Pursuant to my previous post, today’s project in the decision making process for Eric and I (we’ll finally see the inside of the house tomorrow) is to find how long the commute to Eric’s job and our synagogue is. These two things make up about half of our total driving – only half simply because we are very fortunate, and Eric has managed to work his academic schedule so he’s only on campus three days per week.
We realized last night that the house is further from SUNY Albany and our synagogue in Niskayuna than we’d realized – we’d figured it would be about the same since the house is only a tiny bit west, and mostly due north – we’d forgotten the degree to which I90 spreads – so the actual mileage is about half again as much. For someone concerned with environmental impacts, the prospect of raising our gas mileage substantially is a non-trivial factor.
One of the reasons it would almost certainly go up is that Eric is able to carpool part of the time – this would probably eventually be possible in the new house, but we don’t know anyone in the area immediately who is a likely candidate so this would take time. Because Eric’s schedule is somewhat irregular – he runs late night observing sessions regularly, for example and doesn’t get home until midnight – he can’t usually find anyone with precisely the same schedule, and must drive alone sometimes. So we would not be able to wholly obviate those miles.
When we sat down this morning to discuss the issue, I was initially inclined to think that the additional mileage might be a deal-breaker for me. Transportation emissions are one of the largest factors in climate change, and I have no real interest in increasing my overall mileage. I would be willing to put up with a very small increase – under 500 miles per year – in order to reduce energy usage elsewhere, which I think would be possible in the new house, but not a large one.
We could cut the number of trips we take to synagogue – and that is one option – the children attend Hebrew school twice a week, and we could reduce that number of trips to one – the synagogue would support us. We could provide that education at home – although we’re a little reluctant to do this because Eli benefits so much from time with his aide, and Simon is just hitting the age where he can join other more advanced kids in learning groups and do more creative stuff. But that is one option. Eric would have to give up leading a weekly prayer minyan on the same day, but that’s possible as well, although we’d be very sorry. Or he might be able to shift to doing a different day, and do it on his way home from work, with little additional mileage.
From a purely cost perspective, this is a no brainer – even if gas prices rise to $5 per gallon in the near future, the additional commuting would be less than $400 – whereas we might save as much as $8000 in total housing and energy costs. But I don’t want to just look at it from a financial perspective, because I think that ignores our overall impact.
From a time perspective, the difference isn’t that great – the commute would be a fairly straight shot down 90, rather than the multi-highway plus plenty of back roads commutes that we do now. The drive would be a bit longer, but not as much as the distance would imply, simply because it was more direct. When Eric has to travel during rush hour, which he does once a week, it might be faster, since going West on 90 rarely involves any traffic. It is also likely that a few miles might be shaved off the trip by better knowledge of local backroads – that’s certainly true at our current place.
But what about the driving impact. That sticks in my craw – since 2007, my family has managed to use only about 55 gallons of gas per person per year – excluding my son Eli who is bused to a school for children with autism.
Since my concern was overall driving impact, rather than these, I sat down to figure out how our driving shakes out. Living where we do, and with young children who cannot handle the distances and steep hills on bikes yet, we have to drive almost everywhere – when we’re alone my husband and I do walk sometimes, but it simply isn’t viable with the kids to cover the 4 miles to town and back – up and down over very steep hills yet. We sat down to figure out how much of our actual daily driving is the commute – and it turns about it is only about half.
The other half of our driving consists of a mix of fungible and unfungible trips – 7 miles to the local farmstand, 4 miles to the library, etc… are among the ones that might be consolidated and shortened. The great virtue of the new place is that within walking and biking distance there would now be a library, general store, Amish bulk-goods store and a few farmstands.
Some of our other driving is not going to change – we travel several times a year to visit family, and the dogs and cats will still need to go to the vet now and then, and the kids to the pediatrician. We may be able to localize some of that – find a closer vet than our previous one, find a local pediatrician – we just don’t know (this is one of the annoying imponderables, particularly since we adore both our pede and our vet).
So here’s the question – how much impact would localizing our lives actually have, assuming no major other changes in our travel patterns, and leaving out both painful major shifts in our day to day lives (ie, no weekday Hebrew school and minyan) and assuming no carpool?
When I sat down and ran the numbers, I found that some of this is guess work, but in fact, those little local trips are the cause of a larger percentage of our mileage than we actually had thought. It would take some doing and adjusting to manage, but if we assume that we keep only 1/4 of the local trips, it turns out that the mileage increase falls within my 500 mile annual limit. This is partly guess work, but we can drop back within that limit either by eliminating weekday Hebrew school or by finding Eric a carpool on the days that’s possible – that is, we wouldn’t be driving any more miles than we actually are now.
So the house is back on the table. We’re off this morning to find out how the commute actually looks, and check out the contents of the general store. We will also assume that if we buy the house and move there we will stop wasting gas by measuring things ;-).
This may all be hypothetical – the realtor told us she’s showing the house to someone before us on Thursday. I’m not totally sure I believe her – that seems like the kind of things realtors say ;-), but it could be true. But some things are in the hands of fate, and some things are in ours. Might as well work on ours.