Monday, September 10, 2012

seven years car-free

It was 7 years ago today that I moved from Cincinnati to Arlington. I did so without a car. Back then, I didn’t think much about it. I had studied abroad the summer before my last year of college, and learned how easy it could be to get around in a city with good mass transit. I didn’t own a car upon leaving Cincinnati (I had just graduated college, and my parents had owned my car up until that point), was living on the metro, and saw no real need to buy one. As a result, without a ton of thought, I moved and started my “car-free diet.”
Seven years later, with much more reflection, it is pretty cool to look back at my time without a car. Over the past few years, my love for cycling and understanding of transportation concerns has increased dramatically. So much so that I think I finally found my real passion in life. That is not to say that I think cars are bad. People always say arguments that you are a “cyclist” or a “driver,” completely ignoring the fact that almost all cyclists drive sometimes, and nearly all drivers have been on a bike. I end up in a car somewhat often (at least once a week), as my wife has a car. Her commute from Arlington to Manassas is pretty difficult without one, and so not having a car doesn’t make sense for her. But going car-free, or car-reduced, is often much easier than you’d think. Over the years I have heard so many interesting thoughts and questions about going car-free. I wanted to address some of those concerns, and hopefully shed light on how someone can go about reducing their dependence on cars. Here are some answers to some of the most common questions I have received over the past 7 years:

1.       How do you get to work? Luckily in DC, you don’t get asked this question much, but some of my friends from home (Cincinnati) ask. The easiest solution is mass transit. In DC, this is primarily covered by the Metro, Buses, and commuter trains. Biking to work is a great option, though requires living in at least somewhat close proximity to work (though some people ride further to work, over 12-15 miles each way would for me be a stretch to accomplish regularly). Ridesharing or carpooling are also great ways to go car-reduced.

2.       How do you get groceries?  This one is pretty easy really. There are a lot of options for non-car owners to get groceries. First, there are a lot of places around here to live within walking distance to a grocery store. Rosslyn, Ballston, VA Square, Clarendon, Old town, S. Glebe, etc. all have grocery stores located near a lot of apartments and houses. These places often come with a price, so I’m not going to be unrealistic, but trying to live within walking distance to the grocery store can be a HUGE step in making car-free easier. Second, there are a number of outlets to have groceries delivered. For a few years, I was using Peapod fairly regularly. Peapod is easy, reliable, and a pretty decent option. I will say that Peapod does not represent the least expensive groceries ever. They are not crazy expensive, but they certainly don’t seem to be as cheap as the store. Also, produce is kind of hit and miss, so I eventually was using Peapod for the basics and non-perishable (or at least less-perishable). Third, I used Zipcar for a year or two to get groceries. Zipcar is great and especially great for this purpose. For about $7-$10 (1-1.5 hours), I could get to the store, shop, and get home. One hint is to bring a cart along with you in case you are short on time. That way, you can park the car back in the spot and just unload into your cart, versus having to take everything up to your apartment or house and then back to the parking spot. While I haven’t used Car2Go, I’m sure it is similarly a great option. Fourth, public transportation is an option. For large trips, this is a little harder. However for smaller trips to the store, riding the metro or a bus is a decent option. The Orange Line and Pentagon City all have good grocery stores off the metro. Just don’t try it during rush hour, and it shouldn’t be that big a problem at all. Finally, supplement your trips with farmers markets as much as possible. A lot of the big working and living areas now are hosting farmers markets. This can be a great way to supplement the weekly grocery store to reduce the number and need for additional trips.

3.       How do you go on dates? This one always makes me laugh. I mean honestly, people really think that you can’t get a date without a car. After years of answering this, I’ll give you the highlights. First, it can limit the pool a bit, which I admit. But most people that I hang out with live in and around the city, and so over time most of the potential dates have been people living in DC or Arlington/Alexandria. As far as first dates, there are a few options. The easiest is to find somewhere good for a first date that is very near the other person’s house. That way, you can get there however you have to get there (metro, bus, bike, etc.), and simply walk from their place to your date (dinner usually). Being in their neighborhood has the added advantage of making the other person feel comfortable on the date. A nice stroll together isn’t bad either. Dates in the city (I am an Arlington resident) are often done via metro or cabs. This is especially true because often on a date, you’ll end up having some drinks. Because DC has extremely strict drinking and driving rules, I think it is the smart and safe decision not to drive into the city. In a scenario that necessitates a car, you can simply rent or grab a Zipcar (please refer to the “If you need a car” section).

Forgetting about the logistics, the bottom line is this: not having a car is a fairly interesting concept to most people. As a result, choosing a car-free lifestyle is something that a lot of people want to talk to you about, ask questions, etc. I think that going car-free helps the dating life more than it hurts it, because you have something truly interesting to talk about and discuss. Furthermore, if a girl won’t date a guy because he doesn’t have a car, why on earth would someone want to date her? It simply helps demonstrate who in the dating field is narrow-minded, materialistic, etc. Not that having a car is bad in any way, but to not want to date someone simply because they don’t….well that’s a bit shallow.  Simply stated, some people might not like that you don’t have a car, but they probably aren’t worth dating anyways. And the people that don’t care about your lack of car, they will probably be far more interested in talking about your choice and lifestyle than they ever would have been before.

4.       Don’t you feel claustrophobic or trapped? I understand the concern and the question here. A lot of people think that they will feel trapped in the city without a car, like there is no getting away. I have at times felt inconvenienced by it, but not really trapped. For one, with the money you save from not owning a car, buying a flight every few months doesn’t seem like a big deal. Flying not only allows you to travel, but allows you to travel much further than driving. Also, renting cars is not particularly difficult or expensive. Renting a car one in a while to get away is certainly less expensive than owning a car. A weekend getaway to the country, out to vineyards, or even back to the Midwest have all been accomplished by simply renting a car for the weekend. You’d be surprised how easy and inexpensive this can be. Also, in this area, you usually don’t have to go to an airport to find a rental place; they are all over the city. Odds are you can walk to one.

5.       What if you have kids? I can’t totally comment on this, because I don’t have kids. I think I would recommend a more car-reduced lifestyle for people with kids than car-free. If you are raising a child with someone else, then perhaps only having one car between the two of you is sufficient. It may require more planning and more juggling of schedules, but still could be a great option. Getting your kids to reduce their dependence on cars can be a great thing as well, whether that means riding or walking to school, practices, friends houses, etc. I know my friend is Milwaukee often rides with her kids when they go over to friend’s houses. This helps to alleviate safety concerns. So just because you don’t have a car, doesn’t mean you can’t help your child get places.

6.       What if there is an emergency? Similar to the above answer, one car between two people can usually suffice for any of these issues. Let’s be honest, emergency’s aren’t that common, and if it is your own emergency, perhaps you shouldn’t be driving. Another thing I would recommend is being friendly and familiar with your neighbors. This can be a really great help if you are in a serious jam (need to get to the emergency room). While your neighbor won’t be fond of just driving you to the grocery store often, a good relationship will usually mean that they will help you in a true problem situation.

I know some people that when they have lost or quit a job, if in a financial position to do so, they take a little time off before looking for another job. My suggestion is that people try to do this at the end of the life of their car. If you don’t want to go get rid of your car today, because you already have it and maybe don’t have a payment, then don’t. You don’t have to go throw your car away! But that car has a certain shelf life. And despite the fact that the car is expensive, the shelf life isn’t all that long. So the next time your car breaks down for good, when it is no longer fixable or drivable, take a little time off from car ownership. You can always go buy a new one if you want, but while you’re not tied down with one, see what it’s like to not have one. I think you will be surprised at how easy it is, that the inconvenience is not major, and that you feel less restricted by the costs of ownership. It’s not a radical effort or some major change, just allow yourself a few weeks or months in between cars, and see what it’s like.
As I said, looking back over these seven years, I am much more reflective and thoughtful than I was when I decided to go car-free. I have become very interested in transportation and making sure that people have options. Cars aren’t bad by any means, but as cities become more congested, there have to be some better transportation solutions than just, “build more, bigger roads.”
I hope these points help someone to understand how they could go car-free. The main reason I wanted to write this particular post was to help others understand how easily they can go car-free or car-light. Further, I wanted to make sure people understood that the decision doesn’t always have to be thought out, it doesn’t have to be for some enlightened reasons, it sometimes can be as simple as just trying it out. While I am trying to provide a little insight for new car-free dieters, I’d like to thank a few groups for helping my understanding of the importance of cycling and transportation issues. First and foremost, I’d like to thank Bike Arlington and Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA) for the unbelievable work you have done to advocate for cycling concerns in the area. Without your tireless and I’m sure frustrating efforts, none of us would have the infrastructure to explore our passion. We always want things better, but in this area, we have things pretty good as cyclists, and it is a direct result of your efforts. Second, I’d like to thank the various DOT's in this area that have provided support for cyclists and pedestrians. Whether it be DC’s implementation of protected bike lanes, or Arlington’s support of the “Car-Free Diet” and bike boulevards (though not the optimal solution), the DOT’s and various transportation-centric programs have made this a great area for people like me to live without a car. Finally, I would like to thank TheWashCycle, the greatest blog on the internet. TheWashCycle has not only provided basically all relevant cycling news in the entire DMV, but more importantly has taught me so much about transportation concerns and issues. It has shaped my understanding of the fact that it is not driving, cycling, and walking, but rather is a transportation system, in which these things must work together. TheWashCycle is the impetus that has led me to read further, learn more, and inspired me to hopefully tackle transportation as a career down the line. To post the morning and afternoon commute each day, and sometimes some mid-day stories has to require immense effort, and for doing so I am grateful. Thanks for the inspiration and education.
If anyone out there has any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to help clarify anything in this post.
Good luck going car-free!

Friday, September 7, 2012

jones point park ride

Today I rode down to Jones Point Park for the first time. The park is absolutely beautiful and I love the new section of trail. They did a great job. My only complains is the approximately 300 bollards throughout the park. I've read enough about them, but this is the first time seeing them. People have said that the city claims they are for security, but the parking lot is literally directly below the bridge, so I just don't get that. Simple bike lane signs would work, especially because much of the path is lined, and I think a driver would notice that the yellow center line went directly down the middle of the car. A few of them are very closely spaced and will inevitably cause some problems and potential accidents.

Anyways, it was a great day to ride and the trail was remarkably empty. Its nice to be back on the bike. Here's some pics of the ride. For reference, the two bollard pictures are taken from one spot, just looking to my left and right. That's a lot of bollards!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

back to the bike in a bell's jersey

I went for a short ride yesterday with the wife. It was our first time out getting to rock our new Bell's Brewery jerseys. While wearing matching jerseys is a decent reason to be made fun of, I don't care. Bell's rocks, their beers are great, and this year's jersey is awesome (and loud). It was also nice to have a lazy ride. I said in my last post that I was looking to get back on the bike a little more, and it accomplished that. It's a little rainy this week, but I think I'll be commuting Thursday or Friday. I'm looking very forward to the weather cooling off a bit. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than a fall ride.

Anyways, stay tuned for a special post coming up next week, and safe riding.

Monday, August 27, 2012

lance tour de france, every other cheater in every other sport, oh and my riding

First of all, I haven't posted in a while and that is a regret. Truth be told, I haven't been on the bike a whole lot lately, and that is a much bigger regret. I've been a bit busy the last month with getting married (oh yea, I got married), the honeymoon, and all of that stuff. But now I'm back and looking forward to getting back on the bike.

In the meantime, Lance Armstrong quit fighting USADA, and was stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles. I've thought a bit about this and I'm still not sure how I feel about it all. Cheating is cheating, and always deplorable. But to be honest, I just don't care too much about him finally being "caught." I've always thought Armstrong kind of seemed like a dick. That being said, he is possibly the greatest tour rider of all time. He cheated in a sport that is basically defined by cheating, which in some ways, to me, makes it not cheating at all. I love the people going nuts about this on ESPN and elsewhere, and then immediately turn their attention to football. You want to talk about think 6'5", 265 pound guys are supposed to run 4.5 40's? Or baseball, where Roger Clements is back on the mound for no apparent reason other than trying to extend his Hall of Fame eligibility? See, cycling and USADA appear to have done something that the major sports in the U.S. don't want to do: actually catch people. The major sports want to act like they want to catch people, to publicly state that they are trying to catch people, and to occasionally catch people that they don't care too much about. But they don't want to lose their stars, and they don't want the game to become slower or less powerful. Similarly, the player's unions don't want real testing or strict testing, because they know what people are doing. Cycling and some of the world's anti-doping agencies seems to actually want to catch people, and guess what....they do. Basically everyone. And eventually Wiggins will probably become the next target, right after you try to convince me that Frank was doping without his brother Andy. So what does Lance being caught mean? Really nothing. If no one else on the podium can claim yellow, because they've been caught at some point, then I just don't see how you can go down the line. Lance seems like a dick, and is probably a dick. He seems like a cheater, and is probably a cheater. He seems like the greatest tour rider ever, and is still certainly in the argument. It's not really right or wrong, it's just the sport, and most sports at that.

I think what I take away from it is simply not to glorify sport too much. It is fun and entertaining, it's competitive, but that's about it. Right and wrong, good and bad, that's just too heavy for sports. Just enjoy the race for what it is, and know that the outcome will "officially" change in a few years.

Keep riding.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

three days of bike commuting

Two weeks ago, I began writing about my 3 days in a row of commuting by bike. Now, people who commute every day probably think nothing of this (nor should they), but this blog is about my growth in my attitude toward cycling. For me, it was a big deal, and a really great three days. I'm upset with myself that it has taken me so long to write about it, but I was out and about that whole weekend, and then last week was the holiday and I headed back to Cincinnati. Anyways, here are my thoughts...

Riding to work all three days was a bit exhausting. The heat was pretty unbelievable that week, though truth be told it doesn't bother me all that much. The rides in the morning are just great with the warm mornings. I do wish they'd fix the road next to Iwo Jima that leads down to the Route 110 trail. But the ride in the morning is great this time of year. I will say that rolling up next to the Arlington Cemetery each morning is a special way to start the day. It just gives you a little reminder of where you are and what a great place we live. Not to get too far in, because it's not like it affects your entire day or that you have to be overwhelmingly reflective, but it is a good feeling to take a second or two to think about what exactly that place means. Anyways, the morning rides were great.

The afternoon rides actually were pretty easy too. The heat was a bit to contend with, but sometimes that just slows you down a bit and lets you enjoy the ride. Because of riding every day, and because I was trying to lift a little when I got home, the afternoon rides were pretty slow and relaxed. All in all, it was good.

The nice thing about commuting more consistently is how much easier the preparation gets. I know exactly what I need in my toiletry kit, what clothes I want to take, where things go, etc. The set up time goes down quite a bit. So too does the time at the gym when I arrive to work, as I have my routine down.

The three days were tiring and certainly I was a bit worn down by the third day, but it was a great experience. Hopefully I will continue to ride more often. Enjoy your commute.

Monday, June 25, 2012

commuting consistency

Recently, I have been trying to ride to work a little more. Lately I have been much better about trying to ride once a week. Part of the reason I don't ride more is that my knees aren't the best. Compounding this problem is the fact that I still like to run sometimes. I also have been trying to lift regularly for about the first time in my life, just to have a different way to get some exercise. As a result, riding every day is tough. Sometimes it kills my knees enough that I don't want to run or lift. So with biking, as with anything else, I've tried to practice some balance. I don't want it to be my only form of exercise.

That being said, biking is the most fun I have. Especially my early morning ride, when DC is completely quite and barely lit. I really can't tell you how much I love riding at that time of day. This week, I have Friday off. Thursday, I am going to a concert straight from work, and it'll be a late night. Therefore, for my purposes, the only possible riding days are Monday-Wednesday. My goal is to ride all 3 days. I hope it works. Getting more consistent with riding to work is something I've wanted to do for a while, and I look forward to the challenge. The planning, time, and effort riding takes is part of the rolling resistance that this blog is named after. Overcoming rolling resistance is difficult at first, but once you start going becomes easier. The more we use the bike to commute or run errands, the easier it becomes. Getting into a routine of packing, checking the bike, riding, and getting showered and into work makes the routine become easier.

I wish everyone safe commuting and hope to report back in a few days about my 3 days of commuting.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

cold weather commute, how i miss you

Today's commute was a hot one. This morning when I left, at 5:30, it was already 73 degrees. It reminded me of a huge misconception about cycling, and especially bicycle commuting. A lot of people think that to ride a lot, and to consistently commute by bike, that you need to live somewhere warm. Now, while snow can have a big affect on limiting your ability to ride to work, the warm/cold argument can really be the opposite of what you'd think.

It doesn't snow very much here, and in most of the country, it doesn't snow that much, that often. Cold weather can actually make commuting much easier and more enjoyable. With proper riding gear, the cold weather really doesn't bother you at all. I don't have extreme cold riding gear, but I have the right clothes to ride down to about 35 degrees or so. With proper clothes, the cold barely bothers me at all (especially once you get about a mile in, and your body heats up your clothes a bit). The benefit of the cold is the fact that it significantly reduces your sweating and how hot you get. I shower when I get to work, but on days like today, you sometime want to break back into that workout sweat immediately after showering. During the winter, the shower is refreshing and the outdoor temperature feels good to bring by body temp back down from the ride. I never get the "re-sweats" during the winter. Also, for those without showers at work, the winter increases the riding distance that an employee can endure without needing to shower. For flat urban riding, the winter can make it the one time of year that riding to work without a shower is possible, or that riding in a suit (like on city bikes) doesn't make the rider get too hot.

It isn't simply by chance that the two iconic two-wheeled companies are both located in the cold weather state of Wisconsin (Trek and Harley Davidson). So don't be afraid of the cold and have some good winter riding.