Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who needs cars?

News flash: public transportation is good for you. Who knew? As I was telling somebody just the other day, I've lost a good five pounds since I started walking, biking, and taking the bus instead of driving. What's not to like about that? The people-watching is pretty entertaining also.

Transportation is on my mind at work lately, so I dug up a video I'd been meaning to watch for awhile on the National Building Museum's website about going carless (i.e. "without a car", not "CAREless"... although indeed, you may have less to worry about if you try it).

This video reminded me about Walkscore, which is a website that measures your neighborhood's pedestrian-friendliness based on walking distance to basic services. If you live in a neighborhood with a walk score higher than 70, you could get by without a car. My neighborhood scored 49.

Co-founder of Zipcar Robin Chase was one of the panelists in the NBM video, and she shared some thought-provoking numbers:

A mere 20% of our driving is to work. Of the 80% that isn't, many trips are short, as in under three miles. Does this reflect your driving habits? Are there trips that you could make by bike or bus, or consolidate your errands into one big driving loop rather than multiple short excursions?

There are about 1.1 cars per person in the USA right now. If more neighborhoods adopted carsharing networks like Zipcar, we could get down to one car per 20 to 50 people, which is the model they use.

Recommended population density for a Zipcar network is about 14,000 people per square mile, obviously best suited to urban areas. In one model, there are 5500 cars for 300,000 people (which is 0.018 cars per person... much lower than 1.1!).

Zipcars have names like Peter Prius and are parked in neighborhoods to encourage feelings of ownership and accountability. You wouldn't mistreat Peter if you knew you'd be driving him regularly, right?

Other food for thought:

How much do you spend each year to own, register, maintain, and insure your car? Maybe it would make sense to let someone else assume these asset costs, and just rent car time on the occasions you need it, especially if you live in an area with good public transportation access or walk/bike-ability.

I'm very interested in this idea of "pay as you drive" car insurance, particularly because I telecommute most days. In the average week, I move my car so infrequently that I often forget where I last parked it. I'd be paying a lot less if my rates were set proportional to miles driven.

Some more links for you:

MTA Maryland - get your ride on

One Less Car - a local organization for alternative transportation advocacy

GoLoco - Robin Chase's ridesharing site. Also check out her blog.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Adventures in agriculture

My friends can tell you that I tend to dive into things before fully thinking them through. Especially green things: even my best intentions can't create the time required to follow through on all the projects I envision or attempt to start!

So when I read this article in the Urbanite about the rude awakening a local writer experienced with the very CSA I'd just joined, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. No zucchini? Few berries? Just kale and chard?? Eww, what have I gotten myself into? I don't know how to cook those things. But thanks to the positive spin she put on the ending, and my own dogged determination to do the green thing even when it's inconvenient or uncomfortable (I'm stubbornly sitting in my upstairs home office right now with the air conditioning off despite the forecast for high 80s. It's hot.) I'm reconciling myself to a summer of collard greens, if that's what the farmer brings. I'm gonna need a new cookbook.

Even before signing up for CSA and realizing its potential shortcomings, I'd been planning to expand my usual tomato & zucchini patch out back. Reading that article just reinforced my decision: I've already put in a few raspberry canes, a pack of strawberry plants, spinach, lettuce, peas, and beets. I'd like to harvest more than one beet this year... last year was disappointing that way! At Towson Gardens day I picked up some interesting heirloom tomato plants in purple and yellow (did you know they come in green zebra stripes too? There's a tomato seller at the Waverly farmers market on Saturdays that sells tomatoes in every color of the rainbow, it's fascinating). I will also have eggplant, onions, beans, and flowers, because I'm tilling up a 15-foot square chunk of my yard this week, and because I can.

I just hope I'm not getting in over my head...

Speaking of overhead and gardening, there's a program on Vertical Farming at the National Building Museum in DC this week as part of their Greener Good series. If you can't attend, they usually post a recording online afterward.

Monday, April 27, 2009

More spring green happenings

Just because Earth Day is over doesn't mean the local green events are! Check out some of these activities:

Baltimore Sustainable Speaker series: Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore's Dilemma, on May 16th. This event is sponsored by Baltimore Green Works.

Baltimore City votes on 1+1 recycling and trash pickup schedule: if you live in the city, tell your council representative to vote yes!

Baltimore county resident gardeners, don't forget that you can get free compost and mulch at the Days Cove Road landfill. I'm getting some this very week. Call ahead to 410-887-2000 to check supplies)


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Get your green on

With Earth Day coming up this week, there are lots of green activities going on in the Baltimore area!

Baltimore Green Week kicked off with the Eco-festival this past Saturday at Druid Hill Park. Check out their schedule for more events as the week progresses.

Today I visited Maryland Presbyterian Church to hear Joan Norman of One Straw Farm speak about their organic farming operations and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, then drove up to the farm for a tour. Saw the infamous chard in baby plant form, and looking forward to getting my first vegetables come June!

Looking for something to do on Earth Day on Wednesday? Check for an event near you.