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!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A lifestyle change. How do you prepare for it?

Tomorrow is my big day!  Yes the Low-Car Diet starts tomorrow 9/14.  I will not drive my car for one month.  Eeeeeek!  Do I really want to do this? Am I really ready?

My anxiety list has grown bigger for the past few days.  What if my cats get sick and the nearest Zipcar was not available?  They weigh 13 pounds (each).  I can't haul them to their vet's office in Bellevue on the bus.  Will I be so exhausted by the end of the day after taking a long bus ride and not want to do anything than sit on my butt and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer every night (currently, I do that and something else)?  How is this going to affect my social life?  My job?  My relationship?  Am I going to have enough materials to write on this blog???  Ahhhhh, my head hurts.


My wise friend once told me that worrying is like praying for something you don't want.

For those of you who know me well know that I'm a woman of structure and consistency.  I like having a plan and knowing what to expect.  So, to alleviate my pre-Low-Car Diet anxiety, I have been thinking a lot about how to make this a successful and meaningful experience.  Allow me to show you some of the ways I've been prepping for this!

I'm going to be spending significantly more time on the public transit.  Can I be doing something that I couldn't be doing if I were driving?  Unfortunately, reading on the bus makes me sick.  I tried crocheting on the bus before, but the results were very similar to reading on the bus.  I could be listening to some music, but my phone isn't that smart, and I'm not going to invest in iPod quite yet.  Instead, I got a "COBY" mini-radio for $9.99 at a drug store...  Now I can enjoy NPR on the bus!  except when I'm in the tunnel.  Sigh.

I also purchased a bag that is durable and functional so I can have both my hands available, and it can withstand some rain and other outdoor elements.   I found this bag at Goodwill for $2.99!  Score!
What else?  Well, I get very unhappy when I'm hungry.  I need to have some snacks on me in case I'm stranded somewhere...
Mixed Roasted Nuts and Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds.  Yummmm...

Of course, I got my ORCA Card and the Zipcard ready to go!!!

I think I'm done worrying now.  My Low-Car Life begins tomorrow, ready or not!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I'm giving up my car for a month!!

I love the convenience of driving my own car.  My 2000 Honda Civic has been there for me for the past 7 years.  It takes me to places whenever I want.  My trunk has become my mobile garden tool shed.  It gives me a space to think quietly or sing my heart out.  For the most part, it keeps me warm and dry.  It gives me a sense of security, perhaps a false sense of security, like I'm safe and protected in a shield made of impenetrable metal.

 So, why on earth do I want to give up driving my car?, you may ask.   Here are some of the reasons:
  • Cost of owning a car - first comes the car payments.  Then periodical car maintenance: sometimes small, sometimes BIG.  Ever rising gas price.  Auto insurance. etc. etc.
  • Environmental implications - learning about Peak Oil made me want to somehow decrease my dependence on oil.  I didn't want to freak out and not know what to do when the gas price hits 15, 20, 50 dollars per gallon. 
 These are all good-sounding reasons, right?  So what kept me from going car-free all these years?  Well, because I felt like having a car was a necessity.  I commute from Seattle to Bellevue every day.  My job requires me to go to different places for meetings at times.  When I was without a car for the first 7 years of my life in the U.S., I was often tired, cranky, and stressed.  I experienced harassment on the bus or at bus stops.  Bus system kind of sucks between Seattle and the eastside during off-peak hours.  Understand my hesitation now?

Then something special happened.  I entered and got selected to be the participant of the Zipcar Low-Car Diet Seattle!!  It means that I agree to give up driving my car for a month starting September 14th.  I will either walk, bike, use public transportation, carpool or use a Zipcar if I absolutely need to drive to get to places.

Excited?  Yes.  Anxious?  Oh Yes.