Bike for the future
How fast are you really driving? An in-depth cost analysis and how the high cost of motoring makes it one of the slowest forms of transportation.

What most drivers don’t bother to ever account for is the amount of “latent” time spent driving. Sure, the average commute takes 25 minutes to travel about 12 miles. So that’s 25 minutes spent ‘behind the wheel’, but driving isn’t free. The average cost, per mile, is around $0.60, so that 12 mile trip costs $7.20.

That $7.20 is money that needs to be earned just to pay for the trip to work, and as such, that’s time spent working to make that money. That time working is time spent solely to pay for getting from point A to point B, so it’s effectively no different than time spent behind the wheel and as such it should be added to the total amount of time needed to get from point A to point B.

The median wage in the US works out to about $15.45 an hour, for adults over 25. After taxes, health insurance, etc, the average “take home” wage for someone making $15.45 an hour would be right around $12.50 an hour. In order to make the $7.20 needed to travel the 12 miles to or from work, one needs to work for 0.57 hours, or about 35 minutes.

So we’ve got 25 minutes for the 12 mile commute from direct ‘behind the wheel’ time, and another 35 minutes for the commute as ‘behind the desk’ time, but both are required in order to cover that 12 miles via car. That works out to a total of 60 minutes to travel 12 miles, or 12 MPH. So the average driver making the median wage driving the average car on an average distance commute in this country (USA) is getting to and from work at just 12 MPH. This is slower than a modestly fit bicycle commuter travels.  With a quality commuter bicycle, and a reasonably fit cyclist, 14-18 MPH average speed can easily be attained, without too much exertion or working up a sweat.

Driving isn’t exercise, I’m sure we can all agree on that point. I’m sure we can also all agree that bicycling is exercise. Now how much exercise one should get each week is debatable, however the Mayo clinic and CDC both suggest 150 minutes per week. That works out to 30 minute per day, 5 days a week. Now, since bicycling is exercise and we’ve exceeded 30 minute already, the cyclist is already done with their recommended amount of exercise just from commuting. The driver, on the other hand, still has 30 minutes a day to complete. Since the choice of driving compared to cycling has created a deficit of 30 minutes, 5 times a week, of time the driver needs to make up, we can simply add that to their total ‘commuting’ time. This is fair and reasonable since the cyclist’s ‘commuting’ time also includes 30 minutes a day of exercise.

So let’s add 15 minutes to the driver’s commute, since the average 12 mile commute is only for one way, and most people drive both to and from work each day, so 15 minutes added in the morning commute and 15 minute to the evening would add the recommend 30 minutes a day spent exercising. Now we have 25 minutes directly behind the wheel, 35 minutes behind the desk to pay for driving and another 15 minutes spent exercising. This works out to a total investment of 75 minutes on the part of the average driver for their daily 12 mile commute, each way. 12 miles covered in 75 total invested minutes works out to a ‘true average’ of just 9.6 MPH, which is considerably slower than bicycling, even for a novice cyclist.

All factors considered, it’s less total time out of one’s day to travel 12 miles to work and 12 more miles home via bike than car. If one has a job that has flexible hours, one can simply work a few hours less per week since they no longer need to pay for driving. A cyclist needs to work 5.76 less hours per week than a motorist to have the same income left over after commuting costs are accounted for.  Over an hour a day is spent working just to pay for driving. 

A cyclist would spend a total of 2 hours per day to cover a 12 mile commute at a reasonable 12 MPH cycling speed.  A motorist would spend 2 and a half hours to cover the same commute, after factoring in time spent working to pay for driving and time spent exercising to make up for not getting during one’s commute.

If one has a job that requires exactly 40 hours per week, no more, no less, then that it works out to being able to retire sooner, between 10 and 30 years sooner. At an investment return rate of 5% after inflation, an median income of about $32,140, an average car cost of $8,946, and a savings investment of 10% of gross income, and assuming a “safe withdrawal rate” of 4%, the years to retirement for an average worker would be 51 working years.

Now $32,140 gross works out to an average of about $24,000 take home (with fairly average deductions, insurance, etc), out of which the average person is paying $8,946 for their “AAA sedan average” yearly cost. This works out to 37.3% of their yearly take-home income. Sure, some people may pay less, but others must pay more, so we’re just going with the average or median numbers based on reliable sources. If one then bikes instead of drives, doesn’t buy a car at all and incurs $0 of vehicle expenses, and instead replaces it with a very ‘expensive’ bike which costs $700 a year, which would be a lot for a bike. That’s $8,246 a year, or 37.2% more take-home money that can be used for other things, or 25.6% of gross income. If that 25% is invested into retirement instead of spent, using the same 5% return after inflation, 4% “safe withdrawal” rate, that would be a total investment of 35% of one’s yearly income. Investing 35% of income instead of 10% lets one retire after 25 years instead of 51!

Being able to get to and from work with less total time invested and retire 26 years earlier sounds like plenty enough reason to bike rather than drive!


By Robert Ariail for ‘The State’ (Columbia, S.C.) (June 4, 2008)

By Robert Ariail for ‘The State’ (Columbia, S.C.) (June 4, 2008)


Diesel exhaust is cancer-causingThe World Health Organization classified diesel engine exhaust as cancer-causing and urged action to reduce human exposure to it.


Diesel exhaust is cancer-causing
The World Health Organization classified diesel engine exhaust as cancer-causing and urged action to reduce human exposure to it.

The Invention of Jaywalking

The Invention of Jaywalking

It happened again the other night.

This time, the driver of a Jaguar traveling down 42nd Street in Manhattan struck another car and lost control, flipping onto the sidewalk and striking several pedestrians. Amazingly, given that this is one of the most crowded parts of town, no one was killed. Less amazingly, given the New York Police Department’s general approach toward car-pedestrian or car-bicycle crashes, the driver will apparently not face any criminal charges.

Despite remarkable recent gains in pedestrian safety – thanks in part to design changes aimed at slowing down drivers – cars still jump the curb nearly every day. Drivers who kill or maim pedestrians with their vehicles are still only rarely treated as criminals in New York, as long as they are not drunk and do not flee the scene. Even that is sometimes not enough to merit serious charges.

At the beginning of the 20th century, traffic deaths – particularly the deaths of children – drew enormous attention.

Twenty years ago, an out-of-control driver plowed through New York’s Washington Square Park, killing 5 people and injuring 27 others. That horrific incident caused a public outcry and galvanized advocates in what has become known as the livable streets movement. But the driver, a 74-year-old woman, was not charged with any crime.

It wasn’t always like this. Browse through New York Timesaccounts of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles.

So what happened? And when?

According to Peter Norton, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, the change is no accident (so to speak). He has done extensive research into how our view of streets was systematically and deliberately shifted by the automobile industry, as was the law itself.

“If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars,” says Norton. “That’s practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”

Streets back then were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses. When the automobile first showed up, Norton says, it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel. That image persisted well into the 1920s.

Today, livable streets advocates such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to take pedestrian fatalities seriously. But at the beginning of the 20th century, traffic deaths – particularly the deaths of children – drew enormous attention.

“If a child is struck and killed by a car in 2012, it is treated as a private loss, to be grieved privately by the family,” Norton says. “Before, this stuff was treated as a public loss – much like the death of soldiers.” Mayors dedicated monuments to the victims of traffic crimes, accompanied by marching bands and children dressed in white, carrying flowers.

“We’re talking less about laws than we are about norms,” says Norton. He cites a 1923 editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – a solidly mainstream institution, as he points out. The paper opined that even in the case of a child darting out into traffic, a driver who disclaimed responsibility was committing “the perjury of a murderer.”

Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver.

Public opinion was on the side of the pedestrian, as well. “There was a lot of anger in the early years,” says Norton. “A lot of resentment against cars for endangering streets.” Auto clubs and manufacturers realized they had a big image problem, Norton says, and they moved aggressively to change the way Americans thought about cars, streets, and traffic. “They said, ‘If we’re going to have a future for cars in the city, we have to change that. They’re being portrayed as Satan’s murdering machines.’”

AAA and other auto clubs turned first to the younger generation, financing safety education programs in the public schools that were designed to teach children that streets are for cars, not for kids. They funded safety patrols that taught kids they had to stop for traffic, not the other way around.

One key turning point, according to Norton, came in 1923 in Cincinnati. Citizens’ anger over pedestrian deaths gave rise to a referendum drive. It gathered some 7,000 signatures in support of a rule that would have required all vehicles in the city to be fitted with speed governors limiting them to 25 miles per hour.

Local auto clubs and dealers recognized that cars would be a lot harder to sell if there was a cap on their speed. So they went into overdrive in their campaign against the initiative. They sent letters to every individual with a car in the city, saying that the rule would condemn the U.S. to the fate of China, which they painted as the world’s most backward nation. They even hired pretty women to invite men to head to the polls and vote against the rule. And the measure failed.

They also got Detroit involved. The automakers banded together to help fight the Cincinnati rule, according to Norton. “And they remained organized after that,” he says.

The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of “jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law.

The current configuration of the American street, and the rules that govern it, are not the result of some inevitable organic process. “It’s more like a brawl,” says Norton. “Where the strongest brawler wins.”

Top image: This 1910 illustration, first published by Keppler & Schwarzmann in 1909, shows an automobile driven by a chauffeur speeding down a road, surrounded by newspaper clippings with headlines about numerous traffic accidents involving pedestrians struck by automobiles, including one where a chauffeur was charged with first-degree murder in the death of a 13-year-old boy. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Americans Work 3.84 Minutes Each Day To Pay For Their Bicycles


Photo of Heather Normandale by Adam Thompson /

By James D. Schwartz

After revealing that the average American works about 2 hours a day to pay for the cost of automobile ownership earlier this month, I was asked to participate in a radio interview for the Edmonton’s CJSR 88.5FM on Full English Breakfast with Peter Chapman to talk bicycles (listen to the full 13 minute segment here: [MP3 download]).

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Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars

Cars and cycle path in Montreal

Cars & cycle path in Montreal, Quebec – April 2011 – James Schwartz / The Urban Country

By James D. Schwartz

Imagine you could work 500 hours less every year. That works out to be an extra 12.5 weeks of vacation. Alternatively, imagine you got paid for an extra 500 hours of work each year, without having to work those extra 500 hours. That would work out to be an extra $11,000 every year for an average American making $22 per hour.

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In Socialist America, car owns you.