Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who needs cars?

News flash: public transportation is good for you. Who knew? As I was telling somebody just the other day, I've lost a good five pounds since I started walking, biking, and taking the bus instead of driving. What's not to like about that? The people-watching is pretty entertaining also.

Transportation is on my mind at work lately, so I dug up a video I'd been meaning to watch for awhile on the National Building Museum's website about going carless (i.e. "without a car", not "CAREless"... although indeed, you may have less to worry about if you try it).

This video reminded me about Walkscore, which is a website that measures your neighborhood's pedestrian-friendliness based on walking distance to basic services. If you live in a neighborhood with a walk score higher than 70, you could get by without a car. My neighborhood scored 49.

Co-founder of Zipcar Robin Chase was one of the panelists in the NBM video, and she shared some thought-provoking numbers:

A mere 20% of our driving is to work. Of the 80% that isn't, many trips are short, as in under three miles. Does this reflect your driving habits? Are there trips that you could make by bike or bus, or consolidate your errands into one big driving loop rather than multiple short excursions?

There are about 1.1 cars per person in the USA right now. If more neighborhoods adopted carsharing networks like Zipcar, we could get down to one car per 20 to 50 people, which is the model they use.

Recommended population density for a Zipcar network is about 14,000 people per square mile, obviously best suited to urban areas. In one model, there are 5500 cars for 300,000 people (which is 0.018 cars per person... much lower than 1.1!).

Zipcars have names like Peter Prius and are parked in neighborhoods to encourage feelings of ownership and accountability. You wouldn't mistreat Peter if you knew you'd be driving him regularly, right?

Other food for thought:

How much do you spend each year to own, register, maintain, and insure your car? Maybe it would make sense to let someone else assume these asset costs, and just rent car time on the occasions you need it, especially if you live in an area with good public transportation access or walk/bike-ability.

I'm very interested in this idea of "pay as you drive" car insurance, particularly because I telecommute most days. In the average week, I move my car so infrequently that I often forget where I last parked it. I'd be paying a lot less if my rates were set proportional to miles driven.

Some more links for you:

MTA Maryland - get your ride on

One Less Car - a local organization for alternative transportation advocacy

GoLoco - Robin Chase's ridesharing site. Also check out her blog.

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