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World Car-Free Day: Park it & Spend the $$ Locally

World Car-Free Day

Guest Contributor: Bill Palladino


Tomorrow, September 22nd, is World Car-Free Day. What’s that you say? Live without a car? In Michigan? Well yes, that is what I said.

The idea is simple, according the World Car Free Network website:

Let World Carfree Day be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars…365 days a year.

I plainly understand that this is asking a lot of our little burbs up here in northern Michigan; frankly, I don’t expect a lot of people to give it a try. I do however believe it’s worth people learning about the notion. I’d like more people in this community imagining how they can impact our reliance on those pieces of steel and plastic that made our state so famous. The point is that we can do this while still serving Michigan’s, and our own local, economy.

A Pile of Automobiles

What we know is that there are about 600 Million cars, SUVs and light trucks in the world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau we Americans own 2/5ths (two fifths!) of those. While it’s difficult to say for sure, the numbers work out like this: 78% of Americans own a vehicle, compared to the worldwide average of only 7%. (There’s a lot of room for error in there as some people own more than one car, and many are owned by corporations, etc.) The point is we’re at the top of the heap.

(Click for larger view)

We are Driving Less

There is good news, if only referential, that due to the gas crunch a couple of years back a lot of Americans sold off some of their cars and our purchases slowed considerably. The flip-side is that two other nations stepped into that purchasing gap; China and India are now consuming more automobiles than the U.S. annually as a new zeal to reflect our own middle class takes over those countries.

Many of you know I got rid of my car over a year ago. I won’t mislead you here, there are many days when I think I should buy another car; the convenience factor taunts me.  I’m not suggesting any self-righteousness. What I am suggesting is that my neighbors might consider seeing how they could benefit from downsizing their own vehicle fleets. Perhaps, make that move to a one-car family. Resist buying your sixteen year-old a car. Teach her to ride a bus or a bike instead. Consider how much you might save in the long run by spending a bit more on an in-town home so you wouldn’t have the same transportation burdens. More than anything, consider what a difference it could make in our communities if so much of our resources weren’t spent on making room for, providing access to and feeding the voracious appetites of our vehicles.

Show me the Money

One last point in case I haven’t yet convinced you. According the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American spent approximately $2,200 on fuel for their vehicles in 2009. If we take just Grand Traverse County with its population of 86,000, that’s an astounding $189 million spent on gasoline only! In one year.

If we all drove just 10% less, and donated the difference, we could fund the annual budgets of the Michigan Land Use Institute, the State Theatre, the Father Fred Foundation, all of the local United Way’s 2010 giving, pay Ron Jolly’s salary for ten years, and still have enough left over to build another $8 million parking deck, and repave a few roads! All with just 10% less driving! (Editor’s shameless addition: Some of that savings could also help fund the work of this BLOG.)

In simple terms it makes a lot of business sense to start driving a little less and turning the savings into funding our local economy.

World Car-Free Day is only a beginning. Let’s make it count for our own community too.

  1. Rick Shimel
    September 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Bill– Is the U.S. labor bureau statistics per person or per household? I’m guessing the $2200 is per household which would reduce you number significantly. We may have to terminate Ron Jolly.

  2. Bill Palladino
    September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm


    Thanks for catching that. You may be correct. Give me a bit to check. If so, I’ll print a correction and recalculation with thanks to you. I’m not too worried. The numbers will still be staggering. We’ll just leave out Ron’s salary. Thanks for watching.

  3. September 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Here is a link to the chart from 2008. http://bit.ly/cov2pB

    It’s per Consumer Unit, which is broken down in the data sheet.

    I pulled the transportation costs out of it, broken down by age and martial status. It looks like in 2008 the overall average was even higher…$3300 or so.

    A larger image of this set is at http://www.flickr.com/photos/45865628@N04/5012392493/sizes/o/in/photostream/

  4. Joe
    September 22, 2010 at 6:59 am

    This worked a lot better for me:

    1) when I was able to live closer to work. Currently, affordable housing on the west side of town is frankly an impossibility.

    2) When it was just “me”. As a single dad, and having experimented with riding with my son on off-peak transit times, frankly I was afraid for the safety of my son even with limited vehicular traffic. There’s no way I wouldn’t have issues with my heart during morning/evening commutes. (also, as a single parent choosing to attempt to hold a job and not be reliant on social income programmes, it’s a requisite that I seek some form of child care, which carries the additional responsibility of being able to leave work and arrive quickly if there is an issue.)

    3) When I lived in Arizona; they don’t observe daylight savings time, which means they don’t screw with the clock. We’re approaching the time of year when I’ll be going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Since vehicle drivers have issues in the light, another safety concern.

    4) When money wasn’t so tight. In the last few years, it’s become an expectation for many employees to have the ability to quickly and efficiently move equipment from one side of town to the other. There may be reimbursement recourse for said transit, but the expected amount of time can’t easily be expanded from 15 minutes to more than an hour. These days, likely having to explain to your superiors that you are unable to do this or it will take longer because you’re making a case for non-vehicular local transit could mean your job.

    I do hope public transit options continue to grow and improve, and that more time planning and more resource management is invested in non-vehicular transit options in the area. But this also needs to happen in social, economic, and even the vehicular-planning realms as well.

    When our planning departments fail to plan on the synchronization of traffic lights to eliminate stop/start situations on streets allowing speeds of 45mph or greater (the leading cause of fuel economy loss second only to idle time) and cannot afford basic upkeep on main routes, it’s evident that we have a long and tough battle ahead to improve attention in this area alone, not considering other societal elements.

    It’s my hope that as the passing of time enables the future independence of my offspring that it will also allow for the re-structuring of infrastructure planning and support concerns in the area.

    I really long for the day when I can participate in things like this again. I think that a lot needs to change before then, however. In the interim, I’ll continue doing what’s worked for me for the last several years; I pre-plan all of my trips, from start to stop with logical and efficient waypoints. Lately with increased transit costs, I’ll often delay obligations that I am able to for days, so that wanting to visit a friend on the west side of the area coincides with the day I project I’ll need to visit the store to purchase more bread and milk. Sure, I could just drive and make separate trips, but what a waste for simple immediate gratification.

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