Bumping the Back-up Plan: Making Walking and Biking Your Plan ‘A’

In my last post, I mentioned that a better future commute involves getting to work via transit, particularly light rail. While rail is a good solution for those living further out from the Central Business District (or from wherever their places of employment happen to be), others living near their jobs have an option that is not only less expensive than rail travel, but healthier.

Walking and biking to work has been shown to have tremendous benefits, particularly for a culture that’s growing ever more horizontal. According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, this type of physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and can also improve mental health, among other things.

Sure, there are many reasons why non-motorized transportation is impractical today in most places. For starters, our cities are designed around the almighty car—or more accurately, to accommodate large trucks and emergency vehicles at high speeds. As roads get wider to withstand the growth in vehicular traffic, they become less friendly to anyone unprotected by gobs of steel and sheet metal. Sidewalks have narrowed or disappeared altogether, and bike lanes have become the strip of pavement where we store our broken glass, random debris, and parked cars—that is, if a bike lane exists at all.

And, when the above is coupled with unpredictable weather patterns to contend with, it’s easy to say “forget it” and grab the keys. But when proper pedestrian and bike infrastructure are combined with bus and rail options in a comprehensive multi-modal transportation strategy, owning a car becomes not just unnecessary, but undesirable.

What about long-distance travel or other trips that simply are not feasible without a car? As part of a robust transportation plan, neighborhoods would include car-sharing programs that are easy and cheap to use, and car rental companies would realign their marketing and pricing strategies to embrace this new market. If cities were better designed to foster pedestrian/bike access, the costs of “using” a car would be significantly lower than owning one. According to The Auto Channel the average cost of ownership* for a typical mid-size sedan is over $35,000. Even if you used a Car2Go or ZipCar vehicle for one full day per week, as an example, you would spend less than half that amount in 5 years! If that’s not enough incentive, may I remind you of all the oil changes you could avoid, or the number of tires you’d never have to buy?

What might it take for you to consider walking or biking to work?

*The average cost of ownership is defined as the amount to cover depreciation, fees & taxes, financing, fuel, insurance, and repairs & maintenance during the first 5 years of ownership. This was calculated for 2010 model year Ford Fusion SE, Honda Accord LX, Toyota Camry LE, and Chevrolet Malibu LT vehicles.


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