Thursday, January 21, 2010

Damn, Imaginary People Saving More Loot Than Me

Via AlexSteffen at WorldChanging comes this study on cost savings for going Car-Free by City at the American Public Transportation Association:

Top Twenty Cities – Transit Savings Report

City Monthly Savings Annual Savings
1 New York $ 1,147 $ 13,765
2 Boston $ 1,030 $ 12,362
3 San Francisco $ 1,013 $ 12,156
4 Chicago $ 946 $ 11,357
5 Seattle $ 932 $ 11,185
6 Philadelphia $ 927 $ 11,121
7 Honolulu $ 887 $ 10,639
8 Los Angeles $ 838 $ 10,052
9 San Diego $ 824 $ 9,894
10 Minneapolis $ 824 $ 9,884
11 Cleveland $ 803 $ 9,639
12 Portland $ 798 $ 9,581
13 Denver $ 795 $ 9,539
14 Baltimore $ 782 $ 9,383
15 Miami $ 752 $ 9,022
16 Washington, DC $ 751 $ 9,015
17 Dallas $730 $ 8,756
18 Atlanta $722 $ 8,658
19 Las Vegas $716 $ 8,591
20 Pittsburgh $ 680 $ 8,162

*Based on gasoline prices as reported by AAA on 1/11/10.

I'm guessing that they had to use pretty basic and standardized numbers to calculate this by city without too many variables. I made my own calculations when I first ditched the car and moved downtown here.

The first thing you'll notice (besides my old car - pictured) is that their calculated savings for car-free living in Dallas come to $8,756/yr whereas mine were/are $6,660/yr. So what's with the disparity?

First, I'm guessing since that I'm on the ground doing it, my numbers are probably a bit more accurate (and I don't even keep a monthly or yearly DART pass - although late night cab rides might balance that out).

Second, and this is where local conditions of supply and demand would skew the entire list of numbers (and this will blow your mind). Because Sun Belt cities have much less supply or opportunity for walkable neighborhoods (and are less adapted to their fledgling transit systems), the housing cost differential would show a greater disparity in Sun Belt cities than more walkable cities. Notice the top four consist of NYC, Chicago, Boston, and San Fran. The only two other cities as walkable/transit friendly are DC and Portland (I'll try to rationalize those two outliers later).

What I wrote then is that to live in Downtown Dallas, where I have access to DART, trolley, Amtrak, rental cars, grocery stores, and bars (the most important, of course) within walking distance, I figured that I am paying at least a 20% premium to live in a walkable/transit-friendly neighborhood, or $2,520/yr. That number is pretty close to the gap between our calculations, which was $2,094.

Chris Leinberger talks of premiums for walkable communities on a per sq.ft. basis being between 40 and 200%. While certainly there is some increment to the quality of that walkability (see my critique of walkscore. The gist was that while walkability does measure proximity and correlated propinquity, it does not measure more subjective or visceral quality of experience), the point is that there is most definitely a premium for walkable places.

However, I would suggest that in cities of increased supply of housing in walkable communities, which has an overall increase in cost of living (b/c of the demand by more people wanting to live in what is typically a more interesting and vital city), the discrepancy in cost between walkable and not walkable is not as great, meaning there is more choice in the market place. In the Sun Belt cities, such as Dallas, savings for going car-free or therefore reduced, b/c you are paying more due to pent up demand (Leinberger suggests that 30-40% of populous desire walkable communities but only 3% have them) driving up costs.

What this means for Dallas, is well, the need to focus on livability of the City's design and function through walkability. Thus, making walkable communities more affordable and available as a choice to a broader base of the population. This will allow more families and individuals to either save, invest, or spend through increased disposable income as they see fit.

Choose walkability. It's the democratic thing to do and will ignite the local economy.

Of course, no one wants to walk under an overpass.