“I am not proposing that we bring our oil and auto industries to a screeching halt. There is still time to begin a series of gradual steps toward new transportation and energy policies, livable cities, and more humane, efficient transit systems.”
— Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior from 1961-69,
from his article in the October 1972 issue of the Atlantic Monthly
The winter solstice is tonight! I can’t wait for the days to start getting longer again. Last week I listed 10 Reasons Why the Car is in Decline. The idea was that the cars, like the days before the solstice, are waning. But multi-modal forms of transportation — walking, biking, skateboarding, riding Transfort, etc…. even carpooling — are on the rise.
10. Multi-modal transportation is cheaper than using a car.
When you start to add up all the expenses of owning a car — the original purchase price, gasoline, maintenance, toll road fees, parking fees, tickets, yearly registration, gasoline, and insurance — it becomes clear how much cheaper multi-modal transportation is. Every dollar saved from not using your car is a dollar that’s been freed up for a night on the town.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, people can save over $9,000 a year by giving up their car and using public transportation instead. (This info is from their October 2015 report.) Gas and parking is a bit cheaper in Fort Collins than the national average, but our public transportation fees are also cheaper, so the number is probably still pretty close to accurate for Fort Collins residents.
9. Multi-modal transportation is cheaper for the government, too.
Roads aren’t cheap. Once you build them, you have to maintain them. And the more use they get, the more often they need to be attended to. So it saves the government money when we drive lighter vehicles (Pedestrians and bicyclists of course use the lightest vehicles of all.) and when we consolidate as much as possible (either by carpooling or by using public transport).
And every dollar that’s saved from not having to repave a road is a dollar that’s been freed up either to come back to the tax payer’s wallet or to be spent on something else we’d like to see, such as a new Community Center in Southeast Fort Collins.
8. Walking and biking are far better for the environment.
The amount of pollution caused by walking and biking depends a lot on whether you had beans for dinner the night before. But even following an Atomic Burrito food fest, the level of noxious gases being spewed into the environment is still going to be order of magnitudes different between either of these forms of transportation and a car or bus.
Cars also create pollution every time the brakes are used, the oil is changed, or the battery is replaced. Peds may leave behind some particulate remnants from their shoes and bicyclists might leave some rubber on the road or bits of brake dust, but again, levels of magnitude different. (I recently discovered that my husband had forgotten what “levels of magnitude” means. So in case you’re in the same boat, the difference between 10 and 100 is a level of magnitude. The difference between 10 and 1,000,000 is 5 levels of magnitude. So using the term basically just means there’s a really sizable difference.)
7. Walking and biking are good for your health.
Exercise is good for you. It helps to maintain weight, but more than that, it enables the body to clear out toxins, which is HUGE. When we don’t clear out the toxins, we experience inflammation. And inflammation has been tied to heart disease, obesity, stroke, migraines, thyroid issues, cancer, ADD/ADHD, diabetes and dental issues.
Studies have shown that even transit users tend to get more exercise than folks that drive from garage to parking lot. Even just walking to and from the bus stop can provide a health benefit.
So when you’re using your feet or your bicycle for transportation, that exercise is getting you somewhere, in more ways than one.
6. We can reduce our dependence on foreign powers (like Saudi Arabia)
OPEC has been pushing gas prices down for months now, and that’s mostly because Saudi Arabia is doing its best to take out their American competition. They’re not doing it because they love us and want to help us save a buck. Their goal is to put the screws to the American oil industry, and they’re pushing so hard that they’re hurting even some of the other OPEC countries in their desire to make us ever more dependent on them. We can enjoy these low prices now, but eventually Saudi Arabia is going to jack those prices back up and if they’ve killed off enough of the American companies, we might not have much local oil available to help keep gas prices reasonable. The sooner we can wean ourselves off of foreign oil the better.
5. Walking, biking, even taking the bus is safer than using a car for transport.
In 2013, the last year for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has data, 22,383 people in cars died in a car crash. (Unfortunately the data doesn’t explain how many of the other folks that died were in a crash that involved a car, but…) Among the other types of transportation: 4,668 motorcyclists, 4735 pedestrians, and 743 cyclists died. All told, 32,719 deaths were the result of some sort of crash in 2013. You could remove pedestrians from that equation, or bicyclists, or even motorcyclists, and you’d still have a whole heck of a lot of deaths. But if you were to remove cars, not only would you reduce the overall death-while-in-a-car count, but you’d drastically reduce the death-by-car count as well. The number of cars on the road is the overall biggest factor in the number of deaths on our roads each year. (Also of note: Thirty one percent of these deaths were alcohol related. Honestly people, don’t drink and drive. That’s just stupid.)
In addition, building streets in such a way that everyone has safe space to travel also increases safety. Check out this Complete Streets FAQ for more info.
4. Multi-modal transportation is more sustainable then personal cars.
Being sustainable includes not polluting (#8), but it also includes the environmental and economic costs of producing vehicles, maintaining vehicles, etc. One car is going to use a lot more metal, plastic, etc. to make than one bike. This means more mining (which reduces a natural resource), more mining related pollution (think orange river running through otherwise pristine Colorado lands), and more transportation related costs and pollution to get the natural resources where they need to go. The smaller the vehicle, the fewer materials needed, the more sustainable.
Of course, buses are larger vehicles, but they also carry more people. So the vehicle to person ratio means that using a bus is still a win.
3. Walking, biking and taking a bus all build community.
When the MAX line first started running, every stinkin’ person I talked to that had taken the bus commented not just on what the MAX was like for them, but at how friendly everyone else on the bus was. MAX has been running for over a year now and I have yet to come across a grumpy person on the bus. Instead, using the bus offers a sense of “we’re all in this together.”
Bike riding offers a similar camaraderie. When you’re in your own car, you generally don’t wave or say hello to fellow motorists. But when you’re on your bike, it’s a common occurrence. Ditto for walking. Though I do sometimes pass people on the sidewalk who don’t respond to me when I say hello, more often than not people look up and greet me with a smile.
If you want to read more on how multi-modal transportation spurs community building, check out Streets as Places: How Transportation Can Create a Sense of Community, on the Project for Public Spaces website.
2. By reducing our need for parking spaces, we’re creating more opportunities for housing or open space.
There’s a movement in America to document how overbuilt our parking lots are. Every Black Friday, people snap photos of parking lots that have huge swathes of parking space left despite it being the busiest shopping day of the year and they post them online with the hashtag #BlackFridayParking. In Fort Collins the Target parking lot off of Troutman springs immediately to mind. I have never, in all my years of living here, seen that lot get full. I’d love to hear which parking lots jump to your mind as never being fully used.
The thing is, all of that unused space could be used for something else. We could put housing there. Or put other retail shops to help build a more vibrant, active shopping area. Given that we have a Growth Management Area around Fort Collins, we need to start thinking about how we can better use these parking lots to help end our housing crisis, strengthen our economy, add more parks and greenery and increase overall density in the city.
1. Multi-modal transportation is so easy, even a kid can use it.
There’s a reason why “soccer mom” is a relatively new term. Back in the “olden days” kids could get to where they needed to go on their own. They walked to school, rode their bike to the ball park, and hopped on a street car when they wanted to go to City Drug for a bit of candy. Transportation doesn’t have to be hard. Or dangerous. And mom’s shouldn’t have to be stuck in their cars most of the day shuttling their kids about. Kids should be able to get to where they need to go safely.
Our kids have attended our neighborhood schools for their entire school careers. We walked or biked every day to their elementary school, as did much of the rest of the school, which meant we got to know our neighbors because we regularly passed them on the sidewalk. So as my kids grew older, it was much easier to let them head to school on their own not only because I knew the way was walkable and bike-able, but because I knew we’d built a community (There’s #3 again.) and if anything happened to them, there would be someone around who at least recognized them enough to feel a connection to them and to help them.
And before my kids could drive, they learned to walk, bike, or take Transfort to the places they needed to go. It gives them a sense of independence and empowerment to be able to get to the movie theater, store, or favorite restaurant on their own. Even once they’ve gotten their drivers license, they’re happier car-pooling or biking than driving on their own. It’s a shift that is happening not just with my kids, but with millennials in general. (See “Transportation And Money: Millennials And Their Transit Needs” for more on this.)
Cars still own the road. After decades of building solely for one vehicle type, we’re left living in a car-oriented world. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. And it’s not staying that way. Governments already see the economic, health, and environmental benefits of switching over to a multi-modal system and they’re already making changes . And many people see these strengths as well and they’re changing their transportation habits. Change is coming. Change is here. The solstice has come.