Archive for April, 2007

Car-free Follow-up

It was a pleasant surprise to get so many email messages and comments in response to my post about car-free living. A common thread in many responses was the aspect of hauling large or heavy items without a car. It wasn’t really at the top of my mind, as it has been quite some time since I have been in need of a creative transport solution — mostly because we live in a small home and there isn’t much more room for more furniture or large objects. In a couple of months, though, I will be eyeing the melons and winter squashes at the farmer’s market, which would be somewhat heavy to carry the bags that I normally use. I realized that I had addressed this topic last year; take a look at my post about transporting goods without a car for some thoughts about bike trailers and rolling carts.

A term that How to Live Well Without Owning a Car uses is “car-lite,” to refer to a lifestyle where the car is used minimally and/or where a family might get rid of one of their cars and adjust to sharing a car. This an idea for the cases where there is a reason or multiple reasons why it would make sense to be completely car-free. So if there is a car sitting there to use, how do you stop yourself for jumping in the car in the cases where it isn’t necessary? Some ideas include planning ahead, trip-linking, and being okay with certain errands taking more time than they would in a car. If you want an easy motivator for getting more organized, not using a car might be one way to do it: because you can’t just drive everywhere when you are out of something or need to pick something up it’s much easier to keep a running list of errands. One of the best techniques that’s worked for me in terms of efficiency is trip-linking. Instead of going in and out multiple times, I look at what I need to do and plan a route that makes sense to get a few tasks done at once. Of course (as I mentioned previously) it’s pretty easy to do this living in Berkeley. This is not as easy in some suburban and rural settings, but not impossible.

I would love to hear from others who are living without a car or have minimized their car use. Please feel free to comment or send a message!

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Street to Trail

After first moving to Berkeley, a friend gave us a copy of East Bay Out, a guide to the East Bay parks written by Malcolm Margolin. The book was published in 1988, so it is probably not the best guide to use on its own when hiking in one of the parks, but I highly recommend it nonetheless. The writing is great, and it provides quite a bit of interesting natural history of the area. Although I wanted to eventually explore all of the parks listed in the book, the description of Claremont Canyon stood out to me because of its proximity to the streets of Berkeley. A couple of months later I walked behind UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus and found the entrance to the steep trail up the hill. Not having a map of the area, I wasn’t sure how far the trails went, but I could see that there was more out there that I hadn’t explored.

This Sunday, after a short but strong rainstorm the night before, I set out to walk some of the streets at the back of the Berkeley campus that I had not yet tackled — Stadium Rim Way, Centennial Drive, and some of the surrounding streets. Sunday turned out to be a big sporting event day at the campus; there was a rugby game, soccer, people using the sports fields and facilities, lots of people and loudspeakers. Usually my Sunday mornings are pretty quiet, so I was a bit surprised by all of the activity, and it was a little bit of a relief to suddenly jump onto a dirt fire road off Centennial Drive. The trails here run along and then away from Strawberry Creek, and intersect with the Claremont Canyon trails. Eventually I was popped out on the street again, near all of the fraternities and sororities and lots of activity again. It was sort of a shocking and fun experience to go from lots of noise and activity to trees and water, then back to all of the activity again.I really like the idea of being able to access trails easily just by walking off the city street and onto the trail. If you live in the Berkeley Hills, Tilden Park can be accessed easily from the street, as I mention in my post about Tilden a couple of months ago. However, the Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon trails are even more available because of their proximity to Downtown Berkeley BART. In fact, I found a very nice self-guided tour of these areas written by the Greenbelt Alliance. I plan on going back soon with to do their variation on the walk with the added historical details.

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Why People Walk, Part 3: Car-less and Car-free

Last week I read another book that I had been waiting for from the library, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car. I have read lots about the subject of living without a car, so I did not necessarily expect to learn anything new from this book, and in fact most of the ideas covered were familiar to me. However, I did find it to be an interesting read because of its approach — focusing first and foremost on the amount of money one would save by not owning a car. The author also emphasized throughout the book how “normal” he was — he works, shops at major stores, attends church, goes on dates, and goes out to parties and clubs — all without a car. A book with this format is probably going to reach a whole lot more people than one that focuses on the environmental effects and depicts someone who lives an unconventional lifestyle.

This book talks about “car-free” (or carfree) living, which is giving up ones car by choice. There are also many people who live without a car not by their own choice, primarily because they cannot afford to own one at the time. Regardless of which camp a person falls into, most people without cars have the same goal and similar choices for getting places without a car: public transportation, bicycling, and walking. Depending on location and circumstances, someone might use one or all of these methods, but most people are going to do some amount of walking if they do not own a car.

How amenable is Berkeley to living without a car? I was thinking this yesterday evening as Joe and I were returning from a walk nearby to do a few errands. We had between us some bike parts, a bag of coffee beans, some office supplies, and groceries — all from different stores and all purchased near our house. Taking care of everyday tasks and errands without a car in Berkeley is very easy for the most part (as long as you don’t live way up in the hills). Pretty much everything you would need is available right in Berkeley, and many of the stores that do not exist in Berkeley can be visited by taking BART for a couple of stops. Traveling as a family without owning a car may be more challenging, but I do know some families that get around well without using a car very often.

Speaking of BART, public transportation also allows someone without a car in Berkeley to go other places — San Francisco, other East Bay cities, and over to the Peninsula to connect with Caltrain. Berkeley also has an Amtrak stop for the Capitol Corridor, which goes down to San Jose one way and out to Davis and Sacramento in the other direction. Some trips are quick and easy, but others require some logistics and planning and a bit of time. Weekend trips to popular locations such as Lake Tahoe are pretty difficult without a car. Car rental locations and car share stops are both available in Berkeley.

One topic that was barely addressed in How to Live Well Without Owning a Car is safety. I am mostly thinking about being out at night, which the author talks about at night at various points in the book. If you are male and live in a relatively safe area, or if you are always able to go somewhere with a large group of people, this may be an option. Otherwise, night-time activities are a bit more challenging without a car. Related to this, public transportation in the Bay area either stops or runs very infrequently at night, and you cannot just hail a cab to take you home.

An awareness event called World Carfree Day occurs each September, and Berkeley has been participating for the past few years. However, this day happens to coincide with the How Berkeley Can You Be parade — which usually features a long line of art cars as part of ArtCar Fest. It’s a strange combination for one event to have a promotion of car-free living and a celebration of the car as art.

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Signs of Spring: Construction

On walks over the past couple of weeks I have seen more fellow walkers out on the streets than usual. I love walking year-round, but I recognize that for many people spring is the best walking time. The flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, and (except for a couple of minor rainstorms) the weather has been mild. I have been thinking about other signs of spring besides the natural ones; one of the most significant ones that has come to my attention while walking is the flurry of construction and remodeling activity that happens this time of year in preparation for selling a house during the prime spring and summer months. Parts of my walks have become obstacle courses as I maneuver around cones, tape, torn-up sidewalk, piles of construction debris. It has been interesting to see what sorts of things people are doing to their houses and front yards; I am sure there will be a few where I return to see the completed projects.

This morning I was walking up in the hills near John Hinkel Park (which, by the way, will definitely be on the “best of” list I mentioned in my last post),  when I spotted a small deer at one end of a stairway. I managed to take a photo of the deer before it ran off, but it was out of focus (sigh) and then I walked up the path. When I emerged at the top of the path, I looked up and saw one of those temporary store boxes (bright blue) next to a house under renovation. Definitely a study in the contrasts of spring.

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Status Check


Napping in front of Spenger’s, photo by Joe Reifer

I regularly get comments, emails, questions about how far I am along in my walk of every street of Berkeley. Up until now I have given somewhat vague answers obtained by eyeballing my map — 2/3 of the way there, 3/4 of the way, etc. Lately, though, I have been filling in lots of gaps to the point where I have quite a few neighborhoods completed. Today I looked at the map and determined that I probably need to take about 15-20 more walks to complete the project. Right now I am walking about twice a week (for about 2-3 hours each time), so this should put me finishing the the walk right around a year from when I started this blog last June!

Sometime in May I will start thinking about how I want to end the walk, though I don’t have anything in mind in particular in terms of ending with a specific street, etc. I do plan on doing my personal “best of” Berkeley list at the end, though, based on what I have seen along the way. Stay tuned…

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Walking Isn’t Boring, Part 5: Exploring Machines and Infrastructure

General note: This series of entries is inspired by the idea that walking in even the most ordinary of places can be interesting.

Recently a bunch of books that had been on my reserve list at the library came all at once, and a number of them relate to walking. One that has really had me thinking about lots of ideas for walking-related projects is Ed Sobey’s A Field Guide to Roadside Technology. The book is set up like a bird or plant field guide, but the content is the infrastructure and machines that one might spot in different place around the country. It describes all sorts of technologies, such as utilities, telephone systems, traffic signals, traffic counters and surveillance counters, bridges, sewer grates, manholes, wires, and antennas. In reading through the descriptions, I found that I learned something new about even familiar machines. Unless you have absolutely no luddite tendencies, I do recommend reading the book in bits and pieces — it can be a bit overwhelming to see just how many different technologies we have in place today.

The author suggests keeping this book with you on your travels so you can look up unknown machines as you go. This is a great idea, and one could also take a photo of an unfamiliar object and look it up later. Almost every location will have some of these technologies, and learning about them would be one way to have interesting walks in otherwise mundane locations. If you were the sort of obsessive, checking-off-lists type of person, you could do as some birdwatchers and try to find everything listed in the book. Or, the book could be used as the basis for an urban scavenger hunt — i.e., find and take photos of as many of the items in the book as possible. Regardless of how the book is used, though, it is an interesting read for any walker. I finally have the answers to some of my questions about various boxes, markers, and wires that I see on my walks. For more ideas, take a look at Walking Fort Bragg — Ron has found all sorts of interesting markings on the street, misaligned manhole covers, utility work, etc.

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