Nine Years as a Car-free Lady!

Today is my nine year anniversary of living without a car!

When I graduated from college, I just didn’t want to spend my money on a car. I wanted to buy new shoes and eat at a million new restaurants! So I moved to Chicago where I could take the bus or train anywhere I wanted day or night, close to my house.

And when I left Chicago, I moved to Washington, DC. I lived in five different neighborhoods: H Street NE, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Brookland.

While I was never more than a few steps away from a bus or train, I could walk to plenty of places as well. Numerous grocery stores, farmers markets, ethnic markets, restaurants, bars, parks were easily walkable for many parts of DC. (And many that have far fewer resources of course).

Owning a car seemed like a waste of money and time. Most of the people I saw in cars were sitting in traffic. Not many looked like they were enjoying themselves.

And they were paying money do to it.

I took the bus and train in DC for several years before I decided to save some dollars, make my own schedule and start riding a bicycle.

I had no idea how much I would love it!

After a few months I found a bicycle that I could afford, I liked, and that fit me. I’m kind of short!

Me and a sunflower I grew at my house in DC last year.

(PS: I didn’t  have a camera for several years so I am lacking in some photographic evidence, but if you’d like to see some more pictures of my garden, go here!)

I would have started riding a bike all the time, every day and night, had I known how much more free I felt!

I bought my first bike for $300 after years of not really riding and within the first week I rode 80 miles. I’ve never raced or competed or considered it. I use my bicycle to get around and I spend almost no money on transportation, PLUS I get in shape!

Everyone does push-ups at their going away party, right?

And though this might be a bit late…

If you’ve ever considered biking for transportation, tomorrow is a great day to start.

It’s National Bike to Work Day! Events, group rides, and free food are happening all over the country. Check your local bike advocacy organization for information!

Pittsburgh’s Bike to Work Day coincides with the first of a series of Carfree Fridays happening around the city for the summer.


Farmer Needs Car, Has Beer

One of my roommates (“Farmer Roommate”) is leaving Pittsburgh for six months to work on a farm in the middle of nowhere, as are apparently record numbers of young people disillusioned with the disconnect between people, the land, and food. Probably dozens of other reasons too.

If you’ve ventured out of our cities, you may have noticed that getting around without a car is nearly impossible. So for the first time, said roommate became a car owner through a pretty resourceful trade, two cases of homebrew beer for the motor vehicle!

The homemade beer on the homemade trailer

Though the car is sitting in front of the house, Farmer Roommate chose to deliver the beer using his main, Preferred Mode of Transportation.

PMT (Preferred Mode of Transportation)

And so Farmer Roommate completed the exchange by delivering his end of the bargain with the bike trailer he made using recycled bike parts and a design available at Free Ride!, the recycled bicycle and educational co-op in Pittsburgh. (PS: go there!)

Making dreams come true

Drivers, Please Don’t Hit Me

I’m just trying to go home too.

A couple of hours ago I was riding my bike on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh when a woman driving behind me suddenly accelerated and swerved to the right to pass the car in front of her.

But the lane wasn’t empty.

I was there. I was riding my bicycle and she didn’t look before she nearly plowed into me.

Luckily at least I was paying attention (and not texting) and was able to react quickly. I slammed on my brakes and swerved out of the way.

It was the middle of the day and I was dressed in the brightest clothes I own (which says a lot to those of you who know me) so I was definitely visible.

Below is something of a reenactment photographed by my charming roommate. Mostly it’s just to show how bright my clothing was. Short of covering myself in hundreds of lights, I can’t get that much more visible in the middle of the day.

I embrace the hell out of safety because I love my life.

And I always ride with a helmet covered with flames of safety!

Re-enactment on my tiny street that rarely has car traffic

To everyone: please pay attention. Let’s just look out for each other and slow down a bit.


Don’t Text and Ride

NPR reports that California is considering extending the ban on texting while driving to including texting while biking. California is one of 23 states to ban texting while driving, a law that should be federal since it is dangerous everywhere.

Clearly the distracted driver of a multi-ton vehicle can do more damage to another person than a cyclist, as shown by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA points out that “Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers.”

Stop, Read, and Respond

I’m not sure if that same rate applies to cyclists, but frankly I just can’t understand why anyone would feel the need to send a text while riding a bicycle in a city. Bikers are already vulnerable enough and if you need to brake suddenly to avoid an absent-minded pedestrian, driver, or another cyclist, you’ve lost that ability.

If an urgent text is received and must immediately be replied to, it is so easy, friends, it is so so so easy to pull off the road, out of the lane, and Stop, Read, and Respond. Think of the adage that explains what to do if you are on FIRE: Stop, Drop, and Roll. If you are facing a life and death situation, you should stop and deal with it. Otherwise, don’t make an already precarious situation worse by becoming a distracted biker.

If your life is so important that you have to keep up with every minute detail and constantly be in touch, isn’t it important enough to make sure you don’t lose it?

Watch out for yourself, watch out for your neighbors and everyone else and put down that ridiculous phone until you get off your bicycle or out of your car.

Hot but stupid boy: texting while riding without helmet or brakes.

Why I Love Pittsburgh: The Duquesne Incline

My little sister came to visit me in Pittsburgh this weekend and so we decided to experience the city through one of the oldest and most unique forms of public transportation.  The Duquesne Incline was built in 1877 and is a funicular railway that is one of the most awe inspiring forms of transportation I’ve ever used. The Incline is 800 feet long, 400 feet high, and has a somewhat terrifying slant of 30%, making it still much less steep than at least one other street in Pittsburgh.

Cable car transit up the mountain

We decided to start at the top of Mount Washington and ride the funicular railway down to the bottom and then ride back up again.

Downtown seen while riding down the Funicular

USA Today listed the Duquesne Incline at the top of the list of “10 great places to study skylines of the world” and the New York Times spoke with Chuck Massey, a conductor who has worked for the incline for years. He described how the engineer that built the incline boosted ridership when it was first built in 1877:

It seems the incline wasn’t catching on at first, Mr. Massey said, with a lot of potential customers still taking a series of stairs down Mount Washington rather than spending money for the ride.

The engineer hired somebody to scare those who chose to travel by foot by popping out of the bushes in the evenings. Rumors spread that the steps were haunted, and ridership on the incline picked up.

“Supposedly a true story,” Mr. Massey said.

I ride my bike across one of these bridges daily

After basking in the sun and swooning for the view, it was a little disappointing to leave the old-fashioned atmosphere of the 130-year old rail and cross the street to be greeted with this ugly scene:

Screaming billboards

I thought we’d be able to walk around and see some shops but I didn’t realize that there was nothing there except speeding cars, and visual noise yelling at me about my finances, my health, and my flooring. Ew.

So we turned to admire the view of downtown instead:

Yum! Soothing Views Across the River

I hope they turn on that fountain soon. We spent about five minutes taking pictures of downtown and in that time were honked at three times by three separate Neanderthals who had apparently never seen girls in dresses before.

That very distasteful experience left a sour taste in my mouth but then I just got back on the Incline and kept on swooning for my new city.

I’m not trying to make you jealous, but do you have views like this in your town? I bet not, and if not, you should move here. It’s gorgeous, very affordable, full of space, opportunity and charming people, and is the only city in the U.S. to be voted Most Livable City TWICE. There’s something for everyone here, including that obscure part of the population who like “sports”.

I felt a bit sorry for my sister who had to leave that afternoon to go back to DC.

If you want some more information about the Incline, check out The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline. The Society operates and runs the Incline which does not and never has received any direct government subsidy for operations from the City of Pittsburgh, County of Allegheny, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or the Federal Government. Operation of the Duquesne Incline relies entirely on fares collected, membership fees, donations, and gift shop sales.

So if you’re one of those disposable income types always looking for a way to lighten your wallet for a good cause, why not put some of it into the Incline?


Planes, Trains, Automobiles: Dancing in the Street

I’m prone to spontaneous dancing whenever I hear a song that I really love, which is one of the reasons why I no longer drive.

I think you’ll agree with me that dancing while operating a multi-ton vehicle is not a stellar idea.

I know that there are some people who simply should not be drivers and I am one of them. I’m pleased to be aware, and I suspect that more people are alive because of this realization. I drove a car occasionally in high school and regularly from September 1999- May 2001 and I was a terror behind the wheel. I was constantly getting distracted by some catchy jam and losing track of the steering wheel.

That’s just one of dozens and dozens of reasons why Riding a bike is perfect (for me).

Sometimes I imagine I’m traveling in this superb scene from the Indian film Dil Se.


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I’m going back to DC on Monday and there are a few ways to get there from Pittsburgh. Most of them wholly undesirable for a number of reasons.

1. Bus: Greyhound is the only bus service that runs, at this point, between DC and Pittsburgh. A one way ticket costs $39 for a seat on an uncomfortable bus for 6.5 hours. The last time I took this bus route a woman rapped on my head three times to indicate she wanted to share my seat and then fell asleep on me.

2. Train. Amtrak is $6 more expensive and one hour longer than Greyhound.

3. Rideshare: So far, no one seems to be going to the same place at the same time.

4. Renting a car: Not really an option for me because I let my license expire since I don’t plan on driving ever again.

5. Airplane: I’m not going to spend that kind of money and get hopped up on that much jet fuel for such a short trip. Plus the process of going to the airport, invasive security procedures and additional waiting means that planes are less convenient and slower than they’ve been in the past.

6.  Bicycle: I forgot to include my favorite vehicle, the bicycle! It doesn’t work for this trip since I will only be away for five days and it takes nearly that long to ride on the glorious Great Allegheny Passage.

Which is the best option?

Unfortunately the way our transportation system is presently organized, the most time and cost efficient way to travel is by car for this particular trip. A tank of gas costs approximately $25 for a compact-ish (3,000 lb) car, plus $8 in tolls. This is not a heavily traveled route so there isn’t much traffic and the trip takes 4-4.5 hours.

I prefer to ride the train because it is scenic and lovely. The route winds through gorgeous mountains and has a cafe car with windows from floor to ceiling for sightseeing. There are tables and comfy chairs that are perfect for writing, reading, drawing, anything you can think of, all while being chauffeured in the most comfortable setting with superb views. It’s pretty glamorous, actually.

Who in America has the time for such an extravagant trip? We are busy people!

Hey there, Mr. LaHood, you seem to be brimming with sound ideas. What about improving some of the current train routes so we don’t have to wait decades for high speed rail? I don’t need a bullet train everywhere, but the train should be at LEAST as fast as a car or we will never be able to move people away from that individualistic mode of transportation.

Traveling by Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor is the only quick route, faster than driving, by far, and it is always packed. There is clearly a high demand for trains, but trains that are faster than cars.

I want to support trains, I love taking the train.


Get on Your Bike: Events Not to Miss in Pittsburgh

Give Away Some of That Money

Tomorrow Whole Foods will donate 5% of all purchases to Bike Pittsburgh. You could shop there, spend $100 and $5 will go to that swell organization, or you could shop at the East End Co-op and support local food and give money directly to Bike Pittsburgh. But if you’re going to shop at Whole Foods anyway, tomorrow is a pretty good day to do it. Put a basket on your bike and shop with a friend.

North Side Exploration

After your shopping extravaganza, join us for a very VERY exciting exploration of the beautiful North Side. Meet at Buena Vista Coffee (1501 Buena Vista Street) in the Mexican War Streets Neighborhood at 6:30. We’ll end up at the Park House on E. Ohio Street for tasty beverages, conversation, and meaningful glances.

One of my favorite things about riding bikes is the community aspect of it. You can be social while riding a bike with plenty of friends in a way you just can’t with a bunch of cars. I have met most of my best friends, roommates, and romances through bikes and it just keeps getting better. So dust it off, friends, even if you haven’t been on a bike in decades and come out! If you can’t make it tomorrow night, maybe you can make it Saturday for a ride that I’m super giddy about:

12 Bridges, 3 Rivers, 21 Miles (there are still about 432 bridges left to explore for those who haven’t been to this magnificently gorgeous city!)

from Bike Pittsburgh:

This week Team Decaf Weekend will tour the best views of the rivers and city – via our many bridges.  They’ll cross the three rivers twelve times on one ride to see some stunning city/river views.

Sat, April 17, 11am – 1pm

Meet at Tazza D’oro, 1125 N. Highland Ave, Highland Park (map)
Please join us. The ride is not for the total novice, but it’s also not for the race enthusiast.

We hit the road at 11:00am sharp.

ALL are welcome.


A downloadable pdf map is available at

Questions? or call ride leader, Dan O’Donnell, at 412.559.4001.

Team Decaf is a regular, ongoing ride that meets at Tazza D’Oro Cafe in Highland Park.  They aren’t necessarily a team, just a bunch of folks that like to drink coffee and ride bikes.  Team Decaf is the more casual paced counterpart to Team Caffeine.  All are welcome.


Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Bicycling magazine has released their rating of the 50 most bicycle friendly cities (with a population of at least 100,000) in the country.

The magazine considered these factors in the ranking:

  • segregated bike lanes
  • municipal bike racks
  • bike boulevards
  • having the ear of the local government
  • a vibrant and diverse bike culture
  • smart, savvy bike shops

Minneapolis edged out Portland (#2) and won most bicycle friendly city.

Pittsburgh, home to me and the steepest street in America, was ranked number 28.

Washington, DC, where I cut my teeth on a bicycle, was ranked number 13. I wrote about DC biking culture and infrastructure for Momentum magazine last year, but even in a year, a lot of dramatic improvements have been made.

When I was researching the story for Momentum, I organized a happy hour to get the feel of what average riders and advocates wanted to see changed to make the city better. The top four recommendations kept surfacing again and again:

  1. Impose a congestion/commuter tax on those who drive into the city from Virginia and Maryland. Since the population of Washington nearly doubles to a million during the work week, it is logical that those drivers who benefit from our roads ought to pay for them.
  2. Install cycle tracks (bike lanes) on all arterials and on all future construction.
  3. Initiate a widespread education campaign about the rules of the road, sharing, and how to be both a safe driver and rider; delivered through PSAs, driver education programs and public schools
  4. Complete the trails that are unfinished, repair those in disrepair, and begin construction on all others.

What elements do you consider important in your decision to ride, or to not ride, your bike?