Friday, October 15, 2010

My Low-Car Challenge is Over! Upon Reflection...

Hi y'all, I did it!  My one month Low-Car Diet ended this past Tuesday.  Woo Hoo!!  I'm proud to say that I managed without driving my car for a month.  No cheating!

I want to take a moment to reflect on my experience for the past month.  First off, let's examine the numbers here.

During my one month challenge, I:
1) spent $159 on transportation.  This includes the cost of my weekend trip to Orcas Island.  My average cost of owning a car is about $378 per month.  If you do a simple math, you could see that I had saved $219 this month!!
2) made 56 trips on public transit!
3) traveled 10 miles on my bike.  I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't bike more... But this is more than I would've biked if I were driving every time I went to the grocery store.
4) walked 20 miles.  Now I'm impressed by this number.  Normally, I would walk down the short stairs from my apartment to my car, then the office parking lot to my office...  I say this is an upgrade!

Upon reflection, I feel one month went by very quickly.  This is funny because going places by public transit usually takes longer.  I also find it more relaxing to ride a bus or light rail than driving myself.  I notice a lot of folks texting or be doing something on their smart phones while riding, but I just usually zone out or close my eyes and rest. 

My biggest pet peeve about riding a bus has always been their being behind schedule on a regular basis.  Not even a few minutes late, but sometimes 10 plus minutes.  One time, my bus just didn't show up (I don't know what causes this...).  As a result, I have missed my connecting buses and was late to meetings a couple of times.  Although it's really annoying, this repeated lateness of transit has also taught me to just let go.  I have no control over this, don't fight it, just be ok with what's going on.  How Zen!!

Another effect that I didn't expect to have was I became keenly aware of how seasons change.  I always thought I was very much in touch with that sort of thing, but it really helped me to see, smell, feel it during this past month.  I remember one morning when the air felt extra crisp.  I notice more dried leaves on the ground as I hear them crunch.  Leaves on the trees along the city streets are turning colors.  Even on a beautiful sunny day, it no longer feels warm. 

I also feel very grateful.  For being able to live and work in a place where public transit provides services.  For being able to walk and ride my bike.  For having people around me who encourage me and support me to try different things (and not think I'm weird for wanting to try different things). 

"What are you going to do now?" Some of you may wonder.  My plan is to keep going Low-Car for as long as it makes sense.  When I say that, what I mean by that is I will keep riding public transit and avoid driving my car as much as possible.  I am going to look into changing my auto insurance policy so I could get the lower rate: when I hardly ever drive, it does not make sense to keep my current policy.  I'm not ready to sell my car at this point.  I want to see how Low-Car works for me for the next year or so.  At that point, I want to reassess and make a plan for the next step. 

With that, I'm ending my last blog post.  Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts for the past month!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weekend Getaway Low-Car Style

One of the questions I had when I started my Low-Car Life was: "How the heck do I get up to Orcas Island to visit my sweetie?"  That's right my sweet boyfriend lives about 3 hours away from Seattle, and we visit each other once a month or so.

When I go up there for a visit, it usually takes me about 2 hours drive from Seattle to Anacortes, then I park my car at the ferry terminal, and the ferry ride is about 1 hour from there to Orcas Island.  Yes it is kind of far away, and we've been "commuting" to see each other for the last, oh, almost 4 years.  Challenges and successes of the long distance relationship - well that is for another blog!!

I thought to myself - "would it be so bad if I don't visit him this month?  I will be free to drive after this Low-Car challenge is over...!"  Then I thought to myself again - "if I wanted to continue having this life style, I have to figure out the ways to accomplish things that cannot be put off forever i.e. visiting your boyfriend."

It was his birthday this past Thursday, and they were having a bowling party for him.  Birthdays and bowling are two of my favorite things.  I had to be there.

There are several different options to get to Orcas Island without your own vehicle.  You could ride public transit, hitch a ride with someone, fly Kenmore Air from Seattle to Orcas Island, ride your bicycle if you're totally tough, use an airport shuttle or a combination of any of these options.

Riding on public buses all the way from Seattle to Anacortes was out for me.  It just takes toooooo long.  I'm wary of hitch-hiking i.e. riding a car with a total stranger.   Call me second-hand-traumatized and internally-oppressed, but I just don't feel comfortable doing that.  Flying seems a bit too pricey and involved.  Riding my bicycle with my back-pack on, I wouldn't last 5 miles!! Using the Zipcar for the weekend is also an option, but it seemed silly for me to use it when the car would just sit in the parking lot for two days.

A good news came my way when my sweet boyfriend told me that someone from Seattle is coming up to visit the Bullock's Permaculture Homestead, where he lives, on Thursday and they can give me a ride.  Yes!

 On Thursday, Michael and Gena picked me up at my apartment.  Michael took the 3-week design course at the Bullock's this summer and Gena is one of the interns at the farm.  On our way up to Anacortes, we chatted about many things - our jobs, family, plan for the winter, good food... I was also able to just sit back and enjoy the scenery, which was hard to do when I was driving.
Gena is one cool woman

Michael keeping his eyes on the road
We had a close call when we arrived at the ferry terminal - first of all, we were barely on time, and second of all, Michael had locked himself out with his car still running!  When all this was happening, I was at the pay stall taking care of the parking fee - they later told me the heroic tale of Michael folding down the back seat from the trunk (luckily, they had popped the trunk open to get their stuff out before locking themselves out), and sliding through there to the front seat to get the key out of the ignition.  We made it onto the ferry!!  Phew!  And we did make it to the bowling party!!!

The bowling party was a blast.  My sweet boyfriend had a great time surrounded by friends and loved ones.  The rest of my stay on the island was really nice too.  I feel so privileged to be able to come and stay on this farm whenever I want to and feel welcomed.  It was rainy for the most part, so I stayed in the cabin with fire going in the wood stove, working on my homework, reading or taking a nap.  What a treat to just be!

On Saturday night, I said good bye to my sweet boyfriend and the island to return to my life on the main land.  I had made a reservation for the Bellair Airport Shuttle ride.  It is $32 one way, which is not cheap, but I decided to try this for the experience. 

Lucky for me, the time line had worked out just fine, so the ride I was going to catch would stop in downtown Seattle (many of their shuttles would go straight to Sea-Tac airport).  I was picturing a big, greyhound like bus full of people, but their bus was more like a van and was quite comfortable.   It wasn't a full load either, so I got to stretch out and relax. 

After arriving in downtown Seattle, I rode the light rail home.  Four hours after leaving the ferry, I was home at last.  Although I was exhausted after being on transit for many hours, I appreciated the experience of going out of town without driving my car.  Yes it is totally doable!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Numerically Speaking

This past Tuesday was the two-week anniversary of my Low-Car Diet!  Woo hoo!  That means I'm a little over half way there.  To monitor my progress, I've been keeping a log of my transportation habits.  Let me show you some of the numbers I've come up with so far. 

As of Tuesday 9/28
  • I have spent $45.75 for transportation
  • Made 28 trips on public transit
  • Traveled 5 miles on my bike (not including bike rides for exercises)
  • Walked about 10 miles
Pretty cool, eh?  Purely from the standpoint of $$ spent, my average semi-monthly cost for owning a car (i.e. gas, insurance, maintenance) comes to about $189 - my Low-Car Life has saved me about $143 so far!  Sweet!

Although I don't have a log on this one, I run errands less often now, which also contributed to me buying less stuff (you know how it is, you go to Target to buy a dish soap and you come home with a couple of new outfits...), thus spending less!!  By the way, if you're interested in learning about how it may not be such a good idea to participate in a highly consumer-oriented culture, check this out.

I've been getting a hang of this Low-Car thing.  I daydream of getting rid of my car often.  Instead of feeling the loss, I feel free.  Imagine not having to worry about going to a gas station that sells gas 2 cents cheaper than the other ones.  Imagine not having to take your car in and spend a lot of money to get it fixed.  Imagine not having to get into your car after a long day of work and sit in a traffic getting pissed off at some bad drivers.  Imagine not having to try to find a parking spot in a busy grocery store parking lot (especially when SUVs take up 1.5 parking spot). 

At this point, I'm not sure if I'll ever get rid of my car.  But dreaming about it sure is fun. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Get Around...

One of my concerns about not driving my car was that my social life would be so limited.  Not that I have such a full social life anyway (hint: this is a Saturday night as I post this), but I still wanted to do other things than going to and from work every day. 

Let me share some of the outings I had without my own car last week.
  •  Tuesday - I took a bus to have my hair appointment on Capitol Hill, and then my hairstylist/friend and I had a lovely dinner in International District.  I took a light rail home.
  • Wednesday - one of my co-workers took me to Bellevue College for my first class there!  My instructor OKd me to leave the class about 10 minutes early so I could catch the bus home. 
  • Thursday - someone else from work gave me a ride to Ballard where I met with a couple of friends for a delicious meal.  Took a bus & light rail home.
Not to mention this is in addition to going to meetings and working at multiple locations during the day!  Not bad, eh?

As you can see, this Low-Car Life has given me more opportunities to ride in a car with people.  Riding with someone means more hang-out time with the person!  I've had really random to deeply meaningful conversations with folks in a car so far. 

It also encourages me to ask for help.  When I had my no-car life before, I used to hate asking for a ride from people because I thought I was burdening them.  I don't know if it's part of the aging process or what, but I don't really feel bad about asking for a ride any more.  If they can, that's great, and if they can't, that is OK too. 

I've also noticed that it helps me to be more efficient at work.  If I had my own car, I could just stay and work on a project for as long as it takes, but now, I'm on a schedule.  So, I've been doing a good job prioritizing, and if I don't get something done, I just leave it till the next day if I can help it- I've got a bus to catch!!! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hello Clallam!

During the month of Low-Car Diet, participants receive $150 driving credit to use the Zipcar!  My opportunity to try it for the first time came this past weekend.  On Sunday I've got a big bicycle ride in Issaquah in the morning, then a BBQ in Shoreline.  Though not impossible, probably not fun to do that by bus.  Plus, I was itching to try the Zipcar anyway.

I was proactive and made a reservation for a Zipcar on-line a week ago.  Their reservation process was very user-friendly.  You check to see where your nearest Zipcar spot is, and then check to see if the car is available during the time you need it. 
Luckily, there are two Zipcars available about two blocks from where I live.

I've gotten a Honda Civic Hybrid named "Clallam."  How cute is that they each have a name...

I actually had to change my reservation at the last minute.  So I called the help line and the woman on the phone was very, very helpful.  She tried to answer my silly question like "Can my bicycle fit in the back seat?"  Of course, she wouldn't know if my bicycle would fit in the back seat...  but she was very nice about it.

And, YES, my bicycle does fit in the back seat!  (if you take off the front wheel of course).
Honestly, I was a little nervous to drive this very nice car.  It is not like my beat-up 2000 Honda Civic.  it is squeaky clean and no scratch anywhere! I also felt like I was cheating on my own car a little bit...  My old little Honda (no name) had no idea that I was driving this newer, better-looking Clallam, quite excited, as it sits in my parking lot wondering why I hadn't driven it at all this week.

I made it to Issaquah safe and sound and enjoyed the bike ride for Cycle the WAVE.  It was pouring rain during the ride unfortunately, but Clallam kept me nice and warm on my way home.  While driving, I was wondering if people around me have noticed the "Z" sign on the car, or saw their slogan "wheels when you want them" in the back and thought how cool I was to be driving a Zipcar!

After visiting with some folks for a nice early-fall BBQ in Shoreline, I got back to my neighborhood and returned Clallam to its spot.  Today, as I looked out of the window from the bus, I noticed that Clallam was gone.  It makes me happy to know that there are other car-sharers in the neighborhood!  Good bye Clallam!  Until next time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week 1: What have I learned so far?

My first work week without a car has ended!  As a person of consistency, changes are hard.  Even if the changes are something I wanted to have, it is still hard.

Let me give you an update on how my Low-Car Life is going so far.  Have I learned any lessons...?

Lesson 1: Be on time  I'm used to buses not being on time nine times out of ten.  The first morning I took bus to work, I left home about two minutes before the bus was supposed to arrive.  I live a block away from the bus stop.  As I walked down the street, I saw my bus driving past.  What??  I thought the buses here were never on time!!  I guess it really depends.  If there isn't traffic, the buses can be on time.  Simple.  Done.

 Lesson 2: Be at the right bus stop  Luckily, I knew that another bus was supposed to arrive right after that one I just missed.  Phew!  A minute later, another bus drove right past my bus stop.  WHY???  My mind wend blank for a minute and realized that the express buses don't stop at that particular bus stop.  If you're catching an express bus, make sure you're at the right stop that says "express".
this is a "non-express" stop
Lesson 3:  Don't panic  My initial experience with missing my bus (a couple of days in a row, nonetheless) got me all paranoid.  I'm at my bus stop a little early. Scheduled arrival time comes... no bus in sight...wait for a few more minutes...still no bus.  What happened?  Did I miss it again?  Ah, wait, no need to panic.  My co-worker/occasional bus buddy told me about this handy tool called One Bus Away.  You can find out your bus stop number (it is usually located on the shelter) and they can tell you how long it will be for the bus to get to your bus stop.  I've used their phone system a couple of times, and it works pretty well!  It gives me peace of mind knowing that I did not miss the bus.

Lesson 4: Go to bed early  I'm not going to lie to you.  Taking a bus to work takes about twice as long.  That means I need to get up early.  I like to take my sweet time to get ready in the morning anyway (1.5 hours plus) because I hate being rushed in the morning.  I believe it really sets the tone for the day.  So I get up early.  Like between 4:30 and 5 am if I need to be at work by 8 am.  I can totally sense how tired I've gotten this week.  I was doing yoga before I went to bed the other night and fell asleep during Savasana.  hmmm.  I need to start going to bed early so I have energy to continue my Low-Car Life healthy and happy!!

to my surprise, a lot of people start their day so early in the morning.

Although it has been kind of a stressful week (not entirely due to long commute), I haven't missed driving my car yet.  It is actually really nice not to have to worry about driving.  I enjoy looking out the window and see what's going on out there.  Sometimes I close my eyes and take a little nap.  I watch interesting people on the bus and listen to people's conversations.  And if something interesting happens, more for me to write on this blog, right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First day of my Low-Car Life. So, How did it go?

Today was the official start day of our Low-Car Diet.  I checked the weather twice and three times, making sure I don't need to bring my umbrella with me.  It was gray and chilly outside... I didn't really believe that it was going to be about 70 degrees today.  Nonetheless, I transferred all my essentials into my new "bus commute" bag and walked out of my apartment to attend the kick-off ceremony!

 First off, let me just say... I LOVE the light rail.  I feel very lucky to live within walking distance from one of the stations.  It is clean, relatively comfortable, and on-time.  It reminds me of riding a train in Japan.

The ceremony was held at the Westlake Park in downtown Seattle!  Seeing the green Zipcar signs was pretty exciting! 

We were provided with  free lunch from Dog In The Park, and I enjoyed their delicious veggie dog. Yummy~

We had a few inspiring speakers on the subject matter.  One of them being Carla Saulter a.k.a. Bus Chick!  For those of you who don't know who she is, she has been car-free since 2003 and has been blogging about her experience on Seattle PI. She and her husband have three small children and they make it work without a car...!  Amazing!

Star-struck, I approached her afterward and exchanged a few words.  She was very warm and encouraging.  She even let me know I can email her with any questions regarding being car-free...  How generous!  I'm sure I'll be taking up on her offer sometime soon.

Another speaker they had was Seattle Councilmember Mike O'Brien.  He himself was a participant of Low-Car Diet in 2008.  In his speech, he touched on how being car-free is a form of an activism.  He's advocating for improving the public transit system and making our community more bicycle friendly so that people who don't own cars have equal access to things and places that are currently hard to get to.   I say go Mike O'Brien.  That sounds totally awesome to me.

a view from I-90 bridge

As I was riding a bus into Bellevue this afternoon, I got to thinking.   This Low-Car life is already feeling a bit different than my previous No-Car life.  I think it has a lot to do with choice.  Like I mentioned before, I didn't own a car until 7 years ago.  It wasn't really by choice.  I didn't know how to drive until then!  But this time around, I'm making a conscious choice to change my behavior.  I'm feeling more empowered!

going home on 520 bridge  

Today was a perfect day to start my Low-Car Life.  I took it slow, and the weather was great.  If it was rainy, cold or windy, my blog post today wouldn't have sounded so positive.

I-5 south

Although taking a bus takes much longer than driving, I felt very relaxed and at peace when I got home.

It gives me extra time to process what's happened in the day, and I find it almost meditative.

When I got home, I even biked to my P-Patch garden to check on the winter crops I just seeded.  I love how it feels in the garden just before dusk.

It was a successful first day!  29 more days to go!