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An Older Post is the Most Popular of Late

August 12, 2008 Scooters 2 Comments

In the nearly four years that I’ve been writing Urban Review STL I’ve published over 1,500 articles — most written by me. So it came as a surprise to me that after installing a new “stats” program a week ago that my most actively read post is not current but from a year ago. The post My Honda Metropolitan Scooter, Two Years and Six Thousand Miles Later from September 4, 2007 is consistently read more than any other individual post (the main page is still more read). Why is this?

Google search.

It seems that many many people out there are searching for “Honda Metropolitan” and after Honda they get my post from last year.  More and more people are considering a scooter — if they can find one for sale.  If there was ever a time to be selling scooters 2008 is the right time.  We might be back to Hummers in 2009 but for now the scooter (and bicycle) reign supreme for personal transportation.


My Beloved Honda Metropolitan Scooter Has Been Sold

It was September 5th 2005 and I was so excited — I had just purchased a 2004 Honda Metropolitan that was only slightly used with 235.5 miles on the odometer (see, My Way of Dealing with Rising Gas Prices). Today I sold the scooter with just over 9,000 miles on it. Even in the cold & rain those were some very fun miles. I didn’t want to sell the scooter, it’s just that since my stroke I could not safely ride it with only one hand on the handlebar. As more time passes and I can once again ride a scooter I will certainly buy another.
With our gas prices now at $4/gallon more people should consider a scooter. On my first scooter post (link above) I was thinking about saving on gas. The timing was just after Katrina hit New Orleans but before Rita hit Texas. Gas prices spiked to over $3/gallon for this week but they quickly fell below $3/gallon but not below $2/gallon. At the time I wrote:

I estimate that given current fuel prices every 5,000 miles I can put on the scooter rather than my car I’ll save at least $600. As fuel prices rise the savings will be even greater. In less than 3 years the scooter will pay for itself in fuel savings.

Keep in mind that at the time I had a thirsty AWD Audi. So it turns out I didn’t do 5K per year on the scooter. I do think that by thinking more locally and combining trips I did manage to save nearly that many miles each year.

A year ago I sold my car (by that point I had a more efficient Scion xA). I made it through the hot summer and most of the cold winter on the scooter (I was in the hospital during some of the worst winter weather). There were a few days in December where the snow and ice forced me to stay in, but only a few days. There was this great high from getting around town on single gallon of gas (the scooter managed 85-90mpg but only held 1.1 gallons). Each passing month without a car payment or insurance bill I knew I had made the right decision.

My current set of wheels is the ultimate in green transportation — a plug-in electric, um, wheelchair. It gets me most places I need to go — I took it on MetroLink today (it was “Dump the Pump” day so I had a free day pass). My morning started with an 8:30am meeting on Delmar in the Loop and before the trip was done I was leaving Trader Joe’s and heading back to the Eager Rd. station. Again the chair, combined with mass transit, does a great job of getting me around.

Former St. Louisan, Chris Balish, author of “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breath Easier and Get More Mileage out of Life”, was right — you can live well without owning a car! Having said that, I’m reluctantly buying a used car.

I can do my job as a REALTOR® from a scooter but not from the #70 Grand bus and a wheelchair, so a car I must purchase. And yes I’ll be able to drive. I have to get a car with an automatic transmission as I can’t rely on my left leg being able to operate a clutch. The only two modifications will be a knob on the steering wheel (so I can turn the wheel with a single hand) and a device that connects to the turn signal stalk so that I can activate the turn signals with my right hand.

Going from not owning a car to buying one when gas is $4/gal. is not good timing on my part but it was not like I planned the stroke. So I’m focusing on two of the most fuel efficient & reliable non-hybrid used cars: Honda Civic & Toyota Corolla. Buying an efficient sedan is the best I can do to hedge my bets against rising gasoline prices. That and continuing to use the wheelchair and mass transit for as many trips as possible. Plus working on my walking too. Tonight I just walked around the block (for the third night in a row).

Except for those of you that regularly ride a bike for transportation, each of you could benefit from riding a scooter. Those little trips to the grocery store are just so much more fun on a scooter. Using a scooter for shopping is great too — you tend to not buy things you don’t need because you don’t have the space to lug a bunch of crap home.

So hopefully in another year I’ll be writing about the new scooter I bought and in a couple of years I’ll be back to not owning a car. At that point hopefully the WeCar car sharing plan will have a vehicle within a few blocks of my place (all are east of Tucker at this time). In the meantime I’ll still get to see my old scooter as I sold it to a neighbor in my building.


Missouri’s Helmet Law a Good Thing

Once again there is chatter about repealing Missouri’s helmet law. To do so would be foolish. Like seatbelt laws for adults, I get the freedom of choice argument.

However, in these last few months I’ve also been around so many people with severe head injuries and therefore I know more clearly than others how devastating such an injury can be. It doesn’t take much of an impact to cause brain damage which can result in the loss of speech, ability to walk, etc…

The question is if the government has a compelling enough case to mandate the use of a helmet. First, the use of the road is not a right. In the interest of safety for all, the government mandates safety equipment such as lights. A motorcycle helmet is a natural extension of this.

So why should the government care if you split your head open for not wearing a helmet? Well when you are dead or a vegetable you are no longer contributing to society.

When I can return to my scooter I will wear a helmet regardless of the law — it is simple common sense. Still many motorcycle advocacy groups are working hard to remove helmet requirements in Missouri and 19 other states that require helmets for all riders regardless of age. Another 19 states require riders up to a certain age (18 to 21 depending upon the state) to wear helmets (see list).

There are many types oh helmets on the market and critics of these laws correctly point out that the laws don’t define what constitutes a helmet per the law. Fine, let’s work on a definition but not toss out the requirement all together.

If you are bicycling or riding a scooter.motorcycle please wear a helmet regardless of the law.


Bill Would Permit Segway Use in Forest Park

Last Friday Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th) introduced Board Bill 449 which would allow, with restrictions enforced through a permit process, the use of a Segway in Forest Park. Currently the Segway is legally allowed to use the street, along with cars, trucks, bicycles and scooters. They are also allowed, per state law, to use sidewalks and bike paths:

Defined–requirements for operation.

307.205. 1. For the purposes of sections 307.205 to 307.211, “electric personal assistive mobility device” (EPAMD) shall mean a self-balancing, two nontandem wheeled device, designed to transport only one person, with an electric propulsion system with an average power of seven hundred fifty watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a propulsion system while ridden by an operator who weighs one hundred seventy pounds, is less than twenty miles per hour.

2. An electric personal assistive mobility device may be operated upon a street, highway, sidewalk, and bicycle path. Every person operating such a device shall be granted all of the rights and be subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian pursuant to chapter 304, RSMo.

3. Persons under sixteen years of age shall not operate an electric personal assistive mobility device, except for an operator with a mobility-related disability.

4. An electric personal assistive mobility device shall be operated only on roadways with a speed limit of forty-five miles per hour or less. This shall not prohibit the use of such device when crossing roadways with speed limits in excess of forty-five miles per hour.

5. A city or town shall have the authority to impose additional regulations on the operation of an electric personal assistive mobility device within its city or town limits.

The last section above does allow cities to place restrictions. In the City of St. Louis it has been interpreted by the City Counselor’s office that the Segway is a vehicle and is not allowed to use sidewalks and/or bike paths. The current applicable definition comes from ordinance 65138 which was signed by the Mayor in January 2001 — before the introduction of the Segway:

For purposes of this ordinance a “motorized scooter” shall mean any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, is designed to be stood upon by the operator, and is powered by a motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion at a speed of not more than 25 miles per hour.

The above ordinance was originally targeted to those motorized skateboards that were popular at the time — hence the ‘stand upon part’ of the definition. The city cites the following as reasons for a Segway being a vehicle and thus banned from use on sidewalks:

Every person operating a motorized scooter shall have all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of any other vehicle as established by ordinance, including, but not limited to, ordinances concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, except those provisions which, by their very nature, can have no application.

Well, OK, but what about this section from the same ordinance:

A person operating a motorized scooter is not subject to the provisions of this code relating to registration, and license plate requirements, and, for those purposes, a motorized scooter is not a motor vehicle.

If we stroll over to the “revised code” for the city and look at the Chapter 17.16 Miscellaneous Traffic Rules we can see all sorts of, well, miscellaneous rules. These include rules on many topics such as crossing fire hoses, boarding in motion, transporting animals, and allowing police officers to ride bicycles on any sidewalk in the city. The city considers the Segway a vehicle and references the following as reasons why it is banned on all sidewalks:

17.16.040 Driving upon sidewalk or bicycle/ pedestrian right-of-way.

A. No person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.

B. No person shall drive any vehicle upon any bicycle/pedestrian right-of-way. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to persons driving emergency vehicles or maintenance vehicles, persons who drive upon any bicycle/pedestrian right-of-way as a means of ingress or egress to a place of business or a residence or persons crossing any bicycle/pedestrian right-of-way at a point designated by Grace Hill Americorp as river access crossing site. (Ord. 64952 § 2, 2000: prior: Ord. 57831 § 1 (part), 1979: 1960 C. § 827.040.)

So is the Segway a “vehicle” or not? The state of Missouri considers a bicycle a vehicle as well with the operator is subject to the same rights and rules as a motor vehicle operator but we don’t ban bicycles from operating on bike paths.

So Ald. Krewson’s bill is not looking to examine the bigger issue from a city-wide perspective. BB#449 is geared only at Forest Park and mainly at institutions within Forest Park. Basically the Science Center owns (16) Segways they like to use for groups to show how they work — you know, the science behind them. Legally they should be permitted to use them on roadways in Forest Park but it seems they want to use them on sidewalks and paths. This bill, if passed in its current form, would permit the Director of Parks to formulate rules, an application process and issue permits to those seeking to use a Segway in Forest Park.  To receive a permit you’d need to own the Segway.  Institutions in Forest Park, such as the Science Center, could allow others to use their Segways after the person signed a waiver form.  Anyone riding a Segway in the park would need to wear a prominent plackard — making them look even dorkier.

So all this brings up several questions.  First, does the current laws on the books limit the use of Segways or not?   If yes, do we keep it as is or do we consider where and how we’d like to permit Segways on sidewalks/paths.  For example, besides Forest Park perhaps on the North Riverfront Trail?  If the current laws do not ban the use of Segways on sidewalks/paths, do we want to limit their use.  At nearly $6,000 a pop it is pretty rare to see one out and about except for tour groups.

One time, a few years ago, I crossed the street heading to the Chicago Art Institute and a group on Segways had blocked the entire corner on the sidewalk — making it difficult for me as a pedestrian to get through.  Like my scooter, I have no issues with someone locking up a Segway to a bike rack on the public sidewalk, but I have to wonder about mixing Segway users with walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, and cyclists on paths in Forest Park.  This seemingly non-issue gets complicated pretty quickly.  For more information on the Segway see Wiki and Segway.com.


Book Review; How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

When I went car-free in the first half of 2007 I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into (see post). Sure, I had owned the scooter for a while but I still had my car for shopping trips and other errands. One of my first purchases after going car-free was the book by former St. Louisan, Chris Balish, titled How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breath Easier and Get More Mileage out of Life.

Balish’s book is not a preachy save the planet from doom type of book. Instead, it is a personal finance book, showing the reader how to save thousands of dollars each year simply by not owning a car. Instead of focusing on the environmental impacts of cars he narrows in on the toll car ownership can take on personal finances and how it often dictates much about your lifestyle. Balish argues, convincingly, that you can get rid of the car and improve your standard of living. Having lived it now for six months, he is so right.

Balish acknowledges that car-free living is not for everyone. The outside salesperson or carpenter that hauls many heavy tools around, likely needs a car. For many others, however, Balish lays out all the issues he faced when going car-free while living in St. Louis and later in Los Angeles. Throughout the book are personal testimonies from people from North America that are also car-free.

He is quick to point out that car-free does not mean you will never rent or ride in a vehicle ever again. Car-free, to Balish, is about not owning a car. Car-lite applies to say the family that reduces their ownership of cars (from 3 to 2, from 2 to 1), basically owning less cars than you have licensed drivers.

The book is full of great tips to help you plan your new life without a car. Rather than having transportation at the ready as with a car, going car-free requires doing some planning ahead, changing buying patterns and potentially changing the location of where you live and/or work.

The notion of place, where you live or work, is where the book falls short. When Balish lived in St. Louis he lived in the Central West End which afforded him many opportunities to walk to local stores as well as access to bus and light rail mass transit. Had Balish lived in say O’Fallon (Missouri or Illinois, doesn’t really matter) he would have had a difficult time being car-free. Chapter 9, ‘Should You Move Closer to Work?’, suggests that moving to within 2-3 miles of work will “change your life.” Well, that heavily depends upon the context of where you work. Someone might live behind the Galleria and work at the Hanley Industrial Court only a few miles away but getting back and forth between the two was a challenge even before the reconstruction of highway 40.

This is not to say that suburbs are bad and the inner core city is good. For example, a person that works in say Webster Groves or Ferguson and works nearby could likely function quite well without a car. With all the basic services within walking distance to adjacent residential neighborhoods (which are connected via a good network of streets) a person could live well without owning a car.

When Balish does a 2nd edition I’d like to see him have a chapter on things to look for when deciding where to live. Does the area have good sidewalks and curb cuts (for pushing the baby stroller)? How far away is the nearest market (not necessarily a ‘supermarket’, just market)? In the book he does devote a good amount of ink to suggesting that you look for local churches, schools, dry cleaners and so on when going car free. If someone doesn’t live in such an environment, they need to know what to look for and what to avoid. He does suggest locating near a transit stop when possible.

Balish breaks the chapters up into four basic sections: 1) Why you’re better off not owning a car, 2) getting to work without a car, 3) non-work transportation and 4) living well without a car. It is within this framework that Balish basically covers all the issues that a person will face going car free — from basics to getting to and from work, to handling social functions to dating.

Again, the book isn’t remotely preachy except that car ownership costs more than we all think — often twice the price paid for a vehicle after 5 years of ownership. The $25,000 car will likely run you about fifty grand after five years. Balish does the math for you showing how if you invested that same money instead you could save money for a kid’s education, a down payment on a house or retirement.

Another area the book falls short is with respect to families. He, like me, is single and therefore says a family can be car-free but he doesn’t really offer tips on the best types of strollers or other items a car-free family might need. The volume of toys, diaper bags and other items being toted around in a car for junior now is amazing. Without the SUV to permit the relatively easy transport of such items, parents would need to think on a smaller scale of what items do they need for a particular outing.
However, Balish does suggest that families consider going from two cars to one — shifting schedules and making other changes to permit eliminating one of the cars. I know many couples in the St. Louis area that have only a single car.

To me this is a great resource of easy to understand concepts about taking taxis, using transit, bicycling short distances and so on. The car is a wonderful tool that has given Americans mobility for years. As expenses rise and many now go into debate for 60 months or more to finance a car this mobility has turned into a requirement. Getting rid of the car does allow you live well as Balish describes and it gives you a new sense of freedom that no car can match. Highly recommended for anyone looking to be car-free, car-lite or perhaps just head that direction.