Tag Archives: car light

Bicycle loans at San Francisco Fire Credit Union

This behemoth fixie could be yours! (Yes, it’s really a fixie. I asked.)

When I started talking about commuting by bike with some of the parents at our son’s school, I realized that a lot of people found our plan for buying a cargo bike unfeasible. Our plan was: pay cash. In the case of our most recent bike, that was absolutely literal. I went to the ATM and got out some cash. (It was a cheap bike.) But most cargo bikes are expensive, far beyond even the daily withdrawal limit allowed by ATMs, which I personally have never even come near. And Matt and I are save-y people.

For normal American families who have two cars and are thinking about cargo and family biking, there is often a transition problem. Most people have a fair bit of debt already: cars, student loans, consumer debt, maybe a house (a long shot in San Francisco, more likely elsewhere). If you want to ditch a car and switch to the bike, what do you do in the interim period, while waiting for the money from selling a car when you don’t yet have a bike? If you’re not sure about getting a bike but want to try it out, how do you afford a relatively expensive bike while holding onto the option of driving? Sure, it’s possible to get something cheap on craigslist once you know enough—astonishingly, this has even happened to me—but most people don’t start at that point. I was talking to a lot of people who were interested in trying out this riding-a-bike-with-kids thing but didn’t feel able to throw a thousand dollars in cash, sometimes much more if they lived on a steep hill and needed electric assist, at the idea. And they certainly didn’t have the confidence to try finding a used bike.

These bikes could also be yours: a selection from the awesome Splendid Cycles.

So when I heard that Portland credit unions offered bicycle loans (always Portland!), I thought that sounded very clever. It elevated bicycle purchases to the status of cars or motorcycles by treating them as installment loans, rather than “max out your credit card” loans. And it solved the transition problem of going from a car-using family to a bike-using family. Sure, it involved taking on more debt in the short term, but for families who really used the bike,  they’d start saving money soon enough–less gas, lower insurance rates, the freedom to drop a second car if relevant. And personally, although we believed we were committed, it took several months before we started defaulting to riding a bike with our kids rather than driving the car. And this is true even though getting our car out of our parking place is a nightmare. Finding a way to buy new riders time made sense to me.

How about a Brompton? If you live in PORTLAND, there’s no shortage of choices at Clever Cycles.

So I asked our credit union if they offered bicycle loans. They said no, never even considered it, but tell us more. So I did. They said, huh, interesting, we’ll get back to you. And I assumed I would never hear anything more again. So it was unexpected to say the least when I got an email earlier this week from the CEO of our credit union saying that they had decided to offer bicycle loans starting June 1st, 2012. There is a $5,000 maximum and terms of up to three years (update: the rate is currently 7%). But how cool is that? San Francisco Fire Credit Union is open to all city residents. If you’re looking for a new bike and think a bike loan might make getting it easier, well, now there’s a way.


Filed under advocacy, bike shops, Brompton, cargo, family biking, San Francisco

Figuring out what safety means

Despite my best efforts, my daughter survives another weekend unscathed

A while ago we were riding around with the kids on the weekend, on the way home from a party with friends. One street was closed to cars for a block party, and we swung in to check it out. The kids were hoping for a bouncy house, no luck. But we did see a friend of my son’s from preschool and stopped to talk with his parents. When we last saw them they were miserable about their school lottery placement, but as often happens, they were able to transfer to a school they preferred mid-year, and they were feeling good.

A neighbor of theirs walked up to me, looked at my daughter in her child seat, and said, “My god, that’s totally unsafe!”

I looked over at his two sons, who had just begun whizzing wildly around on scooters, jumping sidewalks and nearly topping toddlers, all without the benefit of helmets, elbow pads, or knee pads. He looked over at them too.

“Ha ha,” he said after a moment. “I was just kidding.”

“Of course you were,” I replied.

There is reasonable evidence that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks (de Hartog et al 2010, Environmental Health Perspectives—open access), at least for the person doing the pedaling. The question of whether it’s safer for children isn’t directly addressed in that paper. But we know enough people who have had car accidents in which their children were hurt or killed that I no longer feel that cars are necessarily safe.

A practical city car, unless you have kids

I didn’t always feel this way. We have a minivan because when our son was born, continuing to drive him in our 2-door Honda Civic no longer seemed appropriate. Our struggles to get him into and out of the car seat were incredibly frustrating. At the time, we were living in the suburbs and always sharing the road with massive SUVs.  After my maternity leave ended, we had stumbled into a situation we’d never faced before: both of us were commuting by car. It was in many ways a difficult time for us. Although it ended well, with a move to San Francisco less than a year later, at which point we sold the Civic, the legacy of that period remains with us in the form of our minivan.

Just barely fits in our parking space

We bought a minivan when we wanted a new car because it was touted as a safe car for children. It was built from 2.2 tons of steel and had side curtain air bags. It felt like the right size in the suburbs; it was, in fact, a medium-sized car in that area. And it was much easier to get a car seat in a minivan than anything else on the road. But it is a wildly inappropriate car in the city; as one example, just to get it in our garage space, we have to flip in the side mirrors. And in this environment I no longer feel it is safe; the constant dings and scratches we pick up in parking garages and on sharp turns makes driving it feel like wearing a sombrero in a crowded bar.

Technically a Prius is a compact car

I would consider getting rid of a car entirely and seeing how relying on City Carshare worked out for us. Matt thinks this is insane. We do agree that it would make sense, in principle, to trade the minivan for something else. My inclination would be something cheap and small and used, one of the many style-free little cars one can buy for thousands less than the residual value of the minivan. This would lower the financial hit if wanted to put electric assists on our bicycles, which are now our primary means of transportation. Matt’s preference is a 2012 Prius, the plug-in hybrid version. There is no way that I would be willing to buy any new car now that I know what happens to cars in the city. Admittedly I’ve never been a fan of buying new cars anyway. And university housing is unlikely to agree to install a charging station no matter what we might want. Matt likes the idea of driving a Prius, particularly the low gas costs given how much he travels for business (these costs are reimbursed, but it takes a while, and that’s annoying on principle alone). Such a car would, it’s true, fit easily into our parking space. As we’re unable to agree, we continue to drag out the minivan when we want a car. It’s not a fuel efficient vehicle and although we now typically fill it up less than once a month, gas is expensive. But at least it’s paid for.

But the point: I no longer feel it is a safe vehicle. I’m not sure when this happened. But when I recently heard a colleague say she doesn’t feel safe driving with her kids in their small car, and will only put them in the minivan, my first reaction was disbelief. She lives in a very different situation and her kids spend a lot of time on the freeway, so upon reflection I realized why we felt so differently. I would have felt the same way a few years ago. But my worries about my kids now involve things like Nature Deficit Disorder. That’s why I send my son to nature camp on school holidays.

When I arrived at the library at 8am the bike racks were almost full (but those U-locks without bicycles are not reassuring)

As I’ve begun riding my bicycle more, I’ve noticed that my attitude toward driving has changed as well. I think on bicycle time and I almost never travel in rush-hour traffic, so I’m never in a hurry. By default I yield to almost everyone on the road, whether pedestrian, bicycle, or cross-traffic. Occasionally I get honked at for being unwilling to mow down some poor soul in a wheelchair who’s crossing at the crosswalk, but I can live with that. I often get appreciative waves from cyclists, which is nice, and reminds me I should do that more often when I’m on the bike myself. I don’t listen to music and neither of us let the kids yell in the back anymore. This is probably how we should have been driving all along. Despite all of this, I now feel that our car is often an unsafe (if sometimes necessary) way to travel. The shift in perspective is unnerving, but it also feels right.


Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Car-light, not car-free

It has been a stressful couple of days around the HotC household. Last night, I spent 3 hours with my daughter in the Emergency Department. She is fine, and after a day spent chafing at home, is now ready to return to her normal activities. We are exhausted.

We have become, I am sorry to report, frequent flyers at the ED since her birth. The staff there now knows she loves band-aids and jumping off things, and provides rooms where the potential for self-destruction is limited. However they lack the reflexes we have developed, and so were unable to catch her when she vaulted off a moving stretcher (The doctor: “Oh! There’s that lust for danger.”) But I did, so at least I feel I’m not wholly incompetent.

En route to the hospital

We live mere blocks from the ED, so we walked (okay, I ran while carrying her). Parking near the hospital is limited and expensive, and it would have taken us longer to drive there, find parking, and wait for an elevator to take us up to the admission desk than it takes to hoof it, even at a slow amble. Who puts an emergency department at the top of a steep hill, anyway?

At 10pm on a Wednesday night, our discharge instructions were to get a specialty prescription into her before she went to sleep. It was already well past her bedtime and our only options were 24-hour pharmacies (for reasons that mystify everyone, the on-site pharmacy closes at 8pm).

Our closest choices were the Walgreens in the Castro or the Walgreens in Daly City. The Castro Walgreens is known for its close relationship with San Francisco’s storied Ward 86 and it is substantially closer to us. But in my addled state, I assumed that the Castro site would not have pediatrics formulations readily available because it primarily serves AIDS patients. And I knew we couldn’t park there: there is never any parking in the Castro, at least while the bars are open. So I had the ED call her prescription into Daly City, which is a 30+ minute drive away, but located in a mall with a huge parking lot where every other store closes by 9pm. Matt drove there and waited while they compounded her prescription and I tried to keep her awake until he returned. She finally got to bed at near midnight after passing out in my arms.

Kumachan (and bubble gum flavoring) helps the medicine go down

With hindsight I realize we could have saved ourselves nearly an hour by skipping the drive. There are hundreds of pediatric AIDS patients in San Francisco, so the Castro pharmacy undoubtedly has pediatric drugs in stock. And I forgot in the press of events that it is nearly always faster to get around the city by bicycle than by car. Even though Matt would have had to detour around Twin Peaks if he rode the bike there, it is a 20-minute round trip (probably 15 minutes given the adrenaline). Alternatively we could have picked up one of the taxis available 24/7 outside the ED discharge doors.

Under the circumstances, though, we went with what seemed obvious. We walked to the hospital because it felt within range (and because we’ve done it before). But when we were unfamiliar with alternatives and panicked, we defaulted to the car. That’s where we are.

We have discussed whether it makes sense for us to live without a car. We know many families in the city do this already, although they thin out when kids reach school age. Given the plethora of public transit options, our bicycles, and strategic use of cabs and car shares, it is objectively possible, likely cost-effective, and arguably more practical.

But for now, it’s clear that we’re still attached to the safety net of having a car.

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Filed under San Francisco