Saturday, September 25, 2010

I finally installed my front headlight on the bike! It is very bright. I needed it last night as we were leaving my house after dark for a short trip to M's dad's house, where I am dogsitting for him this weekend as he is away. Love my bike! I can't believe I have used it so little the past two weeks. I am not sure if this is an unusually rainy September or what, but I expect some cool, dry days this weekend and am planning to bike everywhere.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh, how I wish I had taken the bike instead of the bus to M's school for Open House night yesterday evening. The bus seemed the easiest, as it looked a bit like rain although the Weather Network didn't project it (but then I've learned I cannot count on them), and the route looked direct and timely for us.

First leg was okay, but then the second bus didn't come when it was supposed to, and an older gentleman told me (in Spanish, I am getting to practice my Spanish so much! Apparently the largest immigrant group to this city is Hispanic, and of course being newcomers, people will be less likely to own vehicles, which means there are a lot of people speaking Spanish on the transit, a wonderful bonus for me in trying to learn the language)... anyway he told me that it had come five minutes before. I pulled out the schedule to confirm, and seemed like it had gone by early. We waited ten minutes and then decided to cross the road to get another bus that would get us closer but still a walk from the school, as the one we wanted wasn't due again for fifteen more minutes. As we were crossing, I saw our bus come, and we ran back and caught it. I don't know if it was 10 minutes late, 15 minutes early, or simply completely out of relation to the printed schedule they distribute. I suspect the latter.

Then on the way home, after staying late so the kids could play at the playground, I figured we'd just gamble, walk to our stop and wait a bit, since we could have taken either of two routes that come along that line. We waited, and waited. It got dark, mosquitoes came out. I checked my schedule (kept handily in the stroller) for the one route we wanted, and it wasn't due for half an hour, as we had missed it by minutes. No matter, as I expected the other one any minute! It didn't materialize, and I called the transit's route information line, which has recently become automated and completely ridiculous to try to navigate. If Z talks at all while I'm on the phone, it thinks I am speaking and does all sorts of weird maneouvers. Which of course is exactly what happened, and it took a full five minutes to deduce that the other route does not run past 7pm. Lovely! So we waited, in the dark, with the mosquitoes, for almost 30 minutes for the stupid bus, as first parents, and then teachers and admin I am sure (tho I couldn't see them in the dark) drove out of the schoolyard one by one in their vans. Then the trickle of vehicles stopped and we were waiting alone. Lonely.

I have a 'sweet spot' for our daily commute on transit, but this served as a reminder that our system can be extremely useless and frustrating. I longed for my bicycle, with the flashing backlight, and in my imagination I had gotten around to installing the nice bright headlight too. I longed to head out of there on my own schedule, like the other parents, and to have been at home before that damn first bus showed up. And of course despite the winds and grey skies, I felt maybe one drop of rain, no more. We could have cycled.

I also long for rapid transit. If the lines are populated, they run them more, I know this just from the ease of getting to the university, where there is a high percentage of transit users. Just get downtown, and a bus will be along in the blink of an eye to get you to campus. This morning as we waited at the bus stop along a busy road, I imagined all those drivers populating the busses, which like the busses to campus, would arrive with such frequency that it would be impossible to look at a bus schedule and tell 'which one' it is, what time it was due. Because they would come every five minutes, so whether it's the 930 bus 3 minutes late, or the 935 bus 2 minutes early, would be a toss up. No more having to plan exactly for when you want to be at the stop, getting there early and preparing to wait in case the bus is late. No navigating the stupid robotic infoline from your cellphone. It would be great to have a critical mass of people on busses and bikes, so that the busses are always coming, and their main competition for the roadspace is bicycles.

I think that would be very nice for just about everyone. Being in the car is so isolating, such a heavy responsibility, so boring, and the financial aspect such a burden. People do it to a large extent out of an absence of other convenient options. But because we do it, the demand for those options does not exist. In Toronto, where I lived for ten years, it is very common to not own a car. In fact I never got my license until we decided to move to the country. Cars are a burden, cycling, walking, and using public transit is easy and ever-present as a feasible option for getting around. I would love for that to happen here. It's a smaller city, yes, but we do have the critical mass for it. That is evident by the traffic jams on the city streets at rush hour.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

And of course it rained like crazy yesterday morning, but for once I was prepared! I had an umbrella, M had a raincoat, and Z was in the new stroller with its uber protective hood and the rain canopy. Score! We are getting the hang of all this.

I haven't been bicycling as much as I would like for our commute to school(s). Either it rains, or I feel sick (this week I have had a cold), and if I take the bus I can leave ten minutes later. This is kind of nagging on me, but I also think oh well, it's about making this as easy and liveable as possible. I do miss using my bicycle daily tho, or almost, as I was doing in the summer. I hope to re-incorporate it more again, perhaps I could cycle part way, then grab the bus down to M's school, then take the bus back up to the bicycle. This would eliminate one of the busses I have to take, and would let me ride the bus for the roughest part of the commute. Currently all told, if I cycle I spend 1.5 hours on the bike each way. This is a lot! And as I don't go home during the day I am quite committed to either the bus or the bike for the day. It still makes all the difference to being carfree for me to have it, for grocery runs, adventures around the neighbourhood and around town. Although our daily route happens to be very convenient by bus, many of the other places we go are not, and I love that I am still independent and able to get around on my own schedule, by my own route, and under my own steam. I would not like the feeling of being entirely dependent on public transit. I like that I can use it when I want to, and avoid it if I don't want to.

Interestingly, tho M's school is only less than 4km from my house, and the university is 7km, I far prefer going to the university on the bicycle. The ride to her school is quite uphill in parts and also through some not so pleasant, high traffic areas. And frankly the bus is so convenient, a 3 minute transfer wait halfway, and really door to door, from my house to the school. I guess if my main complaint is that the bus is too convenient, I'm not suffering too much. I love biking to the university though because I can take bike trails most of the way, it is quite flat, and then I have my bicycle to get around campus easily. This feels very luxurious, that I don't have to walk between different parts of the campus, but can jump on the bike and be wherever I want to very quickly.

Another great thing about taking the bus for our daily commute is that a few of the other mothers at M's school take it too, so I've gotten to meet a few people. In particular there is a mother from Colombia, who doesn't speak much English, and is very friendly. I am taking Spanish at university, and am desperate for opportunities to practice the language as I want to become fluent. She is thrilled that I know some Spanish, and is very patient about helping me find words and conjugate verbs to say what I need to say. And although I know she simplifies for me, it is really helpful for me to just hear her speak pretty naturally, I am learning a lot. She is very nice and has a great sense of humour. We are becoming friends and we talk at the bus stop after dropping off the kids, and then the whole way downtown. I am enjoying this immensely.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I have a schmancy new stroller suddenly, a fairly impulse purchase after I decided I need to get something with big, inflatable tires for the snow (which won't be here for 3 mos yet). Well actually what happened was I asked people if my stroller, an Eddie Bauer Sport, with the small non-inflated tires would be okay in the snow. Because although I've had it for over 2 years, I had no idea, since I drove everywhere. (And also used baby carriers pretty much exclusively for the first year). Friends recommended Valco brand, and lo and behold someone posted one on kijiji the next morning. I jumped on it, and now it is mine. It is the Valco Tri Mode EX, in black:

I got it for just a little more than half the full cost in the store price, and for far more than I ever dreamed I would spend on a stroller. My justification is that if I am not driving, suddenly my bicycle and my stroller become my 'wheels' and I need them to function as well as possible. Pretty good justification right? I am revelling in the materialistic gluttony of it, all the funky things it can do, how I can walk along pushing it with one hand and it glides along. It also has a very full coverage hood which will be my saving grace the next time we find ourselves unprepared in a downpour. Which knowing me will happen before too long.

I have decided that car culture is too rich for my blood, but man can I afford to cycle, walk, and take public transit with aplomb! It is actually pretty hilarious to go from driving a piece of crap, always falling apart car, to riding the Hummer of bicycles and pushing the Cadillac of strollers. I feel like I've moved up in the world! Shallow yes, but I think worth sharing because I didn't think my move to carfree status would be a step up in luxury. It totally feels like it is.

I will post a review of the stroller for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing, either today or tomorrow. But wanted to share the ooh lala factor.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I love being a pedestrian/transit user/cyclist. I do not miss my car.

I am inspired to post this right now because I just emerged (on foot, with stroller) from the neighbourhood coffee shop, coffee in one hand, and got stuck momentarily inside, unable to easily open the door as I had the stroller wedged in the way. Before I could move the stroller back to come forward again to grab the doorhandle, a young woman walking by outside, yoga mat in her bag after being at the local studio I am sure, saw my predicament and helped me. She had to actually enter the coffee shop as I backed up the stroller, to hold the door for me, and I went through it. I said things like, 'Oh thank you! Usually I am a lot smoother than this,' and 'Have a wonderful day.' She laughed and said no problem. We both felt good from the interaction.

Likewise on the bus this morning I rang the bell before M's school, the bus driver forgot to stop, I said 'Oh!', he apologized and stopped. Right in the Kiss n' Ride, where cars usually idle momentarily while waiting teachers help kids get out. But the waiting teacher helped us off the bus, and me, her, M and our driver all got a kick out of the idea of a bus coming through the Kiss n' Ride.

I would not interact with these people from my vehicle. I would be in my own world, and they would simply be obstacles. My human interaction quotient has gone way up. As my one friend said, 'In a car we are defining ourselves by the kind of metal box with which we surround ourselves.' I love that. I feel much more *in* the world. M is learning to put her transfer or change in the metred box on the bus and take and guard her transfer. We have the same drivers many days and are starting to know them.

I also get more exercise, by far, even when taking transit. Just the walking between places is far more activity than I usually must execute to get myself through the world. And the bicycle is amazing exercise. I love seeing my body get stronger and have an easier time as I get more practiced, and I love the feeling of cycling. It is the only exercise I have ever truly enjoyed.

I realize I am only a few weeks in to 'the grind.' I realize it is not winter yet. Perhaps I will eat my words when it is -30. But as of right now I do not miss my car one bit. When it has rained on us (twice now), I have longed for an umbrella and decent rainwear. Not for my metal box.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yep yep got soaked this morning we did. I had raincoats on the kids, and I grabbed our two Mexican rebozos (woven cotton shawls, that are pretty thick and can be used as baby slings or long scarves). One kept Z's legs dry in the stroller, the other kept my head, shoulders and arms dry. We stood under trees a lot and two kind fellow bus-goers shielded us with their umbrellas at an unsheltered stop. I bought an umbrella on campus, so I am now the proud owner of a loudly coloured umbrella advertising our university's sports team. Great.

I am not used to dealing with the weather, having been a full time driver for ten years. I know a lot of people drive and still plan for weather, but apparently I am not one of them.
The week has gone great so far! We have taken the bus some days, bike some days, it's all good. Today it is pouring rain. I have basic rain gear, some of which I bought this week, but not, like, FULL rain gear. I don't think I ever have had full rain gear for any of us. We are bussing of course, but even so I wonder if we will make it to our respective schools not-soaked. Here's hoping!

I think having appropriate weather gear is going to be important now, far more than it has been in the past when we would hop in the car and hop out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The moms on the school playground are horrified that I am not driving my car anymore, I can tell. They make 'oh no' type faces and ask what my plans are, what happened to it. I say it's still there, I'm just not driving it, I'd rather get around on the bus/bike. They look at me like I've lost my mind, and I start to believe that maybe I have.

I am glad for the context of the university, which also has 80 billion cars but at least in my program, people 'get' why you might want to ditch the gas guzzler and don't look at you like maybe you've fallen on hard financial times or something and are justifying.

We pulled up to the schoolyard on the Xtracycle this morning though and attracted a HUGE crowd of kids. That was awesome. We took it the first day but the focus was on 'first day,' and since then we've bussed due to threatened rain (that hasn't materialized til later both days, oy). The Xtracycle is a more impressive way to be carfree than the bus, that's for sure.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Well, so far so good. My own classes have not started, but both kids have started their respective schools/daycares. We biked up one day this week, and bussed twice because it looked like rain, and after being drenched last week I have rain-paranoia. We also don't have proper raingear for cycling and arriving dry yet. I should do something about that.

Cons first:

- Damn it's a long ride. Especially to M's school, it is a lot of gradual uphill which I find tiring. Feel like a superhero on the way back down though!

- We are more vulnerable to weather. This is probably a good thing, because it encourages me to dress them well as we leave the house. Both kids spend periods of time outside each day unless t he weather is truly inclement. In the car I would often arrive somewhere and not have the proper clothes for them, because I hadn't noticed how cold (or whatever) it was since we were driving.

- I can't meet M for lunch easily, though I wouldn't anyway as my classes this year are scheduled during her lunchtime. Can't come home during the day easily either, kind of committed to staying on campus until it's time to pick up both kids, or I would spend the whole day travelling. Which I did on M's first day, so I know this to be fact!


- It takes barely any more time to bus in the morning compared to driving. I leave my house at 8:30 rather than 8:40, and arrive on campus by 9:35 rather than 9:20. That is no big deal! On the way home it takes a little longer, have to leave campus with Z on the 2:30 bus to get to M on time (I think - there may be a later option but I haven't found it). We get home at 4:30 rather than 3:50, because the bus doesn't come right after her school lets out. This is fine mostly because she likes to stay and play anyway, but in winter this may be a PITA.

- I feel a LOT lighter not having the 'weight' of the car during the day, the responsibility or stress of it.

- I interact with people a lot more, and I am already noticing that drivers seem to experience people as a nuisance more than anything - both other drivers and cyclists/pedestrians. Out of the car there is a much more personal interaction, and people become human again rather than an object obstructing the way.

- The bus is relatively convenient and easy. The bike is fun!!! Both are physical - the bike much moreso, obviously, but even riding the bus requires actually moving - walking, running sometimes, hefting the stroller, balancing myself and the stroller while standing during the ride. In the car I sit like a log.

- Much more interaction with my children when both bussing and bicycling than while driving.

I can't wait to bicycle up to campus when classes start next week, and park my awesome Xtracycle at the bike rack rather than driving my piece of crap car into the parking lot. I will swagger, I will!

Monday, September 6, 2010

MacLeans article about the upsurgence of cargo bicycles, interesting!
6 year old's school starts tomorrow. Yikes! This is the beginning of seeing how I hack the routine without the car.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Also this week we took the Via Rail train to visit my parents who live about 2 hours/200 km's away. It was lovely! I have a fear of dying on the highway, which I know is a fairly remote danger but still car accidents are the leading cause of death for children I believe. So not so remote compared to other risks in our lives. Add in that I drive an old car (1995 Chrysler Intrepid), that my mechanical skill is non-existent and therefore it is easy for me to miss problems with the car, and that when my insurance renewed this year it increased greatly, and when I called to ask why the response was that there had been a large number of claims in the death and injury area relating to my specific make and model of vehicle. Not exactly confidence inspiring.

Anyway it was absolutely delightful to not have the stress of knowing we were about to embark on the highway for the day before my trip, and also to not be thinking of the drive home while we were there. I wasn't aware of the degree to which the driving has previously stressed me out.

Unfortunately taking the train cost $130 for myself and the littles, and this included a 'Super Saver' $89 fare for me, and a summer companion discount that made their fare each only $10 each way. Gas to my parents' and back costs $30-40. However my father pointed out that mileage for driving a car, including capital costs, fuel, insurance, vehicle depreciation/repairs, is usually estimated in the neighbourhood of $0.50/km. So a 400km round trip would cost $200 by that mathematics, which makes the train look like a deal. Even to half the per km cost to $0.25/km still puts the train tickets in the cost ballpark of driving.

That was an interesting reframe of the cost issue. And taking the train worry-free about safety, hooking the kids up with snacks and a DVD, and being able to attend to them during the trip without stopping, was luxurious.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Riding in the rain to daycare sucks, as we found out today! The Weather Network called for a 40% chance of 1mm of rain, and it had rained and the sun was out. So I thought: Let's go! The three of us hop on the bike and we set off. All through the parks and bike trails were fine, but as we turned onto a main road about 10 mins from the daycare, it started to rain, then downpour. We were caught in it, and got pretty soaked before stopping under a tunnel bridge to see if we could wait it out. But it kept coming, the kids got bored, and M started nagging. When it eased off a bit we took off again, and then it poured some more and we arrived literally sopping, dripping wet, with both kids freezing. Nice.

And it turned out Z's favourite teacher, whose last day it was before transferring to another centre, had called in sick. Plus they had chaos with too many kids and too few teachers and were frantically calling around trying to change kids to other rooms. So I decided the heck with it, all the chaos and the missing favourite teacher was going to defeat the purpose of Z getting acclimatized happily, which is the purpose of taking her to daycare this week (we have all been off for the summer). So I decided I would just take her back home with me. M pointed out that this meant it was a useless trip. Uh, yes it was M, thank you!

I piled them back on the bike, this time post-rain, and wrapped Z as well as she would tolerate in a towel for warmth. She was crying, from all the chaos of arriving wet, then going into daycare, then leaving with us. I was thinking all kinds of bitter thoughts about being carfree and about the Weather Network's lack of reliability. We set off, quite a spectacle, as we always are on the Xtracycle but I find if you're going to be a spectacle, you'd better be doing it right. I feel like a sore thumb when I am doing something odd and somewhat eye-catching, and it's going badly.

So I was in quite a bad mood setting out. But Z's crying stopped after a minute, and at the first small decline, I heard her little voice exclaim: 'Wheeeee!!!!'

And the fun was back. We had a lovely ride home. Next time I am bringing rain gear though, or at least towels!