Car Space, Bike Space and the Coming Transportation Shift

I’m intrigued by the whole concept of car sharing and autonomous cars and I’m reading everything I can on what these developments mean in terms of how we will soon move around.  People a lot smarter than I am keep talking about how quickly this will be adopted and based on how quickly other transformational technologies have been adopted, I’m inclined to agree with them. This is coming much more quickly than most of us realize.

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And so I find myself thinking about what it means in terms of bicycles, how I live and what I enjoy about the place I call home.  As I have, I’ve come to realize just how much space we waste on automobiles, not only in terms of roads and parking lots, but right here at home.  Our house in Ogden has a 350 square foot garage.  We also have a 10′ wide driveway that runs approximately 60 feet.  Combined, garage and driveway consume about 1,000 square feet of our 7,000 square foot lot.  That’s almost 15% of our entire empire devoted to storing an automobile and providing access to the street.

Typical lot configuration across much of America.  15% of the space is devoted to cars.

Typical lot configuration across much of America. 15% of the space is devoted to cars.  Here the garage is almost as big as the house!

The same is true of our cities.  Huge amounts of space and capital are allocated to highways, access roads and parking lots.  Like our driveways, these resources are only used a small part of the time.  Most of the day, even in busy locations, they sit empty.  This is a tremendous misallocation of capital.  It’s an epic waste.  No wonder our fiscal budgets are such a mess.

 

The typical American road is mostly empty most of the time.  It represents a tremendous waste of space and resources.

The typical American road is mostly empty most of the time. It represents a tremendous waste of space and resources.

Most of us believe this is just the way it is.  We’ve never known anything different, but if you talk to people who have been around long enough you will hear of cities where people could walk, bike or hop a streetcar to get where they were going.  This was the norm less than 75 years ago.  Our move to the car was a gradual process, one that continues to evolve today. More change is on the way.

Cars-as-apps will radically change this by increasing the rate at which we utilize motor vehicles.  They will radically free up space and capital.  They will cause us to think of transportation not as a sunk cost, but as something we pay for on a per trip basis.  This may bother some folks, but the reality is that it is the more appropriate way to value transportation.  The present model hides the true cost of moving about.

This is really good news for those of us who believe that bicycles are the best transportation choice for short trips.  These changes will make the bicycle a more attractive and obvious choice for such trips.  Our numbers are about to grow…dramatically.  As they do, society will discover something we cyclists already know.  Bicycles take much less space than cars.  They give us more while asking virtually nothing in return.  They make life better for ourselves and those around us.  Who doesn’t want that?

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