Category Archives: Breaking News
I was recently asked to write a guest blog for the Center for a New American Dream on a “Car Free/Car Light topic”. The Center is a non profit organization whose mission is “help Americans to reduce and shift their consumption to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and promote social justice.” You can read my essay here.
It is with considerable relief that I announce that I have now completed all requirements for my BS in Management at WGU. I sent off the graduation application yesterday, so I should receive my diploma in about a month.
Three years of full-time, on-line school. A steady procession of papers to write when I already had other writing projects and deliverables for work. I almost don’t know what to do with myself now that it is over. I think I will use the time between now and grad school at UCR to do some writing, remember how to do calculus, and relax a little.
Let me be clear, however, that I would strongly recommend WGU’s program to others. A traditional program simply was no an option for me, and they are the most affordable and sensible of the accredited on-line schools. Anyone who works full-time and needs to finish a degree could do much worse than to enroll at WGU.
Its been more than six months and I still do not own an automobile.
The other thing that has not changed, is that I am still horrible at posting regularly to this blog. The problem is not a lack of material. Believe me, I have not problem coming up with a rant about transportation. The problem is that they usually occur to me when I am in the middle of traffic on Sunset Boulevard at 5:30 on a Friday night–not the best writing conditions. By the time I get home, I am so tired and glad to be alive that I forget to blog.
Luckily, all of this should change soon. I just went back to school. Given that I will be in front of my laptop for over 20 hours a week, doing anything to avoid typing my assigned essays, I can confidently say that more blog posts will be forthcoming.
It has now been exactly one week since my Mazda Miata blew its head gasket–one week of being car free.
Ecology Auto Parts towed my Miata away on Thursday and all I felt was an all-consuming sense of relief. Cars are like a heavy weight on your soul. Get rid of yours and see how great your feel!
They gave me $100 cash and now I am going to save about $150/month in insurance and maintenance. At the end of the year, I save $100 in carbon offsets. I need to pay for public transportation for long trips, but I was doing that anyway. I no longer need to wash, fix, or park a car. My driveway looks huge. I was a little curious to find out how much the car actually cost me over the eleven months I owned it. A little time-value analysis on my trusty spreadsheet program yielded a fairly shocking result:
My $1500 compact car cost me nearly $400 per month, not counting gas! Of course if it had survived for a few more months I could have amortized the expenses over a longer period. Even so, the cost was really too high for what I was getting out of it. Also, I should point out that I did all of my own mechanical, paint, and body work. About the only thing I paid someone else to do was change the oil. If I had had to pay labor on all of my maintenance it would have cost much more.
Of course, the first week has not been without its hiccups. I forgot to look up the bus transfers the night before to get to a doctor’s appointment. I ended up borrowing a car for a couple hours so I could get there on time. Friday, I had run to downtown LA on business in the afternoon and there was no point in going back to the office, so I have been stuck with a pickup all weekend. Still, these things are minor and it is only the first week.
Things are going great for me since I lost the car. Please, think of following my example. Living auto-light is a start, but you really do not receive most of the benefits until you are totally auto-free.
One organization in my part of the world that helps people transition to an auto-free lifestyle is Auto-Free Orange County. Check them out.
Finals, the holidays, bicycle repairs, and my day job have intervened but I’m finally back at the keyboard after all these weeks.
Over Thanksgiving my girlfriend and I got to spend several days in the Bay Area. Naturally (given my special interests) we spent a lot of time checking out the local transportation systems. My notes follow. The main conclusion I reached is simple however: It’s not just me. Los Angeles really sucks compared to San Franscisco.
Wednesday: The Trip Up
Just making the trip posed some difficulties. We rejected plane travel almost immediately. I read Ed Begley’s book Living Like Ed a couple months ago and he makes some damning points. Not only do jets get horrible millage per person, but they release all sorts of nasty pollutants into the upper atmosphere. I didn’t want that on my conscience.
A train ride would have been ideal, but when I entered our times on the Amtrak site I was horrified. The only trip I could find in our time window involved multiple bus transfers and would have taken at least 10 hours. What is WRONG with Amtrak these days? Maybe things will get better some day if we manage to build the high speed rail. I know I’ll ride it.
In the end we settled on driving my girlfriend’s VW. Even after wrestling with the moral objections to driving an automobile almost 900 miles, we ran into trouble on I-5 (hardly unusual on our ridiculously ill-designed interstate freeway system). A truck ahead of us tore down power lines and shut down all four lanes. It took us three hours to detour around it on a series of muddy farm roads. Several other cars tried to pull off onto the shoulder and got stuck. For all I know, they’re still there.
We finally approached the city just in time to be stuck in rush hour traffic. We did finally reach our destination-a few blocks from the BART station in San Leandro. We badly need good rail service between LA and SF. I don’t want to have to do this every year.
Thursday: Thanksgiving Day in San Leandro
While dinner was cooking I got to spend some time walking around the town of San Leandro (we had to do some last minute grocery shopping). Small houses, close to rail transit, plenty of stores and restaurants within easy walking distance…its my kind of place. Of course, the clerk at Von’s was completely flabbergasted when we asked to put our purchases in a day pack instead of a plastic bag, but you get that everywhere.
My girlfriend’s family lives right next to the Zap electric vehicle dealership. No one hates cars more than I. If you’re going to have them, though, they might as well be small, electric, and chartreuse. I was a little puzzled by the presence of a Hummer in the used car part f the lot. A trade-in, one hopes?
Friday: Marin County
Marin County is one of the few places in California where life actually makes sense. By this I mean that there are more trees than buildings, more bike trails than roads, and when you go to a coffee house you’re encouraged to bring your own cup. We spent most of Friday getting a complete tour from some friends of ours who moved up there earlier this year. Leave it to me to be in Mill Valley without a mountain bike.
The only drawback I can see to the town is the lack of a rail connection. Then again…you can ride your bike right to the fairy and head to the city, so I suppose it really isn’t a problem.
If you every make it to Mill Valley I would unreservedly recommend Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos, which makes some of the best Indian fast food I’ve had in years (and I live in LA so I know).
Last night my friends and I went to the West Hollywood Halloween parade. Oddly, the event is not a parade—more of a huge costume party in the middle of Santa Monica boulevard with many thousands of participants, food, cover bands, and dance music. What a blast!
One overwhelming observation gripped me: I like Santa Monica Boulevard eminently better without cars. With the roadblocks up we were able to walk right up to shops that we can barely get to by car (because of the impossible parking situation). More than that, its just a much friendlier place when it isn’t blighted by the automobile.
The obvious question is, “why don’t we just close it off for good?” Santa Monica did it with the 3rd street promenade and created a shopping and entertainment mecca for the whole west side. Why not West Hollywood? Why not every town in the country?
I noticed another phenomenon. As soon as the barriers were up pedestrians started reclaiming not just the Boulevard, but all of its cross streets as well. Only a few of these streets had officially been closed, yet people suddenly felt like they could begin walking in the middle of the street again. The lesson is, once you get cars off your main arterial streets, you can take back your town.
Lets do it. Keep pressuring your city governments to put up bollards and close main thoroughfares. We need more downtown walking malls. Get the cars out of our cities—for an event or forever—and everyone will be the better for it.