Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Drive for Local Teacher...

Through the ministry Hope North Charleston at Northwood Baptist Church, I have adopted Ms Baker at AC Corcoran Elementary School. She is a First Grade Reading Intervention teacher whose students are below grade level in their reading skills. Many have never been read to and have never owned a book. As an avid reader I find this appalling! One of the things on Ms Baker's wish list is for each of her students to have at least one book of their own. I want to shoot for two each! (50 books total) Any extras can be used to stock her classroom library. Contact me if you'd like to donate books or gift cards for any bookstore. I've set up the book drive as as an event on Facebook:  Book Drive for Ms Baker's Class. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Making Progress....

The new bus shelters are slowly going up. It seems that most of the larger stops along Rivers Avenue going from Northwoods Mall headed downtown have gotten a new shelter. One young man at the stop yesterday asked, "what's the point of a shelter without a lid?" I'm sure eventually we will get a roof, hopefully before we start getting any real winter weather! I like the fact the entire front isn't wide open like some of the older shelters. This will help protect passengers from the wind and the rain. Hopefully they will give us back our benches. I'm seeing shopping carts at the mall and Walmart stops laying on their sides that people have dragged over to use as seats which makes the stops look trashy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Positive Thoughts on Carfree Living

Great article by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits on living carfree speaks to the many benefits of utilizing our feet and public transportation. Anybody who's on my facebook page has seen the multitude of pictures I take as I walk around Charleston and while I'm waiting for the bus. This morning I stepped off the road for two minutes to snap a couple of shots of changing leaves along Mall Drive. If I had been driving I would have had to continue up the road, found a place to park and then walk back. And most likely I would have been in too much of a hurry to bother with it....thinking maybe next time. Of course by next time the leaves would have fallen. Maybe my mother's right and "normal people" don't live the way I do (carfree). But the numbers are increasing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Second Sunday on King

Just a reminder for Charlestonians, and visitors of course. Today is Second Sunday on King Street, a great way to enjoy shopping and downtown Charleston car free! Info for Second Sunday on King  And don't forget to pick up your Buy Local Card from participating businesses.

Friday, November 12, 2010

West Islip Beach Bus....

I usually point to my experience with Pierce County Transit in Tacoma, Washington in 1982 as my introduction to public transportation. I realized recently however that my first exposure to bus riding goes back to the age of fourteen, the summer my girlfriends and I were first allowed to ride the "beach bus" in West Islip, NY.  I don't remember how it came about, but we were given permission to take the bus to Robert Moses State Park,  field two - the cool beach. Our bus stop was in front of Good Samaritan Hospital. It cost a dollar each way, and we were crammed on that bus like sardines. No air-conditioning, windows wide open, and kids sitting four or five to a seat. We sat on each other's laps and packed the aisle. Loud, rambunctious teenage boys showing off for giggling girls in tank tops and bikinis. Safety? It didn't seem to be a concern back in those days. If we got stuck in traffic, the bus driver rode over the curb and drove on the grass to get around the cars waiting in line for the parking lot.

That same summer my mother decided despite the fact she drove a van with "Mom's Taxi" printed across the spare tire, she didn't need to drive us to the mall. Pulling out the phone book she had me look up the schedule for the regular bus. There were only two options, one ran along Montauk Highway, the other route was on Union Boulevard.  And the schedules were conveniently printed in the yellow pages. My girlfriends and I were thrilled, we could spend a whole day at the mall, not just a few hours. And no adult supervision while we decided how to spend our babysitting money! Talk about a carefree summer, suddenly we had the independence to go to the beach and the mall whenever we chose. Add in the range we could travel on our bicycles, and it seemed our horizons were limitless.

Riding the bus as an adult, commuting to work, appointments and food shopping may not be as much fun as riding the beach bus, or heading to the mall with my girlfriends as a teenager. But it's not the end of the world, and it sure beats walking!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spotlight: Bus 10

Bus 10 is the most heavily traveled CARTA route in the Charleston area. The only recent change in services that can be seen as positive is the increase in bus 10's runs, coming through every twenty minutes between 7am and 7pm on weekdays. And yet it is still often filled to capacity!

Mainly traversing Rivers Avenue, route 10 starts downtown at Meeting and Mary Street, comes up Meeting Street Extension to Rivers Avenue, stopping at Trident One-Stop before going to the Super Kmart then up Highway 78.  It loops around through the front of Charleston Southern University and behind Trident Medical Center to Health South before heading downtown again.

Stops of note on the Highway 78 end of the route include Wannamaker Park, CSU, Trident Hospital and Health South. If you haven't been out that way recently it's built up quite a bit. You'll find a CVS, Wendy's, Zaxby's and Sonic along with East Bay Deli, Brusters and several other restaurants, all within walking distance of the bus.

At Kmart you can transfer to bus 12 if you're going to Dorchester Rd. If you live in the Greenridge Road area there is no stop for bus 10 headed downtown. You have the option of walking to the  Kmart (1.5 miles) or to Northwoods Mall (1 mile). Or you can cross Rivers Avenue (8 lanes of traffic) to catch the bus headed to Trident Hospital and ride back around to get downtown. Depending on the driver you may have to pay a double fare to do so. Coming from Trident Hospital you can transfer to bus 12 at Kmart and get off at Dial America to avoid walking from Kmart or the mall to get back to Greenridge Road.

After Kmart major stops are Northwoods Mall, Ashley Phosphate Rd (Walmart), Trident Technical College, Trident One Stop, and Mall Drive where you can connect to bus 104 going to Tanger Outlets or Park Circle. Then of course there's the Super Stop at Cosgrove Avenue where you can transfer to a number of different buses. Once you get to Meeting and Mary that's considered a Super Stop as well, and there are multiple buses that you can connect to. From Meeting and Mary it's an easy walk to many restaurants, shops and tourist areas, and local events such as the Farmer's Market on Marion Square. If you're not sure about the stop, ask your driver when you get on. Quite a few stops are not marked.  

As a side note, the Super Stop at Cosgrove and Rivers does have rest rooms and vending machines, but you can't be sure it will be open. They seem to close it from time to time on a whim. The restrooms there are usually clean and stocked. The restroom at Meeting and Mary is often out of service and is not at all nice. It's worth taking a short walk to the other side of the parking garage in order to use the pretty bathrooms in the visitors center. They are always clean and well-stocked for the tourists!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NAACP to act on bus cuts....

According to a recent article in the Post and Courier, the NAACP meeting I posted about did take place last week. I'm not sure who attended since it wasn't publicized. The article states that Dot Scott (the branch president) is going to contact CARTA's director Howard Chapman about the recent cuts in services. Where was the NAACP during the public hearings and board meetings to discuss the options? If the NAACP had rallied it's members before the cuts took effect they might have had some influence. Now I believe it's too little, too late, unless they plan to spend the next year working to reverse the cuts for 2012. Somebody asked me why the NAACP has to make everything about race? Since fifty-percent or more of the bus riders are African-American, doesn't it make sense for the NAACP to get involved? If it will improve services for all passengers I won't quibble about who's using their political clout to make some changes!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Random Images....


Slow progress: The bid was accepted over the summer and the cement was poured several weeks ago at both the Northwoods Mall stop for buses 10 and 12 on Rivers Avenue, and the stop for bus 10 at Rivers and Ashley Phosphate. Not sure what's taking so long with putting up the shelters. Could we at least have our bench back?!



                                                                                                                                                         
Splash of Color: ditch filled with flowers off Mall Drive.



Awesome Clouds: Seen on a bike ride off Antler Road in North Charleston.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Meeting: NAACP on CARTA?

I have not been able to confirm this officially, but word on the bus is that the NAACP is holding a community meeting to rally passengers regarding CARTA's recent service cuts. I was told the meeting will be held at the Morris Brown AME Church at 13 Morris St in Charleston, October 28th at 7pm. I could not verify the information via either the church's or the NAACP website. Unfortunately I can't get time off from work to attend the meeting myself. I think it's a case of closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, but will be interested to see what comes of it. Part of the uproar has to do with the announcement that the downtown shuttle buses are going to be offered as a free service, as a selling point for tourists. The woman on the bus who was speaking about this meeting says Mayor Riley told her the City of Charleston was paying for it - hence the uproar. If the City is willing to provide free bus service for tourists, why were they not willing to increase funding for CARTA to provide needed services for locals?

There have been some comments made via the media by CARTA about "sparse attendance" at the public hearings and board meetings.** As has been pointed out repeatedly there was pretty short notice as to these hearings,  they took place when people have to work, and not all were convenient to the bus. I've been able to attend one board meeting and one FRAC meeting myself. Both entailed taking half a day off and 2 hours of travel time by bus to get there and back. At the board meeting (which takes place on Wednesdays at 2pm) I had to sit through almost three hours of CARTA business discussion before it was open for public input, at which point half the board members had already left. The public hearing I attended conveniently took place right next door to my job, so I only had to take two hours of vacation time for that one.

I think the bottom line is that if the passengers want to effect change, we need to spend the next year holding these community meetings, bombarding CARTA with emails and phone calls, and be prepared to attend board meetings etc as the next fiscal year and budget review approaches for 2012. Meanwhile CARTA needs to make these meeting more convenient and accessible to the passengers they serve.

**interestingly no numbers have been given as to how many surveys were collected. I was told I couldn't find any on my buses because they had all been given out (something the drivers disputed) but got no answer when I asked how many were printed and/or submitted.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Missing Bench or New Shelter?

I posted this picture on facebook with the caption, "Who stole my bench?!" one day last week when I arrived at the bus stop in front of northwoods mall to find the bench had vanished. There were a bunch of little multi-colored flags and as line markers stuck in the grass surrounding the area, leading me to believe there was going to be some kind of roadwork about to take place. But couldn't they have just moved the bench to another spot?!



A few days later I arrived to find concrete had been poured where the bench had been, along with a walkway from the sidewalk to the street. Hmmm....does this mean the stop at Northwoods Mall is getting one of the coveted bus shelters that I've heard about? I guess we'll have to wait and see!






Saturday, October 16, 2010

Meet Michelle...

I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Emerson, CARTA's marketing coordinator at Charleston's Greenfair. It was obvious as we spoke that for Michelle public transportation isn't just a job, it's a passion.  Michelle takes advantage of the bus herself whenever possible and has taught her kids to ride as well. Michelle pointed out everyone needs to be prepared for any eventuality, they may find themselves carless or going to college or work someplace like Chicago or NYC, where utilizing public transportation is the norm. Knowing how to take advantage of public transportation if necessary is actually a life skill that encourages  independence and confidence to allow one to live and travel anywhere. I know I myself never considered the bigger picture when it came to teaching my kids about public transportation. Food for thought if you have children at home!

I enjoyed talking with Michelle and hearing her ideas about public transportation as well as some of her marketing concepts to make people more aware of CARTA's services. Michelle is a true ambassador for CARTA and public transportation in general!

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Changes...



The driver on bus 12 was kind enough to let me know she had the new schedules available, which was handy since the schedules are changing as of Sunday, 10/17. Bus 10 will be running every 20 minutes on weekdays from 7am-7pm, not every 15 minutes as was originally stated by CARTA. Weekends bus 10 runs every hour or so. Bus 12 will still run every 45 minutes though some of the pickup times have changed. Not sure that matters much as bus 12 has consistently been running 10-20 minutes late in the mornings since school started. On Sunday 12 will still run every 2 hours, not every 4 hours as another passenger told me recently. Bus 106 which ran through Otranta and Hanahan, up to Stall Road and Trident One Stop is being cancelled, leaving Otranto and Hanahan passengers without any bus service at all. Sunday service is being eliminated for route 104 which serves Park Circle, leaving passengers in that area with no transportation on Sundays. Bus 13 which is the Remount Road bus is also eliminating Sunday Service. These are just some changes of note on my side of North Charleston. Many routes are starting later and/or ending earlier and all CARTA's night buses have been cancelled. For a summary of all the changes go to CARTA's website. I'm very lucky that the changes won't have a major effect on my usual routine. Sadly, the only positive change being made was to increase the buses for Route 10 on Rivers Avenue.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'm a Winner!

At the Charleston Greenfair last Saturday Biketown gave away 30 free bikes to Bicycling Magazine's Biketown essay contest winners, including me! I'm now the proud owner of a silver and white Jamis Commuter 2. A helmet, lock and a lightset were included in the prize pack. In addition to Metlife, the Regional Council of Governments and Coastal Cyclists contributed to the prizes (the lightsets and locks). According to Biketown representatives this is the first time they've had local groups ask to be involved. That's the kind of thing that makes Charleston a great place to live!

All it took was a ten-minute, off-the-cuff 50 word essay on how having a bike will improve my life by expanding my horizons, and making simple things like trips to the local library and grocery store faster and easier. I really didn't expect to win, from what I understand they received hundreds of essays. So I was thrilled when I received my email from Lois Moss. I jumped on a bus headed downtown right after church on Sunday, praying the rain would hold off. Despite ominous skies and some rumbles of thunder it did - until I was getting ready for my first biking adventure, getting the bike home via CARTA. A very nice young man got of the bus in the rain both to help me load and then unload my bike from the rack. It wasn't complicated and there are clear instructions, but it was kind of this gentleman to help me out.

Due to the monsoon like weather I had to wait impatiently for a rain-free night before I could jump on my new bike and take a spin around the apartment complex after work. It's been many years since I've been on a bike, and there are of course no bike lanes in my neighborhood. It doesn't look like it's in the plans for the road widening project currently in progress either. After a couple of night rides around the complex I braved St Ives road. Then on Saturday we had clear skies and cool temps, and I was off on my bike! First stop Northwoods Park, then up to AC Corcoran Elementary School, down Otranto Road to the library, and Kmart to check out their bike accessories (I have started a wish list) and over to Texas Roadhouse for a late lunch. Then back home again. I haven't tracked it yet, but it should be about a four mile loop. So Carfree Charleston will now include posts about another aspect of living carfree. In addition to public transportation, I'll be posting about the perks and challenges of getting around North Charleston by bike.




Friday, October 1, 2010

Changes....

Carta's new fare schedule kicked in today, though it seemed that the majority of riders were clueless. About half the buses I've been riding the last few weeks had flyers and/or signs posted. Kudos to CARTA for making the flyers bigger and more eye-catching than the surveys and notices about the public hearings. It is quite disappointing however that CARTA decided to both make service cuts and raise the rates. While I'm lucky enough that my routine isn't going to suffer much, I feel for those people who will now literally be stranded by the loss of bus 106, CARTA @ Night and some of the Sunday services. Rumor has it that the Teleride services are next on the chopping block. So far the only positive in the whole situation is the addition of runs to route 10, which will now be running every 15 minutes on Rivers Avenue from 7am-7pm.


I was quite surprised when a passenger said he was told by a driver that the route cuts were due to the fact  nobody showed up at the public hearings. Really?! I'm not a nobody, and neither are the twenty plus people who showed up at the meeting I attended. Yes, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the number of riders CARTA has. My recommendation if CARTA really wants to hear what their ridership has to say, is to have public hearings where and when more of the passengers can attend. Like the Superstops on Cosgrove, Meeting and Mary, Super K-Mart and the Citadel Mall during prime hours.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Some Miscellaneous Items...

Great profile article in the Post and Courier of Tom Bradford, acting director of  Charleston Moves which is a local advocacy group for bicyclists here in Charleston.

Charleston's Green Fair is on September 26th.

It's official! Meteorologist Bill Walsh  WCSC Channel 5 meteorologist and the NOAA confirmed this summer was the warmest summer in recorded history here in Charleston. No big surprise to those of us who walk, ride bicycles, or work outside. We had a bit of a break in the temp and humidity over the last couple of weeks but the humidity seems to have returned. Lower high temps are being predicted later in the week. Meanwhile it's time to look ahead to the winter months. Last winter was colder than normal, with an unusual snow storm. Time to look at cold weather gear to prep for another winter of bus-hopping around Charleston!


Our local Farmer's Markets are still open, we should be seeing some fall produce before long.

While this blog is primarily to promote/discuss the benefits and difficulties of public transportation in Charleston, I also like to promote local businesses and events. Occasionally I may also promote or highlight people I know....for example I plan to post a book review on "Love at Last Sight" written by my former Pastor Kerry Shook in Texas...once I get my free copy that is!

I would like to thank Lowcountry Bloggers for adding me to their big blogroll!

Kudos to Northwood Baptist Church for raising money to assist AC Corcoran Elementary School with awnings to their portable units. The Hope for Students fundraiser featured five local christian bands and raised $2500 on 9/11/10. Way to go!

CARTA Board Meeting on Wednesday

This Wednesday is the CARTA Board Meeting, remember this is the one where they will be reviewing service cuts!


Per the CARTA website :

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) will hold their September 2010 Board meeting at 2:00PM on Wednesday, 09/15/10, in the Main Auditorium (2nd Floor) of the Charleston County Main Library, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston, Sc 20403. The public is invited.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Not Just CARTA...

Contrary to some of the nonsensical opinions posted on the Post and Courier's website in response to articles on CARTA's budget woes, CARTA is not just another local form of welfare, or a conspiracy to bilk the taxpayers out of millions of dollars by tinting their bus windows to hide the low ridership on some routes. Pierce Transit in Washington State is currently holding their own public hearings regarding fare increases and posible cuts in service. This link shows the options they're considering for fare increases, which are comparable to what CARTA has decided. In fact, according to an article written by Tom Downs of Veolia on citiwire , ninety-percent of all transit systems in the US report flat or declining local financial support. Eighty-four percent report they have reduced services or increased fares within the last year. And yet within the last ten years public transportation has shown it's first consistent increase in ridership in over fifty years. So as the need is increasing, funding is on the decline. This is a nationwide trend, not just a local issue.

I don't claim to understand all the ins and outs of how funding works on local, state, and federal levels to support public transportation. It's both a numbers game and a matter of political football, neither of which I'm good at. There's the Highway Trust Fund which gets it's revenue from taxes on gasoline, and the half-cent sales tax locally as well as myriad other funds. Both sources mentioned are seeing a decline due to the current economy, as consumers cut back on spending. Meanwhile the need for public transportation, including both bus and light rail options is increasing. In some areas the need is due to the number of people cutting back on expenses voluntarily or due to unemployment, and turning to alternate means of transportation. In others it's a movement to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution, while making the commute faster and more efficient.



Another article on citiscope by Christopher Tan touts the success of Singapore's public transportation system. This city has a high-density population, five million people in an area just a bit larger than New York City. Yet the city of Singapore very rarely experiences gridlock. Maybe some lessons can be learned from the planning this city has put into making public transportation work efficiently, as well as the measures they take to discourage overuse of cars in congested areas. Here in Charleston,  the local powers that be need to look at investing our transportation dollars differently. Stop putting money into never-ending widening of roads like I-26 to accommodate more traffic, and put it into improving our local transit system to make commuting via CARTA a more efficient, convenient way to commute to work. The carfree movement and the push for improved public transportation, which includes bus and light rail systems,  is growing across the US. Wouldn't it be nice if South Carolina didn't end up in last place in yet another category when it comes to livability? Let's not allow ignorance and an outdated political system keep us out of the loop!

Design Your Own Bike....

There's a great new bike shop down on King Street.  At Affordabike  you can chose a basic beach cruiser in one of several standard colors, or you can chose custom colors and accessories to make it one-of-a-kind. Griff Ducworth and Daniel Russell-Einhorn order the parts direct from the manufacturers and assemble their bikes on site. No mass-produced, cookie cutter bikes here! They offer well-made, sturdy beach cruisers with a variety of seats, handle bars, chain guards and baskets. Guaranteed when you roll your new bicycle out the door it will be like no other bike in the Charleston area! Check out Affordabike if you're looking for a new bicycle, and shop local.



Saturday, August 28, 2010

CARTA Freezes Admin Pay

Apparently CARTA took note of the outrage over pay raises for the administrative staff  remaining in their budget, while passengers are going to pay higher fares and are still waiting to hear about route cuts.  Today this Post and Courier article is stating that the admin salaries will be frozen for 2011. There are a number of committee meetings coming up to address different budget items, as well as the possibility of cutting bus routes. I highly recommend that anyone who is either dependent on or interested in public transportation here in the Charleston area try to attend any of the meetings that fit in your schedule. Even if they don't allow public comment, these committees and the CARTA board need to know people are paying attention. I find it interesting that all of a sudden there's a rush to review and push through these changes. Or maybe it's normal for this type of organization to wait until the last minute to figure out how to make up for a $1.4 million dollar shortfall? It almost seems as though CARTA was hoping that somehow magically the issue would correct itself without any action on their part. Below is the list of upcoming meetings. I'll post results as they become available.

Upcoming CARTA meetings as stated by the Post and Courier:

 CARTA Human Resource Committee  meets 1:30 p.m. Monday 8/30 at the North Charleston City Hall, Third Floor, Durant Conference Room, 2500 City Hall Lane.

 CARTA Finance Committee meets 4 p.m. Monday 8/30/10 at the North Charleston City Hall, Third Floor, Buist Conference Room, 2500 City Hall Lane.

**CARTA Route Performance Committee**  meeting  4 p.m. Wednesday 9/1/10 at Charleston County Main Library, Conference Room B, 68 Calhoun St. This is the big one, to review recommendations to cut services.

How Would a Bike Change Your LIfe?

Charleston has been chosen to participate in Biketown. Click on the link to enter an essay contest on how a bike would change your life. You might just win a free one! I've already submitted my entry.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's Wrong with this Picture?!

According to an article in the Post and Courier,   budget decisions made by the CARTA finance committee left administrative raises off of the chopping block. What a slap in the face to those of us who attended the public hearings and voiced our willingness to pay higher fares! Maybe CARTA should be required to hold public hearings on the budget as a whole, and give their riders a say in where the money is being spent? While I understand certain funding and grants are earmarked for particular expenditures such as the new buses, other costs and expenses need to be scrutinized more closely. Kudos to board member Steve Bedard for speaking up on behalf of the riders, who apparently are going to be the only ones to pay the price for CARTA's budget shortfall. While I would vote for a raise and benefits for drivers - the backbone of the system, adminstrators either need to find new funding sources or take a hit as well! Whether it's a lower raise or none at all, or maybe paying more out of their own pocket for benefits, the administrative staff needs to tighten their belts. Perhaps some of the higher-ups need to be weeded out in order to cut costs? It makes me wonder exactly what else CARTA feels is more important than their riders?  After voting to keep the administrative raises intact, the next board meeting will again consider options to cut services as a means to control costs. What's wrong with this picture?!

And the Verdict is....

CARTA decided to go with the fare increases beginning October 1st, but tabled any decisions on service cuts until September's board meeting. Channel 5 News, WCSC

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meetings This Week...

Carta has two meetings planned for this week:

FRAC Meeting

On Tuesday August 17th at 5:30pm at the CARTA administrative offices (36 John St) the CARTA Fixed Route Advisory Committee (FRAC) will be meeting. This meeting is for anyone interested in public transportation to provide input, specifically on the proposed changes being considered by CARTA.
The FRAC (Fixed Route Advisory Committee) meetings are intended to seek feedback from members of the community who are particularly interested in transit-related issues. They are informal and open to whoever would like to attend. Meetings are slated monthly.

The meetings are led by a CARTA representative, but the topics of discussion are almost entirely determined by committee members. Minutes aren’t taken; only informal notes that are acted upon, as appropriate, and reported on at the next meeting. Committee members do not have formal responsibilities. Again, the hope with this committee is to open a dialogue between riders, CARTA, and any other interested citizens. We need ideas and suggestions to meet the transportation needs of the communities we serve—basically, we need people who can be our “eyes and ears”…to tell us when something needs to change, or when something is really working well! If you would like to be a FRAC member and advise us about how to make the bus system work better for riders, please send an email to ptecklenburg@ridecarta.com, with a subject line of FRAC, and your contact information.


CARTA Board Meeting ***

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) will hold their August 2010 Board meeting at 2:00pm on Wednesday, 08/18/10, in the 3rd Floor Buist Conference Room of the North Charleston City Hall ***  2500 City Hall Lane, North Charleston, SC 29419-9016. The public is invited.

*** Note the change of venue!

Changing Habits and Shopping Local....

Before the car accident that initiated the carfree phase of my life, I was committed to certain things like buying organic or all natural foods and shopping local whenever possible. I frequented the farmer's market in Park Circle, and the Coastal Produce Market in Summerville, looking for locally grown produce. I refused to buy fish not from the U.S. or shrimp that wasn't caught right here in S.C. I made monthly trips to Whole Foods and Earth Fare looking for specific items I loved or wanted to try. And whenever I could I shopped locally owned stores instead of the chains.

Now that I'm living carfree I've had to change some of my habits, or work harder to frequent locally owned businesses. It's not easy going downtown to the farmer's market, and toting all those goodies home in this heat. Likewise going to Publix is a struggle. My "neighborhood" has narrowed to those places I can get to easily by bus, walking, or affordable cab fare. And yet that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it's reminiscent of the olden days when people didn't  jump in their car and drive thirty-minutes to an hour away to go to a specialty store. When you frequent more local stores you're more likely to get to know your actual neighbors, whether they are the customers or the owners and employees.

So as I headed to the nearby Arby's today for a change of scene to work on my blog, I had a running argument with myself.  I don't like fountain drinks, and wanted to grab a bottle of coke to go with the sandwich I planned to buy from the dollar menu, and the little strip mall at the end of Greenridge Road includes the Krishna Stop 'n Go. Yes, you did read that correctly! It is in fact a quite well-stocked Indian grocery as opposed to your typical stop 'n go that just offers soft drinks, beer, milk and cigarettes. I enjoy wandering around looking at all the different food items they offer, however the owner/clerk is not the exactly the friendliest of fellows....

So, do I grab my coke there, or go across the highway to the Little Cricket? My argument with myself included the fact I could grab a can of coke which would be less expensive then a bottle....but I knew I was just making excuses. So I skipped the Little Cricket and familiarized myself with what's offered at the Krishna Stop 'n Go. I had forgotten that they do in fact carry milk, and the butter I had once walked all the way to the Piggly Wiggly for! (1.5 miles in each direction!) An interesting variety of flours, spices,  and whole milk yogurt in small and large containers, something else I buy often. I waited in line behind a young couple who  purchased quite a few groceries and a woman buying her beer and lottery tickets. Mr Grumpy was behind the counter but I greeted him with my best smile, then thanked him and wished him a good day as I left.  

Since I was already at the strip center I walked past the local bar and the empty health food store that moved away in 2008, then noticed that the florist was open. I couldn't help stopping in for a visit. A Bella Bouquet is a pretty little shop that currently specializes in custom orders from a simple floral arrangement to weddings and proms. They do plan on putting in coolers with loose flowers for purchase in the near future. The owners were friendly and showed me around while telling me about the business, with one working on flower arrangements and the other snapping photos as we talked. I'll happily shop there the next time I get the urge to buy myself some flowers!

So while my "neighborhood"  has become more limited in some ways, it has in fact expanded to include local businesses I would have never noticed, or would have driven past going to my usual haunts.  I'm networking in a new way, one that reminds me more of how things were in the neighborhood I grew up in. Other than what I want from the farmer's market,  I can find pretty much every thing I need within a two to three mile radius. Now if I can just get the Piggly Wiggly to carry my favorite greek yogurt I'd be all set!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Commentary on "A CARTA Adventure"

TheDigitelCharleston recently posted a video on "the pains of riding (and learning) the carta system" in which two young college students decide on the spur of the moment to ride the bus from the Citadel Mall back downtown. Now, it would be nice to think that getting from the Citadel Mall to downtown on the bus is fairly simple, or at least that a couple of college students should be able to figure it out. As Jessie and Beau's adventure unfolds however, they run into a few issues.

I do want to point out that while the video does make some good points, CARTA is not totally to blame in this case. For some reason the duo chose to first go to the super stop on Cosgrove and Rivers, which is in the opposite direction of downtown and more than doubled their travel time. I can't fault the CARTA drivers they spoke to for help, as in the video I clearly hear them asking how to get to the super stop - if they had asked for info on getting downtown they could have taken just one bus and made it to their destination in an hour or less.  When the couple finally makes it downtown they try to figure out how to finish the trip via the DASH system, but can't seem to read the schedule. At this point they give up and walk the rest of the way, when they could have just stepped inside the visitor's center to ask for help from one of the nice ladies - whose job it is to help people find their way around Charleston. Oh, and if they actually got on the bus with nothing smaller than a ten dollar bill, that would be why a $3.50 ride for two ended up costing them $10!

One valid point made in the video  is how difficult the schedules and routes can be to read. A coworker recently stated that you need an engineering degree to interpret them on the CARTA website. And I agree, which is why I called CARTA several times to question whether I was reading the schedule correctly when I first started relying on the bus. After almost a year, if I have to go someplace new, I still call to verify what buses I should be taking and get an idea of the time involved. Then I plan extra time  for error. And I always ask my drivers to verify when I get on the bus.  If I'm not familiar with the route I ask them to let me know when my stop is coming up so I don't miss it. Now I'm not unusually organized or OCD, but to me this is just common sense! 

Another valid point is the time and inconvenience involved - depending on where you're going.  I had to give up physical therapy at the Spine Institute after finding that it took four buses and three hours to get to my appointment in Mt Pleasant, and even longer to get home. I did this twice and gave up. You shouldn't have to leave home at 9:30am for a 1:00 pm appointment,  and arrive back home at 7:00 pm.

As for the fact that there is no sidewalk to the bus stop area at the Citadel Mall, we can't exactly blame CARTA for Charleston's lack of planning. Charleston's roads were not designed  for people to walk or ride bikes safely - shame on them!  And I've recently learned that the various municipalities that are served by CARTA have the final say on where CARTA locates it's stops.

When it comes to getting help, I've had my issues with customer service, but ninety-five percent of the drivers I have dealt with are personable and informative. The regular passengers also are extremely friendly and helpful when you're obviously a newbie to the system. If Beau and Jessie found this not to be the case, I believe it may be for the same reason I didn't like the video - to them this was a lark and they made a joke out of it. As a passenger who relies on the bus to get to work, go to medical appointments,  and to do my shopping, it's no laughing matter. There are issues with how CARTA runs the system and lots of room for improvement. Being stranded by a bus that doesn't show up when/where it's supposed to can cost me my job. Having to cross a busy intersection with no pedestrian crosswalk to get to an inconveniently located stop is scary, and can be life-threatening. Having difficulty getting from point A to point B on a poorly planned trip just for fun is another matter altogether!

I've been in touch with the people in charge at CARTA and Veolia and I started writing this blog to address both the benefits and the challenges with our public transportation system here in Charleston, as well as attending the board meetings and public hearings. I'm hoping to have some small influence in making positive changes to the system that will go a bit further than posting a six minute video that mocks the whole process. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sunset Clouds...




One of the benefits of walking to and from the bus stop is the opportunity to take awesome pics of the lowcountry, and to enjoy scenes I might not notice while sitting in traffic!




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Speak Up!

I was encouraged to see a good-sized group of passengers at last night's public hearing, There were also a few non-riders who stood up to speak about the proposed changes. The majority opionion seemed to be in favor of increasing the fares without cutting services. Several passengers who work the late shift took time off from work to speak out against cutting CARTA's night bus. There were also a number of people standing up for bus 106, which is the only bus providing service to the riders in the Otranto/Hanahan/Stall road area. While all of the networks have aired stories about the hearings, I was disappointed that channel 4 was the only news station to actually send a crew to report on them. (maybe since tonight is the last hearing they'll all be there?)

There's still time to voice your opinion if you didn't  make it to one of the public hearings, and couldn't get your hands on a paper survey. Take the online survey here survey, or go to CARTA's website to find the link. You can also email CARTA at askcarta@ridecarta.com or Peter Tecklenburg, transportation planner at ptecklenburg@ridecarta.com. Speak up, voice your opinion, let CARTA know how you feel about the proposed changes. Don't just assume it's a done deal, or that your voice doesn't count. If you don't participate in the process, you shouldn't complain about the outcome!

For myself, I would prefer to see a fare increase with no services cut. Yes, some of the routes need to be adjusted, maybe combined or changes made to the stops. But I would hate to see CARTA @ Night, Sunday services, or route 106 completely eliminated as so many people rely on them. I think increasing the cost of a transfer to fifty-cents would be a good option as well. What's your opinion? Speak up by commenting here, taking the survey online, or contacting CARTA at one of the above email addresses. If you're a CARTA passenger or just somebody interested in the future of public tranportation here in Charleston, then please speak up!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Another Sign and a Reminder...

I did finally spot an announcement on bus  #10 Saturday night, along with some surveys. It's about time, since this is the busiest route they have in terms of ridership! As a reminder, the last two public hearings on proposed changes to the fare structure and/or routes are this week:

Monday, 8/09/10 - N. Charleston City Hall, 2nd FLoor Montague Room 2500 City Hall Lane, N. Charleston, SC 5:30pm-7:30pm

Tuesday 8/10/10 - Lonnie Hamilton III Public Service Building Council Chambers, 4045 Bridge View Drive N. Charleston, SC  5:30-7:30 pm

Both meetings are accessible by bus, and I'll be attending tonight's meeting which is conveniently taking place near my job. It will be interesting to see who's there representing CARTA and Veolia, as well as how many people come to voice their opinion. A fellow passenger told me he doesn't see the point, because he feels CARTA has already made up their minds as to what they're going to do, the surveys and meetings are just a show. My feeling is that if you don't fill out a survey, email CARTA, go to the public hearings or board meetings, or do SOMETHING to participate in the process,  then you don't have room to complain about the changes! If I'm going to gripe about what's wrong with the system, then I need to take action to try to fix it. I also make a point to let CARTA know when something is going well, or when someone has provided good customer service.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lack of Public Transportation a Factor in Obesity Rates?

Check out this great blog post on the  unexpected benefits of public transportation which cites the CDC's list including a LACK of public transportation as a contributing factor in higher obesity rates.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

CARTA Surveys and Public Hearings

CARTA is seeking public feedback on proposed recommendations that were presented at their July Board meeting to make up for a 1.4 million decrease in 1/2 cent sales tax funds from Charleston County. The link for the online survey is available on the website CARTA . (Because I've already done the online survey I get a thank you message whenever I click on the link so I can't post it here.)
CARTA will be holding three public hearings to for input on potential changes in service and fare increases at the following time/date/locations:
 
*5:30pm-7:30pm-Thursday 8/05/10 - Charleston County Main Public Library, Auditorium 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC
 
*5:30pm-7:30pm-Monday 8/09/10 - N. Charleston City Hall, 2nd Floor Montague Room 2500 City Hall Lane, N. Charleston, SC
 
*5:30pm-7:30pm-Tuesday 8/10/10 - Lonnie Hamilton III Public Service Building Council Chambers, 4045 Bridge View Drive N. Charleston, SC
 
The proposed changes are as follows:
 
*Fare increase to $1.75 and a 16% fare increase on passes ONLY.
*Fare increase along with eliminating Route 106 and all CARTA @ Night services
*Elimination of CARTA @ Night services only
*Elimination of all Sunday services only
*Elimination of all Sunday service AND fare increase
*Elimination of part of Sunday service AND fare increase.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Here's Your Sign!

Several weeks ago, before my netbook went on the fritz, passengers in the Greenridge Road area were still dealing with not knowing when or if bus 12 would actually pick us up at Dial America. That Thursday I headed down to cross Rivers Avenue where I catch bus 10 instead. I passed  in front of the bench at the bus 12 stop and told the young man sitting there that the bus wasn't coming (I had just watched bus 12 pass by on Rivers as I approached the stop), and he needed to head across the road to get bus 10 to Kmart in order to catch the next bus 12. Needless to say he wasn't happy as he was headed to Dorchester Road for a job interview. While we waited for our bus I spotted yet another passenger sitting on the bench waiting for a bus that wasn't coming.

Imagine my surprise the very next day when I approached the stop and saw this unofficial-looking, unsigned notice posted on the bus sign. Hmmm...no letterhead, no signature. It didn't say whether Veolia or CARTA posted the sign. Just stated that due to road construction the stop was not in service, but there would be a temporary stop on Rivers Avenue in front of the Camping Store for buses 10, 12, and 106. Oh, and they did apologize for any inconvenience.

Call me a skeptic, but as I looked behind me at Greenridge Road, where there was NO roadwork going on, I shrugged and kept walking to the stop across the highway for bus 10. Once I boarded I asked the driver to confirm if the sign was legitimate. He agreed that it was, buses 12 and 106 were supposed to pick up in front of the Camping Store. When I advised him the sign included bus 10 he got on the radio to the dispatcher - and chaos ensued for about 20 minutes, as all of the drivers for the three routes proceeded to call in and ask dispatch to repeat the information. Quite a while later one of the drivers called in to advise that there was no sign in front of the Camping Store. Ummm....considering the number of permanent stops with no, or incorrect signs, did he really think they would post a sign for a temporary stop?!

It took more than two months for CARTA to finally post some type of notice, and to set up a temporary stop for the passengers who live, work, and go to school on Greenridge Road. The kicker? When I came home from work that same night the sign was gone, and buses 12 and 106 seem to be picking up consistently from Dial America ever since! For myself, I don't trust them.  I continue to cross eight lanes of traffic each morning, in order to make sure I actually have a dependable ride to work. All I can say is, "Here's your sign!"

Friday, July 16, 2010

TriCounty Link.....

TriCounty Link is one of the best-kept secrets in the Charleston area. According to a recent article in the Post and Courier, the S.C. Department of Transportation recently named TriCounty Link the Best Rural Public Transportation Provider of 2010 in the state. While the services are limited, they are important, particularly for those living in places such as Moncks Corner, Ridgeville and other rural locations. Take a look at the route maps to see what areas they cover, you'll be surprised at where public transportation is actually available!  TriCounty Link services Dorchester and Berkeley Counties, and has a partnership with CARTA to allow passengers to use the transfer from either service to go connect with and ride between the two, making Charleston accessible to these rural areas.

 I took advantage of this service last summer, using a CARTA transfer (only twenty-five cents) to ride a Tricounty Link bus to Moncks Corner. The smaller buses are clean and very comfortable, the drivers and office staff friendly and helpful. The biggest downside I found to the service was the limited availability, I was stranded in Moncks Corner for about four hours because they only run during rush hours in the morning and afternoon. Fortunately I was within walking distance to the main office, and a customer service rep invited me to come wait in their lobby until the buses started running again. After finding a Subway for lunch I took her up on the offer, arriving at the terminal moments before a huge thunderstorm hit. While getting to and from Moncks Corner for a traffic ticket was an all day affair, at least it was doable!

According to the research I've done TriCounty Link has some innovative approaches to service, things like Link to Lunch in Moncks Corner which provides free shuttle service between businesses and restaurants at lunch time. They've also recently added Wi-Fi access to some of the buses. I like the fact they are a Flag Stop service, so you can wave them down anywhere along the route. Bus passes are available to purchase on the buses themselves, so you don't have to make an extra trip when your pass expires. The article talks about their growth being slow and methodical, yet their ridership increased thirty-nine percent between July 2009 and March of this year. It also points out how well TriCounty Link makes the most of limited funding. While there is a huge difference in the size of the companies and the services being provided, maybe CARTA should consult TriCounty Link for ways to improve their services as well as stretching their funds!



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Charleston Farmer's Market

At least two Saturdays a month I head out to the Charleston Farmer's Market on Marion Square. It's one of my favorite things to do, I love the downtown area, and the Farmer's Market is filled with great local produce, meat, eggs, milk, specialty items, cooked foods and artwork. It's usually packed with people as well, so the earlier you get their the better. The locally raised chicken from Chucktown Chicken and the  raw milk and farm fresh eggs from the Green Grocer sell out fast. It's easy to get to the market from North Charleston, as bus 10 runs all the way down to Meeting and Mary, and it's just a short walk to the market. The CARTA superstop at Meeting and Mary is a central stop for a number of buses from different areas, which means you don't necessarily have to live downtown to be able to shop at the market. It does take some time and planning, but being able to purchase locally grown food can't be beat! Not only is it healthier for you, you're supporting local farmers and reducing your carbon footprint even more by not purchasing food that's been shipped across the country - or internationally! I recently broke down and spent $20 at Walgreens to buy a small, collapsible shopping cart because using my rolling backpack wasn't working out well. I also have a large insulated bag that I fill with my icepacks. That way my milk, eggs and chicken make the trip home without spoiling in the heat. I would purchase more on each trip if I didn't have to worry about how much weight I'm toting, but it is what it is. Depending on what I need to purchase I spend anywhere from $15-$50 on food that lasts me two weeks or more. (keep in mind I'm feeding just one person).

Friday, July 9, 2010

North Charleston Rail Plan

I won't go into all the details here, but Mayor Keith Summey has announced an agreement between the City of North Charleston, CSX Transportation and Shipyard Creek Assoc. You can see the story here North Charleston Rail Plan. The big thing that caught my eye was the following point in the agreement:

"Potential for a greenway for pedestrian and bicycle connection to Downtown Charleston"

Really?! How awesome would it be to have a greenway running from Park Circle in North Charleston, all the way to downtown Charleston ?!

Of course the whole plan is contingent on finding the funding for the project, so it may all come to naught. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Magic Bikes?!

Wow, this is a cool concept I just came across via another blog, light rail blogger. Community bikes available at stations around the city,  bcycle is currently up and running in Denver, Colorado. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Back on the Merry-Go-Round...

Here we go with the on-again/off-again schedule for bus 12. While I was assured at the CARTA board meeting that the issues with Roadwise (the road construction company) had been resolved, apparently that isn't the case. Roadwise is keeping at least one lane open, and that worked fine Monday through Thursday of last week. Friday the bus was running late, then I saw it coming up Rivers Avenue instead of down Greenridge from Antler. On the plus side the driver is one of those great ones who actually get to know their passengers, and provide exemplary customer service. She spotted me standing at my usual stop and pulled over in front of Arby's to wait.


Saturday's weather was so incredible I decided to walk to the mall. At Dial America waiting for bus 12 was an extremely unhappy family. Mom, Grandma, Dad (who is disabled) and two toddlers in a stroller. I hated to be the one to tell them the bus might not be coming. They told me they had waited over an hour because the first time they called customer care they were told that the bus was at Kmart, and would be there shortly. On their second call because the bus passed by via Rivers Avenue, they were promised the next bus would be coming from Kmart via Antler then down Greenridge to Dial America. I decided to wait since I wasn't on a time schedule, and called customer service myself. My favorite twelve-year-old answered the phone, and advised me that she had already told a previous caller that bus 12 was coming down Greenridge. And it did, much to my surprise!


Bright and early Tuesday I headed out for the stop across Rivers Avenue in the hopes of catching bus 12 going to Kmart, rather than taking my chances on whether it was coming to Dial America. I was too late but caught bus 106 back to the mall in order to jump on bus 10. I got to work later than usual this way, but still on time. Got to ride with one of my favorite drivers, Mr Paul, who was my first driver on bus 104 in Park Circle, and who sets the bar high for all other drivers. He and Ms. Linda are my two favorite drivers.


In talking to the drivers on all the different buses I've ridden this past week, as well as the passengers, I have found once again that CARTA/Veolia is the mecca of miscommunication. The morning dispatcher and supervisor are advising NO buses are to run on Greenridge Road in either direction. In the afternoon the drivers are being told that there is nothing to advise of this in writing, so they ARE supposed to take Antler to Greenridge and stop at Dial America. Because I sit up front I can hear the driver's and dispatcher's frustration as passengers are calling in, and drivers are reporting passengers waiting expectantly at a stop, or chasing them down on Rivers Avenue.


Again the questions are raised, "Why has no notification been given to the passengers about the stop changes?", "How hard is it to post notices on the buses, or to put up a sign at the stop?" and, "Who, if anybody is representing the passengers in all this?" There seem to be no answers forthcoming, the drivers are just as frustrated and confused as the passengers, and the customer service reps and dispatchers are getting dumped on, as I'm sure are the supervisors. I'm going to start another round of emails to CARTA and Veolia officials to see if anybody has a solution. I pointed out at the CARTA board meeting that the road construction will be going on for months and an alternate stop should be set up to prevent continuing issues. Obviously the suggestion wasn't acted on!

Update on the FRAC meeting...

Well the FRAC meeting was interesting, if a bit disappointing. There were two other interested people, John and his son Jack. John is avidly anti-automobile and anti-oil dependence. His son Jack is a college student who gets around by bicycle. (I was impressed that Jack, unlike many bicyclists in Charleston actually wears a helmet!) John made a point of ribbing Peter Tecklenberg because he drove the three blocks or so from the office to the meeting at the library. John also stated he has been to the mecca of public transportation known as Portland, Oregon and described getting info from google maps on where and when the next bus was coming that would get him to his desired destination.  The primary discussion was around how to make up the $1.4 million shortfall caused by a drop in the sales tax due to the economy. It looks like the options most likely to be enacted will be a cut in services. Route 106 most likely will be on the chopping block due to low ridership, though someone apparently has started a petition and has gotten over 300 signatures. I was really disappointed that there was such a low turnout, but since the meetings aren't really publicized I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Monday, June 28, 2010

FRAC Meeting Tomorrow....

On Tuesday June 29th at 5:30pm at the Charleston County Library (Main Branch – Calhoun St) the CARTA Fixed Route Advisory Committee (FRAC) will be meeting

What is FRAC?


The FRAC (Fixed Route Advisory Committee) meetings are intended to seek feedback from members of the community who are particularly interested in transit-related issues. They are informal and open to whoever would like to attend. Meetings are slated monthly.

The meetings are led by a CARTA representative, but the topics of discussion are almost entirely determined by committee members. Minutes aren’t taken; only informal notes that are acted upon, as appropriate, and reported on at the next meeting. Committee members do not have formal responsibilities. Again, the hope with this committee is to open a dialogue between riders, CARTA, and any other interested citizens. We need ideas and suggestions to meet the transportation needs of the communities we serve—basically, we need people who can be our “eyes and ears”…to tell us when something needs to change, or when something is really working well!

If you would like to be a FRAC member and advise us about how to make the bus system work better for riders, please send an email to ptecklenburg@ridecarta.com, with a subject line of FRAC, and your contact information, and someone will be in touch with you soon.

I was able to get some time off tomorrow for this meeting, will post the results in the next few days!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Carfree Under the Hot, Southern Sun...

Victoria, in her blog Smaller Living posted about trying to go carfree or at least carlite in Phoenix, Az and how the combination of summer heat and pollution in her area forced her into driving five months out of the year.  Oh, how I can relate! Fortunately here in Charleston smog is not an issue - instead we have the high humidity adding to the blistering temps, putting the heat index over one-hundred degrees on a regular basis. Just as our winter was colder than normal this year, we've hit the triple-digits earlier than usual. This is my second summer of walking and relying on public transportation, so I've learned a few tricks to deal with being carfree during Charleston's hottest months.


My work mornings start off with packing my food and snacks for the day in a large insulated lunch bag. I include several reusable icepacks purchased at Walmart last summer, for ninety four cents each. Talk about a great investment! The lunch bag came from my employer, one of the goodies they gave everyone for reaching some kind of goal. My stainless steel water bottle, filled halfway and stuck in the freezer the night before gets topped off,  and goes in the bag as well if there's room. Otherwise it goes in one of the pockets of my rolling backpack while the lunch bag goes in the main compartment.  I pack a complete change of clothes in the rolling backpack, as my outfits for walking and riding the bus are far from the business casual wear required by my employer!


Getting dressed for the day begins with a good layer of sunscreen as I'm already quite well -tanned. I skip the blow-dryer and makeup after my shower. Between the humidity and the sweat both are a wasted effort. My hat flattens my hair anyway. I have two primary outfits I tend to rotate, because they're so perfect for my needs. A pair of cotton gauze capris with a matching camisole made of organic cotton, layered over a cotton sports bra. Socks are either cotton or bamboo. Footware is one of two great pairs of athletic shoes that I alternate. One is well-cushioned while the other is designed for moderate support. The shoes don't help with the heat, but are essential for lots of walking! And of course this is all topped off with the hat pictured above.


When I walk I try to avoid the road, parking lots, and sidewalks. Walking on grass or even dirt is preferable to concrete, asphalt, or even worse a black-topped parking lot. Not only is it cooler, but it's easier on my heels and knees. Whenever possible I try to walk on the shadier side of the street. Of course it's always safety first, so sometimes I have to pass up the cooler, easier options to make sure I don't trip and fall or get hit by a car.


At work I have a luxury not everyone has, a fitness center with a locker room that includes showers and blow dryers. While I don't usually need the shower, they provide a nice place to change into a dry, more professional looking outfit. And I do mean a complete change of clothes, as every article is quite damp by the time I make it to work. As I arrive almost an hour early most days, I have plenty of time to blow dry my hair and apply makeup if I have an urge to do so. A second application of deodorant is also a must!


My rolling backpack has been a godsend, and the best thirty dollars I've ever invested! In addition to my food and clothes it's stuffed with what I need to get through a day away from home. An absolute must is my glucose meter and tablets, and cell phone. Other items I might need on my travels include allergy eye drops, ibuprofen, bus schedules, my digital camera, extra deodorant, folding umbrella, sunblock, and a small bottle of bug repellent. I also pack a small bag of cosmetic items and a hairbrush. Sometimes I toss in my netbook. Everything I pack is based on where I'm going, what I will need while I'm gone, and what I may need in an unexpected situation. The other consideration is weight. Sample size bottles or little baggies rule! I jazzed up the bag with some matching stick-on reflectors from the automotive section,  that cost less than two dollars each. While the primary objective was safety at night, I like the fact they match the colors of my bag!


If it sounds complicated and like a lot of effort, actually it isn't. Most of my travel items stay in my bag or are packed in a smaller bag I can switch into a purse or tote bag if I chose to. I do get some looks and questions about the rolling backpack. Between a herniated disc in my lower back, and some upper back issues from the car accident, I try to avoid carrying too much weight. Even a heavily packed purse is too much when I'm out hiking around town and climbing the steps to the bus. I popped my backpack on a scale we have at work once when it was fully packed, it was around twenty pounds - imagine toting that on your back, or hanging from your shoulder when walking half a mile or further between destinations!


There's no doubt in my mind that Victoria's decision to purchase another vehicle in order to make it through the summer makes absolute sense, especially with the smog issue.  I'm not in a position to do the same, but I have found some ways to deal with the challenges that come with summertime here in Charleston. And I have to stress, when going carfree in Charleston, one must always have a backup plan - along with plans B and C, and sometimes even a plan D. When something goes wrong, as it often does, being flexible and prepared help keep anxiety and frustration from soaring along with the temps!