28 October 2010

Late-Night Ride

I didn't think I was going to get in a train trip this week. Wednesday is usually my train day, but I needed to get back from campus faster than the train could accomplish to attend a lecture on the Old English Life of Malchus by Peter Dendle.

I drove in Tuesday with the idea of taking the train home that night, and back in on Wednesday, but it was threatening rain by the end of the day. And I was tired, and I needed time on line to catch up on email.

But the steroids made me manic, and I've had about seven hours of sleep since Tuesday, and I decided that behind the wheel was not where I should be after my late class today, so I did a round trip on the train.

I hadn't done Thursday on the train yet this term, because I have to wait 45 minutes after the end of class for the next train and then I don't get home until after 10:00 at night. And I've assumed that riding the bike while tired would be too unpleasant. The week I did three train/bike trips in a row, I was worn out by the end of the week by the extra amount of biking.

But it turns out that biking while tired, when it's not tiredness brought on by unusual amounts of physical activity, is really not unpleasant. There's no danger of falling asleep at the handlebars, and it's not nearly as stressful as driving while tired and having to do all that crazy stuff to stay alert.

So I got my mass-transit commute in this week after all. (That's week nine, counting from the week before the semester started. Seven weeks left to go.)

25 October 2010

Considering Carbon Costs

Mike Berners-Lee calculates the carbon cost of riding a mile on a bicycle to be 65 grams, if you power yourself with a banana; 260 grams if you use cheeseburgers for fuel. (For the metrically impaired, that's about 2.2 ounces for the banana, or 9 oz. for the burger.)

He includes in that figure the cost of manufacture of the bicycle, but he doesn't deduct the amount of energy you would have burned in food if you were just sitting around on the couch, or, say, driving your car.

More information is in his book, How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, which you can't buy yet in the United States. Probably because they're busy converting all the metric units into ones Americans can understand.

By way of comparison, the average passenger car emits almost a pound of carbon for every mile you drive. That apparently does not include the carbon released during manufacture of the vehicle. Public transit averages around half a pound of carbon emissions per passenger mile.

While straphanging or reading a book on the train, though, you're also burning up the calories you ate for breakfast: not quite at the rate you would be if you were biking the distance, but that far off: unless we're ultra-marathoners or ironman triathletes, most of the calories we burn are expended in basal metabolism, and not in exercise.

So... get out of the car, get on the bike, or just hoof it.

24 October 2010

Turns Out ... Hiking Is Not Walking on Pavement

Hiking in Harriman Park today, we came across four college-aged or maybe twenty-something guys out backpacking. Their second day out, and they were tired. They weren't really sure where they left their car, except they knew they took an exit off the Palisades Interstate Parkway that said Seven Lakes Drive. And they had no map.

Zeke was a little frustrated at the delay while we showed them our map, helped them figure out where they left their car, and told them what trails they could take to a point where a girlfriend could pick them up.

An important lesson: If we're out in the woods and there are other hikers in trouble, we always stop to help. Even if their trouble amounts to going out unprepared.

Harriman Park is so close to New York City and its suburbs that it gets a lot of hikers who park their car and then wander into the woods without thinking about it. In the past, we've given other hikers water and food, band-aids and antibiotic ointment, and information about the trails.

Another lesson, implied, but (unfortunately) subject to fairly frequent repetition: if you're going to go hiking, you really ought to bring along food and water and waterproofs and maps, along with a first aid kit and the ability to read the map and find your way back out.

Also: I've seen people talking on their cell phones while stopped along hiking trails, but today, for the first time ever, I saw someone walking along and texting on an iPhone. An expensive piece of equipment to smash on a rock if she trips while not paying attention.

Which brings me to my final point. Going into the woods with a cell phone does not equal going into the woods with proper equipment and some skills to go along with it.

23 October 2010

Hudson River Train Tunnel

Supposedly, NJ Governor Chris Christie is reconsidering his decision to kill the new Hudson River train tunnel, on which construction had already begun and which would have increased capacity on New Jersey Transit trains in and out of New York -- and in turn reducing road congestion and pollution.

The folks at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign have been, well, campaigning for recommitment to the project. The other day, Zoe Baldwin and two friends were in Penn Station in Newark getting signatures on a postcard to be sent to the governor:

Yep, I'm afraid it's a pretty sad picture. Still getting to know the new camera phone; I should have taken a few extra shots. But you get the idea.

And if you support public transit, please contact your local elected officials and/or Gov. Christie's office and tell them that. And remind them that you vote. Thank you.

20 October 2010


The number of cigarette butts I counted on my way off the platform at the Long Branch train station the other day. By no means did I make any attempt to get a comprehensive count; those were just the ones I saw between exiting the train and walking off the end of the platform.

According to the train and station crews, it's up to the local police to enforce the non-smoking laws at NJ Transit train stations. (So why aren't station agents calling the police about violators?)

I called the Long Branch police department, where a very nice-sounding dispatcher said she'd check, but she thought it was Transit police, and not local police, who were responsible for this.

(I've never seen a transit police officer anywhere outside NYC or Newark. Have you?)

And then, on the platform last night, I pointed out the no-smoking sign to a smoker standing under it.

"I'm just checking the schedule," he said. "And anyway, it's not going to hurt you if I smoke here."

"I'm just breathing," I said. "And I'm asthmatic."

A lot of things about this bother me. Here's one: Why do I feel compelled to identify myself as ill (disabled? invalid?) by way of excusing my protests about someone else's smoking? Why not just leave it at, "I'm breathing"?

(Week eight, by the way, of taking public transit to campus at least once a week. This week: three round trips. I always think the evening bike ride home is going to be tiring, but it always turns out to be a lovely quiet spin along the river with lights on the bridges and in Brooklyn reflecting off the water.)

17 October 2010

An Unexpected Trip to the North

Unexpected sorrow, unexpected grief. But also un-looked for joys:

green tomatoes, the rest of the summer's harvest, so late in the season they won't ripen

Tom's Wicked Fresh toothpaste

shelled beans

slowing the car to watch a whole flock of wild turkeys cross the road

wintergreen, growing wild in the woods

Walt Mayshark

and foliage: brilliant red maples, electric yellow beeches, golden orange poplars, punctuated with soft brown oaks and stands of evergreens

And back home safe again.

14 October 2010

Solar-Powered Car, Anyone?

I took one of those carbon footprint quizzes the other day.

I live in an apartment where gas and heat are included. Electric is billed, but the building (not the apartment) is metered by the city, so I don't get a detailed bill.

I tried to remember the amounts of gas and electric I used to use when I lived in places where I got individualized bills; I left blank the part about heating oil.

And then I calculated the number of miles I drive every month. Not pretty, with a one-way commute of 55 miles. And for the first time it dawned on me that, yes, it takes gasoline when I spend an hour in the car each way every weekend so I can go hiking. Even at the 38 mpg I get in my Honda Fit.

Not surprisingly, the output of this quiz was that the vast majority of my carbon footprint comes from transportation.

And there's so little I can do about it. I can take the train to work more often. I could give up hiking, but I'm not willing to do that. Next car, I think, will have to be a hybrid.

(By the way, it's week seven, and I made one trip to work on the train again this week.)

11 October 2010

Vote. Against Intolerance.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

I've been trying to donate my Facebook status through the Human Rights Campaign, but their site seems to be overloaded with other people trying to do the same thing, so I haven't been able to get through. This is heartening.

Not so heartening: the Republican candidate for governor of New York says children shouldn't be "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option" to marriage.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, plan to vote Cuomo if you live in New York State; if you live elsewhere, get out and vote for candidates who support human rights, not bigotry and intolerance. And talk to your friends and family members about why this is important.

08 October 2010

Ten Things That Make Me Happy

Sun shining in the window
A class that goes well
A hug from The Offspring
An email message or phone call from a friend
Coffee; hot or iced depending on the season
Hiking, in the woods, on a ridge, away from it all
Pet #1 in my lap
My Brompton folding bike
Time to play the piano
Random art

I wrote that list, and then I realized that only two of the items on it are actual "things" (one, if you don't count coffee).

What makes you happy?

06 October 2010

Week Six

There's a distinct difference between my bike/train/bike and my car/car/car commutes. And it has to do with interaction with other people.

On the bike, I can talk to people. There are the regular interactions with ticket takers on the train, folks who work in the stations, and traffic officers at the intersections. Plus, most days, someone sees the bike fold or unfold and asks about it, and I get to show it off.

While I'm driving, I can't talk to the other drivers; usually, I can't even make eye contact. I'm limited to what I can communicate with a 2500-pound hunk of metal, plastic, and glass. With a horn. No wonder people succumb to road rage.

(This week: one train trip, one car trip, so far. We'll see about the rest of the week.)

04 October 2010

Blame Mass Transit

I overheard a woman on the train the other day lamenting the increase in fares.

She told the conductor that she and her husband were cutting back on their trips to Rangers games, and implied that the fare hike was to blame.

The conductor asked how much it cost to see a Rangers game. $2000 for the season, she admitted, which entitled her to see twelve games. Oh, and another $2000 for her husband to go to the games, too.

So, between them, they're paying $333 and change every time they see a game.

Oh, plus the cost of mass transit. The round-trip train fare for the two of them from Middletown (where she got on) to Penn Station in New York is $57. Add on two round-trip fares on the subway, and that gets you up to $66, still less than a fifth of the cost of the hockey tickets.

I wonder what they're paying for hot dogs and beer?

And how much cheaper is the train ride than gas, tolls, and parking (not to mention the cost of the car plus insurance)?