Wednesday, August 22, 2012

[LOABkw] The Carshare Factor

Life On A Bike in KW is a series of posts about Chris' attempt to get as much done as possible on two wheels, while Erin takes the car out of town to observe birds. How cycle-friendly is KW? 

So far I've seen that life on a bike isn't so difficult. Commuting, errands and groceries are all possible, large swathes of Kitchener and Waterloo have reasonable bicycle access, and I've seen the value of transit in support of cycling, especially as a backup plan. But sometimes, a motorized vehicle is called for.

Perhaps it is a trip out of town to a place not served by our (awful) intercity transit services. Car rentals are fairly cost effective for these needs, especially if it is on a weekend, when a fifty gets you a sedan for two days. (Just make sure you have insurance.)

But for trips around town to haul heavy items, there's no better an option than Carshare.

Grand River CarShare is a non-profit organization that has a fleet of about 20 cars, mostly distributed around the uptown, downtown and university areas. If you become a member, these cars are available to book and use for short trips or long.

I joined as a Simple Plan member (no, not that Simple Plan), which gives me access to Carshare vehicles for $10 an hour (plus HST), gas and insurance included. This definitely adds an overhead cost on trips that require a car, so I put a bit more effort into planning, to make as productive use of the time as possible:

4 five gallon water jugs...
...80kg of water softener salt, some homebrew supplies... and some brews.
Not even a long-tail is going to haul around a couple hundred kilograms of cargo, let's be honest. (Or, maybe it could! But it wouldn't be much fun.)

Like transit, carshare is most useful if it is nearby. Unlike transit, the destination can be anywhere. This key difference, along with the haulage, helps define the niche that carshare serves well. You may need to live in a central location to take advantage of it, but it helps to live in a central location to reduce your dependence on car ownership to begin with. And interestingly, Carshare is a service whose viability and stability and utility all improve as its fleet (and member base) grow.

From a cycling perspective, carshare fills in the gaps that bikes, transit or simple walking aren't suited for. Acting like a safety net in our as-yet car-dominant community, the service gives its members confidence that they won't be hamstrung by that one awkward trip that can't be made without a private vehicle. The Classic and Regular plans suit the car-free who still have a week-to-week need for a car, while the Simple is a great "insurance policy" for 1-car couples, or for the cycling-enthusiastic temporary ornithological bachelor.

Grand River CarShare strike me as a professionally run organization, keenly focused on their mission (and budget). The value they provide for the price is incredible (to the point that I've even asked them how they manage to stay viable.) Given the niche that they fill, they are a strategic asset to KW's transportation mix and we're lucky to have them.

For $40 a year, you could never book a car and still get your money's worth just from peace of mind.

Perhaps they will consider installing bike racks at their car stations, for people to bike to and from their vehicles. (I was disappointed to find that the new Matrix doesn't easily fit my bike and is missing some of the great cargo features that makes our older model Matrix so useful.)

The Park&Union 2012 Matrix. Nice car to drive, but just not as handy as its predecessor.

Friday, August 3, 2012

[LOABkw] An uneventful week

It's actually a relief that this week's getting around town without a car was uneventful. The two weeks prior provided lots of fodder for blog posts, but it wears down a fella, you know?

One big milestone this week though. I've now cycled 1100km for the year. That matches the high water mark I set in 2010: from now on, every ride is personal-record-setting. I'm confident that I can break 1500km, and considering setting my sights on the 2 megametre mark.

There was some minor, though not unpleasant shifts in the routine this week:

Monday: My company's Habitat for Humanity build day! I was presented with an opportunity to cycle commute somewhere completely different: Howe Drive, near Westmount and Highway 8. That was a pleasant ride, almost all trails and side road, though I did discover that Concordia Park has the same sewer affliction as Hillside Park: trail closure for construction forcing me to detour.

That's me, doing a Here's Johnny under the armpit of the top right orange guy

I'm impressed with trail connectivity on Kitchener's southwest side, though the expressway remains an obstacle. I was glad I didn't have to go any further south along Westmount than the 50m or so it took to get from trailhead to build site.

Also, no lost appendages or broken limbs. A total success!

Tuesday: TriTAG hat on for the afternoon, to have a meeting with Waterloo city government and a developer. Which meant dressing up beyond the usual standards for a software geek, and arriving Uptown without being dripping with sweat.

Which, sadly, meant leaving the bike at home. Fortunately, there's GRT: once again, going car-free means going multi-modal. As demonstrated with the flat tire incident last week, part of good cycling infrastructure is a good transit system.

The rest of the week: The aforementioned Hillside Park sewer construction work is progressing. Over the last couple of weeks, I saw some depressing signs of construction crews taking two steps forward, one step back:

A lovely concrete footing for the new bridge.

The same concrete footing, two days later.

Finally, on Thursday:

We have a bridge!
The Hillside Park work can't end soon enough for me. It's my preferred cycling route (and a great way to get from Lexington to the Lincoln neighbourhood), and it has been closed all year. Originally supposed to be done in Spring 2012, and then in mid-July, I admit I will be surprised if it reopens in August. But it's getting closer.

A few other route alterations from routine: a trip down the Iron Horse to pick up a piccolo from a prescribed piccolo drop-off point (don't ask), and a trip to the chiropractor this morning which meant tackling the Lancaster/Bridge roundabout, and Bridge St (a route that I have grown increasingly unhappy about). At least the construction signs are gone.

Erin returns this afternoon for a weekend off from birdnerding. Two whole days with her this time! Maybe I'll sneak the Matrix out to fill water jugs so I can brew on holiday Monday. That isn't cheating, is it?