Blog Action Day, part 2 of 2: On alternative transportation where we live

This is the second installment in my contribution to Blog Action Day postings on
the topic of the environment. The first installment involved a few of
the decisions about how the books get published at Nomad Press, a
micro-publishing house that operates out of my basement (commute: 0

Breakdown Sunday


Yesterday’s events show some of the difficulties of reducing a
personal environmental footprint where we live. On Sundays when the weather is good or even not-too-bad, we bike to the grocery store. We love our bikes and the ride along the bike trail. However, it was raining and cold and I’ve been diligently working not to come down with a fall bug after a bunch of travel, so
we took the car. Our dogs rode
along because they like to go places.

When we finished shopping, the car wouldn’t start. That wasn’t a
major problem: we called AAA, which said they’d get a service truck to
us within 60 minutes. They’d either start it or tow it. I had a feeling
we’d need a tow. Although the car’s rolled along for more than 176,000 miles, the
battery is pretty new and when I turned the ignition key it didn’t
feel like a battery problem.

Home, at this point, was approximately 2.5 miles away.

The dispatcher said the dogs couldn’t ride in the cab of the tow truck, but that they could stay
in the car while it was towed. One dog is thirteen years old. The
other is on her third home (that we know about) and has some anxiety problems. They’d probably both be fine in the towed car, especially since 4WD requires flatbed towing, but if we could get them home a different way it would be kinder. Our
groceries also included a bunch of frozen vegetables, slowly thawing.

If one of us could get home and retrieve the other car, we could get ourselves, the dogs, and the groceries where they needed to be, assuming the primary car would be headed for the garage and wouldn’t be available again for at least a day. (Of course, we thought first of calling dog-friendly buddies for a lift. One set: out of town.
Another set: out of state. Yet another: serious family problems right now and they don’t need extra stress. Next choice: lives too far away.) We don’t run the second car often—although it has fewer miles than the primary car, it’s not quite as solid any more; we don’t take it more than a few miles from home, so it clocks maybe 25 miles in a big week—but it’s incredibly useful to have. It makes sure we both get enough uninterrupted work done to pay the bills.

We began to come up with alternatives for getting home:

  • I used to stow rollerblades and knee- and elbow-pads in the cars
    we drove before this one because they broke down a lot. We’ve had this car for eleven years and it hasn’t faced us with many emergencies. The rollerblades were at home in the closet. Bummer.
  • While this city of 125,000 has an extensive bus system, the schedules and routes have some serious drawbacks. One is that no buses run on Sundays. (Evenings are also not well served; on days with service, all routes stop by 7:26 p.m. and only the number 1 bus runs that late.)
  • We called the city’s one taxi service. Estimated wait for a ride on Sunday afternoon at about 2 p.m. was 60 to 90 minutes.

It was still raining.

More alternatives:

  • A bike shop was
    just under a block away. I thought maybe they’d rent us a used bike for
    a couple of hours. We’ve both wanted to try out a recumbent bike
    anyway. I walked over. Closed Sundays.
  • A block in the other direction is the car rental place that gives
    shop rates for people having repairs done at our regular garage. I
    walked over. Closed Sundays.

By then the rain had turned from drizzle to mist and I decided to
walk home while my daughter stayed with the car. It took me 26 minutes, which is pretty fast for foot travel.

One reason I could
make such good time was the bike path, which also made it a pleasant walk.

Aside: Here’s a fun site that evaluates walkability of neighborhoods. However, its scores should be adjusted with some reality checks. Our location produced a decent score of 71, partly calculated on the proximity of services it says are .3 mile away . . . with the intervening railroad tracks, you really have to walk or bike about 1.5 not-too-pleasant miles to get to these spots. It tagged a religious school as being close (although it turns out this is a mailing address and the physical location is elsewhere) and completely missed the public schools. And while it included the Starbucks that’s a pain to get to—across the nasty intersection of two major routes—it didn’t include our wonderful neighborhood coffee shop. The library’s calculated just right, though. We frequently walk or bike to the library. The Walkscores are a terrific idea and I’d sure like to see more done with them!

It then took me about 20 minutes
to drive back to the grocery with the backup car (a year older and not
quite as reliable, but only 172,000 miles on it). Time/distance measurement by car: 2.7 miles; 9 minutes (with no delay for a freight train).

I arrived just as the tow truck was pulling away with the primary
car. I picked up daughter, dogs, and groceries, and we went to the
garage to put a key through the night drop slot with instructions for
the garage crew on Monday morning.

Here’s the efficient and friendly truck driver and the fine tow truck leaving the car at the place that will fix it for us:


So that’s what I did instead of finishing the blog post I intended to publish yesterday, which will be appearing soon. Maybe tomorrow. No commitments. It is almost ready.

I should note that I would be happy if my car never wore out. Although it’s an SUV, it gets 27 miles/gallon (its secrets: a standard transmission, routine maintenance, and a light foot on both accelerator and brake). It provides convenient and dry transport for dogs (and dog crates), looms and/or spinning wheels, lumber, and, of course, between sixteen and twenty cartons of books at a time (plus the hand truck), depending on how I load them. It will be hard to replace, especially for the current monthly payments ($0). Over the past few years, I have started to baby it by renting new sedans for road trips. They get the same mileage and aren’t as pleasant to drive or versatile to use.

I would like to try out a hybrid RAV4, if there were such a thing, to see if it would handle my cargo needs. There isn’t one yet.

And, of course, I walk and ride my bike as much as possible.

Interesting maps and data

While I was in Seattle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer printed the third of five parts of a curriculum called "Envisioning Ecotopia," developed for the Newspapers in Education Program by the P-I Public Affairs Department (Tuesday, October 9, 2007, page E5).

It included a map prepared by the Sightline Institute comparing states’ emission rates of global-warming gases to those of whole countries outside the U.S. The map shows that Washington state emits as many global-warming gases as Iraq, and Colorado emits as many as Cuba and Colombia combined. Here’s the map, and you can visit Sightline for additional information on how the statistics behind the map were developed:


Here’s the Canadian equivalent:


There’s more fun data about U.S. energy use here. Even though the information isn’t cheerful, I think it’s fun because it helps me understand. And once I understand, I can begin to take tiny steps in a new direction.

What I’d really like right now is a way to recycle more solid waste right here at home. We can (and do) recycle cardboard, pasteboard, newspaper, cans, and narrow-necked bottles. Those are all picked up curbside. If we drive to the recycling center, we can also recycle office paper. We have two big trash cans in which we collect office paper (no labels, no windows, used both sides) so we don’t have to drive there too often. We cannot currently recycle yard waste (we don’t have room to compost rose canes), other plastics (like yogurt containers), or expanded polystyrene foam (except by bundling it up and shipping it from Colorado to Maryland, a mere 1,714 miles). I’ve got a pile of that foam here that I can’t bring myself to send to the landfill. It’s clean. It’s re-usable. It’s not good for packing books. It’s in the way.

And now I need to get back to work. We all know it isn’t easy being green . . . but it’s an interesting challenge, and one supremely worthy of our continued creative effort.


New starter required. Also burned out solenoid = reason for toasted starter. Some fried wiring. Oops. The whole darn wire harness is melted. As the guy from the garage just said, "You’d think things could be easy sometimes, but they’re not." I’m currently grateful for AAA and that this happened near home and our regular service crew.

Good thing today (and I hope tomorrow) involves bike-friendly weather and responsibilities.


4 thoughts on “Blog Action Day, part 2 of 2: On alternative transportation where we live”

  1. I recognize you garage location. That is our regular garage for my car. DH’s is complicated being a foreign diesel so he now takes his elsewhere.

    I have to say I’ve been very disappointed in our mass transit here. I was expecting better when I moved here in 1999 and I think it has gotten worse since then.

  2. I checked out my address on that Walk Score site.

    Score = 5 out of 100. Of course, I’m in a suburb of Atlanta where very little allowance is made for walking. I do walk some anyway, or ride my bike sometimes. Bike riding is a little fraught, though, since it’s hilly and I’m getting older and wobbly-er, and there are neither bike lanes nor sidewalks on most of the routes I need to go. Alas.

Comments are closed.