Tag Archives: commuting

Incentivize Me

IMAG0594I did our tax return yesterday, via TurboTax online. If you haven’t used TurboTax before, it leads you, step by step, through various types of income, deductions and credits you might be eligible for. One of the items I passed by was tax credits for purchasing electric or alternative-fuel vehicles.

I have an alternative-fuel vehicle. It’s my human-powered bicycle. But it doesn’t count for credits on our tax return. Those tax credits are for people who buy relatively expensive motor vehicles.

The tax credits are supposed to encourage people to buy these vehicles. They are slowly becoming more common.   I am still not going to buy one. They are still too expensive for us. We also prefer to have a larger family vehicle, due to the number and type of activities we are involved in (including Girl Scouts), and we do not want to buy a second vehicle just for my commute and the occasional instances when we could use a second car.

There IS a program that benefits bicycle commuters, if your employer chooses to participate.  Employers who provide free or discounted transit passes for employees can deduct those expenses on their tax returns (more info here). These employers can also provide a $20 per month cash benefit for bicycle commuters, to defray the costs of bicycle commuting (and the employer then deducts that expense as well).  The League of American Bicyclists has details (if you don’t see anything, scroll down).

The other option for employers is to allow employees to purchase transit passes using pre-tax dollars, which then decreases the employee’s taxable income. This option doesn’t have a bicycle component.

My employer does not participate in either option, but hey, it’s a public school district. There’s no tax benefit to them. They already give us good health and retirement benefits. They could participate in the pre-tax transit option (many school districts do, including Portland Public), but honestly, in our area it’s relatively difficult to get to the schools by public transit.

So I’m out of luck for tax credits and commuter benefits. And really, there’s plenty of benefit to my bike commute anyway. I get exercise, and we save money by not owning a second car. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were more ways to encourage people to choose alternatives? The United States famously pays farmers not to grow crops.  In light of the most recent climate report, are there more ways we could pay people not to drive?



Even though I had yesterday off, I’m still exhausted from this week, and I’m pondering the relationship between work and my energy levels.

Last June, my principal informed me that my schedule would be cut from eight hours per day to seven hours per day as a part of district-wide budget cuts. I was disappointed, since I was finally starting to feel like we were making some headway financially, but I also recognized that getting home a little earlier would give me more time to spend with the kids, write, read, exercise, garden, cook, etc. (yes, I can do all of those things in one hour a day, can’t you?). My sister, Wendy, tweeted that she was looking forward to seeing what I would do with my extra time and energy.

Well, for some of that time, I ended up taking extra-duty jobs at work. I put in half an hour per day as a crossing guard for a few months, until I was down-sized out of that job, too. And I worked as an instructional assistant in an after school math program for a couple of months, which I really love doing. I love math, with its patterns and problem-solving. I love teaching kids math.

But the rest of the time, I did indeed have more time and energy for other things. I would get home around 4:00, instead of after 5:00, and I would have time to rest up, visit with the kids and make dinner before any evening activities. I think I did a much better job of being a Girl Scout leader this year; I was more prepared and we did more and better-quality activities. In fact, I ended up leading two Girl Scout troops this year; my youngest, at age 6, did not fit in well with our 4th and 6th graders, so I helped start another troop for first graders. I said I didn’t want to be the main leader, so another mom did the initial organizing and is taking care of the financial paperwork and stuff, but I kind of ended up taking more of a leadership role than I intended, anyway. C’est la vie.

In February, I decided that I no longer wanted to coordinate the Portland WordPress User Group. I’d been doing this since May of 2009, so almost three years! When Betsy Richter originally asked me to do this, I thought it would probably be temporary – I agreed because it was almost summer break, so I expected to have time available. But even though I struggled at times with coordinating speakers and getting more people there, I found that I really enjoyed learning about WordPress and getting to know people at the meetings, especially Michael Fields, who really encouraged me and helped the group to grow. It’s become a solid group that now attracts 40-60 people at meetups. But this year, I no longer had the time or passion for coordinating, so I passed the baton to Daniel Bachhuber.

I didn’t do much blogging or writing, unfortunately. In fact, I blogged so little that I got dropped from the BlogHer Ads program! D’oh! But they might take me back if I do better. :-)

I did start setting myself a goal, near the end of the school year, of writing 10 minutes per day, and that was going pretty well until the last week or so. I actually did some work on a semi-secret project I have going, and I downloaded a free trial of Scrivener to see if that would be useful.

I didn’t lose any weight this year. In fact, at the end of the school year I was putting ON weight. Oops. I did get a fair amount of exercise, though. I bike-commuted every day and added other forms of exercise on a semi-regular basis.

I did do a pretty decent job of feeding the family, especially when I planned ahead for meals. I did not bike to the grocery store, for the most part, which is something I feel I ought to do, but most of the time I just don’t choose to, because I do have the choice of using the car. I’m weak that way.

I have a veggie garden planted out front, but I haven’t had time to do much with it for a couple of weeks, and I never got the back planted at all. We have no tomatoes or beans planted, the aphids took the broccoli, and the cauliflower never flowered at all for some reason. We have lots of lettuce, though!

So I guess it’s a mixed bag as far as getting things done in the extra time.

Now, why am I so exhausted this week, compared to other weeks? I worked eight-hour days, yes, but there’s more to it, and I think it’s the commute.

This is my second summer working for Portland Parks and Recreation as an Inclusion Assistant. That means I assist kids who need a little extra help so that they can participate in activities with other kids. In the summer, it’s mainly day camps — general camps, sports camp, art camp, skateboard camp, etc. The kids might have autism, Asperger’s, Down syndrome, ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, physical disabilities, or anything else that might be an issue for full, positive participation in the activities.

Rather than being assigned to one place, M-F, 9-5, I get assignments in various locations around Portland. The east side has been no problem for me. Most locations are easily bikeable or driveable. But I’ve been assigned to a couple of locations in Southwest Portland, which requires a significantly longer commute either by bus or car, and isn’t really bikeable for me. So I spend over an hour each way commuting by bus, and even if I drive or get a ride home, it takes at least 45 minutes, and sometimes longer, because of traffic. One day this week I didn’t get home until past 7:30 (after getting off work at 5:20) because of transit issues.

And on both car and bus rides, I was nauseated (yes, literally) and exhausted by the time I got home. I did attend a school board meeting and lead a Girl Scout meeting this week, but otherwise I crashed hard in the evenings.

I don’t think it’s worth it to me. I’m even more grateful now for my short commute to work during the school year (just over 2 miles one way). I’m glad we chose to work and live in the same part of town. I’ll be letting Parks & Rec know that I only want to work on the east side, even if it’s just sub work.

The best part of last summer, energy-wise, was when I worked at the East Portland Community Center (also about two miles one way) for half-days for several weeks. I was there from 1-5 every day. I had time to get up in a relaxed way each morning, spend time with kids, get a few things done around the house, etc.  I worked with a fairly challenging kid, but I still had energy at the end of the day.

I’ve had OK experiences working full days for Parks & Rec before, but I do think the half-time schedule is helpful. Before the program was cut almost to nothing, I worked for the school district at summer school for several years, which was 4-5 hours per day for 4-6 weeks (I don’t remember exactly, and it’s always budget-dependent). I loved this. If I could get away with it financially, I think 4-6 hours per day would be my ideal schedule. It leaves me with the time and energy to do the things I want and need to do (see above).

Finally, sometimes I wonder whether there’s something wrong with me. I mean, some people seem to do it all — work and keep house and do things with the family. Why can’t I? Am I just lazy? I don’t think so. I’ve struggled with this all my adult life. Yes, there are times when I am just being lazy, but I also think that a more relaxed schedule is just what’s best for me physically and mentally. I’ve also struggled with depression for all of my adult life (and really, before). I take medication and work on managing my stress and energy levels, but ultimately, it does affect me, both physically and mentally. That’s a whole other post, though.

Now I need to do a few useful things with my Saturday afternoon.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Getting Started

I’ve chronicled my journey to becoming a full-time bicycle commuter here over the past few years. I’ve even gathered several of my posts into a Family Biking page, so that people who are looking for advice can find them.

Today, I’ve got a post over on Utility Cycling about getting started with family bicycle commuting. Please take a look!

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Inspiration and Information

Just a couple of inspirational and informational bicycle commuting items today.

First, in a guest post on Hobo Mama, Rachel Jonat tells about her experiences in going car-less with kids in Vancouver, B.C.

And on YouTube, Stanford University’s graduate journalism program has posted a five-minute video featuring Dr. Maren Pedersen of Palo Alto, and her experience as a life-long bicycle commuter. Enjoy!

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Preparing for Winter

We’ve already had a lot of cold and rain (with a little snow possible soon), so it’s a little late for me to be thinking about these things, but…

Here’s a detailed post on How To Waterproof Your Xtracycle. I’m especially thinking about this because my SnapDeck is, in fact, showing signs of water-wear. Xtracycle is now offering a FireHouse Deck, which was designed by a Portlander with rain in mind; I’ve also thought of getting their FlightDeck, which is made of recycled plastic and has holes for bolting things onto it (extra carrying capacity!).

David in Bozeman, Montana, has a post on winter commuting for those dealing with sub-freezing temperatures and snow.

CycleWorks in Lincoln, Nebraska has great advice for those who are bicycle commuting with kids in winter.

I’ve pulled out my gloves, hat and scarf, but my hands are already getting too cold! I think I need to find some wool or leather gloves this year. Or maybe those funky lobster-claw mittens. And my eldest daughter keeps borrowing my hat, so I think I need to knit a new hat for one of us.

Challenging Week

It’s back to work week for me! And it’ll be back to school week next week. Both of these present challenges, but I’m also participating in a couple of bike challenges this month.

30 Days of Biking has returned for September! This Minneapolis-based event is open to everyone in the world.

The only rule for 30 Days of Biking is that you bike every day for 30 days—around the block, 20 miles to work, whatever suits you—then share your adventures online.

Yeah. That works for me. I participated in the original 30 Days of Biking in April, but didn’t quite make it to 30 days, because I had to take my bike to the shop, and they kept it for several days. C’est la vie. I’m doing it again. So far I’m two for two.

September is also Bike Commute Challenge month in Portland. Every year, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance sponsors this month long event, in which workplace-based teams compete based on the total percentage of commutes made by bike. I’m entered as part of my employer’s team, and plan to make 100% of my commutes by bike.

Work and life are already bringing challenges, frustrations and setbacks this month, but at least I’ll be getting out on my bike.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: A Little Wind?

I’ve been bicycle commuting through all weathers this winter in Portland, Oregon. In December we had a week of sub-freezing temperatures, as well as the usual rain. A snowfall, fortunately, came while I was on winter break, and I didn’t have to ride in it. Last week, we had the rain that wouldn’t quit. Today it was a house-shaking, window-rattling east wind.

So what do you need to know about bicycle commuting in the wind?

Dress for cold. Even if weather.com says it’s in the high 40s, you’ll probably feel cold, and even more so if it’s raining at all. So wear your woollens, hat, scarf, gloves, etc.

Tuck your scarf in. You don’t want that thing blowing around. Put your scarf on first, then your coat. If you like , pull the scarf over your mouth. But do you remember this from the Little House books?

Laura’s veil was a slab of frost against her mouth that made speaking uncomfortable…
These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder

If it’s cold enough, and your scarf is over your mouth, you too will have a slab of frost. But if it’s not cold enough, your scarf may just get slimy! Yum!

Wear pants. Well, there are probably people who can and will wear a skirt anyway. I’m not one of them. A straight skirt that won’t fly up at all might work. But pants are warmer.

Wear your leg bands. Even if you have an effective chain guard like I do, the leg bands will keep your pants from blowing around and will keep cold air out.

Tie everything down. Make sure your belongings are secure. If you’re an Xtracycle rider, tighten up your Freeloader bags so that everything inside is secure.

Yell into the wind. I do.

“Howl! blast you! howl!” he shouted. “We’re all here safe! You can’t get at us! You’ve tried all winter but we’ll beat you yet!”
–Pa Ingalls, The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

OK, I don’t yell that. But I do sometimes let out an “Aaaaaarrrrrgh!” when the wind is pushing me back. It helps.

Other helpful posts on bicycle commuting:

Low Temperature Cycling

Cycling In the Dark

Photo by Sarah McDevitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/smcdevitt/ / CC BY 2.0

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Are You Ready For Rain?

Because I’m not. I looked out at the downpour this morning in Portland, Oregon, and promptly went into whine mode.

Yes, we’ve gone from sub-freezing temperatures to a soaking rain. Temperatures are getting into the 40’s, so at least we’re not so cold. The problem is that I don’t have rain pants I had some, but they disappeared this past spring (I still haven’t figured out how). They were very close to being worn out anyway; they were just old hiking pants that I bought in, oh, 1993 or 1994, and the seams were beginning to come apart.

I am wearing a rain poncho, which is fine for the top half of me. But it really isn’t enough protection.  Today I suffered through an entire morning with cold, damp legs. I have an idea for making rain chaps and shoe covers out of an old vinyl tablecloth, but I haven’t implemented it yet. If I don’t do it this week, I’ll definitely do it over the winter break, when I’m not working.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/candescence/ / CC BY-SA 2.0