Saturday, June 26, 2010

We've moved, please join us!

Carfree with Kids has moved to a new home at Please hop on over and check out the new site (we're very proud of it). And update your RSS feed to Thanks, and hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kidical Mass North Cambridge

We're leading a Kidical Mass ride in North Cambridge this summer! The will be on July 18th at 10am, starting and ending in Rev. Williams park (corner of Cedar and Dudley). This will be a 3-mile ride on roads and bikepaths for parents and kids. Take a look at the route. The ride will start with some safety education, followed by the ride (no one left behind!), and ending with snacks, conversation, playing in the water at the Rev. Williams park. Please come with kids on bikes, on Xtracycles, in bakfiets, in trailers, or on trail-a-bikes. Don't be afraid to decorate your bikes!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How common is courtesy?

This past weekend, my family took a walk to see the red-tailed hawks nesting in our neighborhood. On the way home, Dorea was yelled at by a fast-moving biker for stopping to say hello to someone. At the time we were on a sidewalk which is also used as a bike path, but contains primarily pedestrians. This started a conversation about sharing space, and my mother, who is deaf in one ear noted that this happens to her with some frequency -- bikers may shout "on your left" but that doesn't mean that she hears them and they bike past in a huff. This conversation really started my brain churning about the large number of discourteous things that drivers, bikers, and walkers do to each other:

  • Fail to stop for pedestrians in cross walks.
  • Fail to notice cyclists.
  • Stop in crosswalks.
  • Get angry at cyclists for taking up any roadway at all and seem to want us all to ride in door zones and on dangerous shoulders.
  • Honk for almost any reason. Honking startles pedestrians and cyclists, which can lead to erratic behavior.
  • Drive too fast down wet residential streets in the rain, splashing any poor pedestrian or cyclist just trying to get home where it's dry.
  • Fail to use turn signals.
  • Cut off cyclists with sudden right turns.
  • Fail to stop for pedestrians in cross walks.
  • Stop in crosswalks.
  • Ride on sidewalks, even in areas where there are lots of pedestrians.
  • Pass other cyclists on the right forcing slower riders into car traffic.
  • Ride erratically and unpredictably on streets, which makes drivers anxious.
  • Fail to obey traffic laws while claiming to want to share the road, which angers drivers.
  • Ride aggressively on paths shared with pedestrians. Pedestrians are startled by fast-moving cyclists, and calling out "on the left" is not a substitute for slowing down (note that drivers do the same thing to cyclists with they honk at us as a way of saying they're about to pass). Some pedestrians will be unable to hear a bell or shout and others will be unable to quickly change their path.
  • Let dogs walk off leash in crowded areas, which violates law in some areas, scares kids (and some adults), and causes bikers to make sudden stops.
  • Walk in groups in a manner that takes up an entire sidewalk.
  • Step between cars and into bike lanes to wait to cross a street. When you are between cars you are not very visible to anyone, including bikers.
  • Jaywalk.
  • Walk/jog on paths shared with cyclists in erratic ways that make passing difficult. When possible, it's useful to walk and run on the right.
  • Allow toddlers to walk on bike paths without very close supervision which causes bikers either to make sudden stops or to slow to a crawl for fear of hitting an unpredictable child.
Now I've pissed off just about everyone reading this, but please keep in mind that I've done a large number of things on all three of these lists. I've done a smaller number of things on the list for pedestrians and cyclists just this week. In fact, on a trip to explore some new biking routes just today I did several of these things either because I was uncertain of where I was going or I was anxious about safety. When we share transportation routes with other types of users, conflicts will always occur and hard-and-fast rules don't always keep us safe. We all sometimes allow our own sense of urgency and importance to outrank our desire to play nice with others. But I also have lots of pleasant and courteous interactions with cars, bikes, and pedestrians every day, and I know that most of us want to be thoughtful of others, but we also want to be sure that our own rights to shared space are respected.

After thinking about all of the ways we drive each other crazy, I spent a little time thinking about my personal rules of courtesy. Here they are:
  1. When you encounter someone moving slower that you, it is always your responsibility to keep the interaction safe and courteous. That means that you watch carefully for slow-moving traffic, slow down when approaching, be as clear (and as lawful) as you can what you are doing or are about to do, and keep in mind that slower traffic may be unable to get out of your way.
  2. When you encounter someone moving faster than you, you should strive to act as safely and predictably as possible so that the faster traffic can pass.
  3. Keep in mind that some of our spaces are not shared. Drivers have a right to expect that pedestrians will stay out of the roadway unless they are in crosswalks. Cyclists have a right to expect bike lanes free of stopped cars. Pedestrians have a right to expect sidewalks free of cyclists. If you are invading a non-shared space, do so with extreme caution and at least try to feel a little guilty about it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bay State Bike Week!

We're a bit late to the party, but it's Bike Week! I'll be joining the bicycle convoy through Alewife tomorrow morning at 7:40 am (If you're in the greater Boston area, there's probably a convoy going through your neighborhood!), and on Saturday, we're planning to join the Cambridge Public Art Bicycle Tour.

Keep an eye out for us and say "Hi!" I'll be riding this:


Friday, April 9, 2010


Last night I had the great fortune of getting to hear some words from Anne Leonard at the Consuming Kids Summit and I got to re-watch the Story of Stuff on a big screen. I hadn't seen the film in a while and of course it inspired me to reduce my consumption and waste. Leonard said something after the film played that has given me some food for thought. She said people often ask her when she speaks what they can do, and she sometimes turns the question back around at them and asks what kinds of things they imagine they could do. Invariably, she said, the answers are personal --I could ride my bike more, I could waste less, I could recycle (and often, I could buy better stuff!). Leonard says that's all great and we should be doing those things, but that's not going to fix the problem. We can reduce our own waste, but for every trashcan we throw out, 70 trashcans were sent to the dump in the process of making stuff. We can try to avoid buying products that contain toxic chemicals, but the problem is that almost all products contain toxins. We need to exercise our "civic muscle" as she called it and start organizing and calling our government to task for not protecting us and our natural resources.

I know that I fall into this same trap. I tend to think that we do our part by not owning a car, living in a small space, and trying to limit the amount of stuff we buy (especially the amount of new stuff). But that's like my daughter H thinking she's cleaned up her whole room when all she really did was pick up the one Lego she saw. I think she tends to get a little overwhelmed at the prospect of cleaning her whole room. I feel the same way about civic action. I can't even wrap my mind around any piece of the larger problem, how can I engage for change? And as a working parent with two small children, I'm lucky to be able to find small moments to do the personal things, like dragging recycling down to the curb, processing the hand-me-downs that keep the kids clothed without creating new waste, making purees so we don't have to buy so many jars of babyfood (OK, Dorea does that), washing our cloth diapers, cooking non-processed food, and doing all the mundane chores of day-to-day life. I focus on the personal things because they meet multiple goals -- washing diapers and processing hand-me-downs saves us money as well as reducing waste, making babyfood gives baby R better food to eat, cooking and eating together brings our family closer.

Looking at the list of suggested things you can do on the Story of Stuff website, I note that most of them are the small, personal things. The larger things seem impossible to me. Write letters to the newspaper? What about? I'm never really sure I have a clear understanding of the issues. I'm sure I should also be writing to congress or something, but I confess that I rarely do. The shameful fact is that I don't personally feel connected to the process and that makes it very hard for me to put those kinds of actions high on my priority list.

But do you know what makes me happy? While writing this post of frustration, I got an email from a friend inviting me to participate in a group that's looking to improve the traffic and business situation in my neighborhood. I love my neighborhood and I love my neighbors. The chance to work with neighbors on making this a better, more connected place to live seems like something civic that, with some luck, I can really do. It may not be specifically focused on the "stuff" problem, but I'll take it. Maybe if I start exercising that civic muscle I'll find I can do a lot more than I thought. I love serendipity.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Springtime in the Bike Lane

Winter is a hard time of year for those of us who don't drive. Now, it's also hard for folks who drive, and at least we don't have to dig a car out after storms or drive all over town trying to find parking during a snow emergency, but still, when all transport is by foot, bike or transit, we're very in touch with the weather, sometimes a bit more than we'd like. We can't skip any of the kids snow gear whenever we leave the house, because they really will be out in the weather for the whole trip, not just the 20 feet to the car. When folks don't shovel, or the sidewalks get extra icy after a round of "wintry mix," it slows us down and makes us crabby. Both Angela and I bike some during the winter (though not every day), and it's totally do-able as long as we remember all of our gear, but even when I'm all decked out and relatively warm, it's still not exactly pleasant.

But every year, just when winter is seeming like it's going to go on forever, we get those first few spring-like days like we had earlier this week, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The mittens come off. I shed a layer of sweaters. My bike feels lighter and faster just because the sun is shining. The whole city decides it's time to bike again all at once* and everyone is smiling. Winter can be long in New England. But spring wouldn't be as sweet without it. I'm grateful that even though I live a city life and don't necessarily come into contact with all that much "nature" in my daily routine, our family's transportation keeps me connected to the seasons, and that makes the beginning of springtime even sweeter.


* Note also that the Cambridge cops decide it's time to ticket again. I've seen two traps set up this week. Stop at lights everyone and ride safe. They will ticket you, and that sure can ruin a nice day.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Food Waste Challenge

Since baby R was born, we've noticed waste creeping into our lives. We're more likely to waste money on take out. I'm certainly treating myself to more coffees during the work days. When we need to buy something, we're more likely to purchase it new than to work at locating a used item.

We've been trying to think of some sort of challenge to get us back on track. Something like not throwing anything away for a month, or not spending any money, or living without our car for a month. Oh wait. We already do that last one. We're just looking for something to kick us out of our current habits and make us pay a bit more attention. But the trouble is, the most obvious options, like not spending any money for some period of time, would take a lot of energy, and probably a lot of time, at least initially. Energy and time are in very short supply around here.

But Angela had an idea that actually may be sustainable. She was cleaning out our fridge, which happens every two weeks in tandem with our grocery trip. The fridge clean out inevitably ends with lots of leftovers dumped in the trash and piles of dirty food containers in our sink. Instead of chucking the food directly, Angela first took a picture of it.

Now we have a rough measure of how much food we wasted during this last two week cycle, and now we have our challenge. Every two weeks we're going to take a picture of what we throw away and try to make it smaller. No, it's not a dramatic challenge; it probably won't completely change our lives, and it's not a perfect measure of waste (some additional food gets wasted day to day as table scraps), but it's better than nothing. We were already inspired us to eat some leftovers for dinner that would have gone in the trash two weeks from now, which saved us time, energy and money, so we're on the right track.

How to raise a walker

At this point, our 3 1/2 y.o. H is a pretty reasonable walker. She walks the 6-ish blocks to and from daycare four days a week and walks the scant mile between our house and Davis Square (where grandma lives) at least once a week, sometimes as many as four times a week. She frequently walks the half mile or so to our subway station, as well as frequent short jaunts to the park, the library or the swimming pool (it will be summer again someday, right?). These days she hardly even drives us crazy while doing it. She just walks along, sometimes holding a hand, sometimes running ahead a bit, generally not making us fear for her life at street crossings, and walking at a pretty decent clip. She took a ceremonial "last stroller ride" a few weeks ago, but she hasn't used the stroller on any kind of regular basis in probably 5 or 6 months.

This doesn't seem so remarkable to us. Lots of kids in our neighborhood walk. A lot. But my parents were just visiting and seemed rather impressed by it (and H, seeing an easy mark, convinced her grandpa she was tired and needed a ride on his shoulders to Davis...). I've also seen a few notes here and there in blogland of parents with older kids whose kids wouldn't walk as far as a mile (maybe it's an older kid thing?). So it got me wondering, how did we raise a walker (so far)? It's not rocket science. The kid probably mostly just has to walk a lot, but anyone who's ever tried to take a walk with, say, a two year old, (and actually get somewhere) knows that's not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds. Here are a few tips and generalizations based our our broad and carefully selected sample set of one child. By all means, please add wisdom from your experience in the comments.

Step 1: Send child off with grandma, who won't pick her up, hates carrying a stroller in and out of the apartment building, and has a lot of patience, shortly after child learns to walk. Really, grandma has been great for H's walking prowess. She's also been great at working with her on train riding skills. When she has H, she's not in as much of a hurry as we are, and her patience really helped her to work with H on walking instead of just getting frustrated and chucking her in the stroller (which we've definitely been known to do).

Step 2: Keep an eye out for trips that might actually be easier without the stroller. Starting at barely age two, H was able to start making the three block walk to our neighborhood park, albeit very slowly. At some point, we noticed it was actually easier not to have to strap her in and instead let her walk. Sure, it took a while, but we were just going to the park anyway and she was having fun. If she got tired, she was still small enough, and the trip short enough that she could ride on one of our backs home. Soon we noticed more and more trips were easier with her on foot. First the library. Then the T station (which opened up a world of stroller-less outing options). Now she can get all the way to Davis Square, which as our nearest real commercial center, was the marker that let us ditch the stroller for good.

Step 3: Keep them moving but keep your cool. We went through a period where H would dawdle. A lot. It drove us crazy. After all, we're not just out taking a stroll. Walking is a major form of transportation for us, and doing it not just at toddler pace, but at the pace of a toddler who has realized she has the power to drive her parents insane by walking even more slowly, well, let's just say we had some outings that weren't so much fun. Once she realized she could push buttons this way, any seasoned parents here know we were just adding further inspiration for even more dawdling. We finally wised up. Angela let H know that she was expected to keep moving forward at a good pace, and that after one warning, if she slowed again she would be picked up and carried, no questions. H really didn't want to be picked up (the horror!), and since she stopped getting a rise out of us, she soon learned to keep moving. Now, clearly this one won't work with a kid too big to carry, or a kid who doesn't have a lot of motivation to do things him/herself, but that's all the more reason to start them young. Most 2 year olds are small enough to carry 10-20 paces, and want to do everything by themselves, at least some of the time (though it's true, H may be at one somewhat extreme end of that spectrum, but hey, we only promised a sample size of one!).

So, what are your tricks? What works to keep school age kids moving? How did you navigate the transition from stroller to foot?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One thing I'm glad I got wrong when bike shopping

Way back when we were trying to figure out what family bike to get, we thought that we were looking for a good way to bike with kids. We eventually found it, and love our current set up with an Xtracycle and custom two-kid seat. It works great for carrying one kid, and soon baby R will be big enough for us to use it for two. But it turns out that what we actually needed, even more than we needed to bike with kid(s), was a way to haul cargo.

Getting the Xtracycle itself was actually a bit of an afterthought. At first I thought I was just searching for the right kid seat. But then, after some looking, and riding some standard bikes with kid seats and checking weight limits, I thought that actually an Xtracycle would give us a better ride and more longevity, but I really wasn't thinking much about hauling capacity. I just wanted to bike easily with my kid.

As it turns out, our bike sees much more use hauling stuff (mostly groceries) than it does hauling kids. We don't actually need to bike with our kid(s) that much. We do, at least with the bigger one, and whenever we do, it's a blast, but in terms of day to day life, we really do need the bike to carry stuff.

This certainly wouldn't carry over to every other family, and may change for us once baby R is big enough we feel comfortable with him on our bike. We're set up with daycare and most activities walking distance from home (and yes, that's even 3 y.o. walking distance). However, it does bring up a point for families striving to reduce car trips, but who may not feel comfortable biking with their kids. If you can swing it, it might be worthwhile to work out a cargo set up. It wouldn't have to be fancy. A simple used trailer would do. Any kind of real cargo capacity, the kind that lets you haul a week's worth of groceries, or big bags of kitty litter, can turn errands for which a car used to be essential into bike errands.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Embracing our Tiny House

Ever since we found out baby R was a boy, we've been thinking about real estate.

We own a 650-ish square foot two-bedroom condo in North Cambridge (and about 40 of those sq ft are unheated enclosed porch). Our approximate plan when we bought the place two and a half years ago was that if our hoped-for second child was a girl, the kids would share a room indefinitely, and if that second kid was a boy, they could share a room for at least 8 years or so, at which point we'd likely be able to afford more space for separate bedrooms.

When we were shopping for our home, we made the conscious decision to give up space in order to live in close proximity to work, transit, and our religious community. While we certainly still stand by that choice, I'd be lying if I said that having two kids in this space doesn't make me fantasize about that affordable 3 or 4 bedroom place in the burbs sometimes.

After we found out R was a boy, we started to think through what it would really take for us to get more space, even if it was many years down the line. We'd love to share a two-family house with Angela's mom (who currently lives at 15 min walk away in Davis Square) and we started to think maybe we could get more space sooner if we pooled resources with her. Then we took a sobering tour of single and multi-family home prices in our neighborhood and realized that even 8 years hence, that's probably a pipe dream. More space would almost definitely mean a move out of our beloved little corner of Cambridge.

As we imagined years strapped to such an outsize mortgage, our tiny very affordable place started to look nicer and nicer. We crunched some numbers and realized we'd have some hope of paying this place off sooner than later, not as soon as 5 years, but well before the end of our 30 year mortgage. We're desperately in love with our neighborhood and shudder at the thought of living somewhere else. The financial freedom and community that we'd get from staying put started to seem like a nicer idea than more space.

We're beginning to believe that 650 square feet is actually enough (after all, 1200 square feet is enough for 12). If instead of saving money towards more space, we put some money into making this space really work for a family of four, perhaps making a more efficient and streamlined kitchen, opening up and insulating our porch to have more useable work area, and dividing the space that currently houses two bedrooms into three small ones (you don't actually need much space to sleep, after all), we really could stay here. It's not firm yet, but a plan is being hatched. Just like living without a car has made our lives richer in ways we didn't expect, continuing to live with less space, even as our kids grow, might open up new kinds of freedom. This feels like the kind of thing that is right up our alley.

(as part of our plan hatching we'll be attending a design workshop by Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in May. We can't wait.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not shopping with kids

One huge advantage of our carfree lifestyle is that we don't shop very much. I believe being without a car means fewer shopping trips, but I don't have any research to back me up. If you've seen any, please leave a comment! I did find a study today that shows shopping trips are the most underestimated category of car trips -- a household's number of actual shopping trips in a car exceeded the number planned by 200%. So people do drive to stores to shop even when they weren't planning on it. I think this happens less for carfree households. Fewer stores are accessible to me, and I'm unlikely to go to a shopping center as a form of recreation. My daily commute takes me by fewer stores, so I'm less likely to stop and shop on impulse.

This filters down to our kids. We very rarely shop with our 3 year old, H. The baby is more likely to shop with one of us, since we are more likely to run errands on a day when one of us is at home with him, but H almost never sees the inside of a store. We grocery shop by bike every two weeks, and the bike is heavy enough on it's own -- I'd never bike H to the store as well. She's probably in a grocery store once every couple of months. We don't shop for entertainment, which keeps us out of toy stores and gazingus pin stores for the most part (though not completely). H's most frequent shopping excursion is to the liquor store (or "the wine store" as she calls it) because her daycare is right next to the liquor store and she and I stop on Fridays for a bottle of shabbat wine for grown-ups. Plus, the men working at that store are absolute sweethearts who love to talk to H and ogle the baby.

The other day I had some urgent errands to run, so I went into the natural health store and the grocery store with H. She wanted pretty much everything in both stores. She asked several times if she could buy something, and each time I said a clear "no." But I realized that if we were stores together more often, she'd be asking more often, and then one time I'd decide to say "yes." That in turn would mean that she'd ask me more often, and we'd be in a vicious cycle that leads to the gimmies.

And just so you know, I really do think this is only an accidental result of our carfree/mostly-TV-free lifestyle that we've avoided the gimmies thus far. We rarely go out to eat as a family, but when we do, H gets a chocolate milk. Why? Because she asks for it and we want our restaurant outing to go smoothly. Before baby R was born, H and I used to take occasional trips to Whole Foods during which we'd get her a drink and a cup of soup. Guess what she now demands on our rare trips to Whole Foods? Guess what I often get for her?

Most parents cannot stand up without fail to a young child's demands for stuff. And saying "yes" to demands for stuff is like trying to hack off a hydra-head. Each time you say "Yes" you are causing ten more future asks, each of which increases your chance of another "yes" which in turn will lead to more asks. I am grateful that because we rarely find ourselves in stores and don't have a TV, the most annoying "stuff" requests my daughter makes are for chocolate milk at restaurants and checking a DVD out of the library. I hope this trend continues, but I know that as our kids get older, they will be exposed to more stuff and that means they'll want more stuff. We've probably only put off the battles of consumerism in our children for a little while. In the years ahead we'll be teaching our kids about money, including spending, saving, and giving, as well as how advertisers and businesses try to separate us from our money. Some would say we should already be starting that process. For now, however, a big piece of our educational strategy is simply not learning to shop.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Praise of Car-Light Families

Occasionally, we worry that people get the wrong idea about us. I know that some readers out there probably think that we are environmental extremists, going to absurd lengths for our carfree cause. But to be honest, we're fairly lazy people. Well, lazy might be taking things too far, but as parents of a three-and-a-half-year-old and an eight-month-old, we don't tend to take on a lot of extra tasks. It's all we can really do to keep our laundry moving along, keep the dishes washed, and keep food in the pantry. We don't do stuff that's hard. But for us at this point in our lives, being carfree is actually much easier than having a car. We never worry about parking, we don't have to dig the car out of the snow, and we don't have extra bills to pay each month. We don't spend time stuck in traffic or driving from home to daycare to work and back to daycare and home again. We see our lives as easy and the lives of car-owners as impossibly difficult.

However, we have set up our lives so that being carfree is the easiest choice and not everyone has the ability or the desire to live in the kind of compact, public-transportation-rich city that allows even families with young children to get by without a car. If we lived even slightly farther out of town, say in Arlington, or Newton, I know we would have at least one car because our lives as parents would be too difficult to manage without one. So for the moment, I'd really like to sing the praises of all of you car-light families out there.

There are many families living in suburbia and small towns that make do with just one car. For instance, Four on a Quarter has a set a goal of using just 4,000 car miles per year in Orlando, Florida, which is a much harder challenge than living carfree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Still, they find that their efforts at biking add substantially to their lives. Lex and Lena of Totally Smitten Mama live car-light in western Massachusetts and decided to give up on their dream of farm-life in favor of being less dependent on a car. Suburban Bike Mama rediscovered her love of biking in Newton, MA.

What we have in common with many of these car-light families is a drive to take things just one step further. In our neighborhood, every family we can think of has just one car. Parking is at a premium and public transportation and biking are both good options, so it is easy and cost-efficient for families to live with just one car. We've taken that one step further.

But if you live in an area where you look around, and nearly every family has two cars, or possibly even more, ditching the car completely might be a real stretch unless you are willing to do more drastic things like moving, finding a job closer to home, or committing to hard core all-weather biking. But reducing to one car might well be quite do-able with some minor restructuring, and still permit you to reap many of the benefits that we extol here at Car Free With Kids: money in your pocket, better health, less time wasted behind the wheel, and a stronger sense of community.

So, if what we do here seems a little bit crazy or impossible, it might be where you live. But that doesn't mean you can't get some of the very same benefits in your own community. Look around you, see what "normal" is where you live, and try to drive less than that. You'll see the most benefits once you can reduce car use enough to truly offload a car. That's what gets you the most payoff both financially and in terms of life simplicity, but if that seems like too much, start with parking the second car all weekend, commuting by bus one day a week, or running errands by bike. Even these smaller steps will make your life nicer, and possibly even motivate you to take bigger steps.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Carfree Roundup

Here are some recent posts and stories that caught our eye:

Totcycle >> Is Family Cycling Safe? One dad's take on the safety (or not) of biking with kids. We couldn't agree more.

Most Civilized Conveyance >> Homecoming InkandPen and Dave joined the ranks of the car free with kids when they welcomed Jasper to their family in late November. Check out some great pics of their pedicab ride home from the birth center and send them some good wishes. Stay tuned for what promises to be a great baby bike set-up on their Yuba cargo bike.

Vermont Public Radio >> Winter Bike Commuting Check out this radio program on commuting by bike in the winter in Vermont.

Four on a Quarter >> Does it wear off? Angie writes about how a shift to traveling primarily by bike has improved her quality of life (and that driving less doesn't feel like deprivation). Also, take note, this family is going super car-light in ORLANDO, one of those places that everyone says that driving less, let alone primarily biking, is "impossible." We're cheering them on!