Welcoming Winter

Blogging about family and transportation cycling in Huntington, West Virginia was all about the hills. In Buffalo, NY it may be all about the snow.

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When we moved in August 2013 we left our only vehicle behind. We adopted a fairly spirited attitude about living in a larger city. Buffalo had better transport options and some of us were excited to explore them. For instance, the children got a kick out of calling for a taxi on a particularly crazy try to return from Tifft Nature Preserve (10miles south) after bike-bus-waking to get there with a child who was still recovering from a neuromuscular disorder (I’ve made worse decisions). Taxis were pretty cool, and expensive. And. That’s our only taxi tale.

Public transit was a luxury. Someone else drove through piles of snow and slick intersection but I was loving rental cars. A perfect sized, new vehicle for each task that needed done. A snappy fuel efficient compact for a solo shopping trip or the minivan for a run to Boston to pick up our oversized bike that would help us keep cycling through those famed winter. I wasn’t put off by some inconveniences of not owning a personal vehicle when there were so many community, financial, environmental, and adventurous benefits to be had. But we didn’t all love rocking a “car free” lifestyle.

It wasn’t a secret that Brent, my husband, really wanted to own something again. He wanted to know that when he needed a car there was something reliable sitting in his drive way, not down the street in the car-share spot. He didn’t enjoy asking me to make reservations for vehicles or needing to watch the clock to return it on time. He wasn’t fond of not having the choice when sometimes he was tired after a 10mile round trip bike commute on a long and weather weary day. And I got it. But I let my concern over the financial aspects of car ownership and the exhilaration of an active transportation lifestyle wedge between us. These, amongst others, were huge concerns of Brent’s.

It’s a pretty middle class life to have dollars to wiggle around in the budget. We could have dropped cash on an older sedan but we opted for a newer minivan. One with seats for all seven (we have been hosting exchange students) of our bottoms and a warranty. The thing is we bought the van after all the snow melted in May 2014.

From the first flake in November 2013 till we hung up our woolens the next summer, we endured, and on most days, enjoyed the most incredible winter ever. It wasn’t so much the snow, where a surprise six fresh inches on a Monday morning wouldn’t even call for a school delay, as it was the deepest most painful freezing temperatures that made it memorable. I was trying to think of a word that could describe degrees lower than sub-freezing. The fluid in our ears would ice over. The marrow in our bones would seize up. Exposed flesh burned with the winds. There must be a word for that kind of cold.

However, thanks to good clothing, a new bakfiets with weather canopy (we spoiled ourselves, it has an electric assist!), and the determination to keep on, we walked, bused, accepted a few rides to work, and biked all the relentless winter season.

When it was all over, and I had a hard time believing it was, I missed it. I missed feeling that alive. The challenges and subsequent feeling of success drove my obsession and thrill with winter cycling. I no longer had hills to measure the inclines on and then calculate the weight I ferried up like in West Virginia. I didn’t have the feeling of being my own hero any longer. I missed that feeling.

So when I sat my fanny on my bike, and had it all bundled up with child sized cargo, and took the slow snow covered side streets, I was proud of me.

There aren’t a lot of photos from last winter as I wasn’t foolish enough to take my gloves off. But the few I have are some of the highlights. The “worst” of it will forever be a memory.

With all this, I welcome winter once again.

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We all make choices about our time

Go ahead and chuckle when you get to the part about it being be first day of summer break. I opened the WordPress App and this is what I found:

It’s been said time and again, I’m not a busy person, we don’t have a busy life. We started cycling some three years ago to declutter our schedules and slow down the pace. It doesn’t mean we don’t have busy moments or times where we are double, triple or even booked to be in five different places at the same time. There are fewer of those and more empty weekends and longer strolls through farmers markets and open ended volunteer hours at school or the neighborhood clean up. There’s also more time for children to bicker, play video games, and “be bored.” It’s not perfect, but it’s working out alright.

With all the downtime I kept wondering when to blog. The facebook page (linked to the twitter account shown on the blog sidebar) and instagramming was active and easy, but blogging required longer stretches of time, children to be engaged and housekeeping in a lull. It required a working computer, or app and a little motivation. Today, our first day of summer break, so many things lined up just so. The baby is now four and half and does all these great independent things. The two eldest can ride their bikes to the park and library, without me. Imagine what sort of world is opening up before us.

I see ahead of me a few hours alone in my own house.

There’s no promise of a blog resurrection. There is only this feeling that I miss writing. I miss my community of family cycling writers and readers. I miss reporting all the new places we rode, interesting Buffalonian discoveries, and what life has been like 500 miles from everything we knew as comfortable.

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When We Choose Not to Go

Last week had a couple good examples of giving up, or maybe it’s giving in.

Following Columbus Day, the littlest one, Oliver, and I hung around the house, stared at the overgrown raised beds behind the garage (made a plan of attack), cleaned the dishes, folded the laundry, then headed out to pick up Avery (6yo) at school to take him to an appointment. We were going from home to school to the children’s hospital on a route we had taken a couple times. Brent met us at school and accompanied us to the hospital. Front and center, covered parking, that was in use. A sweet sight.

When we choose not to go
The behind the garage look at my spring project. Where to start? Oy vey.
When we choose not to go
Women and Children’s Hospital Bike parking.

To head home we opted for going around Delaware park, also a mostly familiar route. We stopped for playground and snack time, then carried on. We paused to take in the autumn scene over Hoyt Lake. Ok, we paused because after climbing up the hill and the spiral overpass, I needed it (also an e-assist).

MAP link from school, to hospital, to park, to home.

When we choose not to go
Unfortunately the path to the right doesn’t get me where I need to go. Buffalo has hills.
When we choose not to go
Hoyt Lake at Delaware Park. AKA my rest break.

Once home I assembled my plan to attend an open house at one of the schools we are considering for Elliot (9yo) next year. We really want to make informed decisions and these open houses will help us complete his application. Brent works several nights a week, so it’s me, five kids, dinner duties, homework monitoring, and all the usual. I don’t mind not having the extra adult hands, but that night I also wanted to make this open house. Here were several of the options I had in mind and some of the thoughts on each:

  • Bike all the children to the open house (it’s only 3miles each way, but it would be dark on the way back, I haven’t ridden there before and I am not familiar with the neighborhoods or the streets, the children wouldn’t get their work done or their dinner before a reasonable bedtime)
  • Bike the youngest children only (the older ones could manage a dinner and homework, we’d only have to take one bike, could hope for snacks at the open house to hold over the younger children and feed them more when we return)
  • Take the bus with any combination of all or the littles (missed the first bus by the time I thought of this plan, second bus would get us there an hour late, other bus options would drop us off a bit further away and I don’t know the neighborhood well enough to know if we should be walking around it, I’d have to look around for cash/exact change or stop by ATM)
  • Reserve the car share, taking all or the littles (started to “worry” about where to park at the school, was paying for a car “worth” going to the open house?, how ridiculous does it feel to drive 3miles?, I am obviously having money/guilt/driving issues here)
  • Find a sitter and bike alone to the open house (the one lead on sitters didn’t call me back this week, as I had this in mind on Sunday, our exchange student isn’t up to the task of being responsible for four other children, the other adults in the neighborhood haven’t offered, but should I ask them? seems awkward, and very last minute, should I be biking alone places I haven’t been, after dark?)
When we choose not to go
Even with a full moon, it was dark.

Ultimately, what kept me from going was not being familiar with the route to the school, the children not wanting to go anywhere, and the impending darkness. I am not opposed to cycling in the dark, we do it often. I am leery of cycling with the children in the dark through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Sounds like an unsafe plan at this time. I’d like to be more trusting, but I’m feeling “blind” in a new city. Homework and food were my second concern. I can whip together a lunch box and keep the kids up later, for things I feel are justified, as long as they don’t happen often. I really don’t have an issue with paying for a car or the bus (because right now we have the means), but it was bothering me that the distance was very bikeable and it didn’t feel necessary to use transit or a car. Children not wanting to leave their engaging play, is often something I don’t want to break up either, but it stalls a lot of opportunities and outings.

I scrambled my brain for someone who could bike with me, then wondered how ridiculous I might sound pleading for an escort, but in hind sight, that’s what I really need. I need a tour guide, a bike buddy. I need someone who knows these neighborhoods and roads. I want other people to want to ride with us. I don’t want to beg, but I certainly have been. Where are you cycling families!? Where are you patience and understanding?

Another night last week there was a fundraising party at a location I was familiar with, but I was feeling overwhelmed. Brent was working, the kids were not wanting to go, and so the situation played out that I didn’t see the event as neccessary, and we stayed in.

So, I feel like I gave up on these situations. I convinced myself that the open house wasn’t essential, but it would have been nice to attend. I allowed our lifestyle choice to hinder my attendance. Had their been a car in the drive, would we have taken it? I don’t know. I am very good at talking myself out of going places with all the kids by myself. There is very little joy in their company when they don’t want to go, and they didn’t. This happens occasionally (probably more than I would like it). Several of the children are able to pedal their own vehicles, and if they set their minds not to go, I have to get more creative, or we don’t go. These days, after the year we have endured, my creativity is running low.

We come back to this point often and we don’t seem to get far. Is it truly the children, the situation, the time of day, or our mood that is keeping us home, or is it the mode of transportation?

When we choose not to go
All seven of us went to dinner at a friends house on Sunday. No problems riding home in the dark through Delaware Park, altogether.

For example, I was meeting up with another family and commuter cyclist Friday night to discuss the launch of a Buffalo Kidical Mass. (Jesse also organizes the Buffalo Family Bicycling facebook page. Go join, then ride with me!) Brent was home, the kids weren’t wanting to leave, Eiki had a football game to go to, and it was drizzly and dark. Eiki took the train/bus and Jesse and I were meeting somewhere familiar, so I went, by myself. I left the house after bedtime, not that my kids were anywhere near sleeping, I think they were watching Back to the Future. I took the long way around a guerrilla bike path, because it’s not lit and it is rather boggy right now. We jabbered on till midnight, then I headed home, a different route, I wasn’t entirely familiar with, but knew enough about the neighborhood to feel comfortable. A kid free outing, the desire to go, a safe route all added up to choosing to ride my bike, alone. So maybe I didn’t give up on the other nights, but rather made a sound choice. Or maybe it’s all in the perspective.

MAP link home to coffee meet up to home, around the short cut, guerrilla path. Rode the sidewalks on Main Street.

When we choose not to go
It’s clear as the muddy ruts in this photo that we ride through here often. Thankfully several people have already secured funding for a paved and lit rails-to-trails pathway, coming…soon?

Car-free Touring with Family

Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Walking through the neighborhood to University Station with family.

Months ago, before we had even left WV, my sister Sara text asking to stay with us in Buffalo and borrow our car, so she could go to her bestie’s destination wedding in Niagara Falls. Sure, why not. Isn’t that convenient? Your best friend is getting married twenty miles from our new home and I benefit from a visit too? Sign me up.

Then that whole selling the car thing happened and she sends me another text, “Do we need to rent a car?” Now come on. If the seven of us can get around, the two of you can too. She’s my sister, I can heckle her a wee bit. I did offer to rent the car for her, but also laid out some alternatives. I wouldn’t be able to pick her up at the airport because she was arriving during school pick up time, so she could take the bus, wait for me to get her, call a cab, or again, rent a car. Come arrival time, she and her husband Micheal surprised me, they took the bus. $10 and about an hour later, they had arrived at University Station and walked down the historic University Avenue to our house. The weather was perfect. 70s, with a brilliant tint of autumn foliage.

Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Yes, we locked our little red wagon at the station.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Wings and pizza at the Anchor Bar. I think we counted 25 wing bones on Eiki’s plate at the end of the night.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Brent arrived to dinner by bike after work. We took the Mundo in the elevator at the transit station, to board the train.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
This was our first attempt at getting the long tailed Mundo on the Metro train, and it fit. We were warned that at some stations the opposite doors for unloading, and it was our luck/lack of planning that is what happened. Yet, we get it out without incident. Had the train been fuller, we wouldn’t have made any friends that evening.

We started the sight seeing with a request from them to get wings. We obliged, walking with the trusty Radio Flyer back to the station, boarding the train (using the day passes they purchased to get to our house), and going to the Anchor Bar. The next day, while the children were in school, I took them sight seeing. We covered 18+ miles (map linked), down to the lake, and back again, taking in the tastes, smells, sounds and views Buffalo had to offer us. I wore them out. We started with breakfast at Sweetness 7, then headed to City Hall for a one of a kind view. We rolled out to the Erie Basin Marina, Canalside, and then looped around First Niagara Center and the construction to find ourselves out front of Coca-Cola Field. We worked our way through the city to Allentown, then walked the southern portion of Elmwood Village before stopping for lunch. We wrapped up our tour in the bike lane and on the sharrows of Elmwood Avenue, turning off at Bidwell Avenue to catch the path through Delaware park, our preferred route home.

Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Preparing for our first full day of adventures. Wheels for almost everyone.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Cinnamon roll at Sweetness 7.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Hug circle outside of the cafe.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
A “far to the right” bike lane on Delaware Avenue heading to city center.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
There is an inside and outside view from the top of City Hall, and it’s free during business hours.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Atop of the world.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
I didn’t set out taking photos for the purpose of the blog…and I should have. There would have been some great snaps. This is the view looking south east toward the marina and Canalside.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Then we were at the marina!
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
I am feeling a bit like Family Ride here, gawking at boats.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Several water vessels at Canalside are open as museums.

The following day I promised less time in the saddle. We stayed in the Parkside and North Buffalo neighborhoods, covering about a quarter of the miles (map linked). We rode by the Darwin-Martin house, spent a couple hours at the zoo, then lunched on Hertle Avenue at The Global Market. We picked the boys up at school then headed home. That evening Sara and Michael walked the kids to the library and made a stop at the grocery. My sister thought she wouldn’t get any exercise on vacation, as it often is, and she later text me to say she lost a couple pounds. I didn’t starve her, but active transportation has many benefits.

Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Day two started with a ride by of the Darwin Martin house, a wonderful gem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Zoo trip! A visit to the indoor replica of Angle Falls.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Global Market on Hertle Avenue. One of many food options for the afternoon. We were exceptionally happy we chose this one.
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
I was tempted to take this table home with my on the cargo bike. And the window, and the wall panels….
Clawsons visit to Buffalo
Micheal was checking out the old theatre marquee and fascade, next to Global.

When the wedding day arrived they decided to rent a car. I borrowed car share to take them to the airport for their car pick up, as the bus wasn’t timely, and then they had quick, convenient access for their 6AM flight the following morning.

All in all, we had a great time and I was able to take them places I had never been in Buffalo by bike. I really like to explore, and having company with me was empowering and fun. I hope they felt the same.

The Current Cost of Not Owning a Vehicle

We are approaching two months in Buffalo, without a car of our own. We spent $149.50 in August, and $249.11 in September on parking, bus, train, taxi, car share (gas & insurance included), tolls, and related memberships. The break out:

August $129.50

  • $96.00 Car share
  • $33.50 Bus/train

We certainly were more conservative with our transportation dollars our first month in Buffalo. We had a lapse in income and insurance to hurdle over, but we made it to the other side, without any significant financial surprises.

September $249.11

  • $137.00 Car share
  • $49.50 Bus/train
  • $30.00 Taxi
  • $12.00 Parking/tolls
  • $21.60 Membership/mileage overage from September

There was a week in September where I felt like it was “Monday” every day. I was making mistakes too frequently. I signed up for a car share to attend Eiki’s first soccer game, then left my keys with the fob in Brent’s bike, and he was at work. We took the public bus to London’s school on her first day and I bought a round trip ticket, forgetting those were only good on the train. Then I put the adult fare in the bus slot, instead of the reduced amount for a child. It was money spent, that we couldn’t recover. We attended Eiki’s second game, but then due to the substantial walking and waiting we encountered on that particular bus route, we decided to take a taxi back to our bikes waiting at the train station. It all adds up, but it didn’t amount to much when put into the perspective of car ownership, or did it?

Then there is the issue concerning the cost of convenience and quality of life. It takes a lot to leave me feeling like something wasn’t worth my time, or was a nuisance to my day. One of the reasons we choose to bike and walk is because we want the day to slow down. We enjoy the extra time rolling around the neighborhood, under scheduling, experiencing new things, and staying in touch with the weather. However, when London missed the bus to school last week, we didn’t hesitate to borrow the car share vehicle. It was the least inconvenient mode at the time, and we now know we need to work on a better plan B. So it’s all relative.

Had we maintained possession of our vehicle with our move, and used it instead of transit, car share and a taxi, what would our costs have been? That’s more difficult to calculate. I haven’t been tracking mileage, as we are spread in five different directions daily. I wasn’t sure if we should consider the cost of the yellow school bus, and how would you? Those miles are certainly accountable, it was just too much to consider, right now. Maybe another month I will take it on.

I maintain that I am uncertain about any future car ownership. The temptation is strong to buy another van, giving us the “walk out the door and into the car” convenience for out of town trips. I think the urge might be reduced if our local car share had a van parked in our neighborhood. Family size certainly affects our costs for the bus/train, but it also necessitates a larger vehicle, and that is a cost we pay in time to retrieve it.

While we could go purchase a car, I have been researching and dreaming about a bakfiets. We are staring into the frosty crystal ball that has winter white swirling all around, and wondering, could this be the vehicle that maintains our cycling lifestyle a midst colder/harsher conditions? It’s the vehicle of choice for so many with wonderful winters. My research has led to me to learn from the following (who also have resourceful blogrolls):

  • Modal Mom, Lana is riding a variety of bikes in Ottawa, Ontario with her son
  • Copenhagenize, a multi-contributor blog about building better cities, based out of Denmark
  • Chicargobike, this parenting pair write from the windy city about Chicago infrastructure and biking around with four children

For added good reads I took a moment to look up our neighborhood’s Walk Score: 77, Transit Score: 59, Bike Score: 55.

Right. That’s it for now. Cost break down of transportation for two months without a car, and some thoughts on how to proceed as we approach the fourth season. Cheers!

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