Editor’s column: Drive less, spend less, stress less
The Post Independent, in planning for the Grand Avenue bridge closure in late 2017, has urged people to start practicing now how they might help reduce traffic and their own frustration.
This is a bit of blasphemy in America’s car culture, but I can tell you for sure that it is possible to drive a lot less, save a lot of money and add peace to your life all at the same time.
In April, it will have been 10 years since my wife and I traded in our personal cars for one vehicle — a Prius — that we share. We’re now on our second Prius, and we’ve never seriously considered getting a second car, nor does either of us feel deprived.
The point of this column is not to assert that we are somehow virtuous or to suggest that everybody should get a Prius or a Leaf or a Tesla or a Volt. I do admire electric cars and am happy to burn so little gas, but it’s a personal choice.
I absolutely do not intend this to be taken as criticism of ranchers and contractors who need pickup trucks or parents who sometimes haul six or eight kids. When my son was growing up, I don’t think it would have been possible to get by as a family with just one car.
I do think that the idea of a car for every human being older than 16 has become a default position that in many cases, if examined, doesn’t make the most sense.
Here’s how I got to this point:
The day I got my first driver’s license in 1974, the price of gasoline topped 40 cents a gallon for the first time in my hometown. (That’s $1.90 in 2016 dollars, by the way — about what we are paying now.)
It seemed outrageous, particularly considering that I was paid $1.10 an hour at Bike’s Burger Bar, and my car, a 1963 Chevrolet Impala, got about 12 miles per gallon on average.
Five years later, I was a reporting intern at the Omaha World-Herald in the summer of 1979 when gas topped $1 a gallon there and the mayor, in a stunningly mindless public pronouncement, told residents that the city would be out of gas by morning.
Long lines of gas-guzzling American boats on wheels backed up on main streets waiting to pull into service stations. Reporting interns were deployed. Guns were pulled. No one was actually hurt, but it was an ugly evening.
By then, I still wasn’t making much money, but the orange Ford Maverick I drove got about 24 mpg, so gas was a bit less of a burden.
But I was scarred and scared in my poor student days by escalating gas (and other) prices. I biked a lot in college, and fuel economy has always been a primary consideration when I buy vehicles.
Ultimately, I want to stop buying gasoline. I’m not there yet, but my wife and I probably buy an average of only 20 gallons a month.
When we lived in cities, our homes were close to my workplace and I rarely drove during the week. When we needed transportation to different locations, it took some planning but we learned to work it out.
Now, Angye and I both work at the PI, but sometimes must go different places up and down the valley, or, God help us, to Denver.
Sometimes, one of us has to take the bus. I’ve been surprised how quickly I get to work when I do that. RFTA is ready for you — it’s out in front in planning for how to accommodate more riders during the bridge closure.
In the summer, I bike to and from work a couple of times a week, which for me is pure joy.
Sometimes, one of us works at home.
A key to driving less, beyond the options above, is living in a walkable location. When we lived in downtown Detroit and Cincinnati, just about everything we wanted (except a decent grocery store) was in easy walking distance.
Now we live in Carbondale, a walkable, bikable town where we apologize to each other if we are squeezed for time and drive somewhere.
For us, it’s a great lifestyle. It’s good for our health. It’s good for our relationship because we spend time together that might otherwise be in separate cars for no real reason but cultural habit. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for you — we are taking, at most, one parking spot a day rather than two and keeping a car off Highway 82.
Then there are the savings. Over 10 years, we have avoided driving about 200,000 miles. Since we traded in cars that got about 35 mpg, that means we’ve saved about $16,000 on gas. Let’s say we’ve avoided six years worth of payments on a second car, or another $18,000 in savings. In cities, we saved $100 a month on parking for eight years. Our insurance bill has been maybe $8,000 less. In other words, without even getting into maintenance, we’ve saved enough to cover the cost of both of our Priuses.
It also should save us the pain of sitting helplessly in traffic in September 2017.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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