The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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Archive for July, 2008

HYPERMILING: How A Blimp Can Save You Gas

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

OK, it’s a stretch, but if you’ve ever wondered what a blimp has to do with one of the tenets of hypermiling (And who hasn’t?) READ ON.


HYPERMILING: Time V Money, Who Wins?

Monday, July 28th, 2008

I had to make a 400-mile round trip journey this weekend, and I’ll admit it. I hypomiled it.

Staring at a three-hour chug, I couldn’t convince myself to drive 60 the entire way. The speed limit (For cars) was 70 a good bit of the way anyways.

I’ve already incriminated myself enough on this blog, so I’ll just say I did what people do when they have long road trips and free flowing traffic. Yes, I turned the radio up.

I also got thinking about the age-old struggle, so perfectly summed up by Pink Floyd, between time and money.

Get there fast and burn money/gas, or take your time and save some coin (and maybe a speeding ticket.)?

Mathematics, my old nemesis, is making an encore. If you drive 200 miles each way, the trip out would take 2 hours 51 minutes at 70 mph. At 60 mph, the same trip takes 3 hours 20 minutes.

The EPA cites a 1999 study that claims every mile per hour over 60 is like adding $0.30 to every gallon of gas. So is the cost worth the time? In my rush to get to my destination, no, it wasn’t.

But what about your morning commute? We’ve all seen, or been, those people rushing down the interstate at  or north of 70 mph.

Let’s say your commute is 20 miles to work. The same speeds result in times of 17 or 20 minutes, respectively.

Driving faster in this case is a much harder sell. Yes, you could argue that over the course of a year (50 weeks, 5 days a week, twice a day) that extra three minutes each way adds up to 25 hours to your commute. But is leaving three minutes early really that bad? If you’re at work right now, and you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already wasted three minutes.

I can’t seem to find it, but I recall reading one debate (I’ll use loose judgment and call forum flame wars "debate".) about lowering speed limits to 55 mph that focused on saving money versus longer drive times.

When people ask me if I’ll keep hypermiling after I’m done with the project for the blog, I break it down this way.

If I’m driving to California for vacation, I’ve only got so much time for vacation, and I want it to be spent sitting on the beach, not I-5. In that case, if I’ve got the money to spare, hypermiling is probably out.

But every day (Where I rack up the most miles) when I drag myself into the office, I can afford to take an extra couple minutes. I can use the money for my next road trip.

(PS: Before I left on vacation, I filled up again. Even with a fair portion of the tank being non-hypermiled, frantic, Seattle-ized, get to the airport fast driving, I got 33.7 mpg. The nearly all-highway tank for the weekend road trip was 34 mph. Imagine if I’d gone 60 how high the number could be, remembering that my COMBINED mileage on the first tank was 36 mpg.)


Gregoire: Higher Fares Not the Answer

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

A story in the Sequim Gazette today quotes Gov. Christine Gregoire as saying ferry fares can’t keep going up. She was speaking Monday to the Clallam County Democratic Club at the John Wayne Marina.

“Raising ferry fares is not an option because that just reduces ridership which reduces revenue. You never can raise ferry fares enough to be a long-term funding source,” she said.

She said the ferry system was “devastated” by the passage of Initiative 695, and that it hasn’t had a business plan for retiring old ferries and replacing them with new ones.
In November 1999, state voters approved Initiative 695 that eliminated the 2.2 percent excise on motor vehicles that provided as much as $52 million, or 23 percent, of the system’s revenue.

Between 2001 and 2006, fares increased 62 percent while ridership dropped by 11 percent, or three million fewer vehicles and passengers. The fare increase was more like 80 percent on Kitsap routes.

For the full story, go here.


No Criminals Caught on Ferries Yet

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

The State Patrol’s new Automatic License Plate Recognition System hasn’t detected any criminals yet as they drive on the ferries in Seattle and Bainbridge Island. The system, which went live on  July 16, takes a picture of every car boarding the ferry and runs it though an FBI criminal database. A siren will sound if the car is stolen, has an Amber Alert on it, if its owner is wanted for a serious crime or if the license is connected with a known or suspected terrorist.

There was only one “hit” in the first five days, and that was a mis-read, said State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Trent Cain. That’s a good sign because as much as the troopers want to catch bad guys, an even higher priority is keeping them off the ferries so customers and employees are safe.

If they’re being chased to the highway, there are plenty of law enforcement officers there who can catch them, too, Cain said.


HYPERMILING: On Vacation.

Friday, July 18th, 2008

I’ll be hypermiling my way to Bellingham tonight for a conference over the weekend, and then I’m on vacation next week. Unless Ed decides to hypermile next week (Hint, hint, Ed…I know you want to keep the blog going…), there won’t be any entries from me.


HYPERMILING: Less Gas = Less $$$, And Hybrid vs Diesel – FIGHT!

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

I went off and saved all that money on gas, so am I supposed to feel guilty now?

Apparently with people driving less, the state is worried that decreased fuel consumption means less gas-tax revenue for road works.

At first blush, sure, it seems like it could be a problem – and I’m no expert so I’ll say it could be.

But isn’t there another side? If people aren’t using roadways as much, shouldn’t there be a corresponding decrease in demand? Which would mean maybe we won’t need (at least as quickly) those costly road improvements?

This is obviously more complicated that I’ve mentioned here – and clearly isn’t something I’m an expert it – but it should be something worth keeping an eye on.

Speaking of saving fuel, which one do you think will get to San Francisco on one tank: A Toyota Prius or Volkswagen Jetta TDI (The D=diesel)

Let the “yeah, but” smackdowns begin. Or continue, really.

This whole dog and pony show is a stunt by Auburn Volkswagen with the intent, I’m assuming, to not sell more Priuses. Priui? Prii? (Plural of Prius, anyone?)

This adds a new dimension to the Interweb fights that usually ensue when you bookend “vs” with two car models in Google. (Try THIS ONE.)

While the example above has little to do with fuel efficiency, the Prius/TDI thing has been done before.

Not to be left out of the current debate, some Prius fan boys and girls get their say, too.

What this really means is that the Prius and TDI drivers have no right to complain if they hit a rough patch of road along Washington state highways.


HYPERMILING: More On Efficient Tires

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Have you figured out yet that proper tire inflation is kind of an important element in this hypermiling journey?

I wasn’t aware of this, but hybrids usually come with low-rolling resistance tires.

Today, the Detroit News has a story about them.

Basically, the less flex and friction a tire causes, the more efficient it is, leading to better MPGs. (Also worse braking and off road performance.)

It makes sense. I’m into mountain biking, and rolling resistance along with tread pattern is a big concern when deciding what rubber to put on your hoops. If you’ve ever ridden a knobby-hoofed mountain bike on the street, versus one with slick tires, you know all about what rolling resistance does to efficiency.

And even if you won’t cough up the extra dough for low-rolling resistance tires, and can’t seem to find the time to keep your current tires inflated, you can always hope for some tweels.


HYPERMILING: How’d I Get 36 MPG?

Monday, July 14th, 2008

So, I bet you’re wondering how I got 36 miles per gallon out of my trusty steed?

First, let me get something off my chest. I broke a promise.

Remember when I started this whole thing I mentioned not doing anything crazy or illegal?

I might have fudged a little on the second part…specifically the issue of coasting downhill in neutral.

Though, the legal cosmos are more than balanced because I rarely eclipsed the speed limit, which usually amounted to no more than five over. I went 65 on the highway once, but that was to pass an erratically driven truck.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating people break traffic laws, but my rationalization went something like this: What’s worse, knowing you’ve broken the law by driving 5 or 10 mph over the speed limit, or coasting down a few hills?

Plus, the allure of saving money when everything seems to get more expensive by the day was too much to ignore.

In fact, I got even more curious about the law prohibiting coasting in neutral. It was passed in 1965, and has never been amended. Jerry Sheehan, the director of the Legislative Information Center, was kind enough to see if his folks could dig up any info on why and how this law came to be. It’s so old, there might not be anything out there, but you never know.

Enough about that.

Now, for the other ways I saved:

Slow down. Go the speed limit.

Fill your tires. I filled my tires to 35 psi, the max sidewall recommendation. And check them! (I’ve noticed my front right tire deflates faster than the others.)

Keep the revs low. Here’s where I have an advantage with the 6-speed manual. I’ve tried really hard to keep the revs around 2,000. That’s a far cry from the banshee wail of my engine in second gear ripping up to 60 at 8,300 rpm on freeway onramps. (Anybody whose driven a car – Vibe GT, Matrix and Corolla XRS, Celica – with my engine knows what I’m talking about.)

Time the traffic lights. This is a big one that I never thought about before: Don’t speed up to stoplights. Meaning, keep an eye out waaaay ahead. If the light’s yellow, red, or has been green a long time, gradually slow down. Often times you won’t even have to stop at the light because it’ll turn green by the time you get there.

Take all the extra junk out of your car. (For me, it was mostly garbage and my golf clubs.)

Don’t run the A/C. Yes, it was hot, but I lived.


Happier Beginning Coming for Highway 16

Monday, July 14th, 2008

A project is going to ad this week that, when done, should make getting onto Highway 16 from I-5 in Tacoma much less scary. Right now, there are more accidents there than anywhere in the state, according to the Department of Transportation.
The problem is there’s a whole lot of merging going oin there. Traffic that has just gotten on to Highway 16 from northbound I-5 have to immediately merge to the left while some vehicles in left lane coming from are trying to get to the right so they can exit at Sprague Avenue.
The Department of Transportation is calling it the I-5/SR 16: Westbound Nalley Valley project. It’s the first part of a multi-year, three-project effort to build a better Nalley Valley Viaduct.
Crews will build dedicated ramps for the various traffic movements that take place between northbound and southbound I-5, westbound SR 16 and Sprague Avenue. A computer-enhanced photo here shows how the the viaduct will look after the first project is completed.
It will be followed by two other Nalley Valley projects — building a new eastbound viaduct (and demolishing the existing viaduct); and building HOV connections between I-5 and the Highway 16 HOV lanes.


Fewer Drivers on State Roads Over the Fourth

Monday, July 14th, 2008

A lot of people must’ve stayed real close to home dodging the neighbors’ bottle rockets and listening to window-rumbling M-80s over the three-day Fourth of July weekend.
We’ve all heard that airlines are cutting flights and raising fares, so it would be expected that the number of long trips would be down. People are supposedly taking shorter trips, enjoying their own state. But with gas prices the way they are, maybe it’s more like they’re enjoying their own county.
More people stayed home over the Fourth than usual, according to the Department of Transportation. Traffic counters recorded 6.2 percent fewer vehicles going over Snoqualmie Pass than in 2003 between Thursday and Sunday. Why they compared it to 2003 instead of, say, 2007, I don’t know. Technical gremlins kept them from getting the Stevens Pass numbers.