And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:

Pedestrianisation.

Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.

 

So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

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I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.

 

Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

Camping Deluxe

Given the developing conversation in the comments section of the previous post, I thought I’d start a little thread on that most divisive of topics – camping: lean & mean or lush & lazy, emphasis on the ‘lush’.

Are you the type to ditch the car and walk for days, sleeping in tiny, lightweight hiking tents, subsisting on scroggin and water from your environmentally-sound steel water bottle?  Or are you more likely to load up the 4×4 with everything from the solar shower to the case of fine wine, herb & spice rack and the foam mattress?

To pee in the wilderness or look for a camping ground with ablution and kitchen blocks, recreation centre and powered camp sites?

Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.  Maybe you like both, some of the time?

Ahhh, the simple life...

Me? I must say I like to camp near the sea or rivers so I don’t much need a shower block and I prefer to camp in quiet places because I can make enough noise all by myself – you should hear my guitar-playing.  Then again, maybe you shouldn’t.  So that kind of rules out busy camping grounds with all the facilities.  BUT I do love taking nice food, good wine and cold beer.  I like deck chairs at sunset with drinks holders; fresh coffee and B&E for brekkie. I also like that old foam mattress instead of the closed cell mats which feel more like you’re sleeping on a layer of second hand Mills & Boon paperbacks.

I once spent the most incredible ten days four-wheel-driving and camping with my sister and brother-in-law in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.  Our days spent exploring some of the oldest rock landscapes in the world and seeing incredible wildlife, plants and views to leave you speechless.  We’d race to pitch the tents, avoiding the ever-present ant armies, and get the chairs set up for an ice-cold Coopers under the vivid, red sunsets.  Nights camped under millions of stars drinking and eating excellent food prepared from scratch (it was generally a 3 person job – one to cook and two to swat the flies away) and eating pistachios and chocolate.  Not too shabby eh.  We were literally days driving from any other humans and most of the areas for camping were little more than lines on a map – no facilities whatsoever.  But we had the trusty 4×4 and a large chilly bin. (Esky, cooler, whatever).  Two essential conveniences.  The best trip of my life.  Now, those guys know how to camp.

I suppose I’ve been a little bit spoilt by that experience ever since.  Anyway, that’s why I’m kinda excited about the prospect of camping on those guys farm over the New Year…

61 acres of cloud... eat yer heart out!

Obviously it won’t be snowing then…

And I’ve found some inspiration for future luxury camping ideas – I’ll leave you with this little image of bliss in the wilderness:

So, which kind of camper are you?

Being Part of the Scenery

Ever had those moments, periods, even days, that seemed to flash by while you were looking the other way?  Ever been reading a book only to get to the end of a page and realise you’ve taken none of it in?

Every now and then I’ve had morning bus rides, bike rides and even scarier – car rides that I can’t remember.  I get to work, settle at my desk and realise I’ve just lost the last half an hour.  I remember being quite freaked out in the past when on occasion I’d driven somewhere and couldn’t really remember the specifics of getting there.  Yikes!

And not because I’d been drinking but because I had ‘transported’ my consciousness while my sub-conscious did the riding, walking or driving.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love daydreaming (best done when you’re not the one driving though) but sometimes we go through life in a kind of waking dream, not fully present in the moment or attending to the task at hand.  In short, we are not in a mindful state.

Mindfulness is the opposite of this.  Over on the Foundation’s website a fellow Health Promoter, Grant has described the practice of Mindfulness rather eloquently:

‘mindfulness helps us recognise and savour the wholesome moments that are already present in our lives. Often these are the quiet moments – they are so natural and smooth that they tend to slip by unnoticed. With mindfulness we touch these moments and we begin to taste the quiet joy that accompanies them.’

Grant discusses how Mindfulness has grown as a therapeutic technique but also transcends beyond treatment, becoming a lifestyle.

‘(Mindfulness is)… a way of being in the world rather than simply another technique that we ‘add’ to our lives.’

The beauty of mindfulness is it can be practiced anywhere, anytime (yes, even while driving your car).  It helps us to fully experience the richness of existence and appreciate the beauty of any given moment or place in time.  And that’s good for anyone, of any age, anytime.

I often used to think as I was driving my car to or from work how separated I was from the elements outside (sometimes that was a good thing – or so I used to believe).  But I didn’t realise until I started walking and biking just how much I was insulated from the world, from the experience that was ‘outside’.  And the more I say that word and think about it (“outside… out… side… outside”) the whole concept of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ starts to get pretty funky.  Whichever side you’re on, you’re on the side of something.  But what, exactly?

I digress.

I used to try being more mindful as I drove, or as I sat idling in traffic.  But I’m finding it much more rewarding when I’m walking.  Part of the appeal for me in going car-free was the opportunity to feel more connected with my environment – literally ‘part of the scenery’ – rather than a passive spectator.  I also needed something of a push (OK, a kick up the ass) to get out there and start doing it.  It was just never the right time, never convenient to begin.

As we’ve talked about before, going car-free for us was an idea whose time had come on the crest of a convergence of forces, reasons and aspirations.  It’s interesting to see which of those is becoming more or less important over the short time we’ve been doing it so far.  I’m really starting to love the walks up or down the hill, and even through town, in all sorts of weather.  I’ve now acquired a whole bunch of waterproof cycling gear and accessories to cope with every type of weather (no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes) and I look forward to experiencing all of it this winter.

For those interested in the therapeutic application of Mindfulness, the UK Mental Health Foundation has started a major campaign championing Mindfulness.

Trailer Blazing

Sent to us by a friend and fellow MHP – practical ingenuity applied to a car-free existence.  And the capper?  They’ve managed to recycle old recycling bins.  I’m not sure if that’s ironic or just satisfyingly apt.

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Old recycling bins = FREE

Old bike parts, timber, fittings = $57.50

Looking like an enraged, feral hippie on a bicycle = PRICELESS.

With thanks (and apologies) to Steve and Beth.

How much money is this saving us?

Straight up we’re saving the cost of buying a new car, (a new old car that is) but how much are we actually saving in our day to day budget by not running a car?

The AA makes this calculation very easy for everyone. Every year they compile the annual costs of running a full spectrum of cars, from a small petrol shopping trolley to a large diesel guzzling monster. You can access these figures for free if you are an AA member.

We run what the AA refers to as a compact car, (1501cc-2000cc). The AA’s estimate of the annual costs associated with that are below.

Fixed Costs
Annual relicensing $248
Insurance – third party only, no claim $158.63
Warrant of Fitness (biannually) $90
Total fixed costs $496.63
Running Costs
Petrol-litres used per 100km 6.35
Litres used over 14,000km 1039.5
Cost of fuel annually at $1.70 $1,767.15
Cost of oil $55.77
Tyres, cost per year $302.79
Repairs & Maintenance $579.22
Total Running Costs $2,704.93
Total Costs $3,201.56

AA also incorporates the depreciation value and the interest on outlay to purchase into your costs, if your car is less than five years old. According to the AA “a low value, older vehicle will have depreciated about as far as it’s likely to, so the fixed costs will be minimal”. Given that our car is 27 years old, I reckon it’s past the depreciation stage of affairs.

Based on these figures, the cost to run our car is approximately $61.57 per week. This doesn’t factor in parking costs, which can become substantial if you park your car in a city centre every day.

Compare this to the cost of public transport here in Christchurch. It costs Ciaran $21 per week for him to go to work on the bus every day. Assuming we also decide to use the bus as a family both days at the weekend that would cost us an extra $16.80, so $37.80 a week in total. In reality we tend to stay pretty close to home at the weekends, so costs are usually towards the lower end of that spread.

If both Ciaran and I began to work full time again, it might start to make more sense financially, to run a small efficient car and travel to work together. However figures on a spreadsheet don’t take into account the hidden costs of running a car and as we are all becoming increasingly aware, the pollution emitted by cars is a major contributor to the degradation of our environment. I think that now we’ve done some hard thinking about our transport choices, we’d feel morally obliged to buy the most environmentally efficient car we could afford (and there’s nothing like a public forum to make you walk the talk eh?), which means we’ve got some saving to do.

In our current circumstances, ditching the car is going to save us a minimum of $1,225 and a maximum of $2.109 a year, which isn’t to be sneezed at. That extra money is also going to come in very handy later this year when GST and childcare costs go up.

But are we paying for this monetary saving with a far greater outlay in effort and inconvenience? Well so far in my opinion, not so much. Sure some stuff is trickier, but it’s amazing when it comes down to it how many trips we were making were simply unnecessary, and I’m not missing that at all.

We want to talk more here about how convenience and speed have been raised up to be false gods in our society; indeed the title of this blog might give that away a teeny bit. But for now I’ve got to go and drink a cup of Earl Grey and listen to the Southerly gale hurling hail at the windows.

So it’s been two weeks…how’s it really going?

It was easy to be all gung ho and idealistic at the beginning, but how’s it really going now that the car has been immobile for a couple of weeks?

There has been a bit of daily friction already as the rubber fails to meet the road and deliver us from effort. However the tricky stuff hasn’t necessarily been those things that immediately sprang to mind as potential stumbling blocks.

One of the main reasons that we are trying to live without a car is to save money, and that’s looking increasingly like a good plan, following last week’s awesome budget from our fabulous government, which should have been subtitled “bend over working families of New Zealand as we shaft you roughly up the family budget while simultaneously insulting your intelligence”.

However the other main point of the exercise is to live better;  to tread more lightly on our environment, and also maybe to slow down a bit, stop rushing about, find other ways to do things and get places, and hopefully to consume a bit less along the way. So this isn’t about cheating and borrowing cars from the legion of very kind friends who have offered them. Apart from the fact that, that would be like being the ex smoker who “only smokes when they are socialising” (your cigarettes, every fucking weekend), we’d actually like this small change to be a catalyst for living more mindfully overall.

So in the spirit of honesty and sharing, here’s a round-up of some of the things that have suddenly become issues, and some of the things that haven’t as well.

  • Groceries? Not a problem. Online delivery is amazingly user friendly and straightforward, and we are already getting a weekly veggie box, so it’s just an extension of that. There is a delivery fee, but it’s reasonable, and we’re probably saving money overall, as we’re not buying any of those tasty treats that just happen to fall into your trolley enroute round the supermarket.  Furthermore, I’m trying to do one big monthly order and on top of that make do with the veggie box, and get the rest locally or on Saturday at the Lyttelton Market. Partly that’s to save money, and partly it’s to cut down on the number of deliveries we get, as they are still car trips, just trips made by someone else.
  • Taking the little beast to pre-school on foot is proving to be good exercise, as it’s an hour round trip to drop her off, and another hour round trip to pick her up. I’m not complaining yet, as it’s hardly a chore to walk across beautiful Lyttelton on the golden autumn mornings we’ve been having since she started going. Ask me again in a month’s time, when it’s three degrees colder, still dark when I leave the house and pissing down and see how perky I am about it then. The other issue I’m grappling with here is that two of the four rare and delightful child free hours I am purchasing myself are spent delivering and collecting my little bundle of joy from the nursery. However I’m aware that this issue is attitudinal and maybe I ought view the walking as precious time for peaceful reflection and movement, instead of feeling guilty that I’m not writing scintillating copy for clients/cooking nutritious delicious food/working on my back log of illustrations/cleaning the ever grubby house/doing my tummy exercises/crafting the great English novel/corresponding with my neglected friends and family etc etc.
  • Filling our big gas bottles is probably not going to be a problem either if I can find a LPG delivery company that stays on the phone after I say the dread word Lyttelton to them.
  • The cat needs her WOF as well.  Haven’t solved this one yet, but she’s five months overdue and counting for a teeth clean, so I’d better solve this quickly before I have to make her chicken broth for the rest of her toothless existence. I can’t see her appreciating being taken to the vet on the bus. Nor indeed would the other passengers appreciate the agonized wailing. Stay tuned for our solution to this thrilling dilemma.
  • More seriously, and this is a bit of a nail biting one this, what happens if the baby gets sick and needs urgent medical attention? In the middle of the night? I don’t really want to think about this one. I guess we’ll be phoning a taxi or an ambulance.
  • Going out in the evening isn’t a problem as we rarely/never go into Christchurch anyway.  In fact we rarely/never go out in the evening at all, so when we do, the pulsating flesh pots of Lyttelton are plenty exciting. However, what is a cause for some chagrin is the abrupt curtailment of our tasty take away habit. No car, no piping hot takeaway. Although we are only a ten minute fast vertical hike from the town centre, so maybe if we mounted our smallest chilly bin on wheels we could run back and forth with the goodies.
  • Visiting Grilly, the Bobbin’s paternal grandmother. Bit of a tough one this as well. She doesn’t drive and lives two longish bus rides from us, which makes for a bit of a mission. We’re just going to have to adjust and make visiting Grilly the whole day’s activity at least one Saturday a month. On the very plus side here, she bakes a mean cake and increased effort expended in travel could definitely lead to increased reward in baked goods if negotiated correctly.
  • Getting to somewhere beautiful that isn’t Lyttelton may be the big sticking point with this experiment. Going somewhere in the city without a car isn’t ever a problem, so long as you are prepared to spend a bit longer getting there and maybe do a bit of walking as well. But right out of our window is Banks Peninsula, a big beautiful piece of landscape just crying out to be explored, and beyond that is the rest of the South Island, which has one or two things worth seeing as well. But it isn’t well served by public transport. How are we going to show our daughter the myriad of riches on her doorstep and beyond? Don’t know the answer to this yet, but we’re only two weeks into this and I’m starting to get cabin fever, so it’s something I’m thinking about.

All that said, tomorrow’s going to be a big fat day of cheating from beginning to end as we use illicit four wheeled conveyances to further our own trivial lifestyle requirements. If we’re not too ashamed of ourselves we may tell you about it. Or maybe not.