car-free diet skeptics blog

Skeptic no more!

May 21st, 2010 by Todd

Today has been a long and amazing day to say the least! I enjoyed seeing so many people on bikes this morning at the Rosslyn pit stop. I hope everyone had great rides this morning and this afternoon. While the 30 day challenge is over – I will continue my effort to live as car-lite as possible. As I’ve said previously I’m very thankful for all who cheered us on over the last 30 days and just honored to have been selected to be a part of the challenge.

I’d like to leave you with a little bit of data I’ve collected over the last month.

I’ve spent $114.43 in money from my SmarTrip card and my bike. (The bike estimate comes from the Car-Free Diet Calculator). The same commutes if taken by car would have been $315.40. That’s a savings of $200! Okay that assumes I did not actually have a car – however I did – it just didn’t get driven (by me). So even if we consider only how much I spent on gas over the same period last year ($130) I still spent less! Gas was also about $2.22/gallon at that time. If you find gas for that price right now – will you let me know?? My gasoline log has been lonely. Actually nevermind. I don’t need it anymore. I found new data for a new log!

Here’s a link actually to see the spreadsheet I used to fill out my commute information – costs and time included.

Aside from the fatter wallet – I’ve also shaved off 7lbs while on the car-free diet. I only went to the gym once during the last 30 days and I didn’t change any food habits. So it’s clear that all that walking and biking has started to pay off. When I first started my bike time was easily 1h 10 mins to get to work. By the end of the challenge it was only an hour!

I think another important thing to consider is that even if commuting without a car takes you longer – you have to consider the quality of the time.  If you’re on a bus or a metro train – you’re not driving.  You are free to read, listen to your headphones, play games, text, update social networks, watch a video or have a conversation with a complete stranger!  If you’re on your bike  - well then you don’t have to goto the gym that day – unless you want to!

Finally – in the spirit of Earth Day, which was the day we kicked off this challenge, I have left a much smaller CO2 footprint behind. By car it would have been 501 lbs of CO2. I put out 88% less CO2 by taking the car-free diet.

So I’m no longer a car-free skeptic. I now know it’s possible (and much more so than I thought when I started) to get around just by taking a few steps to think and plan ahead. We have two vehicles currently. A 16 year old Civic and a 6 year old Escape. I feel very confident we can sell our Civic and just be a one-car family. Sure, I’ll use the car at times – but only when it makes most sense (i.e. visiting family, taking Chloe to places we can’t get to without walking). And if I’m using a car or if I’m using another means to get around – I’ll continue to try and combine trips to maximize the time!

I’ve created a calendar to share with you all that shows my commutes over the last 30 days:

Thanks again to everyone and if you want to learn more about how you too can be car-free visit the Car-Free Diet website and try their calculator!

(Yes! I DID just got back from that concert).

Tomorrow is going to be an early day! I do hope to meet some fellow car-free folks at the Rosslyn pit-stop for Bike To Work Day!

So I’d like to acknowledge some people who have helped me through this challenge.

To all my friends, family and coworkers who cheered me on and helped to spread the word – Thank you for your encouragement and advice! Just your own comments and those of others you passed on to me before this started were very motivating and thoughtful.

Thanks to my company for being supportive and for providing an environment that not only encourages us to thInk about being car-free but also makes the process way easier.

To all the folks who put this challenge and the whole car-free diet together – I am very grateful to have been selected to put myself through this adventure and to share the experiences with the rest of the world. It’s been obviously transforming and given me so much to think about. I hope to continue on being as car-lite as possible and to spread the word.

To Tim from Bike Arlington – thank you for going out of your way to ride along with me and to help me improve my overall biking experience!

To Revolution Cycles – thanks so much for all the gear and support!

To Jay at the Commute Store – thanks for all the helpful information and the SmarTrip card!

To those of you who have followed along – Thank you for your support, suggestions and comments. I hope that you enjoyed what I had to offer and will continue to follow along well beyond tomorrow!

To Ross – Thank you for the loaner helmet (I still need to give that back to you). And congratulations on truly going car-free. While I won’t be behind the wheel as often as I was before – I’ll still be happy to give you a lift if you’re ever in a pinch.

To my Mom for being supportive and for teaching me the value of letting others know when you’ve arrived somewhere safely – Thank you. But seriously, thank you for teaching me to be a good person – and to think of others before myself.

To Chloe – for hanging out with me late into the night while I try to think of something to share with the rest of the world. (She’s currently going back and forth between eating from her bowl and licking my legs – I feel so blessed to be a part of that cycle).

Lastly – to my wife who is my #1 fan and supporter – thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for me and helping me get up and out the door in the mornings. Thank you for agreeing to be a part of this – especially when it meant hiking through Foggy Bottom with a ton of groceries because we just missed the bus! I love you so much!

Have a safe Bike to Work Day everyone – and thanks again!  After the challenge ends I will post some data from… wait for it… a spreadsheet I’ve been keeping with all sorts of great data.


One Day Left

May 20th, 2010 by Ross

Tomorrow morning, Todd and I will be in Gateway Park in Rosslyn for a finale to our 30-day car-free challenge and to join many others for a ride as part of Bike to Work Day.  I am pretty excited to meet other folks tomorrow who are making an effort to leave the auto in the garage and get some exercise as part of their commute.  Over the past 29 days, I have met lots of wonderful people who are on their own car-free diets.  Whether it’s an email from Brandon, a co-worker who wrote to tell me how he’s saved money taking the bus to Crystal City, or folks at the Taste of Arlington who are toying with the idea of ditching their cars for their commute to McLean, or people who have stopped me walking on the street or in the Metro, I am continually excited to learn so many other people out there are finding better ways to travel.

I have included some numbers from the past 29 days below, but for me, the numbers aren’t what convinced me that ART, Metro, biking, and just good ‘ol fashioned walking really are better ways to go.  When I was on my final drive in my car on the way to the sales lot, I realized I would be in no hurry to get back to the frustration and wasted time of sitting in traffic.  Because I promised to sell my car, this 30 day diet has really been about learning about all the resources at my disposal going forward.  And with so many out there, not having the car anymore actually feels pretty liberating.

Ross’s Car-free Diet by the Numbers
Total distance traveled: ~400 miles
Total money spent: $122
Average monthly car expenses (gas, parking, maintenance): $173
Calories burned biking (just in commuting): 6,400 cal.
Carbon emissions prevented: 408 lbs. of CO2 not emitted through driving

While the money spent is pretty accurately tracked, the other numbers are estimates based on my own rough tracking of my travels as well as the Car-Free Diet calculator.

Fifty years from now…

May 19th, 2010 by Ross

How will we get from here to there?  Fifty years ago, people envisioned us commuting to other planets and using flying cars by now.  I have been thinking about how we’ll travel three, four, five decades from now and would like to share a few cool ideas I have come across.  This type of stuff fascinates me, so I hope you’ll share your own views and predictions.

Urban communities
Walkable areas with town squares and open, green spaces. Programs like WalkArlington have focused on this through careful planning, and the county’s focus on the Urban Villages concept is definitely a nod to the future.  Smaller, more livable centers connected with each other by robust public transportation can help to eliminate some of the sprawl and gridlock that plague so many cities.  One recent blog post shows how better mapping technology can change an urban landscape into something greener and more walkable.

Dynamic transportation systems
Maybe this is a little broad, but I’m simply talking about linked, adaptive transportation systems– that is, if a train is running late, a major connecting bus would know to stick around the extra five minutes to pick up commuters from the tardy train.  If a Blue Line train is coming into Rosslyn, the Orange Line train would speed up or slow down to try and arrive at the station at the same time.  It’s a dynamic schedule that isn’t set in stone, but rather reacts to real-world events.  Maybe this is a long way off, but real-time tracking systems are baby steps toward this kind of system.

Shared vehicles
What if every block shared a pool of five vehicles?  Many areas in Arlington already have Zipcars, but that type of system scaled up could allow many families to give up their cars– or simply share them with their neighbors.  Besides reducing the number of cars on the road, a large-scale, shared auto model would promote carpooling and the type of neighborliness many people long for more of.

Bike-friendly cities
The future on this one is likely a lot closer than 50 years out.  Many cities, Arlington included, have done tremendous work in mapping out bike lanes, taking care of bike paths, and promoting bike safety.  Today it is common for businesses to provide indoor bike storage and showering facilities, and we have very good road signage for cyclists.  Tomorrow, maybe we’ll see electric assist bikessubterranean bike storage, and a more fit population.

Flying cars
I don’t think I have ever seen an eye turned towards the future without the obligatory mention of the flying car.  Because you never know…

A quick post! Two days to go!

May 19th, 2010 by Todd

I wanted to share a more in-depth post this evening but I’m pretty pooped and I know I need to be up extra early tomorrow to bike into work. I’ve been shooting video on my commutes and I’m hoping to get a bit of time before Friday to edit them together and share with you all. There are just two days left on the 30 day challenge – but I already know once it ends I will still be commuting without the car! You can say I’m not so skeptical anymore about it! What’s funny with all the construction in Tysons, I could say I was pretty observant of what changes were happening almost daily because I couldn’t ignore it while driving through in crawling traffic. Well my bike route doesn’t really give me that opportunity to stop and take in the changes and when I ride the bus… well I’m just not paying attention to the road anymore. So today when I just happened to look up as our bus merged onto 267, I was just amazed at what has progressed on the Dulles Metro construction project. I know what hasn’t progressed. The amount of traffic and the impact on congestion caused by the construction. Oh well not my problem anymore!

Hope to see you all Friday on Bike to Work Day! We’ll be in Rosslyn during the morning to meet people and to find out the winner of the challenge!

My wife and I hold a special spot in our hearts for Mount Vernon. We visit the home of our first President each year especially for the Christmas at Mount Vernon evening mansion tour. It’s where I also put a little dirt on my knee while kneeling down to ask Jenn if she would marry me. During the spring and fall each year they hold a wine festival. We started going to these a couple of years ago (at least the spring one). It took some consideration and a little bit of planning to figure out how to get down there without a car. I probably spent 15 minutes playing with WMATA’s trip planner trying to minimize the time it would take. The best I could get was about 1h 40m long and would involve changing metro trains and a lengthy bus trip. Our neighbors who joined us for our outing were on board with the idea (and I can’t think them enough for their patience on it). It ended up taking a full two hours – but we had allocated enough lead time so that we were still early for the event. We took the metro from Courthouse to Rosslyn and changed trains there to the Blue Line. Again we changed trains at the King Street stop – jumping on the Yellow line which would take us to the end of the Metro line at Huntington.

We mis-timed the connection here and unfortunately probably missed the bus we wanted by just a few minutes. While there are 3 bus lines that service both this Metro station and stop at Mount Vernon – they all would be at least another 40+ minute wait. Finally the Fairfax Connector 151 arrived and it was another 30 minute ride to Mount Vernon. Overall though this only cost us $2.80. So we just used the time to chat with our neighbors while saving money!

For the trip home we knew it would be a minor challenge in sobriety to make all those connections and get home with ease so we opted to split a cab ride home which was reasonable since there were four of us. Overall it was a great evening. The weather was perfect and the vino did flow! We remained car-free and everyone got to enjoy the festivities without having to draw the short straw to be the DD!

I’ve got one week to go and a rainy start to this week will keep me on the Metro until I can get back on the bike to finish off the challenge on Bike To Work Day!

Check out the latest video checking in on me during the challenge:

I went to Ballston Sunday to see the 23rd Taste of Arlington, an event where local restaurants and businesses show off their stuff, offer up tasty treats, and even compete for prizes. It was a great chance to get out, enjoy the beautiful weather, and savor the good food and community the city has to offer. I met lots of great people, and even had a conversation with some fellow Arlingtonians in which I tried to convince them they could easily commute to Tysons without a car (as Todd can attest!)

In addition, the folks from the Arlington Mobile Commuter Store were there, helping people find the best car-free routes and giving out prizes for those with top-notch public transit knowledge. I learned I need to do a better job of memorizing my bus routes. In addition to the brick-and-mortar Commuter Stores, look out for these mobile buses at events like the Taste of Arlington to learn more about resources to help you live car-free.

On the other end of the event grounds was a “bike valet,” something I had not seen before. Sponsored by the good folks at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, bike valet volunteers check-in people’s bikes, make sure they stay safe, and return them when people are ready to head home.  They can also answer questions about area biking.  I think this is a brilliant idea– if I had realized this was here I would have biked.  From now on, I’ll definitely make sure to check where WABA is offering bike valet.

Our 30 day challenge ends next Friday on Bike to Work day nonetheless! It’s been a quick month really – albeit there were 5 days where I was in Florida. I actually started the challenge a few days early to gauge what I needed to pay attention to gather material for blogs and updates. Additionally, I intend to finish out at least the last full week of May in good old car-free style.

I dug into my spreadsheet from last year to see how much driving I did during the same period. In April/May last year, I put about 800 miles on the car and spent about $130 in gas purchases (not including insurance and other costs). The most expensive gas at the time was $2.39 and the cheapest was $1.74 so those same fill ups would have cost me closer to $190 this year. So far during the challenge we’ve put $60 in gas in the car (my wife has been enjoying the sudden availability of the car plus we had at least two trips out to Ashburn and back). My commutes so far during this challenge have cost me only $45.60 and with only a week left during the official challenge, I anticipate spending at most another $20. Right there I still beat the cost in gasoline from last year when prices were much lower.

While the costs to commute have been less, the time spent commuting has actually been a little bit longer. In my application video I noted that the average commute time was about 35 minutes. It seems my average time commuting by public transportation lingers around the 45 minute to 50 minute mark depending on how long I have to wait for the next train or bus. Biking takes a little over an hour. But I have to look at this time differently than I do when sitting in a car where the only thing I’m focused on is not hitting another car. The obvious difference in biking is that I’m getting exercise at the same time. Let’s say by car I spend 1h 10m commuting in a single day and I get home and goto the gym for an hour. That’s about two hours – which is the same if I bike to and from work. Still commuting and still getting great exercise. With using public transportation (once you feel comfortable with your route) it’s suddenly all about you. What have been dying to catch up on? Perhaps a favorite podcast , some reading, emails, balancing your checkbook or just listening to a favorite album. I have a DVR full of shows I haven’t watched yet – but all I have to do is convert the video over to a portable format and make sure to load up before heading to work and now I suddenly have time to watch them!

While Ross, my competitor, has indeed followed through on his promise to literally go car-free, by selling his vehicle, I think I will continue to use alternate means to commute to work – while filling in the gaps (trips to see family or taking Chloe to the vet) with our car. I definitely see that the benefits of a car-lite diet can make noticeable impacts on your money, your health and the environment.

I need to get to bed – I overslept this morning and therefore didn’t bike in – so tomorrow I’m all about the morning workout/commute!


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