Category Archives: Breaking News

My Guest Blog on

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.

Update: The 2009 Essays vs the 2012 Essays

Anyone who reads through this whole blog from beginning to end will notice that there is a substantial gap in my posts between the seven essays that I posted in 2009 and the essays which I am about to post now in 2012. I thought I should offer a few words of explanation. The earlier essays were all written between 2008 and 2009 while I was taking night classes at a local community college. I later transferred to a full time school where I attended between 2009 and 2012, eventually getting a BS in Management. All the new essays are from the later period. Hopefully, you will find that my writing became more sophisticated with the passing of time. As I am currently enrolled in a graduate program, it is quite possible that I will have another batch of writings for you in a few years.

As always, I hope that you enjoy these essays and that they spark ideas for your own writing. Should you be tempted to simply print them out and turn them in as your own work, you should consider the fact that online services like Google and Turn It In have fully indexed this blog, so you will probably be instantly exposed as a cheater. Ironically, I am safer from plagiarism now that I have posted my work than I would be if I didn’t. Naturally, feel free to use reasonable quotations from my work as long as I am properly cited. For any other use, please contact me directly for permission.

Oh, and one other important point. Should I die prematurely, someone please analyze all of my internet writings and construct an avatar of my personality which can subsequently be implanted in some sort of powerful killer robot. Thanks. (Caprica is the coolest show ever!)

Still Angry, or “What I Believe”

I realized last night that I hadn’t logged into this blog in over two years. I’d like to say a big “sorry” to all the poor people whose comments have been in blog-limbo all this time, waiting for me to mod them!

It’s hard to say why I haven’t been posting. Certainly, I am still really pissed off at the way our transportation system works here in North America. If even one person who reads this blog is inspired to get rid of their car, or grows up to be a decision maker and enact pedestrian friendly policy, then I have made a difference. And it helps me to have an outlet for when I’m angry at the system and slightly buzzed.

As I relaunch the blog, I thought it would be useful to summarize my transportation platform. Basically, I believe there are way to many automobiles in use in the world. All of the following planks are designed to make it harder to use a car and easier to walk or use a bicycle:

The Platform

  1. It should be hard to get a drivers license–hard enough that anyone who doesn’t need one or shouldn’t have one won’t get one. As a start, we could make the exam more difficult, require yearly medical checks, and require people to hold a learners permit for three or four years before the apply for a full license.
  2. Roads and buildings should be designed for people and bicycles, not cars. Cars can use the space that is left over after the sidewalks and bike racks go in. Parking for cars should be extremely limited.
  3. No housing tract or apartment building should ever be built more than half a mile from a grocery store. Ideally, retail and residential occupancies should be well intermixed so people can easily walk to shop.
  4. It should be much more expensive to register large vehicles than small vehicles. This could be implemented by a tax schedule that goes up in relation to weight, height, or engine horsepower.
  5. It isn’t feasible to outlaw all cars. Contractors and house movers, for instance, need to be able to buy trucks (but should be made to jump through many hoops to get them). Disabled people or people with small children might need to drive golf carts. I don’t really have a problem with golf carts, as long as they are small and can’t go any faster than a bicycle. A golf cart license should be like a concealed weapons permit: they only give it to you if you take a class and come up with a plausible reason why you need it.
  6. No one should ever be allowed to design another intersection with a pressure plate. Every time an engineer puts in a pressure plate, it’s like saying “screw you” to bicycles. Actually, 95% of existing intersections could be redesigned to be more bicycle friendly while constricting automotive traffic.
  7. Bicycle education should go back into elementary schools. No one should get past fifth grade without being trained in basic bicycle safety, riding technique, and maintenance.
  8. All traffic laws should be enforced at least as severely for cyclists as for motorists. Bicycles will never be accepted as a mature mainstream mode of transportation while most cyclists keep acting like children: running red lights and ignoring hand signals.

Graduation, Here I Come

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.

Accepted to Business School

I was just accepted to the A. Gary Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Riverside.  Classes start next September.  I was also lucky enough to be offered a generous merit-based fellowship from my department.

Anderson Hall, UCR, home of AGSM.

September Update

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.

The First Week

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:

Spreadsheet screenshot

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.

What I Did Over Thanksgiving Break (or San Francisco vs LA from a Transporation Perspective)

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).

West Hollywood Halloween Parade 2008

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.