Friday, December 10, 2010

"Do You Understand. My Children Play in That Clear Zone?"

It's been a while since I've updated.  Temperatures have dropped into the arctic zone, which makes it tough to want to ride my bike or run part of the way to work everyday, especially when the heat in my single occupancy vehicle works so well.  I did leave the car at home today, however, opting for the metro from Jon's apartment to my office.

I've still got a "wrap up" post brewing in my head about my experience without a car and I think the weeks since I've gotten my car back have helped me to reflect.  In the meantime, PLEASE watch this hilarious video I picked up from (who else?) David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington.  It's a conversation between a traffic engineer and a concerned neighbor who lives on a quiet, safe street.  In the engineer's defense, he's just relying on his "traffic standards" but this hysterical video underscores the need to think outside of the four lane road and about traffic standards that actually reflect the changing ways people get around. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Intelligent Cities

The National Building Museum has a new project underway called "Intelligent Cities".  They're collaborating with TIME, IBM, and The Rockefeller Foundation to study the evolving way people make decisions on the kind of place they locate and how they choose their home.  They embark on this study in the context of the "intersection of information technology and urban design".

The surveys they conduct play a crucial role in completing this study.  Their first survey, which anyone can and is encouraged to take, has to do with choosing a place to live.  One of the options is "[I] can walk or bike to stuff I like to do."  Of course, this was one of the criterion that was important to me when I located in downtown Silver Spring.

When I completed the survey, I was shocked to see that this was the most chosen response among participants.

"[I] can walk or bike to stuff I like to do" got more votes than "near my job", "good school district", and "money" - traditional reasons on which people are thought to base this major decision.  Of course, I suspect the average age of poll participants skews younger, but I think the results are still pretty legit.  Not only was "[I] can walk or bike to stuff..." the top choice to the question in the past tense ("what were your reasons at the time you chose?"), it was also the top choice in the present tense ("if you were choosing now, what would your top two reasons be?").
"[I] can walk or bike to stuff..." was the only choice to get more votes in the present tense - every other criterion got less votes when the question shifted from the past to the present.  I interpret this to mean that while some people may not have prioritized walkable/bikeable proximity to their favorite destinations the first time around, they now see it as a more compelling priority to weigh the next time they make a move.  Or, they were surprised by the convenience of walk/bike-ability and will weigh it heavily in the future.  I believe the results of the third question support my theory.
Of the participants whose priorities did change, "[I] want to be able to walk / bike to restaurants and retail" was the top vote getter.  I believe the results of the survey indicate what we already know:  that people's preferences for where they live are changing and that those same people with changing preferences are getting out of their cars and using different methods to get to where they want to go.  And if they locate in close proximity to where their destinations are (read: if they can live, work, and play in the same place), it makes leaving the car behind much much easier.

If you'd like to take the survey or read more about the Intelligent Cities project, you can do so here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Do I Get (My 10 Friends and I) There From Here?: Adams Morgan

Imagine you're at your apartment in Silver Spring, you've had a few bevs, and you need to get your 10 friends to Adams Morgan to meet more friends for some Halloween celebration.  You're in a state of de facto carlessness (you've had a few bevs) and your friends are getting anxious.  That was the situation I found myself in on Saturday, around... well I won't disclose the time.

We could have taken the Metro there... I guess.  But my friends had probably already had their fill of Metro for the day, having piled on once already to get to the Rally to Restore Sanity.  The problem with taking the Metro to Adams Morgan from my apartment is that it just. takes. so. long.  It's a ten minute walk to the station, then it's about a half hour ride on the Red Line from Silver Spring to the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station, then it's another fifteen minute walk down Calvert Street to the bars.

Calling it "Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan" has always felt way too deceiving to me.  Sure, it's the "Adams Morgan" stop by virtue of the fact that there is not a closer station to that part of the city, but to get to what you're looking for you've got a .8 mile walk from when you get off the train across the bridge.  Dissimilarly, Foggy Bottom is not called "Foggy Bottom/GWU/Georgetown" even though there is no closer metro stop to Georgetown.  Consider these two maps:

The first map is from the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan metro on Connecticut Avenue near Woodley Road to TomTom, a favorite spot of ours since I lived with some friends in Kalorama during the summer of 2007, at 2333 18th St NW.  It's a .8 mile walk, according to Google Maps.  The second map is from the Foggy Bottom/GWU metro a block from Washington Circle Park to the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, one of the busiest there.  That's a .9 mile walk, according to Google Maps.  It goes to show how names of stations can be used as advertising mechanisms, depending on whether the destination wants to broadcast its proximity, in the case of AdMo, or keep it on the down low, in the case of Georgetown.

Given that I wasn't sure if my friends were up for another trek into the city via metro after the one we had had earlier in the day, we ended up taking Sun Cab, and using my "personal van cab driver" Sully.  At this point, Sully is more popular with me than any of my friends because he's been extremely late once or twice, but I still like to use him because all it takes is a text message to get in touch with him as opposed to calling tons of companies.  Plus, van cabs are hard to come by and I like to keep everyone together, and if he's really late he'll give us the ride for free.  We did indeed stuff all ten of my friends into the cab, with me riding shotgun and shooting the shit with Sully of course (no one likes to be the shotgun sitter in a cab) and we were able to stay together for that reason until other circumstances saw us separated not long after arrival.  For instance, did you know just as Adams Morgan lacks convenient Metro service, it also lacks AT&T service?  Well, at least it does on Halloween night.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guest Post: Jon (The Boyfriend!)

Around the time my month of voluntary carlessness was coming to a close, I asked Jon to write a guest post on what his experience was like dating someone who had recently given up their car.

When Chad came to me a few months ago and told me about this crazy endeavor he wanted to embark on, my first reaction was … “are you crazy?”  I moved to the DC area a little over a year ago, and having a car was never an option.  I moved without a job, without any interviews, and living 100% on whatever savings I had mustered up (which fortunately did not dry up until I landed a new job).  Due to cost constraints (between the cost of parking, the cost of insurance, and the cost of gas) along with the logistical elements, having a car was never an option for me.  Going from having a car in high school and college, to being totally dependent on public transportation took some getting used to, but I quickly adapted.  However, living in the suburbs of DC is not as convenient for public transportation (especially for those of us not lucky enough to be able to enjoy the RideOn buses for free, ahem Chad!).  When I was completing my internship in the city my subway ride would take an hour each way (White Flint on the Red Line to Capitol South on Blue/Orange) and cost approximately $12 a day.  When I landed my first job the cost dropped to $8 a day and with my new job and new apartment it has now dropped to $5 a day or about $100 a month and takes 10 minutes each way.  While expensive, this still beats the cost of a car as $100 wouldn’t even cover my parking costs.  I pay my metro completely out of pocket though I take part in a program that takes money from my paycheck pre-tax that I can use for transportation, which saves approximately $20 a month!  While I do agree with Chad that the metro is expensive, and can be notoriously late and delayed (often so it seems for no reason) I think it is incredibly convenient if you both live and work in the city and still ends up being less expensive (depending on the distance you travel) than having a car.

Chad’s carless adventure was an adjustment.  I had gotten used to the ease he had in getting to my apartment or picking me up, and now it would take longer for each of us to travel to each other and would be another consideration in the various plans we made.  Given that I had not had the option of having a car, I couldn’t believe Chad was going to willingly give up the luxury of his.  But, when he told me his reasons, I really began to see why he was choosing this.  And his reasons, articulately described on his blog, are remarkable.  When Chad and I started dating, I was the one with no car.  I won’t deny that it was incredibly nice to be so close to someone with a car (I used to joke that I only kept dating Chad for his car, grocery shopping is so much easier when you don’t have to walk!).  Chad was great at adapting to my needs, going places within walking or metro distance, spending weekends locally instead of going anywhere far, etc.  But it was also a great experience for me to watch Chad undertake this adventure knowing full well from my own experience the logistical and practical considerations involved.  I am lucky enough to live just a 5 short stops from my office making my commute significantly easier than Chad’s trek from Silver Spring to Rockville daily.  I take one mode of transportation whereas Chad often took two or three.  I am a runner as well, but I am not nor have I ever been a morning runner, and it took a lot of heart and dedication (and grumbling from me when the alarm went off early) for Chad to wake up early each morning to bike or run part of the way to work.  I think what Chad ultimately proved with this undertaking, is that despite the logistical and practical challenges, despite the early mornings, the brutal weather (which he miraculously mostly escaped), and the added time, going carless is not an impossible task.  It takes adjustments, and patience, and some problem solving, but nothing that cannot be overcome.

Jon, since he works for a member of the DC City Council, requires a disclaimer similar to mine, so here it is.  Any views or experiences expressed here are his and not of the member he works for, the Council, or anyone else in DC City government.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What Worked and What Didn't, Part 2

Last week I wrapped up my one month of voluntary carlessness, and I wrote about what alternative means of getting around worked best, including combining biking with RideOn and running.  But like anything, where some parts worked really well, other parts did not:  they may have gotten me where I needed to go, but it either took too long, was too uncomfortable, or was too expensive.

What Didn't Work

The Q Line

Metro recently "improved" their Q line bus, which runs from Silver Spring to Shady Grove, and also stops at Wheaton and Rockville stations.  By "improving" the line, they added the Q4 and Q6 to the already existing Q2.  The Q2 makes the entire length of the trip; the Q4 starts at Silver Spring and turns around at Rockville; the Q6 starts at Shady Grove and turns around at Wheaton - sort of like Metro's Red Line trains that turn around early at Grosvenor station at peak times instead of going all the way to Shady Grove, so that more trains are serving the central parts of the line.  

While no factor alone was a "dealbreaker" for me taking this route, the perfect storm of discomfort, time, lack of exercise, and cost (read: it isn't free) put this method of getting to the office very low on my list of possibilities.  First, the bus is always packed:  even getting on at the stop at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street, the second stop on the Q4 line, meant that I had to go without a seat - that many people get on at its first stop at Wayne and Dixon.  (I was always assured a seat on the RideOn bus.)  The line makes SO many stops that the bus is stopping at practically every block leaving downtown Silver Spring to the intersection of Veirs Mill and Randolph Road.  It takes about 50-55 mintues to get from Silver Spring to Rockville, and that's without any exercise.  Combining a bike or run with a RideOn Route may take 20-30 minutes longer to make the same trip, but at least I get some cardio in.  Finally, since County employees are fortunate enough to enjoy free RideOn service but not Metro bus, taking the Q line costs $1.50 more than does taking a RideOn bus.


Especially when getting from Jon's apartment in Van Ness, Metro certainly had its advantages.  I could take the Red Line to Rockville and walk to my office in about 25 minutes, which allowed me to sleep in much longer than if I rode my bike or ran across the District line to where I could pick up a RideOn bus.  But the dealbreaker here, and for me it was quite a dealbreaker, was that this method cost $4.40 one way and close to nine dollars if I planned to go back the same way.  Way too expensive to use on a regular basis.

And for their part, I realize that Metro set a ridership record this past weekend for the Rally to Restore Sanity.  But I don't think that any of my visiting friends would categorize their metro experience as positive when we took it down to the Mall on Saturday.

When I reviewed the alternative means of getting around without a car, the common theme between by favorite methods was that they included exercise.  Conversely, the common theme between my least favorite means of getting around was that they did not include any exercise.  I always knew that the "Fitness Factor" would be an important part of this endeavor, but after a month now I see just how important it actually was to me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Metro To Restore Sanity? Or Something Like That.

This weekend I had eleven visitors coming to stay for the Rally to Restore Sanity and for Halloween, and I found myself in two de-facto carless situations.  The first was due to the number of people I needed to get down to the rally and the second was due to everyone’s state of inebriation before celebrating All Hallow’s Eve in Adams Morgan.

The overcrowded metro and the chaos on the mall for the rally reminded me a lot of the last time I had such a full apartment:  President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.  I wanted to get an early start on Saturday morning to avoid crowds (doubt that would have been possible) and get a good spot for the rally, but after thoroughly enjoying the $15 sangria pitchers at La Tasca the night before, let’s just say my friends and I were dragging.

When we left for Inauguration in 2009, I made my friends (some of the same ones) get up at so we could leave early.  While the Rally to Restore Sanity was awesome, I didn’t foresee the same historical urgency in such a wake up call.  By the time we left, it was .  What I saw at the Silver Spring station that I did not see the morning of the inauguration was a line backed up to Second Avenue to buy metro cards.  Had I had only a few friends coming, I might have went down and bought them the night before, but either way it hadn’t really occurred to me, so wait in the line we did.  By about we made our way onto the platform but were not able to get on the first metro to Shady Grove that passed by because of the sheer number of people on the platform ahead of us.  We did make our way to the edge of the platform, positioning us well for the next train, and after a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of taking the next train to Glenmont to the end of the line and turning around, we decided to go for broke with the next Shady Grove train.  Our plan failed, and two of my friends were left behind on the other side of the closing doors with me shouting apologetically that they should look for us at the Massachusetts Avenue exit of Union Station.  After the train pulled away, I joked with my more assertive friends that had made their way on to the train that we had just witnessed an exercise in public transit Darwinism.

The train was packed.  Every time the train pulled up to a new station, the hopeful riders standing on the platform were greeted with self-righteous cries of “there’s no room for you” and “there are children on this train!” from riders who had stuffed their way on at the previous station.  I felt like I was on the Titanic, riding away on one of the remaining lifeboats.  Should I offer my space to a woman or child?  As if I actually could – I was stuffed in the very middle of the train with nary a bar to hang on to.  For some of my friends, it was their first time riding “the DC subway”, including a friend’s boyfriend visiting from the Netherlands, and for this display of public transpo chaos I profusely apologized.

The Grim Reaper holds a sign that says
"Unemployed - Thanks Obamacare"
We finally made our way to the rally, but given our tardiness, we could hardly find a good spot.  We watched a little bit of the rally, stood around and shot the shit with strangers nearby, and walked around and checked out the awesome signs that fellow sanity restorers had made.  (I had exhausted my creativity for the weekend on my Colonel Mustard costume and had made no signs.)

We were more prepared the second time we rode the metro that day.  At when we were heading back, the trains were just as full, but I had suggested a different plan.  The first time, when we tried to all get on the train, we had formed what at best was an amorphous blob but was probably closer to a 1x8 line of people.  We had picked up Jon at that point, so I suggested that this time we form a 3x3 square of people, with the right and left flanks defending any jippers who may try to get in the doors ahead of us.  The plan worked, and we were the first nine people on the train!

I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed by the Metro experience my friends had this weekend.  Having grown up in suburban Pennsylvania and having gone to school in rural Pennsylvania, I want my friends from those places, as part of visiting me in my new home, to have a positive experience with public transportation that is quick, efficient, and effortless—not long, overcrowded, and miserable.  I understand that Metro set a ridership record this weekend, but I worry that for some of my friends, their impression of our public transportation system may be solidified.

Later this week, I’ll take a look at the other de facto carless experience my friends and I had this weekend, a trek to Adams Morgan…

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Worked and What Didn't, Part 1

I recently wrapped up the "one month" of going without my car.  Sometimes it was rewarding, sometimes it was frustrating, sometimes it was better, sometimes it was worse.  There were some strategies of getting where I needed to go that really worked for me that I will probably continue - and there were some I hope I never have to do again.

What Worked
A map of two different methods of getting from
Silver Spring to Rockville.  The green is my bike route
 when taking the Route 5 bus (in blue) and the purple is my
bike route when taking the Route 48 bus (in orange).

Combining Biking with RideOn

The most common route I took to get from my apartment to Silver Spring to my office in Rockville was the RideOn Route 5 bus to somewhere on Rockville Pike and then running or biking.  I think I rode the bus all the way to Twinbrook only once - once I figured out the bus's route I started getting off earlier and earlier.  A few times I got off the bus at White Flint station and biked the rest of the way, and eventually I started getting off at the intersection of Strathmore Avenue and Rockville Pike.  This minimized my time on the bus and allowed for some more exercise and added only a few minutes to the commute time.  I usually got on the 7:11 Route 5 bus, and got to the office around 8:15, so this method took about 65 minutes, or a little longer if I was running.  I took the Sligo Creek Trail a few times to get to Wheaton station and then took the Route 48 bus to Rockville, but this method was not as time effective.  For that reason I often swapped out the bike for my running shoes up Rockville Pike, but never on the Sligo Creek Trail, as that would have taken too long.

It is so easy to get your bike on a RideOn bus.  RideOn's website contains this description of how to do it, which I read over a few times before doing it myself for the first time.  There are also a few helpful videos on YouTube, which while not specific to RideOn, give you a good idea of how to do it as well.  I was nervous that people on the bus, and the driver, would quickly get irritated with me and my silly little bike.  But it only takes about 15 seconds - and it's so easy, I showed someone else how to do it on my first day.


This probably wouldn't work for everyone, I admit.  One of my 2010 New Years resolutions was to run a race this year (a more tangible goal than "get in shape" or "exercise more").  After my first race was snowed out I ran an 8K in DC in March and then ran the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia in May.  (Next up is a Turkey Trot in my hometown of Harrisburg on Thanksgiving Day.)  So I had some running background before taking on this endeavor - these shoes had seen a lot of miles already.

Running was best when I didn't have to combine it with anything else - when Jon still lived at his apartment in North Bethesda.  It was a 3.5 mile run to the office that was easy, even considering it was up Rockville Pike.  But when Jon moved to Van Ness, my commute by foot got a lot longer, requiring the addition of either RideOn Route 46 or 47Sometimes I biked the running stretch of this route as well - changing things up all the time kept it interesting.

I've found that if I'm running with a purpose, I get a lot more out of it.  For instance, my runs from Jon's apartment in Van Ness to Medical Center station are always a lot better - and I'm able to run at a quicker pace - because I need to get to my destination in time to make the RideOn bus.  But if I've already completed the bus piece and am running afterwards, like after getting off the Route 5 bus at White Flint, my sense of urgency is not as high.  For this reason, the running route I prefer the most is leaving from Jon's:  north on Connecticut, west on Bradley Boulevard, and then north on Wisconsin.  It's a 4.5 mile stretch that I usually run in about 40 minutes.  Combined with RideOn Route 46, it takes about 80 minutes.

In both of these cases, I'm finding "what worked" had a common thread:  exercise.  These strategies of getting to work actually took longer than just taking a bus or just taking the metro, but I found I didn't mind it as much, even given the additional logistical considerations, as long as some cardio was included.  Even now that I have my car back, these methods of getting to work are ones I know I'll continue.  Later, I'll examine the methods I probably won't continue, the ones that just "didn't work." 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Last Day

I just got home from work, having taken my tried and true route of biking from my office down Rockville Pike to Strathmore Avenue and picking up the RideOn Route 5 bus to Silver Spring.  And so ends my "official" month of carlessness.

To be honest, it doesn't really feel over.  I'm not breathing this huge sigh of relief that tomorrow I can sleep in and get in my car and drive to Rockville.  (OK - maybe I'm looking forward to it a little bit - but mostly because it will be something different to do.)  I do need to make a larger-than-normal trip to the grocery store in anticipation of having friends visit this weekend for Halloween / the Jon Stewart rally, and since large trips to the grocery store can be a challenge, I'm grateful to have my car back for that reason. 

But I'm taking the anti-climactic feeling of arriving home on the final day of my carless month as a good sign.  What I discovered is, that despite the many logistical considerations like showering at work, having extra clothes ready to go, and never having a morning to shave, getting to the office without a car is completely manageable.  And outside of the work commute, getting around by bike or even by running is a healthier, less stressful way to travel.  Not once in the last month did I ever have to think to myself "where's my car?" "is there enough time on the meter?" or "I'd park here, but how do I know I won't get a ticket for some ridiculous reason?"  And of course, despite its faults, there's always the metro.

So I think the reason I'm feeling surprised that this endeavor in carlessness is already over is a simple one:  it's not really over.  Sure, tomorrow my car insurance picks back up and I'm legally able to drive my car again - and I will, tomorrow.  But I like running way too much, I like being outside way too much, I like saving money way too much, for this to really be over.  Living carlessly is actually pretty awesome.

I'm left pondering a question that's been on my mind since I got back from The Cruisical:  what do I do with this blog?  I never expected to have so many friends message me out of the blue and say "I love reading about you giving up your car."  I never expected metions from other bloggers and I never expected any attention from the media.  I've just always wanted to start a blog but lacked a central focus for keeping one.  The fact is, I look forward to updating this johnpiece every night and my creative juices are still flowing. 

The last thing I want is for this blog to overstay its welcome or to get stale, like a TV show that used to be awesome but has gone on for so long it's begging for cancellation.  I want to go out on top a la Sex and the City, and so part of me feels like this post is the "American Girl In Paris: Part Deux" of One Month. One Guy. No Car.  But then again, The West Wing didn't exactly go out on top but Seasons 6 and 7 were still pretty stellar.  And so, at least for another week, One Month. One Guy. No Car. will be as alive as it ever was.  I think I've got some material and some more ideas left in the tank that readers will find informative and enjoyable. 

Tomorrow, I'll review how the first day back in the car felt after a 30-day hiatus...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Logistics: Shaving Schedule

Spaghetti and meatballs.  Peanut butter and jelly.  Red bull and vodka.  For me, if there are two things that go together, it's shaving and showering.  In fact, I usually shave while I'm in the shower using my fogless mirror because I'm metro like that.

For that reason, no routine of mine has been more thrown off by this month of carlessness than my shaving schedule.  I used to shave every Monday and Thursday, which I could get away with because my "beard" (I use this term loosely) grows in pretty slow and is barely noticeable on the first day of not shaving.  On the second day, usually Wednesdays or Saturdays, the stubble is noticeable but not bad.  The third day is always bad - but on a normal schedule the third day only falls on Sundays, which doesn't really matter.

But since I've started showering at work, it's gotten all kinds of messed up.  Since I try to get in and out of the bathroom as quickly as possible, I haven't even thought about shaving at work - the time factor aside, it still feels kind of gross and like something I would never want to do.  Nor would my co-workers want me to, I'm sure.  That leaves mornings that I shower at my apartment (read: not Jon's) as the only time I can shave.  But since one of my favorite ways to get to work is taking the RideOn Route 5 to White Flint and then running the rest of the way to Rockville, it's pointless to shower before leaving.

I haven't really found a solution.  I can't shave without showering.  That's a fact of my life.  But I don't like showering in order to shave when otherwise I wouldn't need to.  So basically I've had to accept that I'm not always going to be as clean-shaven as I might have been if I were getting up every morning, showering, shaving on Mondays and Thursdays, getting in my car, and driving to work.  (This was hardest to swallow last week when I met Congressman Henry Waxman having not shaved in three days.)

Not that I think my co-workers even notice.  I believe this to be the case because some that I've mentioned this to have said "oh, I hadn't noticed" or "oh, I thought it was a look."  So, I may be making a mountain out of a molehill on this one.