Thursday, June 26, 2014

No Car? No Problem! - Our Trip to Portland, Oregon

Hello everyone! We are back from Oregon and feeling - well, pretty tired, to be honest, but that's because we had a fantastic time on our vacation. The first few days of our trip were spent in Portland, and it's true what they say - the dream of the 90s is alive and well there. When you're in Portland, the prevailing attitude is No car? No problem! Needless to say, we fit right in, and our decision to forego a rental car while we were in the city was a smart one. (We did drive a rental car when we left Portland to drive to Bend for the wedding weekend. It's also worth noting that we took Uber to and from the Will Rogers Airport on each end of our journey, which was easy, efficient, and cost-effective as always.)

Portland International Rose Test Garden
Once we arrived at PDX, we were immediately taken care of transportation-wise. The MAX, which is Portland's light rail system, leaves directly from the airport, so we were able to hop right on with our luggage to head to our hotel. Before we got to the MAX, however, we passed a group of several FULL bike racks, as well as a "bike assembly area", which must be a place where you can make adjustments and repairs to your bicycle before or after riding. It seemed to us like the airport employees overwhelmingly took advantage of the opportunity to cycle to work, which makes sense in a place where it's made so easy to do so. As we rode away from the airport on the MAX, we could see many paved trails available for cyclists in addition to the bike lanes on the roads.

That's a lotta bikes outside the airport.

Bike assembly area
That's what I'm talking about! The bike assembly area.
As we approached our MAX stop, the light rain progressively worsened, and by the time we stepped off with all of our luggage, we were assaulted by a full-on downpour, complete with hail. Our umbrellas provided pitifully little shelter for us and our huge suitcases, and our feeling of unpreparedness was compounded by the fact that everyone around us seemed blissfully impervious to the rain. The citizens of Portland were splashing around in sandals without umbrellas or waterproof jackets, riding bikes and going about their activities while we dragged our sopping luggage behind us and tried desperately to figure out which way we were headed, blinded not just by the rain but also by our sense of disorientation in a new city. Luckily, the torrent let up a bit once we were under our bus stop shelter, and we were able to hop on our bus with ease.

Once we got to our hotel and unloaded our belongings, we headed back out to explore the city. We were struck immediately by two things: first of all, we were shocked at how many dang cyclists there were. People were biking everywhere! At any one moment, we could look around and see at least 3 or 4 people on their bikes nearby, and it was clear that the vast majority of them were commuters - as in, not pros wearing kits and training, just regular people toting backpacks and traveling from place to place running errands. Bike racks were located *everywhere* and I rarely saw an empty one.

WAIT HERE, CAR. Bike lanes at intersections in Portland.
Secondly, we found out that being a pedestrian in Portland is the easiest thing in the world. There are sidewalks, crosswalks, and crossing signals everywhere, and furthermore, most of the crossing signals are automatic - as in, you don't have to press a button when you get to the crosswalk. The signals switch with the traffic lights. If there's a green light in the direction you're going, then the walk sign is on, period. Furthermore, drivers take pedestrian (and bike) right-of-way very seriously. Cars never creep into the crosswalk, and they always allow pedestrians to cross without trying to beat them or cut them off. Even when a sidewalk crosses a driveway, cars leaving the parking lot are very patient to let oncoming walkers cross before proceeding. This attitude is, to say the very least, refreshing. Being a pedestrian among a culture that accepts you wholeheartedly has interesting psychological effects; namely, it made us want to be better pedestrians. We never jaywalked or took any other kind of shortcuts; we always waited patiently for our signal, because we always knew the signal was coming, and that the surrounding cars would let us take our turn to cross. It was a surreal experience for us.

John on our riverfront bike ride.
The next couple of days were spent in much the same manner, but we did cross the river to spend more time downtown. The same alternative transportation infrastructure applied to the bridges across the river; we didn't experience a single bridge that was built only for cars. They all featured bike lanes and sidewalks, period. We meandered and eventually made our way to Washington Park, a huge, lush park that's home to the Portland International Rose Test Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden. Both of these attractions are beautiful, but we would particularly recommend the former, where hundreds of varieties of roses are grown in pretty structured gardens, and you can see it all for free.

Pioneer Square - an amazing public space. Note the MAX in the background.
We also got the opportunity to take a 7+ mile hike in Forest Park, which is an incredible wilderness experience considering that it's still an actual part of the city. Our path crossed the road a few times, and about half of those times, there was a bus stop located right off the path. You can literally take a bus to the middle of a hike in the woods in Portland. Furthermore, once we reached the end of our hiking trail, we were able to hop directly onto the MAX and take it right back into downtown. Being able to do this was an unparalleled luxury for the two of us.

Need to take a bus to the middle of the woods? Go right ahead!

Sequoias in Forest Park... IN Portland.
In Portland, we were constantly surrounded by alternative forms of transportation. Yes, there were plenty of cars and traffic, but there were ALSO many other options, and at times, we could look around to see the MAX, the streetcar, and several buses, as well as many people walking and cycling. The buses run out to the suburbs and multiple lines run every 15 minutes in those areas. Public transit is truly a viable option in Portland, and because of the positive culture surrounding it, people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic class make use of the many forms of transportation. What's happening in Portland is what I imagine to be close to the ideal of urban transportation, and I believe that Oklahoma City could take several lessons from them in order to develop into a world-class city of the future.

Stay tuned for our next post, a summary of what we see as the takeaways of our trip - the lessons that OKC could take from Portland to build a more pedestrian-friendly city with greater transportation options.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Carless and Loving It - Reflections on the First Six Months

Hello dear readers! I realized this morning that we've been writing this blog for a little over six months already! I realize that this is the most cliche thing I could possibly say, but it really seems like just yesterday that we were sitting in McNellie's Pub, googling "hobbies for couples", and deciding to start a blog together. Yes, that's really how all of this started - the blog part, anyway. We've been without a car in OKC for about nine months now, and while this started as a great experiment, living without a car is now a seamless and inextricable part of our lives. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the things we've done and learned in the first six(-ish) months of writing this blog.
Hanging out at our beloved Elemental Coffee.
1. Haters gonna hate. - "Hate" might be a strong word for it, but I can assure you that some people will never be convinced that living without a car isn't crazy. It doesn't matter how much you explain the health benefits, the environmental benefits, or the financial benefits, there are many people for whom the idea of living without a car seems truly impossible. It's incredible how many people will straight-up tell us that living without a car simply can't be done here in Oklahoma City, despite the fact that we're living proof that you can not only live, but thrive, car-free in OKC. That said...
John + bike at the Skydance Bridge.
2. OKC is an incredibly supportive community. - Since we've started Carless In OKC, we've received so much positive feedback regarding what we're doing here. From our radio interview on KOSU to our appearance on the Fox 25 local news, to our win for Best Green Blog in Green Oklahoma's Best of 2014 Reader's Choice Awards (which YOU won for us with your votes!), there's been no shortage of interest from OKC citizens. We discovered Timecar, which has become a valuable resource for us, because Benny Jacobs, their founder, heard about our blog and reached out to us. We've also met quite a few friends as a direct result of the blog, which is definitely helpful for us socially, considering that we moved here in September and didn't know anyone.
Enjoying The Loaded Bowl during H&8th the first weekend that we lived here.
3. Where there's a will, there's a way. - 99% of the time, we can get where we need to go and do the things we need to do with no problem whatsoever. There are other times when circumstances call for us to get a little more creative. In those instances, we implement the "patchwork" method of transportation, in which we'll utilize a combination of walking, cycling, riding the bus, taking a taxi or Uber, and/or renting a Timecar to achieve a certain errand. It takes some finesse, but it gives us a chance to flex our creative problem-solving muscles, and it transforms a typical weekend errand into an adventure that we can undertake together. 
John during one of our "patchwork" trips.
4. Being carless brings us closer together. - Not to get all sappy on you, but I firmly believe that living without a car has made us a stronger couple. The fact that we spend time on foot and biking together gives us a lot of extra time to talk and enjoy our surroundings as well as each other's company. Our experiences walking and cycling together stand in stark contrast against the times we've spent in the car, which are usually stressful because of traffic and navigating directions; additionally, whomever is driving must concentrate on the road, which creates a disconnect and is not conducive to quality time together. And like I said in #3, our otherwise-mundane travels sometimes turn into interesting journeys that we must figure out - facing that low-level adversity as a team strengthens our bond.
Ready for a carless Valentine's Day date at Packard's.
5. OKC is a city on the verge. - We knew there was something special about Oklahoma City from the first night we spent here when we visited for John's job interview. After an evening spent checking out the city and eating dinner at Redpin by the canal in Bricktown, we were hooked, and knew that we wanted to live here. Once John got the job and we made the move, our already-high expectations were met and exceeded again and again as we settled into our life here. Up-and-coming retail and entertainment districts? Check. Friendly people? Check. Top-tier NBA team? Check. Booming local economy? Check. Delicious food? Big-time check. Even the areas where we could hope for improvement are, for the most part, already being dealt with. Our biggest concern, the necessity for better public transportation and alternative transportation options, is an item that the city government has taken an interest in. The downtown streetcar, the MAPS 3 trails project, and the newly-passed extension of two bus routes (11 and 23) to offer evening service are all steps in the right direction toward a greater array of transportation options. One of our favorite things about OKC is the desire to improve, not just on the part of the citizens but also on the part of the city government. We moved here from a place where the city government seemed to actively try to implode the city at every turn, so it's refreshing to see a new, more positive attitude here. If Oklahoma City continues on its current trajectory, it will truly be a world-class city in the very near future, and we are so excited to be here to be a part of that.
OKC from our window.
Our first dinner & evening out in OKC at Redpin while we were here for John's job interview.
The first six months writing for Carless In OKC, and our first nine months of being carless in OKC, have been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. What started as an interesting experiment has turned into a way of life for us, and we have no intention of going back to the car lifestyle. We can't thank you, our readers, enough for taking us in as part of your community. Here's to the next six months!

With that, we are off to a week-long vacation in one of the country's foremost walkable cities: Portland, Oregon! (Well, we're spending half the week in Portland and then the weekend in Bend for a friend's wedding.) We will report back soon with our experience of being Carless In Portland! Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for pics and updates while we're there!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

You Versus a Force Of Nature: What To Do If You're Caught Outside During a Tornado

One of the most significant identifying characteristics of Oklahoma City, and the region in general, is the high occurrence of tornadoes in the area. When we found out that we were moving here from Georgia, the first thing out of everyone's mouth, upon hearing the news, had something to do with the dangerous weather. Now, I might just be restating what the locals already know, but as a Georgian who grew up in cushy, more-or-less non-threatening weather conditions, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk briefly about what to do if a tornado hits when you're outside walking or cycling. 

Don't be like this lady - take cover!
First, familiarize yourself with the signs of an imminent tornado. The main things to look and listen for are:

  1. A dark, greenish sky
  2. Large, dark, low-flying, fast-moving clouds 
  3. Large hail
  4. A loud roar that sounds like a freight train.
If you are out walking or cycling and you see or hear one or more of those, you should take cover until you know that the coast is clear.
The best thing to do is take shelter in a nearby building, preferably one with a solid in-ground foundation or basement. Large long-span structures like movie theatres or gymnasiums may be the easiest to get into, but their roofs are only held up by the outside walls and don't have good structural support, which means that they collapse easily - not good news for the people taking shelter inside if a tornado strikes the building. The same goes for large common areas within a building like cafeterias or auditoriums. Once inside, stay away from windows and get to the lowest, innermost level of the building. Don't use the elevator in case the power goes out, leaving you trapped inside. Ideally, you want to be able to get into a doorway or small, windowless interior room like a closet. Crouch down and protect your head and neck.

If you are outside walking when a tornado is coming and you aren't in an area where you can immediately take cover in a building, you need to find the lowest point possible and lie down face-down with your arms protecting the back of your head and neck - the ideal area would be in a ditch or similarly sunken or recessed area of ground. If you have a jacket or backpack, you can use that to cover your head and neck as well. Because tornadoes can pick up trees and other heavy objects which can then harm you if you're in the path where they're flung, you'll want to try to take cover as far away as possible from anything that can be lifted up and thrown. For this reason, I would assume that you wouldn't want to lay your bike on the ground right beside the place where you're lying down - it might be picked up by the tornado and thrown at you. Highway overpasses may seem like a good place to hide, but they're still relatively open and leave you vulnerable to flying debris.

There are also many mobile apps that you can use to receive tornado updates and alerts. Staying informed about the possibility of severe weather is very important, and if you can stay indoors, in a safe place, when the risk of tornadoes is high, that's the best course of action that you can take. Sometimes, however, you have to travel no matter what, leaving you especially vulnerable if you're using alternative forms of transportation, which is why I've covered these bases today. This is all new for me, since the biggest weather risk in most of Georgia is heatstroke from the godforsaken heat and humidity. Thanks for reading, and stay safe!