The Real Cost of Driving

By: Carolyn Gjerde Tu

There are plenty of Americans who like to get around with out cars. The true fact is that most families have more than one member who either doesn't own a car or doesn't even drive. Think: teenagers, young adults and even full-grown employed adults who prefer alternative transport.

We're only just beginning to realize the costs we incur when we build cities to cater to the automobile above all else. Cars are expensive to buy, expensive to run and costly to the environment, but don't mistake them for a sign of wealth. With individuals forking out thousands of dollars to run them and municipal governments pouring tax dollars into building roads and infrastructures for them to drive on, car dependent communities simply have less cash. Perhaps the biggest economic impact however is that people in car dependent communities have a tendency to drive their money out of town and spend it elsewhere. The result is a diluted local economy.

Ride Free

The American Automobile Association (AAA) says that, on average it costs 52.2 cents to drive one mile. This number includes fuel, routine maintenance, tires, insurance, license and registration and depreciation costs. Meanwhile, the EPA estimates that the average American drives 12,000 miles a year. This means it costs about $6264K per year to run the average car. Compare that to the average $220 per year it costs to operate the average bicycle and you get an idea of the amount of money that can be funneled back into the community when we leave our cars in the drive.

Of course, these numbers don't even begin to measure the rich physical and social benefits that bike riding offers to those who make it a way of life. Cyclists just live better. Anyone who's ever ridden a bike knows that this simple exercise gets the heart pumping, the circulation going and the scenery moving. When people ride their bikes, they're more likely to see their neighbors, get to know what's going on in their communities and feel a real sense of belonging.

In Davis California, more than 17 percent of all travel is done by bicycle and the city is recognized all over the country as a model of what to do right when it comes to encouraging cycling. All those bikes on the road translate into a whole lot of clean living. You can be certain that better citizen health, less pollution and less of a drain on shared resources all contribute to the high quality of life here. Imagine living in a city where you don't have to drive unless you want to?

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