Category Archives: Not so green

The End of Smugness

Friends, I have a confession to make. For about 2 months, I had in my possession an automobile.

Here, let me return your jaw to you from it’s place on the floor.

I did not own this car, it was on loan to me from some friends who were traveling overseas. Spouse and I had a few car-intensive errands to run while we did some renovations to our house, so it seemed like a good idea to have the car around. Plus, our friends needed to park their car somewhere, and in Providence, you just can’t leave your car on the street overnight. In the two months we had it, we drove about 1,000 miles. There were home improvement errands, day trips, a trip to the beach, and one overnight trip to upstate New York that made up the plurality of the miles.

About a week before my friends were due to return and reclaim their car, I decided to make a stock-up run to Trader Joe’s – about 10 miles from home. Because I am a car-free smugmonger, I left the car in the driveway and took my bike. Some other friends had recently offered me the use of their bike trailer and I wanted an excuse to try it out. So I hooked up the trailer to my city bike and headed out.

Riding with the trailer was a little easier than I expected. At times, I felt like I was flying down the Washington Secondary Bike Path. I stopped for a while to help out somebody with a flat tire. He wasn’t quite sure how to use the patch kit, something I didn’t really know how to do until about 2 years ago, so I was happy to lend some assistance. Besides, is there anything that can make you feel more smug than being the Good Samaritan?

I left my SPD's at home and went for a retro-grouch look with the Keens. Also, I was a little afraid of losing control and needing to put my foot down in an emergency. This did not happen.

To get to the Target, I have to ride on a wide, fast suburban road for about a mile. It’s never fun, and I thought it would be worse when pulling the trailer. However, I didn’t realize that cars would give me more room and not hassle me when I’m pulling a trailer – probably because they think there’s a kid back there. When I pulled into the Target lot, I saw this:

A $20 bill stuck in a bush! What great luck! I figured it was a little Karmic reward for my Good Samaritanism (to mix religious metaphors). This resulted in a general feeling of increased smugness. Next, however…

The bike rack was blocked by a big construction fence! I was slightly angry, but I was riding on such a wave of smugness that I didn’t really mind so much.

I bought a basketball at the Target, thus using up my $20 bill.

Next stop was Target, which still lacks for a bike rack, as does the EMS next door which actually sells bikes. I felt smug as I locked up to whatever this thing is:

A little more navigation of the big 4-Lane road, and I was back on the bike path. I was definitely moving slower than when the trailer was empty, but it was still easy to pull. Around the Point Street bridge, I passed the stragglers of the Rhode Island 70.3 Triathlon. Evidently a portion of the running course went up Olney Street this year. That’s just mean.

After recovering at home for a bit, I decided to test out my basketball. I pumped it up a little, then took a few shots. The first was a brick, not surprisingly since I hadn’t taken a shot in at least a decade. Soon, however I was landing a few bank shots and even a swish or two. Unfortunately, my basketball net has seen better days. Being stuck outside for years, it’s shrunk at the bottom so the ball will not go through. So, every time I made a shot, I had to jump up and punch out the ball. After making a few close ones, I backed up for a 15 footer. I missed, and the ball headed towards my friends’ car. It bounced once on the pavement and then landed on the windshield – and cracked it.

That’s one way to get rid of a day’s worth of accumulated smugness!

Speaking of accumulated smugness, the dedicated reader(s) of this blog may have noticed that I have not included a check-in on the SmugCalc in a while. This was a spreadsheet I started at the one-year anniversary of being car-free. I used this spreadsheet to track all of the miles I traveled using various forms of transportation (except for planes, that’s where I cheated). I was able to keep going with it for months, even tracking my miles after I broke my collarbone and could not ride my bike for a while (I was racking up transit smugness points instead). Finally, however, it just got boring tracking the miles on the bus. But now I’m back. Starting today, the SmugCalc is in full force. It’s not quite my Carfreeniversary, but August 1 makes for a nice round starting date. I’m at 5.5 SmugMiles so far.

And also speaking of accumulated smugness, the ladies at Let’s Go Ride A Bike are holding their 2nd annual LGRAB Summer Games. I have to do 4 of the following 10 items and blog about them:

  • on vacation? rent a bike and go for a ride!
  • write a letter advocating for bicycling infrastructure (bike lanes, bike rack, etc) to your alderman/council representative, mayor, or a local business.
  • take a picture of something along your commute that says “summer” to you, and explain why
  • commute to work by bike or bike/transit if you don’t already
  • perform a maintenance task on your bike
  • explore a greenway or bike path in your city that you haven’t previously visited
  • test ride a different type of bike than you normally ride (road bike, mountain bike, etc.)
  • read a book about cycling
  • ride your bike somewhere new in your city
  • go on a group ride

These things have to be done between July 21 and August 8. I’m late to the game, but there’s still time for me to slay it! * So even though this post may be titled “The End of Smugness”, this is really just a renewal of smugness.

* by “slay it” I mean complete 4 tasks, blog about them, then get entered in a random drawing to win some prizes.


Gilded Age Meets the Gasoline Age

Visiting the Newport Mansions to vicariously experience the glories of the Gilded Age should be on every Rhode Islander’s to-do list. In fact, it’s still on mine, and I’ve been here for almost 4 years now. I’ll get around to it one of these days. But now there is an extra incentive for me to head down to Newport, as long as I do it by car, as I recently learned from a story on my local NPR station.

Evidently, visits to the mansions dropped off in March as gas prices started to rise, so the Preservation Society is offering a $5 rebate on your mansion-visiting ticket if you can show them a vehicle registration. From the WRNI story:

 The Preservation Society’s John Rodman says they are proud to give families a little break. “If the gas price is what’s hurting people then our idea is that we’ll give you some money toward that,” says Rodman.

Here’s the announcement on the Preservation Society’s website:

We could all do well by emulating William K Vanderbilt, Jr.

I can certainly understand how the Preservation Society would want to boost visits during a down period. But is a rebate to those who drive to the mansions, really the best way to do it? Why not just have a seasonal price reduction?* Do they really need to encourage more traffic in Newport when there are plenty of buses that will get you there?

[Uh oh, I feel a smug attack coming on. Prepare yourself for…]

The Inevitable Post About Gas Prices

Yes, it’s come to that. It’s all over the news, gas prices are once again flirting with the magic $4.00 per gallon mark where people start to gripe, politicians begin to grandstand and SUV owners sell off their vehicles for an enormous loss (we haven’t seen that last one yet, but it did start to happen in 2008.) Oh yeah, and transportation cyclists start to feel extra smug.

I feel so smug these days, that I feel comfortable taking pictures of idiotic bumper stickers on the cars in front of me. Like this one:

Not such a bad sentiment, really. Compared to cars, motorcycles are a far more efficient way to move one person around (not as efficient as a bicycle… but I let my smugness make me digress). So it’s not really an idiotic bumper sticker per se, but the placement was kind of surprising:

On the back of a mid-90’s Jeep Cherokee with a 4.0 liter, 6-cylinder engine (MPG: 14 city, 19 highway). I guess I should be happy that it’s not a V-8. I’ll admit that I took this picture from the passenger seat of a friend’s car (I guess that makes me a hypocrite). I’ll keep going with this holier-than-thou thing for just a little while longer…

I mentioned politicians grandstanding earlier. Some blame restrictions on domestic drilling, others blame commodity speculators. When you move away from the bloviating, it’s pretty easy to see that the gas prices are the result of supply and demand. Global demand for oil continues to rise, mostly as a result of rapid development in China and India. Global supply does not rise as quickly. Prices go up. What can we do about it in the short term? Reduce demand. Every time I ride my bike, I’m helping to reduce demand and thus I put downward pressure on gas prices for everyone else. That’s right, transportation cyclists help make gas cheaper for everyone else.

You’re welcome.

*I’ll be honest with myself and say that I’m sure the $5.00 rebate has almost nothing to do with gas prices. It was a publicity stunt – a way to tie a seasonal price reduction to something in the news. A way to get publicity on a slow news day. And it worked, good for them! Now I’m more likely to finally visit the mansions. I could even ask for the $5.00 rebate and present my bus ticket instead of a vehicle registration – it would be an excellent opportunity for me to be a pedantic bore to a customer service rep who had nothing to do with the decision to tie the rebate to vehicle ownership.

One more footnote: some Newporters are working to encourage cycling there and helping to save their neighbors some gas money. Check for info on Newport’s version of Bike to Work Day.

A regular destination not involving a bicycle

Every once in a while I have to remind myself that this is not just a blog about biking. It’s a blog about living without a car. I was inspired to start writing when I gave up my car after being completely involved in car culture for all of my life. After selling the car, I’ve become more and more interested in cycling as a mode of transportation and as a hobby. Just the act of thinking about what to write in my next post has forced me to think about cycling all of the time. It’s like the constant click of a freewheel spinning in my head and it could get expensive as I look at expanding my stable with a road bike and a winter bike in the next few months. (then what should I buy next, a folder?) Ach! There I go again, writing about bikes when I intended to write about something else.

There is one place that I’ve been visiting on a regular basis that I can’t really bike to: TF Green Airport. For those of you who don’t live in Providence, let me tell you – it’s the best airport to fly in and out of that I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of affordable flights, but it’s a small airport. So small, that the longest I’ve ever waited to go through security has been about 5 minutes, and most of the time it’s much quicker. TF Green is only 10 miles from my house – about a 15-20 minute drive at most. Although 10 miles is an easy ride for me, I feel like it’s too much of a theft risk to leave my bike outside for multiple days. Basically, I have 3 options for getting to the airport:

1. The bus. Despite my current conflict with RIPTA, I don’t hold a grudge against the entire system. In fact, the #14 bus from Kennedy Plaza direct to TF Green is one of the best routes I know of. When Spouse and I travel, we often leave in the early afternoon on a weekday. This allows me to walk (or take the bus) to work, work a half day, then walk 1 block to the bus stop and head to the airport. All for $1.75. If we’re leaving from home, we can take the #49 bus that picks us up across the street from our house and drops us at Kennedy Plaza, right next to the #14. That costs an extra 50 cents for the transfer. (Spouse rides for free because her employer has a special deal with RIPTA).

2. Taxi. Oftentimes, we get home pretty late at night or we’re tired from traveling and we’ll spring for a taxi to get home. This costs about $35.00. Taking the bus home is always an option, but then we have to either climb College Hill with our luggage (although we tend to pack light), or wait for the #49 bus to take us home from Kennedy Plaza. I think we usually spring for a cab due to fatigue. Plus, it’s always entertaining chatting with RI cabbies. I don’t think we’ve ever taken a taxi to get to the airport.

3. Zipcar. This option doesn’t work if we’re both traveling – what kind of idiot would rent a car for 3 days so it can sit in an airport parking lot? However, if Spouse is arriving late at night, I will often rent a zipcar for the minimum 1 hour in order to pick her up. This costs less than $10. At first, you may think that this means twice as much car travel as taking a cab. However, the cabs that pick up at the airport all go straight back to the airport, so the miles driven are pretty much equal whether we take a cab or a zipcar. Plus, the zipcar I pick is more efficient than the cabs (and I don’t drive in the “bat out of hell” style of most cab drivers).

This brings us to another topic I wanted to discuss: fossil fuel use. As the BP/Halliburton/Transocean oil spill debacle enters its 3rd month, it could be easy for me to feel smug about the whole thing. I am a conscientious cyclist who hardly uses any fossil fuels, right? I ride my bike in a protective layer of self-righteousness, immune to the daily fluctuations of prices at the pump. Those oil-soaked Pelicans, and out-of-work fishermen have nothing to do with me, right? Well, I spent this whole post talking about how I get to the airport. That’s because I’ll probably fly over 15,000 miles this year. Traveling by jet plane is hardly a carbon-neutral activity.  Let’s see, what else do I do that adds to the old footprint?  I eat food that is farmed from around the country (and Central America) and delivered by truck/train/boat. I’ve ordered various clothing and bicycle items online, which are delivered by UPS trucks (and probably got to the US by cargo ship from China). Even when I buy something at a local store it probably gets there by a truck of some kind.

My choice to ride a bike for day-to-day transportation is a mere drop out of the bucket of my total fossil fuel use. I’m still complicit in the whole thing. We all are.

And that brings me to another point. At the end of my fake commute in Kansas, I asked commuterDude to list the main reasons he commutes by bike.  Briefly summarizing, his reasons were: The physical and mental health benefits he gets from cycling; it’s cheaper than owning and driving a second car; it allows him to enjoy nature and the changing seasons during his commute.

Note that he did not list anything along the lines of saving fossil fuels, carbon footprint reduction, saving the planet, etc. I’m very glad that he didn’t, because really, what good does it do to save a few miles of driving every day when so much of our entire way of life is based on petroleum and other fossil fuels? I also like his explanation because it shows that you don’t have to be plagued by liberal guilt in order to get some benefits from bicycle commuting.

Hmmm. I don’t really have any pictures for this post. How about something off topic? I happened upon Providence Pride in my Saturday travels. It took up all of Water Street south of Westminster, or whatever that street changes its name to right there. Before readjusting my course, I found these classic cars parked just outside of the festival gates:

What’s that magnetic sign attached to the doors?

Lambda Car Club - Yankee Chapter: OUT on the road!

Those were some sweeeeet rides.