Posts Tagged 'transportation'

Carpooling Is Cool

The financial benefits of carpooling, featured in a front page story of the Oregonian today, are only one reason that carpooling is cool. I’d say its coolness is embodied in four C’s: cash, congestion reduction, carbon footprint and community.

The carpool I’m in makes my commute between Portland and Salem a joy instead of a grind. But the cash part first. The Oregonian’s simple chart states that driving alone would cost each of the six of us $12,344/year (including depreciation, etc., besides gas). Parking fees would be $756/year individually, but are just $104 as part of the group. So, by carpooling rather than driving alone, my carpool partners and I each save more than $10,500 per year.

We’re also each reducing our carbon footprint significantly by carpooling, and also our role in traffic congestion. With all that virtue, you would think we are martyrs, sighing pitifully as we make painful sacrifices. But no, the opposite is true. We joke around, take naps, share news and books, debrief from work, read, grab each others’ last-minute concert tickets, team up for Pub Quiz nights. I played a great prank on them for April Fools Day that I think they’ve forgiven me for. Carpooling can be community.

Especially if public transit isn’t available to you, you should give yourself the gift of carpooling, too. Living here in Oregon, I found mine through Carpool Match Northwest. Keep in mind that joining a carpool doesn’t mean you have to carpool every day; it can be flexible.

Coming up soon: report and pictures of the EcoProm: Oregon League of Conservation Voters Annual Dinner for the Environment that just happened last Friday night.

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Driving A Prius In The Wild West

My job in transportation options has taken me, in a new Prius, to the high desert town of Bend, Oregon (recently named by American Cowboy magazine in its Top Ten list of wild-west towns). The Prius, mud-splattered from the Santiam Pass, is now dusted with snow as well, so it reminds me of an Appaloosa pony.

Appaloosa mare running
photo by emokidsdontcryx3

Oh, don’t I wish. Horses are cool.

So my Prius (actually my employer’s, not mine) informs me it is getting 46 miles per gallon on this trip. Excellent mileage compared to SUV’s, and of course with every gallon of gas we burn creating 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, I’m saving a few hundred pounds of emissions over driving an average car. Also, this hybrid handles and performs beautifully, front-wheel drive and all. The Prius is so popular in our motor-pool that I couldn’t extend my use of it to a third day.

The downside of not just the Prius, other hybrids and actually all gas and energy conservation measures is that if we don’t stay conscious of the reality of peak oil, we can easily offset our conservation measures to some degree by then driving or consuming more carelessly. The irony of our nation’s overconsumption is that it does not make us happier. Juliet Schor, the Harvard economist, shows this clearly in her body of research.

Bearing that in mind, I am parking my Appaloosa-colored Prius this afternoon and taking a vanpool with about ten colleagues over to Redmond, saving a few hundred more pounds of emissions. Kind of like taking a stagecoach in the days of the old West. I wish.

Update On Cooking For Climate Change

My post cooking for climate change needs freshening here as sustainability’s body of knowledge keeps growing. As per Michael Specter’s well-researched piece in The New Yorker, it turns out that being a locavore — eating just things grown close to home — does not necessarily reduce our carbon footprint.

Come again? How could two Oregonians (my husband Thor and I) possibly drink wine from Australia and create a smaller carbon footprint than if we drank pear brandy from Hood River, just one hour up the Columbia Gorge?

The Australian wine may have been shipped by sea, which shipping would use one-sixtieth the fuel that flying it in would use. Its grapes may have been grown without petroleum-based fertilizer, and harvested and processed with low-energy methods. If the pear trees in Hood River had been grown out of season in a heated greenhouse, sprayed and fertilized to the nth degree and watered with water pumped uphill– then the pear brandy’s carbon footprint to us sixty miles away in Portland might be holistically bigger than the wine from Australia.

Holistic is the key word. Our culture trains us to think in compartments, not in a unified whole. But sustainability is always about the interdependent whole: everything is related to everything else.

A last note about food in general — while I enjoy good meals as much as the next person, I don’t think we should lean on it as heavily as we do in our culture for entertainment. If we invested less of our time and money on food and spent more time using our bodies for honest physical work and transportation, we’d be much stronger both financially and physically.

My New Job In Transportation Options

Last Friday afternoon I got the best phone call of my professional life, to date. It was the friendly voice of Michael Ward at Oregon Department of Transportation, offering me the job of Transportation Options Program Manager.

Starting next week that will be my new job and Michael will be my new boss. I’ll be the voice, the advocate, the ‘concept salesperson’ at ODOT — in the state of Oregon — for public transit, carpooling, bicycling and other transportation options. Why do these matter so much? The more we use these options instead of driving alone, the more we build the health of our climate, communities, bodies and bank accounts. As with renewable energy, transportation options build our future.

Thor and I danced for joy at the coast Friday night, to Peter Gabriel’s extended version of In Your Eyes. Many of you know I will dance at the drop of a hat, and even rope Thor into joining me, but this was a particularly happy dance. Why? I have wanted and worked for this kind of full-time right-livelihood position since 2002. It took a long time, and a lot of help.

Big thanks to my husband’s support and to colleagues, friends and mentors Karen Frost, Dan Kaempff, Vicki Lind and many other great people at TriMet, Metro, TOGO, W.T.A., OLCV, Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and other good organizations.

Secret Lover, Secret Watchdog

The casual observer takes me for a mainstream professional in my 40’s. My secret identity as a passionate lover of public transit is revealed below for the first time.

My household’s single car is a well-worn, two-door 1993 Nissan Sentra. Paid for many years ago, our investment fund is now as plump as its floor-mats are thin. It sits humbly unused most days as we gallivant around on TriMet. (Our only burglary happened on a rare weekday I had taken the car on errands. The empty driveway seemed to signal nobody was home. Lesson: our car is most valuable as a watchdog.)

TriMet equals physical vitality for me. When I step off the bus or Max my legs are my locomotion to my final destination, strong and springy under my body. I am fit; I walk miles every week.

TriMet for me equals civic engagement. I brush shoulders with people from all income levels and backgrounds– and observe they pose no threat to me. I’ve logged thousands of miles using transit without incident or accident.

Most significantly, TriMet reduces my carbon footprint in the face of global warming. It lets me be a secret activist as well as a secret lover.