The Fastest Way There

StopwatchcompactThe other day my wife drove over to Washington Hospital Center for a routine medical test while I was at home in Arlington. She called after her test to let me know that some medication she had received made her uncomfortable driving home and would I mind coming to pick her up (plaudits for her sense of responsibility: not taking a chance driving while not feeling right). She had the car, though. She suggested I take a cab (I could have Metroed there, too), but I countered that by the time I waited for the cab I could probably bike there. . .and it was a nice day out, to boot. I estimated it would take about 45 minutes to ride; if I waited 15 minutes for a 25-minute cab ride, that would be 40 minutes--a wash in terms of time; big savings on the cab fare.

So I biked over. It was a bit shorter than my estimate: 38 minutes. She was amazed that I had arrived so quickly when I called from outside the hospital to ask where to come get her. She told me later that it had taken her about that long to drive over herself.

Travel in urban areas by bicycle is often the fastest and most efficient way to travel. This has been my experience for years as a bike commuter. It's always faster than transit. And often faster than cars--especially during rush hour. Here are some links supporting this point:

- Average speed of a car in London is just 7mph, says CitroenManonbikemediumcartoon

- Travelling by bicycle is faster than you think
- Proof that biking is the fastest way to get around town (Scroll down to page 4)
- Crosstown traffic in New York City was 5.2 mph in 2000 (you can almost walk this fast!)
- This European Commission study indicates trips of 5 km or less are fastest by bicycle.

We have a foldable bike rack that we keep in the trunk of the car, which I can mount in a minute or two. I got my wife, we put the bike on the car, and I drove her home. We hit a bit of traffic on N. Capitol Street which bogged us down. So guess how long it took us to drive home (and not even rush hour yet)? That's right - 38 minutes!

Our New Hybrid: Update #2

Toyota_camryhybrid_4doorsedan_2009_It's now been about 13 months since we purchased our 2007 Toyota Camry hybrid. I've had 3 previous posts about it (Our New Hybrid, Update 1, Update 2). It's almost up to 10,000 miles and we have had no mechanical or reliability issues whatsoever (which is what one would expect from any new car).

Economics analysis coming up soon, but I want to make one point loud and clear: IF YOU LIVE IN ARLINGTON AND ARE BUYING A NEW CAR, YOU SHOULD BUY A HYBRID! Why? Because of the tax advantages. I just did my taxes, and it's very likely that the incremental cost we paid for our hybrid will be completely paid for in tax savings over less than the life of the car. That makes the hybrid upgrade free and the gas savings are pure gravy on top of that.

Here's how it worked for our car:

We bought it last March, which qualified it for a $1,300 federal tax credit (we actually hurried to get it before April 1, 2007, because the credit went down to $650). Our Arlington property tax bill was reduced by $750 (first $20,000 is tax free--in our case for 9 months). Total tax savings year 1 - $2050.060207_taxes_vmed_11awidec

Although it's hard to do a perfect apples to apples comparison, I think we paid about $4,000-$5,000 extra for the hybrid--let's say $4,500. Making some reasonable assumptions about future values of our car and a 2007 regular Camry, we will save about $3,000 in Arlington property taxes over 7 years (click here for information about the Arlington tax break). Add in the $1,300 federal tax break for a total of about $4,300 savings, and the hybrid upgrade was free.

Please note that the federal tax breaks are different for different cars and are phasing out on Toyotas and Hondas. has the details.

How about gas savings? Our experience has been that our mileage is a bit lower than the EPA estimate. We've been getting about 32 MPG. Assuming our driving in the regular Camry would also be a bit lower than average mpg, I'll assume 24 mpg. Last year we drove about 9000 miles.


So our annual savings will be $300-$400 or more if gas prices continue to rise beyond $4 per gallon in the future.

Friends we have spoken with are mostly unaware of the Arlington tax break for hybrids, so clearly the information needs to get out there better. The bottom line is that if you live in Arlington and are shopping for a new car, the hybrid option is much more affordable considering the tax advantages than just looking at the price tags would indicate. Even if you don't live in Arlington, some hybrids are still eligible for a $2,600 federal tax credit, which should be taken into account while you are shopping.

Rule of Thumb #2 - 1 Mile=1Pound

2006onepoundgoldproof768322 One mile = One pound!
Each mile you drive your car contributes about one pound of CO2 into the atmosphere. Drive six miles to work, that's six pounds. Drive 10,000 miles a year, that's 10,000 pounds--five tons!

Here's how it works:
Burning a gallon of gasoline emits about 19.4 pounds of CO2 out of your car's tailpipe. In addition, Oil_pumping_jacks exploration, drilling and extraction emit greenhouse gases; giant oil tankers transport the gas, burn fuel and emit CO2; refineries use energy to change crude oil to gasoline and emit additional greenhouse gas emissions; trucks or pipelines transport the fuel to your local gas station, adding more emissions to the equation.

Add together the tailpipe emissions with the emissions needed to get the fuel Vlcc_oil_tankerfrom the ground into your car and the total is about 25 pounds per gallon. So if your car gets 25 miles per gallon, your CO2 emissions are just about exactly 1 pound per mile. If you have a highly fuel efficient car that gets 50 mpg, then your emissions are about 1/2 pound per mile. If your car gets less than 25 mpg, then your emissions are greater than 1 pound per mile.

Here's a table that shows CO2 emissions per 1000 miles of driving based on the miles-per-gallon efficiency of your car:


So every trip matters: a quick 1/2 mile to the coffee shop and 1/2 mile back = 1 pound of emissions Coffee_cup_burlap_and_bean (a 16 oz. coffee is about a pound. . .go figure!). Each time you choose another way to go: walk, bike, skateboard, transit, make your coffee at home instead--you are saving real pounds of CO2. Now with this rule of thumb you know how many.