Thursday, July 31, 2008

Assumptions and Stereotypes

“What are you excited about?”

That was it. One line of text typed (yes, typed) on a blank sheet of paper stuck to a utility pole I walked by one morning last week on my way to a meeting. Hanging next to the paper was a pen on a string.

I started to walk on past the sign, but turned back to it. I do have something that I’m excited about. I’m excited that since June 26, Maurie and I have covered more miles by foot, bike and bus that we have in our car. So, taking the pen I wrote “That I have used my car less than I have biked, walked or taken the bus.” And with that, off I went to catch the bus to my meeting.

I passed the sign on my way back to the office from my meeting. From a few feet away, I could see that someone has added something to the sign, but I couldn’t read it. When I got close enough to read it, here’s what I found. Written below my entry, with an arrow pointing up to mine, was the phrase: “Fricken hippie greener”

I had a good laugh over it. I mean, it’s funny. Here someone has taken one sentence, with no context and no knowledge of the author, and ascribed a set of characteristics to said unknown author. I could go back and reply with snarky comments (yes I did have a couple come to mind), but why?

Let me clarify something. I’m not a hippie or a greener. I was born too late to be a hippie, and I am not a student or alumnus of The Evergreen State College. There’s nothing wrong with either label, they just don’t accurately apply to me.

You know, this was a great, light moment for me that day. I’m still excited about what Maurie and I have accomplished. Name calling and such won’t diminish that one bit. I’ll let you in on a secret that this unknown commentator may never know (well, not unless he or she finds this blog): I’m excited that by not driving as much, we are getting more exercise by cycling and walking, we’re spending time together in situations where we can give each other more undivided attention, we’re spending less for gas, we aren’t stuck in traffic, and we know that we’re doing something to lessen our environmental impact.

Whoops, I did it. I mentioned environmental impact. Does that make me “hippie greener” or a “whacko environmentalist?” It doesn’t really matter, in the end, I’m me, you’re you and we are all who we all are.


Fourth Week Statistics

Dates: July 18—July 24

Here are the statistics for the week:

  • Gas in Olympia, WA this week: $ 4.40 per gallon
  • Total distance for each mode of car-free transportation
    • Walking: 14.36 miles
    • Bicycle: 22.9 miles
    • Bus: 9.86 miles
  • Total car-free miles: 47.12 miles
  • Gallons of gas saved: 1.88
  • Gas expense saved: $ 8.29
  • Total transit fares: $ 2.25
  • Total miles driven: 0 miles
  • Gallons of gas used: 0
  • Cost of gas used: $0.00

Once again, we kept the car parked for a whole week!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How my commute has changed

I entered the work world in the spring of ’94, with a round-trip commute of about 81 miles. I started out driving this commute solo, but soon started car-pooling with a co-worker, each of us alternating driving one week at a time. Since the spring of 2001, my commute has predominantly been by foot, bike or public transit.

For a large portion of the time in between these dates, I was a single occupant driver. I’d changed jobs and was working in Olympia (driving from a Tacoma suburb). I was able to rationalize driving as more convenient or that my work for part of the year can have hours too unpredictable and late for transit to be a realistic option (in fact, at most I had a total of two weeks over the following 6 years where I wouldn’t have been able to take a bus home).

I started re-considering how I get to and from work in the fall of 2000. I had just returned from a month road trip to the California Sierras for a backpacking trip. During that time, I paid gas prices of over $2.00 a gallon (I know, we could only wish they were at that level today, but they were high for the time). I no longer enjoyed driving the same long, boring route up I-5 day in and day out.

Washington State has a Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) law which requires employers to provide incentives for employees to use alternate commute methods (RCW 40.01.230; RCW 70394.521-551). The state agency for which I worked was subject to this law as well. As an incentive, my employer would pay for my bus pass from Tacoma to Olympia. So, for a month or two, I made my trips to Olympia mostly by bus. I was still driving to a park and ride to catch my first bus, but it was a step in the right direction.

December of 2000, I changed jobs and started working in Seattle. Now I was commuting into “hostile territory” a.k.a. traffic! My employer provided a bus pass, so I continued the car/bus combination for a while. When the transmission in my truck died, I switched to entirely commuting by bus and foot (or in the summers bus and bicycle). I was spending anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours each way on my commute, with up to three bus rides each. This was not a good way to put quality time into a young marriage.

October of 2002 we pulled up stakes in Tacoma and moved to Seattle. My commute became 30 minutes by foot or 15 minutes by bike each way. I still got a transit pass from my employer, but found it was used more for getting around Seattle in general than for getting to and from work (by the time I made all the necessary transfers, it was just as fast to walk to work, and faster to ride my bike!)

In 2004, I returned to my previous job with the state. After realizing how much I enjoyed walking or riding my bike to work, we factored the ability to do so into the criteria we used in selecting our home. I had to be able to walk to work within 30 minutes. We did it, and now my commute is at most 30 minutes if I’m walking (or taking the bus, because of the delay at the transit center). My bike ride in is still 15 minute or less.

I can honestly say that the effect my commute change has on my day-to-day life has been positive. I have time each direction when I can make the transition from work life to home life more easily. The stress of the day is not compounded with the stress of driving; rather it is blown away in the breeze from a 15-20 MPH cruise along the end of the bay on my bicycle. What a better way to deal with it!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Third Week Statistics

Dates: July 11—July 17

Here are the statistics for the week:

  • Gas in Olympia, WA this week: $ 4.41 per gallon
  • Total distance for each mode of car-free transportation
    • Walking: 6.2 miles
    • Bicycle: 21.09 miles
    • Bus: 8.57 miles
  • Total car-free miles: 35.86 miles
  • Gallons of gas saved: 1.43
  • Gas expense saved: $ 6.33
  • Total transit fares: $ 3.00
  • Total miles driven: 0 miles
  • Gallons of gas used: 0
  • Cost of gas used: $0.00

Hooray! We were able to keep the car parked the entire week! It feels really good to have gone a week without driving at all. Here’s to more car-free weeks to come!


Friday, July 18, 2008

Second Week Statistics

Dates: July 4—July 10

Here are the statistics for the week:

  • Gas in Olympia, WA this week: $4.43 per gallon
  • Total distance for each mode of car-free transportation
    • Walking: 14.25
    • Bicycle: 26.9
    • Bus: 64.8
  • Total car-free miles: 106
  • Gallons of gas saved: 1.662
  • Gas expense saved: $7.36
  • Total transit fares: $7.00
  • Total miles driven: 25
  • Gallons of gas used: 1
  • Cost of gas used: $4.43

This week the car was driven in a “mercy mission” to help get a couple of cyclists we met on the bus get to their destination on the 4th of July. You can read about it in Maurie’s Reflections from July 4th.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

First Week Statistics

Dates: June 27—July 3

Throughout this experiment, I’ll post the statistics for the week. They will be in the form of a simple summary consisting of:

  • Cost of a gallon of gas for the week in Olympia, WA (from Plum St. Chevron)
  • What car-free modes of transport we used, and the total distance for each
  • Total car-free miles
  • Gallons of gas saved by not using the car
  • Gas money saved by not using the car
  • Total transit fares
  • Total miles driven
  • Gallons of gas used
  • Cost of gas used

Here are the statistics for the first week:

  • Gas in Olympia, WA this week: $4.43 per gallon
  • Total distance for each mode of car-free transportation
    • Walking: 17 miles
    • Bicycle: 18.6 miles
    • Bus: 5.95 mile
  • Total car-free miles: 41.55
  • Gallons of gas saved: 1.662
  • Gas expense saved: $7.36
  • Total transit fares: $2.25
  • Total miles driven: 95
  • Gallons of gas used: 3.8
  • Cost of gas used: $16.83

This week, we drove to Tacoma to run some errands. In order to make the most of our trip to Tacoma, we tried to include something enjoyable to do, rather than just driving up and back. On this trip, we took our kayaks and spent some time paddling in Chamber’s Bay.


Paying Attention

It was my main day for grocery shopping today. I had a good list of places to stop by, all in the downtown area of Olympia. I set out on foot from home with my market basket, a couple reusable grocery bags and a well recycled coffee bag. My first stop was to Olympia Coffee Roasters where I got a half pound of their wonderful Decaf Peru De Florida. Then I walked on to The Bread Peddler to munch a breakfast pastry and cup of coffee while making out my grocery list. I think having a special treat like this is an added bonus to doing the errands this way; I am out and about long enough that I can easily justify sitting down and enjoying a local goody. After a delicious energy booster it was time to go to Bay View, then the Olympia Seafood Company and finally the Farmers Market. I had several things to take care of while at the market and was beginning to get hungry for lunch, but wanted to have my lunch at home. The combination of being eager to get to my much needed lunch as well as having an extensive list of things to gather at the market ended up being a bad combination today. The low blood sugar made me ditsy and my eager tummy hurried me nearly half way home (over a half mile) before I realized that I was not carrying my bag of peaches and apricots! Of course what I was carrying was fairly heavy (thank goodness Twin Oaks Creamery wasn't there today or I would have been carrying milk and cheeses as well!) so it was with quite a bit of frustration that I turned myself around and headed back to retrieve the fruit I had bought. I decided after that to just head over to the bus station and catch a bus up 4th to knock a bit of extra walking off for my already famished frame.

It is always frustrating when you leave something you have purchased behind somewhere, even with a vehicle to take you back, but add to that a lot of walking, hunger, and a steadily growing sunburn (yep, I skipped the sunscreen today, it was overcast when I left, and yes I know better!) and this can make a far more frustrating situation than usual. I am making a note to myself for the future: check to make sure you have all your purchases before heading home!

Happily sitting with my feet up even if my nose would make Rudolf's look dull,


Monday, July 7, 2008

The Value of the Trip

The value of the trip

Our first car-less adventure has caused me to start re-thinking how I view the value of a trip. When we first started this experiment, I thought of the value of the trip in purely monetary terms:

  • How much would it cost to drive there and back?
  • How much will public transit cost for the same trip?
  • Which means of transportation makes more sense financially for this trip?

I was looking at any method of transportation that way.

Our 4th of July trip made me stop and think about it. As I mentioned in my write-up on the first adventure, I found that I had less stress; I could take a bit of time on the road to sit back and read; I was able to carry on really good conversations with Maurie; we got to meet people we'd not have had a chance to meet otherwise.

Adjusting how I view the trip, I see that there are dimensions of benefit that cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents that affect the real value of the trip. The decreased stress; the quality time with Maurie; the opportunity to get some reading in; not having to worry about parking at our destination: all these things add much more value to the trip than simply getting there quickly.

While finances will undoubtedly have some influence on our choice of means of transportation, it's not going to be the deciding factor. Even though a trip from Olympia to Portland, OR costs around $72 on Amtrak, or $122 on Greyhound, versus around $60 in our car, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy taking Amtrak to Portland with Maurie.


Maurie's Reflections from July 4th

First of all, Mark is one of those people who cannot easily carry on a conversation while driving. Nor, really while being a passenger in a car. In one case he is so focused on the road and traffic and in the other he tends to just fall asleep. I'm not sure what makes the bus different, but it is. He enjoys the opportunity to take his mind off the road and focus it on some good conversation with his wife, something she doesn't mind at all! Or he can spend an uninterrupted 45 minutes reading, something I am sure he really appreciates since his day to day life seems to leave little time for extracurricular reading. With the extra reading time he may just get through that book by presidential candidate Obama BEFORE the election. I enjoy the extra time for reading as well. Where I tend to get car sick reading in a car, this is not the case on a bus, at least not on the freeway. And though I have more reading time than Mark does I also have a much longer book list. A writer must read! I got further through "Three Cups of Tea" on Friday than I had in a quite a while.

We even made some new friends. A couple of cyclists who were making their way south by bike and having quite the adventure of it. They had stopped to catch a bus for the last leg of the day after getting thoroughly lost and we were able to offer some help once we got back to Olympia. It all made a great story and had us laughing for hours afterwards. We never would have met these guys had we been in our car. That was worth the trip by bus all on its own. It's situations like this that create community not to mention give a writer some good fodder for future stories.

What we may have considered as cons to taking the bus for this trip turned out to be pros. We got home at a reasonable hour, met some fun folk, relaxed, and had a great time. I think we're learning the truth in the adage "It's not the destination, but the journey that matters."


Our First Car-less Adventure

On July 4, we went on our first “car-less adventure” as we're referring to activities beyond our regular errands around town. The Tall Ships were in Tacoma for the 4th of July weekend, so we decided to visit them to enjoy the day getting a little piece of history touring the ships.

We made the trip entirely by public transit, leaving the Olympia Transit Center and arriving at Tacoma Dome station, where we transferred to the new Tacoma Link light-rail train to get us closer to the entrance gate for the event.

Traveling by bus definitely takes longer than driving a private car does. However, I think that the quality of the trip is more than a fair trade for the extra time en route. There was much less stress than we would have experienced by driving.

There was one potential source of commute stress. The last bus from the 512 Park & Ride to Olympia left around 8:15 PM, arriving in Olympia at 9:00 PM ( Intercity Transit was operating on Sunday schedule for the holiday). In order to make the bus, we had to leave the festival a little earlier than we would have if we'd driven. Without the need to be back to the 512 Park & Ride as early as we did, we might have taken more time to enjoy the activities along dock street. In hindsight, leaving when we did was better for us. We did not stay too long, trying to do too much that evening.

The trip up and back was definitely more enjoyable than it would have been if we'd used our car. We were able to take some time to read our books on the way up. On the way down, we were able to carry on a really good conversation about the day and our experience with this experiment so far.

All in all, I think that this was a great first car-less adventure for us.

Trip information and statistics for the day:

Transit Routes taken:


  • Maurie: $2.00 each way (included transfer)

  • Me: No charge to Tacoma (my employer provides a STAR pass which gives me a free ride on any Intercity Transit route); $1.50 each ride between 512 Park & Ride and the Tacoma Dome Station

  • No charge for the Tacoma Link

  • Total of all fares: $7.00

Cost if we'd driven: $9.02, determined from the following factors:

  • 60 miles round trip from our home to the Tacoma Dome parking lot

  • $4.42 per gallon for regular unleaded in Olympia on that day

  • 25 mpg average mileage for our car

Overall transportation savings: $2.02