Saturday, September 25, 2010

Taking part in World Car Free Day

Wednesday 22 September was World Car Free Day. A worthy idea for sure, but I wonder whether it smacks of tokenism. After all, it's easy to assuage your guilt over car use by not using the car for one day.

On the other hands, for those of us who can't or won't or don't drive for whatever reason, every day is Car Free Day. And so it was for us. More walking, cycling and public transport was the order of the day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Winter without a car is hard

It's been a year now since we decided to ditch the car completely. And while it's been not been too hard of an ask to forego a car I must say, I'm finding winter without a car is hard.

I find it most difficult when I need to visit the doctors and am feeling particularly under the weather. It's been like a winter of old here in Melbourne - low overnight temperatures and frosty mornings. The cold seeps right into your bones, and makes me feel just that bit more unwell. I just don't want to face the 15 minute walk to the tram to get to the doctors. My way around this has been to catch a taxi to the there and back.

While catching a taxi generally deals with the issue of not wanting to be out in the cold I do find that catching a taxi is a bit like a game of roulette these days. Will the taxi turn up? Will they drive at a safe speed? Do they know their way around Melbourne? Will they use a mobile phone, holding it up to their ear, with me, the passenger, in the car? Will they drive with an mp3 device plugged into their ears the whole journey, providing exceptionally rude customer service in my opinion? Who knows. As I said, it's all a bit like a game of roulette.

In June I found myself down at the doctors waiting for a taxi to turn up. Waiting for over 20 minutes. Until I could wait no more and decided to start walking home as a break in the storm clouds appeared. This wasn't one of my best ideas. About ten minutes into the walk it clouded over again, went very dark, the heavens opened up and it poured down with rain. With no shelter in sight I huddled under a small tree, hoping that it would stop soon so that I could make it to the cover of the shops a couple of streets away from me. I stood there for a good 15 minutes until the rain let up, ran to the shops and hailed a passing taxi and finally made it home.

But where was the taxi I originally called? Who knows. I seem to always have trouble when I call a taxi on my mobile phone. And the system used by the taxi company (in this case Silver Top) doesn't seem to be able to cope with a changing pick up address.

Has anyone else had trouble when using a mobile phone to call a taxi?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back for 2010

After 11 days on holiday over Christmas and New Year, it was with trepidation that I got back on the bike on Monday morning for the ride to the tram stop. And I was right. My legs were on fire half way through the journey and I was a wobbly-legged wreck when I tied up the bike. Tuesday was a little better as the leg muscles remember what they have to do. And today is another day...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cycling to public transport

Time to put the principles to the test again.

I've been conducting an experiment this week to investigate some concepts I have been looking at through work. I've been looking at the role cycling can play in increasing the catchment area of public transport services which has come about as a result of research into a paper I wrote with a colleague for this year's Australasian Transport Research Forum (ATRF).

Most public transport planners say that the maximum walkable catchment for public transport is approximately 400-800 metres or 5-10 minutes between home and the public transport stop. The distance from home to the tram stop on Sydney Road is approximately 700 metres and takes about 10 minutes to walk. As a result of the research we did for the ATRF, my colleague and I found that cycling to a public transport stop increases the catchment area of public transport to the 2-3 kilometre range.

Last week, in getting to my one and only Uni. exam, I decided to cycle from home to the terminus of the Route 96 tram, one of the fastest tram routes on Melbourne's tram network (at least better than our regular tram route, Route 19). The Metlink journey planner, being the great tool for changing travel behaviour that it is helped to provide an indicative route and travel time from home to the East Brunswick terminus of the 96 tram. It takes about 20 minutes to cycle the 4 kilometres from home to Blyth and Nicholson Streets to get on the tram in the mornings and the same in the evening. There's plenty of on-street bike parking at the hoops and rails around the tram terminus in the morning and so far, the bike has been there when I get off the tram in the evening

I've been riding the bike to the 96 terminus now for all four days of this week so far, riding in heat, rain, wind and humid conditions. I believe that if I can ride all this week, I'll prove this is do-able and hopefully keep doing it. I think I look quite the part in my public service work attire, bike helmet and bicycle clips riding to the tram stop. Being the transport planning nerd I am, I've used a stopwatch to time my journeys from home to work on both the Route 19 and the Route 96 and I've found the new arrangements are approximately 10 minutes faster door-to-door than the old one.

There's also another benefit for me of combining cycling with public transport. The 20 minute bike ride in each direction gives me 40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day I go to work, which meets the recommended minimum levels of exercise for adults. The best kind of exercise is the sort you don't think about. I can already feel the change in my legs already and my lovely wife already thinks I've lost weight (she's very kind to me).

It's been a great experiment and I really want to keep it going. It's proved the hypothesis in my paper and has given me some other policy ideas for integrating cycling with public transport which one day might benefit others.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It was delicious

Look where the Flexicar took us last night in the pouring rain - Wabi Sabi Salon.

Yum! What a great Japanese restaurant. It offers a twist on the usual offerings you find in Melbourne's Japanese restaurants. Homestyle but with a modern/fusion approach to Japanese food.

Here's what we had:

Edemame & pumpkin croquettes
Sashimi platter
Japanese tempura vegetables with chilli mayonnaise
Tender beef meatballs with dark red miso demi glaze
Pork spare ribs simmered in sweet & sour sauce, served with mustard
Salmon sashimi & avocado stack with basil mayonnaise
Tofu dango & vegetables
Black sesame, green tea & adzuki ice creams
Green tea cheese cake
Creme brulee with pears & berries

Main meals range from $18 to $28.

Four of us went last night, two meat eaters, one pescatorian and one vegetarian. There were at least a couple of dishes in each section for everyone. Let me say - no one was disappointed and we all agreed we'd definitely be back!
Wabi Sabi Salon
94 Smith Street

Oishikatta desu!

Shopping without a car - Part 2 - The Garden

I've been meaning to write this post for months but am now only getting around to it - garden shopping without a car.

A few friends have asked how do I shop for the garden without a car. It's a fair question. Many garden related purchases are big, too big to carry around: bags of potting mix and fertilizer, bales of pea-straw and mulches, advanced trees and plants. It's easy though, much easier than you would expect. Catalogue and online ordering of garden products. I'm a big fan of this method. I've been a big fan even before we got rid of the car mainly because nurseries that offer a mail-order service a much bigger, better and healthier range of plants available than what you would find at your local nursery. Here are a few of my favourite ones:

Lambley Nursery: My neighbour introduced me to this nursery and I am so glad she did. Lambley is my absolute favourite of all the nurseries I purchase from. They specialise in drought tolerant perennials and their range is fabulous. If you still want a cottage type garden in these water-restricted times, this is the nursery to purchase from. They are located at Ascot, which is near Ballarat, and so experience extreme cold and heat. Only plants that flourish in their 'dry garden' under these conditions are made available for sale. Have a look at their online catalogue and be inspired. They also post out catalogues, four times a year I think. I love reading them for David Glenn's description of the plants alone. The plants come in decent sized pots so if you don't get around to planting them straight away, they will survive in the pots for a few weeks.

Diggers Club: The Diggers Club have been around for a while now and have lead the way in promoting drought tolerant plants and heritage seed varieties. They also have a wide range of hardware that they mail out, such as potting mix, garden shoes, garden utensils, hats, watering devices, drip's endless. There website has recently been upgraded and is much easier to navigate if you are ordering online. They also post out six catalogues a year, which also contain some interesting gardening articles. I order quite a bit from Diggers. There plants come in tubes and need to be put in the ground fairly soon after you receive them, otherwise they dry out quite quickly. An interesting variety of plants are available from them and there are always some new varieties introduced with each catalogue.

My most recent delivery of Diggers' plants

The boxes that they arrived in

Tesselaar: Tesselaar's have been around for years and years. I remember my mother receiving their catalogue when I was a child, and wishing we one day we could go to the tulip festival theyhold in spring but alas, we didn't have a car when I was child so that day trip never happened.

They still send out catalogues but they've also brought themselves into the 21st century and now offer an online service. They have a range of plants and bulbs, including tulips for which they are most famous. I like the collections that Tesselaar offer, where they bundle up varieties of a plant, enabling you to try out a few different ones. This year I bought my tomatoes from them, 'Aussie Tomato Collection' and 'Heirloom Tomatoes Collection'.

Hancock's Daffodils: I reckon these are the people to buy daffodils from. They are not the cheapest available but their bulbs are big and healthy, and the quality of their bulbs is world renowned. When we visited their farm this spring I met a gentleman from California who regularly visited them to see the spring display and until recently imported his bulbs from Hancock's because of their wonderful international reputation. I have been ordering from them for the past three years and have never been disappointed. They offer a wide variety of daffodils, older and more modern breeds, and will identify from a photograph if necessary. They have available other bulbs besides daffodils and there are two catalogues per year sent out.

Some photos from our trip to Hancock's Daffodil Farm this spring.

Now finally, how do I get all that mulch, fertiliser and those bags of potting mix to my home? It's delivered by the wonderful people at Andrew's Stockfeed. I must confess, when we first got rid of the car I was concerned about how I would get these products back to the house. I think on my first weekend without the car I asked the staff of Andrew's Stockfeed if they delivered, and if you purchase $40+ of goods they do. Again on advice of a neighbour, I found this store and have been buying from here for a couple of years, mainly the mulch and fertilisers. So it was great to find out that they would deliver. There is absolutely no way a garden, particularly a vegie garden, can survive in these hot summers subject to water restrictions without mulch. I order a variety of mulches for the garden, depending on my mood and bank balance! Pea straw is cheapest, and I usually use this for the vegie garden. I buy lucerne, which is a bit more expensive but nicer looking, for the flower beds and tress.

Andrew's Stockfeed
165 Sydney Road

And there you have it. How I garden without a car.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The excess locks...

The excess locks are finally off! I think the bike even feels a bit lighter.

Thanks to Coburg Locksmiths who used their super-dooper bolt cutters to remove them, free of charge.

BTW, if you're renovating, they have a great range of period-style locks available to order. No need to traipse all over town for the right fitting - shop local!