Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The Boston commuter rail stops in Franklin. It's about 15-20 minutes from here and takes a little over an hour to get to South Station. I like taking the train, because I can sit an work for most of my commute. Taking the train nearly doubles the time it takes to get to work, though, so it doesn't buy me any extra productivity beyond the fact that I often just work well on the train some days. I think there are fewer distractions.

The big north east cities seem to all have a commuter rail system that is separate from the subway lines. I can only speak of Boston, NY, and Philly from experience. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area do not. The rail systems there double as commuter rail and subway, and do neither particularly well. The difference, I'm told, is that there used to be factories in the towns surrounding Boston which built railways to carry goods into the city and the port. Years later, the MBTA uses some of these lines to ferry workers from the same little towns into Boston.

We're pretty far out here in Hopedale, by Boston commuter standards, but not absurdly so. My drive time is under an hour if I avoid peak times. It's not something I'd want to do more that half the time, but it's nothing compared to hat people in the Bay Area endure.

What annoys me is that the MBTA doesn't come here. Hopedale and Milford (about 100yds from here) both had factories back in the day and the rail right of ways and most of the track still exists. It would be an easy thing (relative to laying new track somewhere) to extend the Franklin line into downtown Milford or Hopedale.

They did a feasibility survey a few years back and concluded that there are not enough riders. Come on! Have a little foresight, please. Milford is one of the bigger towns around and already has a pretty dense downtown just blocks from the old depot. Hopedale is tiny, but the regional hospital is about a 1/2 mile from the old depot and the Draper Factory is standing vacant looking for a reason to be re-purposed.

An MBTA stop may be too much for Hopedale, but it would be great for Milford. The way things are right now, it's hard to live in this area without a car for every adult. There aren't tons of jobs downtown. Most companies are in office parks off of 495. The same is true of most retail. In contrast, the residences downtown are pretty dense. So residents there get all the claustrophobia of a downtown with few of the conveniences.

If Milford gets a rail line, it can take advantage of its density. If not, it will likely continue to grow just in the suburban areas. There are the areas that are being hardest hit by the housing crunch. Meanwhile stuff near downtowns has not crashed the same way. Even in Hopedale, the downtown duplexes are still holding most of their value.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hybrid selection

I heard an interview with a car salesman who talked about people coming into showrooms asking about hybrids, but leaving with a conventional vehicle when they learn about the price difference. This seems to be the conventional wisdom: consumers want to feel good about what they buy as long as it doesn't cost much extra.

I'm not disagreeing with this in general, I think it's true to some degree. But I believe it's an oversimplification and a cop out for producers. We bought 2 new cars in the last year. (I know, not very green of us.) Sure enough, both times we went in looking at hybrids.

The first time we went shopping, we were looking for a vehicle that could hold us, 1-2 kids and some number of dogs comfortably. We loved our Matrix, but we had out grown it and were about to drive across the country. We looked at the Prius, but it didn't offer much over the matrix in ability to get car seats in. We also looked at the Highlander hybrid, but it's much bigger than we needed. We settled on the mazda5. It's a cool little car. Not much bigger than the Matrix (a foot longer and an inch narrower), it has 3 rows of seats and sliding rear doors. Exactly the car we needed and nobody else makes anything close to it. Forget about finding anything that size in a hybrid.

Once we got here and settled, it became clear that we needed a commuter car. The mazda gets much better mileage than any minivan (because it's much smaller), but not what I wanted to commute in. The Prius was higher on the list this time, but still, a much bigger car than we wanted. We went to a Honda dealer to look at the civic hybrid, but this is also a large vehicle these days. We left with a Fit. This is a great little car and still gets high 30s for highway mileage. Again, show me a small hybrid hatchback and I'd have bought it.

The problem is not that people won't spend a premium to get a hybrid. The problem is that people won't spend a premium to get a car they don't like. The Prius points to this. People who really care about fuel economy tend to think it's a cool design and it flew out of the dealerships.

A lot of our peers (young folks starting families) care about the environment but also don't care for traditional concepts of what a car should do. I consider a sedan a waste of space. With a smaller foot print, a hatchback can hold more stuff. Look at the newer car models of the last decade that aren't SUVs. When we bought our toyota echo 8 years ago, the small hatchbacks for sale were: the Golf, the Focus, and maybe the PT cruiser was out already. Now VW added the Rabbit, the Echo has been replaced by the Yaris which has a 3-door model, the scion comes in 2 flavors, the Aveo, the Aero (Suzuki), Kia has one, the Fit, the versa, the Matrix, and the crossover vehicle is huge now. The only hatchback hybrid is the Prius and it's aimed at the full size market.

Make a small hybrid hatchback and it will sell. Hell, Toyota has a Mazda5 size minivan in Japan. Put synergy in there and ship them to the US. They'll sell.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rain Water

We got a couple small puddles in the basement from this weekend's rain storm. It the second time in the last few weeks. In the back of the house, the rain coming down the rain spout from the roof doesn't quite make it over the crest of the hill and pools under the porch and seeps into the basement door.

One easy fix would be to fit a longer pipe to the bottom of the down spout to direct the water farther from the house. But at the point we're diverting rain water, how hard would it be to set up a rain barrel under the porch? There is plenty of room, and it would only take about 10 feet of pipes to get the water under there. Additionally, all but one of our non-lawn garden plots are downhill from the porch, so we wouldn't need a pump to use most of the water.

So add a rain barrel to the list of home improvements for this summer. I still have to insulate the attic and build some shelving in the basement. Also, the downstairs bathroom is functional at this point, but still need paint and a towel bar and some shelves/cabinets. I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Small Town

I took Christopher down to the library this afternoon and on our 4 block walk, we passed 3 groups of people. Everyone stopped to say hello. Even the mom parked in a car full of kids talking on her cell phone stopped long enough to say hi. It's really a nice feeling.

March started with a few inches of snow, but most of it melted within 12 hours. It's been pretty nice out for a couple days and Christopher just wants to run around out side. On our way back from the library we stopped for a wagon ride around the yard. He collapsed into a pile of tears when I told him it was time to go in.