Tag Archives: transportation

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?

 

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.

 

A Week’s Biking In Pictures

I’m currently coordinating Walk and Bike to School Challenge Month at my school. Our bike rack is small, but mighty. We also have a lot of walkers!

Meanwhile, in interesting loads for the Xtracycle, I biked a fully loaded crockpot to work for a potluck.

And on Friday I biked both of my younger girls to their school, where we had an early meeting with a teacher. I really wanted to get an action shot of our shadow, but I didn’t quite dare try.

Tomorrow, we’re going to give Sunday Parkways a whirl — this is an event in Portland where they close off a number of streets to auto traffic and let the rest of us play! That’s my Mother’s Day treat.

Seven Bicycling Tips For Beginners (or Re-Beginners)

Better weather is finally here, and more people are getting out on their bikes! I know, there are plenty of articles out there with tips for beginners. But I’ve been pondering things that I wish I had known when I started bicycling again.

Do the Maintenance

Sure, you probably just pulled your bike out of the garage and rode when you were a kid. But if you do that now, you’re likely to become frustrated when your bike is much harder to ride than you thought it would be. Get a tune-up if you can ($40-80, depending on where you go and what you get). If you can’t, at least make sure the tires are properly inflated and the brakes are working.

Inflate the Tires

I just said that? Oh, yeah. Well, it’s important. You know how you’re supposed to keep the tires inflated on your car in order to increase your gas mileage? That’s because it takes more energy (gas) to move the car when the tires are under-inflated. It’s the same with a bike — except the energy in this case is YOU. You have to pedal harder to move the bike if the tires are under-inflated. You won’t like it. Don’t do it.

Adjust the Seat

If the seat is too low, it’s harder to pedal. When you’re sitting on the saddle, and your heel is on the pedal in the lowest position, your leg should be nearly straight, but without locking the knee. Don’t go too high, either.

Go Slow

You’re not in a race. Or at least, you shouldn’t be, if you’re just getting your bike out after a long hiatus. If you need to be at your destination by a certain time, give yourself plenty of time. I’d say at least 10 minutes per mile. You can probably go faster than this, but you need time for traffic, stoplights, rest breaks, and any issues you might have along the way. And if you’re worried about getting sweaty, again, GO SLOW. Or slowly, as we say in correct English.

Spin It, Baby

You’ve probably heard of “spinning” as an indoor workout, done on exercise bikes. But it’s also a good description of what you should be doing — you should be pedaling fairly easily and spinning along, not struggling to push the pedals around. If it’s too hard to pedal, you need to get into a lower gear, where it will be easier. It may feel like you are spinning your wheels and going too slowly, but it’s still faster than walking! And you’ll get stronger as time goes by — you’ll be able to use higher gears eventually.

Get Rhythm

Or cadence. The spandex crowd calls it cadence, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), or the number of times you are pushing the pedals all the way around in one minute. I never thought this was important until I read an article about hill climbing, which said that you should shift down to where you can maintain the same cadence all the way up the hill. That was a lightbulb moment. I’ve always struggled with hills, because when I shift down I feel like I’m getting nowhere, while if I didn’t shift down I couldn’t keep pedaling.

But when I tried concentrating on cadence, it worked! I don’t use a cycle computer or actually count my RPMs. I just do 8-counts to myself, as if I were counting out a dance number, and try to keep a steady beat. If pedaling becomes difficult, I shift down so that I can maintain that beat. And it works! I’m not sure whether it’s the shifting technique or just distraction via counting, but my hill climbing has improved.

Breathe

Speaking of distraction, sometimes I use patterned breathing in addition to, or instead of, counting cadence. You know, just like in childbirth? My pattern goes in, out, in, blow! Yeah. Because it’s important to get plenty of oxygen, and it’s helpful as a distraction from how hard you’re working.

Now. Get out there!

Xtracycle on Light Rail

The other day, I had a dilemma. A good dilemma, but still a dilemma. I had planned to meet friends for happy hour after work, and knew I’d have to either ride my bike or take public transit. However, I forgot to get cash for bus fare, so instead of being able to take the quickest bus, I would have had to go to the light rail station, buy a ticket with my debit card, and then take a train PLUS a bus.

This didn’t sound appealing. And the weather was good enough for biking, so biking was appealing, except that it would have been eight, long, uphill miles home.

Well, I really did want to bike, so I did it, and decided to try to hop onto MAX (light rail) with my bike to get home.

Of course, people do this all the time. The trains even have special hooks on them for bicycles. But my Xtracycle is significantly longer than a regular bike, and you’re really not supposed to take a bike on MAX unless it fits into the regular spaces.

I decided to chance it anyway. I’d heard of a couple of ways this could be done. One person said that you could fit an Xtracycle on the hook if you just turned the front wheel sideways (at a 90 degree angle to the bike). I’m still not sure how this would work. The other tip was that bikes ARE allowed in the spaces reserved for wheelchairs if the hooks are full.

I pulled up to the station and bought a ticket, hoping it wouldn’t be wasted. I let the first train go by, because it was too full, with both bikes and people. The second train was less than half full, but the bike hooks were occupied, so I went for it. I ran my bike onto the train, pulled the front wheel up, stood the bike on end, and wedged it into an empty wheelchair spot. It fit perfectly, without blocking any aisles or doors! I did have to stand there and hold onto it, but I did get it fairly securely wedged between the posts and railings.

Taking the Xtracycle on MAX still wouldn’t be my first choice, but now I know it’s doable.

After the events described in this post, BikePortland posted a short piece about bicycle trailers not being allowed on MAX, which sparked a lengthy discussion in the comments. I don’t use a trailer, and didn’t have a child with me, but I found the discussion interesting.

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!

Independence vs. Control

Portland has recently had several incidents in which an elderly driver mistakenly stomped on the gas instead of the brake and hit a person, car and/or building. In one incident, a baby died. So there’s been some discussion about whether people should have annual driving tests after a certain age.

A local news station interviewed an elderly man about this. He said that no one wants to stop driving because they don’t want to give up their independence.

I’ve heard this independence thing before — from myself. In college, I wanted a car because I felt it would allow me to be more independent. I could come and go whenever I wanted to, without worrying about bus schedules.

But as I listened to the man on the news, I realized that it’s not really independence that’s the issue, at least not in this time and place. It’s control.

It’s perfectly possible to get around Portland (and probably most decent-sized cities) without using a car. You can be completely independent without a car, just by using a bicycle and/or public transit.

Can you get to where you want to go just as quickly as you want to go? Probably not. It will probably take you longer. And if you ride the bus, you will have to follow the bus schedule and bus routes. So you do not have full control over getting there.

What if you are not physically able to ride a bike, or even regular public transit? Well, services are available for people who are physically unable to use regular transit. In Portland, the LIFT bus can come to your house or other location to pick you up.  It’s not that different from taking the regular bus.

However, you do still have to work with the LIFT scheduling process. You can’t just up and go whenever and wherever you want.

Another option is a taxi. It’s more expensive, but if you’ve just got to get somewhere, it’s available.

Now, leaving aside the whole issue of whether elderly drivers should be tested — what do you think? For people of any age, does a car give you independence, or just control? Is it really necessary to have full control over how we move around town?

Bicycle Commuting Mama: I Saw You!

Almost every day, students come up to me at work and say “I saw you riding your bike!”

That’s one of my favorite things to hear, and not because it’s some kind of ego-gratification. It’s because I hope I’m planting seeds, like my parents and many other people did for me.

For instance, my mother breastfed and cloth diapered six children. Some of our neighbors did the same with their children (in the 1970s and early 80s). So when I had my own babies, I didn’t think this would be too weird. I knew that it was both normal and possible.

My father rode the bus to work. When I was 10 or 11, I was allowed to ride the bus downtown all by myself to meet him at his office and then go to the Rose Festival Fun Center (none of this Waterfront Village business back then). And after that, I was frequently allowed (or even encouraged) to take the bus to the mall, the library, etc.  And when I got to college, and I didn’t have a car, I didn’t think it was weird to take the bus everywhere. Some of my friends had never ridden a bus. I dragged them all over the San Francisco Bay Area on public transportation!

So I hope that someday, those kids who saw me riding to school will remember that it’s perfectly normal for someone to ride their bike to and from work! After all, Mrs. McDade, did it!

Thanks, Mom and Dad! And thank you to my co-workers who walk or ride their bikes, too.