# Living Car Free - Could rising gas prices kill the suburbs?

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Dahon.Steve
08-15-06, 02:24 PM

Here's a good article on MSN.com about how gas prices could kill the suburban commuter. The figure below caught my eye because I could not even dream of paying that much for transportation each month. My entire monthly savings would have to pay for an expensive engine.

From the article:
<<<<Assuming a full-time job, \$3 gas, 26 mpg and 50 cents a mile for maintenance and no parking fees, a 50-mile roundtrip commute costs \$646.15 a month, or \$7,753.80 a year, according to the City of Bellevue, Wash.'s, Commute Cost Calculator<<<<<

HardyWeinberg
08-15-06, 02:56 PM
We had an acquaintance at least partly driven (so to speak) to bankruptcy by trying to feed their GMC Yukon for a 50 mile each way commute back when gas was... well, certainly under \$3, but maybe even under \$2 (can't remember back that far; this was late 01/early 02). I'm sure debt service on their truck was a much bigger contributor to their overall hole than just gas, but at that point they were buying a *lot* of gas. At 30mpg, biking is saving me ~2-3 gal a week, nothing to sneeze at, but not a big part of our financial picture. Then again, I guess we're not out in the burbs, the exact point of the article.

r8ingbull
08-15-06, 02:59 PM
Eventually rising prices will change the suburbs. but we are nowhere near that point. Do the math:

50cents per mile x 50 miles = \$25 maintenance
\$3 / 26mpg x 50 = \$5.77 gas

When you consider that the 50 cents per mile figure generally includes depreciation, and most people are going to have similar depreciation even after cutting miles it just isn't worth it. That article fails to look at the true cost to an individual of a drive like that. That 50 mile drive is at least an hour also.

\$30 per hour
\$25 maintenance
\$5.77 gas
\$60.77 per day x 5 days x 50 weeks = \$15192

lyeinyoureye
08-15-06, 03:05 PM
If we had no cars that got better than 26mpg, then sure, those with long commutes would force people to find closer work or quit. But we're not there yet.

recursive
08-15-06, 03:19 PM
We can only hope.

Roody
08-15-06, 03:56 PM
We can only hope.
Amen brother!

Actually the suburbs probably won't die. I see 3 scenarios that are more likely:

1. Since the rich people will now want to ride on public transit, the governments will have a sudden change of course and pour billions into plush new light rail systems so the burbanites can continue to go into the city to work and do lunch and a matinee.

2. Housing prices will crash in the 'burbs and rise in the core cities. The rich will enjoy city living. The poor will be forced to live in the suburbs, 3 or 4 families in each decaying McMansion, and they'll commute to jobs in the city on rusty old hybrid buses. 1...2...3...Everybody switch houses!

3. We won't make any changes at all, the climate will go to hell, and billions of people will die off. The survivors will rocket to Mercury for a cooler climate.

I guess I see # 3 as the most likely outcome. But maybe I'm just having a bad day.

nedgoudy
08-15-06, 04:54 PM
This is a very real question for me.
I live in the burbs, and will be here
til they plant me. So, whatever
happens I will have to survive.

I am building a strategy around
being Car Free, and commuting
around on one of my 2 bikes or
then get a Folder for the Bus so
I can take extended trips into major
cities and still have a method to get
around 'downtown.'

I am happy to say,... I am ready
and able to take on that challenge.

AlanK
08-15-06, 05:10 PM
I agree that higher gas prices will at the very least force suburban commuters to adapt, either by using more efficient cars or moving closer to work. There are exceptions of course; some people have enough money that the cost of fuel isn't even an issue, but these are the minority.

Books like Suburban Nation and urban planners have been arguing that the growth of suburbs was inefficient and myopic. As a consequence of suburbanization, most cities were built more for autos than they are for people, and now, as a country, we are suffering the consequences.

atman
08-15-06, 05:12 PM
Option number 2 is the one that actually makes economic sense, Roody. I interpret three layers in the near-future of energy austerity: wealth flying to the cities (with some pretty scary security arrangements, which we're seeing in Chicago already with blinking cameras on a growing number of high-crime street corners etc), and the poor breaking their bank to heat and drive to decaying suburban communities, while in more rural settings (and indeed at a low level everywhere) people experiment with eco-villages, community supported agriculture and other more durable solutions.

Artkansas
08-15-06, 05:15 PM
Amen brother!

Actually the suburbs probably won't die. I see 3 scenarios that are more likely:

1. Since the rich people will now want to ride on public transit, the governments will have a sudden change of course and pour billions into plush new light rail systems so the burbanites can continue to go into the city to work and do lunch and a matinee.

2. Housing prices will crash in the 'burbs and rise in the core cities. The rich will enjoy city living. The poor will be forced to live in the suburbs, 3 or 4 families in each decaying McMansion, and they'll commute to jobs in the city on rusty old hybrid buses. 1...2...3...Everybody switch houses!

3. We won't make any changes at all, the climate will go to hell, and billions of people will die off. The survivors will rocket to Mercury for a cooler climate.

I see a 4th. Surburban towns will make bids to attract business and industry. Temecula California is a prime example.

krazygluon
08-15-06, 06:45 PM
I'm rooting for the idea of homogenization of the suburbs (read: tearing down a few houses to build businesses,community farms,shops,etc bringing the "city" back into the burbs)

sringlee
08-15-06, 09:14 PM
Not for a long time: the new Smart for the US will arrive in late 2007, getting 62+ mpg using a small turbodiesel engine and costing \$15k or so. That's a whole lot more reasonable than a \$40k Suburban getting 17 mpg. People will adapt.

tsl
08-15-06, 10:02 PM
1. Since the rich people will now want to ride on public transit, the governments will have a sudden change of course and pour billions into plush new light rail systems so the burbanites can continue to go into the city to work and do lunch and a matinee.

Actually, that sort of thing is happening here, in dumpy old Rochesterville. This past spring, the transit authority dropped fares on suburban park-and-ride runs, and effectively increased fares on city runs by eliminating transfers. City dwellers who need to go crosstown, now pay twice. Meanwhile suburban P&R passengers, who generally go only to the city center, have had their fares reduced by 50% to 80% depending on distance.

It was the tipping-point that got me off the bus and on to a bike. I didn't want to subsidize suburban SUV owners. Of course, in this first year of bike ownership with buying the bike, all the accessories, and whatnot, my transportation expenses are higher than they would be on the bus, but in the long haul it will work out.

cyclezealot
08-16-06, 06:05 AM
With credit cards topping off due to \$ 400 a month gasoline bills, I think suburbs being abandoned a possibility. If alternative transportation were available, maybe this would have been avoided. Commuting to the suburbs is like everything else. It costs to commute. When no longer financially do-able, it will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs.

Dahon.Steve
08-16-06, 08:43 AM
2. Housing prices will crash in the 'burbs and rise in the core cities. The rich will enjoy city living. The poor will be forced to live in the suburbs, 3 or 4 families in each decaying McMansion, and they'll commute to jobs in the city on rusty old hybrid buses. 1...2...3...Everybody switch houses!

This is happening already in New York City. Apartments in bad neighborhoods are being redeveloped into luxury condos and laws that passed protecting the poor with regards to rent control are being overturned. In Paris, the poor live in the burbs and the rich live in the city so we may see this happen within our lifetime.

PurpleK
08-16-06, 09:05 AM
I live 20 miles from my office. But for me, it's a simple matter of biking two miles to a bike rack equipped express bus that has a stop right in front of my building. Interestingly, the number of suburbanite commuters using this bus continues to expand dramatically.
BTW, before I purchased my home, I made sure there were dependable alternatives which would enable me to avoid buying a motor vehicle.

cooker
08-16-06, 10:10 AM
Another option for suburbs is urbanization. Presumably the population will continue to grow for a while, and instead of continuing sprawl into farther and farther out suburbs, existing suburbs could be rezoned for hgher density and mixed use. If they would allow in-fill low-rise apartments, "granny flats", subdivided houses, and mini-office complexes to be built in formerly pure single-family residential areas, that would make public transit more feasible and also permit shorter commutes and errands. The municipal voters would have to support that, but they might if their burb was otherwise going to die.

turkdc
08-16-06, 10:38 AM
Simple economics are partly to blame for gas prices being the way they are. Gas is a limited commodity and as demand for this commodity increases - so does the price. Right now if I want to purchase the 10 gallons of gas to fill my Neon's gas tank up (about every 2 weeks) I am competing with everyone else here in the Detroit suburbs that are filling up their 50 gallon SUV tanks every 4 days. If the demand for gasoline were to drop, I believe that the price would drop as well.

bdinger
08-16-06, 11:27 AM
Well, I don't know about most of the US, but I personally am doing very careful planning on my upcoming house purchase. My main concerns are a mostly-central location in the city, near lots of necessities (grocery stores, fuel stations - there's nothing more asinine than driving 5 miles just to get gas, mechanics, a LBS, and any "optional" stores), near either a major bike path or arterial (the former is actually more prevelant in this city), and in a well-established neighborhood. Personally I HOPE that the suburbanites don't discover how nice it is to live in the city. :)

The suburbs drive me nuts. You go down a street, and they all look the same. The houses, the colors, the yards. There's really nothing appealing to me there.

Older classy neighborhoods, however, have.. character. Trees. Landscape that has evolved. Homes that the owners take pride in, as they can without having to worry about a monstorous payment. Neighbors that aren't in the rat race, but are geniuinely nice. That's the kind of thing I like.

But hey, maybe it's just me. Let the Tahoe driving masses keep their suburbs. :)

jeff-o
08-16-06, 11:43 AM
It'll probably be a mix of all of them.

- Cars will get more efficient
- Houses in the city will get more expensive, compared to houses in the burbs
- public transit will be expanded to make it easier to commute from the burbs.

Luckily, I just bought a house in the city with nearly 1/4 acre of backyard (extremely rare!) so my house will probably go up in value like crazy. *crosses fingers*

KnhoJ
08-16-06, 08:05 PM
They'll just whine in direct relation to the price of all the gas one person can burn. Silly people.
High gas prices only give me a reason to point and say "Ha, ha!".

Rationing, on the other hand.... That would be a suburban catastrophe. We would see some actual fear then. For example; my own parents have two spare cars, because they're in just the right spot that all other transportation methods are impossible. They'd be completely stranded without a car. We might have to clear out the spare bedroom!

rajman
08-17-06, 11:34 AM
I'm with cooker on this one - there are a lot of relatively simple solutions to the high cost of suburban living. Probably the simplest is the residential intensification of the inner suburbs, which will lead to shorter distance commutes and also the intensification of commercial and public transportation development. Cities have many zoning restrictions and bylaws that have artificially restricted intensification, and have supported suburban, greenfield development. Take some of these controls away, and you would have fairly rapid intensification. Why - because the existing property owners will have the ability to cash in huge profits.

Examples include - legalization of basement apartments (Toronto did this years ago, but the intensification was muted by the fact that there were already thousands of illegal apartments out there) however, including a basement suite can reduce the carrying costs of a property by about \$1000/month (tax benefits for this are higher for Canadians than Americans). Easing the parking requirements would accelerate this.

Allowing subdivision of lots to build/renovate one house into two houses. Apparently the good people of Calgary are unable to live in two storey houses if the lots are less than 35ft wide - the horror! Allowing existing property owners to build two semidetached houses on a 40ft lot with two basement suites can quadruple the density of a suburban neighbourhood, and the property owner converts a \$300 000 property with no income to two \$250 000 properties with between \$500-\$1000 dollars a month income. Of course you need to redevelop and spend capital to do this, but with that kind of profit available, you'll see people lining up to invest. Remember that in many cities there is a shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing.

With money making opportunities like this available, there is a lot of scope for urbanization, if only the nanny state would get out of the way of people realizing the potential value of their property.

Unfortunately the people who are most resistant to loosening the laws are local residents - the ones who stand to benefit the most from changes like this. Go Figure.

If I had to choose one bylaw change that would intensify our cities the most at the least cost - it would be to allow Parking Free Housing to be built. Give those of us who are car-free or car-lite the ability to benefit from our choices by not forcing the cost of parking down our throats.

HardyWeinberg
08-17-06, 12:36 PM
If I had to choose one bylaw change that would intensify our cities the most at the least cost - it would be to allow Parking Free Housing to be built. Give those of us who are car-free or car-lite the ability to benefit from our choices by not forcing the cost of parking down our throats.

Funny thing, there was a letter in the paper the other day, out of nowhere as far as I could tell, demanding more senior-friendly condos downtown so they could get out and enjoy city life too. The main criterion for senior-friendly, according to the letter-writer, was at least 2 parking spaces per unit, one for the senior, and at least one for guests.

Roody
08-18-06, 11:27 AM
Simple economics are partly to blame for gas prices being the way they are. Gas is a limited commodity and as demand for this commodity increases - so does the price. Right now if I want to purchase the 10 gallons of gas to fill my Neon's gas tank up (about every 2 weeks) I am competing with everyone else here in the Detroit suburbs that are filling up their 50 gallon SUV tanks every 4 days. If the demand for gasoline were to drop, I believe that the price would drop as well.
Two flaws I see here: 1.) The demand may drop, but supply is also dropping, often in critical amounts (politics in Middle East, pipelines bursting in Alaska, etc.), and always with the gradual decline predicted by peak oil. 2.) As global warming becomes more evident, the external costs of fossil fuels will become much greater (or much more evident), eventually resulting in huge fees and taxes that will make the actual costs much higher.

BTW Detroit and it's suburbs are an interesting case study. Racism and the automobile have nearly killed the city of Detroit. Most jobs and stores in southeastern Michigan are located in the suburbs, leaving the city itself as a hollow core of blight and misery. (Mostly--I know there are good things about Detroit! :)) The flip-flopping of city and suburbs is another possible future for other cities in the US, as others here have pointed out.

GGDub
08-18-06, 01:04 PM
Allowing subdivision of lots to build/renovate one house into two houses. Apparently the good people of Calgary are unable to live in two storey houses if the lots are less than 35ft wide - the horror! Allowing existing property owners to build two semidetached houses on a 40ft lot with two basement suites can quadruple the density of a suburban neighbourhood, and the property owner converts a \$300 000 property with no income to two \$250 000 properties with between \$500-\$1000 dollars a month income. Of course you need to redevelop and spend capital to do this, but with that kind of profit available, you'll see people lining up to invest. Remember that in many cities there is a shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing.

.

Uhhh, I actually know 3 people who have subdivided their 50x120ft lots into two 25X120ft lots and put three stories on them, they made over 600,000 in profit, all in Calgary. In fact, I know one guy who turned his 900 square foot house on a 50ft wide lot into a 4 unit, multi-story condo unit. The 35foot rule must only apply to a certain zoning type. But Cooker's right nonetheless, if people can't get to businesses, then in order to survive, businesses must come to them.

08-18-06, 03:19 PM
A lot of wishful thinking here. More likely suburbanites will dictate that workplaces be moved to the suburbs. Already happening in Cincinnnati Oh. across the river from where I live. My wife works for a large regional bank, due to cost and employee complaints stemming from the outrageous crime in downtown Cincy, they moved their operation out to the burbs. They still maintain a sign on the big building downtown to maintain a apearances, but no actual work occurs downtown.

The problem for her is that they moved furhter into Ohio, her 3 minute car commute is now 15 minutes.

People may like and need to be closer to work, but they like to be safe and secure alot more.

cyclezealot
08-20-06, 10:41 AM
Maddy. I fear the way the suburbs are so speard out, how is it possible to bring jobs to people. The burbs are so spead out, how could a company find a middle location to satisfy all.

cyclezealot
08-20-06, 10:45 AM
I live 20 miles from my office. But for me, it's a simple matter of biking two miles to a bike rack equipped express bus that has a stop right in front of my building. Interestingly, the number of suburbanite commuters using this bus continues to expand dramatically.
Maybe you live in an area where buses are frequent. So many times I did errands on my bike in North County and I'd find bus racks full and I'd have to wait for over an hour for the next bus. Employers can't allow me to wait for my next month.
Of course if you have a flat 20 miles, guess that commute would be about one hour.

rajman
08-20-06, 12:37 PM
Glad to hear it GG. I'm staying in Kensington/Sunnyside now and was informed by a real estate agent about the zoning rules. Either they were mistaken, or they have changed them. I see that my profit estimate was close to the mark. Why wouldn't people want to make these kinds of returns on their investment? I suspect we'll see a lot of intensification, so long as approval for this kind of infill is relatively routine.

BTW - you didn't make it clear if accessory suites/basement suites were part of the redevelopment.

08-21-06, 08:04 AM
Maddy. I fear the way the suburbs are so speard out, how is it possible to bring jobs to people. The burbs are so spead out, how could a company find a middle location to satisfy all.

Why is it a company's responsibility to satisfy employees? When a company moves out to the suburbs, if the employees don't like the new location, too bad. Just find a new set of employees who do appreciate the new location.

slagjumper
08-21-06, 10:45 AM
I just bought a washer and dryer from a dude in suburban Pittsburgh (Murrysville) who is moving to the city. Says it will save him 2500 a year. He is about 22 mile from work now and will be 2 miles from work when he moves.

I own 2 duplexes and recently got 15 responses to a "for rent" posting on Craigs list. Ninety percent where from local suburbanites wanting to move closer to jobs or school.

I think that there will always be some rich, childless, introverted, and style-free folks who will want to live in the 'burbs. I feel sorry for the suburban schools though. I am sure people will move out.

Unless of course they bring back the EV1. But hell will freeze over before that happens.

Roody
08-21-06, 12:03 PM
Why is it a company's responsibility to satisfy employees? When a company moves out to the suburbs, if the employees don't like the new location, too bad. Just find a new set of employees who do appreciate the new location.
Gosh, I'm glad you're not making the decisions about how to run a company! Most chief executives believe that one of the primary criteria for choosing a business location is the quality of the local workforce. Most also believe that contented employess are more productive and less likely to quit and find work with a competitor. But I guess you were absent the day they taught that in business school! :)

GGDub
08-21-06, 01:23 PM
Glad to hear it GG. I'm staying in Kensington/Sunnyside now and was informed by a real estate agent about the zoning rules. Either they were mistaken, or they have changed them. I see that my profit estimate was close to the mark. Why wouldn't people want to make these kinds of returns on their investment? I suspect we'll see a lot of intensification, so long as approval for this kind of infill is relatively routine.

BTW - you didn't make it clear if accessory suites/basement suites were part of the redevelopment.

I'm not sure, but there was something in the news about changing the rules about basement suites in the province I while back.

anitra
08-21-06, 02:33 PM
Personally, my husband and I moved <b>out</b> of a city to bring us closer to our jobs. (Close enough to bike!)

But we live in Massachusetts, which doesn't seem to follow the same rules as the rest of the USA. (We lived in Worcester, but our jobs are both about 1/2way between Worcester and Boston. I think they call it the "exurbs".)

Brian Sorrell
08-21-06, 05:33 PM
I see a 4th. Surburban towns will make bids to attract business and industry. Temecula California is a prime example.

But biking Temecula is no picnic! The place is a freakin' high-speed SUV parade.

The problem with Temecula's urban planning is that all of the resources like grocery stores, restaurants, retail, etc. are located in one area. Hence, everyone needs to go to that one area to get stuff. The resulting congestion is ridiculous, e.g., on Winchester Road and Rancho California, etc. They need more local markets or resources within their sprawling housing developments.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not down on the suggestion that they try to get hi-tech jobs and such locally. It's just that their problems run deeper, in my estimation.

Orikal
08-21-06, 05:59 PM
I see a 4th. Surburban towns will make bids to attract business and industry. Temecula California is a prime example.

Houston is much like this. Obviously we have central business disctricts such as downtown, the Galleria, Greenway Plaza, and the Med Center, but outer ring suburban areas are sprouting their own "work zones." Even the Woodlands (about 25 miles north of Houston) is expanding exponentially and has quite a substantial workforce, and consequently, a very nice business district.

0_emissions :=)
08-22-06, 09:37 PM
Not for a long time: the new Smart for the US will arrive in late 2007, getting 62+ mpg using a small turbodiesel engine and costing \$15k or so. That's a whole lot more reasonable than a \$40k Suburban getting 17 mpg. People will adapt.
You guys don't have smarts yet? they've been here in Can. for awhile!

0_emissions :=)
08-22-06, 09:41 PM
This is happening already in New York City. Apartments in bad neighborhoods are being redeveloped into luxury condos and laws that passed protecting the poor with regards to rent control are being overturned. In Paris, the poor live in the burbs and the rich live in the city so we may see this happen within our lifetime.
This happens almost everywhere. In Cowtown it's the same: People are buying old apartment buildings which have been ratbagged out, and turning them into 'luxury' condos:rolleyes: give me a break.

Platy
08-22-06, 10:23 PM
This happens almost everywhere. In Cowtown it's the same: People are buying old apartment buildings which have been ratbagged out, and turning them into 'luxury' condos:rolleyes: give me a break.

I have two relatives who have each done well for many years in small scale real estate remodeling and investing. In the past they always went in the direction of more and more suburban type development.

Last year something changed. One relative went on and on about how great it would be to live in the small town of Mineola, Texas and commute to Dallas on Amtrak. The other relative was talking about a surge of people who were suddenly wanting to live in the oldest downtown neighborhoods of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Dahon.Steve
08-23-06, 09:08 AM
Allowing subdivision of lots to build/renovate one house into two houses. Apparently the good people of Calgary are unable to live in two storey houses if the lots are less than 35ft wide - the horror! Allowing existing property owners to build two semidetached houses on a 40ft lot with two basement suites can quadruple the density of a suburban neighbourhood, and the property owner converts a \$300 000 property with no income to two \$250 000 properties with between \$500-\$1000 dollars a month income. Of course you need to redevelop and spend capital to do this, but with that kind of profit available, you'll see people lining up to invest. Remember that in many cities there is a shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing.

I happen to think there is NO shortage of housing for those with money can live in any city in the world. There's plenty of luxury housing in New York City right now for anyone with the cash. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of affordable housing and I don't see this being rectified any time soon. I like your idea of increasing density but you would be surprised at how towns fight for any new developement because of the social implications. (Schools, Police, Fire, Sanitation). Then there's the additional cost of parking that must be taken into consideration along with this increase in density. Any new building in my town must build new parking space or the tenants will end up taking the street parking. The whole situation would be alot easier and cheaper if everyone was car free but that is not the case.

Falkon
08-23-06, 10:26 AM
You guys don't have smarts yet? they've been here in Can. for awhile!

The mentality of most people is smaller = more dangerous. That's one of the reasons people have for justifying their SUVs. Facts and reasoning have no place. It feels safer, so it is safer. I for one wouldn't mind a smart.

folder fanatic
08-23-06, 12:18 PM
Temecula California is a prime example.

But biking Temecula is no picnic! The place is a freakin' high-speed SUV parade.

The problem with Temecula's urban planning is that all of the resources like grocery stores, restaurants, retail, etc. are located in one area. Hence, everyone needs to go to that one area to get stuff. The resulting congestion is ridiculous, e.g., on Winchester Road and Rancho California, etc. They need more local markets or resources within their sprawling housing developments.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not down on the suggestion that they try to get hi-tech jobs and such locally. It's just that their problems run deeper, in my estimation. -Brian Sorrell, Location: Riverside, CA

I wanted to ride my bike to the Riverside National Cemetary to visit my father's gravesite a while back. I decided against it when I noticed that Van Buren Bl. is a freeway fast, overcrowded with SUVs, narrow no sides to speak of road. When we entered the cemetary, the speed bumps would seriously jar and bounce about even a very slow moving bike (we drove fortunally). So I decided to pass on bike riding in Riverside (and add another car to the mix).