My Commute: A New Year’s Resolution

Hi, I’m Willow, and I write a blog for Urban Honking called perfect heart. Jessica asked if I would do an entry here about one of my New Years resolutions.

This is actually a resolution I set for 2005, and didn’t even come close to accomplishing, so I put it at the top of my 2006 list and went real public with it, in hopes that I’ll do a better job this year.

My goal is to have one drive-free day a week. I know that seems really little and manageable, but it’s actually a lot tougher than I anticipated. I live in North Portland, and I work as a teacher in Beaverton and go to graduate school at Lewis & Clark in SW. I’m not a strong biker, especially when it’s raining, and I always have lots and lots of stuff to cart between work, home and school. I do carpool every day, but the people I carpool with live in NW, so I have to drive over there every morning no matter which one of us does the main drive.

I could take the Max or the bus, but the stops are a little too far to walk with all of my supplies, and then we’re back to the me-not-being-a-strong-biker issue. So basically weekdays are out, for now. Once grad school is over I’ll look for a new job, and hopefully I can find one that is more convenient for alternative transportation.
I’m willing to change neighborhoods too, next year, if it means I can drive less.

So, yeah. All of that stuff means that if I want to do a drive free day, it has to be on a weekend. I know I can do it if I get more organized. If I plan to do my grocery shopping and banking and other errands on Saturday, for instance, I can keep my motor off on Sunday.

I tried this last year, as I mentioned, and I completely failed. In the winter the weather made me lazy, so I put off my goal until the summer. And I definitely drove a lot less in the summer, but there were very few days when I didn’t drive at all, and those days were incidental, not intentional. Then Fall came, and Winter, and I put my bike in the basement, and now I’m driving more again. But I want to be better!

I’m hoping that going public with this goal will help me be more motivated. Last year I didn’t really tell anyone that I had made this plan, because I didn’t want to seem wimpy. This year all of my friends know that I’ve set this goal, and they are being very supportive and helpful. Jessica and I were talking the other night about asking people to hold you accountable for things, and how awesome that can be. I’ve been driving a lot less since I told my friends about my goal. But today marks the end of the first week of 2006, and I am sad to report that I have driven at least once every day.

Today it was suggested to me that I change the wording of my goal. I could say that I want to drive 20% less in 2006 than I did in 2005. I could keep a log of where I drove and why, and also record the times I chose not to drive, and what I did instead. Even though that’s a lot of work, I think it might be more attainable. There are definitely ways I could trim off a little bit of driving each day, and making charts is fun.

Ultimately, I just want to feel like I’m moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, even if I’m moving awfully slow. For the environment, for foreign relations, and for my pocketbook I want to lessen my reliance on the ol’ Volvo wagon. I like the idea of one drive free day, because then next year my goal could be 2 drive free days, and then 3 and 4 and 5 and 6, and who knows? maybe one of these days I’ll get rid of Volvo the Volcano altogether. That would make me pretty happy.

In the meantime, if you see me at the Fresh Pot on a Sunday morning, ask me how I got there. And feel free to scold me if I tell you I drove. Because really, I know better.

6 responses to “My Commute: A New Year’s Resolution”

  1. Congratulations, Willow.

    I think your goal is a good one, and one you can meet. Too many times people are overwhelmed when they try to think how they can cut back on commuting trips by car, which are typically the longest and most complicated trips we make, as your story points out.

    But, trips to work only make up about one out of the average person’s eight trips a day. Look closely at those other seven: combining trips (picking up groceries on the way home from work), riding your bike to the bakery, walking to the movies… Experience shows that most people make even short trips by car simply out of the habit of driving to work.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Thanks for the tips, Rex! I am definitely starting to scrutinize my extracurricular driving, and have already pinpointed places to cut down. I’m thinking of putting a driving log in the sidebar of my blog to really reinforce the public accountability factor. I think I would do a lot less driving if I felt I had to publish every measly trip!

    Thanks also, portlandtransport, for letting me share this stuff! It’s really nice and motivating to write about it!

  3. Willow, one way to overcome the not-a-strong-cyclist and the transit-stops-are-a-little-too-far problems is to merge bike and bus commuting. The bike gets you to the transit stop, and the bus gets you to the vicinity of your destinations.

    I do this to get from Portland to Wilsonville once a week.

    Plus, from Lewis and Clark, at least part of the bike commute home would be downhill! (Actually if you’re really clever you can work the bike-bus combo so that both directions are downhill :-)).

  4. I think, like so many things, the key first step is to become aware of the choices you’re making, and you’ve done that. If everyone truly thought about their transportation decisions and drove only when it truly was necessary and the best form of transportation to serve that non-negotiable trip, we wouldn’t be in the bind we’re in. It’s only when the car becomes something you don’t notice you’re using, a choice you’re not making choices about, that we end up in trouble.

  5. I think that what you are doing is great. You obviously lead a very busy life with work and school. The way that we (PDOT) look at environmentally friendly trips, carpool counts! The trick here is not how to cut out the car altogether but to use it wisely.

    One of the things I invested in to cut down on my car trips is what I affectionately call my “old lady shopping cart”. They sell them at Freddies, and it is a great way for me to walk to the store and buy what I need without the schlep factor necessitating a car. What about getting one for your commute on transit to your carpool?

    With transit, I also have my home bus stop programmed with my transit tracker info – I dial TriMet, punch in my bus stop code (you can get this off the web if it isn’t at posted at your stop), and it tells me when the next bus or MAX is coming – not when it is scheduled to come but when it is actually coming. Really fantastic. I know if I can dawdle or I have to dash out the door. This cuts down the time sag/lag of taking transit.

    As for getting on your bike, Transportation Options has this great program called Women on Bikes that is designed just for you. Gets you ready for riding with skills building and hands on clinics. Call Janis McDonald at (503) 823-5358 and she can hook you up.

    Lastly, don’t fret if you have to drive. The average person does not even think of not driving. In our (PDOT) north Portland project called TravelSmart, 17% of all car trips taken were under a mile! That is certainly doable on foot. 47% were under 3 miles – a perfectly easy bike ride. Each day you have to make the decision of how you get to your next activity. That happens about 3 or 4 times a day. The fact that you carpool is great. The fact that you are searching for other trips that could be done by other ways is great. Keep up the good work.
    Linda Ginenthal

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