Archive for the ‘driving’ Tag

Why Do We Not Respect Our Limits?   Leave a comment

This past weekend was the San Francisco Green Festival again. As usual, a good time was had listening to speakers and making some super-discounted (and desperately needed) clothing purchases. I got free worm castings and feel somewhat more confident about the project to turn the plastic drums in the backyard into rain barrels. The day was significantly marred, however, on the drive home when I pushed myself beyond my limits for too long. We left a few minutes later than planned, and encountered an accident that created a long backup, so in order to get back to Sacramento in time for my sister-in-law to watch most of the Sacramento State football game I had to really make up time. As a result, for over two hours I made myself drive faster than I was comfortable driving on the busy freeway at night. Why? I don’t really know. Getting back home quickly was definitely not necessary, and she wasn’t pressuring me. Let me be clear, while my speed was higher than I was comfortable with at the time, it was slower than I sometimes drive during the daytime and I was moving with the flow of traffic, so it’s not an issue of unsafe driving. It’s a question of why not respect my limits and instead push my mind and body to a tension breaking point for no good reason. All it took was a silly trigger just before I reached home to cause me to completely loose it: screaming, crying, shaking, and not being able to take a real breathe. I was a complete wreck. And for what?

This extreme was a new experience for me, but it’s not the first time in my life that I have not respected my limits. You’d think I’d learn since the results are never good. But I’d also guess that I’m not alone in this affliction. Again I ask myself, why do I not respect my limits? It is the exact opposite of the conscious life that I strive for. Why not listen to my body, mind, heart, and intuition in situations like this? I haven’t yet answered my question.

Posted November 14, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, musings

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A Prius Owner Happy To See The Yellow Stickers Go   Leave a comment

Those yellow stickers that have allowed hybrid owners to drive in the carpool lane in California expire at the end of this week. I for one am a hybrid owner who is not at all sad to see them go. At least my opposition to said stickers didn’t got as far as to get one and never put it on my car so that there would be one less stickered hybrid in the carpool lane. I’ve heard reports of people who did just that.

Those yellow stickers didn’t make any sense to me, and the green and white ones that are coming out for zero-emission vehicles and partial zero-emission/plug-in hybrids don’t make any sense to me either. The type of car has nothing to do with carpool lane, only the number of people in the car. Yes, hybrids and “zero” emission vehicles have fewer emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates, carbon dioxide, and toxic constituents of auto exhaust, but reducing emissions isn’t the only purpose of the carpool lane. Encouraging carpooling reduces the number of cars on the road, which means that there’s less wear on the road, less maintenance needed, and less idling in traffic jams and spewing wasted emissions for all the drivers on the road. Giving a specific type of car that gets marginally better gas mileage permission to continue to embrace the one-person-one-car mentality does nothing to benefit society. Maybe I’d feel differently if we were talking something that gets a decent gas mileage (like 100-200 mpg), but I doubt it. Admittedly, carpool lanes are an ineffective tacked-on “solution” for the problem of cities designed for cars not people, and it would be better to go for radical urban redesigns and a change in the social mentality that makes an hour or two commute acceptable. Here’s a pie and there’s the sky. I know.

Confession: I’ve never carpooled, I’m a one-person-one-car driver. It’s one of my major eco-sins. But I have yet to find an alternative that works for me since public transit is not practical, I’ve never lived near anyone else in my office, I use my car occasionally for work or run errands during lunch, and I don’t necessarily work a standard 8 hours every day.

Posted June 30, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, musings

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Looking Into Commuting By Bus   1 comment

The employee commuter survey that my company just put out served as a reminder that I wanted to try taking the bus to work from our new home. At our old house it was not possible. And now after a visit to the Sacramento Regional Transit website, I’m not sure it’ll ever happen at our new house either. Why do they even bother? Is public transportation in other cities in similarly bad shape?

Here’s my dream: Start the morning off with a nice quarter mile walk to the bus stop down the block. Have time to read or pray the rosary during a ride lasting not more than 25 minutes with not more than one transfer. Walk across the parking lot and into my office building. Repeat in reverse in the evening. This has been a dream of mine for about a decade now, since graduating from college. Back then, I had the best morning routine ever as I got dressed and ate breakfast at home and then prayed the rosary on my 10 minute walk to the bus stop and 10 minute bus trip to North Campus. Even during the cold Ann Arbor winters it felt so good for the soul to have that short (and brisk paced) morning walk. The reverse trip was a great decompressor, and offered quality “me” time without needing to resort to psychologically unproductive “veg in front of the TV” time.

OK. Now reality (based on the website, not personal experience).

The bus is EXPENSIVE! It’s $2.50 per trip, not including transfers. Since the route between my home and office requires at least one transfer, that’s a total of $10 per day at the basic single fare. The practical solution would be to purchase a daily pass for $6, and if I could ride the bus more than 16 days per month the $100 monthly pass would reduce the cost a bit more (down to around $3 day for a daily rider). But compare that with my current driving costs. A recent gas station receipt indicates that my fuel costs are $0.09/mile in the winter (the worst gas mileage season), so my 4 mile one-way commute costs me approximately $0.72/day for fuel only. Using the current federal auto reimbursement rate of $0.19/mile to account for maintenance as well brings the total cost of my commute to $1.52/day. (I don’t think the $0.51/mile business reimbursement rate applies since I pay registration and insurance whether or not I drive the car, but even at that rate it is $4.08/day). I’m not a mathematician, but $6 > $1.52! This may sound odd, but I don’t think I can AFFORD to take the bus to work.

This would be a rather stressful exercise consisting of watching the clock and standing, as opposed to sitting and reading. The bus that comes by my house runs ONCE AN HOUR and the bus that goes by my office runs twice an hour, so there’s no flexibility with time. According to the trip planner on the RT website the shortest possible commute time is 35 minutes if I bus to light rail (12 min), take light rail a couple stations (4 min wait, 4 min ride), and then bus to work (10 min wait, 5 min ride). If I just take the two buses it is 47 minutes, which consists of a 7 min ride, 30 min wait, and 10 min ride. Add walking time to and from the bus stops and my 10 minute driving commute turns into almost an hour-long transit commute.

Now I understand why the places that I’ve heard of having success with transit keep the fares super low, with lots of buses/shuttles/trains on frequent schedules, and restrict vehicle access from many areas (low fares x many riders equals more money than high fares x few riders). Those things have to happen first before people decide to use transit. Not the other way around. Transit is an essential part of healthy modern communities, but it has to make sense. Inconvenient expensive transit is just not going to gain ridership, and is therefore nothing but greenwashing for cities like Sacramento.

Posted February 3, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, frugal living

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Hypermiling Lesson   Leave a comment

Our road trip from Sacramento to Albuquerque this Christmas was a Hypermiling 102 class for me. I took Hypermiling 101 a year and a half ago when I last did the same trip. For anyone who hasn’t heard about hypermiling, it is a collection of driving techniques and strategies to get the best gas mileage possible. Some of those techniques and strategies are rather dangerous and not entirely (or not at all) legal, but there are other perfectly legal, safe, and sane techniques. Like not flooring it out of the gate. Keeping the tires inflated and the engine maintained. The specific strategies that I’ve started practicing on road trips are anticipation, reduced average speed, and keeping the power output constant, rather than accelerating/decelerating. On flat roads, cruise control is the best way to do this, which is why cruise control is considered by many to be the most fuel efficient way to drive. Cruise control, however, is very inefficient on hills. Since cruise control is all about maintaining a constant speed, the car coasts on the downhill and then accelerates on the uphill, fighting gravity the whole way.

I hadn’t really practiced driving with constant power output before my trip in 2009 since most of my driving is in the city or on flat highways. (Since driving with a constant power output on a flat road means driving with a constant speed, I’m really just talking about non-flat roads here.) On that trip, I left Kingman, AZ on the morning of the second driving day without gassing up. I know what my typical gas mileage and miles per tank is, and I looked at my 3/4 full tank and calculated in my head that I was perfectly fine on gas. Unfortunately, east of Kingman the freeway is extremely hilly. I was merrily barreling down the freeway, singing to whatever CD I had picked to start the day, and enjoying the morning, when I realized that I had burned about half of my gas WAY before the halfway mark to Seligman. After doing the calculations in my head, I started to freak out that I was going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. I was mortified. The basic problem was that instead of getting 50 mpg, on those hills at freeway speeds I was getting more like 35 mpg. And that difference leads to a significantly different driving range per tank.

Remembering the articles I had read about hypermiling and the conversations at work about the constant power output strategy (aka constant throttle, but since my husband and I drive hybrids that’s not an accurate term for our cars), I decided that I needed to give it a try. So I dropped my average speed from 75 to 70, but most importantly I allowed my speed to fluctuate and instead kept the pressure on the gas pedal constant. On that trip it was pretty easy to drop my average speed since my choices were drive slower or run out of gas in the desert in the middle of nowhere. That is powerful incentive. My speed generally fluctuated between about 60 and 80 mph as I allowed my car to accelerate with gravity on the downhills and decelerate on the uphills. In order to drive like this, anticipation is a critical skill. The road conditions up ahead, including grade and relative positions/speeds of other cars, have to be accounted for constantly. For example, the amount of acceleration required on a downhill depends on the length and height of the uphill that follows, and also the number of cars on the road. There’s no point in picking up speed only to have to break behind someone going slower at the bottom of the hill. In my opinion common courtesy is also very important: no tailgating, no cutting people off, and no boxing people in if it can be avoided. Interestingly enough, on that section of the highway I soon realized that there were several drivers doing the same thing that I was. That made it fun and easier. And I made it to Seligman with plenty of gas to spare, averaging 40 mpg for the Kingman-Seligman stretch (I gassed up anyway).

On this trip we were driving my husband’s Highlander instead of my Prius. His Highlander is obviously a larger vehicle, and it has a more powerful engine and a power meter on the dashboard. Most people would know that as a tachometer, but in the Highlander it is called a power meter since it is a combined measure of power that includes both the electrical motor and gas engine outputs. I requested the first driving shift on the second day so that I could experience the same hypermiling in a different car, and see if it is easier or harder with the power meter. The first thing that I realized was that the size of the car makes a difference! My Prius was so fun. She flew down the hills and then gracefully coasted up the hills. The Highlander wasn’t quite as much fun on the downhills, and it lost momentum fast on the uphills. To be completely honest, there may have been a mental aspect to my perception since I didn’t have the incentive of running low on gas, and neither did we have the perceived camaraderie of other drivers like us. It also felt more painful to decelerate on the uphills. Unfortunately, America is a nation of power-cravers, and that extends to cars. We build and buy cars with lots of power under the hood and look down on the little car that can’t make it up a steep hill. So being in a nearly new SUV creeping over the top of the hill was a weird sensation. I had to broaden my speed fluctuation to 55 to 85 mph to accommodate the difference between the vehicles.

As for the power meter, it was useful but not necessary, and I could see how it could become a crutch. Driving like this is an exercise in intuition and driving by the feel of the car and the road. Using the power meter draws attention away from that feeling and focusses on just this one little gauge. But it did make it easier to judge power output, obviously. Keeping the same pressure on the accelerator will maintain constant power output, but that can be hard to do on a long trip and the gauge keeps you honest. The gauge also helps to take advantage of gravity. Pressing a little harder on the accelerator on a downhill causes less of an increase in power output than it would on an uphill, but without the gauge it is difficult to judge how much to change the foot pressure. The power meter was crucial for the second half of my Hypermiling 102 class: the Central Valley. On Highway 99, when the traffic was sufficiently light, I was able to keep constant power output by combining cruise control and my hypermiling tricks. Cruise control works on the flats, but it forces the engine to rev up when going over or under a road crossing. So I used the power meter gauge and some trial and error to take the car off cruise control, maintaining the same power output for the dip or rise, and then back on cruise control. Twas a bit challenging, and probably didn’t really make a difference to our gas mileage, but it was personal.

Posted January 11, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, travel

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Conscious Driving   Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a little while, and I think I’ll do it now to assuage my guilt. Early this past week I accidentally ran a red light. It was one of those mid-block pedestrian cross walk lights that is never red, and unfortunately I was just scanning the road within my headlights and not looking ahead so by the time I realized the light was red it was too late for me to stop. Since I was scanning the road I know that there were no cars pulling out of parking lots or pedestrians crossing, so it’s kind of a “no harm, no foul” situation. But I’m a good girl and I feel horrible about it. So a reminder to myself and all of us follows. (Warning: long post)

Conscious driving starts with not taking it for granted. So many of us have driven every day for years and we have long ago taken it for granted. We forget that we are in a machine that weighs hundreds of pounds moving at inhuman speeds with blind spots all around us. We get into our cars in a hurry, backing up while still buckling our seat belts, and then we proceed to use cell phones or eat or talk or read or daydream while driving. We stare blankly at the car in front of us and play Simon Says with its break lights. We speed and change lanes in front of people without signaling or even making sure that there is actually room in the lane. Stop. Remember what it felt like the first time you got behind the wheel of a car. I doubt I was the only person intimidated by the power and danger inherent in the machine. Remember diligently applying the lessons learned in driver’s ed? Use your blinkers to signal a turn or lane change. Drive the speed limit. Watch your mirrors and the road out in front of you. Don’t tailgate; leave a couple car lengths out in front of you. Check your mirrors and dashboard before you put the car in drive (or reverse). Follow all traffic laws.

Conscious driving goes beyond the lessons from driver’s ed. It requires actually devoting your attention on the task of driving. Be Conscious. When I drive I try to focus on driving and being conscious of myself, my car, and the road and traffic around me. For me that means: Not daydreaming or spacing out (especially difficult in evening rush hour). Sitting straight in my seat with good posture. Keeping my body relaxed (or at least not tensed up). Loosely gripping the steering wheel at the 10&2 position (although I understand that because of airbags it’s supposed to be 9&3 now; which is really uncomfortable for me). Driving shoeless so that I can really feel the pedal and the car’s vibrations under my foot. Regularly checking my speedometer and fuel efficiency screen. Thinking about speed and drag and adjusting my windows accordingly as my speed changes. Keeping my eyes scanning the road right in front of me, the car in front of me, the car in front of it, the road out as far as I can see in front of me, the cars to my sides, my rear view mirror, and my driver’s side mirror (I don’t use the passenger side mirror much unless I’m changing lanes or backing up because I feel like my eyes are off the road for too long). Watching the brake lights and traffic signals up ahead and reading traffic to predict what is going to happen next. Not riding my pedals but coasting up to a stop, taking my foot of the gas as soon as the car two cars (plus or minus) in front of me starts to break. Driving my comfortable speed for the conditions (yes, sometimes that is even slower than the posted speed limit). Paying attention to light levels and precipitation. Remembering when rain just starts that the road is especially slippery since the residual oils on the asphalt slick on top of the water. Turning on my headlights (not parking lights) when the light is dim or there is “weather”. (Living in Sacramento I am astounded by the number of people who drive at high speeds in fog with no lights. Really?! Remember that the headlights aren’t necessarily to help you see, but to help you be seen from the front and rear.) Etcetera…

Obviously I’m not perfect, not even close, when it comes to conscious driving. I think I’m around 50%, but it’s really hard to be objective.

Some things that are, in my experience, antithetical to conscious driving include hurrying, eating or carrying food, and sometimes having passengers. When I am in a hurry my focus is on getting to my destination quickly, which means that I am driving for speed not for safety, and I am not adjusting my driving for the conditions around me with the same skill. As for food, I would never eat something that is not finger food while driving, but even finger food can be distracting. I have a hard time not looking down if I drop a cracker or french fry, for example. And when I have food traces on my fingers I am hesitant to grip the steering wheel to turn properly. Also, if I have some open item, even a casserole dish for the potluck at work, or any other fragile item in the car I tend to have it on my mind at all times and if affects my ability to break or take turns properly because I become concerned about the item flying around in the car. The problem with passengers is that passengers generally mean conversation. Now, I talk to myself in the car all the time and I don’t think that it affects my concentration. Same with listening to the radio. I find that listening to the radio actually helps me to focus on driving because it is background noise the occupies the back of my mind, reducing the chances of drifting off on a daydream. It is easy to tune the radio out in a heartbeat if needed. Talking to myself is a way to let thoughts come and then go without grabbing my attention (I ramble when I talk to myself). And when something happens that grabs my focus, the self-conversation is over and forgotten. When I am talking to someone else, though, it is embarrassing to drop a sentence mid-word and I find myself focusing after the incident on trying to recapture the thought.

Posted May 14, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living

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