Thursday, July 3, 2008

Going Car-less for Real

Today is the big day, I'm selling my car! It has been almost a year since I decided that owning a car was no longer for me. The past year has been all about planning for my transportation needs and assessing whether going car-less was possible or not.

The conclusion is that it is possible indeed. Without a car my transportation needs will be met by a variety of choices. For travel to and from work I use the bus, to and from meetings for work I use Zipcar and quick errands or short trips around town I will have a scooter. In addition to purchasing a scooter I intend to buy a bicycle. Walking is always an option and getting rides with friends isn't out of the question either. For special weekends when I have friends visiting from out of town we will simply rent a car and share the cost. My savings start at about $750 per month and grow along with gas prices.

This morning I told our secretary that I will not have a car as of today and she was just puzzled. She said "I don't know how you can go without a car in southern California." I admit it is a bit of a stretch for most people but I want this to be a statement of my committment to living sustainably.

There are so many exciting things going on right now that give me great hope for the future. Young people and progressives all over the country are uniting to challenge the way this country is run. Gas prices are at an all time high which is growing transit ridership among those people who would generally not consider using it. The California High Speed Rail is on the ballot for November and its political momentum seems to be gaining. There is a green revolution of sorts taking place with broad public awareness of organic food, locally purchased goods, green buildings, energy conservation, natural products and the list goes on and on. I think we need a celebration here and how appropriate that tomorrow is Independence day... I will be celebrating my independence from big oil and the auto industry. Yay!

Monday, September 17, 2007

“Car-less in San Diego” Conclusion

It’s more than appropriate that I write the conclusion to my “car-less in San Diego” blog from the spacious seat of an Amtrak Surfliner train. It’s a Friday afternoon and I am heading out of San Diego my way to Los Angeles Union Station and then Hollywood to visit my friend Mark. I have had a summer full of mass transit experiences that have changed my perception of transit in San Diego and encouraged me to lessen my carbon footprint.

The main practice that has stayed with me is the ongoing carpool that my co-worker Greg and I began early in the summer. We simply take turns driving each other to work every other week. I also find myself looking for reasons to take the bus or trolley as opposed to driving. For instance if I am going out on a Friday afternoon I will take the bus into Uptown or if Greg drives us to work and I need to get somewhere during the day I will take the bus. On future trips to LA I will always lean toward taking the train as this experience has been wonderful. The seats are huge and comfortable, the windows are enormous and the scenery unparalleled. There is even an electrical outlet next to my seat. Alternative transit has officially become of a hobby for me.

Ideals of efficient and convenient transit have been a growing segment of my day to day thoughts and my transit wish list has become extensive. I want the UTC transit center to be completed and the Blue line extension to UTC to be complete. I want the California High Speed Rail to be fully funded, under construction and included in the UTC redevelopment plans. I want to have the trolley connected to the airport terminals. I want to see Flexcars all over the city especially in the SDSU area and at UTC. I want to see general attitudes toward transit and private car ownership altered. I want to see the billions of dollars that are spent annually on freeway expansions be re-directed to mass transit projects that create real solutions for mobility.

Opportunities to positively influence pro-transit legislation will be a priority for me. I also look forward to being involved in some level on future transit projects. Being a landscape architect it would be rewarding to be part of a design team creating transit plazas and other spaces for the public to enjoy while embracing the future of mobility and an ever-decreasing carbon footprint.

This has truly been an eye opening experience and I hope that I have inspired at least a few people to make positive changes in the way they think about transit and more importantly how they use it. I hope that people also become more aware of their carbon footprints and that we collectively make progressive changes to protect our resources.

Though our transit system is far from perfect I believe that I can truly go car-less in San Diego without giving up too much. With some careful planning it will happen eventually.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Back to the Blog

It’s been a while since I wrote so here is the update... I am still in car-less mode for the most part. I take the bus everyday to Greg's house and carpool from there. When Greg is out for the day or coming in later I just take the bus the whole way. I’ve become accustomed to the commute taking more than an hour and have enjoyed all my extra time to read and enjoy my music.

Flexcar has not worked out for me yet and it is unlikely to until we have one of their cars at work or at least closer to work. Sometimes my meetings pop up unexpectedly like last week when I had to rush out to Santee to sign a set of plans. I had carpooled that day so I borrowed Reegan's car for the trip. On other days that I have meetings or appointments I drive and offer to drive Greg into work with me so long as he has no appointments. The arrangement seems to be working.

On the weekends I use my car sparingly, usually once for a consolidated round trip of all my errands combined. I might end up driving once more to meet up with friends. I could take the bus but like to have the freedom to stay out past the last bus run, and a cab ride home is more expensive than me driving my car. I feel like I have reached equilibrium for now, making transit and carpooling work for me while I still have a car and use it sparingly. It is my ultimate goal to not need a car at all but that will have to wait until Flexcar can support my needs. I will be engaging the owners of my company and Flexcar in the near future so that we can explore our options, but until then I am pretty pleased with the changes I have made.

One item of interest was noted this morning. Our bus had a flat screen TV mounted near the front and was playing what looked like a national news and weather program. This, in addition to my book and ipod, proved a pleasant distraction from sometimes less than inspiring scenery both on and off the bus. I hope they plan to install these on more buses in the near future. We will see…

Stay tuned and keep it green.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Alpha Bus Driver Race

On my way home from work today Greg asked me what I would do if something went wrong with his schedule (i.e. he slept in or had some other unforeseen event occur) in the morning and he was not able to give me notice. This truly could be a problem because he is just barely getting up when I am leaving my house so there is a very small window for coordination. After some careful thought I decided that in this situation I would call another co-worker who lives downtown and see if they would go a bit out of their way to pick me up. Having said that I should probably put Chris on notice to answer his phone in the morning if I ever call as it means I am probably stranded. My other option would be to hop back on the bus in the other direction to the I-15 transit plaza and catch the 960 to work. This scenario would probably result in my being an hour late but at least I would get there.

Today was the first time I had what I would consider a typical commute home. Greg and I got to his house a few minutes after 6 and I caught the 15 bus at 6:10 back to my stop on 54th. Ever since that incident on the 1 route I decided that I would never ride it again for any distance and I have avoided it several times in the last few days. I have even avoided it even while waiting for a very late 15 route bus and have just been hoping that my late 15 route bus will still beat the 1 route bus. Today I got to experience first hand how the 15 is faster that the 1. The 1 bus had passed us because one of our stops was before theirs and we tailed them for a few blocks. Then they had a stop and we came around to pass but got stuck at a red light right next to them. I think there might be an alpha bus driver thing going on with the two routes because our bus driver was revving the engine at the light and took off with as much acceleration as a bus can deliver. We easily passed the 1 bus and I didn't see it again. Maybe more people than just the disabled should have access to seatbelts?

My research into Flexcar has been continuing... Yesterday I decided to walk to the nearest car location from work to see how convenient it was. The car was an 8-10 min walk which was not ideal but will have to do for now. The nearest car location to my house is about a 10-minute bus ride away which is also less than convenient. So I called Flexcar headquarters in San Diego and spoke with the general manager. He said that there should be a car closer to my work and home very soon. He also mentioned that if my company gets a corporate account with several users they would locate a car much closer. On another note I asked him why there are no cars near my house, which is in the college area. He said that the college (SDSU) has been resisting any additional strategies that reduce car use any further as their parking revenue is down as a result of the new trolley station. This attitude coming from an institution of higher learning is simply inexcusable. In any case he said they should have a car in my neighborhood as early as this fall and certainly within the next school year.

Tomorrow I will be borrowing a co-worker's car for the first time. I have a meeting at the City of Santee and Reegan was more than agreeable to let me use her car for the allotted time. This is certainly a solution for now but I feel like I should not burden other workers too often with my carbon conscience. My Flexcar application should be processed by early next week and I am looking forward to my inaugural ride in one of their vehicles! After I get a feel for their service I may recommend that our company consider a corporate account. All of the issues that I had feared most about being without a car seem to be working out. This is very pleasing and I hope it continues this way; I might be selling my car sooner than anticipated. And I couldn't be happier.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Green Guilt

Now its time for a confession of a broken carbon footprint... I found myself in a situation last Saturday morning and needed to use my car! I was invited to a limited ASLA members only tour of Rancho La Puerto in Tecate Mexico but was not confirmed until Thursday afternoon. I tried to join a carpool as early as possible but no one got back to me until Saturday morning about an hour before I needed to leave which left me no time to take the bus to our meeting spot. Had I been without a car I would have called a cab and paid the $12 to get there. Considering that I do have a car that I am paying for now I figured it was just as much of a carbon blowout either way so I should opt for the more economical option.

I tried to keep my chin up while I was behind the wheel but it wasn't until I was carpooling with 4 other people on the way to Tecate that I felt any better about my green guilt. While in Tecate our transportation was limited to a taxi and another carpool, all rides were jammed full so this also made me feel better. While at the "wellness spa and resort" we were treated to a buffet lunch of all locally grown organic vegetarian food. I think simply knowing that produce is locally grown makes it taste that much better, maybe because I know it has a small carbon footprint or maybe because it was actually harvested at the peak of flavor.

Upon arriving back into town my friend Bruce called and said he wanted to make dinner plans. I sort of felt like I should go home and have an intermission before going out for the evening but I figured since my car was already in the neighborhood I would just stay. If I drove home I would be taking the bus back and this just seemed like a lot of effort. So I went to Bruce and Nate's house for some wine and we went to Bite, which is a new restaurant on University Ave. in Hillcrest. The atmosphere was contemporary and the food was delicious. Later that night I drove myself home and didn't have to go anywhere until today.

This morning I made the usual commute which consisted of the15-bus route to Greg's house and then carpooling to work. My only complaint today was that on the way home I was waiting near Greg's house for my return bus ride and I waited through two scheduled bus arrivals before one showed up. This was kind of stressful because at that point you begin to wonder if a bus is going to show up at all. When it did finally arrive there was barely room for me to squeeze in and hold onto something. In fact at the next stop our bus driver told the people in line to get on the bus that we were at capacity and they would have to wait for the next bus. I was just thankful that I had made it on.

Arrangements were made earlier in the day with Brad, he was going to pick me up after I got home to make a run to Trader Joes. This was very handy and considered carbon conscious as he was going to make the trip anyway.

A couple of progressive steps were made this weekend on my behalf. I signed up for Flex Car and am awaiting my approval. This will add one more transportation option to my list and should make my life a little easier. I was also invited next weekend to go to LA to visit my friend Mark. This was an interesting proposal as it would involve my taking the Amtrak Surfliner on a 2 hour and 45 minute ride up the coast for a Friday - Sunday trip. I have to say I am curious as to how the experience would be and am definitely considering it. I suppose if I am even thinking about not having a car I should know what it is like to travel to nearby cities. I’m hoping I get the chance to make that happen this weekend.

How's your carbon footprint? Do you have green guilt? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hmmm... Day 2

This morning my commute went as expected, I took the bus to Greg's house and we carpooled to work. He left promptly at noon but I wanted to go to the bank and the gym before heading back so I told him to go ahead without me and I would catch the bus. I soon learned that the first bus on the route I take home does not run until 3:20 so I had some time to kill. As it was a gorgeous day and the sun was starting to peek out from behind the clouds I decided to lie out by the pool at my gym for a while before working out. It felt great but I did get a little too much sun. After lounging poolside I went into the gym for an hour workout and headed to the bus stop.

On the first leg of my trip two things caught my attention. The first was an observation that while we were on the 805 south the bus drove in the shoulder while the traffic in all other lanes crawled along. This seems to be a great use of an otherwise under utilized space. My second observation was more of a question... Why of all the people who could have sat next to me did I have to get the fattest woman on the bus to share a bench with? I was hoping she would find another seat but sure enough she hobbled in and swung around to take the seat next to me. She nearly crushed my left side with her right quarter thigh then uttered "sorry" in the most petite of voices. That was a minor annoyance, actually more amusement than anything. The bus was on time and everything went as planned until my transfer.

So I was transferring from the 960 route to the 15 route at the I-15 transit plaza and according to the schedule there was to be a 6-minute overlap before the 15 bus left. As I got off the first bus I could see my next bus waiting across the intersection. Before I could cross the street it drove away several minutes early!!! My frustration was palpable. So I waited at the transit plaza for several minutes until the route 1 bus arrived. Both routes will take me to my stop at 54th but the 15 runs limited stops so it is essentially an express and cuts off at least 5 minutes from my trip. This trip was riddled with stops on nearly every block and all kinds of people who could not figure out how to get their money into the machine or why their children needed to have a ticket also. This was a bit of a nightmare. Before I made it to my stop at 54th the next 15 bus passed us from behind, so the lesson here is to never get on the 1 unless I absolutely have to. I finally got off at my stop at just over an hour for this commute. Had the transfer to the 15 been successful I would have saved several minutes.

My next chore was to go to the grocery store. My transfer slip was good until 6:15 so after a brief snack at home I ventured back out to El Cajon Blvd. to catch the 15 line to College Ave where Vons is located. I arrived several minutes early and the 5:21 bus did not show up at all. I had to wait for the following 5:36 bus to begin my trip; this was 15 minutes totally wasted. Meanwhile I got into a conversation with an SDSU student and he swore that the buses are never on time. He was astonished that I was conducting this "green experiment" and said that most people couldn't be bothered. I hope he is wrong about the frequency of buses being off schedule, but today's experiences did bring to light some concerns.

Shopping was uneventful and I was in a rush to get back on a bus before my transfer slip expired. Just as I got back to the corner of College Ave and El Cajon Blvd the 15 bus was waiting but it also decided to take off while I was crossing the street. This bus was actually behind schedule so I had not planned to catch it anyway. I had to take the 1 back to my house, as it was the last option before the 6:15 transfer slip cut off time. This bus also stopped at nearly every block along the way but thankfully the distance I had to travel was not that far.

To summarize the transit experience today I had mixed feelings. If I had no other option then I would just accept the fact that the buses might not keep me on schedule all the time. I ended up getting to every place I had to go but the times were a little unpredictable. Can I put up with it indefinitely? Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Day 1 Without a Car

If I were to succinctly describe today's experience I would use the word enlightening. Not enlightening as in I just found out that my date last night has some highly communicable disease, but enlightening as in I didn't know this could be so simple. Everything went as planned from my bus ride to Greg's neighborhood to our carpool to work and back. The only thing I will adjust tomorrow is that I will leave my house just a couple minutes earlier so I have a little time to gather myself before boarding the bus.

During the day I had my scheduled doctor appointment and as expected I walked there. It was a delightful walk through UCSD and the lovely zero carbon emission experience took about 15 minutes each way. This I consider to be very reasonable.

After Greg dropped me off at his house I walked across the street to Henrys to get some groceries. I limited myself to 1 bag full as I had my workbag with me and it all had to be schlepped around town. While I was waiting in the check out line I pulled out my bus schedule and realized that I had about 3 minutes before the next bus arrived and I had to make that bus or I would be late for Brad to pick me up for dinner. I may have broken a sweat even before I started running out of Henrys with my bag of groceries and my workbag. Just as I rounded the corner the bus was pulling up and I jumped on without a moment to spare.

Today I sent a link to my blog to several friends at work and there was only positive feedback, people are generally open to providing rides or making their vehicles available for me to use occasionally. It seems that Flex Car may become a great option as well. The nearest location for a car looks to be about a 15 minute walk which would be reasonable until a closer option is available. Tomorrow will likely be the first time I attempt to make my commute entirely by bus. This should take just under an hour but I will be able to read my new book "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. Today the commute to work took about 50 minutes while driving myself takes around 30 minutes. I know my time is valuable but so is my responsibility to be carbon conscious. As long as I utilize my additional travel time this is time well spent.

Utilizing public transit takes a fair amount of planning and this is something that I have not had to deal with while using my own car. Not having to think ahead can be convenient but living in this manner can lead to complacency. I’m glad for this bit of change in my life.