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Here is the 2009 version of Muammar Gaddafis "Saroukh el-Jamahiriya (Libyan Rocket)" a car which made its debut in 1999, exactly 10 years ago.
The “Libyan Rocket”, as the prototype is called, is described as an “elegant sedan” 17 feet long, more than six feet wide, with a 3-liter, V-6 gasoline engine.
According to the BBC and Fox News, it also has airbags, an unspecified ‘electronic defense system’, and a collapsible bumper.
The car can go hundreds of miles on a flat tire, a feature that could come in handy while driving in the vast Libyan desert. Other safety features include a device to cut off the fuel supply to avoid a fire in case of accident.
Domenico Morali, CEO of Tesco TS SpA, an automotive design company based in Turin, Italy, said Qaddafi joined in discussions about the car’s styling and asked for an original car using Libyan materials including marble, leather and fabric.
The car was unveiled in Tripoli at the end of an African Union summit.
According to the BBC, construction of a factory to produce the car was to have began in October 2009 in Tripoli. (ANI)
Sunday, November 15, 2009
On Friday, I had to take our cat, Tycho, to the vets for tests and shots. Turns out the cat carrier fits perfectly into the trailer. I was worried that the ride would be too bumpy, so I lined the bottom with plenty of towels. But with the pneumatic tires, it's really not that bad. I also worried whether the cat would freak out at being in the trailer. Whenever we go for a ride in the car, he yowls and meows and lets me know that riding in a car is a weird, unpleasant experience.
Oddly, he didn't seem to mind riding in the trailer at all. He made one small meow at me, and that was about it. My theory for this is that riding in a car is an intensely strange experience for a cat--the air is still, so it seems like we must be inside a house, but yet there's a sensation of movement. In the trailer, it was clear that we were outside. He could feel the air moving, and he could see me right in front of him. He could hear the sounds of the world. He didn't seem to mind it at all. (And, for the record, it's a pretty short ride.)
Yesterday, I put Patience to the test in the rain. It was pouring out all day long, and I'd agreed to a handyman job out in Newton, 6.2 miles from our house (each way). I wanted to keep the job, and I thought I'd give the trailer and my rain gear a good workout.
It certainly got it. I loaded the trailer with my toolbox and other tools, probably 20-30 pounds of tools, and hit the streets. Remnants of hurricane Ida cascaded from the clouds. Autumn leaves blocked many of the storm drains along the route, making huge puddles and swiftly flowing streams covering the roads. Luckily, traffic was light. Still, I made sure I had all my lights and flashers going so I could be easily spotted.
I didn't mind riding in the rain. My jacket and rain pants kept me pretty dry, and my baseball cap under my helmet kept most of the rain off my glasses, so I could still see. Pulling the cart through the water and up the hills was a pretty serious workout, but within my abilities (funny how you tend to gloss over the hills when you drive a car, but I can tell you that between Cleveland Circle and Newton Center, Beacon Street goes up and down a big-ass hill).
I got to the job with my feet soaking wet, but otherwise dry underneath my gear. And the trailer kept my tools completely dry. Unfortunately, I got a little lost just as I was approaching my destination. I'd printed out a google map of the area, and it lasted just long enough to get me unlost before the rain dissolved it into a soggy clump. Getting lost in the pouring rain on your bike is not a happy feeling.
The rain came down even harder on the way home, and the front seam of the jacket leaked a bit onto my shirt, but the pants were great. I need to find some better waterproof shoes for riding at some point.
It was a good adventure, though I confess that I was awfully tired and wiped out when I got home and had to take a little nap in the afternoon.
The temperature was in the mid 50s, so the ride was surprisingly fine. I expected to be cold and miserable, but I didn't mind riding in the rain at all. (Tracy might just say that shows that I'm a little nuts.) The trailer handled beautifully in the rain--I'm really getting used to hauling it around. We'll see how it goes in the wintertime when it gets old out.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I'm not sure that reducing individual resource use is the entire way forward. At the root, religious philosophies say to do less harm, yes, but they also say do more good. There is a limit to how much less harm I can do. But my potential for good is unlimited. All of our potentials for good are unlimited.I agree with Colin that it will take both individual and collective action to effect that need to occur. Us giving up our car is certainly a tiny drop in the bucket, but it does have an impact, and it also increases the awareness of the people around us (and ourselves), and that can ripple outward in a powerful way.
The question becomes not whether we use resources but what we use them for. Do we use them to improve lives? Or do we waste them? My life itself is a resource. How shall I use it?
Thursday, November 5, 2009
In his section on reducing carbon footprint and on stopping using fossil-fuel based transportation, Beavan offers these interesting statistics about cars and America:
- American adults average 72 minutes per day behind the wheel of a car (twice as much as the average American father spends with his kids).
- 17 percent of the average American's income goes toward the costs of owning and running a car.
- Americans spend the equivalent of 105 million weeks of time sitting in traffic jams.
- People who ride bikes or walk to work are 24 percent more likely to be happy with their commute than those who drive cars.
It's a very thoughtful book, much more than just an attention-grabbing stunt.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
After a tiny bit more conversation, we worked it out and they dropped it off on our doorstep yesterday, just in time for our weekly grocery run. This particular trailer is from Bike Friday, and is a BicycleR Evolutions "Shopper" Trailer and is basically a large 24 gallon Rubbermaid container bolted to a frame with wheels.
The hitch hooked up to my bike with no problem, and once it was on, it was smooth riding. Supposedly it can hold up to 100 pounds, which would make it very helpful for getting pet and garden supplies. I gave it a ride to Stop & Shop and came home with 68 pounds of groceries (including a 20 lb can of kitty litter). When empty, it drove with no problem whatsoever--I hardly even knew it was behind me. The universal joint on the hitch rotates in all directions, so it doesn't exert any unusual force on the back wheel.
On the way home, fully loaded, it still pulled smoothly, though with almost 7o pounds in the trunk (plus 17 lbs for the trailer), I definitely knew it was there. I'm used to riding with a lot of weight in my basket and backpack, but this was a different experience. With the basket and backpack, the weight is a lot more uneven and the balance is thrown off a bit on the bike. With the trailer, the balance stays the same, but I just had to get used to this pull from behind me--uphill was a bit more work, and downhill required a little vigilance to modify the extra momentum. Keeping up a steady pace makes the ride a lot more pleasant, so you just have to shift your gears a lot more actively and consciously.
Overall, pulling the trailer is a little more work for the legs, but clearly much easier on the body overall, and definitely a lot simpler to handle loads with volume, extra weight, or large objects. I couldn't have carried this whole load home with just my side basket and backpack.
One of the coolest parts of this particular trailer is how easily it can be stored. We can just stick it on its end in our bike room, and you hardly know it's there (it's very lightweight), which is a big plus because the small bike room in our condo building sometimes has as many as 11 bikes in it.
It was also just fun to pull the trailer--it make me feel like a serious biker. I'm looking forward to many more trips with it behind me.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The good news was that we'd paid a visit to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital with this cat years ago, but we were still in the system, so we could buy the food from them. And they're only about a mile away. It turns out that my bike basket and back rack (with the help of a few bungee cords) are capable of carrying a 20 lb bag of cat food. (Though I very much want a bike trailer. It looks like we might be able to borrow one from a friend)
And guess what, Angell even charged $1 less than our old place--we should have checked and changed a long time ago. But when you have a car, it's easy to just keep old habits in place, because the costs to your wallet and the environment are not so readily apparent. With the car gone, we have to reevaluate all our old pathways and habits.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Not having a car has been going very, very well for us. It seems normal to walk, ride the bikes, or take the T to where we need to go. Every once in a while, about 2 - 3 times/month we've needed a car and we fill that need with either Zipcar or a regular rental.
There are some annoying things about rentals though, that take some getting used to. For Zipcar, the annoying thing is that your rental is limited to 180 miles total for your rental period. If you rent a car for a day, it is really, really easy to go past 180 miles. If you go over you have to pay by the mile - like $.45 per.
For the regular car rental you are subject to the laws of supply and demand. If you want to rent a car on a holiday weekend (say.... Thanksgiving), you are subject to much higher rates. The best rate we could find for the upcoming holiday for a 4-day rental was $343. Normally that would cost us about $160.
Oh well. Now that we know, we can start planning a little better.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The ride was started in 2000. The slow-paced ride covers about 18 miles as it meanders from the Green Street T Station in Jamaica Plain to Kenmore Square, Coolidge Corner, Harvard Square, Central Square, Inman Square, Copley Plaza, and back to Jamaica Plain. The route changes slightly from year to year, and may change on the night of the ride based on road conditions, and sometimes the whim of the Ride Leader. The ride is friendly, open to all, and a great way to spend Halloween Night!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
On average, a gallon of gas burned in a car generates about 19.56 pounds of CO2. So in our time owning the car, we generated about 82,540 pounds of CO2, or 41 tons, just to get ourselves from place to place (about 7 tons per year). 41 tons! That definitely seems like something worth changing.
And that's only looking at CO2, not the other emissions in terms of chemicals and particulates that come from driving cars.
Now that we've gotten rid of our car, let's just say our environmental impact has declined drastically. We still put a little extra CO2 out from our Zipcar jaunts, but otherwise, our transportation methods are doing very little in terms of dumping CO2 into the air (outside of huffing and puffing while pedaling our bikes up hills).
I'm not saying that everyone in the U.S. can suddenly give up their cars. But if more of those who have the ability to make the choice actually do it, there's an impact to be made.
(P.S. In case you're interested, Slate ran an article a while back about how one gallon of gas produces so much CO2.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Earlier this week, I needed to buy some parts to repair our kitchen faucet. I walked to all the local places, but none of them carry American Standard repair kits, but all recommended Watertown Supply as the best place for plumbing parts. But google maps said it was 4.4 miles each way, which felt like a long way to go for a couple washers. So I called around and called around, and finally found a place in Allston maybe 2 miles away, that said they carried American Standard parts. I rode there and it turned out that they didn't have the parts I needed, but instead referred me to Watertown Supply.
I was already about halfway there, so I just kept on riding, got a little lost (which adds up the miles), and went to Watertown Supply--which is a totally kick-ass plumbing supply place. But if I hadn't been such a wimp about that 4.4 mile ride, I could have accomplished the same result with less hassle. I learned that 5 miles is very much in my do-able range for an errand (though closer to home is still nice). The entire round trip, including multiple stops, getting lost, stopping at a Danish Pastry shop, was about 90 minutes.
In keeping with the trying to be less wimpy theme, I made a point of biking in the rain today for grocery shopping and riding to the Green Brookline Expo. For groceries, it was chilly and very wet outside. For the Expo, I rode home in the pouring rain mixing with snow. The thing is, I bought rain paints and a breathable rain jacket earlier this year, and guess what--they work great! A baseball cap under my helmet helped keep the rain and snow off my glasses. The main thing I still need is some thin waterproof gloves, to protect against the wind and the wet.
Still, more and more, I keep learning that it's easier to get around by bike than I expect.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
In case of a severe medical emergency, we're definitely covered. I could walk across the Riverway to the Beth Israel ER before an ambulance could drive to our house.
But what about minor emergencies, where you need to be seen today but you can't get into your regular doctor? I had two options in this case--I could have rented a Zipcar, but the problem is that it's too hard to tell when the visit is likely to end. Luckily, it's not too tough to call a cab in our neighborhood. The cab ride isn't cheap (about $16 each way, including tip), but it is very flexible and pretty quick. Of course, what happens if you don' have cab fare? In this case, a little planning solved our problem. We'd set up an envelope with cab fare in it when we first sold our car. That way there's no hesitation about calling because it's the end of the month and payday hasn't arrived yet.
Our planning paid off well and the cab got us where we needed to go quickly. It still was cheaper than renting a Zipcar for 3+ hours, or for going to an out of plan hospital ER (which requires a $50 co-pay).
Everyone is on the mend now. I'm glad we had a chance to test out our system and that it worked without any hitches. One less thing to worry about.
What I really need is a spare bike (or a new one, and this old one can become my spare), so that when one bike is in the shop, I can still get around.
I definitely plan to continue the bike classes to the next level and beyond. It's empowering to know how to maintain and repair one's basic mode of transportation. Plus I love working with my hands.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I sure wish we could try it in Boston. At least on Bike Boston day, in a few weeks, they'll shut down Storrow Drive. That's a start. But the whole city... A bicyclist's and pedestrian's paradise.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
In a non-bike venture, I also learned that our little granny cart can carry 60 pounds of kitty litter (plus an oversized brand new fancy litter box) without breaking. I ended up buying said litter box from a local store within walking distance, even though it cost $8 more than at Petco, because to get to Petco, I would have needed to rent a Zipcar for 1-2 hours.
Yesterday, I got a gig working as a handyman for a friend. He lives in West Roxbury, about 4 miles from our house. It wouldn't have been economical to rent a car, so I decided to ride my bike. I was pretty nervous as to how I'd manage to haul my tools. I ended up putting my steel craftsman toolbox (partially loaded) onto the back rack of my bike, strapped on with three bungie cords. The rest of the tools and hardware, I carried in my backpack. The toolbox stayed on no problem. I will say when I finally got home at the end of the day, my legs were pretty tired from moving the extra load, but I'd definitely try it again (both the handyman part and the riding part). I told a friend about it, and he said he knew a guy a while back who made his living as a handyman and had no car. Apparently he had a bike trailer that he could use to carry lumber or pipe, when he needed it.
As much as I appreciate Zipcar, I'd rather get around by bike any day. Getting better at hauling stuff is making that more possible.
Monday, September 7, 2009
We found out that there's also a ferry that goes from Rowe's Wharf to Salem, and we're thinking about making a day out of that trip in October. Sure, it'd be cheaper to rent a Zipcar for the day, but it'd be a lot more fun to take the boat. (The boat costs $24 round trip for adults ($20 off season). So if just one person was going, it'd be cheaper to take the boat for the day, but for the four of us, a car would be cheaper. Bummer.)
In getting rid of our car, we end up with a little bit of extra cash that can allow us more freedom to explore other modes of transportation within our region. So we can investigate more travel by water, as well as consider some train trips. Different modes of travel offer a new variety of sights, sounds, and a different rhythm to the journeys we make. Most car travel, maybe because it's such a part of normal everyday life, is very much about getting from Point A to Point B. Travel by boat, train, bicycle, or even by foot changes our relationship to time and the landscape around us. It also shifts us from the standard points of arrival and departure, so that places that we've seen many times before, are suddenly perceived from new vantages points.
Giving up the car does give up a little convenience (though not as much as you might expect), but it does offer up a lot of other experiences.
Friday, September 4, 2009
This week I had the opportunity to attend the monthly Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. I never knew the group existed until we were contacted by one of the members who found us through the blog. That was great outreach!
The group is an official committee within the Town of Brookline government and is appointed by the Brookline Transportation Board and serves in an advisory capacity. There are six members, but the public is always welcome to attend and help with activities and discussion.
I learned many things that evening - about a bike rack donation program, efforts to implement a cyclovia (a temporary redesignation of a road to non-car uses - like on Memorial Drive in Cambridge on Sundays), an opportunity to have input at an upcoming Transportation Board meeting about making Carlton Street more bicycle friendly, and the chance to participate in a bike count event. It's a good group with lots of ideas, but is realistic about what its members can take on.
For now I won't pursue and appointment but I'll keep attending, get to know people, and participate in the bike count event. Before we got rid of the car I don't think I would have ever thought to get involved in something like this.