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The Car-less Lifestyle in San Diego

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

(Photo: Ramie Tateishi is living a car-less lifestyle in San Diego. Andrew Phelps/KPBS. )

Imagine a San Diego without cars. Experts say San Diegans drive more than the rest of Californians. At least half of all greenhouse gases here come from transportation.

One man is trying to reduce his carbon footprint. He's giving up the Southern California lifestyle. As part of our special series on global warming, KPBS reporter Andrew Phelps meets someone who lives a carless existence.

I meet Ramie Tateishi at a bus stop in University City at 6:20 a.m. That's when he rides into work at UCSD every morning. Ramie has been car-free for five months.

Tateishi : I had a car and it just broke down. It was a very old car. 21 years old. It finally broke down.

For the record, a 1985 Toyota Cressida.

Ramie is not an environmentalist, and he's not trying to make a statement. He just wants to see how long he can last on his feet.

Just for fun, Ramie's wearing a pedometer today -- a little gadget that counts his steps.

Tateishi : So far, from my door to the bus stop, has been 533 steps.

By many estimates, the average American takes some 5,000 steps a day.

Tateishi : My day hasn't even really started yet. It's about to start as I step on the bus.

This bus is powered by compressed natural gas. CNG is exponentially cleaner than diesel. So Ramie's carbon footprint is still virtually zero.

Ramie does walk wherever he can, and along the way, he's building social capital.

Tateishi : You know, you see your neighbors walking to and from the store, or even just around the neighborhood. People walking their dogs. And just get to know these people better because you start to see them every day as part of your daily routine.

Sure, more walking is good. But San Diego is a big place and you can't walk everywhere. Ramie loves to eat out. That's harder to do without a car. So more trips to the grocery store, but even that requires careful planning.

Tateishi : I'm limited to what I can carry in one bag. I think I don't buy as much junk food as I used to because I know that I've gotta stick to just the essentials.

Let's say good-bye to Ramie for now. We'll check in with him later.

Meet a man who commends this carless experiment. Mike Stepner is a long-time urban planner in San Diego and he says this town is not very “walkable.”

Stepner : You can do all sorts of surveys, and people keep saying they would want more walkable communities. They want to be able to walk to the store, or walk to school. And I think if we designed our neighborhoods as such, people wouldn't feel that they need the car for everything.

Stepner thinks cars will never go away -- we'll just find ways to use them less.

::phone ringing::

 

Hang on, Ramie's calling to give us an update.

Tateishi : Hi, I'm checking in here. It's about 12:43 in the afternoon, and according to my pedometer, I've taken 6,396 steps.

By midday Ramie has blown past the national average of 5,000 steps. Let's get a sense of what kind of environmental difference he's making. Here's Andrew McAllister, an emissions expert at San Diego's Regional Energy Office.

McAllister : In one gallon of gasoline there are about five-and-a-half pounds of carbon molecules bound up in that hydrocarbon fuel. And when you burn them in an engine, you emit CO2. So you take those carbons, put a couple oxygens on, and you get about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

So he says the typical car produces about three to four times its weight in carbon each year. It turns out Ramie's old '85 Cressida produces, on average, eight-and-a-half tons of carbon a year.

McAllister says Ramie is making a difference, but--

McAllister : If Ramie does it and he's the only one then that's a miniscule percentage of the problem being solved. I mean, more power to him, in my opinion. But if all of us take some signal and we don't go as far as him and relinquish our cars, but we get a car that gets double the gas mileage or we drive a little bit less, I think that would make a huge difference.

Meanwhile, Ramie is done at work. He couldn't catch a ride home, so he's back on the bus.

Tateishi : Okay, it's the end of my day here, it's 4:30, and according to my pedometer, I've now taken 9,417 steps, which is quite a revelation for me. If you had asked me at the beginning of the day to estimate how many steps I would have taken, I wouldn't have thought it would be this many, so that's great news for me.

Climate change is a global problem and Ramie Tateishi is just one San Diegan. But a climate for change has to start somewhere.

Andrew Phelps, KPBS News.

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