Experimenting with fuel conservation

Ever since my son started school, I feel like I've been practically living in my car.

The amount of time and money I spent driving back and forth to school, work and other locations was becoming intolerable. The environmental impact was also weighing on my mind. So I recently decided to spend a week seeing if I could dramatically cut my mileage.

The end result was that I saved 158 miles of driving, 5.3 gallons of gas and $15.90.

Cutting back on driving

My experiment started on a Saturday. Rather than driving my Toyota Camry &

which averages 30 miles per gallon for city and highway driving &

to put my ballot in a drop box, I rode my bike and saved four miles.

That night I felt tempted to pick up fast food for dinner after a tiring day spent taking care of kids and catching up with housework. Instead, I cooked a meal at home that was healthier, cost less and saved a six-mile round trip.

On Sunday, I road my bike to a high school track and then ran on the soft rubberized surface. Because of a nagging runner's injury, I avoid jogging on streets and sidewalks. It's embarrassing to admit, but I have a habit of driving to the track, which is three miles from my house.

When Monday morning came, my husband drove my son to school as usual on his way to work. About one mile of the five miles between our house and the school is on my husband's work route. I drive my son on the one morning per week that I volunteer at the school.

Riding the bus

I decided that we would keep driving him to school, but I would investigate whether he should ride the bus home. That afternoon before I picked him up, I talked to the school office staff. They assured me a teacher would lead him to the correct bus, and that the bus driver would make sure he got off at the right stop.

When my son got out of class, I showed him where he would get on the bus and taught him his bus number and the driver's name. On the drive home I stopped the car to point out the intersection two blocks from our house where he would get off the bus.

On Tuesday as the afternoon approached, I became more and more nervous, imagining a crying, panicked five-year-old lost at the wrong bus stop with cars whizzing past. I breathed a sigh of relief when the bus pulled up in our neighborhood and I saw him sitting right behind the bus driver where she could watch out for him. He climbed down, and as we walked home, he told me about the three other kindergartners from his class who also ride his bus.

After my husband came home from work that afternoon to take over kid-watching duty, I put my bike in the car and drove from our house in Grants Pass to the Ashland Daily Tidings office.

Now, working so far from home is certainly one of the biggest ways our family wastes gas. But my husband does work in Grants Pass, so at least we're near one job. Additionally, since my two children were born, the Tidings editors have allowed me to drop down to a 25-hour work week, have a flexible schedule and do some of my work from home via telephone and the Internet. That means I only drive to Ashland about twice a week.

Finding alternatives

For my experiment in cutting down on driving, I crammed all of my in-person interviews and meetings into Tuesday afternoon and night, saving one of my two trips to Ashland and 98 miles.

One of my Tuesday afternoon interviews was at a house outside the Ashland city limits. Rather than driving there alone, I hitched a ride with a Tidings photographer and saved 12 miles.

At night I road my bike two miles from the Tidings office to an Ashland City Council meeting. I feared the ride back at 10:30 p.m. would be freezing cold and dangerous, but my bike's headlight lit up the bike lanes on the mainly empty roads, gloves kept my hands warm, stars glowed in the night sky and pumping the pedals was a good antidote to the three and a half hours I had just spent sitting through the meeting.

When Wednesday afternoon came and I met my son at his bus stop, we both felt like bus veterans. Another 10 miles saved.

That one change will save us $21 and 210 miles of driving per month &

or $189 and a staggering 1,890 miles for a nine-month school year.

Thursday and Friday were bound to be more of a challenge since school was out for parent-teacher conferences. Cabin fever hit on Thursday afternoon, so I packed my son and three-year-old daughter in the car and drove downtown. We walked to an art gallery and toy store for some early Christmas shopping, then to a bike shop to learn about a bike trailer.

We didn't save any gas on Thursday, but if we buy the $240 bike trailer, we can use it to tow kids, groceries or whatever else doesn't fit in a backpack.

The bike shop owner told me we could likely resell the trailer for about $120 once the kids outgrow it. That information matched what I'd heard at a second-hand store in Ashland that can't keep up with the demand for used bike trailers.

On Friday morning, I thought about taking my kids out for a YMCA activity that would have required 10 miles of driving. But instead, we waited for the warm afternoon sun and walked half a mile to a park playground with our dog.

Everyone got some exercise, and the car stayed in the garage.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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