Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bicycles and walkable neighborhoods

I ride bikes, I used to race bikes, They are the greatest local transportation. They can get you out 10 miles or even more, they're great exercise, reduce air pollution. They can help us solve our diabetes crisis and air pollution. When there are paths for bicycles they are used from what I have seen. Bicycle commuting makes up less than one percent of commuting so it really is trivial, but when there are trails people really do ride to get places on them so we need to build more. And people must want these because houses are more expensive in areas with bicycle trails, so there aren't enough. I find it ironic that when there is a bicycle trail the house prices go up so much because then only wealthier people can afford to live close enough to a trail to save money riding a bicycle instead of driving. Actually neighborhoods with trails for bicycling or walking can be so much more expensive than other neighborhoods it negates the cost savings so we really need to make more so these neighborhoods become affordable.

Look whats going on in Salt Lake City where I used to live:

Or worse in Beijing:

This bicycle even gets power from the brakes to use for going up a hill: Since it's not the Tour de France we are allowed performance enhancing technology.

How to pay for roads

We actually subsidize roads greatly. You don't pay for how far you drive. There are gas taxes and car license taxes but they don't nearly pay for the roads. Much of the cost of roads comes from payroll taxes. We could increase the gas taxes to pay for roads. I have seen that might cost $4.00 per gallon and raise the cost of gas to close to $7.00 per gallon. That would probably get people buying electric cars which wouldn't pay for the roads so we would have to switch to a system that tracks distance, which is a little creepy because that is probably some kind of GPS track how far and then also where your car went. If driving a car cost what it truly costs trains, subways, and buses (which are also usually subsidized) could raise their prices to pay for themselves. Transportation would probably be more expensive but would also be more efficient since we are bearing the full cost. And walking and bicycling would get more popular benefiting our health, air quality (since we aren't driving as much), and the environment. And all because we stopped subsidies for transportation.

Building for health

I work developing medical information technology. But some of the most important health issues could be addressed by building our physical living spaces to encourage health. Most of our "built environment" encourages driving and not walking for bicycling. We have a serious and growing problem with diabetes which is encourage by our collective lack of movement. We are actually paying and regulating for this problem in many ways. We subsidize driving by using payroll tax money to make free public roads, the cost of roads should be placed on driving itself so that roads get built where the most people use them. Many places limit building height which makes housing, work and shopping too spread out to use anything but a car. We regulate single use zones for housing, offices and working putting everywhere we want to go far apart and only accessible by car. Then we pay again with poor health and increased health insurance premiums.

Often the only way to get any exercise is too pay for a health club membership, drive your car through the outdoors at more expense for gas, then get on an exercise machine with a video simulation of the outdoors you just drove through. This takes time, money, and motivation that few of us have to exercise.

I know people want more walkable neighborhoods because the most walkable places to live are always the most expensive. That means we are competing to live there. So let's build more of these places. It should be easy because all we have to do is stop regulating against denser, higher floor buildings and mixed use development. Developers should want to build these places because rents and sales prices of the buildings will be higher than car dependent development. This would make getting a walk in easier for everyone and save us all the pain and costs of poorer health basically for free.

When we make taller buildings we could actually give ourselves more green space. Make the buildings taller but then put larger parks, playgrounds, gardens, and sports fields between them. This would put us closer to nature even though we are living in taller buildings, provide sunlight, encourage walking and bicycling more, improving our health and environment.