Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pat's Bicycle Life

I love this image that my friend Jonas put this image together for me (thanks, Jonas!). Now that I've got a bike stand (borrowed from my friend, Mike), I feel more fully engaged in the bicycle life than ever.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reframing our personal map

Without a car, we've started to realize that our personal landscape has shifted in scale and scope. For obvious reasons, we no longer go to grocery stores 7 miles away (yes, I do miss weekly visits to Russo's). It makes a lot more sense to hit the local Trader Joe's and Stop & Shop with the bike and trailer.

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.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Patience with cats and rain

Patience is the name of the bike trailer that we're using, and she continues to be remarkably useful and sturdy.

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

One more quote from No Impact Man

In No Impact Man, Colin Beavan wrestles with the question of whether individual action has any significance in our current ecological struggles. His answer is both yes and no. He writes:
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.

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?
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.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

a few thoughts from No Impact Man

I'm currently reading and very much enjoying Colin Beavan's book, No Impact Man. Tracy and I were fans of his blog, even before the book and the movie came out

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.
I think we'd qualify for being pretty happy with our commutes right now. And we're on our way to cutting expenses, though we've been doing a bit of investment in our bike infrastructure lately.

It's a very thoughtful book, much more than just an attention-grabbing stunt.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bike Trailer

At our 200 Foot Garden work day last weekend, I happened to mention to our neighbor, Alexis, that I'd been thinking about getting a trailer to use with our bikes. It would make getting groceries and supplies (including garden supplies) a lot easier. "Oh," she said, "We have one you could use. We haven't had it out for a while."

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

Cats Saved from Starvation

Well, no, they weren't really in danger of starving. But our old cat (18 years old) has been on a special prescription diet for years that seems to keep him pretty healthy and we were almost out of food. The problem is that the store where we used to buy cat food is more than 7 miles away, which is a pretty far bike ride to carry a 20 lb bag of (very expensive) cat food. One option was to get a Zipcar, but that just meant that the price would climb even higher. The problem was we couldn't find our original prescription, and the local vet within walking distance required a checkup (minimum $70) before they'd let us buy the food from them.

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

Realities of car sharing and car rental

(by Tracy)

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

Boston Bike Film Fest this weekend

Turns out there's a Boston Bike Film Festival going on this weekend, tonight and tomorrow night at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, from 7-11pm, both nights. I don't think we can go, but it sounds like fun--they're screening lots of short films about cycling and cycling life/culture. If you end up attending, let me know how it turns out.

Boston Halloween Bike Ride

If you're looking to do something fun on Halloween that combines costumes and bikes, check out the Halloween Bike Ride, which meets up at 8pm on October 31st at the Green Street T Station (Orange line) in JP. It's free and should be lots of fun for riders of all ages.

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

Article in NY Times about people making car choices

Our friend Ryan pointed out a great article in the NY Times about people reconsidering owning cars:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Carbon Footprint of Our Old Car

I've been meaning to figure this out for a while: Just how much CO2 did we add to the atmosphere by driving our old minivan? In the time we owned it, from 2003 to 2009, we drove 76,000 miles. At an average of about 18 mpg, that means we used about 4,220 gallons of gas in the six years we owned our car. (Which is 564 cubic feet, in case you're interested, or a cube of gasoline about 8 feet on a side, or something a little bigger than a minivan, but not much).

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

Trying Not to be a Wimp

I have a new motto for my bike riding: Don't Be a Wimp.

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

The Illness Challenge

Our daughter wasn't feeling well earlier this week and we ended up needing to go to urgent care (what they call the ER at the MIT medical facility). This has been one of the big questions around not having a car--what about in case of medical emergency.

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.

Bike Repair Class

Had week #2 of the bike repair class, and it's been great fun so far. To date, we've learned how to fix flat tires (I already knew how to do this, but picked up some handy tips) and how to adjust the font hub (both easier and harder than I expected). At every class, I also keep finding more things wrong with my bike, somewhat big things. I had to take it in today for some problems on the bottom bracket and it needs a new headset. Bummer.

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

Brussels goes No Car for a day

Avuncular American writes on his blog that the city of Brussels went No Car for the entire day today. Can you imagine a city of 1 million people in the U.S. doing the same?

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

Pack Mules

These past few days we've been definitely testing the limits a bit more on our bikes (but just a little bit). On Saturday, the weather was rainy and gross, but Tracy put on her rain suit and bought a whole bunch of groceries. I did the same, though the rain was mostly gone by the time I went out. I discovered that I can carry about 50 pounds of groceries total, in my side basket, back rack, and backpack.

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

Considering Other Modes

We took the T into town yesterday and then took the ferry out to the Boston Harbor Islands for a truly gorgeous day of picnicking, kite flying, beach walking, and gazing at Boston skyline and harbor.

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

Bike activism

(by Tracy)

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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Working on the bikes

Thanks to helpful videos on the internet I was able to replace the broken chain on my son Noah's bike without any trouble at all. It works great now. It actually went a lot faster than I expected.

I tried to sign up for a basic bike repair class a Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, but both classes they offer on site are already full. I tried Bikes Not Bombs in Jamaica Plain, too, but their class isn't scheduled yet. I'll keep looking. (Broadway offers another class though Cambridge Center for Adult Ed that I need to check out.) I guess a lot of other people are interested in fixing their own bikes, too, which is a good thing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Longer ride

Mostly, I've been biking around Boston and Brookline, but tonight I went to a meeting in Belmont. According to Google Maps, it was 7.3 miles each way. I'd figured it might take me an hour, given traffic, to get there, but it only took 45 minutes. On the way home, with no traffic and a big downhill on Belmont Road, it only took me 35 minutes. Both were much faster than it would have taken me by T.

I'm very glad that I bought a new high-powered front light yesterday ($45), because the way was pretty dark, and Belmont Road and Mt. Auburn have some pretty gnarly potholes. It also helped a lot on the Charles River bike path, which is pretty dark and narrow. (I sure do wish they'd sink some money into upgrading it. It could/should be a brilliant bike/pedestrian path, but it's got a long way to go.)

This was a good chance to check out my range, and ( think 7 or 8 miles one-way is very do-able for events. The weather was great, which made for an especially pleasant ride.

Bike Book Suggestions? Bike repain classes in Boston?

The chain broke on Noah's bicycle this week, so yesterday we headed to REI to pick up a new chain, chain lube, a chain tool, and a new light for my bike (we sunk about $100, but the light wasn't cheap). I normally prefer to use a smaller bike shop, or even a local chain (Landry's), but they all require a lot more riding in traffic, while the REI is a straight shot down the Riverway/Muddy River bike path, which is a lot easier with a nine-year-old along (plus it's near ice cream, which helps motivate my young rider. And me).

One of the things I like about shifting away from using a car and to using bicycles is that they are (theoretically) machines that I can much more easily repair and maintain myself. I'm even thinking about buying a bike repair stand, to make it easier to manage.

I find a lot of bike repair info on the web, which is great. Especially videos. But I'm a book guy at heart. I'd be interested in suggestions for a basic book on bike maintenance and repair. Please let me know your favorites. I'm starting from almost zero knowledge, but I want to learn.

Also, I'm considering taking a class on basic bike maintenance. Have any of you done this? If so, which ones did you try? Please let me know of ones you've tried.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Got to Drive a Truck (still loving Zipcar)

Yesterday, we rented a pickup truck from Zipcar to transport three bales of salt marsh hay over to our community garden plot. I LOVE that Zipcar has pickup trucks available. I was able to reserve this one with just one hour's notice. In two hours, Noah and I got bought the hay, laid it out in the garden, and returned the truck. (I think the cost was about $25 for the truck.) It was a Toyota Tacoma--it fit the bales perfectly, and it reminded me how much fun it is to drive a pickup. (Not that I want to own one.) It'd also be the perfect tool for an IKEA trip (hmm)--in fact there was even an IKEA shopping list left behind from a previous driver.

Having Zipcar around is really making the whole car free thing a LOT easier.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ka-Ching. Money in the mail.

The financial aspect was a big factor in getting rid of our car. That was brought home recently when we got checks in the mail with rebates on money that we'd already coughed up for our car. Our insurance company sent us a refund of our insurance (very promptly, I might add) for $436. And the town of Brookline refunded our excise tax to the tune of $25.

Besides buying pizza and ice cream (the default choice for any money that comes our way), I want to look into signing up for a class on bike repair and buy a bike repair stand and maybe a few tools. Being able to do repairs ourselves is a big advantage for us over owning a car (I wasn't good for anything but the very, very simplest repairs to our car, if any). Trips to the bike shop can add up, and now that they're getting more miles, it's important to keep them in good shape.

(I think there still will be some money left over for ice cream.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Got the Garden In (Car Free)

One of our big family projects is a 200 Foot Commuter Garden a few blocks from our house. Today was planting day, and we managed to get everything over there using backpacks, wagons, and a big adult-sized tricycle (which belongs to our neighbor). One of our volunteers did use her car to bring bags of compost and lime, which was pretty handy. I'm especially glad to have a garden so close to home now. I even had enough energy (barely) left when planting was over, to ride to an afternoon writing workshop.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekend Update: No Driving

(by Pat)

Unlike last weekend, we didn't need to use Zipcar or any other cars this weekend. Instead, we got around by bike, foot, T, and boat. We took bike trips to our garden, to Arnold Arboretum (where we caught tadpoles and frogs and fed kettle corn to catfish), Haymarket, and grocery stores. Tracy took the T to the mall to buy luggage for our upcoming vacation (and had to return it via T for a replacement, when we learned it was broken). Noah and I traveled by T to the Boston Waterfront, where we met up with an old high school friend and his four-year-old daughter, who were here on a long airline layover. We jumped on the ferry out to the Harbor Islands to eat hot dogs and collect beach glass and catch up. Perfect day for it.

It felt good to be all over town, so many different times, and not need (or want) a car.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tiny Touch of Old Car

Got a call from the people who bought our old car. Turns out that both Tracy and I were supposed to sign the title when we completed the sale, since the car was in both of our names. This was unclear, since there was only one line for signatures for both parties, so we just thought it would be fine for one of us to sign it. And nothing had come up around this when it was time for us to turn our paperwork in.

So the buyers came by this afternoon, for all of the ten seconds it took for Tracy to sign the title (they'd gone to register the car and they got turned down because of the missing signature). (While typing this, I realize that we should have photocopied the newly signed version. Oh, well.)

I guess it's been about a full two weeks without the car. There have been a few times lately where it would have been really handy to have it, but even so, I haven't missed it.

Zipcar rocks

(by Pat)

Had my first real Zipcar experience yesterday. We rented a Honda Civic Hybrid for 8 hours (so about $56), from 1pm - 9pm. We needed to pick up our son from the beach (where he'd been hanging out with big sister and Grandma) in Rhode Island, but first we figured we should use the car to get some heavy items--dog food, kitty litter, and potting soil, and then we needed to drop off a friend at a garage in Natick where his car was being repaired. Initially, we weren't sure we'd need the whole 8 hours, but with rain, traffic, and a little bit of time spent being lost (my fault), we got home with just half an hour to spare.

Zipcar rocks. It was easy to use the card to unlock the car. The garage pass was where it was supposed to be. We even needed to fill up with gas, and the gas card was there, ready to go. Very simple.

We did a lot of driving over the past week, it seems, but we also walked and biked many, many miles, all over Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge. Today, we biked to the movies and also for grocery shopping. Feels great.

a weekend of driving

(by Tracy)

Despite having no car, I put on a lot of car miles this past weekend.

It started on Friday. I reserved a zipcar to go to my bookclub in Worcester. Worcester??? you might be wondering... why would I go to a bookclub in Worcester? I've been going for about six years to this group and we read books (fiction and non-fiction) from different cultures and experiences than our own. We all come from multi-racial families and I really like all the women in the group. I reserved the zipcar for four hours for a total cost of $43.05 (includes the tolls). While driving I started thinking about the cost of the trip and the value I get out of going to visit with this group. I asked myself if the bookclub is worth the resources I was expending to get there and back. For instance, could I recreate this experience closer to home? Am I missing out on an opportunity to build local community around the exploration of multi-cultural issues? This is exactly the sort of thing Pat and I thought would happen - we would start becoming more conscious of our choices and perhaps seek ways to align them more closely with our values. I haven't yet worked through all the choices with the bookclub yet. I think I'll investigate bus options to get to and from Worcester (I already know the commuter rail is not a good choice - the timing is terrible!). Stay tuned on this one. It will be a few months before I figure it out. Next month I'll be out of town, and the following month everyone is coming to my place.

I got home at about 1:15 or so and at 1:45 we got a phone call from our good friend Jessica. On their way to come to stay with us for the weekend and bringing along another friend, her husband and 4-year-old son, their car broke down in Natick and she wanted to let me know that they were going to take a cab the rest of the way. I couldn't have that, so I quickly went on to zipcar and found I could get another car within a half hour. I was able to find a car to fit all of us about a quarter mile away and was quickly on my way. I guarantee that this was a less expensive option than having a cab drive them all in (about 20 miles or so). It was a nice discovery that it was possible to help out friends in a pinch even though we don't own a car.

Yay zipcar!

On Saturday, I drove my kids to Rhode Island, for their vacation with my mother at the beach. I used our friend's rental car for the trip - it was a Mercedes and one of the fanciest cars I've ever driven. It was a nice ride, but it was challenging to figure out all the buttons. I had a moment of chagrin at the gas station when I couldn't close the gas tank. Luckily a guy on a motorcycle clued me in that locking the car was the reason for it. I sort of missed my very simple car at that moment.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Payback (gradually)

We saw our first actual savings from getting rid of the car yesterday. Our condo dues went down $60, because we no longer have to pay for parking. It's not a huge amount, but it's all going to add up ($60 a month is $720 a year, which is real money to me).

I did the paperwork to get our car insurance refund, a refund on some of the car registration fee, and some of our excise tax back. I'm hoping to use some of the money coming back to us to enroll in a basic bike repair course (and make buy a bike stand to make doing those repairs easier).

Still waiting for my cool new biking rain gear to arrive--I sure could use it, given the weather we've been having in Boston lately.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

learning new bus routes

(by Tracy)

It's been a very busy weekend where normally I would use a car for several events and errands. I really wanted to try and do it all without resorting to a zipcar, partly because I'm cheap, and partly because I really want to do as much as possible without requiring a car.

On Saturday Kira and I needed to go to her hairdresser in Somerville for her hair to be touched up. We had an 11:30am appointment. Before leaving, I mapped out a couple of possible routes on the MBTA trip planner. Armed with printed itineraries and maps we set out at 10:10am. Our original plan was to take the Green Line E branch train to Lechmere and catch a bus that would get us within a quarter mile of the appointment. The train came right away, which was a good thing, and it looked like it was scheduled to go all the way to Lechmere. Sadly - the green line doesn't always do what you might want and the train ended up ending service at North Station. We had to get off and wait for another train. We only had about 15 minutes to catch our bus connection. We waited about 5 minutes for another green line train, but it didn't come and we ended up going down to the orange line (our 2nd possible itinerary). This route also had a bus connection that would have gotten us to within a block of our destination - but we unfortunately missed it and ended up walking about 1.2 miles to the appointment and arrived about 5 minutes late.

Because we were already on that side of town, we decided to combine trips and made our way over to the Cambridgeside Galleria to shop for some summer clothes for both Kira and Noah. All public transportation worked out perfectly for this set - I had a bus schedule on me that showed me how to get from somerville to lechmere very easily.

Today we went to our garden in Roxbury by bike. I finally did it! I'd been fearing this trip because of the uphill part and knew that I'd just have to bite the bullet and try it. Indeed there are quite a few hills along the way, but we made it in about 18 minutes. I ended up walking up the last hill (for about a block) - it was such a steep one at the end! We stayed at the garden for about two hours - harvesting, weeding, transplanting and picking some awesome, tiny, sweet blackberries - Yum! Then we began home by a different route. It took about 15 minutes or so. Not bad!

I was tired out from the biking/gardening, so I chose to take public transportation to my friend's house in Watertown for an afternoon of Mah Jongg. I caught the first bus at Kenmore Square and it was a few minutes late getting started, which made me miss my 2nd bus which was to take me the last mile or so. Thankfully I knew another friend would be driving by in a few minutes, so I called her up and got a ride for that last little bit.

So, all in all, I was able to do everything I wanted to this weekend without a car. Some observations:
  • planning tight bus connections is a problem - particularly on weekends when buses run less frequently.
  • an iphone(or it's equivalent) would be really nice for getting real-time bus schedule information so I can change plans on the fly.
  • frankly, with a little advance planning, an iphone isn't really necessary :-)
  • if I keep this up, I'm going to get a lot of reading time on public transportation!
  • I'd like to work up my bike endurance so that a trip to the garden (3 miles round trip) and a bike trip to Watertown (9 miles round trip) wouldn't be a big deal in the same day - but I'm not there yet.
  • This whole experience is still new, so missing bus connections and having to wait for transportation didn't seem a big burden to me. I suspect that this could change - so more reason to keep up with biking.

Friday, June 26, 2009

RMV Rocks

(by Pat)

We haven't really missed the car yet, though Tracy and Kira might wish they had it tomorrow--because Kira has a hair appointment in Somerville. I think they're planning to take the T (2 trains and a bus).

I rode my bike downtown this afternoon (it actually stopped raining!) to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to turn in the license plates on our car. I brought the plates, all the copies of the title and bill of sale, and a book, since when I left, the web site said waits were running up to half an hour.

I know people like to pick on the RMV for poor service, but I've always had good experiences there (this is the Boston branch). The greeter knew right where to send me. I only got to sit for about ten second before they called my number. The woman at the counter took my plates and didn't need the other paperwork. She quickly printed out the receipt, with multiple copies for our insurance company and to get a rebate on our excise tax, and she also gave me a rebate form for the registration fee that we'd recently paid. It took about 60 seconds. Kudos to them!

Getting downtown by bike is definitely the fastest option. Driving a car would have taken longer and cost too much to park. It's pretty far to walk. And the RMV is totally accessible by T, but it would have cost me almost $5 and been a lot slower.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We Sold the Car

(by Pat)

We sold the car tonight. I wasn't even sure we'd have anyone to look at it until dinnertime. I'd responded to a bunch of e-mails earlier today (all from was a bust), which was good, then one of the potential buyers called while we were eating dinner and said they'd be over around 7. He said if they were interested, he'd close the deal in cash tonight.

A little after seven, a married couple and their 11-year-old son showed up to take a look at the car. Turns out they have three boys, all hockey players, and their old minivan has died, so they need a replacement. The husband took our car for a short test drive, and then the wife took her turn (she was shy about it, even though she's the one who will be driving it). My son bounced out of the house and quickly made friends with the visiting son, and they rode together in the back seat, as we tooled around the neighborhood.

Apparently it passed the test, and they offered $3,200, citing tires that need replacing soon (valid point) and the original battery that might need replacing in the near future. We weren't in this purely to maximize our return, so we didn't plan to bargain too hard. Plus, now that we'd made the mental commitment to going without a car, the vehicle seemed like a heavy weight holding us back from taking the step. So we took the offer and finalized the deal. (Signed the title, bill of sale, scraped off parking stickers, took out toll transponder, removed license plates.)

And that was it. They drove off into the drizzle, and suddenly we no longer owned a car. It felt pretty weird, a little bit of nervous butterflies. At a recent screening of the movie "Fresh", the director remarked that a Pakistani friend of hers said, "Americans are wonderful, so brave. The only thing they fear is inconvenience." Well, I guess we're facing inconvenience right in the face, and we'll see how it works out. Up until now, the whole car-free idea has been pretty theoretical. If you have it, you can say that you're not going to use it, but you always know it's there (and you end up using it). That's no longer an option anymore.

We celebrated with ice cream. Of course, we couldn't pop in the car to get it, so I had to ride my bike. Which was great.

Oh, and we also celebrated by going online and purchasing bicycling rain gear. The rest of the money we need to save for now (if the car fails the emissions test when they register it, they can return the car. Though that's unlikely, since it was just in the shop. But still...) but we've got a long list of transportation stuff we want (bike repair classes).

Tomorrow is a new day. And one without a car.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trying to Sell the Car: Round 2

(by Pat)

Well, last week saw a couple showings of the car, but no takers. We decided to try listing the car on, which cost $15 for a two-week ad. We put the ad up on Sunday, but so far not even a nibble.

Our Craigslist ad expired on Monday, so I reposted it tonight, though it's not showing up yet in the main search.

I'm seeing prices all over the place, but for the mileage on our car, it still seems like we're in a pretty good range, and we're still a couple hundred dollars below Blue Book value. Hm. On, we're at least $2,000 below what the dealers are asking for a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

I hope we'll see some more potential buyers this week (and that the rain will stop). I had to take my daughter and bunch of her friends to a soccer tournament on Saturday, so I need to get back in there and clean it out again so that it still sparkles.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The rest of the grocery shopping

(by Tracy)

While Pat went to Haymarket by bike, I worked on the rest of the grocery shopping. First Noah and I went to Trader Joe's where we got four bags of groceries. Noah carried one in his backpack (very light) and I put two in baskets on my bike and one in my backpack. Later, after I dropped him off at a playdate, I rode to Whole Foods (uphill for two miles), got another bag of groceries, and then coasted downhill for two miles to Stop and Shop where I finished up with three more bags. Not bad, two trips, eight bags of groceries. It took a total of an hour and 45 minutes. It was a hot, muggy day, so I was hot and tired when I returned, but it definitely felt like an accomplishment and a good workout. I think the total distance was equivalent to a round trip to work for me about six miles.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Haymarket by Bike

(by Pat)

Today, we're doing our grocery shopping as if we had no car (for practice). The rain's giving us a little bit of a break this morning, so I biked to Haymarket for our produce. Haymarket is a terrific outdoor produce market that offers fruit and veggies that didn't sell to restaurants that week (it's sort of like the discount outlet of produce). Today I paid $25 for 30 pounds of fruit and veggies. It took me 25 minutes to get there, 20 minutes to get home (the whole trip, including shopping was 80 minutes), which is much faster than I would have gotten by T. It's not feasible to shop at Haymarket by car, since there's no parking, or if I paid to park, it'd eat up the savings. Google Maps says that it's 3.7 miles one way to Haymarket (the walking directions feature of Google Maps is really helpful for look up bike routes, BTW). On an early Saturday morning, traffic is no problem, and it's a pretty fun ride. If I go with my son, I go a longer route that takes us via the Charles River (beautiful but longer).

It's nice to save money and get exercise at the same time, no doubt about it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

NYTimes article on high speed trains

(by Pat)

Last week's Sunday New York Times Magazine featured this article on high speed trains, which have been highly successful in Japan and Europe, but have struggled to catch on in the U.S. Much of the article is a look at plans to build a super speedy train between L.A. and San Francisco. I dearly wish that they could get an affordable high speed train between Boston and New York. Right now, Amtrak is never on time and wildly expensive. I can take a bus to NYC for $15 one way. Sounds like if California gets their train right, it might positively impact the rest of the country's plans. (Or if it fails...)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No luck yet (and a scam?)

(by Pat)

Showed the car to another prospect today--a brother and sister (immigrants again--interesting class and frugality issues showing up in the for sale by owner used car scenario). He said his brother-in-law is a mechanic and they may come back. No one has been ready to go for a spin yet. Three maybes so far, but I don't have a sense whether they'll actually come back or not. I'll follow up tomorrow. I had one appointment cancel today, but he said he'd get back to me this weekend.

Got one response today that I suspect is a scam. He only left a phone number, and when I called, he said he lived in New York. But he was very interested in buying a van, right away. He wanted me to resend the link with a photo. Then he called me back and said he'd be interested in driving up to buy the car, but only if I could sell it for $3,000. I told him that I had enough interest in the car already that I didn't need to drop the price yet. And I hated to see him drive 5 hours to get here and then not like the car. (I'd also read some strong warnings on Craigslist to beware of out-of-state buyers trying to run a scam, so my radar was on alert.)

He called me back a little later, and said he really wanted a van right away, and could pay $3,200. I said no again, but that I'd call him back if I couldn't sell it. But it just doesn't feel right. I think we're going to make a little house rule that we're only going to sell to local buyers (now that we've reread the scam warnings on Craigslist). It's odd to have someone be in such a rush--the other prospective buyers are definitely taking their time. And weird to have someone want to buy a car without even having seen it in person or having driven it, and when there are other similar cars listed on Craigslist much closer to NYC than Boston. Odd.

a few nibbles, hoping for bites

(by Pat)

We've had five people from Craigslist ask to see the car so far, which feels good, since it was only posted on Monday. Two people stopped by on Tuesday, and I'm hoping for two more today.

The first guy came with his wife and small daughter, looking to move into a larger car for their growing family. They were Hispanic immigrants--she didn't speak much English, but he was fluent and we hit it off pretty well. He seemed to like the car, but she was disappointed it doesn't have electric windows. (It's a pretty basic car, but I figure that's just less stuff to break.) They didn't have time to take it for a drive, but said they might come back for another look. We'll see.

The second guy was a mechanic, I'm guessing he was from India, and brought along his aged father. He looked it over and didn't turn his nose up at the car, which is a good sign. Turns out he's looking for a car for his wife, so he said he'd have to come back with her, maybe on Friday.

My experience selling other things on Craigslist is that half the time people never show up, so I was glad these folks actually came to look at the car. I'm curious to see how many viewings it'll take. Ten?

So far, we've only listed it on Craigslist, but we might try pretty soon, as well as other sites. It's been a busy week around here with other life stuff, so this has been about all the traffic I can handle at the moment.

At the moment, the idea of having this extra cash from the sale of car gives us a perpetual list of stuff we plan to do with the money--buy a new light for my bike, sign up for a bike repair class, frame a picture, go out for pizza, etc. We have a growing list that would require us to sell several cars, but it's fun to think about anyway.

We're still using the car a little bit, while it's here, but are trying to do a lot more by bike and T (though there's a soccer tournament this weekend, where I'm supposed to bring five players, and it might not be so bad if the car isn't sold quite yet...)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tips and Notes on selling the used car

(by Pat)

I found a few helpful web sites with info on selling a used car. The Car Guys have a few pages that break it down, step by step, that was particularly helpful. Also the Rocket Lawyer has a place where you can get a free Bill of Sale document.

The Car Guys reminded me that I should call the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, just to make sure I'm clear on what needs to happen. They have a ton of info on the web site, but I just couldn't find the answers I needed, so I tried by phone. I had to wait on hold for about 20 minutes, after twice getting lost in the phone maze (calling it a tree seems too kind), but I finally did get to talk to a human. She was both friendly and helpful and confirmed what the Car Guys had written, that once we make the sale happen, getting signatures and copies of the Bill of Sale and signed Title, we need to keep the license plates (I'd forgotten about that part) and then turn them in at an RMV office. They'll give us a Plate Return Receipt, which we will then give to our insurance company, and we can also use it to get back a refund of the excise tax we paid this year on the car.

Now we just need to get it to happen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Starting to feel real

(by Pat)

Washed the car today, and Tracy listed it for sale on Craig's List tonight. Which made it start to feel a little real--this might actually happen.

Within two hours, we had our first response by someone who might come by tomorrow. This makes it seem a lot more real and makes me feel a lot more nervous.

We're so conditioned to feeling the importance of owning a car. Learning to drive is an American rite of passage, as is buying that first car. I've owned cars for the past 21 years. Buying and owning a car makes me feel like a grown up. Which, now that I think about it, sort of pisses me off, because I don't want my adult identity defined by something that someone wants me to buy.

I'm curious to see how this goes tomorrow.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Almost Ready to sell the minivan

(by Pat)

I spent a couple hours hours emptying the car of all the crap that had accumulated and cleaning every possible inch. It's amazing how much junk falls in a minivan courtesy of two kids (food and pencils, mostly). Sometimes I wonder if empty water bottles actually have the ability to breed in minivan captivity. And blue marker really does come out of the backs of the driver seats (yay). I'm a bit puzzled as to why car washes are not open at 8pm on Sunday nights, but I assume it's some odd Boston Blue Law, dating back to the Pilgrims (they were very strict about drinking, public lewdness, and the washing of cars).

According to the Kelly Blue Book online, we could expect to get as much as $3,985 for our car. It's a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 75,000 miles. Runs pretty good, but has a dent in the back from some idiot who didn't realize he didn't know how to parallel park. It's a sturdy, reliable car. Since we're ready to move ahead and sell this thing, I think we'll probably try to sell it for $3,400- $3,500, which seems to make it competitive with other cars for sale.

It's been 10 years since I last sold a car, so I'm curious to see how things have changed. I figure we'll list it on Craigslist and see what happens, and maybe try a couple other web sites, if necessary.

Now that I've got it all cleaned, I don't really want to let any children back inside. Tracy says we should just basically act like it's already been sold and start living our lives as if we don't have the car. Which makes a certain amount of sense (especially since we had another little car binge day today, with a visit to the garden and 3 grocery stores and Target (we stocked up on kitty litter for a while--very hard to get home on a bicycle)).

I'm a little nervous about all of this. In a way, it feels almost like moving. Once this happens, we'll have a different sense of geography for a while, just like when you move to a new house--our patterns of movement around the Boston area will definitely change.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

the weirdness of transportation costs

(by Tracy)

No wonder our economy is so messed up. The costs of things don't really match the energy or effort required to provide them.

Lately I've had to price a few trips. Here's the summary:
  • one-way Amtrak train trip to New Haven, CT, regular, not Acela - $74
  • weekend car rental (2.5 days) from Enterprise Rent-a-Car, pick up at Logan Airport, which I used to drive to New Haven and back - $89
  • one-way flight to Chicago on American Airlines - $89
So on a per mile basis the train ride is the most expensive option here. That just seems wrong.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back in the Saddle

(by Pat)

Actually rode my bike to a doctor's appointment today, rather than taking the car, despite some light drizzle on the way out. 6-7 mile round trip (when you add on some errands to the end). It only takes an extra 5-minutes each way to go by bike vs. car (though it's faster by bike at rush hour), and I really liked getting some exercise. (And very glad that my bike didn't get stolen, despite having forgotten my lock. That's a big advantage of having a $65 Craig's List special rather than a fancy bike.)

The thing I love about riding is how alert I am when I get someplace. My mind is always super sharp after dodging cars in Boston traffic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Auto Bingeing

(by Pat)

As we're getting closer to the day of actually getting rid of the car, you'd think we'd sort of ease into it, right? Start the month using it two or three times a week, and then wind down to almost zero. Instead, we've been doing the opposite, taking part in a frenzy of internal combustion (which sounds vaguely unseemly).

On Sunday, we went on a little road trip to visit small farms and farm stands in Concord and Bedford and went to the mall. Grocery shopped by car. Visited the garden by car. Yesterday, I picked up some films I'd had transferred to DVD, by car. And drove to the garden again. Today, I drove an hour each way to a play reading at a high school in Littleton, MA (the kids were great), then off to coach soccer practice in the drizzle.

Maybe we're just trying to make the most of having the car around while it's still here. Or else it's subliminal denial, or something. Tomorrow the rain is supposed to let up, so maybe I'll take my bike to my appointments instead of the car. This is a particularly busy time of year, and the car is a tool I use when I try to cram too much into too little time.

I wonder if this little pre-disappearance surge is how it works for everyone who tries this.

Monday, June 8, 2009

another reason to get rid of the car: parking in Brookline

(by Pat)

For some reason (probably at one point, it was to keep out the riff-raff, and now it's probably because people make money renting spaces and can't afford to give up the income) there is no overnight parking on the street in Brookline. This means that you have to have a parking space for your car, and if you don't own one, you need to rent one.

It also means that when your backyard neighbor is having her building repointed and you r car can't stay in its regular spot,you need to move it every morning and every night. That's what's up right now--at 6am, I have to move the car out of our backyard space and find a space on the street, and every night, I need to put the car back. I should say cars, actually, because I have to move our neighbor's car, too, because they're out of town, and it's a pretty intricate puzzle in the little lot behind our house.

We pay $75-$100/month for parking, plus $25/year to be able to park more than 2 hours in front of your own house.

Soon, none of these will be anything I have to deal with. I won't miss it.

my biggest worry about a car-free life

(by Tracy)
My biggest worry about getting rid of our car is taking care of our garden. Since we have no yard to speak of, we depend on a community garden plot to care for our green thumbs. It's only a mile and half away - so it shouldn't be a big deal, right? I should be able to bike it but I'm a little worried because it's all up hill going there and in the hot summer months I anticipate that it will be unpleasant to make that trek.

The fact that this is my biggest worry is kind of funny. It's only a mile and a half and there is even a bus that goes frequently along the route to get there. Jeez - it's even possible to walk it. I guess my concern is that the extra time that it takes will become just a big enough obstacle that we'll go less and less.

I need to fight this worry with action - I just need to get out there and bike the route and see how it is. Maybe getting a downhill route the whole way home will be such a joy, I'll look forward to going just for the thrill. :-) Pat's already done it - It took him about 20 minutes there and about 10 minutes back. No biggie. I'll have to report back when I've done it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The day is getting closer (we think)--June 14

(by Pat)

Right now, our tentative date for actually starting to try to sell the car is June 14. On June 13th, Kira has her last travel soccer game, which also means it'll be the last travel soccer game that I'm coaching. Travel soccer has been the biggest reason we've needed to keep the car, because of two practices every week and a game every Saturday (and lots of gear to haul back and forth). But next year, Kira will be in high school and I won't be coaching, so that excuse will be gone.

So, on June 14th, we'll clean up the minivan and try to figure out how best to sell it.

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car. (Pat, part 3) Money

(by Pat)

This is part 3 of the series that I wrote in January, on The Writing Life x3 blog.

Okay, this is the last bit about getting rid our car for now (really), at least until we finally do it.

I thought I'd lay out what it costs for us to own a car, how much it'll cost to get around without one (since we still do have to get around), and see if we'll save money.

Monthly Costs of owning a car for us:

Ownership/Purchase. . . . $150*

Insurance. . . . $75

Gas. . . . . $120**

Repairs and Maintenance. . . . . $100

Parking. . . . $100

Tolls and taxes: $25

Total: $570 per month

So, a bit of explanation. For cost of ownership, I used what we paid for our car, spread out over ten years. Now, we paid off the car a while ago, but I think it's important to keep this in the calculation, because if we're in a cycle of car ownership we should always be setting aside money for the next purchase (borrowing money to buy a fast-depreciating car is not a smart financial move). For us, we tend to buy a new car and drive it until the repair costs rise too high. (We currently have a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 75,000 miles on it.)

Repairs and maintenance are an expected average over that time period. The figure I used for gas is a little less than our average for 2008, but prices were unusually high in 2008, though I think prices won't stay as low as they are now, and likely will spike again over the next few years, as worldwide demand recovers.

So, $570 a month for the ready use of our car. But of course, even if we got rid of it, we'd still have to get around, which won't be entirely free.

What it might cost to get around (per month):

Car rental: $90 (0ne weekend, every other month)
Zipcar: $60 (costs $10/hour or so)
T pass: $60
Bike stuff: $40
Total: $250

These are guesses, of course. Maybe we'll need Zipcar and rentals a lot more than I think. I'm not sure about the T pass, because Tracy already gets a monthly pass through work, and we tend to just share that one between the two of us.

I've put in $40 for bike stuff, which includes tune-ups and ownership costs. (The purchase costs on our current four bikes comes out to $3.85/month.) Repairs will need to happen if we use them more, but to be honest, Tracy already commutes by bike to work, so her current costs shouldn't be factored in to this setup, since we'd have to pay that anyway. I'd like to take a bike repair class, so I can maintain them myself and keep costs low. I bought my used bike for $65 on Craigs List and it does fine.

Maybe I should put in money for extra shoes (I already walk 4-6 miles per day, even with a car) and umbrellas.

With all these assumptions, it would appear that we would save about $320 per month by giving up our car. (This wouldn't all show up in our cash flow, since the car is paid off. The cash flow bump would be $170.) All this comes while helping us get more excercise, know our neighbors and community better, and have less negative impact environmentally.

Seems like it's definitely worth a try. And if it doesn't work, we can always go out and buy a car (Detroit would be happy to sell us one real cheap right now).

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car (Pat,Part 2)

(by Pat)
This is part 2 in a series of blog posts that I wrote on The Writing Life x3, back in January.

We live in a car culture, and I'm definitely a part of that, even if I don't really see the type of car I own as defining my identity. So the idea of not owning up a car ends up bringing up a bunch of concerns (and people voice these to me, if they've always had cars in their families).

What about in an emergency, especially something medical? This one's not that tough, actually. We live about 400 yards away from an emergency room. I could crawl there if I needed to. And I could easily call a cab to take one of us to our regular doctor's office, which is about 3 miles away.

What if the dog or cats get sick? Not quite so sure about this one. Zipcar (even though you're not supposed to have pets in the car) or maybe a cab?

What about grocery shopping? That's easy. We have a little cart, backpacks, and lots of baskets on our bikes. Plus they'll deliver. As will the hardware store and office supply store.

What about when the kids are old enough to learn to drive? Driver's ed, or borrow a car. They'll grumble, but that's life in the city, kids. This way they certainly won't expect us to buy them a car, right?

Maybe it'll make me crazy, because sometimes it'll take so long to get to places by bus or train. Yeah, but let's just say patience is something I need to work on anyway. Doing things faster and even getting places faster isn't always as much the ideal solution as it seems. This will not be easy for me to accept.

It'll be hard to visit my favorite grocery store, Russo's in Watertown. True. Just have to live with it, or use zipcar (I could get there by bus, but I'm not sure I have that much patience.)

It'll be harder to go to meetings/events in suburbs. True. Maybe it'll make me work even harder at building/joining groups and organizations in my own back yard. If they're important enough, I'll spend the money to rent a car. Or I'll keep getting in better shape for longer bike rides. Or maybe I'll join bike advocacy groups, to make regional bike travel safer and more convenient.

What about when the weather stinks? One of my first investments if/when we do this is going to be to get a rain suit for bicycling. Bikes aren't much good in slick ice like we had in Boston this morning, but to be honest, neither were cars or feet. And it's hard to get around in Boston when there's a foot of snow, whether it's on foot, bus, or in a car. And if you drive your car, there's nowhere to park.

When I look at them, they're all things that we can handle. And I know that I missed a bunch of benefits yesterday (one of them was that I think buying less gas takes money out of the hands of people with whom I disagree with politically (especially internationally).

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car (Pat, Part 1)

(by Pat)

This is actually a post from my other blog, The Writing Life x3, that I wrote in January, but it sets the stage for what we're up to. (It's a series of 3.)

We've played around with the idea of us going car-less ever since we moved to Boston. But for various reasons, it never quite seemed practical (it was very handy to have a car while ferrying around small children and fixing up houses). However, we also recognized that if ever there was a chance for us to live without a car, this might be it--Boston is extremely walkable and has a decent public transportation system. Still, it never happened. (And still hasn't happened.)

A few things have happened since we first moved to the Boston area (in 2000) that have increased the practicality of living without a car:
  • We moved to Brookline, in a neighborhood where the kids can walk to school, and we can walk to grocery stores and other shopping.
  • The kids are older, and so can ride bikes to get places.
  • We've become increasingly aware of our carbon footprint and increasingly concerned about the effects of human generated carbon emissions on global warming. I know there are still a few people out there who are unconvinced that people are having an impact on the world's climate in a clear and negative way. I might suggest they look at it like Pascal's Wager. In this case, if we change our behavior, based on the belief that global warming is due to human impact, and it's true, then we did the right thing. If it turns out to be false, we will have made changes that pollute the environment less and might have other benefits. In fact, I think that if you are convinced that human generated carbon emissions are having a negative impact on global climate, you might even have a moral imperative to take action (stopping eating meat will have a bigger impact than buying a Prius or selling your car, by the way).
  • We live very close to several Zipcar sites, so we could easily rent a car on short notice, if we needed to. Tracy has a Zipcar membership subsidized through her workplace.
So, all these things make it easier. And, oh, it would save us money. Which is a very good thing.

One good question is, why not just drive our existing car less? That would get keep the carbon emissions down, certainly. But it wouldn't save as much money (we'd still have to pay for parking, taxes, insurance, and upkeep). And, if it's there, it tends to get used because it's awfully convenient--sometimes it's just too tempting. Getting rid of the car would force us to make conscious choices about how we get around and examine the associated costs. Driving a car costs money every time the car moves (or doesn't) but those costs tend to be hidden, whereas having to rent a car for a day or an hour reminds you right away that you're paying money to drive that vehicle.

So, what do I think would be the benefits:

  • Less emissions (especially since we would walk and bicycle more).
  • Improved health through more exercise.
  • Save money. (calculations to come)
  • See the world differently, more interactively. As a writer, this is a big one for me--though I certainly get some info from NPR when I'm driving, when I'm in the car, I don't interact much with the world, and short driving trips aren't good for paying attention to anything besides crazy Boston drivers. When I'm on foot or on the T or on my bike, I see the world closer, I hear more interesting conversations, meet new people. Input like this makes my writing life a lot richer.
  • Slows pace of life. Yes, having a car is convenient. But sometimes it allows me to cram too many errands into too small of a stretch of time. There's something to be said for slowing down a little more, and being more conscious of how and where I'm going.
  • Less stress from dealing with Boston drivers (though this is still a factor on bicycle) and finding parking, etc. (Dealing with the T can be stressful, so this might be a wash.)
  • I don't believe in the systems that have grown up around the car--suburban sprawl, car insurance companies, big petro corporations and their negative global political impact, etc. Insurance galls me in particular--I have 24 years of a clean driving record, not even a speeding ticket. I've been paying car insurance my entire life, which is many, many thousands of dollars. I was involved in a minor fender bender a year ago, which was my fault. No one was hurt. There was minor damage to the other car. As a result, my car insurance premiums have jumped by $400. So what exactly was I paying for for all those years? The increase will pay off the cost to the insurance company for the accident pretty soon, and I'll be stuck paying more for something I never want to use, and if I do use it, it'll cost me even more. It's just dumb.
  • I hate having a machine that I can't fix. Cars cost a lot of money to buy and especially to repair. I'm a decent carpenter and can handle drywall, plumbing, electric, and other parts of my house, at least to an extent. I can grow my own food and I'm a decent cook. I don't know much about how to fix cars and I don't have the time or inclination to learn. And it's hard to find a repair shop you can trust. And the repairs are expensive. We've got a couple problems on our vehicle right nowthat just keep getting put off, because they take a block of cash that we don't have handy or want to spend on other things.
  • I like the challenge of trying to go without a car. It requires some additional resourcefulness and problem solving, which has appeal to me.
So, I think we might do it. Though I coach Kira's travel soccer team this spring, and with practices and games, it's very hard to go without a car. This spring is her last season, so I'm hoping that our plan can be for us to sell the car once soccer is over, in June.

(more to come on hassles and cost)

Choosing No Car - What We're Thinking

We're a family of four living in the Boston area (Brookline actually, just a few feet over the Boston line) and we're planning to get rid of our car. Lots of people in Brookline and Boston live just fine without cars, but it's taken us a while to get serious about getting rid of ours.

For a while, the main excuse was the the kids were too little. But now they're 14 and 9 and perfectly able to get around by bicycle, and we live close enough to school and their friends for them to walk to where they need to go.

Gas prices rising to $4 a gallon gave us a good excuse to run the numbers again on what it would mean to get rid of our car. It turns out that getting rid of it will probably save us quite a bit of money (even with gas at $2/gallon). And it'll be good for the environment for us to be driving less, and we'll get in better shape.

Since Christmas, we've been telling people (it was even in our Christmas letter) that we're going to get rid of our car. Well, now it's time to actually make it happen. This blog will probably just run for a little while, long enough to detail actually unloading the car itself and talking about the subsequent changes to our lives. Our hope is that it might provide some insight for other people who decide to give up their cars and start using alternative forms of transportation.

For this blog, we'll both (and maybe the kids, too) be posting about our experiences around the transition, and we'll also be sharing all kinds of information about articles and organizations that focus on life in America (or at least Boston) without a car.