Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not having a car, in the suburbs, at all

For over 20 years, we have been a one-car household, living in the suburbs. We upped that game, effective today, by continuing to be a one-car household, but with that car somewhat permanently being 180 miles away.

You read that right: No car. At all. In the suburbs. For the foreseeable future. How will we survive? How did we get this way? Will this ever change? All good questions. But maybe we should start at the beginning.

A generation ago, we lived in rural New Stanton and had four cars on the road for the three drivers in the family. One by one, the cars ceased to be, coincident with a move to McCandless following a year of using public transit from a second home in Robinson. Transit worked for the Robinson to Monroeville commute, accomplished by leaving the second car in Monroeville, and using the bus to get from Robinson to the car, left in a park-and-ride lot overnight. This continued for a couple of years after the McCandless move.

We went down to one car after the second was wrecked, and we chose not to replace it. For 1994, this was a rather chancy move, as I still had a three-mile trip on foot from the bus to work, often but not always assisted by friends and co-workers who knew my plight. That job ended soon after, and from there on, there was no turning back. I was transit dependent by choice, and reveled in it. The $5,000/year I figured I was saving, over 20 years, paid for the house several years early and helped me pay for a Masters degree.

We replaced the one aging car in 2012, but still have almost half the principal yet to pay on it. Because of that, and because of paying my daughter's tuition, the purchase of a second car was and is out of the question. But then something else unexpected happened: My wife was in a should-have-been-minor parking lot bump, but which resulted in a concussion, and a medically ordered long-term vacation from driving. On top of this, my son does not drive at all, and I hardly ever drive except for one weekly errand.

Meanwhile, daughter off at college is in an educational program that requires use of a car to get her to a remote practicum a couple times a week. She needs the car. We need use of a car for the occasional shopping or medical trip, but otherwise, no, we do not need to always have a car in the driveway.

To reiterate, this is a big decision. The nearest grocery is 0.7 mile away; the grocery of choice is 1.6 miles away. Any other shopping, any other voluntary trip -- social, entertainment, religious, pretty much anything -- is going to be ... interesting.

I bike to get around, so does Gabe, but Sarah does not. In addition, it is the dead of winter. As I write this, the outside air is 14 F. Travel by bike probably isn't going to happen for any of us until it gets a little warmer, and even then, is not going to help her.

I do have a motorcycle, but it too has a major problem at the moment. I was rear-ended a few weeks ago, and so it is in need of major repairs. I haven't even obtained an estimate on the damage yet, partly due to the cold and snow. But even if it was warm and repaired, that still doesn't help much with bringing home bags of groceries.

One option is ZipCar, the rent-by-the-hour car-sharing program. This isn't cheap, at about $10/hour beyond the $55 sign-up fees, and presents its own set of problems in addition to providing a potential solution to being stranded. Since Sarah doesn't drive, if I wanted to use ZipCar to take her somewhere, I would need to bus or bike downtown, take out a ZipCar, drive it home, drive her wherever, wait until she's done,  then drive the car back downtown. All of this would likely have to compete with employment for my time. Can I afford to take a half-day off so I can spend $50 or more to borrow a ZipCar to take her somewhere? That can get expensive.

Of course, there are taxis, and the good hearts of friends. Both too have their benefits and drawbacks, and costs in either money or the limits of those good hearts. At this writing, Sarah cannot even walk any distance from the house on foot, let alone drive, so both of those have to be on the table as viable options.

In short, I have a quandary.

Shopping will likely require the use of the large pannier I took out of service a year ago because it was in such bad shape. Possibly I can reassemble it, but it might just be easier to buy another. A second capital expense may have to be a bike trailer, which would make some sense for when I need to transport any substantive amount of groceries. Meanwhile, I should plan on smaller trips a couple times a week to pick up the occasional gallon of milk or dozen oranges, that I can carry in the pannier or a backpack. However I do it, it will likely be mine to do.

Unknowns at this point include any idea of cost. Amy will be driving some, but likely less than we would be if the car was here. Aldi might be the cheapest grocery, but if grocery trips on foot have to occur, they will be at the Shop & Save in Pines Plaza, which can be half-again more expensive than Aldi. Noplace else is close enough to consider.

That, however, is the game we will play until at least March, and maybe May. It would be nice if a couple dozen thousand landed in our laps so we could go car shopping, but I don't see that happening. Even if it did, I don't know if I would spend it on a second car so much as paying off the first and making some major house repairs.

A no-car suburbanite, for real this time. Let's see how this goes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reflecting on 3,359 miles biked in 2014

Final 2014 numbers. This is what 3,359 miles looks like.

The monthly bus pass subscription expired 2/28/2014.

What 414 miles in October looks like. That Saturday hole was there all year. Sundays were pretty spotty for riding, too.

One random day in October. Biked in on Babcock, home on Federal and Perrysville. Something like this, every day you see 20+ miles.

Here is a day when I biked in but took the bus home. Most days with about 12 miles are like this. The "Half mile across downtown" was any of about 10 ways to get from City-County Building to whichever bus stop I used, all of which land in the .39-.61 mile range.

What does this prove? That it can be done. I bike as much as I can, but I use the bus when I want to. Each 11-mile trip is $3.75 in bus fare I didn't spend. Every day I went in by bike was $15 in parking I didn't spend, nor was any fuel involved.

The number of miles traveled exceeded 2013's total by over 800 miles, which exceeded the previous year by about 650. Theoretically, I could bike 5,000 miles in a year and not do anything remarkably different, merely commuting more, particularly in the winter. I don't know if I will, but I could, and probably could hold myself to it if I really wanted to. But for here, anyway, I will simply leave it at that I have shown it can be done, regularly, by a non-athletic man in his mid-50s without any special clothing or equipment. That should be message enough.