Tag Archives: car-free

Carless, Not By Choice (guest post)

Today’s post is a guest post from my co-worker, 3rd grade teacher Alethea Mellor, who recently found herself carless due to mechanical problems. Alethea’s definitely been making the best of it, and has been cheerful about her car-free state (at least in public!).

Let me start by saying that I love my car. I love driving it and would probably never willingly give it up. For years, before kids and when it was just me, I didn’t even own a car and it didn’t seem to be a hassle, but over the years I had become completely dependent on it. As a busy single mom, I couldn’t imagine life without it.

About 6 weeks ago my car broke down. It needs a new transmission and I can’t afford it just yet. Forced into a carless situation, I am learning (and even sort of loving) to survive without a car. Some of the daily errands I had dreaded are becoming routine on foot.

Getting to work/ school: I am fortunate enough to work at my youngest son’s school, just 1 mile away from home (which is also a mile from the middle school for my oldest). We walk to and from school each day. It takes about 20 minutes, and we get our exercise in and usually some pretty pleasant conversations.

Grocery Shopping: I have great friends who take me shopping with them from time to time. I am very grateful for this, but the timing doesn’t always work out. I have also discovered Safeway.com. I do a fair amount of shopping there and get it delivered. Sure, it’s more expensive, but I’m also not paying for gas or a taxi. I can pretty much always finagle a free delivery just by purchasing a handful of featured items. If I just need a few things, I will take an empty backpack and 2 reusable bags with me on a run. I make sure I end up at the grocery store and stock up on what I can carry. My walk home is my cool down.

Appointments/outings: If I need to get somewhere, I just run or take public transportation. I have been a runner for a while now, and I just use it as a form of transportation. My friend calls me Forrest Gump, because if I need to get somewhere, I just run. It’s a great way to get my workout in and get where I’m going. Sometimes I will get a ride from a friend or call a taxi if it is late at night. I justify the expense by all the gas money I am saving.

Because I haven’t been driving around, I have been getting a lot more exercise in. I have been spending more time with my kids since my outings are more planned and we have to walk a lot of places together. My kids are getting to know our neighborhood on foot rather than whizzing by in a car. All in all, it’s not so bad. Don’t get me wrong; I am looking forward to having my car back, but I don’t mind being carless for now.


Car-Free Challenge: The Final Wrap-up

It’s been a week since I wrapped up the car-free challenge. Things have pretty much gone back to the way they were before, meaning that I don’t go out all that much, but I generally do use the car. That’s the status quo for summer. When I go back to work, I will be bicycle commuting again.

So what was the point of doing the car-free challenge, then?  Well, at first I just wanted to do something to encourage other people to try going car-free. So I asked for volunteers to go car-free for one day, and I matched those days.

But it turned out that many of you are already car-free or car-lite, including some of the people who volunteered.

It was also a response to the BP oil spill. I’ve been deeply saddened in recent months by the price we (as human beings) pay in order to be able to drive motor vehicles and use oil (and coal) for other things.

Professor Amy Myers Jaffe of Rice University told NBC News that if every American drove 30 miles less per week, it would cut our country’s oil consumption by 20 percent. I think it’s do-able. And I hope that by blogging about my life, others will realize it’s do-able, too.

Which brings me to the benefits of having done the car-free challenge.

  • Encouraging or inspiring others. Shetha said, “I have to say you’ve been motivating me to make more of an effort too.”  Other friends actually complimented me on sharing my frustrations — it’s somehow encouraging to know that I get frustrated sometimes, too. I hope that the car-free challenge series helped others as well.
  • Increased fitness. I’ve been working on my personal fitness this summer anyway. I’ve been doing the Couch to 5K running program, rather than doing cycling workouts, but cycling to various places during the car-free challenge helped with my fitness level, too. And when I almost made it up the long hill without stopping, I really knew that my fitness level had improved.
  • Time with kids. My kids like to ride,too, and I took one or more of them with me several times. They’re the main reason that I have an Xtracycle, after all!
  • More blogging! I blogged every day for ten days because of the challenge. It gave me motivation to post.

What about the negatives? Well, I did get frustrated and sick of the whole thing. And I haven’t been making an effort to bike or walk anywhere since then. So maybe being 100% car-free is not for me. I know that I can do it if necessary. But I’d rather not.

We’d probably be good candidates for a car-sharing system, like ZipCar, but they don’t have any cars out our way (and yes, I’ve told them I’m interested and suggested locations).

Living in a different neighborhood might be better for us. We could move someplace with better access to stores and services, and/or where ZipCars are available. But most of those neighborhoods are also further from our workplaces.

So for now, we’ll be sticking with our current set-up: An Xtracycle, an assortment of kids’ bikes, and a minivan.

Thank you to those who participated in the car-free challenge. I’m working on rounding up comments and/or blog posts from all of the participants and will be posting or linking to those soon.

Car-Free Challenge, Day 10: The End

Yeah, I know, I said I was going to do 11 days. But my husband and I both have to attend a meeting tomorrow before we go to pick the kid up from camp, so it’s simply not going to be a car-free day.

I’m too tired tonight to recap the whole thing, but I will be doing that, soon — lessons learned and all that.

Today I did run that errand at the bottom of the Long Hill, and it wasn’t so bad! I only had to get off and walk a couple of blocks, which is much better than I’ve done before. Maybe the running I’ve been doing lately helped.

xtracycleAnd then we attended our local National Night Out party. The kids and I rode bikes, and my husband walked, so that was a car-free family outing.

Our youngest isn’t experienced enough to ride herself to the park yet, but I thought she might want to ride once we got there, so I towed her bike along behind. It’s yet another of the cool things you can do with an Xtracycle!

national night outWe also had fun blowing bubbles, listening to music, and watching a live snake presentation.

It was fun. But I’m glad to be at The End.

Car-Free Challenge, Day 9: Bleeeecccchhhh

Yeah, I’m ready to be done with this car-free thing. I was really not enthusiastic about it today. I wanted to just frakking jump into the car and do what needed to be done.

I used the 3-speed to run an errand (the bank), and then set to work fixing that back tire. I checked the pump with other tires (it worked fine), re-seated the valve stem, and tried pumping into the tube without the valve stem inserted through the rim. No air getting in. So I grabbed an old tube I had sitting on the shelf.

But the old tube needed patching, too. I’d removed it from the bike previously and replaced it with a gel-filled tube (supposed to stop leaks) because it had a slow leak that I couldn’t find. I kept it, though, intending to find the leak and patch it at some point.

I’m glad I did keep it. Because I was able to find the leak easily, by pumping some air into the tube and dunking it in a sinkful of water. It was a tiny leak, but there were definite bubbles. So I circled the leak with a black permanent marker and got to patching.

Patching was only the first step, though. I also had to remove the rear wheel, swap the tubes, and put the wheel back on. Last time I did that, I swore I would never do it again, and in fact, I did pay a bike shop to change it for me another time. But we’re broke, so it simply wasn’t an option.

Fortunately, the wheel removal and re-installation went much more smoothly this time. I was able to remember the geometry of how the chain and the derailleur and the wheel all fit together (I’m not very good with mechanical/spatial things).

And the air went in…and stayed in. Bliss. I’m ready to do whatever needs doing now.

Car-Free Challenge, Day 8: Fail!

I thought we were all ready for the big ride down the hill to the camp bus. But before loading up my daughter’s stuff, I checked the tire pressure on the Xtracycle. The rear tire was low. I started putting more air in, but it wasn’t getting any better. Then the neighbor’s power washer turned off, and I heard the hissing noise coming from the tire.

Sigh. I did have a little extra time still, but we don’t mess around when it comes to camp, so I threw her stuff in the car and asked my husband to go ahead and drive her (and if we didn’t own a car, I could have called on family or friends for help). I stayed home and patched the tire.

It was a rear tire, so I was hoping I could patch the tube without removing the wheel. It worked! And I found the culprit — a tiny piece of wire. I also found a piece of glass embedded in the outside of the tire, which hadn’t poked through yet.

I probably could have gotten the patching done and still made it to the bus (especially since the bus turned out to be late), but when I tried to refill the tire, I got stuck. The pump was extremely hard to push, and not much air was getting into the tire. I also have a sore elbow. I gave up at about 25 psi.

I’m not sure if it’s the tube or the pump that has a problem. Maybe both. This particular tube has always been slightly more difficult than the other.  But I’m also hearing a hissing noise coming from the pump that I don’t think is supposed to be there, so the pump may be leaking somewhere. I can’t tell.

I’ve got to run more errands tomorrow, so I’ll try again to get the tire inflated to at least to the minimum 45 psi. If that doesn’t work, I’ll be taking the old 3-speed.

I’m still feeling like I want to be DONE with this. But I’m pushing on for a few more days.

Car-Free Challenge, Day 7: Running Errands

I can’t believe it’s Day 7! And today, for the first time, I found myself wishing it were all over.  I pushed through it, though, and biked out on my getting-the-kid-ready-for-camp errands. I even took pictures this time!

First stop was at Dollar Tree. Actually, I got most of the things she needed here: shampoo, hairbrush, comb, flashlight, batteries, etc. I even picked up a $1 white t-shirt for tie-dying. However, the bike rack at this store was lacking; there was only a single staple rack (with an identical staple down by the next store, an OfficeMax. So if anyone else wanted to use it while I was there, they were out of luck.

Next was the post office. Here, the bike rack had five loops, so theoretically you could put five or six bikes here, but it’s situated in a way that if you actually parked bikes the normal way, they would block the walkway — right in front of the door. So in reality, the rack barely accomodates two bikes.

In addition, since this was my second stop, I had to decide whether to take my shopping bags in with me or chance leaving them outside.  I was only inside for a couple of minutes, and I could see my bike, so I left them.

The last stop was Fred Meyer, for groceries, bug repellent, and sunblock. And I forgot to take a picture! But Fred Meyer has pretty decent bike racks – 4-loop staples right near the front and back doors, and bigger racks a little further away. I took my Dollar Tree bags in with me; sometimes stores don’t like this, but no one stopped me this time.

She’s all packed for camp now, and tomorrow is the big trip down to the high school to drop her off.  This is my seven-year-old, and she’s just staying for three nights, so we’ll be picking her up on Wednesday. Wednesday will be day 11, the final day of my car-free challenge. I said when I started the challenge that I wouldn’t be asking for rides or asking other people to run errands for me, but the pick-up isn’t at the high school — it’s at the Girl Scout office across town, on Barbur Boulevard. So I’m going to let my husband pick her up, and maybe I’ll even going along.  And if we really were car-free (as in, we didn’t even own a car), I’d probably still arrange to get a ride or borrow a car.

Meanwhile, I fully expect to collapse when I get home from the high school tomorrow afternoon.

Car-Free Challenge, Day 6: More Ways To Cut Oil Consumption

Yep, I totally just stayed in today. I signed up for SOHO Action Day with the SOHO Solutionist, Brandie Kajino, and worked on writing and sending query letters and writing an article. And my dear, dear husband took care of the children and the house, and they stopped at the store while they were out, which was his idea, so it’s not cheating!

Tomorrow is getting-the-kid-ready-for-camp day, so it may involve going out to buy a few things. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, here is a link to an informative article from GOOD on things you can do to cut your oil consumption (besides not driving).

There are 42 gallons in one barrel of oil. About 20 gallons of a barrel go to gasoline, and the rest goes into making approximately 6,000 other items we regularly use, consume, and toss.

Go find out more! And Happy Friday to you.

Car-Free Challenge Day 5: To The Park!

The big girls are quite steady on their bikes now, so I threw the youngest on the back of the Xtracycle tonight and took them all to the park. They played, and I ran/walked the walking/jogging trail.

I’m continuing on to Day 6 and beyond – is anyone else ready to post a comment or blog about your car-free experience? Juan posted a teaser, but I’m still waiting for an update. :-)