Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Welcome to CU Zipcar!

We heard a while back that Zipcar was coming to our twin cities and today it actually happened! (Many rumors are just that...rumors.) I'm doing a little happy dance. I don't know how much we will use Zipcar, but it is nice to have that option and if it encourages others to go down to one car or go car free or just helps out those who are already one car families or car free...it is quite exciting.

My husband and I were wondering where the Champaign Zipcars would be located since we already noticed the parking spaces for the Urbana cars near Common Ground Co-op. Well, it looks like the Champaign cars will be at the Illinois Terminal Parking Lot, which makes sense. I knew the press conference was there so it stands to reason the cars would be too. This would mean a 1.5 mile walk or bike ride or a pretty easy bus ride to pick up a car. That said, I can't think of what I would need the car for if I'm already on my bike or riding the bus. We shall see.

Other Travel: My husband rode his bike to and from work as usual for a total of approximately 40 minutes round trip and 7 miles. It was very cold (maybe single digits) this morning for his ride into work. He said he was "hot" on the way home. It was still very cold by human standards. Tomorrow is supposed to be much worse.

Monday Meeting

Today's Goal: Meeting at WEFT (our local community radio station where I am on the Board of Directors). My sister is watching the kids for me so I don't want to take too long getting there and back.

Weather: Below 30 degrees F...probably around 26 at the time of the meeting. Patchy ice on the side roads and the sidewalks.

Travel Plans: WEFT is about 1.3 miles away. I could get to the station easy by bus, with only a short few block walk. I normally would ride my bike, but see weather. I don't feel like hitting patchy ice on my bike. I decide to walk since I'm not sure if the timing will work out with my sister arriving to watch the kids and the bus. It is the longest option, but I need the walk.

Savings from this Trip: Gas and money for the meter.

Time: Around 3 hours. 40 minutes was travel time.

Note: It was a nicer walk home than there (warmed up a couple degrees). I was pretty cold on the way there. I should have worn my warm gloves. It was icy enough on the sidewalks that I'm guessing I would have been better off biking it. This would have cut my travel time in half (at least). It was nice to walk though.

Other Travel: My husband rode his bike to and from work as usual for a total of approximately 40 minutes round trip and 7 miles.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Shopping

Saturday is our normal weekly grocery run. During the spring, summer, and fall, we usually ride our bikes to the local farmer's market and buy produce then shop at the co-op and natural foods store. In the winter, it is less of a family event and quite often I send my husband off by himself or with our two older children to the store.

Today's Goal: Weekly grocery run. Four or five large reusable bags full of groceries.

Weather: High of 28 degree F, but is probably around 24 or lower when my husband left. The roads are icy and I suggested we shop on another day, but he is not one to be kept off his bike due to ice. If I was shopping with the kids, I would not have gone today.

Travel Plans: Common Ground Co-op is 3.3 miles from home. The bus which goes near our house does not run on weekends. My husband rode his Xtracycle with no studs or chains on the tires. The ice was just a thin sheet and no snow. He did fall once on the way to the store, but moved to more traveled roads and these streets have more car traffic, but less ice. He made a detour to stop at World Harvest on the way home is basically on his way home.

Savings from this Trip: There is free parking at both stores so savings would just be gas money.

Time: Around 2 hours with approximately 40 minutes of this time for travel.

Note: He remembered the dish washing detergent...yay!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Intro and Forgetfulness

We recently embarked on a experiment in living without a car in our little Midwestern U.S. college town with three kids and a business. This blog will help us keep a record or our travel patterns and the amount of money we spend or, hopefully, save on transportation. By keeping a record, I also hope to learn from my mistakes and become more efficient in navigating about town.

We have wanted to go "car free" for quite a while now. We lived in the DC area with one car for several years and enjoyed the Metro rail and bus, walking, etc. back when we both worked and didn't have children. During our lives together, my husband and I have made transportation a key part of the picture when deciding where to live. Our reasons for wanting to get rid of our car have been primarily environmental. We have always been aware of the effects of our transportation choices and tried bike, walk, take public transportation, combine trips, carpool, etc. when convenient. The health aspects of driving less were also important to us. Lately, the financial benefit of living without a car has also been enticing. Why go without the car completely? Why not just have it for emergencies or really bad weather? The big savings from being car free is upkeep and insurance. In our case, we had a bit of a push into car free living by someone running a red light and rendering our car undriveable. Thus, we are saving by not buying a used or new vehicle as well.

I'm guessing most of our adventures will not be interesting to anyone outside our area and even then, possibly not of interest, but I don't mind talking to myself. We are realize we are not the only ones in our town without a car. Countless students (although, clearly not enough since parking is a problem on campus) live here (at least during the school year) car free, my sister's boyfriend who is in his 50's has NEVER driven a car...NEVER, our neighbor/friend is a single mom with two children older than ours and she has been without a car for a couple months now, another friend with young children went several months last year without a car in our twin city, and so many, many others we don't know in our community who just simply can not afford a car, have lost their license, can not drive for health reasons, etc. Obviously, we know it CAN be done. We aren't doing anything groundbreaking here. I am interested in how much we save, how we can improve on navigating our town within our very active social lives, and what we learn along the way.

Travel Expenses: $235 1 annual adult MTD bus pass (for me)
$145 1 annual "student" MTD bus pass (for my almost nine year old)
Now I have to say I could have bought a "Spring" pass for $115 since I will probably be riding my bike more than bussing once the weather is nice, but I like the option and not having to worry about tokens, etc. Also, I could have probably gotten by with one more year without my eldest child using a pass. Technically, kids under certain height right for free when with a fare-paying adult, but although he is over this height I have never been asked to pay for him. He was very excited about having his own pass and I feel like I'm being fair to the system I am benefiting from...I enjoy having a mass transit system and don't mind paying for it. This also allows for my son to ride by himself if the need arises without a worry about tokens, etc. I have issues with our bus system in our town. It seems set up primarily to take people to campus and home or students from one end of campus to the other. The MTD has lots of positives as well and I will save my critiques for now.

Today's Goal: Help a customer learn to use her new baby carrier. She has a newborn and doesn't want to take the baby out so I'll be taking the three kids and going to her house. This is a standard service I offer all my child carrier customers since I want to ensure they know how to use the carrier safely and have the correct carrier for their specific needs. We are out of dish washing detergent and other staples so I need to shop at Common Ground Co-op and/or Strawberry Fields. The boys have been asking to go to the library so we will visit the Urbana Free Library while we are out.

Weather: Since we live in the Midwest and I have a eight year old, four year old, and sixteen month old traveling with me, the weather is quite important to me. If it is very cold or raining, that might change my plans. Today is sunny (thank you!) with a high of 39 degrees F (although we will be traveling well before the high is reached). It is a little windy, but not terrible.

Travel Plans: I enter the customer's address into the handy dandy MTD route finder. I have a couple options. The first one entails a 30 minutes bus ride (from a bus stop .19 miles from my house) and then a .50 mile walk to the customer's house. The second option has us walking .35 miles to another bus stop, riding a bus for 5 minutes, transferring to another bus, riding for 20 minutes and then walking .25 miles to the customer's house. The third option has us riding the bus (from a bus stop .19 miles from our house) 10 minutes, waiting for 20 minutes (in a bus terminal...that makes a difference, but still that is 20 minutes just waiting), riding for 20 minutes and then walking .20 miles to the customer's house.

I decide to go with option 1 for multiple reasons. One being, I am familiar with the bus route and since the high is relatively balmy for this time of year, I don't mind doing the .50 mile walk all at one time.

This only takes into account getting to the customer's house...not getting from her house to the store or the library. Walking from the customers house to the co-op is roughly 1.6 miles. From the co-op to the library is a scant .2 miles and then another .2 miles to Strawberry Fields and .4 miles to the bus stop. This homeward bound bus drops us off right in front of our house.

Savings from this Trip: Well, that is hard to calculate. We did "save" $4 in bus fare (I will keep a running total to see if we can possibly use the bus enough to pay for our passes). We didn't use gas or wear and tear on our own vehicle. Right now we still have car insurance because we are paid up until the end of the month and will be renting a car for a trip so we don't mind being covered. Our car insurance is roughly $600 a year so when calculating annual savings this will come into play, but this early into the experiment we have not actually saved a dime on insurance.

Time: While I probably won't be able to keep track of actual accurate travel times, I do like to know how much time it took for us to achieve our goals. This time will include time we would have spent at the library or shopping even if we had used a car, but it is useful for me to see how I could improve efficiency. Roughly 5.5 hours. I am guessing at least 2 hours or 2.5 hours of this is travel time (including time spent waiting for the bus).

Tonight's Goal: Have dinner with friends.

Weather: Since it is after dark, it has cooled off quite a bit...below freezing. The forecast is calling for freezing rain, but we are hoping it will hold off until we are back home.

Travel Plans: Dinner is at a restaurant 1.6 miles from our house at around 7:30pm so the kids will be tired on the way home. We decide to walk and push the kids in the Chariot bike trailer. All three kids can not fit in the trailer when it is attached to the bike, but while using at as a stroller they can cuddle in (not so much fun for our eight year old), stay warm, and fall asleep. We add a blanket to keep them snug and bring a child carrier in case they are too cramped.

Savings from this Trip: We ate at a place with free parking so the only savings would be gas.

Time: Roughly 2 hours with around 1 hour of this being travel time.

Other Travel: My husband rode his bike to and from work as usual for a total of approximately 40 minutes round trip and 7 miles.

*A couple disclaimers - the distances are estimates from using different online map services. Most of the time, I am traveling at 4 year old walking speed and carrying a 25 lb. 16 month old in a carrier with a diaper bag weighing roughly 3 - 5 lbs. prior to any purchases made on the trip.

Notes: The forgetfulness comes in because after all of this, I forgot to buy dish washing detergent. I was not shopping for the entire week, but picking up a bag of groceries which I could easily carry with the toddler. I bought several loaves of bread (we freeze them) and some other staples, but no detergent. Not an issue when we had a car, but pretty disappointing as we rode the last bus which goes past our house home. I even made a list, but by the time we were shopping I was in a hurry and didn't dig it out of my bag. Not the end of the world, but I must be better planning and sticking to my list in the future. The kids stayed warm, but my four year old complained of foot pain. He is wearing his brother's hand-me-down shoes and I should probably look into shoes with a better fit since he will be walking more than usual. He did well walking over 3 miles today.