A Real Auto Bailout: Escape Your Car

In the Wall Street Journal:

Last week, the auto industry finally got its bailout.

But is it time for Americans to rescue their own finances from their cars?

Families are now bracing for the mother of all recessions. They’re looking for every chance to save a dollar.

Forget lattes and store-brand cereal. If you really want to see where your money is going, take a closer look at your car. Foreign or domestic, it doesn’t matter. It’s a cash guzzler, and it is probably costing you more than anything else except your home.

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15 Responses to “A Real Auto Bailout: Escape Your Car”

  • Renaissance Bicycles says:

    In fact, I had a similar conversation with a fellow bike shop owner today …

    We agreed that $2000 could buy you a short-lived crappy car or an excellent long-term bicycle. Alas, this is not the mindset of the American consumer.

    Although the short-term outlook for the LBS is not too rosy, we can hope this economic “necessity” will lead to the “invention” of the Bicycle as Transportation Movement … because in some small ways, it already has.

    Bryan @ Renaissance Bicycles

  • Sean says:

    Hard times creating a few more commuter cyclists may be the recession’s silver lining, but for the trend to continue and for commuter cyclists to become a large, influential group, I think that something else has to happen as well: infrastructure. Cities, towns, and villages in the United States need to establish networks of dedicated, separated bicycle lanes and adequate bicycle parking facilities. Without these improvements, I think a majority of people won’t try cycling, and those that do may likely find it unpleasant and switch back to car commuting as they can afford to do so.

    I think it’s difficult to get this message across to elected officials; many who probably desire re-election and may be reluctant to agree to a “Field of Dreams” (“build it and they will come.”) strategy. I’m curious if other readers have persuasive strategies they’d like to share.

  • 2whls3spds says:

    Around here the “hard economic times” are leading to more and more mopeds and small scooters on the roads. Some of us continue to cycle our merry way along regardless. FWIW the small town we used to have a retail store in chose not to install any form of bike racks in the downtown area (supposedly because it would bring in the “wrong element”), but they did raze two derelict buildings to put in more car parking…American short sightedness at it’s best. However every day seems to bring news of yet another politician that “gets” it and is working for better pedestrian and cycling facilities. I think it will be a long time in coming to my small corner of the world.

    Aaron

  • Thomas Barone says:

    Sean,

    You are spot on !!!!

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Sean, I think a good way to convince city officials is to point at Portland and other places that have succeeded in increasing cycling.

    Also point out that cycling infrastructure is very cost-effective. Sometimes it’s not even really infrastructure the way many people think of it. It’s just a couple of bike racks, some painted lines on the street, or traffic calming like on the bike boulevards of Portland.

    For every parked bike, you reduce pressure on car parking and public transit.

  • brad says:

    It’s one thing to encourage cycling, and another to make it feasible for people to consider abandoning their cars altogether. That requires additional infrastructure in the form of convenient public transportation and the availability of auto-share or ubiquitous rental services.

    Like it or not, there are times when a car is the best tool for the job (and in many cases the only available tool). I’m planning to get rid of my car this spring, but the only reason I’m considering it is that a) there’s a bus stop at the end of my street, b) there’s a Communauto car-share location about a 10 minute walk from my house, c) my house is a few feet from the bike path, and d) my city has a good public transit system.

    During the 20 years I lived in suburban and rural New England, I would never have considered giving up my car. Well, I did live for a year in Concord, Massachusetts without a car, but there’s a train to Boston that stops in Concord (the same train that Thoreau used; the tracks run right past Walden Pond) and I could walk or bike to do my local shopping.

    I’m a bit nervous about my decision to sell my car as I know there are going to be times when I wish I’d kept it, but I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t have to deal with all the hassles and expense of maintenance and repair, and I’ll save tens of thousands of dollars in the long term. And it does seem awfully silly to own a car when it spends 97% of the time sitting out on the street doing nothing.

  • Ron Georg says:

    Howdy–

    While I enjoy bike paths well enough, it’s hard to imagine how they could be built to accomodate everyone, everywhere. My own neighborhood is fairly open, but there are no rights-of-way where a path could be installed. The issue is even more pronounced in cities, where the roads are often the only public spaces.

    I don’t oppose bike paths, but I have trouble supporting massive infrastructure projects before we’ve resolved the issues of cyclists’ rights to the road. We’ll always need to use roads, if only to get to the paths and parkways, so it’s counterproductive to suggest that we need paths because the roads aren’t a good option. Segregating cyclists only reinforces the statistically unsupportable assertion that cycling on the road is more dangerous than using bike paths.

    If I had the $3.8 million local bike path advocates recently spent on a pedestrian/bicycle bridge, I could establish an Office of Cycling Rights and Responsibilities (and Joy) to educate everyone from kids to cops. Unfortunately, while people recognize the problem, they only seem to understand engineering solutions–which are temporary. The bridge will last 50 years; a change in attitudes could be indefinite.

    Besides, if bike paths can accomplish what people hope, we’ll end up with the truly ironic situation of safe, empty roads and dangerous, crowded bike paths.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg
    Moab

  • Larey says:

    On a more macro level – if I could eliminate $7,000 from my annual budget by selling my car, I could afford to pay an additional $3,500 for community cycling fees (going towards cycling specific projects as opposed to boondoggle general revenue taxes) and still have a decent chunk of change left over.

  • Sean says:

    I’d like to add a thought about infrastructure: cheap isn’t necessarily cost effective. For bike lanes, white lines on the pavement may be cheap to construct but they may not be cost effective as they do a questionable job at protecting cyclists, encouraging cycling, and shifting transit from autos to less road punishing/air polluting bicycles.

    Sure, white lines are better than nothing. But I think municipalities need to aim higher.

    In New York City, where I live, we have a decent amount of white line on the pavement bike lanes. But, because there is no barrier physical separating the lanes from auto traffic, the bike lanes are filled with double-parked cars and trucks, and taxis retrieving or discharging passengers. This not only affects current cyclists, making their experience unpleasant and unsafe, but affects would be cyclists as well, making them reluctant to join in.

    The same ideology extends to parking facilities. Here, again in NYC, city installed bike racks, where they exist, are frequently single loops that can accommodate two bikes maximum. My impression is that most cyclists compete for and use available sign posts — again, making cycling unpleasant and uninviting, along with annoying to property owners and pedestrians.

    The point I want to get across is that often money well spent and carefully spend really does pays off. Cheap can result in facilities that few enjoy and even fewer actually use. And, this isn’t really cost effective over time.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Sometimes you need to spend a little more money to get good bike infrastructure, sure. But other times a little paint is really all it takes. Look at Portland’s bike boxes for instance. And at Copenhagenize.com you can read about how you can get a protected bike lane simply by flipping the bike lane and parking lane. Or you can synchronize the traffic lights to give a green wave at bicycling speed. These are all very low-cost things.

    For bike parking (and bike lanes too), it’s not so much a matter of money as it is a matter of space. They probably have a whole warehouse of those bike stands/loops, they just can’t find a space to put them because they are afraid to encroach on car parking spots. You might have read about NYC parking on Streetsblog.org.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Erik,

    I agree. I think our definition of low cost was just a bit different.

    Swapping a bike lane for a parking lane to create a protected bike lane is a fine idea. (Bike boxes and “green waves” are as well.)

    In a big city, I just never think of it as a low cost endeavor because of the time required consulting with community boards, police and fire, and reworking signage, parking meters, and sanitation schedules and equipment – in addition to the actual bike lane.

    But, it certainly is lower cost than creating something with a new barrier, and easier to modify later on, if necessary.

    Let’s hope city officials subscribe to your way of thinking!

  • MikeOnBike says:

    “you can get a protected bike lane simply by flipping the bike lane and parking lane”

    So I can be doored by the passenger rather than the driver. With no room to get out of the door zone. And I can’t turn left. Or avoid debris. All these new hazards to be protected from what?

    I’d rather just remove the parking entirely. It removes the door zone and frees up lots of roadway width.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    MikeOnBike, those things are not a problem. There’s usually cobblestone between the cars and the bike lane which gives some space for doors. The paths are wide enough for maneuvering and they are regularly swept. If you need to turn left and there’s no intersection, you can go between gaps in the parking.

    I’m not saying there’s only one right way to do it, and I think vehicular cycling has a place. But the issues you raise have been solved.

  • MikeOnBike says:

    “There’s usually cobblestone between the cars and the bike lane which gives some space for doors. ”

    I thought this particular conversion was done with just paint?

    I don’t see where you can fit the cobblestone. There’s usually 7 feet for parking and 5 feet for the bike lane, mostly in the door zone. Moving the 7 foot parking lane 5 feet from the curb doesn’t give you any room to add a cobblestone buffer. It also puts the open driver doors directly into the travel lane.

    Do you know of any before/after pictures for flipping the bike and parking lane with paint? Maybe a link to the particular post at copenhagenize.com? I searched there for “flip” and “paint” and “parking” but didn’t find it.

    At any rate, why not just eliminate the on-street parking?

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    MikeOnBike, I don’t know of any before-after photos, sorry.

    I think eliminating car parking in inner cities is a good idea, but it should be done gradually. People need time to adjust their habits, or the local businesses will suffer. I also think it’s better to start with converting off-street parking to apartments etc rather than removing on-street parking. That contributes to a denser city more friendly to cycling, walking and public transport. Finally on-street parking should be metred so that it’s used for people who really need it, rather than just as storage space for cars.

    This story says that Copenhagen has been removing 2-3% of parking spots each year:
    Pedestrian Cities: Encourage walking and cycling. Discourage cars and parking

 
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