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Thread: Stopped driving? Don't own a car?

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    Default Stopped driving? Don't own a car?

    I'm hoping I can enlist your help today for a story I'm working on today.
    It's a piece about how America's fabled "love affair with the car" is on the wane. No, it's not over, but there are lots of evidence that megabytes have displaced horsepower in the affection of many people. (One of the most interesting interviews I've had so far on that point was with the 85-year-old "godfather" of the fabled Pontiac GTO, who said exactly that.)
    The evidence includes, but certainly isn't limited to, the popularity of bikes. Some of the other things in play in the decline of the 20th century car cult-culture include a migration back to more downtown areas, student loan burdens that make car ownership too expensive, other options like ZipCar that allow people to drive when then need/have to, etc.
    So, I've talked with the GTO guy and some good academic experts on car/social issues. Now I need some folks who either don't own cars or don't use the cars they own very much to flesh the story out. Rather than the just grabbling people on the street until I find some who fit that bill, I'm hoping any of you who do fit that description might be willing to talk about the evoultion of your thinking. If I can give you a call and take five minutes of your time today, please shoot me an email with your number.
    Thanks!
    Ashley Halsey
    Transportation Writer
    The Washington Post
    halseya@washpost.com

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    Greenbelt's Avatar
    Greenbelt is offline I really need to log off the internet and go for a ride.
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    Developers plan bike-only development (in South Carolina!): http://www.wltx.com/news/story.aspx?...=87883&catid=2

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    My name is Mike Essig. My wife and I live out in Fairfax County and I used to commute into the district every day. We are a family of 5 with 3 young kids (aged 6,5,3). 14 months ago I gave up my car to bike commute. At first I would bike to the VRE train station, ride the train downtown and use Capital Bikeshare to get near my office. I did this for a year, and then swapped over to taking my bike on the Metrobus. I ride the bus to the Pentagon and bike in to my office. About once or twice a week I ride my bike the entire way in. Our two cars are a Honda Pilot and a Honda Civic Hybrid. I used to commute with the hybrid, but last year it sat so long in the parking lot of my townhome development that it had cobwebs on it (literally). With the rising gas prices my wife and I have shuffled around our many car seats and she now totes the kids around in the 40mpg civic instead of the 19mpg Pilot. With the nice weather, my wife has been pulling the kids around on her bike with a bike seat and double charriot bike trailer. We went from buying gas twice 3 times a month for the civic and twice a month for the Pilot (~$270/month) to buying gas once a month for each car (~$110). We really thought about giving up the car altogether last fall when the taxes and registrations were due, but we figured it was worth the $250 to have a car available in an emergency. Since then we have saved that much by leaving the SUV in the driveway.

    Not sure if this was exactly what you were looking for but it is my story.

    Mike Essig
    essigmw@gmail.com
    202-781-3171 (before 4pm)
    571-244-8250 (after 5pm)

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    My switch to mostly bicycling was driven by a few events. My old car broke down, literally the day before I started a new job and my new job was very easily Metro and bike accessible. I did the Metro thing for a few months and then figured if I made 100 trips by bike that it would pay for itself. Equally important, I wanted to get into shape, but without giving up extra time to go to the gym. My commute from north Old Town to McPherson Square area takes about 30 minutes and when you toss in the shower and getting dressed, probably 40 minutes overall. My commute via Metro took about 25-35 minutes depending on traffic (if I took the express bus) or train delays (which seemed like every day via rail). So I really don't lose much time, I get a good workout, and my ride takes me past National Airport, along and across the Potomac, past the Jefferson Memorial, past the Washington Monument, briefly along the Mall with a view of the Capitol and then past the White House. While I grew up in the area having seen and visited all these places numerous times, I do find it refreshing that I can ride along mostly bike trails (Mount Vernon Trail, Tidal Basin/Ohio Drive sidewalks/15th St Cycletrack) almost the entire way and it's scenic. I figure I get my 1 hour of good exercise a day, save about $7, enjoy the outdoors and sometimes even beat Metro and traffic home then what's to complain about?

    I didn't totally give up car ownership. While I no longer own a car (and I do somewhat nostagically miss my old piece of crap car), my girlfriend does have a car that I can use as well. Recently she even switched to biking to the Metro and then Metroing in. Her reason was similar to Mike's above--gas and parking lot prices went up. Instead of filling up 3-4 x a month, we do with 2 tops.

    It took me getting into bike commuting to realize just how interconnected the DC area was with bike trails. I had done the CCT when it first opened when I was younger and some of Rock Creek Park, but I had barely explored MVT until living in the area, or W&OD, or 4 Mile Run, Metro Branch Trail, etc, etc. And I think the cycletracks really help a lot in downtown because they help people who were on the fence before like me to bike in (I don't mind roads at all now). Some of my friends who drive or Metro joke around, but I remind them I'm making their train car less crowded and their traffic one car less getting home. I only wish I had figured this all out years ago.

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    A lot of my car trips were very short ones - one to three miles, which can be hard on a car. I now use my bike for almost all of those errands. It's also easier to park a bike.

    I recently heard someone (it might have been the CEO of Volkswagon US, talking about how cars and bikes complement each other) say that you don't need to propel 3,000 pounds of metal to go one mile to buy a half gallon of milk. That hit home with me. I ride my bike to work and have a rack and panniers, so carrying things is pretty easy. A backpack also works.

    As far as riding to work goes, I enjoy the scenery and exercise. It takes the roughly the same amount of time I spent going by bus and metro, but is much more predictable. I started biking to work after I discovered that I could ride on trails nearly all of the 8 miles between my home and office.
    Last edited by Arlingtonrider; 04-19-2012 at 11:04 AM.

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    Many people are tempted by the draw of riding to work instead of driving, but they get sidetracked by little excuses that crop up in the morning. One of the best tips that I can give to anyone who is thinking of trying commuting by bike is to get everything ready the night before. Make it so that you can wake up, put your clothes on, drink your coffee and roll out the door. If your cycling bag is all packed up, it will actually be MORE work to drive than to ride... which is a GREAT excuse not to drive.

    That helps you get into the swing of commuting. Even after 33+ years of commuting to work by bike, I still do that almost every day. The hardest decision I make before leaving the house each morning is where to put my coffee mug... in the sink or on the counter.

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    Greenbelt's Avatar
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    For those of us living farther out in the suburbs, the biggest impediment to more bike commuting is simply getting the word out the there are beautiful trails and pleasant side streets that can get you from home to work (sometimes a bit indirectly). We see wildlife of some sort (eagles, herons, osprey, geese/ducks, deer, beaver, groundhogs, turtles etc.) every day.

    For doing errands in the suburbs themselves, the problem is the ultra-wide arterial roads, which are difficult (and sometimes flat out unsafe) to cross or navigate, and are alternatively high-speed and congested, often with traffic making crazy lane changes to get from strip to strip.

    So you just have to do some research and find alternate routes. We can get most of everything we need in smaller shops off the main roads. That's partly why some of the long-forgotten mini-shopping centers in our area are having a renaissance (REI/MOMS in North College Park, Roosevelt Center in Greenbelt). You can get there easily and pleasantly by bike, foot, or car.

    At this point, I can't imagine piling into a car and going to a huge mall or big box place with those ridiculous hot (or freezing cold) oversized parking lots. I'll save the gas and buy locally, thanks!
    Last edited by Greenbelt; 04-19-2012 at 12:13 PM.

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    The ability to find suggested bike route directions easily using google maps (by clicking on the bike icon) has also made it easier to use bikes to get around. In addition, Arlington and DC offer very helpful bike maps.

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    I forgot to mention, my family and I take what we call a "Car-free Vacation" each year around labor day. My wife and I pull two trailers and a bike seat on our two bikes to tow our 3 kids, blankets, pillows, food, clothes, and toys from our house in Fairfax, down to the C&O canal in Georgetown, and then out the canal to lockhouse 6. We spend the night there, spend a day biking around the city, and then bike back to Fairfax the following day. We have done it 2 years in a row and have scheduled the lockhouse again this year for our third annual trip.

    Mike Essig

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arlingtonrider View Post
    The ability to find suggested bike route directions easily using google maps (by clicking on the bike icon) has also made it easier to use bikes to get around. In addition, Arlington and DC offer very helpful bike maps.
    I'm really impressed with the bike maps available from most of the local municipalities. Arlington definitely leads the way. DC, Fairfax, Alexandria and many of the Maryland Suburbs are great too.

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