Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reflections on Three Years of Car-Free Commuting in Los Alamos, Part 1

On Sept 30, 2004, I decided that, starting the next day, I would not drive myself to work anymore. And since that day I have not. I have now had a little more than three years of car-free commuting, which I thought would be a good point for some reflection on the (ongoing) experience.

In those 3 years, I have commuted approximately 98% of the time by bicycle (yes, even during the winter), with a handful of times ride-sharing, walking, or taking public transit. For locals, I live near Mountain School and work at LANL TA-3. My cycling route is approximately 5.8 miles round-trip, and the walking route is about 4.5 miles round-trip (don't need to follow the roads when walking!)

I have been meaning to write down a list of observations and lessons learned during this experience, but of course I keep thinking of new ones so I will endeavor to provide a list of these observations over a series of blog posts:

Reflection #1) Moving around is energy-intensive; and I get about 720 MPG.

Commuting under your own power really gives you an appreciation for how much work it is to move yourself and all your stuff around. This apprecation makes you think practical thoughts like: Do I really need to make that trip to the store? Should I really buy this thing since I have to carry it home? Is there any way to combine the trip the bank, the trip to the bike shop, and the trip to Metzgers into my daily commute?

Traveling under your own power also gives you a new appreciation for the tremendous convenience and utility of fossil fuels. In the 25 minutes or so of my round-trip commute, I estimate that I burn about 250 Calories. A gallon of gasoline contains approximately 31,000 Calories. (For the technically attentive, I am using the shorthand Calorie here to mean 1 kilocalorie, as is common in food labeling.) Thus my 5.8-mile round-trip commute uses the energy equivalent of about 0.8% of 1 gallon of gasoline, for an equivalent of about 720 miles per gallon. That makes me an order of magnitude more efficient than a Prius. And that is during a commute with several stoplights and a couple of pretty generous hills. I estimate the efficiency is probably about 20-25% better when I am lucky enough to catch the green lights.

Being intensively aware of the amount of energy that it takes to move yourself from place to place can leads one's thoughts in new and interesting directions. Sometimes resulting in dangerously counter-cultural thoughts, such as: "What on earth am I thinking carrying 3000lbs of glass and steel around just to transport 185lbs of human over a distance of three miles in good weather, when I could do the same job in only a slightly longer period of time using only 25lbs of steel, aluminum, and rubber? Do I really need to use my car for this trip? Might I be better off leaving my car parked, or even getting rid of it?"

More reflections to come. Ride on.

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