Category Archives: car-free

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?
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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!

Five Weeks of Buffalo

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Why do people keep calling us minimalists? Maybe *I* am, but those other five are clearly not.
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LtoR: Oliver, Elliot, Avery, Brent, Eiki, London. Welcome to Buffalo.

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We sold our only vehicle the weekend before we left West Virginia. It was a financial decision, but none less one we knew we can handle after two years of choosing to ride our bicycles and making efforts to live more locally. My dad came down from Ohio to help us with the move, so we packed five of us in his two door Civic and two rode in the cab of the moving truck with the crated cats. The short story goes like this….the children and I arrived, then a couple days later the truck, my dad, Brent and the cats arrived. The same afternoon we were unloading the truck, we picked up our Japanese exchange student, Eiki. We spent a few days unpacking, then we started to slowly get out and explore.

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Biked to the car share. We took the train home after returning the van.
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We were invited to pick blueberries.
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Pedestrian/cycling ramps that bridge over the highway.
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All day bus/train passes.
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A single line subway/train from our neighborhood to downtown.

We have, since that day, used the car share a few times, taken a day to go downtown on the train and buses, spent a full day going downtown on bikes, and have managed trips to the zoo, science museum, grocery, bike shops and workshops, parks, schools, farmers markets, food coop, suburban shopping plaza, tool library, bookstores, and Brent’s office, all with our bicycles. The weather has been amazing. The rental house is serving us well. The distances aren’t ideal, although manageable. The terrain is mostly level with inclines here and there, that still have me yearning for an e-assist. Diversity of language, race, religion, age, and income is plentiful. Many things cost more and taxes are higher. C’est la vie.

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Science museum. Meandered 7miles to get there and 5miles to get home.
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1 of 4 neighborhood grocery stores within a mile.
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Back to school picnic day. We were the only cyclist, and have been the only cyclists, however, there is a small bike rack. That’s something.
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Children’s area at the Elmwood Arts Festival.
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Our first dinner out, a tourist destination five blocks away from home.
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Avery’s new yoga studio, 7minute bike ride through the ‘hood.
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GOBike racks are offered up for free if you own a business. They even install. These were at the entrance to the zoo. We took the last spot and filled it up with five bikes for 8 people.
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Canalside harbor and locks area has ships, markets, festivals, monuments, music and more. It’s also clear on the otherside of town. We took the train this day, but it would likely be an 8 mile ride, if I ever get up to doing it.
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Allentown “bubble window.”
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GOBike workshop in an old station building, 2miles from home! Used parts, free help, bikey people. Although we were still “outsiders.” Cargo bikes are not common. Our two Yubas make the total Yuba population a whopping 3 in the city. I have seen one Xtracycle and a couple tandems. We have yet to see any cycling families outside the park/recreation trail.

I haven’t been tracking expenses as closely this past year, but I did start tracking transportation costs after selling the van. Since our arrival, we spent $98.50 in August, not including Eiki’s personal transportation, for which he is responsible, and $126.00 thus far into September. We have been using the bus and train more often this month (and I have sometimes been overpaying when I am not paying attention), and we had one taxi ride ($30). I suppose that number could be about $50 more if you include the new locks we bought for the bikes. I should think about how I want to track these numbers.

Enrolling the children in school was a saga, for which I have a lot a confidence will bring about a positive and rewarding outcome. Or so I keep telling myself. Eiki will be going to private school 10 miles south of our home, but using bikes and public transit (passes provided by the school). The school was arranged before his arrival. He has already been selected for the varsity soccer team and utilizes this combo of travel almost daily for practices. We had no shortage of bicycles for his use. Oliver will be staying home another year, and the boys are going to a public preK-4 school about 2 miles from home. We biked to school for about a week, then the weather got a little wet and we let them ride the bus. London was accepted into a gift and talented public high school that serves 5-12th grades after a week of delays and “navigation” of the system. The school is 2.5-3.5 miles from home depending on how you want to get there. We test rode it and were not pleased, so she’s likely taking the big yellow school bus most days until we find a route we feel is safer.

As moves go, this one has been uneventful. There are still a lot of boxes in the children’s room to unpack. I am waiting to put together their shelving.  There is a stack of art in the sunroom, where we set up our office, and a stack in the garage.  I am forward with people walking down our street, introducing ourselves as new and asking too many questions, seeking opinions and ideas. It seems we have joined every business and organization that has a membership as some effort to get to know the neighborhood and save some money on entertainment. It was less expensive to pay $60 for science museum memberships than to visit twice with seven people. The tool library was a $10 annual fee, but we would have spent significantly more on a cultivator, grass shears and an electric voltage meter. Going there to check out rubber mallets and crow bars has been better than finding a toy store for the children. Interestingly, we haven’t joined GOBike Buffalo yet. We need to. They have a workshop close by and they have bike lockers at the nearest train station.

Although we haven’t found any bicycling families yet, we hear lore of them being in other downtown neighborhoods. It’s just a matter of time. And when I do find them, I think it will be time for Buffalo to have a Kidical Mass.

Our Path from WV to NY

A month ago we announced our move to Buffalo, NY and all the tribulations and feelings that go with such a decision. We heard back from several people about their own experiences and considered it all deeply. While we waited for Brent to wrap up work at Marshall we paired down our belonging, started boxing things up, looked into NY housing options, and pushed our house (politely) on anyone willing to listen. Now, with four days until the truck pulls away from WV, we have a place rented in Buffalo, sight unseen (thanks to new colleague), and a sales contract on our house in WV pending the usual inspections.

To run along side this, we are selling our home at a loss. We will need to payout cash at closing, which we found by selling our minivan (thanks to a friend referring us to a friend). There were several options for securing the funds, but we wanted to walk away from WV without additional debts. A clean break. I will give you all a numbers breakdown…

  • We financed $132,000 in 2006 for the home
  • Invested nearly $3,000 each of the 7 years we resided there ($21,000)
  • We agreed to sell the home for $125,000, minus our portion of closing costs (roughly $10,000)
  • We owe two banks a total of $120,000 to pay the balance of the mortgages
  • Therefore we will need $5,000 to close on the sale and the $21,000 in improvements combined with the $114,500 in P&I payments over the years are evaporated into the economy

This analysis tells me we are not very good with our money, home buying should probably include a lot more cash down and less financing, and we are presented with the opportunity to make some changes for our future. With the sale of our house we reduced our debt to only student loans and a pesky credit card purchase for a new work laptop for Brent. For the first time ever, we have a positive net worth (you know, in the financial world).

We are renting a single family home four miles from Brent’s new employer. We hope he can continue to bike commute. The NY rent is less than our WV mortgage. The space is also slightly smaller. The utilities are also projected to be less, thanks to the owners being savvy on insulation and new replacement windows. The land lords are also responsible for a portion of the utilities and maintenance. We see this as savings.

With the sale of our mini van we enrolled in Buffalo Car Share. There was a small Yaris within walking distance of our new home, and several other options (a mini van) we could reasonably ride transit or bike to. Brent’s employer has a discount relationship with BCS, and the membership includes insurance and gas for the vehicles.

Buffalo has a more extensive and timely transit system that includes busing and a light rail, at twice the cost of the one in Huntington (I hope not to compare everything, but it helps for those following along from “home.”) The airport is 7 FLAT miles from our house, downtown looks to be between 6-9 miles, but we will be between the city of Buffalo and the suburb of Amherst (where we could reasonable bike to a *gasp* mall). There are at least two pools, multiple parks, a library, bookstore, several groceries, coffee shops, yoga studios, zoo, and countless other unknown things within our comfortable 2-3mile radius. We will continue to bike. I am actually looking into a box bike now. I feel the timing might be right.

We are not committing ourselves to a car-free life. We will see how things develop. I keep hearing about these transportation prohibitive winters. Avery’s medical care needs might change. And then there is this; one of my first challenges will be the arrival of our exchange student two days (fewer than 36hours) after we pull into our new drive way. I don’t know a thing about this child, or how much luggage he will be carrying. He might not be able to ride a bike. Bringing our family up to seven members will add to many interesting scenarios. Stay tuned.

With all that said, I have more boxes to pack. More things to sell and give away, mail to forward, warmshowers and paperbackswap to put on hold, and appliances to clean.  My minimalist ways are not shared evenly with all members of this home. Those children have a lot of arts, crafts, legos, books, and goodwill.

Cheers from West Virginia to where ever you find yourselves.

Our Summer Excursion: Days 33-51 Elkins, WV

This is Our 2012 Summer Excursion series recapping our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Please let me know if you would like more details about anything and I will do my best to work them in or reply personally. Follow the TAG to get the full story. Maybe I will get through the whole trip before 2013 (it’s NYE, so maybe not)!


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D33: July 4 should have been full of fireworks and bbqs and flags and maybe even parades, if you have some sort of traditional holiday flair you follow. While I am not into tradition, it was great to have been invited to a block party on our first day in a new town that had all of the above. As our history would have it, we lived in Buckhannon, WV (west of Elkins) for two years, and I worked in Elkins for part of that time. We met some great people and fell in love with this mountain community before moving to Huntington six and half years ago. One of those great people, Beth King, handles the community arts center, where I worked. She invited us to the block party! Hurray for Beth! As time would pass, many of those faces would cross our path again at the bookstore, bike shop, tennis camp, grocery, and on the street. A small town intimacy; warm and welcoming.

D34-49: The four children and I filled our days as best we could while Brent worked 12-14 hour days. We dined together as a family every night in the Davis & Elkins cafeteria and enjoyed breakfast at the Graceland Mansion every morning. Lunch was a toss up. Some days we had lunch together, and some not. Having the opportunity to be on campus with him for those weeks was invaluable to the children and for our relationship. I may not have been able to get any time away from the children, but knowing I might get 30minutes of shared parenting a few times a day gave my mommy voice a rest, and let me close my eyes just a bit to the hyper-vigilance we kept while living in a hotel. Last year we stayed in Huntington while he worked the Governor’s School for the Arts. It wasn’t impossible for me, I enjoy temporary challenges such as these, but it wasn’t ideal.

To make this entry less cumbersome, you can browse the photo gallery below, complete with captions, of our Elkins stay. It covers what we ate since we didn’t have a kitchen, how we kept our sanity living in one room, with two beds, the local bike culture, where we spent our money on extra-curriculars for the children, our geocaching finds, the views, the people, the fluff.

Spoiler: In terms of bicycling, Elkins was the best! We never drove in town, we didn’t need to, everything was very, very close to where we were staying. We walked most places and biked when we needed/wanted to save time/have more fun. I never saw another child on bikes outside of the bike parade and the park. I rarely saw other riders in general. Not sure why. Maybe they are more of a walking community? It was ideal for us. I was so spoiled, that thinking about going home to a 2.5mile ride to grocery was daunting.

I drove to Beverly twice, 10miles south of town for London’s Girl Scout camp, and utilized a carpool for her other trips to camp. Otherwise, the van just sat in the parking lot until the day we left. It even attracted ants. Ever have a vehicle with a pest problem?

[cincopa A4CAeCbmxnNy]

D50-51: The day before the summer program ended we were presented with a room charge for some of the damages the children inflicted on the hotel. It’s an unsettling story involving play dough in the carpet and a five year old who wet the unprotected mattress, (I don’t want to get into details but feel welcome to ask me about it anytime. Great reason to invite us over, stop by, or meet up, eh?).

So on day 50, Saturday July 21, the program ended. We had the car packed up and we drove off to Buckhannon for dinner and a drive around our old stomping grounds. We booked a hotel in Charleston, WV, an hour from home, so we could swim and jump on the beds and decompress before tossing our house sitter out one more time before our full Summer Excursion would end.

Our plans to bike and camp the Greenbriar Trail system with friends never came together. Brent was concerned about work at Marshall and an exhibit he was invited to participate with at the Clay Center. We headed home before our beach trip. I was glad we weren’t out on the trail, post derecho, in the rain, as forecasted, but I wasn’t happy to be going home. My heart is with my family and friends (new and old), following a map around the country side, city scape, coast lines, and mountain towns. Such a gypsy.

Conclusions
That’s Elkins in a blog-post nutshell. Wasn’t it dreamy? Next up, our spat at home and our last week on the road, in Charlotte, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC.

Note: I tried to include as much photography as I could, but I left out a great deal! I don’t know where it went. Maybe on the phone? Anyway. It was fun, fabulous and we hope to have more of the same again. More small spaces, more outside adventures, more new people, more crazy.

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