Archive for the 'Transportation' Category

Closure for the Excursionist on Craigslist

By now, you have probably used, or heard of craigslist.org, the king of the classifieds. Craigslist was started in 1995 by Craig Newmark as a hobby in his San Francisco apartment. CEO and ‘anarchist’ Jim Buckmaster took over in 2000, and runs Craigslist with a mission of non-commercial, non-corporate public service. It is wildly popular, used by 25 million people every month in 70 different countries. It is a haven for finding new life for used or unwanted items. Carpenters, plumbers, and tilers can find building materials. College students can find couches, and families can rescue pets that would otherwise be put down. Another beauty that Craigslist blesses us with is a rideshare board.
It is too often that we drive ourselves, and only ourselves places where many people are looking to go. On Craigslist rideshare, people offer or ask for rides to be shared. Gas is usually split, company is had, and everyone gets where they need to go, not to mention the carbon footprint of the ride goes down with each passenger! As my trip came to a close, I had my first experience with sharing rides.
In Eugene, OR, I shipped my bike home. With no wheels, I boarded a train to San Francisco to catch my cousin’s wedding where I was able to see my friends and family. While everyone flew back East, I could not justify it. I had just biked 4,500 miles, and flying home would be like someone who was a vegan for five years gorging themselves on a Philly cheese steak. I knew there were people looking to drive back to NYC, I just had to find someone who was leaving when I needed to. Through Craigslist I found many folks driving to the East coast, but only one leaving in the small time frame I had. The only problem was I was in San Fran, and they were in LA. What did I do? Looked for a ride to LA, of course. I found a guy leaving the next day from Berkley. He was a prodigy auto mechanic from LA who was visiting his girlfriend in San Fran. We arranged a meeting place, he picked me up, he dropped me off in LA, and I gave him $20 bucks. We did not have much in common, but it was a pleasant drive. During our conversations I tried to spew any facts or stories I had about cars but came up short.
My ride back home was epic. It took two and a half days to drive from LA to NYC. In the car was orchestrator Ehud, an Israeli jazz musician studying the drums at the New School for Jazz, and a Russian TV repairman who was living and working in Las Vegas. We had the best time, sleeping, driving, and laughing at each others stories. We all rotated driving, and when someone felt like they were endangering the others lives, they said something and we switched. It was a blast, and I fully support anyone wondering if sharing a ride is right for them. If you are unsure of their character, you can e-mail back and forth, chat on the phone, and nowadays most people are on a social networking website so you can thoroughly check out who you are going to ride with.

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Dan uses Veggie Oil

Ever dream of buying a van, putting a mattress in it, and driving down to Costa Rica to explore Central America, surf all day, and sleep on the beach every night?
Nick, of Portland Oregon, lived that dream, and throughout the 30,000 miles he did not pay for fuel once, and he only filled up his tank three times. Nick is carpenter and musician. He splits his time between labor and playing in a Latin rock -with reggae undertones- band. A couple of years ago he wanted to take a trip. A long trip, to Central America. He wanted to drive, but something about driving all that way disturbed him. Fuel would not only be costly to him, but he would be responsible for all of those carbon emissions. The answer seemed obvious- vegetable oil.Dan in back of his van. (Tank is below wooden platform)
Veg-oil, which can be burned in most diesel engines, has zero emissions when burned, and is free; an almost too perfect answer to Nick’s need of guilt-free transportation. He bought a six cylinder Ford work van, and with his friend converted it to run on veggie oil. Technically, all you need is a vehicle with a diesel engine, but simply pouring it in to the tank is not the safest of ways to go about it. The proper way is to install a two tank system, that due to the higher viscosity of veggie oil, starts and shuts down the engine on diesel fuel to give the veg-oil time to heat up. Nick and his friend welded a 300 gallon tank that sits in the back of the van. His fuel source was not hard to find either. Nick found some people with stock piles of veg-oil that he took off their hands. Veggie oil is a waste product that most restaurants pay to get picked up and disposed of. If you want some, ask the restaurant owner if it is OK to scoop some out. Usually they are more than willing.
Using veg-oil is not biking, but it is still radically alternative to other fuel sources. The time and money devoted to converting it was more than worth it to Nick, who encourages more people to make the switch. I am waiting for the day when my bike breaks down, and first car that came by was powered by veg-oil. Tomorrow, maybe?

Julia. Peace. Coffee.

In Minneapolis I mentioned to my host the purpose of my trip, and he recommended I check out a couple of spots that he thought would peak my interest. One of them was the non profit, Peace Coffee, and boy was he right!

Julia, trailer, coffee!

Peace Coffee is a coffee distributor and roastery in downtown Minneapolis. They roast 100% organic, fair trade beans five days a week, and are committed to buying coffee from cooperatives to make sure their operation is non-exploitative. But that is not the best part…the coffee is delivered by bike! Peace Pedalers, as they are called, bike over 5,000 miles every year delivering their beans to coffee shops and retailers all around Minneapolis. Their motto is ‘Roast beans, not fossil fuels,’ and boy do they live up to it. Every morning two cyclists make the rounds to drop coffee off around the city. I caught up with Julia, a Peace Pedaler, as she began her ride.
Julia is an avid cyclist (like most people in St. Paul-Minneapolis), and this job caught her eye when she was looking for work. We talked as we followed the most efficient route to each of the customers. The coffee is loaded in a long, box trailer that is capable of carrying hundreds of pounds of coffee. To maneuver the trailer fully loaded is quite the task, and it helps if you know the cracks, ditches, and alleys by heart. To her it was just another day on the job, but I was so excited to simply follow her around until I felt like I was annoying her.
Peace coffee tackles the two most valuable commodities on the planet, coffee and oil. By creating a fair trade market they ensuring better lives of farmers and their communities. By biking, they are autonomous in their reluctance to drive a delivery truck that runs on regular diesel fuel.
Growth did eventually exceed the range that was possible with bicycle delivery and a van was purchased. The van runs on biodiesel, a blend of vegetable oil, methane, and small amounts of lye, and is purchased from a local source, the Twin Cities Biodiesel Coop. Biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum that has the ability to dramatically reduce sulfate and hydrocarbon emissions, as well as reduce particulate matter in the air we breath. It is important to assess how we transport goods, as transportation (personal cars and trucks, freight hauling, airlines, shipping, and railroads) is responsible for the largest portion of U.S. oil consumption, and it is the fastest growing sector in terms of oil consumption.
Leave it to the Twin Cities to have Peace Coffee. It is 5pm, and the streets are littered in cyclists. Bike gangs of middle aged men with colorful cycling shirts are only a part of the massive bike culture that is obvious here. Though I am sad to leave, I am happy that Peace Coffee is in business!

Visit Peace Coffee’s homepage!

A Not so Rockin’ Detroit

The Wild Rockies Field Institute (WRFI) course during which Laura and I met had us backpacking and kayaking across Montana with eight other crazy folk with whom we grew very close. One of them was Sarah, whom we stayed with in Cleveland, and another is Pete Muehmel.

Papa Bear

Papa Bear

Pete, or ‘Papa Bear’ as we call him is currently in the Northern suburbs of Detroit earning some loan money for school, so we thought we would stay with him while we saw what was in The Motor City. It turns out there is not much to see, or blog about for that matter. Abandoned buildings obstruct the view of other abandoned buildings as you approach the downtown area. When you get there GM’s headquarters looms over the lake, a reminder of what the city was built upon. The feeling of being in Detroit was like teetering on the edge of a cliff. It was as though we could feel the mistakes of the past and the uncertainty of the future. At this point it would seem appropriate to launch into a summary of what new, efficient cars the Big Three plan to manufacture to save the American auto industry, but there is no point. Right now most of the world lives in cities, and in a couple more decades 2/3rds of the global population will be set up in urban areas where bus and rail systems will, hopefully, efficiently transport people.
GM's house

GM's house

Where people are highly concentrated, cars only add to pollution, congestion, and accidents; and dependence upon cars in urban areas only prolongs the delay of the development of convenient, comfortable, and sustainable public transit systems. Realistically I know people will keep buying cars, especially when foreign, low cost production cars hit the American market in a couple of years, but more cars are not the answer.
It was sad to be in such a depressed city, but our mood was lightened with some grilled kebabs and ice cream. Ice cream does amazing things for hindered spirits. The next day it was time to say goodbye to Papa Bear and leave the comfort of a friend’s home to once again battle the four wheeled beasts I just slandered. Michigan gets a D- for road maintenance, which is funny given how much Michiganders love their cars, and the intimate relationship between cars and roads. It is a little frustrating trying to avoid cracks and scattered potholes with a two wheeled trailer, so luckily a bike trail took us part of the way to Ann Arbor, our next stop.
Even with such a great reminder as the message written on the pavement (pictured below), I still managed to not call my father on father’s day. Last year I missed mother’s day because of a bike trip, so I was just evening the score…
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Michelle Zips

You would think not owning a car would make life a lot more difficult. How would you pick your friend up from the airport? How would you haul your Christmas tree or Bar Mitzvah gifts home? How would you take your three hour late-night cruise looking for a White Castle? Well, if Michelle wanted to, she could do all three of these things, and do them without owning a car.
Michelle is part of the carshare program, Zipcar.

Our host and Zipcar member Michelle

Our host and Zipcar member Michelle

Car-sharing is an alternative to owning a vehicle. Members pay a monthly or annual fee to have access to a car any time they want, and an hourly fee which varies depending on what car she takes. Reservation, pickup and return are all self-service, unlike renting a car, and also limited to office hours. All programs will have a different size fleet with different size cars. Zipcar, one of the larger programs has a wide range of vehicle types that can accommodate any of Michelle’s needs. If she just has to run a string of errands she will take a Prius, but if she wanted to move a piano, a pickup truck would be the proper choice. Or, if she wanted to impress a date she could roll up in a BMW M class with some Coltrane filtering through the speakers. It only takes a couple minutes to reserve a car on the internet or phone, just make sure you return it in the right spot within the time you reserved it for.
reppin' the streets

reppin' the streets

Michelle has been a member for a year, and in that time she has never wished she owned a car. Bus lines take her in and around Pittsburgh, while cycling is another option. Inevitably, more cost and fuel efficient means of transport become the norm when a car is not sitting in your garage waiting for you to take it down the block. Over 1,000 cities world wide have a car share program. It is most cost-effective for people who do not commute long distances and live in metropolitan areas, where congestion and air pollution are usually problems anyway.

Greenhouse Car Wash

While riding on Route 12 throughMay 2009 365 Oxford, MA, one might take notice of a greenhouse by the side of the road. Unlike all the other greenhouses there are no plants inside this one, instead it is open on either end, allowing for dirty cars to enter one end and clean ones to exit the other.
Owner Mark Mazziatti wanted to open a car wash but knew if he did he should run it in a responsible way. The car wash is a glass building, allowing for sunlight to heat the parts that need heating, including the machine room where people sometimes work.

Water reclamation system

Water reclamation system

The most impressive feature is the water reclamation system which reuses the wash water. To reduce cloth/paper waste, the cars are air dried after being washed with biodegradable soaps, waxes, and cleaners. Now, you would think that’s the end of it but the fun does not stop there. Soon renewable energy will power the wash after 35 solar panels are installed on the roof.
When I was there a woman in a black Scion came out of the wash looking sleek and fresh (I’m talking about the car), having chosen the green car wash over the conventional one three miles down the road. Happy with the job that the biodegradable soaps did she let me snap a photo of the sparkling car. So, maybe the next time a scheming flock of pigeons decide they don’t like your car, look for a car wash that can clean it without dirtying up the earth.

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Suzanne

Suzanne waiting for her train

Suzanne waiting for her train

I politely disturbed Suzanne while she was waiting for her train at the North Station in the TD Banknorth Garden. It took a second for her to be sure I was not asking her for money but, once reassured, she opened up and told me about her commuting ways. Suzanne has been commuting to Boston by train for the last two and a half years from Andover, MA. She enjoys the hour ride and takes the time to relax and read. Suzanne and other commuters I talked with mentioned that parking fees increased from $13 to $25 for a daily spot, which makes commuter trains the obvious choice. Her employer is able to take the pre-tax cost of the monthly pass out of her paycheck which makes it even easier for her. The trains also run frequently enough to be able to miss one and not worry about when the next one is due.
Suzanne does have a car but it doesn’t get much use. She is a big proponent of walking, and often does so when she’s not using the train. Walking and taking advantage of public transportation leads to a healthier living space for all. Americans account for 5% of the world’s population but drive a third of its cars. Carpooling, biking, and busing are other means of transport that can reduce the amount of American vehicles (over 250,000,000) on the road and emissions spewed in the air.