Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 168-hour no-car challenge, week 1 (April 19, 2008)

The challenge is this: Can you go 168 consecutive hours without using your car?

I posed this originally as a response to someone who forwarded me the tired old "Boycott Gasoline Next Thursday!" email. What do you prove if, instead of spending $20 on Thursday, you spend $10 on Tuesday and $10 more on Friday? Nothing. If, instead, you lived your life for a full week, without significant changes, and not use any gasoline, then that would constitute a true boycott.

You could:
* Take a bus.
* Carpool with someone, assuming you are not doing so already.
* Bicycle
* Walk
* In-line skate
* Shop by telephone
* Conduct your meeting by telephone and/or PC camera

Don't do anything differently, at least not at first, and don't skip doing things you really should do. If you have to go to someone's calling hours or you have a civic responsibility to attend to, please do it, please go. If you go to church 10 miles away, fine, figure out how, but go to that church.

Weather, too, should not be a deterrent. If you take your car out in a downpour or a snowstorm, you always run the risk of a breakdown, and may have to be out in it anyway, so go.

Ideally, you want to avoid the car altogether for a week. Of course, this is about impossible for most people, even me, who's given this considerable thought. The goal for each person, really, is, each time before jumping in the car, to think about whether the trip is all that necessary. Can you get there by bus? Are you sure you can't? Will you need to make this trip again? Would you have been able to bus if you'd started sooner? Do you really need to carry all that stuff with you? Isn't there someone else going that way? Maybe there's someone else going that way who could use a ride? Maybe you can bus there, and someone who's already there can give you a ride back. Maybe you only need to bicycle the mile or so out to the edge of your neighborhood where there's bus service, and then either mount the bike on a bus rack or tie it to a post while you make your trip.


OK, so this week I'm putting my money where my mouth is. Working from a minute past midnight Sunday morning to midnight Saturday, I am going to see how little I can use the car. I am initially composing this Tuesday noon, but will modify it as the week goes on. For changes beyond Saturday I will merely add comments.

Sunday, 4/13: I bicycled to church. The family took the car because we had a large package to transport. (Side note: We changed churches a couple months ago from one that was 14 miles away to one that's just over a mile away. We often walk there. On two occasions I bicycled the 14-mile trip, as did two other family members at least once each, but that was too much even for us to try regularly.)

Later Sunday, I bicycled to Squirrel Hill and back for a meeting. The weather was not ideal, as it was in the high 40s and spitting rain most of the trip. I did bike the 13 miles there, and most of the way back, only using the bike rack on a bus to get me up the huge hill on Perrysville Avenue and into West View because it was getting dark and I don't have a light. The trip was a qualified success in that I did make it home without major problems, but hit a pothole and bent a rim, necessitating repairs.

Monday, April 14: For a trip Downtown, I biked into West View, left the bike at the shop for repairs (see previous paragraph), then hopped on an 11D Perrysville to get Downtown. For the return trip, I caught a 13A North Hills Express. I would have liked to leave a bit earlier, but there is a huge hole in the availability of mid-afternoon buses. Once off the 13A, I hiked 0.8 miles on Perrymont Road, which was not unpleasant except for the absence of sidewalks.

Monday evening, my wife used the car to get to employment. Transit was not an option; neither was a bicycle. Sometimes she can get home from work by bus, but it triples the travel time, from roughly 30 minutes to roughly 90, which to her is not acceptable. Getting to work on time is simply not possible at all. The trip there can be made by bus, but requires a double transfer, 30 minutes of layover time, and climbing a 130-step staircase. I've done it (to drive her home on blizzardy mornings, for instance), but it cannot be relied on as a routine method of travel. I am not even sure how one would bicycle out to the Jct. 51/88 area from Downtown, even if a 15-mile trip in the dark to the top of an immense hill were otherwise viable.

Tuesday, April 15: Major fail for the morning. I had to go into Oakland, but had to wait for my wife to arrive home with the cell phone, which I needed on the trip. By the time she arrived, I had run out of choices to get to Oakland on time by bus. I could still get there, and would have bused but three other people were waiting on me, and I had called the meeting. So I drove!

I had planned on using the car anyway for a very brief trip, as I had a tire that needed repair. This I normally get done at the tire shop less than 1/4 mile from my house. However, the 24-mile side trip into Oakland should have been avoidable.

Tuesday, 5:00 p.m.: At 2:45, I picked up the car from the tire shop, but had to go Downtown. Just like yesterday heading out of town, there's also a mid-afternoon hole in the inbound schedule, meaning it would have taken nearly 90 minutes to bus there. I drove to the Park & Ride the other side of West View, and waited just a couple of minutes for an inbound 11D. Ran my errand in town and caught an express back to the P&R, then drove home. What made the trip unique was someone recognizing me getting off the bus and offered me a ride home. Thanks, sorry, I have a ride this time ... but it's nice to have friends.

Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.: My son needed to do some shopping for a school project, necessitating a trip down McKnight to a big plaza. We know from past experience that the bus, while it will get him there, does it so slowly that he may as well walk, which you cannot very well do on McKnight Road. (It takes the 12A 18 minutes to go from Perrymont to Browns Lane, a distance of 0.9 mile. From the left side of the bus at Browns Lane and McKnight, you can see the Perrymont traffic light. To get to Jo-Ann Fabrics, a distance of 1.6 miles, requires 27 minutes. The belated 11K Cranberry route made this trip in about 4 minutes; thank you 2002 service cuts.) Bicycling McKnight is damn near impossible, too. So we drove. Actually, he drove, but that's a tale for a different blog entry.

Tuesday, 9 p.m. Wife drove to work. Just now I built the little table at the end of this blog, but I suppose I should start keeping track of miles traveled, too.

Wednesday, 5:00 p.m.: I avoided using the car for any part of my trip Downtown. I simply walked Perrymont, caught a 13A into town, and returned via 12A and another hike of Perrymont. I left myself plenty of time, so didn't need a lift.

Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.: Wife drove to work; again, unavoidable.

Thursday, 10:00 a.m.: Major success: I took a bus to the public library, and brought along a bag of paper to recycle. Previously, each recycling trip was done with the car. I acquired a large canvas bag (it says "Le Bag" on it), which holds a full grocery bag. I arrived at a good time, too. One of the library staff was outside, commenting on the three cars in the loading area also with papers to recycle, and I piped in "...and I came by bus to do so!" which about dumbfounded the couple of people there. Nothing like making a point! Yesss! *yanks arm down*

Friday, 9:00 a.m.: I made a trip Downtown to an early morning meeting, and got back, all by bus. Wife drove to work; again, unavoidable. She had a daylight shift this time, but needed to get there by 6 a.m. It's not possible to get out of the North Hills before 6 a.m., let alone get to the South Hills. I've made it there by 7 by bus, but not 6. So, unavoidable.

Friday, 2:00 p.m.: Took a bus to West View to get the bicycle from the shop. Biked back via Babcock Blvd to run an errand, so made a six-mile return instead of the direct three, but avoided use of the car.

Actually, it was a little more complex than that. Earlier, someone had stopped by the house on an errand of her own, and I mentioned the pending trip to West View. She left, but called back about 15 minutes later to inquire whether I needed a ride into West View to get the bike. While a nice gesture, I declined. Aside from being in the middle of lunch, it would have caused her to expend extra gasoline to drive over to get me. If she'd offered while still there, I may have consented, as it was right on her way home. But since the gesture would have caused her to spend money and gasoline to do me the favor, I declined. The bus was going to be there anyway.

Friday, 8:00 p.m.: Trip to bank on bicycle to deposit paycheck. Avoided using car.

Friday, 10:00 p.m.: Errand had to be run in Cranberry Twp, about 15 miles north of me, so a 30-mile round trip. We had a large package to pick up, and there was no other way to get it than to drive.

Saturday. Mid-morning, I made one quick trip out. Daughter had a friend here on an overnight. Friend moved out of state last summer, so having her here was quite special. On a whim, they decided to make a quick visit to the school they shared, to get some photos. It's only a mile away, but very difficult to get to by any means other than car, a half mile up a long hill.

Afternoon, we combined several major needs into one big trip. Wife and daughter had a baby shower to attend, but first needed to stop at the mall to get the presents. Fortunately the mall is very nearby, less than two miles, and the party was in that same direction. After dropping them at the party, I made my cross-county trip to pick up my Judge Of Election supplies, most of 15 miles distant. My foot was heavy, as I knew I had barely driving time to get there. (The place closed at 4:00 p.m.; I pulled in at 3:59:45.) In November, I made this trip by bus, but this time I knew I had two suitcases. Actually I had more than that, special materials for my precinct that wouldn't fit in a third suitcase, because of its size. There really was no way I could have made this trip with anything except the car.

Coming back, I made an unexpected side trip. Stuck in traffic because the Parkway East (I-376) was shut down for construction, a lost family asked me for directions to a particular location in town. Knowing that there were easily 15 to 20 turns to get from East Liberty to The Waterfront, I told them to just follow me. I got them to Beechwood Boulevard in Squirrel Hill and told them to follow their noses, but led them through 'Sliberty, Garfield, the East End, Bloomfield, Shadyside, and Squirrel Hill (our Jewish neighborhood, on the first day of Passover). There really wasn't a more direct route, but yes, 15 turns. Returning from that errand, I took in a bit of Greenfield, Schenley Park, Oakland, Soho and Uptown, before finally getting to I-279 and back to the party. Bottom line, the trip was unavoidable, and pretty much the side trip was, too. Things happen.


So far, we have:
    Car trips avoided: 1+1+1+1+1+1+1=7
    Car trips that might have been avoided with better planning: 1
    Car trips that might have been avoidable but for circumstances beyond our control: 1+1+1=3
    Car trips that could not be avoided: 1+1+1+1+1+1=6
    Total car trips for any reason: 1+3+6=10


All in all, the car was quite necessary on several occasions. OTOH, I managed to avoid using it for several other trips.


bus15237 said...

Can you go 168 consecutive hours without using your car? This post documents my first serious attempt at that self-challenge.

bus15237 said...

Comments on the original 2008 post:

Natasha Renée
i eventually hope to live without a car. now that gas is up to $3.30 a gallon, it's getting to be a lot easier. lol. i wish my city had a more up to date transit system. it's getting there, it's going to take awhile, but it's getting there. lucky for me, there's a lot of stuff within walking distance.

salty said...

well, that has me thinking about how long i typically go between car trips. a week is certainly no sweat but i wonder if i've made it a month. i think it's possible.

not bad considering when i lived near you, only a few years ago, my record for the 10ish years i lived there was probably on the order of 12 hours. well, ok - maybe there were some weekends when i stayed at home so let's say 60 hours.