Monday, March 30, 2009

Internet Paradox

I hadn't realized how much the internet has become an essential part of my life, that is until I lost service three days ago. Everything was disconnected for the move, and the new service we're getting wont be hooked up for two weeks. Luckily the library on campus is open during spring break and I can still do the things I need to. But, the little things that I would get done on the web throughout the day have piled up into a huge list. Its stupid to be stressed out about internet, but that is the truth.

The move is just about complete, just a few more details to work out. I foresee living out of boxes for some time to come. I don't think that I have driven as much in such a short time in well over a year as I have these past few days. Thankfully its over, I don't think the Landcruiser could handle much more. Within the next week I'll be car-free and when I get the chance I'll post the rules that I'm setting for myself.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The weeks of stress and anxiety are about to melt away in the bliss of spring break. Wait.. I still have to settle into the new place, I guess relaxing will have to wait.

A combination of cramming for a midterm tomorrow and too much coffee has led to a restless night of blogging past midnight and scanning ebay for a vintage road bike frame. I've decided to undertake a spring project of building a bike. I figure its a good way to learn how to fully maintain a bike. It seemed to work with computers, after building one I know a lot more about how they work and what to do when something goes wrong.

Made the plunge and purchased a bike trailer after lots of research, which amounted to nothing, because I couldn't pass up a free trailer through REI using my dividend. REI only had three options when it comes to bike trailers for hauling things other than kids. Went with a Burley two wheel design that can hold up to 100 Ibs, I think that should be plenty.

Moving is almost finished as the last big push will be Saturday when we rent a uhaul for the afternoon. The move has been a good opportunity to downsize many things. My fiancée, Ashley finally went through some clothes that she has had since high school and hasn't worn in three-four years and donated them... some lucky girl will have lots of Abercrombie to look forward too.

Downsizing our lifestyle is something that we have been attempting for the last few years and goes well with going car-free, especially since giving up a car makes shopping less convenient. Ashley's father has a half-acre organic garden on his farm just north of Great Falls, which has provided us with plenty of vegetables all year round. If anyone likes jalapeños, I know where you can get some of the best you will ever try.

Other downsizing and eco-friendly strategies I'm trying include buying many clothes at Goodwill, which is extremely cheap and reuses something that would have been thrown out in the first place; plus there are some great vintage finds. A small thing is never using plastic bags when checking out at stores, something Europe has done for more than a decade. Of course you get a lot of weird looks from store clerks, like your interfering with there routine. The only other thing I can think of at this hour is using only cold water when washing clothes and not using fabric softener – made from petroleum – which are small things, but if done enough add up to a substantial impact.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday's Quote of the Day

We willingly pay 30,000 - 40,000 fatalities per year for the advantage of individual transportation by automobile.

-Jon von Neumann

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Countdown to Car-free

The packing has gotten under way and its only two weeks before I have to be in my new place. Moving and midterms do not mix well, and the amount of caffeine needed to fuel this amount of activity doesn't help with anxiety levels.

But this also means that within two weeks I can give up my driving. Right now the workhorse of the move has been my '83 Toyota Landcruiser. I'm going to miss driving it, but am seriously considering selling it. To have it sit for a full year, and possibly more if I decide to keep going with a car-free existence, is a sad possibility. I know there are plenty of people out there that are Landcruiser enthusiasts that would take good care the cruiser. Since brining the cruiser here, many people in Missoula have complemented me on it, and wanted to know where I got it, so I think it would be easy to sell.

What would I replace it with? Well... I'm looking at purchasing a bike trailer. I've seen quite a few around town, and they seem to be multiplying in the last year. REI has a BOB Yak trailer that I can use my dividend on. If anyone has thoughts or suggestions on bike trailers I would love to hear them.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday's Quote of the Day

There is nothing economically or socially inevitable about either the decay of old cities or the fresh-minted decedence of the new unurban urbanization. On the contrary, no other aspect of our economy and society has been more purposefully manipulated for a full quarter of a century to achieve precisely what we are getting. Extraordinary governmental financial incentives have been required to achieve this degree of monotony, sterility and vulgarity.

-Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Friday, March 13, 2009

National Complete Streets

The buzz over at Streetblog is about a possible 'complete streets' legislation at the national level. For the last two days all the discussion has focued on this issue, and not in a good light. Most of the community feels that its not going far enough and that the few examples given are a bad example of complete streets.

What are complete streets anyway? They are streets that are designed to allow safe, attractive, and comfortable access for all users.

While what we saw in the few pictures that everyone is complaining about is not an ideal solution from our communities perspective, it is still at least a step forward from a very big deficit in terms of street design. As a community of professionals and advocates we must push for streets that meet the standards of a new paradigm of livable/walkable communities. But the reality is that a lot of the public, and most of the officials that make these kinds of decisions still have the old mind set of SOV dominance. Most of our current streets are so bad that if 50%, or even 25%, of the improvements we all advocate for are implemented it will be an improvement.

That said, its dangerous to rely on the federal government to deliver the refroms in infrastructure designs that is needed. Community needs are best assessed on a local level, and we risk having just as many problems with a national "complete streets" policy as we find ourselves in now with our current transportation infrastructure.

Missoula, MT, the town I live in, is fighting the state and city government over these types of issues right now. The reconstruction of Russell St, a major artery, has been planned for more than a decade. The state and many inside the local government and big business want the currently two land road expanded to 4 lanes plus a turn lane, and taking the current intersection and making it a 24 lane intersection. The community wants a three plus option, which most likely wont happen.

Complaining will only get us so far, and within this community we are all sympathetic to the need to take reforms as far as possible. But we should realize that each community has its own needs and that even small steps forward have the potential to lead to greater success down the road.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday Morning Rethink

Something that I realized this weekend that for some reason never crossed my mind about going car-free is access to our great public lands of Montana. Hiking and fishing are two things that I love to do, there are plenty of hiking opportunities within easy biking distance of Missoula, but the fishing is always better the farther you get from lots of people. Rock Creek is 21 miles from Missoula, and the area I grew up fishing at in the Bitterroot is south of Hamilton. Lolo Peak, a great place to hike into during the summer months is another place that seems a little daunting in getting to without a vehicle.

My original plan was to not even ride in a vehicle other than mass transit. I might have to amend my plans and include the ability to ride in a van/carpool or hitchhike to get to some of these places that would be hard to stay away from for a whole year. I honestly don't think I will be riding my bike and carrying my fishing pole all the way to Rock Creek. Montana's public lands and the almost unlimited access that people have is part of what makes this state so great and I would hate to miss out on whats out there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday's Quote of the Day

... By permitting unrestricted land use and thereby making possible an influx of new residents, Montanans' long-standing and continuing opposition to government regulation is responsible for degradation of the beautiful natural environment and quality of life that they cherish. The longer we wait to do planning, the less landscape beauty there will be. Undeveloped land is valuable to the community as a whole: it's an important part of that 'quality of life' that attracts people here (Montana).

- Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Chicken Before the Egg?

One of the transportation options that has been gaining ground within Montana has been the reopening of a southern rail line that would connect many of Montana's cities, from Missoula to Billings. This would be a great idea, opening a new passenger rail line that would actually connect many of Montana's population centers would be a great step forward for a state that relies wholeheartedly on passenger vehicles to get anywhere within the state.

The Missoulian has an article about a group from Bozeman that is pushing for money to be spent on a train assembly plant to be built in Livingston. An interesting idea, but wouldn't it be more useful to get a rail line up and running first before you start spending money on a manufacturing base that would possibly support that line. Especially in the current economic environment, why should the government be spending money to increase manufacturing capacity of anything? I'm sure there are used rail cars out there somewhere that could be used for the southern passenger line.

Stimulus Money and Our State

I have been undertaking a little research into what the stimulus package recently passed by the feds will be buying here in Montana. The Missoulian also has a good article about these issues here. Lots of the money is going to purchasing new equipment for state buildings, especially in Helena, such as lighting retrofitting for the records management ($50,000). One of the good things the money will be going towards at the Capitol is improving energy efficiency and upgrading to alternative energy use (almost $900,000). Lots of money is going to such projects, which will reduce costs in the long-run and give the state more flexibility in its energy sources.

There is also some spending that seems wasteful in terms of helping our state. $400,000 to replace the Capitol's parking complex? Seeley Lake gets approx. $9 million for sewer infrastructure, while the towns of Stevensville and Hamilton receive almost $8 million in combined money for commerce, what ever that means.

So what does Missoula receive? Money going to Missoula totals about $41.6 million dollars. Fully 90% of this goes towards wastewater management and sewer projects. $300,000 goes to the UM for water infrastructure. The only money that Missoula will be getting for transportation infrastructure is $2.9 million for the Scott St. overpass.

It looks like a big fight may be developing over how the money is shared across the state. On Wednesday, March 4th, there will be a meeting in Helena over the distribution of Federal stimulus money. Our mayor and many local government officials will be there, as will many government officials from all over the state. I would bet that everyone has a gripe with how the money will be spent, why their local towns and counties aren't getting enough for projects they want, and how the money was divided in the first place. My guess is that it will be awhile before anyone, anywhere within the states sees any money.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday's Quote of the day

History doesn't believe anyboby's advertising. History doesn't care whether nations rise or fall. History is merciless and life is tragic. Human consciousness begins with the notion that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to all things.

- James Howard Kunstler, Home From Nowhere
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