26 February 2009

Dude, where's your car?

You may have noticed in the numerous bike photos taken in my garage that there is never a car in there. Don't let me mislead you, Reader, into thinking that I don't own and use a car regularly.

My wife and I each had a vehicle. They fit nicely in our two-car garage. Then I started bussing and carpooling the 14 miles to work in 2003. By late 2004, we had sold the pick-up and kept the hatchback as our shared vehicle. It was great. We saved tons of money on insurance and car payments, and surprisingly put less miles on the hatchback every month than we were before.

However, with our first child on the way in 2005, we decided that we needed to add a vehicle to our fleet with more modern safety features. And, to be honest, we weren't sure how we would juggle commutes and daycare dropoffs with just one car. It didn't seem possible, and, without changing where we lived or worked, it really wasn't possible.

After only 9 months running car-lite, we were back where we started. Two cars. It was easy. We drove more.

But, where are those cars now, you might ask? Well, in the late summer of 2007, after nearly two years of shuttling our daughter to daycare and with a second child on the way, my wife decided to reduce her hours at work and stay home more. After a few months of consistent bike commutes and carpools by me, we proved that the little hatchback was now excessive and sold it to a family friend. When child number two arrived we traded to a minivan so we could haul more people/kids/dogs/things at once and combine more trips. It works for us.

We have been a car-lite, family-of-four for just over a year now, and I can't think of a single time where we were put in a bind because we didn't have a second vehicle. Like many folks, we borrow someone's truck now and then for big hauls, but that's about it.

A few more personal opinions on automobiles and their energy consumption:
1. Not everyone needs to drive an automobile for every trip, even if they own one. We take the bus downtown with the kids on weekdays to the Children's Museum to avoid parking hassles and to teach our children about public transportation. It takes a few extra minutes, but we notice more about our city from our chauffeured seats on the bus.
2. I don't bash on folks that drive inefficient vehicles. Not everyone can afford a new, gas-sipping car. And let's try to look at the big picture here (or at least one interpretation of it) and agree that all cars pollute, even the ones with batteries. Driving a used car into the ground may be a better solution in some cases.
3. Ethanol is wasteful to produce and consume. If you think that running out of crude oil sounds bad, let's imagine running out of food because we eventually become so dependent on burning it to get to the grocery store.
4. I'm not worried about global warming in the short-term. I'm worried about the immediate impact of your tailpipe emissions on the health of my family.
5. The City of Tacoma should charge every resident a fee for on-street parking in the city. It could be collected when you renew your vehicle registration.
6. I worked for an oil company in a group of seven employees. On any given day, four of us vanpooled, carpooled, biked, bused, or telecommuted to work. When friends and relatives would inevitably ask me, "So, why are gas prices so high?" I would have to ask them, "Well, did you drive somewhere today?"
7. Not driving a car from A to B is very patriotic.


melanie said...

I like the part where your kids grow up thinking that "car lite" is the normal thing to do.

Could you elucidate on the on-street parking fee? Seems a little out of the blue.

Matt Newport said...

For a while, Gwen would be disappointed if we were taking the car somewhere instead of the Xtracycle, but now she understands that we take different modes of transportation for different trips.

Regarding parking permits: When my former employer drilled groundwater monitoring wells in sidewalks or streets, we had to pay a fee for the disruption. In my opinion, the street is a thoroughfare, not a parking lot. If you want to park there and block traffic, you should pay for the disruption.

Weekday evenings and all day most weekends, my little street is packed on each side with parallel parked cars. This leaves one narrow lane down the middle.

Come by after 830am on a weekday, and you can actually see yards and homes from my front stoop because the fortress wall of cars is almost completely gone. The craftsmanship of the homes and the variety of the landscaping stands out and the neighborhood looks beautiful. Most homes on my block, and in my extended neighborhood for that matter, have garages that are not used to store vehicles.

If a fee provoked even 25% of residents to park off-street, the hood would be much safer for bikes and motorists navigating the narrow lane and it would help beautify the city all day, everyday.