3.14.2012

Ten Things I Love About You

Here we are, coming up on our Car-Free one year anniversary - in two weeks! 


I haven't mentioned yet that car-free is pretty easy when you're an unemployed mom. I get into conversations with other moms (working moms, moms with several kids, other working folk) who exclaim how great it must be to have the time to take the bus, or ride a bike - but they could never give up the convenience of a car. Here, let me just re-enact one of these chats in 10 questions, so I can share my answers:


1. "What on earth would you do in an emergency?" Call 911. Not to be flippant, but really, an ambulance can get to me faster than I could ever get to a hospital, car or no car. I carry a cell phone at all times. 


2. "Is that trailer safe? I mean, really safe? What happens if you're in an accident?" See above answer. And I have looked our bikes and bike trailer over for any hidden terrors - and have found none so far. I don't believe there is any greater risk to biking with children than there is driving them in a car. The maximum speed I can hit on the bike (with trailer attached) is 21 MPH. Downhill. Our standard cruising speed is about 10MPH. In a car, driving on highways at 60-70MPH, steering a two ton vehicle surrounded by glass, fiberglass, and flammable materials in between other motorists doing the same is far more dangerous. And we don't wear helmets for that. And I avoid cars - strenuously - while on a bike. And I always assume they don't see me.


3. "I just don't have the time to take the bus. And forget a bike! I can't get to where I need to go doing what you're doing." I admit, this lifestyle has worked for us because I'm unemployed. It would be a challenge to get to a job, preschool, playdate, etc. on time but not impossible. It takes planning and some strategy. I see plenty of working moms with kids on the bus. I think we all forget that not everyone can afford a car - our family included. Living in a crap economy, in Seattle, on a single median salary - we really have to be car-free to keep our heads above water! I don't know how we afforded a car in the first place. Actually, having a car put us into some serious debt quicksand that we've only just managed to clamber out of. 


4. "Don't you have to spend a lot of money on gear and tune-ups?" No. We got free tune-ups with the purchase of our bikes, and they've since gone in once for spring tune-ups. For both bikes and the trailer it cost just over $200. For three "vehicles." I'll have to do a rundown of our yearly costs on the anniversary post!


5. "It's cold out there. Are you crazy?" Yes. It is cold. But it's winter. And then spring, summer, autumn - I'm not afraid of weather like I used to be. I can now stand outside in a cold rain and wind and not shiver. Riding the bike in all weather has forced me to acclimate - and it's nice. I've discovered that I enjoy being outdoors. I enjoy feeling the pavement, or dirt, or gravel beneath my feet and wheels. Air feels good. Being uncomfortable ain't so bad. But if the weather is too severe, I certainly take the bus. Or we don't travel at all. I also dress myself in layers, and I bundle my daughter like we're about to race the Iditarod. 


6. "How do you get groceries and all the stuff you need?" This is one of many reasons I love Seattle: Amazon Fresh. Anything you want from Amazon, delivered to your door, sometimes the same day! Groceries, sundries, you name it. Our weekly grocery shop takes me about 10 minutes online, and I can watch how much I'm spending so it's super easy to stay on budget. I can also step away from my desk and literally check the cupboards for what we need - so there's no "oops! forgot the ..." moments. A few clicks later, and the groceries show up on my doorstep within hours. I don't have to leave the house. (I do wish they'd start taking coupons, though). We also have been members of a CSA (community supported agriculture) called Full Circle Farm for several years. We get a weekly delivery of local, organic produce. It's cheaper, fresher, and tastier than shopping for it at the store. We do take a break from Full Circle during the summer, when our backyard garden produces what we eat and when it's fun to bike over to the West Seattle Farmer's Market. We also go to the store on the bike when we need to, but it's nice to save money, time and energy on using delivery.


7. "Isn't the bus scary?" Yes. Scary how late it always is. We definitely see lots of different people, hear different languages, and observe different attitudes on the bus. It's a very public way to get around town - so different from driving in a private car. So far, though, I haven't felt in danger on the bus, but we make sure to be safe and smart about where we're going and at what time of day. I've had lots of interesting conversations on the bus, and frequently recognize drivers and riders. But I always prefer to ride the bike over riding the bus. 


8. "Aren't you scared of getting run over?" Of course! I was scared to sell off the Subaru and rely on a bike. When it comes down to it, a body on a bike is going to lose in an accident with a car. So it takes vigilance on every ride. Something like this:


The Bike Guy (Fred Armisen) on Portlandia. "Go vegan!" - Courtesy IFC


9. "You must be in great shape." Well, yes! I get my workout and transportation all in one go. No need for a tough gym workout when all you need to do is make sure you're running late for preschool on a morning with bad weather - that 3-mile slog uphill toting 50+ lbs. with the wind and rain in your face will hand you your ass better than any trainer. Just be sure to stretch afterwards. 


10. "Are you going to get a car again in the future?" Not in the near future. I'd like to stay car-free forever, but I recognize this may get more difficult when our daughter starts kindergarten. And I rejoin the workforce. And life happens. Cars are a part of the landscape, whether we like it or not. I just hope our cities can learn to be more bike-friendly - with better infrastructure for public transit and more support and awareness for those of us without cars. 



10.22.2011

Carmageddon

Seattle is all abuzz with the demise of the Viaduct. For those of you who don't live here, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a double-decker section of Highway 99 that runs through downtown Seattle. Built in 1953, the Viaduct is a major north-south route for commercial traffic and commuters. It was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, and replacing it has been the topic of debate in every political election since. 


After much politicking, the Viaduct is being replaced by a deep-bore tunnel costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion, with construction stretching over the next six years. Hooray?


I don't have a lot to say about the Viaduct either way, other than it would have been nice to open up the section of waterfront the Viaduct/Tunnel covers to a true Seattle waterfront with businesses, housing, and space for us all to enjoy the view. AND more bike paths. Always more bike paths. Even with the doom-and-gloom prophecies about the Viaduct falling into the sea with the teeniest tremor, I always enjoyed driving over it and seeing the view it afforded of the city and the water. 


Today Seattleites have a chance to walk the Viaduct before demolition starts tomorrow. No bikes allowed - which is a tragedy. I bet there has never been a bike on the Viaduct in its entire 58 year history. 


"Let's tear this fucker down!" Photo by Ellen M. Banner / THE SEATTLE TIMES


Thus begins a long and painful (for traffic) journey. I don't foresee much of this affecting our bike commuting, but stay tuned for the clusterfuck that is sure to come with Metro buses. So long, Viaduct! We hardly knew ya ...

10.18.2011

10.17.2011

So Long, Summer

Is it October? Must be, because the ride to preschool in the morning is ... bracing. I really need to invest in some full-fingered bike gloves, instead of the cute fingerless ones my sister knit for me.

I have to say, this car-free summer was amazing! We spent so much time outside - not just riding to/from destinations, but also making outside our destination. Packing a picnic, blanket, and a bucket of beach toys and heading off on the bike for a day of adventure was all we had planned day after day. Sometimes we'd have a friend along for the ride:

Juliette and Asa squeeze together in the Burley. 


sometimes we'd meet a friend there:


Eleanor and Asa splashing at Alki Beach.


and sometimes we'd be happy to make friends along the way.


We discovered chickens in the alley a block from our house. 


Rain or shine, the Burley trailer really performed. And I really didn't mind a little mist now and then on a hot summer day. I am sporting an excellent bike tan that will probably be there until next summer.

Right now, though, with morning temps hovering in the high 40s, riding is just a teensy bit of a chore. Lots of parents have a hard time getting a preschooler out the door and into the car for the quick trip to school, but imagine trying to stuff an unwilling 3.5 year old into a cold bike trailer and then climbing aboard your bike for a chilly, uphill 3 mile trek in a steady rain.

Bus it, you say? We do, on occasion. Metro service is a little sketchy at that hour - sometimes the MT21 comes on time, sometimes it doesn't. We never get to school on time - it either drops us there too early, or 30 minutes too late. By car the ride to school takes less than five minutes. By bus, it's more like 40 minutes. It's faster for me to tote the trailer - on a good day (i.e. one where I get some breakfast and OJ in me) I can hustle up to school in 22 minutes.

Up being the operative word. We really do ride uphill both ways. West Seattle is nothing but hills after hills after hills. I've tried to find a magical flat route, but there is none. But we do know where all the chickens are, which cat likes to sun on which porch, and which cute house is for sale, or oops! sold. I spend my ride admiring the gardens, landscaping, and xeriscaping of all the houses we pass. And I can hear my little monkey singing songs all the way to school, accompanied by the menagerie of stuffed "friends" she insists on taking with us every single trip.

I've presented a pretty ideal portrait of the car-free life - and while it's been a surprisingly easy transition for our family, a car-free life can be quirky and inconvenient and even painful. Painful as in - hit by low-hanging branches, scratched by evil blackberry vines, slapped in the face by insects, and being banged up by my own bike gears, pedals, and tires. My calves are covered in bruises in various stages of blue and I'm always sporting some kind of mystery scrape on my hands, arms or ankles. I've toppled over on slippery roads, been knocked clean off my bike by an unseen gap in the sidewalk, and have been chased by one ugly little dog with some very sharp-looking teeth. And riding at night is just plain freaky - the lack of streetlights, shitty street paving, and poor headlamp action (I'm sorry, but I need at least a Lowel 1K to see the street) making a night ride an adrenaline fest. 

We're learning. And as the weather continues to get colder, we'll learn how to keep warm and safe. And I'll keep looking for that magical flat route around West Seattle. 

6.01.2011

Bike to Work Day

... and bike to the store, the library, co-op preschool, the coffee shop, your friend's house, the roller derby. The official Bike to Work Day was May 12, but that's no reason you can't bike to work everyday! 

Check out this Bike Commute Calculator to get an idea of how cycling does a body, the environment, and your wallet good!

5.31.2011

Hello, Burley!

March 28th was D-Day. The Subaru found a new home - a nice couple bought it for their college-age daughter. They came to our house, paid cash, and drove away. Our driveway was truly empty. 

And I began bike shopping. And bike trailer shopping. And shopping without a car for a bike is a challenge. 

Being in Seattle, it's practically writ in stone that one must make the pilgrimage to the REI flagship store at least once a year. (I even worked there for a time). They have a great selection of bikes and gear, and the assembly is done in-house. Unfortunately, REI has priced themselves beyond the average working family, or at least one that is newly car-free and looking for a deal on a bike and trailer. We hit up the annual Scratch 'n Dent Sale, but got there 15 minutes after the store opened - rookie mistake. All the bikes were already spoken for. The new bikes inside started at $400, the trailers $500. Our budget: $500 for both. 

So we got back on the bus to West Seattle and tried closer to home. Cycle University was a pro-shop - too pro. Even more expensive than REI. Down to the Admiral Junction to the Alki Bike and Board. This is our store - super friendly help, good selection of new and used bikes, assembly and repairs in-house. We found a bike for the right price, but the size was wrong. It was a last year's model, so no hope of finding another size. And no kid trailers. On to the internet!

Having seen the fancy-pants Burley trailers at REI, I set my sights on a more mid-priced version to tote Asa in. And Burley makes simplified versions of their fancy pants trailers. The Burley Bee is perfect - it's compact, folds down, seats two, comes chock-full of safety features, and is easy to attach to a bike. And it's cute! It looks like a bumble bee! Luckily, Amazon.com sells everything, including Burleys. $248.95 with free shipping. Click. Done!

You can't buy a bike online, though. At least I can't. I wanted to try it out. I wanted to ask questions from someone in one of those bike shop aprons full of bike tools. And I wanted it to come with some free repair and tune-ups. So after another unsuccessful trip to REI (I was hoping that some sort of deal would magically appear), we crossed the street and hit up Play It Again Sports. They sell bikes! New and used! The location at Stewart Street is owned and operated by a bike guy who wears one of those aprons! And it was there that I spotted her - a Marin hybrid cycle, 24 gears, cherry red. One test ride later and she rode out the door as mine. A 2010 model, brand new for $299 ($150 off!). A teensy bit over budget, but at least now we were geared up and ready to roll. 

Casey already has a bike. He got a new bell. 

It's the last day of May, and we've been car-free for 64 days. I'm going to start a tally of the miles we've done so far - the back and forth to co-op preschool (3 miles each way, uphill!), to the Junction, to the store, to the beach. Casey rides 16 miles roundtrip to work (a bike/bus combo most days). We've met up with friends and done portions of the Burke-Gilman trail. Some days we do one long loop of a ride that starts with coffee, continues into errands, and concludes at the playground - getting home in time for an afternoon nap. Some days it's a playdate - I tote Asa and a friend in the trailer to the playground with a picnic lunch. Other days we take a morning ride, afternoon and evening ride all together as a family. 

We don't even miss the car. And with gas over $4/gallon we REALLY don't miss the car. 

And having a good pair of padded bike shorts prevents saddle soreness. Just sayin'.







3.18.2011

The Back-Up Plan

Glance out into my backyard right now and you'll see a gorgeous camellia tree in full bloom, some newly planted primroses in a rainbow of colors, and an empty clearing waiting for the to-be-built raised beds for the vegetable garden.

And, oh yeah, the car is still there. 

Like a wallflower on prom night, I'm starting to re-think my options. 

So we can't sell the car. So we continue to pay a car payment, insurance ... and gas? Well, if we don't drive the car we're not buying gas. And if we're not buying gas we can put that money towards a bike trailer for my daughter and a bike for me. We can still forge ahead with our car-free plans, even if we still have to pay the bank for a car we're not using. (Yes, that stings a little. Okay, a lot). Not the best case scenario, and it's all a little anti-climactic, but what the hell else can we do?

My daughter has been asking daily to ride the bus. She's already forgotten about the car. Time to follow her lead, then. And maybe go shopping (via Metro Transit) for that bike!