Thursday, March 24, 2011

Car free for three months

It's nearly three months since I went car free, so I'd like to report on several observations (good and bad) from my experience.
  1. GOOD: I really enjoy my commute, which includes a 15-minute walk to MARTA and a 15-minute train ride. That half hour feels more like 10 minutes. When I drove to work, it took about 10 minutes but felt like 30. I think my alternative commute feels shorter because of how fast I travel. When I walk, I travel at a speed that allows me to experience more things (birds, trees, cars, retail). When I drive, I travel at a speed that only allows me to experience other cars, and the reality is that other cars are not that interesting.
  2. BAD: It was much harder to completely give up my car than I thought. My car is 20 years old, and is completely paid off, so I struggled with completely getting rid of it. Of course keeping it in the driveway and not driving it was not an option. That would be like keeping a piece of chocolate cake in the fridge and not eating it. Instead, I decided to loan it long-term to a friend. Out of sight, out of mind.
  3. BAD: When walking is a major part of your commute, a bum ankle can be debilitating. In late February, I thought I sprained my ankle while playing with my daughter. It turned out to be a slight break. I told the doctor a boot and cruches were not an option, so he suggested an air cast, which would allow for greater mobility, but only limited walking. Thank goodness for Jana Senator, who works in my department and lives less than a mile away. She was willing to carpool with me. After a few weeks, I was back on my feet.
  4. GOOD: The commuter bike is a great alternative to walking. I spent the past month getting my commuter bike ready. I put on new handle bars and pedals and look forward to adding fenders and a rack. I live less than three miles from the office, so I can bike to and from work and barely break a sweat. I'm now more aware of how many other people commute by bike. On Edgewood Ave. during rush hour, a bike goes by every minute, so I don't feel alone amid a sea of cars. The other thing I am aware of is that Peachtree Street is on a ridge (which is why buffalo and later Native Americans wore a path on it), so no matter where you are in the city, if you are heading toward Peachtree, you will go up hill at some point. Thank goodness it isn't a very high ridge.
  5. GOOD: Combining transportation modes really works. When I combine bike, transit, and Zipcar, I can get anywhere in the City. Friday was a good example. I left my house at 8 a.m. and arrived at a Zipcar in 10 mintes. I locked my bike, got in, and drove to a meeting in Cobb County by 9 a.m. After the meeting, I drove back to the Zipcar location Downtown and biked a few blocks to work. With a 12:30 pm lunch meeting in Midtown, I didn't have time to bike the whole way, so I biked to MARTA, caught the train from Peachtree Center to Arts Center and biked one block, arriving in less than 15 minutes. After lunch, I rode my bike across town to Piedmont Park for a 2 p.m. meeting. From there, I headed back to the office Downtown for a 3:30 meeting. At the end of the day, I rode home. I got everywhere I needed to be, spent nothing on gas, and burned a few calories. Combine modes works.
  6. GOOD: Zipcar is an amazing service [disclosure: Lanier is a partner in Zipcar Atlanta]. Without it, I am not sure I could make this no car thing work. Walking, biking, and MARTA are great, but they limit where I can go. Zipcar truly allows me to extend the trip in those rare cases when I need it. And it's cheap. I am spending about $100 per month on Zipcar. Before giving up my car, I was spending that much on gas alone, not to mention insurance and maintenance.
No doubt, the good far outweighs the bad. Please give it a try, and tell me about your experience.
Happy commuting!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moving Beyond the Automobile

Streetfilms, known for "documenting livable streets worldwide," has begun a ten-part video series called Moving Beyond the Automobile that focuses on non-automobile transportation in cities across the U.S. The films highlight a movement away from the auto as a primary source of transportation to other modes.

The available films include transit oriented development, carsharing, bicycling, with traffic calming, bus rapid transit. Others will follow. All of these ideas are practical and realistic and are becoming more acceptable as gas prices rise and cities look for ways to relieve congestion at lower costs.

Streetfilms has talked to dozens of transportation authorities across the country to bring these ideas to life. These include well-respected voices such as former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, Tri-state Transportation's Kate Slevin, Commissioner of NYC Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan, Portland's Mayor Sam Adams, former four-term Milwaukee Mayor and President of the Congress for New Urbanism John Norquist.

I recommend you make these films regular viewing.