Live somewhere cool? Send me maps!

Totally irrelevant to this post, but good advice.

Since I’m still on the job hunt, I can’t visit cities across the US (and world) to get my own transit maps. So, I am asking you, dear readers, to send me transit maps from the cities where you live or visit. Yeah, I know I can look up maps online, but I want to stick them up on my walls in my lovely 7 1/2 by 11 bedroom here in NYC.

Send transit maps to me:

E. Jemison
P.O. Box 2098
New York, NY 10027

If you want me to send you a NYC subway or bus map, include a note on whether you want either map or both and a return address. I’ll mail the maps on Fridays.

I’ll also take a photo of the transit map and give you a special shout-out here on Living Car Free!

How to: Enjoy a car free lifestyle

I’m going to do a series on how to get things done while car-free. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I am going by my own experiences and what other car-free friends do to live and enjoy life while car-free. I’d love to hear your comments about how you get things done, or suggestions on what I should cover during this series. – Myra

Enjoying a car free lifestyle is more difficult in some places than others. I’ve lived in a lot of those places. However, even in more rural places we can still get around without a car with a little imagination. I’m going to talk more about car free in a medium to large city that has a public transit system, since that is the target audience of this blog. Some tips may apply to my public transit deficient friends, so keep reading!

1. I love, love, love combining trips. This is the easiest way to enjoy a car free lifestyle. I mean doing a bit of grocery shopping, stopping by the drug store, visiting a park THEN heading home. People in cars do this, too, but it is doable via transit and saves a WHOLE lot of time! Not only are you minimizing the number of trips you have to make, but you are also probably shopping at places near each other, so that’s less travel time for you!

2. Get out and walk. You’ll find interesting places along your route that you may have never found otherwise. When we are whizzing along in a car or bus, we miss so many things. Take the train or lightrail to an unexplored neighborhood and get out and walk 10 blocks in each direction. Did you find a bookshop? A shoe repair shop? A hole in the wall taco joint? This goes into #3.

3. Map the places you find. When you have visitors or just have some extra time on your hands, bring out your hand drawn maps of interesting neighborhoods. Let your friends or kids choose where the next adventure should be and go!

4. Be reasonable. Everyone can’t or won’t be car free. Instead of bashing people over the head with your feelings about living car free, how they are killing the world and how horrible a person they are, try to empathize and come up with gentle suggestions. Are they dealing with an elderly family member? Do they live in a residential area where they are little or few transportation options other than driving? Are there sidewalks and bike lanes along their route to work? Do they work non-traditional hours where public transport isn’t an option? Are they knowledgeable about the transit options available to them?Are they afraid of transit? If so, take them for a ride! Be an example, not a judge, and you might gain some converts to the car free lifestyle!

5. Make yourself knowledgeable about the alternative transit options near you. Where do the local bus routes go? What are the schedules for local commuter rail? About how much time is between subway trains at 3pm? Can you rent a car in your neighborhood? If not, where’s the nearest Zipcar or car rental agency? Is it easy to catch a cab in your neighborhood, or do you have to use a car service? Does the bus have equipment to carry bikes? Are there bike lanes along your route?

Do you have any tips to add? Let’s hear it in the comments!

How to: Get Groceries while car-free

I’m going to do a series on how to get things done while car-free. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I am going by my own experiences and what other car-free friends do to live and enjoy life while car-free. I’d love to hear your comments about how you get things done, or suggestions on what I should cover during this series. – Myra

One benefit of living in a large city like New York is the plethora of great places to eat. I have friends who haven’t bought groceries in years, because they eat out every day. While that might be good for many city dwellers, some of us with limited budgets or finiky tastes prefer to cook at home.

Getting groceries from the grocery store to your walk-up apartment can be, as my grandmother would say, “more than a notion.” It requires careful planning of how much you can reasonably carry and how long to you can make the groceries last before another visit to the store.

The first problem is easily solvable – you can either go to the grocery store several times a week and only get what you can reasonably carry home. This might mean taking an extra half hour to an hour out of your day 3 or 4 times a week. If you’re not fortunate enough to live within a few blocks of a supermarket, you’ll need to locate a market that sells the foods you like and take into consideration if anything will melt or be damaged on the subway, bus or bike home. Having resusable and insulated grocery totes are a must.

Making sure to get the highest quality meats and produce might mean a longer-distance trip, so biking or walking might not be feasible. Timing trips with the bus schedule in hand is often necessary. See if you can carpool with friends who drive or use a taxi service to get home if you want to buy everything at one time. Be creative!

Be sure to ask yourself – If I use a grocery cart, will I have to take my groceries out of it to get on the bus? How will I get the groceries upstairs once you get home? Can I carry 4 or 5 bags of groceries 10 blocks home? How many groceries will my bike’s basket hold? Can I fit my groceries into a tote bag? How much will a taxi cost? Do I have friends who have cars who can help me? Is Zipcar an option?

Speaking of grocery carts, most grocery stores will not let you take their carts home – and where would you store it, anyway? So, I’ve found metal grocery/shopping/utility carts (as shown in the photo to the right) at hardware and variety stores throughout the northeast. They range in price from $20-50. I prefer the more expensive ones because they tend to last longer and have warranties. It might be more difficult to find grocery/shopping carts in other places, but you can also order them online at stores like Amazon.com, which offer free shipping. These carts are foldable, or you can use them for alternative storage when you aren’t using them for groceries. I also use my cart when lugging my laundry to the laundromat!

An alternative to shopping in person is to try ordering your groceries online through an online store or brick and mortar store. I use FreshDirect in New York City, and used Peapod by Stop and Shop when living in New Jersey.  Both services deliver to your door between hours you specify. Your cold items will be cold and both stores offer items in bulk and homegoods like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. FreshDirect doesn’t have the breadth of options of canned goods that you might get at your local Pathmark or grocer, but their meats and produce are right on target. My neighborhood doesn’t have a butcher and the local stores (there are 3 within walking distance of my apartment) do not offer a wide variety of meats (I live in a food desert.). FreshDirect and Stop and Shop both employ butchers, so I can rest assured that I’m getting high-quality meats. For fresh produce, I visit one of the many produce markets in the neighborhood near my job daily the freshest produce. Transporting vegetables and fruit from work to home is a little tricky, but I’ve learned how to pack my food amongst my gym clothes or sweater to make sure everything arrives home safely!

Also, check with your local grocer and see if they offer deliveries. You’ll have to decide for yourself if the $5-10 delivery fee and/or minimum order is worth it to you. So, the next time you’re at your local grocery store, find out if they offer a delivery service. I’ve seen local grocery delivery work two ways – either you go to the store, buy what you need and go home and wait on the delivery, or you call the store with your order and they’ll deliver to your home. Either way, you won’t be stuck lugging your groceries up a few flights of stairs or several blocks home. Or, use a search engine to search for “grocery delivery” and your zip code. There are options such as NetGrocer and Amazon that deliver groceries nationwide. If you have the storage space, Amazon is a great place to buy dry good groceries like cereal in bulk. Publix grocery stores in the southeast is offering trial a grocery pick-up service at select locations. No word if you can use your bike for picking up, but I don’t see why not. Use their website to order your groceries online and schedule a 30 minute pickup window.

If you bike, getting groceries home is a bit easier. You can use your bike’s basket to put in groceries, plus you have pedal power to help you get home! I’ve seen some creative bike baskets and carts, including the one shown here. You can attach a bike trailer to the back of your bike (detachable, of course) or use regular baskets to store your groceries for the ride home. My sister’s setup includes a handlebar basket and a back basket. She can easily carry a week’s worth of groceries home using those two baskets and a messenger bag. If I were shopping for a family, I’d definitely buy a detachable cargo bike trailer. Check online retailers and your local bike shop for options!

What are your suggestions for getting groceries home? If  you live in an area with delivery, let us know your favorites. Or if you have tricks for how to minimize the stress of shopping while car-free, let us know in the comments!

How much would you pay for transit?

I know there are different transit systems, but for the sake of this poll, I’m talking about subway, bus and/or light rail service. Commuter rail is traditionally more expensive, but subway/bus/light rail systems are more common.

Participate in the poll below – let us know how much you would pay for transit per month and share your comments with us!

MTA to NYC: Drop Dead

So, it is the dawn of day 4 of the doomsday service cuts in NYC. My commute has been complicated a little by the changes – I have to leave home for work about 15 minutes earlier than before just to be SURE that I can get the bus to the subway station and get to work on time. 15 minutes is a lot of time, but some commuters are seeing 30 and 45 minutes added to their commutes, so I won’t complain too loudly.

The cuts eliminated two subway lines and dozens of bus lines, changed the routing of one subway line and now add additional wait times for everyone riding the subway or bus. The cuts could not come at a worse time when NYC is trying to drag itself out of the Great Recession and we experienced a heat wave the early part of this week.

Walder, the head of the Transit Authority, promises no fare increases this year. He would have been met with the stereotypical New York attitude if they even tried to pull that move – higher fares and less service? Fagetaboutit. However, fare increases WILL come in 2011. Brace for it. We’ll probably see $100 dollar monthly MetroCards, which is still a great deal for unlimited rides for 30 days. The most important thing at this point is to realize that we’ve been underpaying for the service and allow fares to be collected that are more in line with what rides are around the world for world class systems. The NY subway system is world class in some ways (24 hour service, access to all parts of the city) but in other ways, can use some serious technological upgrades that will improve the riding public’s experience and overall safety.

I don’t want to see a zone fare introduced – especially as someone who travels 32 miles round-trip on the subway each day. Instead, I want to see more realistic fares and discounted passes that really mean the agency can make money. Even in my poor/lower middle class neighborhood, most people I observe using the bus use unlimited cards. On average, that reduces the fare to around a dollar per ride. The agency cannot make money for operations like that.

Additionally, New York State and New York City need to step up and contribute to the MTA; the MTA system is the lifeblood of the city and deserves adequate funding for operations AND capital improvements.

I’ll keep an eye out for other changes coming down the pipe. This is definitely an interesting development going forward in transportation financing and operations.

Are you in NYC? Have you been affected by the service cuts?

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Driving and Texting now banned in Georgia

I lived for four years in the beautiful state of Georgia. While its traffic leaves much to be desired, Georgia offers great recreation, outdoor activities almost year round and a moderate climate most of the year (though the summers do get hotter than a cat on a hot tin roof).

Finally, Georgia catches up with the times and passed a law banning driving and talking or texting by drivers 17 or younger. In the same law, adults 17 and older are banned from texting and driving. A huge step forward in driving safety, in my humble opinion. Georgia drivers tend to drive long distances on some very dangerous roads and highways. The more steps we take to encourage safe driving habits, the safer everyone is – whether they are commuters on a bus or commuters driving solo.

A lot of accidents are caused by people who are not paying attention. I’d walk and bike more easily if I knew that drivers were not texting and driving and teens were not distracted by phone calls and driving. Of course, there are people who do not agree with the law. They may feel this infringes on your rights or they feel that they are safe drivers regardless, but the truth of the matter is that a distracted driver is a dangerous driver to themselves, other drivers and pedestrians.

I hope the next law Georgia passes bans biking and texting or walking and texting. Both are dangerous in their own rights, too. Drivers aren’t the only ones who can cause accidents because they are distracted!