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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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What, You're Still Driving?!

Uploaded: May 5, 2019
Yeah, me too. What’s up with that? Aren’t we all supposed to be on bikes and buses?

A few months ago I was trying out a friend’s climate app. It challenged users to improve in three different areas, with two weeks each on diet, energy use, and transportation. When the transportation section came around, we were encouraged to carpool, opt into transit, stay out of our cars for 48 hours, etc. We got points each time we did one of those things. I failed miserably at transit, biking, and staying out of my car for 48 or even 24 hours. So I started to keep a diary of my seeming car addiction.

The thing is, I don’t even like driving. Traffic, parking, gas stations -- yuck. Ever since I was a grad student, I’ve avoided driving. First it was because I couldn’t afford a car. Most of what I needed was on or near campus, so I biked everywhere. To get to Tahoe or Yosemite, I would ride with friends, and we would all chip in for gas. When I took a break from grad school to work at NASA, which was a little farther away, I got a used 250cc motor scooter. It was fun to drive plus it had a basket on the back, and I found ways to carry all kinds of things in/on it. When I finally got a “real” job I did get a car, but still didn’t use it to commute. I liked the feeling of biking to and from work. It cleared my head, and gave me a sense of freedom that I worried I wouldn’t have sitting dressed up in a car in traffic commuting to work with hordes of other people.

But over the years, something changed. Whereas the car used to be an exception, it became the default. When my daughter was young, I used a bike trailer or bike seat. But as her activities ramped up, it became impractical to bike everywhere. Our dog wouldn’t go in a bike trailer. My daughter now has (large) instruments to carry places, and tight schedules don’t allow time to bike. Sometimes I’ve even been known to pull over in my car on the way home and rest in the shade a block or two from my house, to get some peace and quiet. In the space of two decades, the car somehow morphed from a gilded cage to a place of refuge.

Here is some of the diary I wrote with the various reasons (rationalizations?) for why I was still driving when I wasn’t supposed to be. And this is nothing compared to many far busier households. The data I have seen indicate that Peninsula residents drive about 15-20 miles per day.


Is this rationalization, or is it real? I know that plenty of people bike in the rain. But doesn’t the bike then have to be cleaned and the chain oiled? I know a bike trailer can work for big things. But isn’t it a pain to park, or even steer? And did I really want to spend an extra 30 minutes each way to take transit? I have a much simpler alternative, namely our car. Why wouldn’t I drive?

I thought about why my choices are different now. For one thing, I lost the habit of defaulting to my bike. I need to consciously work to build that habit back, which would ease some of the obstacles like rain. But the bigger issue seems to be that our lifestyle has become more car-dependent. We have weekly activities in other cities because we can, and we have more activities because we can fit them in. If we had no car, would we really have horn lessons in one place, soccer practice in another, and art in yet another? Let alone take up baritone sax? No. We’d do less and bike more. And play flute!

Can transit (and cycling) get fast and convenient enough in our area to support our busy lifestyles? Or do our lifestyles need to change? Or do we accept that we need to drive? Interested to hear your experiences and thoughts. Why do you drive? Could you cut your driving in half? If not, why not? Please keep in mind the comment guidelines below.

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Comments

 +   8 people like this
Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 5, 2019 at 11:15 am

My wife and I have always had one car. We easily meet the 48 hour car-free gaps because we enjoy biking to many things including shopping. We drive about 9,000 miles/year (includes a couple of family visit trips to Portland each year). The interesting thing was that (before our daughter moved to portland) although we bought the car for the major purpose of commuting to work, the annual commuting miles were less than 40% of the total. I thought we "needed the car" for commuting as its main purpose, but "discretionary" other driving turned out to be its main use. It made me realize the big size of our "hobby" driving to discretionary events non-work related. I've since come to realize the large driving footprint of "hobby" activities that might be reduced by arranging them to be closer or car-less and car-light.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,
on May 5, 2019 at 2:57 pm

Our country has developed completely reliant on the horseless carriage other than in the large cities. Now sit on 101 in rush hour and see how many "horses" it takes to move a single person. It is absurd. Not driving isn't a feasible answer for most people although we could all probably drive less. Nor can we eliminate commuting. But couldn't we do something to put more people in a car for commuting at least? Those big tech company commuter buses got a bad rap in San Francisco, but they sure move a lot of people. I have no solution to this but someone should be able to come up with something too good/convenient to pass up. I don't think we can all move into the city.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Rachel G, a resident of Rex Manor,
on May 5, 2019 at 8:19 pm

Rachel G is a registered user.

I ride a bike for nearly all of my transportation but it wasn't always that way for me. I've been a bike commuter for my entire working life (nearly 30 years so far) but for the first 20 years I rode 2 or 3 days a week and drove the other days. Eventually I converted to riding nearly every day, only driving a handful of days per year. I recognize it takes a lot of commitment and isn't easy and isn't possible for everyone, and our infrastructure is lacking in many ways, although better in the Bay Area than in many other locations, and especially good in Palo Alto, where I grew up and learned how to ride a bike to get places. (My current bike commute is from Mountain View to Cupertino, about 8 miles each way.)

Here are some pointers that might help people trying to bike more:

1. If you are concerned about safety, this website is very helpful: Web Link

2. Nearly every good bike route is different from how you would drive a car. Google Maps has the option to show bike routes and to give biking directions. It's a good place to start, and for a route you ride repeatedly, you can refine it over time. Strava.com also allows you to create bike routes based on the accumulation of GPS data from all of the bicyclists uploading their rides, and those can be great routes, too.

3. Lights at night are crucial, and some other additions to bikes help make them better for transportation, including fenders, a back rack and bike bags that hook on to the rack, water bottle cages with water bottles, and a saddle bag with repair tools along with the skills to fix common problems like flat tires.

4. A lot of people worry about needing a shower after a bike ride, but if it is 10 miles or less on the flat and you ride at a moderate pace, you just need to cool off at your destination and change clothes once you have stopped sweating. As long as you shower regularly, you don't need a special shower after a moderate, flat bike ride, except on very hot days.

5. The best way to know what bike to buy is to get a bike and ride it a bunch and then you'll know what bike you really want. Starting with a less expensive or used bike is a good way to go, but avoid cheap "bicycle shaped objects" sold at major discount retailers. Bike shops are the best place to buy new bikes.

6. Keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure, and read other tips (or watch videos) to learn about other common bike maintenance tasks.

7. You can be a bike commuter and still drive sometimes. It's not all or nothing. If everyone rode one day per week, we'd reduce the car traffic by 20%, which is pretty significant.

8. Bike theft is unfortunately common. U-locks are the most secure locks, but even better is to bring your bike inside with you if possible.

9. Bike commuting requires time and energy to work into your life, but once it is part of your life it has many rewards:
- a peaceful way to get to work (especially if your route includes a bike path)
- exercise at a time-discount (because part of the time would be spent sitting a car, but instead you're on a bike)
- more interaction with the environment and other people
- increased safety of all the other road users (because you are very unlikely to kill a person or animal accidentally while you are riding a bike, versus the risk of harming someone while you are driving a car)
- money saved
- reduced GHG emissions
- reduced noise pollution
- improved mood
- better parking options (in many situations)

10. I'll leave you with the best piece of advice my dad ever gave me, in biking and in life: "Keep pedaling!"


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on May 6, 2019 at 8:40 am

I think the entire conversation is irrelevant. Driving is fine; the complaints of "too many cars on the road" are the result of overpopulation, not the cars in and of themselves.
We should all have the freedom to choose our transportation without artificial pressure that one form of transportation is somehow more virtuous than the other.
So I'm not gonna sit here and say that I often walk to the grocery store and carry back my groceries in hand as if it's supposed to prove something! Do I get a cookie? An anti-car environmentalist merit badge?
Give me a break.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,
on May 6, 2019 at 9:01 am

@Resident Yes, lots of people, lots of cars, a "price" we pay to live here. I think we need to be mindful of this beautiful place we have chosen to call home and take care of it. Maybe driving less is part of that, maybe using water more carefully is part of that, maybe using energy wisely is part of that, recycling, using less stuff can all be part of it.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 6, 2019 at 1:20 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Thanks for the thoughts...

@Tom -- Maybe it depends on where you work relative to where you live? This site has some interesting vehicle-miles-traveled data for the bay area, though it's based on a model as opposed to surveys.

@Resident -- You are right that the increase in cars is due to population, either residential or work force (as opposed to, say, people needing to drive farther). You are also right that many people, like yourself, will not get out of their cars for reasons they view as vague or fuzzy, like helping the environment. A huge hike in gas prices might do it. Bans on driving in city limits might do it. Enormous amounts of traffic and impossible parking might also do it. Are you advocating for any of these instead? Or population control? Or is none of this worth it? Just trying to get a handle on what your thinking is, since you are right about a bunch of things.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by MV Renter, a resident of Shoreline West,
on May 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

I'm afraid that in our current reality, automobiles are a priority. And it's not just a matter of the transit system.

Cost of living has a lot to do with it.
- Getting from far-from-work places where one can afford housing to the workplace necessitates automobiles.

- Lack of work/life balance means time is at a shortage, and a lot of people can't do a 90 minute train ride plus 30 minute bike ride (I prefer this, but even my schedule is to tight to do it regularly) is more than most people can do.

- Buying in bulk is cheaper; and people need cars to do it

- Activities for young are more varied and require more equipment than walking/biking/transit can accommodate. Remember "back in the day", the school bought/owned/stored this kind of equipment. Moreover "back in the day", schools offered this programs, instead of having to traipse all over town, where a program is sponsored by a non-school affiliated organization.

How does the reverse of this look? How can we make less automobile reliance a thing, truly. Beyond "it's not as hard as you think", etc, etc, etc. Honestly, I think many people (myself included) have tried it; and it was great. But it didn't stick. How would we reorder things to make it stick?

Time and money I think. Picture this:

- You don't buy in bulk. You buy fresh from a market every day, buy what you cook, and cook what you eat. That'd be nice. If it wasn't so expensive (money + time). I've done it. Can't maintain it, though. At some point, the schedule melts down.

- You either live near work, or you live in a bedroom community that commutes into a commerce/industry sector. That'd be great. Except campus workplaces make that prohibitive, and workplaces/domiciles are interspersed now. And the likelihood that you can afford to live near your workplace gets lower if you have children (too many mouths) or are single (no dual income).

- You and your kids activities are static and funded. You don't have to carry football pads, soccer balls, a cello, a hockey bag, etc. They're all part of the program, and stored at the site. Yeah, maybe we shouldn't get into that rat's nest. That'll bust open the arguments of public schools, charter schools, private schools; not to mention all the different activity groups, neighborhood leagues, youth theatre or symphony, etc etc etc. And adults, the same thing, actually.

Now believe it or not, we in Mountain View are actually better off than most places. If you have the time, and a schedule that's not too full, it's easier to make it work in Mountain View than almost literally anywhere else. Shoreline Park is bikeable, and other parklands like Rancho. Caltrain, bus, and lightrail are close at hand. Bike boulevards are not that bad, and the Stevens Creek and Permanente Creek trails are wonderful.

If one thinks about it, this is a huge lesson: If we in Mountain View can't make it work, how can anybody else? We're better positioned to make a car-less lifestyle work than almost anyone.

Why?

Time and money.

And even *then* we're better off than most places. We have access to every major freeway, as well as every public transit option (including BART if you count the Caltrain/BART junction at Milbrae). We have the best of all worlds. Whether we had to drive or not, we have the best of all worlds.

And we *still* can't make it work.

Primarily because it's just too expensive. Too much money and too much time.

Heck, our gas prices have increased by almost a dollar in the last couple of months, and we are happily paying at the pump. Because it's less expensive, in the end.

We just have too many things to do in a day, and too much stuff that we need to carry around, that there really is no other way.

For now, anyway.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by MV Renter, a resident of Shoreline West,
on May 6, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Yeah, the more I think of it... the ones I know who make the no-car or reduced-car lifestyle work are childless couples. (Either no kids, or the kids are grown, or the kids live with the ex- and you've remarried).

Too incomes, not as many activities to traipse around, and no need to accumulate clutter and equipment.

Not really ideal.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by What about a cargo bike?, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 6, 2019 at 2:29 pm

What about a cargo bike? is a registered user.

Actually, I have many friends who use bikes as their primary transportation who have kids. The big plus side of this is they learn to be experienced, safe bicyclists from mom and dad.

I find it's faster to get around on a bike than in a car these days. I don't view driving as a time saver. Too many cars.

Have you considered a cargo bike? These bikes are awesome for carrying stuff. And you can buy electric versions if you tend to carry heavier, less manageable loads.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Then shoot for 1%, a resident of Bailey Park,
on May 6, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Everyone has reasons why they cannot take every trip by car, but I don't know any able bodied person who cannot take one single trip per month by car.
Do it when you can, don't say I couldn't do it this week so it'll never work ever. Don't let perfection get in the way doing stuff.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Jim Neal, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on May 6, 2019 at 2:44 pm

Jim Neal is a registered user.

Yup! I'm definitely still driving and glad for it!

Why you ask? Well for 6 years I was without a car and stuck taking Caltrain, Muni and BART to work every day from MV to Berkeley. This trip took anywhere from 2 to 5 hours EACH WAY and the trains and buses were usually full of rude and obnoxious people, not to mention people that were sick, drunk, or had other issues.

It was also frequently very difficult to get a seat, which meant standing up all the way from MV to Berkeley.

Then there were the delays due to malfunctions, suicides, protests, medical emergencies, etc.

It also cost me $20 per day and over $400 per month when driving would have cost me less than half of that, and If I wanted to take a family member, my costs would double, triple or more depending on how many people were going with me. Just taking 3 people with me to the movies cost me more in public transportation expenses than the movie tickets themselves!

I would walk from my house on West Dana Street to the Safeway on Shoreline and back, carrying over 100 lbs of groceries on my back and in my hands, yet during my campaign, many local publications cast me as being anti-environment, (presumably because they thought I was a Republican) when in fact I was the greenest candidate based on how I live my life.

Before I moved to Modesto, I bought a car because there is no way I'm going to try to bike 90 miles each way every day, or getting up at 3:30 am so I can get to work by 9am on Public transit and then get home at 9pm every night. Since I work in tech, there is also no way for me to carpool since I never know when I will have to work late or have a meeting run overtime.

Public transit will never be a convenient alternative because it is run by public agencies that do not need to make a profit and are unaccountable to anyone, thereby ensuring that they are inefficient. Also, as previously stated, the prohibitive cost, the fact that they jam people in like sardines and expose one to all sorts of illnesses (not to mention violence), makes public transit a very unappealing alternative.

Many people ask me; why don't you move closer to work? Several reasons:

1) I can't afford it
2) If I could afford it I would be stuck living in a city I don't like with people I don't know
3) Every time I have moved to get closer to my job, the job disappeared and I was stuck in a city I never wanted to be in to begin with.


If other people love public transit and want to use it, I have no problem with that; but I do have a problem with people getting in my face and telling me that I HAVE TO use it and that it is better for the collective.

No thanks!


Jim Neal
Modesto, Ca
(Formerly Old Mountain View)


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 6, 2019 at 8:47 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@MV Renter. Thank you for the thoughtful comments! I am also worried about time and money stressors. They sound like big factors for @Jim too… As one example, I read once that big-box stores are contributing to our over-consumption of goods that are under-priced relative to their cost on our environment, and we’d be better off if everyone shopped (less) at small, local, custom stores like in the old days. Why don’t we? Time and money.

And I like your approach of thinking about what a low-emission lifestyle would look like, and how realistic it is. For example: Would we be willing to send our kids to the same local activity clubs and sports teams as everyone else, or do we need to send them somewhere special (that is farther away)? Would we be willing to go on local holidays, or do we feel we need to fly somewhere special? How do we go about creating a culture where a low-emission lifestyle is desirable, even aspirational, but also attainable by all?

@Then shoot for the 1%. Makes sense to me. FWIW, that is how I get myself to exercise when I’m feeling draggy. I tell myself I only have to do (say) one lap around the block. Then if/when it proves to be not that bad, I’ll do another.

@Rachel and @Cargo. In reality, at least as far as I can tell, the (large) majority of adults around here drive when they need to get somewhere. If you feel like speculating, what do you think are the main reasons for that? Is it “They just haven’t tried biking yet. If they did, they would see the light.” Or is it something else? And if something else, how would you encourage more people to bike successfully? (Maybe there is a local survey on this? I haven't checked.)


 +   2 people like this
Posted by more people choosing to drive less more often, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on May 6, 2019 at 10:23 pm

Thanks also, Sherry, for your thoughtful blog post and responses, and to commenters engaging in thoughtful discussion. But while thinking/acting globally is definitely important, we in the US have been consuming far, far too much fossil fuels relative to our population size than any other country, for decades. Acting locally is also critical to our future.
Here in Palo Alto, per this year's Earth Day report to the City Council, 40% of the greenhouse gases produced *locally* are from fossil fuel powered vehicles. A good chunk of these GHG emissions are from *local* trips, made by us. And short car trips in either gas or hybrid vehicles involve cold starts, involve higher emissions and also contribute to congestion during peak periods on our local streets. So our daily transportation choices actually can make a difference.

Does everyone have a choice about whether to drive each day or each trip? Nope. The daily travel decisions we face are definitely constrained by the decisions made in the 1950s-1970s that denied us BART as an option and ended community-based busing, in favor of freeways and expressways everywhere.

But this is not equivalent to stating that we all “need" to drive in the same sense that those like Jim who have been forced to live in Modesto need to get to work. Many of us living on the Peninsula could cut the number of trips that we make each day by solo motor vehicle. Just asking "Could I carpool?", "Could I get there by walking or biking?", "Does it make sense to drive 4 blocks to the gym?" or even "Could I bike to the train station and take the train to the Sharks game (or to the City)?" can help reduce the "solo driving as my only option" mentality even if current circumstances make it challenging to do this every day.

Plus there's a bonus: the more people who choose alternatives other than solo driving during peak periods, the less congestion for all of us. If even 5% of us could switch to a choice that reduces carbon emissions as well as the number of the solo drivers on the road on a particular day, the carbon-producing congestion we all complain about would be noticeably less at major intersections.

Just think, for example, what the backups on school driving routes would be like today each morning if we didn't have +/- 800 students at each high school biking to school (compared to only 150 just 15 years ago). Each student on a bike is one less car on the road during the morning rush. Other students take the shuttle or a bus.
Our individual travel choices each day, too, can make a collective difference at the local level, as can our local and regional efforts to build more transportation choices for all of us in future years.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Tired of the lectures, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 7, 2019 at 7:40 am

"If other people love public transit and want to use it, I have no problem with that; but I do have a problem with people getting in my face and telling me that I HAVE TO use it and that it is better for the collective."

That is part of the Bay Area experience--having people lecture you about what you should and shouldnt be doing. And Palo Alto has taken it to an art. For decades now our elected officials have felt the need to lecture the unwashed masses on how they live their lives--after all they know better than everyone else.
This started with councilmembers having "carbon footprints" done on their homes (and making sure the newspapers carried stories about) and then lecturing everyone about what they need to do. Then we have council members pushing pie-in-the-sky technology to deal with our waste and then "retiring" because it was too much work.
WE have "bike advocates" telling everyone that there is no excuse for anyone to drive--completely ignoring reality about how people's lives are carried out.
This goes on and on and on. I have learned to just tune them out. Let them blather on and on. It is one of the few pleasures they have left in life.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 7, 2019 at 8:34 am

I have an important meeting that I have to attend later today. I have things to take which are delicate/fragile in nature and have to be placed in the car very carefully and then taken out very carefully. I have to look neat and tidy, fresh and professional. I cannot arrive and then set up my things and shower and change clothes. I will return having to stop at another place while leaving my meeting things safe in the car.

Sometimes bikes just do not work and we all have many occasions when a bike or even public transport is not going to replace all our transport needs.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 7, 2019 at 11:34 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@more people choosing to drive less more often (Okay, that was hard to parse!) -- Kids biking to school is a real success story here. What do you think made that work? And can any of that be transferred to getting others to bike (or take transit)? Because it doesn’t seem to be translating enough right now. (CalTrain is also a success story, I think.)

@Tired of the lectures. It’s hard to disagree with that. People don’t like being lectured at. I’d also guess that people don’t lecturing, either. So it’s hard to imagine lecturing is an effective solution for reducing our transportation emissions. The question then is, what DO we do? How do we encourage people to stop driving gas-powered cars? There is no way around it -- we have got to stop doing that, and soon, if we are going to reduce emissions in the next 10 years near to where they need to be. Do we lead by example? Share with (but not lecture) friends and neighbors what works for us? Vote for “carrot” policies like bike discounts and transit passes? Vote for “stick” policies like congestion pricing and parking fees? What is going to get people on board most effectively? What works for you?

@Resident. Yup. Biking just doesn’t work some of the time. And switching between the two can get confusing. It’s easier just to have a habit of hopping in the car. But that doesn't mean it's best. So… what do we do? Do we make it harder to drive and easier to take transit? Do we accept that we will drive and build out EV infrastructure? What would you like to see yourself doing in five years wrt low-emission transportation?

I really like this conversation, btw. Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. How do we make lowering emissions a desirable thing that people want to buy into, and less like a sacrifice?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by MV Renter, a resident of Shoreline West,
on May 7, 2019 at 11:53 am

@Sherry Listgarten

I am very thankful that you have taken an initiative which makes me (and others) think. And your responses are so thoughtful and encouraging, it makes a person want to be more thoughtful and encouraging.

I wanted to share that I really kind of zero-in on consumption and lifestyle as perhaps the lowest, easiest, and accessible hanging fruit; in that it has various touchpoints that could blossom into something greater, and even if not has a positive carbon and societal impact.

Envision this: If we had meals at home more often than not, and prepared those meals at home more often than not, then not only does this do something for our family relationships and friendships, but it impacts how we shop. Again, we buy fresh food, prepare it ourselves, eat at the dinner table and converse with each other without phones or TV.

So that means we bolster local stores for daily consummables. Which also means we can bike/walk one or two bags of groceries instead of a trunkful. The big car trip reduces to a once-a-month trip to Costco or Smart & Final or wherever.

It means we use baskets instead of carts. It means we don't buy stuff we don't need. It means we may clip a coupon or two to bring with us to the store. Or, like in my own childhood, it means the kids have craft scissors and sit with Mom at the table clipping the coupons she marks down.

It means that a child who learns to ride a bike with a basket or backpack gets to have that right-of-passage of being part of their household. The first "family task" I was given when I got my driver's license was picking up my sisters from school when we had a family activity when they needed to get home before the bus would get them home.

It means that, as we get used to living our lives locally, we wouldn't drive 40 miles to an outlet store to save 5% on two items. We'd go maybe once a quarter to save 5% on a bunch of items that we had priced out and planned to by with intent. In other words, less impulse buying.

I've focused on this one single target area of potentially low hanging fruit because there are other use cases that become far more complicated. A person who is constantly running late in their too busy schedule is almost guaranteed to drive just to save 5 minutes; because 5 minutes matters when you're always late for an appointment.

It's hard to encourage people to lead less busy lives.

But everyone's gotta eat. And everyone's gotta buy consumables. Maybe we could start there.

It's a thought.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 7, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Sherry, if we really do want to make more people use their cars less, then we should be looking at the best types of trips that could be eliminated.

You mention school kids biking to school. The reason that works for most of them is because they are doing the same trip at the same time every day. Following through on that logic, the best way to get people who make the same trip every day at the same time is to provide them with an alternative method.

For some it may be riding a bike, but quite possibly it may be getting on a bus or shuttle. The advantages of driving a routine, regular trip, where the driver gets stuck in traffic, is unable to spend the time doing something else that is productive, and then has to find parking, perhaps pay for parking at the end. Repeat for the trip home. The advantage may be that having a car means less concerns about leaving work on time, having to stop on the way home to do errands, or be able to drive somewhere else to spend the evening before returning home later in the evening. For someone doing a routine drive at the same time each day, perhaps a good, reliable, efficient bus could do the same thing and the person could spend the time asleep, doing emails, working, or reading the online news. A short walk at the start and end of the bus ride gives a little exercise which enables the person to start work wide awake and alert. So yes, maybe that person will have to leave the job exactly on time or fear missing a bus. Yes, maybe that person will have to go home before being able to run errands or go out for the evening. But even if they can do that 2 or 3 times each week, it would make a difference in a small way. And the more people who make a difference in a small way can make a bigger difference.

No we don't like lectures and for most of us carrots and sticks may not work. However, reliable, efficient alternatives just might. If I can get a regular bus to take me to my regular, routine destinations in less time than it takes me to drive, where I don't have to hunt for a parking place or have to pay for parking, and if my bus has comfortable seats, good wifi, and is using a route that gets me there quickly, then I would be willing to go for the bus at least a few times to enable me to arrive more relaxed than solo driving would be. On the days when I just can't see it working, driving will become the alternative method rather the norm.


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Posted by MV Renter, a resident of Shoreline West,
on May 7, 2019 at 1:56 pm

I have to agree with @Resident, who brings up something I didn't think of.

Routine schedules can lead to routine commute habits, and that is where transit/walking/cycling could work best. It's like when I was growing up: catching the school bus at the same time every day. Missing the bus means I had to run my butt to school (or face the wrath of my parents, who would certainly have given me much grief if I went home to beg for a ride; because it would have made them late to work because they too had routines).

Having routines could be key.


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Posted by Rachel G, a resident of Rex Manor,
on May 7, 2019 at 3:05 pm

Rachel G is a registered user.

E-bikes are a good option for some people, particularly if they have a commute that regularly has a lot of traffic jams. I know of people who have gotten e-bikes and now their commutes are faster than when they drove because they can bypass the traffic. They still have their cars for when they have too much to carry or if the weather is bad. An e-bike uses a lot less energy than an e-car, and e-bikers can get some exercise during the ride as well.

Also, there's a company called Sky Tran that is working on developing a transportation system that could be really great if it is fully implemented. Here's their website: Web Link

It requires a lot of infrastructure investment, but if put in place, there would be a fast, efficient, electric, individualized transportation system available to people. Some of the key features of their design are:

- Using maglev pods, individual riders (or up to 4 together) choose their destination and go directly there without stopping.
- The stations are on sidetracks, so other pods can go past without stopping.
- The pods themselves don't carry the power source -- it is in the track. With electric cars, the car has to transport the heavy battery. But with maglev, the vehicle doesn't carry the power source and thus uses much less energy.

We currently spend large amounts of money on roads, and they go everywhere. We expect the roads to allow us to drive door-to-door no matter where we are going. Perhaps in the future we can replace roads with a maglev pod system with as much coverage as roads for cars now have. It would be faster, safer, quieter, more efficient, and all electric, allowing for the power source to come from something other than fossil fuels.

I don't think there's a way to convince people to ride bikes if they don't want to. I'm always happy to help anyone who is interested in riding more, but I recognize there are some big hurdles to get over in order to make it a viable transportation option so I understand why most people don't bike. It's pretty fun once you are over the hurdles, though.


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Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on May 7, 2019 at 7:15 pm

The theme here is that many people here see the eventual phasing out of cars as a foregone conclusion. Go to other places in the US and there are no bike lanes, there aren't even sidewalks. Single-occupant vehicles -- which form the majority of the population -- are prioritized, as they should be.
I see the freedom & efficiency provided to an individual by a car as a crucial element of our modern culture. Acting as if single-occupant commuting is inevitably on its way out and now we just need to "brainstorm" various methods and experimental ways of "getting people out of their cars" is all built on a faulty premise. Its not a progressive notion, its a very regressive one. Moreover, it is a form of control and social engineering which goes against the values our nation is founded upon. I guess, if those values don't mean anything to you, and you want a socialist environment in which we all sacrifice our personal quality of life for the collective and for the "greater good" then... more power to ya?


 +   36 people like this
Posted by It's not one or the other, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 8, 2019 at 9:09 am

A variety of modes will help ease traffic. People these days can;t seem to think in anything but absolutes. "They want me to give up my car" "I can't ride in the rain" "You can do everything on a bike if you want to"

Be a THINKER and realize no single mode will ever work, then use the best mode for you at that particular time. Don't take some attitude like "I'm a proud driver and will never use public transportation" or "I'm a proud cyclist and will never use a car"
[Sentence omitted due to unhelpful/unfriendly remark]


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Happy Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on May 8, 2019 at 1:18 pm

Happy Resident is a registered user.

There is NO viable public transit to use within Menlo Park. Due to traffic and distances, biking or walking is not even a highly remote possibility for most Menlo Park residents. Trying to get people out of cars is not realistic. Making car traffic more efficient and comfortable is highly realistic.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Walker, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 8, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Happy resident, I'm not sure that's true. I guess it depends on where you live in Menlo Park.

Problem is that we are so used to using our cars for every little trip that we forget that so much is within walking distance.

I live near the Menlo Park train station. I am a healthy female in my 50s and walk as much as possible. I walk to Safeway, Trader Joe's, and Draeger's for groceries. I walk from my apartment to Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo Alto. I walk to Stanford University. It is very enjoyable, good exercise, and I don't need to worry about parking or traffic jams.

If you are in good health, I challenge you to walk for 30 minutes and see how far you can go. I'll bet you can at least reach the Sharon Heights Safeway in 30 minutes. Give it a try if you are able.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by kbehroozi, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on May 8, 2019 at 4:53 pm

kbehroozi is a registered user.

Happy Resident, car traffic isn't very comfortable or efficient these days, at least not during peak hours"and unless we can equip our leaders with time machines to go back and nip Silicon Valley and Stanford growth in the bud, it's probably going to get worse, not better. Expanding our roadways for cars is expensive (in terms of right-of-way acquisition, etc.) and likely to yield little benefit in the long run (while also reducing safety and increasing emissions). We can, however, expand roadway capacity for by creating narrower adjacent traffic lanes usable by scooters, bikes, etc., as well as better sidewalks and crosswalks. This way, people who live within Menlo Park have options for getting around town at times when the traffic is unbearable.

My friend who commutes from Belle Haven to Oak Knoll used to drive to work"but traffic on Willow Rd. meant that it took her 30-45 minutes each way, and sometimes closer to an hour. She got an e-bike and now bypasses the whole mess, getting to work in about 20 minutes without breaking a sweat. She's not an elite athlete or a crazy wingnut cyclist"just another middle-aged mom who is juggling job and parenting and volunteer responsibilities and needed to be able to get places on time. For her, having the bike option has been life changing. Doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

Some days I bike; some days I drive. Honestly, in both time and convenience, it's usually a wash. It's faster to drive when there's no traffic, slower when there *is* traffic. Finding parking on Stanford campus (or downtown during lunch hour) is pretty painful and by the time I've circled, walked a few extra blocks, etc., i'm usually regretting my "convenient" choice to drive. Biking to Trader Joe's requires a bit of extra planning (specifically bringing the right bike, the one that I can lock up outside and attach saddlebags to) but I've biked home with well over $100 of groceries on numerous occasions. It seems daunting until you try it.

Just because I like to bike places doesn't mean I want to give up my car. I'm not asking you to give up your car. I'm not a zealot, and I don't think this should be viewed as a binary choice, nor is it a zero-sum game. But if I can bike to town for an errand or for lunch"and I can!"that leaves one parking spot free for someone who is mobility-challenged, or commuting in from the East Bay, or driving the soccer carpool, or whatever. For that reason alone (before we even get into the health or environmental benefits), it's great that some people can bike. And there are others who'd like to bike but need encouragement, or better bike lanes, or someone to show them the ropes.

Thank you for listening.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 8, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@kbehroozi -- I love the story about your friend and her e-bike. Sometimes I wonder if more people would (e)bike if they didn’t think they needed to wear spandex somehow.

I have never tried an e-bike. I’m curious what people think about them when they try them. Are they comfortable? Do they feel safe? Do they think like they look stupid? I get the sense that people are pleasantly surprised when they try an electric car. But I don’t have a sense about electric bikes. Are they fun?

I think the comments about routines make a lot of sense, especially for transit, since at this point you can’t just show up at a stop (or even find one) and figure it out from there. To @Happy’s point, I think there probably is *some* transit in Menlo Park, but it is way too hard to figure it out (unless it’s something you do over and over). I stopped to help a guy once find a shuttle stop near Embarcadero and Middlefield in Palo Alto, and it took the two of us about ten minutes walking up and down to find the sign.

@Resident -- I don’t think cars are going away. But I do expect alternatives to get more popular, if only because traffic gets worse. And many of the alternatives are cheaper, so you can in theory save time and money if it fits. Your point about socialism is interesting. I tend to think of the Harley as emblematic of our free lifestyles, not so much a minivan. Check out this link! Random question -- Would you try an ebike if your commute were too crowded, or your car needed a repair? Or transit? Or does it just feel too weird somehow, not “you”?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on May 8, 2019 at 11:49 pm

Nice academic discussion. However, a simple answer as to why public transit / biking isn't practical for all but the most local trips can be found by using Apple/Google Maps to estimate transit time for any trip in the Bay Area. These Apps even do a reasonable job accounting for traffic conditions using cell phone location info to estimate traffic speeds. For me...
drive to work = 17 minutes
public transit to work = 1 hr 10 minutes ( involving 3 bus transfers)

drive to SFO = 22 minutes (maybe double if at the worst traffic time)
public transit to SFO = 2hr 21 min (after hours .. Caltrain runs very infrequently + still have to get to/from the station)

drive to Mountain View Safeway = 8 min
walk to Mountain View Safeway = 1 hr 8 min

People simply don't have this kind of time to waste unless they are retired. Traffic is only really meaningfully bad if you have to go in the wrong direction on the wrong road at the wrong time ... other than that driving is still always at least 2x faster than the alternatives.


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Posted by Fred, a resident of University South,
on May 9, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Does anybody know the per-mile carbon footprint of a diesel bus with one or two riders?


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Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 9, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Fred -- From what I see, it looks like a diesel bus gets 4-5 mpg, and diesel emits about 22.5 pounds of CO2 per gallon. So something like 5 pounds of CO2 per mile. This doesn't reflect the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in the exhaust -- not sure how significant those are. In contrast, a gas-powered car getting about 25mpg would get about 0.8 pounds of CO2 per mile. So a diesel bus needs about 7 people on it to be "as good as" a single-driver car. You might like this easy-to-read article comparing types of buses. It shows that, in California, an electric bus gets the equivalent of about 21 mpg, which means it's much closer to a car, and much, much cleaner than a diesel bus. We are lucky to have clean electricity that gives us these options.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Uber cars, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 9, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Studies had been coming reporting that ride share cars were having a significant increase in traffic in major metro areas, but you never know with "Studies"

Then one day in the real world, an unintended result of the recent driver's strike supported those studies. Traffic flowed like it was a holiday in parts of SF and SJ that are usually much more congested. Something to really think about.

Anyway, I love to take my bike when I can but usually I drive. Bikes are great for me for ATM runs or if i need a couple things at the store i can put into my backpack. It's fun; it turns an otherwise mundane errand into a little smile maker.


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Posted by kbehroozi, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on May 9, 2019 at 3:27 pm

kbehroozi is a registered user.

@ Dan, this may be academic for some. For me, it's a pretty straightforward calculus.

I live in Menlo Park and bike commute to Stanford. It's about 4 miles each way. If I were to drive home right now, at 3 PM on a weekday, google maps estimates that it would take me about 16 minutes on surface roads (27 on the freeway). During rush hour, it can take 20-25 minutes each way. The maps estimate for biking is 24 minutes"which is not traffic-dependent"but in truth, it takes me 15-20 minutes, depending on light timing, whether I'm on the fast bike or the slow bike, and how late/motivated/tired I am.

But that's not all. When I bike to Stanford, I roll into a secured, covered parking spot that costs me $70 a year. A parking permit in the same garage would cost hundreds more. I also get $300/year in "commute cash" in exchange for not buying a parking permit. Even with a permit, finding parking in proximity to my office is not guaranteed. And there's a shower in my building where I can clean up if I overheat on the way in (but honestly, 95% of the time this just isn't an issue because it's a flat, moderately short ride).

One of the retired faculty here commutes campus every day on an e-bike that he got for his 75th birthday. I've never seen him in spandex. Is this really even a thing? Most of the people I know who bike-commute do so in ordinary clothes. It's a pretty sane solution for a lot of people.


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Posted by Hermit, a resident of Martens-Carmelita,
on May 9, 2019 at 5:43 pm

I go 48 hours without driving very frequently, but I am a homebody. I could even claim to be a bit of a hermit. My past biking and driving habits paralleled the author's quite closely, until my kids could drive themselves.

Also, I do almost all of my shopping online, which just means I paid somebody else to drive for me. I mostly eat at home. The kids have moved away and live on their own. Still, I could bike more, and should.

Future generations will look back at us and not think kindly for what we have done.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Gary Hedden, a resident of another community,
on May 10, 2019 at 8:10 am

I started riding my bike to work in the 1990s, not to make a statement but because I like riding a bike. It is more relaxing, I can think about things other than the car in front of me and I get some exercise without going to the gym. Of course, I lived 5 miles from work and that made it easy.
I am retired now and biking is my default way to get around and it has influenced my choices - I tend to shop locally for example. One plus, I never have to worry about finding a place to park.
Reading the comments, this life style won't work for everyone, but everyone should try biking whenever possible. You just might like it.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 10, 2019 at 8:43 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@dan -- In my experience as well, transit rarely works here. A long time ago I used to take the 7F to the airport, but it’s gone now. Speaking of which, to @Uber’s point, have you seen this article? It says that not only have Uber and Lyft accounted for two-thirds of the increase in traffic in SF from 2010-2016, but they have also siphoned off passengers from transit.

I love that people get so many side-benefits from biking. I think the same would be true for anything that is outdoors and more stress-free than driving. (Speaking of which -- does anyone know what happened with Segways? Weren't they supposed to be the way we all got around in the future? Too big/expensive to work at scale?)


 +   6 people like this
Posted by I did it last night!, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 11, 2019 at 5:08 am

I needed some butter to make some chocolate chip cookies for my son's soccer team. Instead of hopping in the car I hopped on my bike.
I glided past a huge long line of cars all locked up at a 4 way stop, went right to the front, put my foot down to stop then left them all behind me.

I rode right to the front of the store, past , you guessed it, more cars, all rushing and "pushing" to try and either get a spot or get out of the lot. I felt completely disconnected to the stress game those drivers were playing.

After a quick self checkout I was back on the bike, effortlessly rolling back home in about 4 mins. I could have been faster i suppose, but I was coasting and doing a bit of happy meandering on the roll home. Not only was it the best and fastest way to get the job done, it was fun. I felt like I had some sort of member's only secret path, totally devoid of all the stress you always seem to find on the road in a car.

Wait! Disneyland, it was like having a magic ticket that allowed you to move passed all the lines and right to the front of your favorite ride in the park.
Anyway, it was freakin' awesome. I'm 100% hooked now.


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Posted by 60-years young and still bike., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 13, 2019 at 2:36 pm

60-years young and still bike. is a registered user.

I'm 60. I bike. It keeps me fit and is faster that driving for many trips...and it's just not that hard. People seem to imagine that it is hard and dangerous. It's not. You do have to pick routes thoughtfully and follow rules of the road (but you have to do that when you drive too). Consider trying it. Put some fun in your commute!

BTW. I am not "lecturing"...just sharing that it's possible you might be missing something great. It's worth trying. For the record, I am also not saying "everyone should bike for every trip". I drive for a little less than half of my trips--for lots of reasons--too much to haul, too far to go in a short time, etc.

When I can, I bike because it feels so good.


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