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  1. #1
    The Rabbi seely's Avatar
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    A car free busy as all get out student?

    I hate my car, its a money pit that sucks up money better spent on bicycles. However as a student I find I feel I don't have time to ride everywhere, and I have a lot of places I go to visit friends. The roads around here are EXTREMELY bike-unfriendly, even in the middle of the day and I don't feel comfortable riding them at 2am back from a friend's house. School is 6mi away on all 4 lane roads, and work is 11mi away. I regularly ride to work and am harassed 2-3x a day... its kind of unnerving. Anyways, it snows a lot here, rains a lot and gets down to 0 deg. in the winter. I like wearing regular clothes, and don't have anywhere to change/store clothes at school... any idea how I can pull this off?
    commuter turned bike mechanic turned commuter (also a Velocity USA employee, but this is my personal account)

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    Look into getting a Honda scooter, 125-250cc, you can do what you need to do, bundle up like crazy, and if you buy it without a loan, insurance should be less than $200 a year.

    I'd like to advocate a bike, but some places are just EXTREMELY bike-unfriendly.

    If you go bike, which does have great monetary and health benefits, you'll have to put some time and effort into choosing clothes, looking into public transpo for nonbike days, seeing if your friends can hang with you at school or places easier for you to get to, finding a job closer to home/school, etc. but it will take a bit more work to do this.

  3. #3
    Dare to be weird!
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    Yeah, sounds like you might want to hang onto the car. But lilHinault's idea of a scooter sounds like an interesting alternative.

  4. #4
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    You can get a dirt-cheap 'rat" car that if you do some research, some are easy to work on yourself and save a lot over paying loan payments. I mention a scooter also because they're considered cool, are cheap to buy and to run, etc.

    The way things are set up, going car-free is not ideal for everyone. The powers that be would like to make car ownership compulsory for everyone, and by the number of drivers they've done a good job, but with Peak Oil breathing down our necks that's going to change. Just the huge amount of money it takes to support a car makes going without one a huge positive move, if you can do it.

    Maybe if your friends require you to have a car, you have the wrong kind of friends? There have been some interesting discussions on here about this, and the general opinion seems to be that if a friend or girlfriend requires you to have a car, dump 'em because they're plastic people or gold diggers.

  5. #5
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    I live in Lansing, MI, which can't be tht much different from GR. What do you mean by "unfriendly to bikes?" I ride here every day, and if people don't like it, I don't know about it nor do I care. A bike is safe transportation if you know how to ride it properly in traffic. If you don't know how to ride vehicularly, it is pretty easy to learn. But from your post, I can't reall tell what the problem is.

  6. #6
    when come back, bring pie
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    Spring quarter I was just like you -- busy as heck with hardly time enough to think. I was taking 16 credits and two volunteer projects within the community (one for credit, one not). I was also training for a job which didn't pan out. The week before finals I had presentations at funny times and final meetings with professors. Most days I left my apartment at about 8:00am and didn't return home until 9:00pm.

    One thing I've noticed about riding is that it's an effective "time out" -- while I'm riding I can look at what's going on around me, ride along the creeks and rivers and look at ducks, stuff like that. I believe that at a few points these little rides were all that kept me from going completely ape.

    Furthermore, your original post did not mention whether or not you had a job. If you do, you may be able to get rid of the money pit car and reduce the number of hours you work.

    As for some specific problems you've mentioned:

    -- Unfriendly roads: Try going a block or so out of the way. You might be able to end up on a less-traveled side-street that will get you away from the majority of the traffic.
    -- Getting to/from friends' houses: Maybe they can give you a ride or you can catch a ride with another friend?
    -- Distance: Try a combination of riding/biking. Do you have busses, trains, other public transportation?
    -- Harassment: Sorry, the only thing I've figured out is to grow a thicker skin. If you can find an hour or so a week, try getting together with a local cycling advocacy group.
    -- Safety: Without knowing where your particular situation I can't offer much specific help, but Americans especially generally think their surroundings are much more dangerous than they really are. Social psychologists have shown this by studying individuals' media consumption habits and their impressions of their neighborhoods compared to official data from the police department. Ask your local police how dangerous it really is, maybe go on a ride-along. Carry a cell phone with you... even a deactivated cell phone can call 911.
    -- Clothing: While it usually doesn't get quite that chilly during the days here, I've found that after I get going walking or biking I start to shed clothing. A regular jacket should protect you from the elements adequately. Layering is a good thing. See if you can speak with whoever is in charge of your school's fitness facility locker room about getting a locker or take an indoor PE class. Some schools have a few lockers available for rent ($5/quarter) in the student union or another general location. Ask the winter forum guys for advice on clothing and equipment.

  7. #7
    jim anchower jamesdenver's Avatar
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    i grew up in Grand Rapids and agree. it's not bike friendly - and the bus system sucks.

    too many big super arterial streets, and the parrallel streets (like near 28th or 44th) don't seem to run continuously behind them (i've tried to drive them)

    if he's going to college near kentwood, that's a mess of enormous streets and shopping malls.

    add to that GR has a reputation of fearing change or anything "different". cyclists being part of that.

    (easttown is a great neighborhood though - if i ever moved back i'd find a nice a nice old house to fix up)

  8. #8
    The Rabbi seely's Avatar
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    James gets it... there are NO continuous side streets, just major arterial 4 lane roads. There is no sanity used when planning any street in GR. I'm right next to Kentwood. I tried taking side streets once, and wound up literally lost in a subdivision for over an hour until I found a major arterial street. They randomly stop, change names, run into major streets, etc. Planning a route is nearly impossible. I am pretty certain I am the only commuter in Grand Rapids, in 4 years of commuting here I have seen exactly zero other commuters on my rides.

    Grand Rapids drivers are also notoriously obvlious... we apparently have an exorbanently high rate of red-light runners and just really, really crappy drivers in general. I've been to most of the US, and I can safely say GR is the worst I've seen. The self absorbtion of the GR population just blows my mind. MANY students at the college I attend have NEVER left Grand Rapids--even for vacation!!!

    Oh and fallstorm, I mentioned my job a few times in the post :-) Its 11mi each way and I do that ride up to 6x a week but usually 3x on average since I often have parts I need to pick up or bring in to work (I'm a shop wrench).

    As far as the "danger" aspect I am not worried about getting mugged or anything... I have no qualms about walking around bad neighborhoods at night, and I am not a very easily intimidated person, BUT, with how irrate drivers get towards me on a daily basis, I feel its only a matter of time before someone takes it too far. On our group rides from the shop through the rural areas we often encounter irrate motorists who try to swerve into our pack of 40... I'm just one person and in my opinion more vulnerable. I am aggressive in my riding and quite assertive, but it just kinda concerns me when someone is a foot from my wheel blowing their horn for 3 blocks straight.

    Frustrating, I can't wait to get out of this craphole.
    commuter turned bike mechanic turned commuter (also a Velocity USA employee, but this is my personal account)

  9. #9
    Clyde is my middle name.
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    Seely, you're not the only Grand Rapids commuter (though my commute is only 3.5 miles). Roads north of Burton and west of the East Beltline are definitely better. Kentwood, Wyoming, etc. were definitely planned for a car-only culture. Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, and Ada tend to be better.

    I've seen a fair amount of cyclists in Grand Rapids, especially around East, though most of them are recreational. I've seen more serious-looking cyclists this summer, though - maybe gas prices are involved.

    What school do you go to? Judging by the description, I'm guessing Calvin?

  10. #10
    The Rabbi seely's Avatar
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    Yup, Calvin. Ada has proven to be extremely unfriendly and self absorbed (thats where I work). There are a fair number of cyclists in EGR, but yeah, they tend to be recreational cyclists riding their "toys" around town. I've seen a few commuters this year up from the zero I have seen in previous years. Its encouraging... also there was an excellent article in the GR Press a week or two ago on bike commuting written by a Calvin prof.
    commuter turned bike mechanic turned commuter (also a Velocity USA employee, but this is my personal account)

  11. #11
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    Oh I love those cyclists on their toys hauling ass one way on Lawrence while I'm doing the same thing going the other way with 20 lbs or so of electronic goodness in the messenger bag :-)

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by seely
    just really, really crappy drivers in general.
    Last month Allstate Insurance released a report called America's Best Drivers. According to a press release, the report compared auto collision rates in America's largest 196 cities to the national average. GR is in there. There's a pdf showing all 196, if anyone wants to download it and see how his or her city ranked.

  13. #13
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    I just don't get it. Grand Rapids is one of the most beautiful cities in America. It has a sparkling downtown on the banks of the Grand River, beautifully refurbished old warehouses, church steeples everywhere, a lot of urban rehab, college life, etc. I'm sorry to hear that cycling is such a bad experience there. Do cyclists in GR have a say in all the city planning that's been going on there?

  14. #14
    Clyde is my middle name.
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    Grand Rapids is great. It's the suburbs that suck - especially Kentwood and Cascade, which had the most growth in the early 90's, and are basically big shopping areas with some apartments and housing developments thrown in. Ada seems like it would have friendly roads (though I haven't cycled over there yet), but I can see what you mean about the people being self-absorbed.

    Many residential neighborhoods in GR are usable if you study a map. The streets tend to wind around a lot, which can be confusing.

    As far as city planning goes, I haven't been cycling long enough to see how the city planning works. The latest rage around here seems to be "traffic calming" devices, such as curbs jutting out to make lanes narrower. These force me to take the lane more than I otherwise would, but I think they help motorists understand why I'm not moving over for them.

  15. #15
    jim anchower jamesdenver's Avatar
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    i believe GR and area could do much better with planning. I grew up in Grandville, and when they built Rivertown Crossing a few years back they had great opportunites to make it pedestrian/bike/car cohesive, as they were starting from scratch from an empty field. (which i still wish was an empty field).

    here in Denver the outer burbs aren't great either for cycling, but when i look at a retail development like Flatirons Crossing, or the new 29th Steet in Boulder, they actually have trails and paths near the shopping areas, outdoor ped friendly shops (may have to do with weather too) but it encourages more people to walk (still not perfect tho)

    It's impossible to go from the Best Buy in Grandville to the mall, which are a few blocks apart without going down a ditch, over a fence and man made hill, etc, etc.

    It's interesting too that whenever I visit I notice what's happenin in GR as many other cities: 28th street used to be the prime retail street, all the chains had stores there, but with new freeways to the south and development, the prime stores move outside the "ring" to where new houses are, and crummier (how else do you say it) businesses like check cashing places and liquor stores take over the old franchise building's shells.

    My mom and I actually used to bike to downtown Grandville when i was a kid to do errands and stuff - go to the five/dime shop, cleaners, etc, a good "neighborhood" experience, now all of that moved to Rivertown. In fact Grandville and suburbs are probably very good for neighborhood biking, like going to friends house, or local video store, but yeah for long range commuting it'd be tougher

    i would think Burton's neighboring streets would be good for biking. East GR and Eastown i've noticed has wide street, nice old trees for shade, etc.

    i'm curious what route you might end up using? i'd check google maps, always fun. isn't there a long trail on the east side of town or is that not near you?

    anyway best of luck!! and GR is very pretty - especially in spring and fall

  16. #16
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    I have tremendous respect for all those who do most of their riding in suburbs, where the traffic is horrible and everything is sprawled out. (But I think that's the case in most cities, not just Grand Rapids). I believe that parking lots are some of the most dangerous places for cycling, and it seems you're in parking lots (or crossing their driveways) half the time in suburbs. And of course, mass transit is usually worse in the burbs too. I live, shop and work in the inner city of Lansing, so suburban trips are an adventure for me, not a routine.

    It's great to hear from so many Michiganders on the Car Free Forum! It's nice to know I have brothers and sisters right here in Michigan. Anybody from the Motor City? How is the cycling in the car capital?

  17. #17
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    I'm planning on getting a motorcycle for college use, while keeping my bike as primary transportation. Motorcycle for longer/harder trips, bike for everything else.

  18. #18
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    Roody,
    I've ridden in Lansing and E. Lansing, and that is one of the most cycling friendly areas I have ever been too. You are lucky, most of the country isn't like that, though there are other great places. I noticed in Lansing that people seemed to expect bicycles and be more patient, though this was 10 or 12 years ago. Here in Cincinnati the general attitude of drivers seems to be to resent anything or anybody in their way.
    Paul the Alloy Addict

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    Quote Originally Posted by seely
    I hate my car, its a money pit that sucks up money better spent on bicycles. However as a student I find I feel I don't have time to ride everywhere, and I have a lot of places I go to visit friends. The roads around here are EXTREMELY bike-unfriendly, even in the middle of the day and I don't feel comfortable riding them at 2am back from a friend's house. School is 6mi away on all 4 lane roads, and work is 11mi away. I regularly ride to work and am harassed 2-3x a day... its kind of unnerving. Anyways, it snows a lot here, rains a lot and gets down to 0 deg. in the winter. I like wearing regular clothes, and don't have anywhere to change/store clothes at school... any idea how I can pull this off?
    Seely,
    Search for shortcuts and backroads. Where I went to college and lived for several years after I prided myself on being able to get just about anywhere and never having to use a major four lane road. You can't always do that though. Where I live now it is impossible to get to downtown without riding on some busy streets.

    As far as clothes go, wear lots of thin layers so that you can strip some off once you get to class. Invest in some good winter cycling gloves and a face mask or balaclava of some sort. A thin polypro hat under my helmet always worked pretty good. That with a helmet cover can be pretty insulating. I mainly needed it to pull down over my ears.

    Oh yeah, start reading about lights. Short days mean lights are much more necessary. Try to get some type that you can remove because cold temps make regular batteries useless. You can always get Lithium batteries, which tolerate cold better, for your tail light but they are pricey.

    Edited to add: I see I am repeating advice already given by other posters. Ooops.
    Paul the Alloy Addict

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamesdenver
    It's interesting too that whenever I visit I notice what's happenin in GR as many other cities: 28th street used to be the prime retail street, all the chains had stores there, but with new freeways to the south and development, the prime stores move outside the "ring" to where new houses are, and crummier (how else do you say it) businesses like check cashing places and liquor stores take over the old franchise building's shells.
    A lot of cities have fallen into decay as the money and the population moved into the burbs. The state financed all of this exodus to the burbs but don't worry about those folks because they will be coming back sooner or later. Many cities accross the country are experiencing a "rebirth" because the cost of living the burbs is skyrocketing with traffic becoming horrendous. GR cannot continue growing and supporting this car culture forever so it will come back to bite them. Once the downtown becomes a slum, it takes decades or more to bring it back and many don't come back. This is why it's so important to choose a city or town that is walkable and good public transportation.

    I would do as the other poster advised and find alternate route with Google. During the actual commute, a GPS can guide you through a maze within a subdivision. I find this device invaluable.

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