Archive for the 'Car-free lifestyle' Category

Living in downtown Minneapolis carfree – five year report

I am so shamefully overdue for an update on my carfree downtown living experiences that there’s really no excuse for it. I’ve thought about writing this post about once a month for the past two years, but eh.

For a little preview and perspective, you may want to read my 2007 and 2008 reports. Otherwise, here’s my quick back-story:

After living and traveling abroad for 4.5 years, I came home in 2007 determined to live a European lifestyle, meaning a small, reasonable living space and no car. Though I’d long loathed downtown for the noise and air pollution, I knew living downtown was the only choice, mainly for the advantage of being smack in the center of the city’s public transport hub and having virtually anything I might desire within walking distance.

Well, my reservations about living downtown were totally unfounded. I took to it immediately. It is simply the pinnacle of convenience and options in Minneapolis. Coffee, sandwiches, groceries, booze, banks, stores, restaurants, bars, and every conceivable service are all less than 20 minutes away by foot. Any need, any spontaneous craving, any entertainment wish can be attended to pretty much instantaneously. Yes, the noise is still irritating sometimes and the air pollution, while not spring fresh, is much improved since the snapshot my brain took in the mid-90s.

And there’s the not so small, priceless perk of being Skyway-connected.

Here’s a few updates.

Transport:

This was and still is one of the primary selling points for living downtown when one has decided to shun car ownership for the rest of eternity. Buses continue to be amazingly timely, relatively clean and quick. The Light Rail line through South Minneapolis is an oft used treasure. That it connects downtown with the airport in only 21-23 minutes and costs a mere $1.75 ($2.25 peak) is still one of the best airport-city transfer arrangements in just about any major city in the U.S. And the Central Corridor line, connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St Paul in 36 minutes will start passenger service in 2014. (Though if your goal is to get between the two downtowns as fast as possible, taking the 94 Bus will still your best option.)

Shopping:

After five years, the downtown Target location is still struggling with the challenge of keeping their food section stocked. No other Target I’ve visited has as much trouble keeping simple, everyday items on the shelves as the downtown location. It’s confounding and results in nearly weekly bouts of cursing and last second menu adjustments.

However, an encouraging development has occurred. The brand new Lunds on 12th street and Hennepin has FINALLY opened after years of delays. For my purposes, it’s a little too spendy for regular shopping and about as far away as it could possibly be from my building and still be downtown, but it’s there nonetheless for emergencies and special food needs.

The other back-up option is still taking LTR four stops and shopping at the Rainbow or Cub Foods just east of the Lake Street station.

Entertainment:

There’s been a tragic blow to my entertainment options. The Block E AMC movie theater did not get its lease renewed and will shut down on September 23rd. I’m heartbroken. Sure, the staff were a little rough and the Commodore 64 computer that ran all the theater systems frequently failed at little things like turning off the lights when the movie started and focusing the projector, but the theaters were large, convenient and Skyway-connected. Now the nearest movie theater to downtown is the moribund St Anthony Main Theater across the river.

Otherwise, little has changed, apart from the belated discovery of the 8th Street Grill happy hour (3pm-7pm weekdays and all day Saturday) where one can buy the cheapest cider on tap in all of downtown. The appetizers are discounted too, though apart from the chicken quesadilla, I haven’t been too fond of the app selection.

Eating:

Another heartening improvement to the downtown eating scene is the proliferation of food trucks in the past two years. Marquette Ave has developed into food truck central, with anywhere from six to nine or more trucks parked between 6th Street and 9th Street on weekdays serving lobster rolls, tacos, sushi, arepas, sandwiches, vegetarian and more. A smattering of food trucks are scattered in other random downtown spots as well.

Gettin’ stuff done:

Same ease and convenience as always. Pretty much everything I need is within walking distance. I occasionally run specialty errands to Uptown and other non-downtown destinations, but 98% of my simple needs are met by downtown establishments. One or two annual outings notwithstanding, all friends, social engagements and places of importance are still a single, hassle-free bus ride from home. Only during rush hour on the busiest streets am I ever sitting on a bus for more than 30 minutes to get anywhere. Moreover, with public transport information folded into the Google map directions tool on my Android, I can dog leg errands and improvise on the go with only a few moments of research.

Owning/renting:

This has become slightly less advantageous in 2012. The housing lull is lifting in downtown and condos and apartments are once again in high demand. Though all I really know about this is what I read in the paper, so perhaps people who have actually purchased/rented in recent months can speak with more authority. Still, if my property tax statements are even slightly accurate, condo prices are still languishing near the bottom of the curve, so while availability might be dicey, prices are still decent.

Future unpleasantness:

Alas, the forever needy and bleating Minnesota Vikings were successful in pick pocketing Minneapolis for $700-something million for a new stadium that will both result in a new sales tax for purchases made downtown and a couple years with of construction headaches and debris floating through the air that will probably give all downtown workers and residents respiratory ailments. But the good news is that a billionaire in New Jersey will get richer and a losing, felonious team of overgrown babies and ingrates will stop threatening to move to L.A. for a few more years and that’s what really counts.

That theft and injustice aside, in the grand scheme, I’m still a huge proponent of downtown and carfree living. The uncomplicated, streamlined lifestyle has resulted in more free time than I’ve ever had, lower stress and unequalled contentment.

Anyone with other observations or anything to add are very welcome to leave a comment.

Car-free lifestyle, Downtown | 18.09.2012 15:39 | 2 Comments

How I live on $25,000 a year

Since it applies to my car-free and downtown lifestyle, I’m going to point you to a post on my other blog, Killing Batteries:

How I live on $25,000 a year

Remember Slackerology? My probably best-selling, award-winning, religion-changing, planet-saving book proposal may have fizzled out on the desks of 26 editors, to the detriment of all society (history will vindicate me), but I’m still living and honing the theory every day.

[If you need to get up to speed on the modern, minimalist lifestyle I’ve cheekily labeled ‘Slackerology’, you can read about it in great detail here, here, here, here and here or read an incredibly condense explanation here.]

Further to that, I recently had the occasion to do a detailed calculation of my annual living expenses for the first time (oddly) since moving back to the US and, while I knew the number would be low, the total shocked even me.

Keep reading…

Car-free lifestyle, Downtown, KillingBatteries | 7.11.2011 13:44 | Comments Off on How I live on $25,000 a year

Dump your car and get a whole month of your life back every year

It’s been a while since I went on a Slackerology rant, but car-free living has been on my mind again recently and instead of just speaking in confident, but speculative terms, I decided to crunch a bunch of numbers to support my argument.

When you ask someone why they don’t consider a car-free lifestyle, the primary reply is that the convenience and time-saving of traveling by car, versus public transport, is simply too valuable to give up. Well, to those people clinging to that belief, I’m about to blow your tutti-frutti little minds.

Let’s assume, as someone dependent on public transport, you ride the bus/train an average of four times a day, namely to and from work and then round-trip on one other outing (or two round-trip outings on Saturdays/Sundays). Let’s say that each time you take public transport, you spend an average of five minutes waiting at the stop. (Yes, I know that at 11pm on a Sunday you may occasionally wait 25 minutes, but all those times you wait zero to three minutes at 5pm on a Wednesday will even things out).

So:

4 trips a day X five minutes of waiting X 365 days = 121.66 hours per year that you ‘waste’ standing around, waiting for public transport.

Now, as for the extra time spent in transit on buses/trains versus your car, depending on the route, time of day, traffic and whatever walking you need to do to-from the stop/station, yes the journey on public transport will probably take more time than if you just hopped into your car. But exactly how much more time?

The walking time to/from public transport versus your car is basically a wash, because you would likely also have a long walk from the office/shop/movie theater/etc to wherever your car is parked, not to mention all the time you burn driving around trying to find a parking spot.

While some bus routes are sadistically slower than driving a car, others, privy to priority lanes for example, are just the same or faster. And, it’s safe to assume, trains will always be faster as they happily zoom under, over or through inching traffic. Being that this interval is kind of impossible to quantify, I’m just going to pull what I feel is a fairly generous number out of the air and say a (average!) journey on public transport will take seven minutes longer than if you were in a car.

4 trips a day X seven additional in-transit minutes X 365 days = 170.33 additional hours per year that you might spend in transit while on public transport than if you were in a car.

Combining the waiting-for-public-transport hours and additional in-transit hours, you could potentially lose 292 hours of your life per year if you relied solely on public transport.

There’s no denying that’s a lot of toe-tapping, non-thrilling time. That said, you car drivers will want to put down any delicate or spillable items you may be holding before I continue.

Now, let’s look at how many hours per year you work in order to raise the money necessary to keep your car on the road. First, let’s break down an annual car expense sheet (I’m doing both low and high end expense breakdowns, since everyone has different circumstances and expenses depending on city, daily driving distances, age, lifestyle, etc):

• Car loan payments = $4,200-6,000 per year ($350-500 X 12 months)
• Gas = $780-1,560 ($15-30 per week X 52 weeks per year)
• Insurance = $900-1,600 per year
• License tabs = $50-120 per year
• Maintenance = $300-500 per year (an estimated lump sum for oil changes, car washes, windshield wipers, one or two minor part(s) failures, etc)
• Parking = $200-2,400 per year (the startling high end is for people who pay to park in garages/lots both at home and at work, plus supplementary night/weekend parking at meters, lots, etc)

Low and high end totals come to $6,430 and $12,180 per year. Since very few people live at either of those extremes, I’m going to use the midpoint of $9,305 from here forward.

In order to bring home the $9,305 per year you need to keep your car on the road, you actually need to earn $11,631.25 pre-tax (which is 25% for those earning $33,950-82,250 per year) income. So, at a pay rate of $22 (average US hourly wage for 2009), it will take you 528.69 hours (13.22 weeks!) of work to earn enough money to keep your car physically and legally running.

And if you don’t have a car loan, or don’t spend that much money on parking or whatever, keep in mind that I haven’t factored in all the money you could potentially cough up paying for collision repairs, moving violations or parking tickets and, in some places, toll roads.

So, 528.69 hours of work minus the 292 hours you’d potentially spend whiling away on public transport, equals 236.69 surplus hours of free time you’d enjoy each year by not owning a car. That’s 5.92 theoretical 40-hour weeks of work that you wouldn’t have to perform.

Now think about your drastically reduced carbon footprint.

Now think about how many books you could be reading or TV shows you could be watching on your iPod while sitting on public transport.

Now think about what you could accomplish if you worked 5.92 fewer weeks per year.

Or think about the lavish vacation in Thailand you could take and/or how many bottles of really good wine you could buy with $8,305 (I knocked off the roughly the $1,000 you’d pay per year for a transit pass, which, I haven’t forgotten, will require 45.5 hours of work to pay for, so you only end up with 191 spare hours, or 4.78 fewer work weeks per year).

Don’t try to tell me that you’re not tempted.

Car-free lifestyle | 5.03.2010 14:49 | 1 Comment

Megabus comes to Minneapolis!

I don’t think I’m overstating the situation when I say that this is going to change all of our lives for the better for the rest of eternity, unless you’re one of those dirty, sniveling Socialists. Huh? Is that what you are? A Socialist? You make me sick. Now get out of my face and go enjoy your universal free healthcare. However, those of you in the banking industry are obviously welcome to hang around, drive our banks into ruin and wait for your bailout and reward – but everyone else has to go back to Canada where you belong.

Actually, this really is huge news for the car-free lifestyle people – or those that would rather eat raw bird ca-ca rather than drive long distance through Wisconsin.

Meagabus, which has been a growing ground transport option in the northeast US since 2006, has finally started service to Minneapolis. So far, they only go direct from Minneapolis to Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee, but if you’ve got the ass-fortitude, there’s connections onward to Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Memphis, St Louis and more.

I’m finding tickets from Minneapolis to Chicago for as little as $10. No taxes, but there’s a whopping $0.50 reservation fee, so that’s one less pack of gum out of your trip budget.

Now why on earth would you choose to take a bus like a hobo or a Norwegian backpacker rather than a car, train or plane? Well, flying is obviously far more expensive, punishing to the environment and increasingly demoralizing – and that’s assuming your flight leaves on time and they manage to deliver your luggage to your actual destination.

Admittedly the train would be a more comfortable ride, but even that’s going to cost anywhere from two to five times as much as Megabus and the travel time is virtually the same (about 7 and 1/2 hours from Minneapolis to Chicago, which I find rather weird (shouldn’t the train blow past a bus, what with all the stop lights and traffic jams and getting stuck behind people in Wisconsin that drive their cars like they drive their combines?).

Apart from the drastically reduced price, here’s the true deal-maker for me: wi-fi. That’s right haters, Megabus has free wi-fi on all its buses and the new fleet of double-decker buses will also have power points, so you can spend the entire ride working, playing poker, and watching all those YouPorn videos you’ve been putting off.

I have yet to actually ride on a Megabus, but it looks as if I’ll be heading back to St Louis next month, so I’ll duly post a review when that happens. Including the two hour layover in Chicago, it’s almost a 16-hour trip, one way. Not an easy day, certainly. However, let’s look at driving to St Louis in a private car: takes about nine hours (10 hours if you get jacked-up lost outside St Louis like I did), the gas bill for a one-way run is about $75 (whereas roundtrip on Megabus starts at about $43), you arrive brain-dead from constantly scanning the horizon for the fuzz, your ass hurts just about the same and you didn’t get to watch Hulu videos and flirt with Norwegian backpackers the entire time.

Megabus stops both at Parking Ramp C in downtown Minneapolis on 3rd Street and 3rd Ave North (which is totally accessible from my building through the Skyway – no big deal, I’m just saying how rad that’ll be in the winter) and on University Avenue, across from Williams Arena by the U of M. Get there early to get the coveted second-level front seat, so you can enjoy panoramic views of the Wisconsin countryside (or sit about three rows back, if you actually want to see your laptop screen).

Megabus

Car-free lifestyle | 20.10.2008 11:11 | 16 Comments

Nine month update on Minneapolis car-free lifestyle

[While this post is full of interesting, super important information, you may also want to read the 2012 carfree, downtown Minneapolis living update.]

Having recently been in the company of another heroic, car-free radical like myself, who rode her bike through the rain without a second thought like a badass to meet me the other night, I realized that a status report on living car-free in MSP was long overdue.

Now, before I get too smug, I recognize that a car-free lifestyle is not possible for people with certain careers and obligations. At some stage, cars are absolutely necessary. Of course they are. My argument is that 75% of the people on the road at any given moment don’t really need to be in their cars – or alone in their cars when, say, commuting – but refuse to consider the alternatives (public transport, car-pooling, biking, walking) due to being a glassy-eyed victim of media programming, a false idea of time-saving convenience and/or utter laziness. That’s my premise. If you’re a professional errand runner or a door-to-door baby grand piano salesman, then ignore my taunts and scolding, but in return do us all a favor and cease with the cell phone fiddling. I know you think you can do both, but 98% of you can’t and I have video to prove it.

Since my last report, it’s finally gotten warm, I’ve left town three times and I’ve relocated to my 26th floor, bitchin’ new condo, bang in the center of downtown Minneapolis. I’m still shopping around, but with the right pair of porro prism binoculars, with something like a 7 x 50 magnification/aperture rating and image stabilization, I’ll soon be merrily enjoying the drunken antics outside the Dome as well as the tattoos and piercings of the sun bathers on the deck 11 floors below.

As I’ve highlighted before, a near-European lifestyle can be attained here in downtown with only a little planning, few concessions and the willingness to engage in modest walking. Virtually every important bus line as well as LRT passes within four blocks of my building, so I’ve become a wizard of public transport and can get pretty much anywhere in a single ride. And while car-burdened people continue to slam public transport with their nah-nah-nah whining about wasting their lives standing at LRT stations and stewing on slow-moving buses, I’m still convinced that after you factor in searching for parking spots and sitting in traffic jams, people in cars spend pretty much the same amount of time in transit at the end of the week as people on public transport. Plus, when you’re on public transport you can play with your smart phone to your heart’s content without fear that I’ll put a Romanian curse on your reproductive organs.

Though I can effectively stock my kitchen with items from Target, the farmer’s market and Haskell’s, I’ve taken to hopping on LRT every other week or so and visiting the Cub Foods on Minnehaha and Lake for the superior selection and prices. Also, though it hasn’t yet been necessary after all the wine I hoarded during Haskell’s Nickel Sale in April, I imagine I’ll be biking over the Mississippi, armed with my largest backpack, to restock the wine closet during frequent sales at Surdyk’s. It sounds like a pain, but something about carrying an $8 bottle of wine on your back for two miles makes it suddenly taste like a $20 bottle. Cider too, but wait a while before opening it.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the giddying novelty of being connected to the Skyway. I’m actually kinda looking forward to next winter. I plan to make a habit of running errands over lunchtime, wearing shorts, a tank top, flip-flops and a three-foot diameter sombrero, while carrying an open Strongbow (are open cans legal in the Skyway?). I can’t wait to drink in the wretched envy of all the people wearing five layers, trying to save shoes ruined by oily slush and dunking their frozen hands in the Crystal Court fountain to get the feeling back after hiking in from their $150 per month parking spots.

On a disappointing note, my grand intentions to ride my bike everywhere have been sabotaged by a freak, enduring hip boo-boo that is clearly not going to go away on its own, but I still haven’t done anything to correct it for a number of denial-fueled reasons. The few times I’ve been on my bike, it’s been a slow ride on the small chain ring, using more deliberate, sluggish caution with my movements than a senior standing in my way at the grocery store.

Here’s some stats for the statistically inclined:

– Amount of money I’ve spent on (local) transport so far in 2008: ~$60 (this is a misleading number, because I work from home and I’ve been out of town for a cumulative seven weeks)

– Number of times friends have picked me up instead of letting me get myself our destination on public transport so far in 2008 because “God dammit Leif, it’s just easier!”: ~8

– Number of times plans were ostensibly made at my place, instead of a friend’s place due solely to my carlessness: ~4

– Number of times that I really needed a vehicle: 2 (both times for trips to IKEA)

– Number of social engagements I’ve wimped out on due to poor bus connections or laze: 2

I’ll concede that some of the numbers seem to indicate that my car-free lifestyle is simply making my friends drive a little more, though in those cases I have been careful to make this worth their while by tempting them with food, drink, or movies on 50 Absolutely Not Excessive Inches of Plasma TV Goodness.

Finally, because I haven’t said it lately, I must reiterate how much I love my bitchin’ new condo. The location, the tranquility, the comfort, the convenience. I get weepy when I think about how I have to leave it again next week for my second trip to Romania. Though 606 square feet seems small on paper, it’s absolutely perfect for one person who is diligent about not buying unnecessary crap and can control the packrat impulse.

And sweet Buddha, the view:

condoview.jpg

Car-free lifestyle, Downtown | 30.06.2008 13:25 | 13 Comments

Where the *&#$ did I pack my Kryptonite lock?

You know what I love? Good timing. My appreciation for good timing is more acute than for most people because I am so infrequently its benefactor.

Have I mentioned that I’m cursed? Yeah, it sucks. So far, I’ve been able to keep the boils and flatulence at bay, but when it comes to things like timing, be it elevators, Light Rail or career-making book deals, I’m always about 30 seconds too late. Every time. It’s uncanny.

The upshot is that my eternal curse doesn’t afflict anyone more than two inches away from me, which is why, as we’re mere moments from biking season, it has come to pass that Minneapolis received a $900,000 grant from the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project to promote biking and walking. Look out Portland! We’re going to annihilate you the next time they take one of those cycling commuter surveys! Put that in your tweeter and smoke it, you dirty hippies!

On a related note, if I could only figure out which of these still-packed boxes sitting around my bitchin’ new condo contained my Kryptonite lock, I wouldn’t even be sitting here right now. Now I’m gonna have to walk all the way to Surdyk’s like a sucker.

Speaking of timing, gas is now $3.357 a gallon??? Jesus bootie slapping Christ. That’s gotta hurt. How are these people expected to buy wine and cider when it costs them $73 to fill up their completely unnecessary SUVs that they have no business driving, even if they could successfully navigate or park them – which they can’t if the lofty views from my bitchin’ new condo are any evidence.

I’m so overcome with empathy right now. ‘Empathy’ means ‘disgust’, right? Where is my dictionary? Probably under my Kryptonite.

I don’t mean to sound like a self-righteous asshole about these gas prices, but for those of you who’ve developed lives that are entirely dependent on excessively large cars that you only use for commuting and blocking traffic in my neighborhood, I’d just like to say BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Oh, since I’m in a hating mood over here, there’s this red Hummer I see downtown all the time. Every time I see it, it’s ignoring other traffic or lazily parked in one and a half parking spots, last time, taking up part of a handicapped spot. I saw it again a few days ago – the passenger side window had been smashed in. Now, I don’t normally endorse vengeance-fueled property damage, but seeing this particularly deserving example of returned bad karma was by far the highlight of an otherwise dismal week.

Do your part, flip off a Hummer.

Biking, Car-free lifestyle, Downtown | 18.04.2008 11:00 | 6 Comments

Living in downtown Minneapolis – two month progress report

[While this post is full of interesting, super important information, you may also want to read the 2012 carfree, downtown Minneapolis living update.]

Well, I’ve been a resident of downtown Minneapolis for two full months now and I’m happier than a wino at a Bartles and Jaymes tanker accident. I could write 2,000 words about why downtown is so great, but I’ve come to realize that you can’t fully appreciate how awesome downtown is unless you live here.

Right up until I moved into the TIWILM Command Center, I considered going downtown for any reason to be a spirit-sapping pain in the ass. I’d drive 15 miles in the opposite direction to avoid crawling the three miles into downtown, driving in circles for 30 minutes looking for parking, paying $3 in quarters for about 45 seconds at a meter, then having to sprint four blocks, pick up my face cream and dash back to my car before one of those meter maids with bionic meter-expiring hearing could appear out of nowhere and print out a ticket.

Though the advent of Light Rail has made journeying downtown more attractive, particularly for drinks and merriment (no parking woes, no tenuous sobriety self-tests at the end of the night), I still rarely traipsed down here, especially when neighborhood shops/restaurants were serving my purposes nicely.

Read the rest of this entry »

Car-free lifestyle, Downtown | 28.11.2007 14:25 | 3 Comments

This is why I love Light Rail

busstop.jpgThere was this time in February 1995 when I swore I’d never take Minneapolis public transportation again. I remember it like I remember all personal injustices: with brutal clarity.

I lived on 18th street and Park Ave, “The ‘Hood” as we affectionately called it as we reinforced our windows with 10,000 volt chicken wire. I caught the bus to work right on the corner, just outside the Green Zone, where witnessing a 7:15AM gang-related beatdown up the street wasnt out of the ordinary.

That is, I tried to catch the bus right on the corner. This being the coldest month of an especially cold winter, standing on the street corner for more than the bare minimum of time was no joking matter. People were losing digits out there. And I’ll lay odds that deficient bus punctuality was indirectly responsible for dozens of cases of frost bite and even deaths that year. The bus routinely came rumbling up over 10 minutes late, usually about the point when I was debating seeking medical attention. Worse, sometimes it came seven minutes early. Or not at all. In either case you didn’t know this until you’d stood out on the effing corner until your testicles (or what have you) were petrified and various unmentionable symptoms of Reverse Puberty had set in.

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Car-free lifestyle | 5.11.2007 12:52 | 2 Comments