Monday, October 26, 2009

Cats Saved from Starvation

Well, no, they weren't really in danger of starving. But our old cat (18 years old) has been on a special prescription diet for years that seems to keep him pretty healthy and we were almost out of food. The problem is that the store where we used to buy cat food is more than 7 miles away, which is a pretty far bike ride to carry a 20 lb bag of (very expensive) cat food. One option was to get a Zipcar, but that just meant that the price would climb even higher. The problem was we couldn't find our original prescription, and the local vet within walking distance required a checkup (minimum $70) before they'd let us buy the food from them.

The good news was that we'd paid a visit to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital with this cat years ago, but we were still in the system, so we could buy the food from them. And they're only about a mile away. It turns out that my bike basket and back rack (with the help of a few bungee cords) are capable of carrying a 20 lb bag of cat food. (Though I very much want a bike trailer. It looks like we might be able to borrow one from a friend)

And guess what, Angell even charged $1 less than our old place--we should have checked and changed a long time ago. But when you have a car, it's easy to just keep old habits in place, because the costs to your wallet and the environment are not so readily apparent. With the car gone, we have to reevaluate all our old pathways and habits.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Realities of car sharing and car rental

(by Tracy)

Not having a car has been going very, very well for us. It seems normal to walk, ride the bikes, or take the T to where we need to go. Every once in a while, about 2 - 3 times/month we've needed a car and we fill that need with either Zipcar or a regular rental.

There are some annoying things about rentals though, that take some getting used to. For Zipcar, the annoying thing is that your rental is limited to 180 miles total for your rental period. If you rent a car for a day, it is really, really easy to go past 180 miles. If you go over you have to pay by the mile - like $.45 per.

For the regular car rental you are subject to the laws of supply and demand. If you want to rent a car on a holiday weekend (say.... Thanksgiving), you are subject to much higher rates. The best rate we could find for the upcoming holiday for a 4-day rental was $343. Normally that would cost us about $160.

Oh well. Now that we know, we can start planning a little better.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Boston Bike Film Fest this weekend

Turns out there's a Boston Bike Film Festival going on this weekend, tonight and tomorrow night at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, from 7-11pm, both nights. I don't think we can go, but it sounds like fun--they're screening lots of short films about cycling and cycling life/culture. If you end up attending, let me know how it turns out.

Boston Halloween Bike Ride

If you're looking to do something fun on Halloween that combines costumes and bikes, check out the Halloween Bike Ride, which meets up at 8pm on October 31st at the Green Street T Station (Orange line) in JP. It's free and should be lots of fun for riders of all ages.

The ride was started in 2000. The slow-paced ride covers about 18 miles as it meanders from the Green Street T Station in Jamaica Plain to Kenmore Square, Coolidge Corner, Harvard Square, Central Square, Inman Square, Copley Plaza, and back to Jamaica Plain. The route changes slightly from year to year, and may change on the night of the ride based on road conditions, and sometimes the whim of the Ride Leader. The ride is friendly, open to all, and a great way to spend Halloween Night!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Article in NY Times about people making car choices

Our friend Ryan pointed out a great article in the NY Times about people reconsidering owning cars:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Carbon Footprint of Our Old Car

I've been meaning to figure this out for a while: Just how much CO2 did we add to the atmosphere by driving our old minivan? In the time we owned it, from 2003 to 2009, we drove 76,000 miles. At an average of about 18 mpg, that means we used about 4,220 gallons of gas in the six years we owned our car. (Which is 564 cubic feet, in case you're interested, or a cube of gasoline about 8 feet on a side, or something a little bigger than a minivan, but not much).

On average, a gallon of gas burned in a car generates about 19.56 pounds of CO2. So in our time owning the car, we generated about 82,540 pounds of CO2, or 41 tons, just to get ourselves from place to place (about 7 tons per year). 41 tons! That definitely seems like something worth changing.

And that's only looking at CO2, not the other emissions in terms of chemicals and particulates that come from driving cars.

Now that we've gotten rid of our car, let's just say our environmental impact has declined drastically. We still put a little extra CO2 out from our Zipcar jaunts, but otherwise, our transportation methods are doing very little in terms of dumping CO2 into the air (outside of huffing and puffing while pedaling our bikes up hills).

I'm not saying that everyone in the U.S. can suddenly give up their cars. But if more of those who have the ability to make the choice actually do it, there's an impact to be made.

(P.S. In case you're interested, Slate ran an article a while back about how one gallon of gas produces so much CO2.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trying Not to be a Wimp

I have a new motto for my bike riding: Don't Be a Wimp.

Earlier this week, I needed to buy some parts to repair our kitchen faucet. I walked to all the local places, but none of them carry American Standard repair kits, but all recommended Watertown Supply as the best place for plumbing parts. But google maps said it was 4.4 miles each way, which felt like a long way to go for a couple washers. So I called around and called around, and finally found a place in Allston maybe 2 miles away, that said they carried American Standard parts. I rode there and it turned out that they didn't have the parts I needed, but instead referred me to Watertown Supply.

I was already about halfway there, so I just kept on riding, got a little lost (which adds up the miles), and went to Watertown Supply--which is a totally kick-ass plumbing supply place. But if I hadn't been such a wimp about that 4.4 mile ride, I could have accomplished the same result with less hassle. I learned that 5 miles is very much in my do-able range for an errand (though closer to home is still nice). The entire round trip, including multiple stops, getting lost, stopping at a Danish Pastry shop, was about 90 minutes.

In keeping with the trying to be less wimpy theme, I made a point of biking in the rain today for grocery shopping and riding to the Green Brookline Expo. For groceries, it was chilly and very wet outside. For the Expo, I rode home in the pouring rain mixing with snow. The thing is, I bought rain paints and a breathable rain jacket earlier this year, and guess what--they work great! A baseball cap under my helmet helped keep the rain and snow off my glasses. The main thing I still need is some thin waterproof gloves, to protect against the wind and the wet.

Still, more and more, I keep learning that it's easier to get around by bike than I expect.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Illness Challenge

Our daughter wasn't feeling well earlier this week and we ended up needing to go to urgent care (what they call the ER at the MIT medical facility). This has been one of the big questions around not having a car--what about in case of medical emergency.

In case of a severe medical emergency, we're definitely covered. I could walk across the Riverway to the Beth Israel ER before an ambulance could drive to our house.

But what about minor emergencies, where you need to be seen today but you can't get into your regular doctor? I had two options in this case--I could have rented a Zipcar, but the problem is that it's too hard to tell when the visit is likely to end. Luckily, it's not too tough to call a cab in our neighborhood. The cab ride isn't cheap (about $16 each way, including tip), but it is very flexible and pretty quick. Of course, what happens if you don' have cab fare? In this case, a little planning solved our problem. We'd set up an envelope with cab fare in it when we first sold our car. That way there's no hesitation about calling because it's the end of the month and payday hasn't arrived yet.

Our planning paid off well and the cab got us where we needed to go quickly. It still was cheaper than renting a Zipcar for 3+ hours, or for going to an out of plan hospital ER (which requires a $50 co-pay).

Everyone is on the mend now. I'm glad we had a chance to test out our system and that it worked without any hitches. One less thing to worry about.

Bike Repair Class

Had week #2 of the bike repair class, and it's been great fun so far. To date, we've learned how to fix flat tires (I already knew how to do this, but picked up some handy tips) and how to adjust the font hub (both easier and harder than I expected). At every class, I also keep finding more things wrong with my bike, somewhat big things. I had to take it in today for some problems on the bottom bracket and it needs a new headset. Bummer.

What I really need is a spare bike (or a new one, and this old one can become my spare), so that when one bike is in the shop, I can still get around.

I definitely plan to continue the bike classes to the next level and beyond. It's empowering to know how to maintain and repair one's basic mode of transportation. Plus I love working with my hands.