Saturday, December 6, 2008

Car is King in CA

This past Thanksgiving week, I was out in southern California, to enjoy some warmth, blue skies and sunshine. :) Melinda and I stayed with her friend Nancy, who lives in Laguna Niguel. Thanksgiving was to be spent at their in-laws house in Apple Valley - about 100 miles northwest, a couple of hours drive.

Except on Thanksgiving Day....when EVERYONE in CA gets in their car to drive somewhere for the turkey meal. It took us FOUR HOURS! Ugh. You should have seen the massive traffic jams! I was thinking it would have been much more enjoyable to bike that 100 miles than sit in this traffic. If it hadn't been 100 miles, I would have tried it. :) Fortunately, the ride home was the normal 2 hours, thank God!

I had suggested to various friends while we were visiting, that they could give biking a try in their area. They would save a lot of money (even though gas prices have come down to about $1.89 a gallon), get exercise, and get to know their own neighborhood. You'd be surprised how many businesses are located within an easy biking distance. And you'd have FUN along the way. They could bike to run errands, to stores and restaurants they needed to get to, instead of always hopping in the car. Yes, it takes longer, but you get the exercise and fresh air, that you don't have TIME for otherwise! But everyone's kind of "married" to their car, and they don't think of anything else as an alternative.

I had brought my folding bike, the Bike Friday, with me, to get in some rides. Nancy and Melinda had a conference to attend in San Diego the following week. San Diego is located about 70-80 miles south of Laguna Niguel. I had brought along the Adventure Cycling Association's maps of the coast, and decided I would bike down to San Diego to meet them at the hotel. Nancy couldn't believe I would actually WANT to bike all that way - why bother, when you could get there in a car in just an hour and a half?

Well, there are MANY reasons to bike somewhere - whether it's near or far. Number one, as mentioned above, it's much more enjoyable. You're not just stuck in a car seat, looking at cars all around you. Instead, you feel the breeze, soak in the sun, meet the people along the way, stop and take pictures of funny signs or scenic spots. You work up an appetite and food always tastes better! You EXPERIENCE your surroundings instead of passing by and through them. It's like the difference between watching a movie, vs. actually being IN the movie. :)

I had a GREAT ride down the coast. Yes, it took all day, but you're so INTO your surroundings, time flies. You certainly don't feel that way in a CAR!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

First Year Anniversary

This month will mark my first year of living without a car. :) Hard to believe it's been a year already! Here are a few of my thoughts about being car-free:

1. I have come to enjoy and appreciate the slower pace, both in bicycling places, and using public transportation. I have done a good bit of reading in my public transit time, something I haven't had time for before. You'd think it wouldn't be possible for me to say I enjoy biking EVEN MORE than I have - but I do. I enjoy seeing the sights around me and exploring new areas. Cars zoom past me on the road...yes, they beat me to a destination, but I have more fun getting there. :) I also enjoy getting even more exercise than I did before. I appreciate the simplicity, ease and use of the bicycle.

2. I have saved about $2K in my savings account, which I add to each month. It's been neat to see the account grow, and I haven't withdrawn any of it. Someone mentioned that I could use the money to pay for any bicycling repairs or expenses I have. I suppose I could do that, if I didn't have the resources otherwise. I suppose I also could add more to the monthly amount that I deposit, but I was keeping it at the amount that equaled how much I had been spending in gas and insurance for my car.

3. I've explored getting around by bus, train, subway, plane, etc. Though sometimes it's been a little frustrating or slow to take public transportation, for the most part, I've managed alright and I've worked around some obstacles. I have made the adjustment in my mind of how long it will take to get to my destination. It's been neat to meet people in my travels who start up a conversation with me when they see me with my bike. It's been fun to share with them that I don't have a car and how I've managed to get around. Some people look at me with disbelief, and state they couldn't possibly live without a car. Others have told me they have enjoyed biking in the past and have been thinking about taking it up again. I tell them how great this area is with the bike paths, transportation, etc. and I encourage them to try it again.

4. The hourly/daily rates of renting a Zipcar has risen the past year. It'd be nice if it hadn't, but inflation has hit everywhere, so I'm not too surprised. When I had donated my car, Zipcar opened my account with $500 in driving credit, which is valid for a year. I remember talking with a co-worker about that credit, and told her that I BET I could make that $500 last all year long. Through the year, I have rented Zipcars as needed/wanted (8 times). I used the last free Zipcar rental recently, so now I'll be the one paying the hourly fee. Even though I like having Zipcar as an option, I probably can get along without it even less.

5. Thanks, Melinda! Lastly, (but not least!) I thank and appreciate my friend and roommate, Melinda, for rides to/from the airport, train depot, Zipcar locations. I have tried to schedule my returns to not be late at night, so it will allow me time to then bike home. Sometimes though, when I have finished a trip to other areas, I have been delayed along the way (unexpected transportation delays). So, even though I have TRIED to be back in town early, I get thwarted. It would be even later, if I were to try and bike home. Yawn... Melinda has been kind and gracious to come to my aid. We sometimes catch a meal together when we meet up, and I pay for her's in appreciation. Also, if I am with her when she happens to fill up her gas tank, I help out towards that. I also have helped her out a few times where I pick up items or run errands for her on my way biking home - which saves her a trip out, and she appreciates that. So, we help one another out. :)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Up to NYC Again!

This past weekend I went up to New York City for the third time this year. This time, I took the Washington Deluxe bus service. A biking friend of mine mentioned he's taken it a lot in the past and that he was pleased with their service and bus schedule. I would have taken the Bolt Bus, as before, but for some odd reason, I could not get a later bus coming back on Sunday night. The last available bus on their schedule listed to be at 2 p.m., which wouldn't do. So I thought I'd try the Washington Deluxe bus and see how it compared with the Bolt Bus.

I rode my bike on Saturday morning, leaving my house at 6 a.m., to catch the first bus out, 7:45 a.m., at the Dupont Circle stop. The bus then goes on to pick up at 15th & K Streets, and then near Union Station. I chose the Dupont Circle stop because I didn't know how crowded the bus would be or get, and I didn't want any problems with my bike. There were about 10 or so people at the bus stop and I slipped my Bike Friday (not folded) into the farthest bin. I got a seat in the first row (seems like a lot of people don't like to sit in the front row seat - but I think it's nice - you get a better view). As we rolled away from the bus stop, a lady came up to the driver and said that the driver had left just a couple minutes earlier than the schedule stated, and that her boyfriend was right behind her, trying to get the bus. The driver checked his watch and the schedule, and apologized, and he went around the block to go pick up her boyfriend. There were a couple of other people who were there waiting too, so it's good he went back!

We picked up at the other two locations, and had a full bus. With Washington Deluxe, you can pay in advance online by credit card, but you can also pay cash on the bus. With Bolt Bus, everyone pays upfront online. I think this is better, in a way, because it saves time. On the Washington Deluxe bus, there was another employee who came on the bus to collect the money from passengers, while we all sat waiting on the bus. So, even though I got on the bus at 7:45, it was 8:30 by the time we left D.C.! :/ Also, with Bolt Bus, there is just one pick-up spot. After the bus loads there, you leave the city. I guess there's pros and cons to each bus service...depending on what you prefer.

The bus driver had heard there was a bad accident on 95, so he decided we would take a detour route - going over the Bay Bridge and through the Eastern shore, paralleling 95. He said it would add 15-20 minutes to the trip. But that's better than sitting in traffic. So, we finally got to NYC by about 1-1:30 p.m. - a long trip. One thing with taking the bus is, that even though you save a lot of money (roundtrip on the Washington Deluxe bus was $46 - and you can get lower fares on Bolt Bus), you have to deal with traffic conditions, and there's ALWAYS the back-up getting into NYC through the tunnel. You just SLOWLY creep with everyone else and "funnel into the tunnel." Too bad I just can't grab my bike out and bike into the city from that point. Though taking Amtrak costs lots more (over $100 each way), and you can have delays on the train, at least you don't have to deal with the traffic once you get to NYC. Pull into the station and get off the train, and you're up on the street in a couple minutes. It's more pleasant, not having to deal with the traffic, and see all the congestion on the roads.

On the return bus trip home, both the Washington Deluxe Bus and the Bolt Bus load up at the same location. So, it's a bit chaotic scene - lots of car traffic, lots of buses lined up, and lots of passengers lined up for the various bus lines. I got in line early (3:15) for a 4 p.m. bus. My friend held my spot while I went to grab some food to eat on the bus. When I came back 10-15 min. later, the line had grown to 50-60 people behind where my stuff was! There was one lady who was "in charge" of checking people's reservations and keeping them lined up. Finally at 4 p.m., our bus pulls up. It'd be nice if she would've gone ahead and collected money from passengers when she checked their reservations. That would have saved time. When boarding began, she saw my bicycle and sort of gave a look like she didn't know if the bus would have room for it. There was NO way I was gonna get on the bus without my bike, of course. I told her that it folded, and she said, "Well, you better make it as small as you can, because we have a lot of people and bags." So I folded it in half, and the bus driver had me put it in on the other side of the bus, and I got a seat on the bus.

We didn't leave til about 4:30 after everyone was loaded and fare money was given. Fortunately, there wasn't much traffic leaving the city, so we got out pretty quick. We did run into a back-up at the toll booths at Delaware Memorial Bridge, which can often happen. But sitting there on the bus, looking ahead at the gazillion brake lights, it was sort of strange feeling. I realized that I'm SO used to riding my bike everywhere, and the constant forward motion, that to be sitting at a standstill and creeping along, was like getting stuck in tar. You slowly muck through it, and it isn't pleasant. With biking, if you encounter traffic, you just slide by past the cars and continue.

Why anyone would want to have and drive a car in NYC is crazy - especially for getting around the city. Really, getting around any city, biking is better and easier. I just read in the news today an article about how horrible the traffic is in D.C. - that we're right behind NYC.

One last thing with the bus trip - it was very quiet til we stopped at the rest stop off 95, when we all had a 15 minute break to use the services there. When people came back on, and had food, etc., they were more talkative. There was one guy who was reading quite outloud, tidbits from his New York Times newspaper. He was reading it to his wife, but of course, everyone could hear him. And he didn't read well either! Near him, a lady got on her cell phone and started loudly talking to her girlfriend about various life situations. I turned around and gave her "the look" a few times, to give her the hint that she was talking a bit loud, but of course, she was oblivious. So I put on my headphones and turned on my MP3 player to try and drown them out. At least when you're on your bike, you hear sounds, but you pass by them pretty quickly and they aren't annoying. So, I decided to get off at the first stop (near Union Station), although I had told the driver I'd get off at the 15th Street stop. I just couldn't take being on the bus any more and the people yakking around me. Plus I figured lots more people would be getting off at the 15th Street stop, and it would take longer. I'm glad I got off at the Union Station stop - only about 5 people did, so it was less hassle. It felt great to get on my bike and pedal off towards home and feel the mild air rush past.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Smart Cars

I just came back from a two-week trip in Germany and Austria. These Smart Cars are pretty common there, and always look so funny. I'm starting to see a handful around my area - in fact a neighbor around the corner just got one.

I saw this Smart Car parked in Vienna, Austria. I wonder if anyone has tried parking it like this in the U.S. and what would people think? Notice the cars are parked alongside a separate signed bike path. They have these separated bike lanes for bikes there. Some are separated with a curb, so no cars can enter it, which is nice. I saw a good amount of people biking while in Germany and Austria - most of them don't wear any cycling gear or helmets, and they do fine. I wonder what the accident/collision rate is for cyclists there? I also saw a lot of people walking, and not "needing" their cars with them to go everywhere. A lot of people use the subways and buses. You don't see massive traffic jams or clogged city streets like you do here. Of course, gas is more expensive there. But also, cities are more compact and you can get places easily via walking and public transportation. Another thing I liked was seeing they still have the old street cars running. D.C. evidently used to have them as their main transportation, but those were stopped in the 1960' mom used to talk about catching the street cars to go places. D.C. is talking about bringing those back on certain streets, but of course, it takes away from car lanes. Supposedly, there are plans for a demonstration line that will start running either on H Street or the Anacostia area, as of next year. It'll be interesting to see if it will work, and whether you really can "go back" to old transportation modes. Perhaps it would work well on certain streets and grow from there, depending on ridership.

Of course, I opt for bicycles as the top transportation mode. :) I took this picture of some businessmen conversing in Vienna, one of whom had arrived by bicycle - you can see his thin briefcase on the rack.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Up to Philly for the Day via Amtrak

This past Saturday, I got up early (5 a.m.) and rode my Bike Friday Tikit to Union Station to catch a 7:30 a.m Amtrak train to Philadelphia. (Here's a picture of the 30th Street train station in Philadelphia). I picked up some snacks at the station and got to the gate right after they had opened it up for boarding. How's that for timing? :) This was my first time taking the Tikit on Amtrak, so I was a little anxious about finding a place on the train for my bike, and whether I would be able to find a seat right nearby, to keep an eye on my bike. I removed my front pannier, and folded the Tikit - while hearing a young kid pass and say, "Hey, look! A folding bike!" :) I rolled it up to the gate and showed my ticket and made my way to the train. I got on where directed (after the Business Section cars) and lifted my Tikit onto the train. The car I entered had the open area where you can set luggage. So I propped my Tikit there and then took a seat in the front row next to that area. There was a lady sitting at the window seat, and she had a lot of Crate and Barrel shopping bags and a big basket with bottled beverages in it. These were in the luggage area in front of her, next to my Tikit. She was headed to a Bridal Shower in Philadelphia, and amazingly handled all these packages and the basket by HERSELF when she got off in Philadelphia! I thought I had quite enough to handle with my bike and pannier! :)

The lady sitting across the aisle from me was from Connecticut, and it was her FIRST train ride (she looked to be in her 50's or so). She said she wasn't a traveler and that this was quite the adventure. So I congratulated her on being brave and adventurous, and commented that taking the train is a nice way to go. She agreed.

The train left on time, which is always nice. :) When we got up to Philadelphia, I met up with a couple of new biking friends (Teresa and Barbara) to ride the Schuykill River Trail. I haven't ridden the trail in many years, and was surprised to see the development along the trail - new apartments, condos and office buildings. Also, there were additional trails branching off from this trail. It was a beautiful sunny day - you couldn't ask for a better day to ride! :) We stopped at Barbara's house for lunch, and then later stopped in Manayunk for dinner. Teresa and I did over 50 miles of trail riding, and getting to know one another along the way, sharing experiences, etc.

The return train home, unfortunately, was delayed. It was supposed to leave at 7:30 p.m., but instead we left at 9 p.m., so I didn't get to Union Station til 11 p.m. It was a LONG day, but definitely a FUN one!! :)

The next day, I had arranged to rent a snazzy red Mini Cooper Zip Car. :) I drove it up to Baltimore to meet with my sister and brother, to celebrate my sister's birthday. :) I thought it'd be fun to rent a fun car in honor of her birthday, and she enjoyed it. The dash on the car inside was like a space ship - with very modern instruments, etc. :) It also had quite the fast and powerful engine in it. It could easily cruise along at 70-75 mph!! Of course, everyone else around me was doing that speed and MORE! I wasn't the only one!

So, it was a fun intermodal transportation weekend! :)

Monday, August 4, 2008

A "Training" Experience

Last week, I finished a bicycle trip from Buffalo, New York to Albany, New York. Instead of flying back at a cost of $500, I decided to get a ticket ahead of time on Amtrak. That only cost $100! Though it took all day to get home, it would be a pleasant way to travel. I hadn't taken Amtrak in a long time, and thought maybe it was like the airlines in that they would check your baggage and load it and transfer it at various points to your final destination. Not so. Evidently, I would have to do that. Unfortunately, the bike suitcase weighed 50 lbs., and I also had a duffel bag that contained my tenting stuff and clothes. I felt it would be too much of a hassle to try to schlep all of this around on my own, so I asked if it could be sent on a later train and I could pick it up a day later. They said no problem, and it didn't cost anything.

Since I had finished my bike trip a day earlier than expected, I changed my outbound train, and that only cost $20! I was used to expensive change fees on airlines, so this was a nice surprise. It was because I had an existing reservation and ticket. :)

It was nice to travel with just a little carry-on bag on the train that contained a book to read, an MP3 player for music and my bicycle helmet. I enjoyed reading, listening to music, taking pictures out the window and also checking out sights in the distance with my binoculars. It was very pleasant and relaxing. You also have lots of leg room, the seats are comfortable than airline seats and you can get up and wander around the train if you want to stretch your legs.

Our train was delayed in getting to New York City, by an hour and a half, so I had to trek across Penn Station to the Amtrak counter to get my ticket re-issued for a later train. I was glad I didn't have to carry all my bags that way, let alone getting into the ladies room afterwards. If I had had someone traveling with me, it wouldn't have been difficult, but on your own, it's much harder.

The train to D.C. was delayed a half hour, so I finally got into DC at 5 p.m. (a few hours later than I expected). But, I wasn't in a hurry - I had all day to spare, which was nice. It was a long travel day, but really, not too much different from my flight to Albany. Between transferring planes in New York City, and then an hour delay sitting on the runway while 40 (!) planes waited to take off, it took me (door to door) about 9-10 hrs. Same as the train!

My next Amtrak trip will be later this month, when I take it up to Philadelphia for the day, to bike with a friend on bike trails there. I will take my smaller folding bike, which will easy to get on and off the train. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Go Greyhound!

This July 4th holiday, I'm going to catch a ride with my brother to Baltimore to visit and spend the night. On the return, I'm going to take the Greyhound bus back to D.C. The good news is that the fare is only $14 non-refundable one-way. The not-so-good news is that you have to arrive an hour ahead of time to get your ticket (even though you have a confirmation of your reservation and paid ahead of time), you still need to get an actual ticket. You can pay an extra $5 to choose your own seat and get priority seating, but that has to be done at the terminal, not ahead of time, nor online. The other bad thing is that if the bus pulls up, and is full, you have to wait and take the next one. I hope that this won't happen. I've chosen the 4:45 p.m. bus, which should get into D.C. by 6:30. This will allow for about 2 hours til it gets dark, in order for me to bike home. I'll bring my headlight/rear light just in case.

The ride to D.C. should take about 2 hours, which is an hour longer than if you're driving. I'm going to bring my folding bike, the Tikit, and put it in the baggage bin, and then ride home from D.C.

My brother offered to take me to the Metro subway in New Carrollton, but that's 44 miles from his place, and with the price of gas and the time it would take him to get to and fro, it just seemed better for me to try Greyhound. I'll bring a book and some music to listen to. It's a relatively short ride, and hopefully the bus and driver won't have any problems. There have been some accidents involving Greyhound... hopefully nothing will happen on my ride! Stay tuned for a report.

*******July 7, 2008 - RESULTS OF ATTEMPT:

Well, it was a No-Go for Grehound, though I gave it a shot. My brother and his friend brought me to the Greyhound Terminal on Sunday, arriving an hour and a half before the departure time, to get my ticket. The terminal is not located in the best area - and both my brother and his friend commented ENDLESSLY about both the bad, seedy location, unsafe area, and also about the "unsavory" patrons in the terminal. Funny thing though, one of the people we happened to bump into in the terminal, turned out to be a pastor in my brother's church! Huh- interesting the KINDS of people who take Greyhound, eh? :)

Anyway, I got in line to get my ticket. The man working the counter must have given umpteen "speeches" to people before me who were attempting to get on the bus going to New York City, because he started to give me that same speech...about that the 4:45 bus was most likely going to be full, and that they would have to wait for the next bus at 6:15. But he hadn't heard me correctly when I told him I was going to D.C. "Oh - sorry about that," he said, "I haven't heard anything about the DC bus." So I got the ticket, and we had an hour to wait til the bus came. While we were waiting, a long line formed for people going on the NYC bus. In between that time, an announcement or two were made about buses that were soon arriving at the terminal. Then I saw a bus pulled in, with the destination of "D.C." on the front, but no announcement was made. The bus number didn't match the number on my ticket. I went outside to check with the bus driver, who was standing outside the bus, starting to take tickets from people. There was a line of about 7-10 people who formed out of the blue. I asked the bus driver about the bus, and he said yes, it's going to D.C., but that he only had ONE seat available! :( Since I wasn't in line, I was simply out of luck. :( Nice system, eh? :( I felt sorry for all the rest of the people going to DC (and NYC) who were going to be disappointed and have to wait perhaps long hours before being able to get on a bus..... Who knows how long they had waited already?? I heard one person say they had been there since before 1 p.m. :(

So, I told my brother what happened (he was inside at the sundries shop), and asked him to drive me to the Metro subway. He was pissed about the whole event, and that he had offered to take me to the subway before we had gone to the Greyhound terminal. He thought the whole ordeal was a waste of time. Granted, it did waste our time, and I felt bad that it had wasted my brother's & his friend's time... I gave my brother $20 for his gas and time. But I learned a lesson about Greyhound and how it operated. I learned I won't be taking Greyhound until they have a better system in place. Funny thing, however, is that the Bolt Bus I had taken to NYC in May, was OWNED by Greyhound. WHY can't they run the rest of Greyhound like they run Bolt Bus?? Seems like if it works so well for the Bolt Bus, it'd work good for the Greyhound buses.... Oh well, live and learn.

So I got dropped off at the Metro subway, and the ride back to Alexandria was uneventful. When I got off the subway and was getting my stuff in order on my bike, a lady came over, smiling and sort of laughing - and asked about my "cute" small Tikit bike. :) So we had a nice chat about bikes and about living car-free. She said she had owned a couple cars a while back, but it had gotten too expensive to own and maintain them, and how her cars would often get banged up in the parking lot. She's given up on cars, and just takes public transportation. She lives on Rt. 1 in Alexandria (a major bus line), and has no problem with it. It was nice to meet a kindred spirit who uses public transportation locally. :)

Hopefully my experience on Amtrak will be a better time, when I take it at the end of August, to Philadelphia to meet a friend to go biking for the day. Stay tuned...

Oh, by the way, while I was at my brother's, I mapped out for him and his friend, a way to bicycle commute to their jobs. His friend and I then bicycled his route (about 9.7 miles), which took about an hour. It had a few good up and downhills, which would be a nice work out. It had a spot or two of "hairy" traffic areas, but he could tinker with the route to make it better. The route currently is on quiet suburb streets most of the way. I encouraged him to try it out sometime. He is currently borrowing my brother's small car to make the commute, and is interested in getting a car of his own. He said he spends about $70 every two weeks in gas. It would be nice if he could try going car-free, at least until late Fall. I know winter bike commuting isn't for everyone, but you can do it when the weather is decent... I don't know if he'll give it a try, but he's got the route and the ball (or wheel, should I say) is in his court.....

Friday, June 27, 2008

Car Shopping

What a great cartoon! :)

A co-worker told me recently of having a car accident that totalled her year-old car. What a shame, in a way. I can see if your car was 5 or 10 years old, and you had gotten some good use out of it. The insurance paid for a good amount of it, but she still owes $5K on it. So, she's on the "hunt" for another car.

She described going to a couple of dealers and checking out a couple of models. She knows she wants a particular make (Toyota). She talked about the models, year, engine size, leather interior, gas mileage, size of the interior, odometer reading, etc. Her descriptions sounded like she was describing a wonderful meal - a meal she couldn't wait to sink her teeth into. A meal that aroused all of her senses - she was practically drooling! Her new car desire was so strong, almost overpowering. She has to turn in her rental car in a few days, as her insurance only pays for it a certain period of time, since her car was totalled.

It's too bad that she hasn't considered living car-free. This is a good opportunity and time for her to try it, if she wanted to. She talked about next month she'll be moving in with her brother nearby for six months, to be able to save money so she can buy her own place. Think about much more money she COULD save if she didn't have to have car expenses... The location she's thinking of moving to (about 20 miles from DC) has commuting "slug lines" that could get her here to DC easily and for free. Or she could get into a carpool, or take the Virginia Railway Express train and connect to the Metro subway.

People think that you absolutely NEED a car to get around, but you really don't. You CAN work around it (or at least try it), once you find out what your resources are.... And living in this area, with so many resources, really makes it a lot more do-able, compared to some people who live in more rural areas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Bolting" to NYC

As mentioned in my April post below, there is a new express bus service that started at the end of March, from Washington, D.C. to New York City, called the Bolt Bus. Tickets can be purchased as low as $1 each way (limited seats at that price). If you fly or take Amtrak, it's about $150-$200 round trip. The Bolt Buses are brand new, have either faux leather or cloth seats, restrooms on board, and plug-ins for your laptops/DVD players and WiFi service. This makes for a comfortable and enjoyable ride.

So, in the past month, I've made two trips on the Bolt Bus up to NYC. I was able to get the tickets at about $30 roundtrip. On both trips, I rode my bike to D.C. early in the morning to the bus stop, and then put my bike in the baggage bin of the bus.

My first trip was a day trip in mid-May to attend a folding bike festival and bike ride in Manhattan. That turned out to be a pretty long day - getting up at 4:30 a.m., leaving at 5:30, biking to DC to catch the 7:30 bus. It was lightly raining outside. The bus was late pulling up and leaving town, made a food stop at the travel plaza (adding a half hour onto the trip), then we ran into a traffic back-up on the highway due to an accident, took an alternate way, had overheated brakes on the way, and FINALLY arrived in New York City SIX hours later (vs. the advertised four hours). We just managed to make the bike event in time and enjoyed the bike ride, but just a few hours later, were zooming to catch our return bus ride back. It left on time, but it was slow going out of the city through the tunnel, and then we made the food stop again. So our return trip took FIVE hrs. By the time I got home, it was about midnight. Yawn! That didn't exactly make me fall in love with the Bolt Bus, though I had had a great day.

I was a little apprehensive to take the Bolt Bus again this past weekend. This trip was an overnight trip - staying with a biking friend and his wife. We enjoyed biking all around Manhattan and the Bronx, seeing many sights along the way. Some of the biking was on bike paths, and some on busy city streets, but I'm used to that, since I bike to work every day.

Perhaps someone had complained about the food stop/extra travel time, because this time, the bus didn't stop at the travel plaza. The bus arrived and departed D.C. on time, and arrived within a few minutes of the stated arrival time in NYC. Same with the return bus ride. The weather was better and we didn't run into any traffic back-ups. Ahhh..... MUCH better! I guess you never know what you're going to run into with taking the bus, but at least the price is right!

I'd like to also take Amtrak down to Richmond to visit some friends and have lunch and hang out, so I'll make those plans soon. It'll give me an idea of how things work with taking my Bike Friday Tikit on the train. :) With regular-sized bikes, you normally buy a bike box and partially disassemble your bike, and then check the box as your luggage. A year or so ago, Amtrak changed their bike policy, in that if you have a folding bike, you can just tuck it away at the end of any rail car where there is room. Hopefully this will go well, as I have tickets to take Amtrak at the end of August, to meet up with a biking friend in Philadelphia to bike for the day. Both trips are just a couple hours' train ride. I could take Greyhound for half the price, but it wouldn't give me as much time to be in either city as the train would, since both trips are day-trips.

So, stay tuned for reports on these Amtrak Adventures!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Up next: $5 a Gallon!

Ah, the new $5 bill. It's different and colorful. But I'm sure there will be some
"colorful" language used when people have to start shelling out one of these puppies for just one gallon of gas! I was just reading in the news that some analysts predict that in less than three months Americans will see $5 gas. Wow. It'll be interesting to see if that really happens.

I was speaking with my brother recently. He has a 1996 Ford Ranger pick-up truck - it's a year younger than the one I had. He says it costs him $75 to fill it up. When I had my truck just last November, it cost $40 to fill. That's just about double the price! :( People will be spending their economic stimulus check to help keep their tanks full... I spent part of mine on a new digital camera (my other one started to give me trouble). So, thanks Uncle Sam! :)

I also found out last week that Zipcar is running the car donation program again for the remainder of May! Not a whole lot of time for people to find out about it and consider that option. I've told friends and family about it - but some have looked at me and said "You are NOT gonna get me to give up my car!!" Wow. The car habit is definitely a hard one to give up, I know. But if you think about how much money it can save you and how relatively easy it is to live without one. If you have two cars in your household, it's not like you'd be without a car at all. You'd be saving lots of money if you just had ONE car to operate. But I think a lot of people are used to having the "freedom" (at a price!) of having their own car. How long will they hold onto that "freedom" and at what price??

I was at lunch with my bosses the other day. We were talking about the price of gas, and one of them mentioned that he heard that teenagers are having a hard time with the price of gas. Some have minimum wage jobs and don't have the money that it costs to go "cruising" or do a number of activities with their friends.

And here it is, the eve of Memorial Day weekend. The great getaway weekend. A lot of people are going to stay local or just nearby, since it costs too much to drive further. There will be those, however, who don't care how much it costs, they are going to go. And the traffic tie-ups will be bad, I'm sure. Why would you want to sit in traffic, idling your engine, burning costly gas? I guess it's sort of like the die-hard smoker...even if they have emphysema (as my mother did), she felt smoking was her LAST vice, and she wasn't going to give it up. Maybe Americans will be like that with their cars..... :(

Thursday, May 8, 2008

50th Birthday :)

I celebrated my 50th birthday recently. Hard to believe I'm that age - it just doesn't seem to "fit" but I guess in time, it will. :)

I have made it a tradition for many years, to take off my birthday off from work, and this year was no different. :) And you couldn't ask for better weather! Temps in the 70's, sunny & blue skies. :) Of course, I would fit in a bike ride - but also take care of some errands by getting a Zipcar pick-up truck. Last month, I had arranged to donate some furniture to a local organization for their lounge areas for an upcoming art show (Art-O-Matic). However, they were unable to follow through with the pick-up, so I decided to bring some of the furniture over to Goodwill.

But first, I rode my bike to the bike store to get a part installed and an adjustment to my bike. Then I rode to the Zipcar location, a few miles from there. Drove back and piled furniture and other donated goods in the back and dropped them off at Goodwill. Then went to Home Depot and picked up 26 bags of mulch for the yard, and then to some other errands. When I was at Home Depot, I was sharing with the guy loading the mulch, about Zipcar, and told him I don't have to pay for gas or insurance ever again. His eyes lit up like I had told him I had just discovered GOLD! :) :) I agree!! He asked me how old you had to be to join Zipcar - I wasn't sure, but told him to check their website (it turns out you have to be 21). So, maybe it'll work out for him. :)

In my previous posting, I mentioned how people were having gas stolen from when they were at the gas station (leaving their car unattended). I heard on the news this morning where some people are finding that someone has siphoned the gas out of their car while it's in their driveway at night! Some people have purchased locking gas caps, but that hasn't deterred criminals - they have gone under the car and punched a HOLE in their tank and siphoned the gas out! Of course, this is a dangerous situation when the owner of the car starts up the car! :( Things are gonna get a whole lot worse as the price of gas soars unfortunately...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zipcar in the News

I saw in the news today that a 20-yr. old local man was arrested because he had been stealing a few Zipcars and going for joyrides with his friends to the mall. :( Somehow, he had manipulated the vehicles' electrical system. I think that Zipcars have a GPS system, which is good for finding the cars, if stolen. He is also a suspect in other similar car thefts. That guy is paying a high price for his short-lived fun now...

My blog has been quiet lately - I haven't had any reason to need a Zipcar since mid-February...but I have been thinking a lot about my car-free life, since it's been almost 6 months since I became car-free. Gas prices continue to climb - it's now $3.60/gallon. People are really feeling the pinch. They try to mainly use their car to get to and fro work, and curb any extra driving. I read in the news that a lady in Chicago was planning on buying a bicycle to make the 2 1/2 mile commute to work. Only two and a half miles??! That's hardly worth firing up the car! There have been gas thefts - they advise you not to leave your car unattended while the pump automatically is putting gas in your tank. There have been people who drive up, take the hose out of your car, and put it in their car - fill it up, and then put the hose back in your car! Can you imagine?

A lady at work asked me about who I donated my vehicle to - she has an older car that has been giving her trouble - but she doesn't just want to have it hauled away as junk...she has a sentimental attachment to the car, as a lot of us do. There are lots of organizations that you can donate your car to, and benefit different groups. She lives in Maryland, and there is a bus that can get her from her house to the subway, but it takes a long time and doesn't run often or late at night. (She is a paralegal, and works odd/late hours). So she said she can't consider it as an option. I suggested she perhaps get a folding bike to ride to the subway, and take onto the subway, but she said the route would be on a busy road and hasn't thought of alternative roads. So she's looking at buying a new car...I suggested getting a used car, to save the money, but she doesn't want any "headaches" from a used car. I think, if you do the research, you CAN get a good used car, instead of being strapped with high car payments....

A lady friend I know has an old Volvo that has been running on its feeble legs - she hasn't had the money to fix/maintain it. It's now at the nearby gas station with an estimated high repair bill. She's a good candidate for a Zipcar... She lives right across the street from a shopping strip - that includes a lot of stores you need (grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants, etc.). She is on the bus line that can take her to the subway within minutes. She lives a couple miles from Old Town Alexandria - that has anything she'd need. I've suggested she could get a cheap used bike and bike to whatever she needs to get to...but she balks - as if biking is beneath her... when actually, it's the perfect solution for her. Perhaps its the exercise that she balks at. I don't know. I think A LOT of people could benefit from having a bicycle or being car-free...but it seems like such a RADICAL idea - they can't conceive of being without a car.

When I think of her car repair, or my co-worker's thought of getting a new car and having high car payments, it's a freeing thought that I don't have to worry about an unforeseen car repair. Granted, I have bike repairs, but it's a TON less money to fix a bike than a car. Last Spring, I took a bike repair class. I wanted to learn how to hopefully fix some of the regular maintenance items I encounter - like the drivetrain (chain, chainrings, rear cassette), replacing broken cables, replacing brake pads, to name a few. If I could learn how to do it on one bike, the skill could be hopefully transferred to fix my other bikes. Normally, in order to do a premium tune-up and replacement parts/labor, it was about $300. So, I bought a bike stand (which was an expensive item, but very helpful). I brought a couple of my bikes to the bike store to show them to the mechanic and buy the correct replacement parts, and related tools.

About a month ago, my regular commuting bike finally let me know it was time to replace the chain, chainring, and cassette. I knew this time would come, and I was sort of facing it with some apprehension - I've never done any repairs like this - could I actually do it?? I'm somewhat mechanically-inclined - but this was almost like popping the hood on your car and fiddling around in there! I have a Park Tool Bicycle Repair Handbook from the class, and could always ask questions of my bike mechanic at Spokes, or a nearby bike commuter friend who does repairs on his bike. I approached the bike repairs one at a time. Each repair had a learning element to it that will help me next time. I did bring the bike to the bike store for help in a couple of spots, but other than that, I think I saved about $140 overall.

Lastly, I will be making a bike/bus trip up to New York City at the end of May, to visit a biking friend. There is a new express bus service that started at the end of March - called Bolt Bus, that is from D.C. to NYC ( If you reserve your tickets in advance, you can get it as low as $1.00 EACH WAY! (plus a small service charge - something like $.50). I booked mine in early April, and got a fare of $15 each way....still, that's WAY cheaper than a train or flight! The bus picks up at 11th & G Streets, N.W., and has a couple of drop off points in NYC. My plan is to ride my Tikit folding bike into D.C. early that morning, fold it and put it in the baggage area under the bus, and enjoy hopefully an uneventful ride up. :) The bus has electrical connections for your laptop, iPod, or DVD player - I'll just bring a book and CD player. :) This is one big reason I bought the Tikit bike - to bring it on a bus or Amtrak. Stay tuned for a trip report on this. :)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Getting a Tikit!

As mentioned in my post on December 19, 2007, I had been thinking about getting a Bike Friday Tikit. It would come in handy in certain circumstances, since I'm car-free. However, I wanted to see how things went first, without one, to see if getting the Tikit would be prudent.

I recently got an e-mail from Bike Friday, stating that they would offer the 2007 Tikit at a reduced price - a few hundred less than the 2008 price. I thought, since my 50th birthday was coming up soon, it'd be a nice present to myself. :) When I called up Bike Friday to order it, I told them it was a present to myself, and if they had a special "Turning 50" discount. :) To my surprise, they said, "Sure, how about if we take an additional $50 off the price?" Sounded good to me! :) I should be receiving it within a week! I think it's a cool bike, and look forward to using it. :) I want to bring it inside my office to show my co-workers how neat it is, and also bring it on the next D.C. Bike Friday Club ride, so my fellow Club members can see it too. :)

By the way, if there's anyone out there that has been thinking about going car-free, I hear that WABA and Zipcar may be running the car donation program again on Bike to Work Day - May 16. So, if I were you, keep your eyes peeled to the WABA website: I'm not sure if they will be offering the same free, lifetime membership, but if so, I'd take them up on it, if you can!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yesterday, I rented a Zipcar to take care of some errands and also drive out to Reston to visit a friend and family.

At the end of my day, heading back to Old Town, I saw that the gas gauge was at a fourth of a tank....which is the level you need to refill the tank, for the next Zipster to use. I haven't gotten gas for the various Zipcars I've rented - so this would be my first time. The last time I actually bought gas was mid-November 2007. I was a little apprehensive about getting gas for the Zipcar, as I wasn't sure if the gas station pump I chose would have problems with the Zipcar refueling card. I did have enough money on me to buy gas, if need be, and Zipcar will reimburse you when you submit the receipt.

I chose a gas station at random, as it didn't matter to me what the price was, since Zipcar was paying. :) I got the refueling card out, along with the small instruction card. After correctly inserting the card, the screen prompted me to enter the "Driver Number" - so I put in the driver number that's printed on the card. Then it asked me for the odometer mileage. I didn't know I'd need that, so I ran back to the car to get the exact mileage, and inputted it. A couple of seconds of "Authorizing...." and then I was allowed to pump. :) Good! I filled it up ($32), and printed out a receipt, though you don't need to - I was just curious to see what the receipt would show. Plus, it was nice to see a receipt and know that the money hadn't come out of my pocket! :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Fly" up to Baltimore

In my spare time, I create stained glass pieces, and this past weekend, I finished this
com-missioned stained glass project for a friend of my brother's in Baltimore. Since I had Martin Luther King's holiday off from work, I reserved a Zipcar to go to Baltimore to bring this project up to its new owner. :)

I also had lunch with my sister at her new office in Columbia, and then drove to my brother's house, so I could also visit the site of his new job which he starts shortly.

The temperature was in the 20's, and I biked up to Old Town to get the Zipcar, then drive back home to pick up the stained glass, since the piece was too large to fit in my bike bag. :) As I was on the entrance to the Beltway, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a guy on his bicycle just barrelling along on the entrance also!! Of course, bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited - didn't this guy know that??! What was he going to do when he came around the corner and faced 4 lanes of zooming cars??! There wouldn't be anywhere for him to go! I wondered if he was going to try and jump a fence and hop onto the bike path that is on the Wilson Bridge, but I didn't think it was open or accessible.... I hope he made it okay, wherever he was headed!!!

After the day's events, I got back to Old Town with about 15 minutes to spare on my Zipcar reservation. I was happy about that, since the last time, I cut it too close. I parked the car, got out and thought I would walk over to Starbuck's to use their facilities before meeting up with a friend for dinner, who was coming into Old Town. So I used my Zipcard to lock the doors and went over to Starbuck's. When I came back, I tried to unlock the car with my card....but it wasn't working!! I tried it a few more times, but nothing. ALL my stuff was in there - my bike, my wallet, etc.! Ack! Thank GOD I had my cell phone with me (just happened to put it in the pocket to my jacket!) - so I called Zipcar and told them what happened. The guy was very nice and helpful, and looked online at my reservation. It turns out that, during the course of my use of the Zipcar, I had used the button for automatically locking and unlocking the various doors of the car. (When you use your card to unlock the driver's side, it JUST opens the driver's side - no other doors - which is kind of a pain). I had to get the stained glass in the rear passenger seat area, and also access the area behind the driver's seat so I could put the rear seat down, in order to totally fit my bike in the trunk. So it was just easier to hit the button for automatically unlocking all the doors. Well, evidently this messes up the locking sequence as far as using your Zipcard. Crazy. I guess next time I'll have to crawl inside the car and unlock the various doors manually. Anyway, the Zipcar representative re-set the locks, and while he waited on the phone, I used my card to unlock the doors, and it worked. Whew! Nice to be able to get all my stuff out and be on my way. Another "live and learn" experience with Zipcar! But it's great that they have quick and helpful telephone assistance!!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Interview on TV!

On Tuesday afternoon, I checked my e-mail and was surprised to see an e-mail from a reporter from Fox 5 News! He said he had seen my Living Car-Free blog, and wanted to come and interview me! I was skeptical at first - I mean, anyone can send an e-mail like looked official, but how can you be sure? I called the business number he listed and left a message, and then called his cell phone. He answered, and we spoke a little while - they wanted to come by my office after I got off work (within an hour!). I said alright - - I figured I'd know it was the "real thing" if they showed up in a news truck. :) However, they didn't - they evidently were in a car, and parked nearby, so they walked up to the building. But when I saw the big video camera, I guess I was convinced then! :)

They spent the next hour or two, filming me in and outside the office, then strapped on a small video camera to my bike and filmed my commute home - while they drove to my house to meet me and videotape me pulling up in the driveway. :) So it was an interesting way to spend an evening! :) Maybe it'll get some people interested in taking up biking when Spring rolls around!

We got an e-mail at work today saying that the parking rates for our office building will be going up to $250 a month!! Wow! How do people afford that?? That's like $3000 a year!! You could buy a REAL nice bike for that!!! :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Taxes for roads...

Looks like I went car-free at a good time - according to the news, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will be collecting new taxes and fees to raise money for major road and transit projects in Northern VA as of 1/1/08...

  • Car inspection fee: $10 increase

  • Auto repairs: 5 percent of labor costs

  • Regional car registration fee: $10

  • Initial car registration fee: 1 percent of value of car

Not a lot collected, but every buck counts...!

Along with the new fare hikes on Metro this week, I am thankful for my bike and Zipcar for transportation!