Sunday, December 29, 2013

Is Your Commute Killing You... or Me? -- Average Commute Times for ZIP Codes in OKC

     I'm very interested in the individual and public health implications of our car-based society, and have the privilege of researching these concepts through my work as a city planner. Below I address the potential health impacts of the number of vehicle-miles traveled (VMT), average commute time (by ZIP codes in and around OKC), as well as the percentage of income spent on transportation. After that I will discuss average commute in terms of the existing conditions in our area. In the next post I'll look at the percentage of income spent on transportation (I've already written about the cost of car ownership, which you may find interesting!) and VMT. There are sources for all the claims made in this research.. enjoy!

   The number of miles traveled by motor vehicle is directly correlated to the proliferation of air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter, as well as a contributor to global warming due to the release of greenhouse gases[1]. High levels of air pollutants can result in increased risk and rates of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, while the threat of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions could lead to extreme weather events, an increase in heat-related death, and an increase in vector, rodent and airborne disease[2].

     Locations with higher rates of vehicle miles traveled often have a higher likelihood of collisions as there is a greater amount of time being spent in motor vehicles. Higher VMT rates indicate that more people are driving personal vehicles than using alternative modes of transportation, and this can be due to a lack of sufficient access to transit options that would reduce the number of drivers on the road[3].

     Higher VMT rates correlate with a lower amount of physical activity. People who walk or bike more frequently reduce their risk of developing obesity and diabetes[4]. This can be facilitated by walkable neighborhood design such that the majority of daily needs can be met without the need to use a motor vehicle. People who become accustomed to walking on a daily basis are developing a positive healthful habit[5].

     Additionally, the more reliant upon motor vehicles as opposed to other modes of transportation, the more money individuals are spending on transportation costs. This is money that could be used for healthy options for food, exercise, and healthcare.

     Spending long hours in the car during a commute can have negative impacts on social interactions and mental well-being as well. This is fairly intuitive as more time spent in the car is less time that can be spent with family, friends or neighbors. A large percentage of drivers consider rush hour to be the most stressful part of their day which can lead to irritability, back and neck pain, as well as depression[6]. Social isolation can cause more than just mental trauma and has been shown to be correlated to higher blood-pressure, cardiovascular risk factors, and premature death; people with strong social relationships on average have a 50% increased likelihood of outliving those who suffer social isolation[7].

   These and many other reasons are why we should be seriously considering changing the habits that permeate most of American society's built environment. We're too reliant on cars, and we have little to show for it (at least anything positive). 

   Now for the fun stuff... Below you can see a map of Oklahoma City (the white lines) and the 69 ZIP codes within and immediately surrounding it. I used Census data to map the average commutes for each ZIP code, and you'd be surprised at how good and bad some of these areas are. Take a look, and see if you can spot your ZIP code... are you above, below, or average? 

     The average commute time for the United States is around 25.5 minutes[8], while the average commute for Oklahoma is about 22.5 minutes[9]. Oklahoma City is quite normal for the State of Oklahoma with an average commute of 22.6 minutes[3]. This includes ZIP codes in surrounding cities (Moore, Norman, Yukon, El Reno, etc.) and thus brings the average commute time up a bit, but this gives a clearer picture of the driving in the Oklahoma City area because so many people commute into and out of the city.

     Though the city averages out to be the same as the state, within the city, there is great disparity in the average commute based upon ZIP code.

     Concentric rings can be made out from the above map, with a few aberrations due to areas with high amounts of jobs, such as Tinker Air Force Base and Oklahoma University to the south in Norman. The shortest commutes are central to the downtown area, while the longest are on the very edges of the city.
                                         TOP 5                                                     BOTTOM 5

12.55 min.
13.83 min.
16.48 min.
16.52 min.
16.68 min.

     The weighted average for the top five shortest commute averages by ZIP code is 15.95 minutes, 70.8% of the Oklahoma average, and 63% of the U.S. average.

     The weighted average for the longest five commute averages by ZIP code is 33.37 minutes, 148% of the Oklahoma average, and 131% of the U.S. average.

     I'll add that these commute times are one-way.. meaning you can double the amount of time for each of the ZIP codes in terms of total time spent commuting per day. So the average person in 73054 spends 1 hour and 20 minutes commuting each day. I, personally, could never handle this. You're at a higher risk of getting into an accident, you spend an exorbitant amount of money on fuel, and the amount of pollution from this is just absurd. I am impressed with the top 5 ZIP codes (and happy to see mine, 73102, in the second position) and the fact that Oklahoma City, a place that I've been told you must have a car to survive, is well below the national average. 

   I hope this will get you thinking about commuting, and maybe convince you that living far away from everything is not all that it's cracked up to be. Downtown and Midtown OKC are gaining in popularity, and there's plenty of room for more people to move here!  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Do You Know About Car-Sharing Services? - Our Review of TimeCar

Hello all. This time we’re going to take a look at TimeCar.

Our experience with TimeCar has been 100% positive. I honestly can’t think of a negative thing to say about the service. For those of you who don’t know what it is, TimeCar is a car-sharing service with several locations in Oklahoma and Texas. The service caters to individuals and businesses alike; why would you buy one car when you can have access to several?

There are four locations within Oklahoma City from which you can rent a car by the hour or for a whole day.  These locations are Midtown (opening within the week), Deep Deuce, Oklahoma City University, and the Crowne Plaza Hotel. We have been using the Deep Deuce location where you can choose from a Mini Cooper or a Ford Focus. Other locations have different vehicles, including trucks for when you need to carry things like furniture.

In order to use the service you need to sign up and pay an initial membership fee. Then, all you have to do to use a car is go online (desktop or mobile) and reserve it for whatever time of day/week you prefer, using a sleek and simple interface. If you ever need to extend your time during a trip, you can easily do that using the mobile site, given that the extended time is available. 

And get this; you don't pay for gas (a fleet gas card is included in each vehicle), no deposits for insurance, no hidden fees. All of the expenses are included in the membership and hourly rental payment. There are videos on the website that show you how to pick up/drop off your vehicle and how to use the fleet gas card to fill up for free. After using the service a couple of times, we see no reason to ever own a car again when TimeCar is available. 

Car sharing is growing in North America. I was interested to see what the impact of car sharing has been thus far on the number of cars on the road, because what is most important in achieving a walkable community is that less people are driving, and more are walking, biking, and taking transit. Car sharing seems to be effective in moving toward this goal. 

According to a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, by 2010 car sharing had removed 90,000 to 130,000 vehicles from the roads of North America (Source)! That’s 9 to 13 vehicles per car sharing vehicle. Not only that, but the car sharing fleets on average had a 10 mpg fuel efficiency improvement over the vehicles that were replaced.  And most importantly, is the difference in average vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) between car-sharing members and non-car sharers. The average non-sharer has an annual VMT of 12,300 miles per year, while car sharers averaged 8,064 miles per year. That is 34.5% less for car sharers. And if an average driver releases 5.73 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, that means an average car sharer only releases 3.75 tons (Source). And in 2010 there were 378,000 car sharers in North America meaning an estimated reduction of 744,660 tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere!

So, while this by no means is the solution to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, car sharing does improve upon the status quo, and significantly.

Alright, here are some photos from our TimeCar adventure. Thanks for reading!

Pick up your TimeCar at a lot like this one (Deep Deuce)!
Hold your membership card to the sensor until the green light flashes. This unlocks your car.
Elizabeth's driving this trip.
The key is attached to the console.

For the Mini Cooper, put the key in and push the ignition button (make sure to hold down the brake!)
John's having a good time at Patty Wagon, one of our favorite local burger joints.

TimeCar is particularly convenient for big grocery trips, like our visit to Sprouts.
And then return your car to where you got it, lock it the same way you unlocked it, and you're done. Easy and convenient!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Plaza District - Carless Rating #6

One of the best things about cities is the tendency to form districts; that is, neighborhoods or areas where there arises a certain unique and undeniable atmosphere, an air that separates that district from other places in the city. This atmosphere can arise organically or it can be prescribed to a certain extent, but it usually seems to be a combination of both - a neighborhood will start to take on a particular character in its development, its residents and visitors will respond well to that character, and then the neighborhood will make a concentrated effort to encourage new growth that corresponds with that character. The quality that I'm talking about is called a sense of place, and it is one of the most attractive traits that a city can have as far as being able to encourage tourism and new residency. When a city fosters the development of its sense of place, the return on that investment cannot be overstated.

Walk to the Plaza District: 21/25

The Plaza District is such a place here in Oklahoma City. It gives city residents a place where they know they can depend on a certain atmosphere that is a departure from the white-noise drone of everyday life. The offbeat vibe is the antidote to suburban strip mall living, and when you visit the Plaza District, you can always count on that feeling of escape from the stifling constraints of corporate cookie-cutter consumption.

Located on NW 16th Street between Classen and Penn Avenue, the Plaza District boasts locally-owned restaurants, bars, and shops, all with a decidedly hip sensibility. It is one of our favorite places to go here in OKC, and this past weekend we spent a good bit of time there. On Thursday evening, we were in the mood to try something new, so we decided to walk down to the Plaza District for dinner.

One of our favorite things about the Plaza District is its relative accessibility from a pedestrian perspective. Located a little over 1.5 miles away, it's a tad on the far side, distance-wise, but that distance is made up for by the fact that virtually the entire route has well-kept sidewalks through safe and interesting neighborhoods. Our route takes us up Hudson, through Midtown, through historic Heritage Hills, across Classen (which is the one real negative to this walk, but I'll get to that in a moment), then through the Plaza residential neighborhood, until we finally arrive in the commercial Plaza District. Almost every step of the way is accessible (at least from an able-bodied perspective - as with most of the pedestrian infrastructure in OKC, it is lacking in disability accessibility), safe, and provides pleasant architectural scenery.

Every time we walk to the Plaza District, I feel like we start talking about how enjoyable the walk is, and then without fail, we arrive at the indisputable worst part of the walk.

Panorama view of the intersection at Classen and 16th

 A mutual sigh is heaved, and then we start trying to cross Classen at NW 16th without getting killed. The intersection there is, to put it quite simply, a mess - especially from the pedestrian perspective. This is where NW 16th meets Classen, and Western Avenue veers off here as well. The result is a sprawling, confusing intersection, where a pedestrian has to dash between three different medians with faded, questionable crosswalks and *not one* walk/don't walk signal. 

There's no walk signal!

The intersection is so weirdly aligned that it's even difficult to take cues from the traffic lights themselves; it's not even as easy as walking when your direction of traffic has the green light. I never feel that secure when I'm trying to cross this intersection; it always takes several minutes to get across because it takes that long to take the necessary precautions without proper crosswalks or signals.

We had never been to The Mule before, and have heard nothing but good things about it, so our plan was to have dinner there. Unfortunately, The Mule is even more popular than we ever imagined, as we arrived around 7:00 on a Thursday night and there was already a 40-minute wait! We had stopped by the OKC Holiday Pop-Up Shops at Midtown on the way and we had purchased a beautiful vintage lamp at the RetrOKC pop-up shop; because we were on foot, we had to pick it up on the way back home. We were afraid that between the wait, eating dinner, and walking back, that we might not be able to get in to pick up our lamp by the 9:00pm closing time, so we had to skip The Mule for the night. We are excited to try it out, but it just wasn't going to work out that evening.

OKC Holiday Pop-Up Shops at Midtown

We opted for Empire Slice House instead, which is a big favorite of ours. We love the atmosphere, which reminds us of the kind of funky restaurant we would have gone to back in Athens, Georgia. Empire is always bustling; the lighting is just the right balance between bright and dim, and the walls are covered with vintage rock and roll and pop culture posters. Empire serves whole pizzas as well as the slices promised by its name; the by-the-slice offerings vary daily. So far our favorites are the Fungus Among Us, which features shiitake, portobello, and button mushrooms with spinach and topped with truffle oil, as well as the Rocksteady. The Rocksteady is an amazing pizza achievement, with bacon, gorgonzola, and red onion, with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. We are absolutely crazy about the Rocksteady pizza and I would highly recommend that you walk on down to the Plaza District and get some ASAP!

Tallgrass 8-bit at Empire

The next day, we decided to go to Live On The Plaza, which is a monthly event that happens on the 2nd Friday of each month. The Plaza District website describes this event as "a monthly artwalk featuring live music, featured artists, special events, and local shopping," which to me only describes half of what makes it a worthwhile venture; I feel like the most important and exciting part of the Live On The Plaza event is the simple yet vital fact that everyone is there. I love that going to the Plaza District makes me feel like I'm part of a community. I got to feel like even more of a part of the Plaza community on Friday, as John and I were invited to the Friends of Plaza party to enjoy food and drinks before the Live event. We enjoyed food from Garbanzo (delicious) and cupcakes from Cuppies & Joe (which I had already heard amazing things about, and they did NOT disappoint).

After the Friends of Plaza party, we met up with our new fellow carless friend, Anona, and showed her around the Plaza because she's even newer to OKC than we are! We shopped at RetrOKC (we can't get enough of that place), The Salvage Room, and Bad Granny's Bazaar. We didn't get to stay out as late as we would have liked because we had all gotten up super early, but we still had a fantastic time while we were there.

Now... let's rate the Plaza District!

At a distance of around 1.8 miles from our apartment, The Plaza District rates a C on our walking distance scale. Once at the Plaza District, however, there may be no better walkable area outside of downtown.

The walk to the Plaza District gets a B for pedestrian infrastructure. The trip up to Classen, and after Classen, is about as much as we could ask for as able-bodied pedestrians; however, the trek across Classen is neither safe nor convenient for walking, and the sidewalks, while a welcome amenity for us, are not necessarily very disabled-accessible.

The Plaza District has a reasonably good array of transportation options. The pedestrian infrastructure is obviously alive and well; the Metro Route 10 provides bus access, and it is of course easily reachable by car. The one minus is that while you can ride your bike to the Plaza District, there are no bike lanes. The lack of bike infrastructure puts the transportation options rating at a B.

Land use within and on the way to the Plaza District is definitely one of the best qualities about it. The walk through the Midtown area takes us past food, retail, and residential buildings. The historic Heritage Hills neighborhood with its beautiful houses and park is always a joy to travel through. The Plaza district itself boasts exemplary land use, both in the residential area, with densely placed yet attractive historic homes, and in the commercial district, which is made up of all the restaurants, bars, shops, and residential that you could want in an urban neighborhood. Land use here is definitely an A. 

The Plaza District and the walk both to and from offer a fantastic atmosphere. That whole "sense of place" thing that I was talking about at the beginning of this post? That's what I'm talking about, and the Plaza District has it in spades. The atmosphere grade for the Plaza is a resounding A.

With grades of C, B, B, A, and A, the Plaza District gets a total score of 21 out of 25. 

I hope to see all of you at the next Live On The Plaza, or better yet, come say hi to us if you see us at the Plaza before then. We're sure to be stuffing our faces at Empire, picking up our next piece of vintage furniture at RetrOKC, enjoying some bird dog pie at Pie Junkie, or finally getting a chance to eat dinner at The Mule!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

This Ain't Your Grandma's Taxi! - Our Review of Uber

Alright! We’re back, and we’ve tried out Uber on three different occasions this weekend. If you don't know what Uber is, then read my overview here.

Overall, I like Uber. It’s modern, it’s more exciting than a cab, and there are a host of other great things about it. There are a couple of things that I wasn’t so fond of, but are not deep-rooted issues. So, since everyone seems to talk about how great Uber is, I’ll start with the negatives. J

1. Drivers don’t seem to follow the routes that the Uber website suggests. This leads to discrepancy in the fare price that you expect and what you end up paying.  If you look at the map that projected for us you can see that it’s a route that goes up Classen all the way from downtown to Penn Square Mall. On Google maps this is measured as a 4.7-mile trip. (Click pictures to enlarge)

Now, if you look at the route that our Uber driver, Richard, took, you can see that he took us on Interstate 235 to the Northwest Expressway, and the trip was 7.34 miles.

That’s a two-and-a-half mile difference, or $5. Our projected fare was $12-$13, and it turned out to be $17.

2. Okay, another issue. Some of the drivers do not know their way around the city. Our second driver took over a half-hour to reach us downtown because he didn't know where 5th Street and Hudson Street were… and his GPS was acting wonky. Luckily, I know the city grid pretty well and was able to get him directed toward us. I had to resort to telling him to drive toward the big, tall building downtown (Devon, of course) until you get to 5th Street. While this was an issue, it ended up being a plus, because we were forced to tell him the route we wanted to go to get to Target today. We told him to take 5th Street to Classen Drive, take a right on Classen and then a left at 23rd Street, and then a right on May Avenue. This trip was 6.19 miles and cost us $16.00, as you can see below.

3. We decided to take Uber back home from Target, and were pleased to have a car arrive in just over 5 minutes upon our summoning. This was great, but, the issue is that this driver took the interstates and the same trip we had made to Target (now heading home) ended up being 9.52 miles and costing $22.00. That’s $8 more than it cost us to get out to Target!

So, this tells me that Uber drivers (the ones that know how to drive the city from years of experience) tend to take more expensive routes as a matter of habit. My recommendation to anyone taking Uber is to request that the drivers take the shortest route and to avoid the interstates; an $8 difference is pretty steep.

Those are the only issues I see, and they can be resolved if you know the shortest route to your destination before getting into the car and communicate this with your driver.

Now, the things that I liked!

1. I love the fact that you can call a car from your computer or your phone (using the free app), and then watch them come to you using their GPS tracking system on a map. That is some space-age shit right there. According to our new carless friend, Anona, the bus system in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has the same capacity, and it makes riding public transit much more convenient. This is the kind of technology that can increase transit ridership in Oklahoma City.

2. I love that the drivers are not full-time cab drivers. We met three equally interesting individuals, none of whom had very much in common, but all of whom were very friendly. We talked about how they got involved with Uber:

 Our first driver is driving for Uber because he had to move to Oklahoma City a few months ago to take care of his mother, and he needed to be able to work odd hours. I can barely express how great it makes me feel to know that there are companies like Uber that give people like our first driver the ability to work at their convenience and take care of important personal matters.

Our second driver is a student at OCU (I don’t know which one.. there seems to be a few) and also needs flexible hours so that he can maintain his studies during the week and work as much as possible on the weekends. Uber is a fairly low-stress job that could be much less taxing on a college student than a lot of the jobs I had as a student.

Our third driver is in commercial real estate, and his kids just finished their first semester in college. He’s got a lot more spare time than he did when they were home last year, so he took the advice of some of his younger co-workers and started driving for Uber. He seemed to love meeting the people he’s driving around, and was happy to be able to make some quick cash in his spare time.

3. I really like to not having to worry about having cash like I do with a taxi or the bus. The financial side of Uber is taken care of through their website and the drivers have next to nothing to do with it. I tried to tip them all, and two of them protested but gave in, and one flat-out refused to take it… so I don’t think they expect a tip. You can ride Uber without any cash on you whatsoever.

So, my overall impression of Uber is a positive one. I recommend that you know your route before you ride so that you can get the best deal. So, give it a try! It's the perfect time for you OKC people - there's a promo code to get your first 3 rides free (up to $20 each). Enter OKCLOVESUBERX to get it!

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Upcoming Experiments: Uber and TIMECAR

The last week has been great for Carless in OKC. We've seen a steep increase in views, and have received many great comments from people in the area who are interested in the idea of being less dependent on motor vehicles. In the upcoming two week we'll be doing a couple of experiments to test out alternative methods of getting around town.

1. Uber

Uber is an application that claims to be a more affordable option than taking a taxi, and it's here in OKC! I know that many people are already using the service, and would love to hear feedback on your experiences. I've plotted a route from our home to Penn Square Mall, and Uber has quoted a fare of $12 to $13. That's a distance of 4.75 miles. The major difference I see in Uber and taxis is how the fare is calculated with taxis being based solely upon mileage and Uber being based upon time under a certain speed (11 mph) and distance above this threshold.

A taxi would charge $2.75 as a base rate, with a $1 extra rider fee, and then $0.25 for every 1/8th of a mile. So, that adds up to $13.25 before tip. I'll be interested to see what the charge for Uber ends up being since there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the two in the math. On the Uber OKC blog there is the claim that it is 20% cheaper than a taxi.. so I guess the best way to test this will be to take one form to the mall and the other one on the way back.

We will report back with a comparison of convenience, cost, reliability, and more.


The owner of TIMECAR in OKC has reached out to us, and we plan to try the system out soon. From their website, "TIMECAR is a membership-based car sharing service that provides 24/7 access to vehicles on an hourly and daily basis..." 

Car sharing is a great alternative to car ownership, and unlike Uber, you can actually drive the car. It does require you to have a driver's license, but all of the costs of the car are rolled into an hourly or daily rate. The main difference I see between this service and traditional car rental services is the membership aspect, which can greatly increase convenience and reduce hidden costs.

While these services are potentially very convenient and a good alternative to car ownership, I will be looking into studies to determine what the impact upon the number of cars on the road these services have. Because that is what is most important in pushing this city forward in terms of alternative transportation methods, reducing the need to use a car by creating affordable access to different modes of transportation and walkable/bikeable communities that are self-sufficient.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Cost of Owning a Car vs. Going Car-less

So, I want to do a little comparison of what it costs to own a vehicle versus being car-less.

The Ford F-150 is the best selling car in 2013 (and most of the last 35 years), so it will be the perfect test subject.

The average price to purchase the vehicle is right around $35,000 (Source). Let's assume that you've had another F-150 for 10 years, if you've  kept it in good condition driving an average of 15,000 miles per year, you can expect to get a trade-in value of $4,100 (Source). So that brings your price down to $30,900. Let's say you've also got good credit and are able to make a 20% down payment. So you'll put down $6,180, bringing your car debt down to $24,720. As I mentioned, you've got good credit, and you want to finance your car through your credit union for 48 months. Right now you can expect an interest rate of 3.95%  (Source). This comes out to a monthly car loan payment of $563.92. So, you've committed to paying $27,068 over the next four years to pay down the car debt. In the meantime, you've got other expenses to worry about: Taxes and fees, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and repairs (speeding and parking tickets if you can't follow the rules). Working with the 15,000 miles driven per year figure, you can expect to pay $2,151 in Taxes and fees, $29,452 in fuel costs (wow.), $20,506 in insurance costs, $8,720 in maintenance costs, and $1,774 in repairs. (Source). Now, there are 41,000,000 traffic tickets given out each year in the country, and 196,000,000 drivers, so let's say the average American will get 2 tickets over the lifespan of their car. With an average ticket cost coming to $152, you'll spend $304 on citations. (Source). If you live in a city, you'll have to pay for parking as well, but that's a little more difficult to calculate.

I think that about covers it. I'm not going to calculate depreciation, because I've factored in a trade-in.

So the initial price of the car is $35,000. What do you actually spend over the car's lifetime?

$4,100 trade-in
$6,180 down payment
$27,068 loan repayment
$2,151 in taxes and fees
$29,452 in fuel costs
$20,506 in insurance costs
$8,720 in maintenance costs
$1,774 in repairs
$304 in citation costs
$100,255 over 10 years.

That comes out to a cost of $10,025.50 per year.

Okay, calculating the cost of being car-less will be simpler since it doesn't have to be calculated over a specific timespan. For this we'll include walking, biking, and public transit, as these are the three major modes of alternative transportation in OKC.

It costs no money to walk. That's easy, but there are costs for taking public transit (not everywhere, but in OKC). A monthly bus pass costs $50. Which comes out to $600 per year. Purchasing a bicycle can set you back anywhere between less than $100 to several thousand dollars, but let's assume the user is a commuter and not a bicycle enthusiast. $300 will be our purchase cost, and we'll say the average user spends $80 a year on tune-ups and maintenance. (Source) I refuse to account for theft as a cost, because a car could also be stolen, and if a cyclist locks his bike up, it shouldn't be a problem. $150 for gear includes a helmet, reflective gear and a lock, and let's make that a recurring cost every five years, so $300. I don't really think winter clothing should be calculated for biking and walking because having a car doesn't preclude you from participating in a cold climate.

So for 10 years:

$6,000 in transit fare
$300 for a bike
$800 in maintenance
$300 in gear

That comes out to a cost of $740 per year.

This is 7.4% the cost of car ownership, and you have three modes of travel included compared to one. So, if you only used a bike and walking, you would spend $140 a year. If you only used transit and walking, that would be $600 a year. If you only walk, well, you spend nothing on transportation other than buying new shoes slightly more often than other people, but you'd really have to be walking a lot for it to be a big deal.

So I'll break this down for comparison by year:






This is why walkability is so important. You can save literally 10s of thousands of dollars by not owning a car. If extrapolate the cost of owning an F-150 over 60 years of driving, you're looking at more than $600,000 spent on transportation. I can think of a lot of things that I would like to spend that on other than a vehicle. Our cities should be designed so that people have the option not to spend this kind of money on something that they don't necessarily need.

Oh, and by the way, the average American family has 2.28 cars (Source). So the average family, driving the most common car for 60 years of driving (this obviously isn't the case for EVERYONE), will spend nearly $1,400,000 on cars. I think I'd rather have that for retirement, thank you.

edit: A friend of ours has brought to our attention that the $1.4M is under-shooting the true savings over time:

"I would add that even though the $400,000 (pre-post edit, now $600,000) over 60 years figure is significant and calls for a change in behavior, you have ignored the impact of investing these savings and the power of compounding interest. If you were to invest this roughly $7,000 per year in a low-cost, low-maintenace index fund at 6% annual interest (a fairly conservative assumption over the long run), you would have saved over $3.7 million during this 60 year period. This is savings that CANNOT be ignored."

This is valuable information (which kind of blew my mind) that shows how empowered people can be by not buying into the automobile cycle. More to come on this subject.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Tourists in Their Own City

It's curious that people take their cameras everywhere
Like tourists in their own city, they feel the need to share.

With smiles fixed, and hair just right, and loved ones in their embrace,
They perch on rocks in the park that's their's, they paid for in the first place.

One night a year, maybe two or three, downtown becomes alive,
with citizens who seem overjoyed, who've made the half-hour drive.

I wish they would do this more often, I wish they would take ownership,
of the city they paid for, the city that needs them to do more than take a trip.

It's dead when they're gone, and alive when they're there,
when they're out of their cars, when they all seem to care,
when they notice pedestrians, and are finally aware,
that people do live here, who walk, and bike,
explore the streets every day and night,
who don't need a car to get there.

So, take your pictures and don't forget, that it's more than your loved ones who make up the set.
It's the city around you, the streets and the lights, and others who use them, who give them their life.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Search Is On: Let's Find The Worst Bus Stop in OKC! - Contender #1

Hello everyone! I hope you're all having a great Thanksgiving! Here at Carless HQ, we've been relaxing and sleeping off the huge meal that we ate earlier today.

I've had the idea floating around in my head for awhile that I'd like to start posting photos of awful OKC bus stops as a way to raise awareness about the dismal state of bus stops here in the city. As the resident bus transit expert, I've seen a lot of bus stops here in Oklahoma City, and a lot of them are a pretty disappointing sight to behold. About a week ago, I snapped this photo near the intersection of NW 10th Street and Western Avenue.

The photo doesn't even do justice to this bus stop's true awfulness - click on the picture to get the full effect. In real life, it stopped John and me in our tracks. The bench is pretty much completely unusable. OKC bus stop benches are never an exercise in comfort or hospitality, but this one really steps up the rickety game. First of all, this is an uphill street, so it's already sitting at an angle, since it's aligned parallel to the road rather than at the customary angle, which would alleviate a bit of the slope. Next, bring your attention to the seat slats: they're all warped, splintered, and resting on different levels. Look at the exposed nail! Who knew that a tetanus shot would be a prerequisite for using a bus stop? I don't think anyone would attempt to sit here, which I would usually say is the entire point of the seat being so awful - to ensure as much visibility for the back billboard ad space without the obstruction of a seat occupant - but the even the advertisement is in disrepair. It's all peeled off and obviously hasn't been changed or tended to in months. Get it together, people. If you're going to run an ad-space-under-the-guise-of-bus-stops racket, at least do it right and keep those ads looking sharp.

Let's not forget to mention the huge amount of litter on the ground in front of the stop. That's not really the fault of the bus stop itself as much as the people walking or standing by, but the trash certainly doesn't help the overall aesthetics of the stop.

Is this the worst bus stop in OKC? It's pretty wretched, but I'm reasonably confident that it isn't the worst, so let's keep looking! Do you know of a particularly awful OKC bus stop? Comment and let us know, or better yet, snap a picture and share it with us!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Elizabeth's Trip To Work - Carless Rating #5

Good news, everyone: As of a week ago, I am an employee of the State of Oklahoma! The Carless Couple are now both employed. Looks like the ordeal of carless interviewing was a success!

I’ve been working for a full week now, and I have – of course – been taking the OKC Metro bus to and from work each day. Overall, it’s been a success, but I have hit a few snags.

Bus Commute to Elizabeth's Work: 15/25

The trek to work each day has been consistent and reliable. I get on the bus at the transit center at 7:15; it has, for the most part, arrived on time. The great thing is, the bus arrives at my destination around 7:40-7:45, so I have just the right amount of wiggle room in case the bus is late to the transit center. It’s not so early as to be annoying, but not so late as to make me too nervous if the bus shows up about 5 minutes late, which did happen once this past week. Luckily, the driver wasn’t messing around; she picked up passengers and got moving within about a minute of the usual pull-off time, so by the time all was said and done, the bus was only about 1 minute later than it would have usually been. I was very grateful for her efficiency!

Another big plus for my bus commute to work is that there is a bus stop directly in front of my building and another bus stop more or less across the street, so I don’t have to walk too far between my building and the bus stop either coming to or going from work. The pedestrian infrastructure in the area is another story – the bus may drop off directly in front of my building, but there are no sidewalks and a pretty sizable lawn between the building and the bus stop that I have to cross. It’s either trek across the sloping lawn, or backtrack down the road (on the curb – no sidewalks) to get to the driveway and walk up it. I usually choose the lawn, but if the grass were very wet or muddy, I imagine that I would take the driveway option.

Leaving work to come home is more stressful, and the lack of pedestrian infrastructure in the area is mainly to blame. First, there’s the lawn I have to cross, and as the return bus stop is a tad further down the road than right across the street, I have to walk on the grass/curb to get to where I cross the street to get to the bus stop. Then, I get to dash across four lanes of traffic with no crosswalks anywhere to be seen! Fortunately, it’s not a terribly busy road. The traffic on NE Martin Luther King is definitely consistent but I have been able to cross each time without feeling like I had to take any kind of unreasonable risk; the visibility is fair in both directions.

The bus stop, though… it’s not the best.

There’s the obvious lack of sidewalk, for starters. There’s also the ubiquitous borderline-unusable bench seat that is nothing more than a glorified ad space – they’re always sitting at some weird angle, aren't they? I almost feel like the builders put a level on the seat planks and then make sure that bubble is off to the side. Surely the earth in Oklahoma City is not shifting this much. We don’t live in a bubbling prehistoric miasma. I mean, it IS just an excuse to provide ad space; why would they want the bus stop benches to be comfortable? The feeling you get on an OKC bus stop bench is either that you’re sitting on a really hard wooden recliner or tipping over the top of the first hill on a rickety old roller coaster.

One of the worst things about OKC bus stops is that there is usually no kind of shelter. I would say that maybe 10% of them have a covering at all. Usually this isn't a big problem personally, as I tend to be well-prepared for my travels (on time to the bus stop, appropriately dressed, carrying umbrella if needed), but this lack is keenly felt here at this bus stop, where I have to wait a bit for the bus after work. This past week in particular was a time when a shelter would have been appreciated – I stupidly forgot my umbrella and had to wait over 20 minutes in the freezing rain before my bus arrived. I don’t usually have to wait that long, but our department was released early on Friday because of the inclement weather, so I wasn't at the bus stop at my usual time.

The pick-up time on my return trip home has been a bit of a pain. According to my route schedule, the estimated pick-up time for my stop in the afternoon is around 4:50pm. The actual pick-up time varied pretty widely this week, but it seems like there’s a fairly consistent 15-minute window of time within which I can plan on catching the bus home. As long as I am prepared every day with a coat, hat, and gloves and an umbrella (and some rain boots, once I find some – there were NONE at Target this weekend, can you believe that?), I should be okay. I also need thermal underwear. I learned quickly this week that the blustery wintertime in OKC requires thermal underwear, so I picked some up this weekend.

My other issue with the commute to and from work has less to do with the transit system or pedestrian infrastructure and more to do with the way people tend to view public transit. I really like my coworkers so far, but they’ve been a little weird about my bus travel. Don’t get me wrong; they’ve been very accommodating about it – my boss even told me that if I needed to arrive or leave early or late to make sure I could catch the bus, that we could work out a modified schedule for me. This gesture was ultimately unnecessary but I very much appreciated that she extended the offer. The problem is that people treat me like I’m less fortunate because I ride the bus, and this really, really bothers me. When John and I tell people that we’re living without a car, they are always confused, and their confusion turns to outright befuddlement when we tell them that our carlessness is largely by choice. 

My coworkers have reacted in much the same way, and I’ve already grown tired of trying to explain why we choose not to drive a car. Even more than that, I’m sick of trying to explain why it’s really okay: We live directly across the street from the transit center, I don’t mind waiting a little while for a bus, I always make sure to be prepared for the weather, so on and so forth. I've always known that there is a considerable amount of public transit stigma in many parts of the US, but I knew it in a more abstract way. Now this stigma is slapping me in the face every day. I struggle with this more than I care to admit; the idea of being pitied upsets me, especially when it’s for a condition (a voluntary condition, even!) that I don’t feel warrants any sort of sympathy or condolences.

The more I have to tell people that it’s really okay that I ride the bus to work, the more discouraged I feel about the future of walkability and alternative transportation. If people don’t view alternate forms of transportation as actual alternatives, then the whole system doesn't work. If a municipality works very hard and puts lots of resources into building up great programs like Complete Streets, but nobody who wouldn't have already used alternative forms of transportation makes use of the expanded options, what has truly been accomplished? I would like to believe that the concept of Complete Streets operates under a sort of “if you build it, they will come” system, but the more I hear from people who exclusively drive cars, the more I doubt that. To me, the big question then becomes: how do we make alternative forms of transportation attractive as true alternatives?

I know that John and I will both talk a lot more about this idea in the future here on Carless In OKC, but those are the feelings that have been stirring in me after this first week of work. With all that being said, let’s get to the walkability rating!

At a distance of around 5 miles, this trip gets an F on our walkability scale, but since public transit allows me to only walk about half a mile, which would be an A, I’ll rate it a B overall.

The pedestrian infrastructure on this trip does not rank well. The area around my work has zero sidewalks and no crosswalks, but the walk to the transit center by my home is very pedestrian-friendly. I’ll rate it a D overall.

The transportation options are not terrible here, but not great. The area has car access and great bus access, but, again, no sidewalks/crosswalks for pedestrians, and no bike lanes. I would think this area to be a pretty terrifying area to cycle, but I actually saw a lone cyclist the other day. He was wearing a full kit, though, so I don’t think he represents the average cycling commuter – he is probably very, very used to riding his bike on traffic-ridden roads with no separate bike lane. I’ll rate the trip a C in transportation options.

The land use in this area is pretty abysmal. It’s mainly one- or two-level government buildings set on large tracts of land for no apparent reason. I saw a state trooper playing outside with a police dog the other day, but there’s no formal K-9 training area that I can see, so I don’t think that the departments located there truly warrant the acres of lawn upon which these buildings are located.  There are no stores or restaurants within reasonable walking distance, although my department has the courtesy to provide an employee cafeteria for those who don’t bring their lunch but also don’t want to get in their car during their lunch break. I’ll rate this a D in land use.

It’s been a very overcast week, so I’ll try not to let that color my opinion of the atmosphere too much, but when you’re considering government buildings against a grey sky, it’s hard not to think it’s a little dismal. However, the lawn behind the buildings is quite pretty; it’s hilly, there are some scattered trees, and further back, woods. This is all visible from the employee cafeteria dining room and makes for an enjoyable view if you’re eating down there. Across the street, it’s not very nice, though. The return bus stop is surrounded by litter against a backdrop of a chain link fence that separates the shoulder of the road from a scrappy wooded area. The entire area does feel safe overall, mostly because of the fact that it’s crawling with state troopers. I’ll rate the atmosphere a B.

With a B, a D, a C, a D, and a B, my trip to work scores 15 out of 25. I can’t complain very much at all – I am able to get to work on time and with minimal hassle, and my commute home is a little less tranquil but certainly do-able.