Monday, August 31, 2009

Advice for the carfree plunge, Part 1: Gear

We got a comment last week from Lauren asking for advice in taking the step from car-light family to car-free family. She writes:

"My family (two grown-ups one 3.5 year old) have been day dreaming about being car free for a while- since we already owned a car, it was easy to just do our best being car light. Since our car has now taken it's last trip (by way of a high speed car wreck) we have the perfect opportunity to take the challenge on. I love the IDEA of car free, but things like, snow, illness, and visiting the grandparents makes me worry. I have been reading your blog and have found it very helpful and comforting. Right now we have a simple set up- two old bikes, a child bike seat and a burley trailer (with no rain cover)... but we have daycare that is walkable and work near the bike path. Any advice for some essentials to make life easier? ... (Our t-stop is Alewife too, maybe someday we will see you out there!)"
I have several thoughts for Lauren, and we'll get to them, but the most important thing I have to say is that you can do it! You live in our neighborhood, so I know for a fact that the resources are here. Yes, it can feel scary, and you will certainly have to figure out new ways to do some things, but I bet you'll feel a payoff pretty quickly in terms of your place in our community, your health and that feeling of freedom that comes from knowing you'll never get a parking ticket again. Now, for the first portion of some more detailed thoughts:

GEAR: It sounds like you have a completely reasonable bike set-up in order to use biking for a lot of your transport needs. Your trailer can be used easily for either kid or cargo, and if you need to haul cargo and kid at once, you can put the kid in the bike seat and haul stuff in the trailer. You might consider getting a hitch on both bikes if you haven't done so already. You also might consider some rain gear (like a raincover for the trailer, and rain pants and jacket for adults.) The number of days that you can ride comfortably in this area goes up dramatically once you are moderately protected from water. However, that said, we still only have one set of adult rain gear in our house, and we're fine. I got a LOT happier with my bike commute once I got rain gear, and now that Angela has been borrowing mine while I was on pregnancy bike hiatus, we may need to buck up and get a second set. Mostly though, if your bikes work and you have a way to haul both kid and some cargo, you are fine, and any remaining gear decisions come easier if you go ahead and ride with what you have, and then notice what drives you crazy the most. Then you can find gear that troubleshoots that problem specifically, rather than trying to anticipate all possible needs ahead of time (which will just make you spend a lot of money).

At some point quite soon, your 3.5 y.o. will outgrow the bike seat (most American seats have a 40 pound limit). The trailer work for a while after that, but soon that won't work either. If you're a carfree or mostly carfree family, consider the next kid-hauling purchase with cargo as well as kid in mind. The most common next step from the trailer is a trail-a-bike, but like the trailer, that has an extremely limited lifespan and even worse, provides no cargo capacity. If you need the trail-a-bike for the kid and also need to carry groceries what do you do? Well, some folks make giant trains by hooking a trailer to the trail-a-bike, and that does work, but it's a lot of weight and, in my opinion, a lot of accident risk due to sheer length. Another option is to go with both front and rear panniers on the adult bicycle, which does get you something, but if you need to haul groceries for a whole family, that probably won't cut it. We love our xtracycle (see also for its ability to carry both kid and stuff in a relatively compact package. There are other great cargo options out there (including the ute and the madsen), but from a price perspective, you might have great luck converting one of your existing adult bikes to an xtra, or possibly even both, once the trailer is outgrown. Even though a conversion would cost more than an trailer-bike, it would get you many many more years of use, and would be useful long after the kid bikes on his/her own. But you don't have to do it now. You can wait, see how your car-free lives unfold, and then assess down the line what next purchase will give your family the most use.

Next time, in part II, we address the importance of back-up plans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blogging for dollars

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about the controversy over "mommy bloggers" accepting payment or goods from companies.* If the coverage hasn't gotten to you, try the Newsweek piece, or the NPR piece. Off and on, I've wondered if we should host some advertising on this blog. After all, we put energy into the blog -- wouldn't it be nice to get just a little bit of cash out of it?

I've resisted the idea of advertising because I don't want people to buy anything they don't need. And advertising is about getting all of us to buy things they don't need. I'd rather than we all bought a little less.

But after reading a bit about bloggers getting swag and dollars for product reviews and other types of sponsored blogging, I realize there's another reason not to host any advertising. I love to read blogs by regular people who just want to get their thoughts out into the world. What's great about the internet is the possibility of ordinary people finding an audience for what we want to say and being able to bypass corporations, advertising, and marketing while doing it. And if those are blogs that I love to read, I guess they are also the kind of blog that I would love to write. A blog that comes out of a passion. A blog where you aren't going to be able to read three posts a week because we don't have time to write that many since we both work to earn our living rather than blogging to earn a living. So thanks for reading, thanks for writing your own blogs, and please don't buy anything you don't really need even if a blogger says it's great.

* Note: Please accept my apology for using the term "mommy blogger." It drives me crazy how everything on the internet having to do with parenting has the word mommy in it. What's wrong with the term "parent blogger?"

The Ride Home

There are wonderful things about raising a kid who rides public transit. I love that H. is out in the world, interacting with all kinds of people, all the time, and not just with the people we decide and arrange for her to have contact with. It's a pleasure to watch her skills at navigating public spaces grow. She's a pro at riding an escalator safely (yes, that did take teaching), knows just what to do (and what not to do) in a train station (wait back from the yellow line, stay close, NO RUNNING!, take a BIG STEP to get on the train).

She behaves reasonably well on trains and buses. We have pretty firm standards on what is and isn't acceptable that she mostly meets. There was a while there, right around 18 months, where I avoided taking her on transit because it was so difficult to keep her moderately contained for even a 10 minute ride. I thought perhaps we'd never make it out the other side. But it got better, and now, it's just a normal part of our days. One of the best things is that no matter where we're going, getting there is half the fun. The bus/subway/train ride is part of the adventure and the things we see out in the world give us lots to talk and think about. I can also see peeks into a future when she'll be able to ride trains and buses herself, and I can see that time will come way before her 16th birthday.

This is all great. But, and you knew there had to be a but, there's one thing that makes me wish for a nice, big, hermetically sealed car, preferably with tinted windows:

The ride home.

After a lovely trip out, say to the Science Museum (87 or 88 to Lechemere or Green line to Science Park), or Drumlin Farm (Commuter Rail to Lincoln), or South Station to watch the trains come in, H is tired, possibly cranky, and we still have to get home. Depending on where we are, getting home can take a long time (up to an hour, sometimes even longer), and that's a long time to ask a tired (or getting there) toddler to keep it together in a public space. She also knows the fun stuff is over, and is less enthusiastic about getting home than she was about getting wherever we were going in the first place. She still works hard to follow the "train rules," and we use all the tricks (e.g. toys & snacks in the bag just for the ride home), but any parent will tell you that sometimes the "tricks" just aren't enough, and then we become those people with that kid on the train.

I know other people's kids sometimes melt down after a big day, but they get to keep their tantrums private, in the confines of that nice car, with the kid strapped in and the windows rolled up. Every now and then, on that train or bus ride home, I wish I was one of them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Carfree Roundup