Monday, January 31, 2011

Walking Like It's My Job

When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the shoe leather has passed into the fiber of your body.  I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

So I've got this favorite pair of shoes. They're cranberry velvet Coach loafers that I scored on sale for $50 at Macy's.

They're really cute, really comfortable and they're holy.

Not Jesus holy, but I-can-see-daylight holy.

Despite their significant wear and tear, I am still sporting these shoes as I hit the pavement for my car-free lifestyle. Now that walking is a regular part of my routine, I imagine I'll be wearing out even more kicks.

I started wearing a pedometer a few weeks ago and am pushing to get closer to 10,000 steps a day (about five miles), the suggested number of daily steps based on a Japanese health study.

Living without a car means more walking to the grocery store, to the bus stop or to the bar. My daily routine involves a lot more walking than when I had a car, and yet my average daily steps fluctuates between 5500 and 7000.

In fact, I've only walked more than 10,000 steps on one day, thanks in part to a good walk from Boost! on Reading Road in Over-the-Rhine to 6th Street in Downtown Cincinnati.

Going car-free, your two legs are more important than ever, and using them brings on the added benefit of exercise, concentrated economic impact (another topic for another time) and zero carbon emissions.

I'm also having a great time looking at the world around me.

When you're walking, you have the opportunity to gaze at architectural features, look at people and otherwise observe your surroundings. When you're behind the wheel, you only notice when the light turns green or someone flicks you off.

Do you have a favorite walk in OtR or CBD? Tell me about it! I'd love to look at the things you see on foot.

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Car Free In The Queen City by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Farther Afield

I'll admit it at the outset - distance bus riding intimidated me.

This past week I took up residence in Finneytown for a housesitting/dog watching gig, and I was pretty concerned about how that was going to impact my mobility.

Hitching a Metro bus from Over-the-Rhine to Mt. Auburn is quite different than traveling from Finneytown -> Downtown Cincinnati -> Mt. Auburn.

This temporary change in residence was going to force me to analyze bus schedules and learn more about the intricacies of Metro.

The first thing I figured out was the change in price when your route covers more distance. Whereas other public transportation systems I've navigated involved flat fees for a ride, Metro charges an additional 50 cents when you want to transfer to a second bus (a third bus is gratis).

Riders are also charged an additional fee if they want to go to a destination that steps outside the city of Cincinnati (Zone 1) into Hamilton County (Zone 2 - $2.65), Clermont County and Harrison, Ohio (Zone 3 - $3) or West Chester and Fairfield (Zone 4 - $3.50). This seemed pretty reasonable to me.

Studying the website and pamphlets I had for the 15x (express) and 16 routes to Finneytown, I learned that I could walk a half mile from the house to the south side of the Daly and Galbraith intersection to pick up a bus in Zone 1, saving me $1.80 daily.

Every little bit helps, right?

I didn't really know how the transfer slip worked. Thankfully, Jill at @cincinnatimetro explained to me that the current system allows for one hour from the time you step on your first bus (I am told this system is expected to change in 2011).

When the driver hands you the slip, she or he tears it through numbers on the left and right that signify how long its validity will last.

Fuzzy pic below, but it shows a transfer slip that was good until 7:15 pm. I quickly learned that was score of bonus time, because the slip was handed to me around 4:35 pm.

That's the thing that could potentially be good about an improved transfer system - it could allow folks to take care of business or grab a bite in a timely manner without accruing additional costs.

The "gift" of an hour or two on a transfer slip would allow someone to go to the pharmacy, bank and post office while switching buses downtown.

Metro offers a great route planning tool that helps riders plan the best way to get from Point A to Point B. The route planner isn't exactly flashy, so I was a bit intimidated by its simplicity. It was a silly thing to worry about.

The route planner accurately calculates several different timing and routing options based on your departure and arrival preferences. I tend to get a bit uneasy when I ride an unfamiliar route, so I like to pull out my Google Maps app and follow along as the bus approaches the destination for a route transfer.

The buses seem to make their mark where pick-up times are concerned, too. Even during this week's significant snowfall, my bus arrived less than five minutes from its posted time. Metro broadcasts route delays via Twitter and its website to keep riders informed during inclement weather.

A week ago, I was pretty concerned about how I was going to make it from my home-away-from-home to the office. Today, I feel confident and pleased I learned a little bit more about how to navigate Cincinnati's public transportation system.

Who wants to join me on a ride to Kenwood?

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Car Free In The Queen City by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Packing It In

The idea of driving a car for a limited time brings on glee and worry.

Glee because I will be able to get to my hair appointment in a timely manner. Glee because I can take my dry cleaning to the bargain cleaner for a one-day turn around and not worry about how I'll pick it up.

Glee because I can actually plan a trip to Ikea without being a dependent and without worrying if the friend who takes me has enough space for a coffee table/rug/insert item here.

But look at that list.

Look at all I want to do (and in some cases, need to do) between Friday evening and Monday evening. My holiday weekend is going to be very over-programmed.

In my discussions with other car-free folks, I've discovered they occasionally rent a car for a weekend when they want to accomplish a lot of stuff with minimal inconvenience. I'll tell you, bus riding requires a bit of research and planning, and a lot of waiting. It's up to you to make it to the bus on time - if you don't, you could be waiting for up to an hour for the next ride.

Some of you might be asking, "But didn't you want to go car-free? So why are you renting a car?"

Well, yes. I wanted to save a lot of money. I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint. I wanted to walk more and lead a healthier lifestyle.

I am doing all of those things.

I'm just renting a car to have a convenient weekend. If we had Zipcars in Cincinnati, I'd rent one of those. But we don't.

Instead, Enterprise has a great deal - $9.99 a day during the weekend. Even with the car insurance I need to buy, it's only going to be $60 for Friday night through Monday night.

If we had trains or a more comprehensive bus system, I might be able to get away without renting a car once in a while. But it looks like something I'm going to have to include to my car-free repertoire occasionally.

So if anyone needs to make a trip to Ikea Sunday, hit me up.

I'm packing it in. Meatballs included.

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Car Free In The Queen City by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Little Fixes, Big Impact

About a week in to this car-free thing, and I think I'm going to make it.

So, Metro has become my primary mode of transportation. Give it a couple months, and warmer temperatures will give way to more biking and (fingers crossed) scootering. But for now, I am all about the bus. I dig it.

The great thing about Cincinnati's Metro system - it has good bones. The regional busing system offers dozens of routes that spread out across the Queen City and beyond, serving people in Price Hill, Blue Ash, Clermont County and elsewhere.

The catch is, Metro appears to be serving the lowest common denominator - people who must ride the bus. Cincinnati's regional transit system will only be able to move from survive to thrive if it appeals to and gains more "choice riders."

I am a choice rider.

Those are folks who can afford to pay for all the trappings of driving, but instead choose to implement public transportation into their lifestyle, whether regularly or occasionally.

There are a few simple things that Metro could embrace to reach out to these folks, offering more convenience and better tools for personal scheduling.
First, Metro needs to get on the Google Maps bandwagon. I had a great demonstration last night by some people who are familiar with Northern Kentucky's transit system, TANK. The system on the south side of the river is already integrated with Google Maps, allowing people to use their smartphones to determine which route gets them where they need to go and when.

TANK has also joined the legions of people who are using smartphone applications to conveniently disseminate information about bus scheduling. TANK just announced on January 3 the development of an Android app that allows riders to take advantage of route planning information, bus arrival times and other details. I've downloaded it and have some plans to visit the south side of the Ohio soon; I'll let you know how it works out.

The Northern Kentucky system has other technological offerings here.

While I wish Metro's system took advantage of more satellite hubs, I know we can't reinvent the (transit) wheel. At least not right now. These technology-driven quick fixes would be an easy solution to help draw in more riders.

I know little fixes sometimes take big money. That's why I invest an extra quarter in Metro almost every time I ride the bus.
Creative Commons License
Car Free In The Queen City by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.