Above: It’s the simple things in life; such as riding your bike to and passing out in the park on a Sunday afternoon.
“In the long run, I will optimize a way to decrease car dependence…”
In early 2016, a month or two before Josie was born, I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s interview with Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, when Adeney answered with the above in response to Ferriss’s question about how he optimizes his life for happiness. This lit a spark in me.
Backstory – in 2015, we bought a home in a newly developed neighborhood about 15 miles outside of Park City towards Heber. It was, and still is, a beautiful home. Spacious, new construction, with overwhelming views of the Heber Valley and the mighty Mount Timpanogos for a backdrop. There was just one problem: it required us to be car dependent for anything beyond a neighborhood stroll. This turned out to be a deal-breaker for us.
That aforementioned spark eventually grew into full-on wildfire as I came to realize the absurdity of our car culture on every level – economically, environmentally, health & lifestyle. Let’s break it down.
Environment Impacts of Car Dependence
This one’s obvious and well documented. From the costs of constructing & maintaining car-centric infrastructure such as roads and parking areas, to the damage done by resource extraction, transport, and refinement, to the actual pollutants emitted by auto travel, driving gasoline powered automobiles is one of the most commonly accepted destructive & unsustainable practices there is.
Economic Impacts of Car Dependence
Most people recognize that cars are not good investments. The amount a new car depreciates simply by driving off the lot is something like 33%. Furthermore, happiness studies show that consumer satisfaction derived from a new vehicle purchase last about two weeks. However, aside from the initial investment, what most never factor into the true costs of car ownership is the everyday costs of driving. For work-related vehicles, the IRS allows a deduction of .53 cents/per mile. Given that it’s the IRS, let’s assume this is a conservative estimate, and just to make the math simple, let’s knock it down to .50 cents/mile. Kassie’s commute to work was 25 miles each way with taking Josie to daycare (without daycare it was still over 20 miles).
25 miles/day, 2x/day = 50 miles/day.
50 miles/day * 180 school days/year = 9,000 miles driven a year (assuming the absolute minimum)
9,000 miles * $0.50 = $4,500 yearly cost of driving.
So using a conservative estimate, based on the absolute minimum amount of possible driving allowable in a our current situation (I work from home, but am often out running errands, going to meetings, or transporting baby girl) we are spending a minimum of $4,500 on auto travel. Realistically, that number is likely at least double that after you factor in trips to the grocery, for activities, my travel costs, etc… I recently came across a statistic (though I can’t recall from where) that the average cost of car ownership is about $12,000/year, which based on the above math seems about right, especially if you have a car payment. Double that for a two car household, and then think about how much of that money you could be saving or putting towards a better investment, such as a closer home.
Furthermore, while people are quick to factor in gas prices to their commute, what they most typically leave out, and is way more valuable (and scarce) is their time. Kassie’s old commute was 45 minutes each way (factoring in the daycare stop) or 1.5 hr/day. That is 270 hours a year. Based on a conservative hourly wage of $20/hour, that’s over $5,000 of non-paid work time a year.
However, in addition to the 270 yours a year she is required to be doing something she’s not getting paid for, it’s time spent in an unhealthy, high-risk situation, which brings us to the health/lifestyle component of car dependence.
Health & Lifestyle Impacts of Car Dependence
What if I told you there was an epidemic more deadly than opioids and gun violence that is simply accepted as the status quo. While school shootings, drugs, and terrorism are what get headlines (which are equally horrific and preventable) the fact is, you and your child are more likely to be injured or die in an auto-related accident. This is even after years of enacted safety measures, councils on safety, transportation boards, etc… At only two years of age, Josie had already been in two car accidents (one going highway speed which totaled the vehicle and was one of the scariest phone calls I’ve yet to receive), and I simply can’t in good conscious put her on a deadly road twice a day so I can enjoy a nice view with a spacious open floor plan for a reasonable price per square foot.
In addition to the obvious accident related potential for injury and/or death, there are numerous studies that correlate car commuting with disease, shorter lifespans, declines in happiness, and depression. On the flip-side, there are numerous studies showing those who commute by foot or bicycle are healthier, happier, and tend to live longer.
The more the above lingered with me, all I could think about was getting out of Heber and back to Park City where I could walk, ride, or bus anywhere I needed to go. Our parents thought we were crazy for giving up what we had, after all we were ONLY 15 minutes away. However since selling and moving back to Park City, I haven’t looked back or once questioned whether or not it was the right decision.
Fast-forward to spring 2018, we put our house on the market, sold within a week, found a rental in Park City and have been scrupulously watching local real estate listings ever since. In April we finally found a small single family in the Blackhawk (thanks Christine!) neighborhood that checked most of the boxes. A month or so later, here we are starting to finally feel settled after years of debate over where we wanted to be and what was important to us in a home; which I think can be summed up best as:
- Live where we work/play. Park City is one of those unique places people choose to live. There are some natives, but by-in-large people seek it out. We’re very fortunate to have found the opportunities here we have and hope not ever to take it for granted.
- Ditch car dependence. Kassie can ride all the way to school on a designated bike path. We are one stop away from from the transit center. Josie can ride her bike and there are hundreds of miles of trails out the door. Theoretically, we could get all the way to SLC airport without stepping foot in a car. This is huge for us.
- Downsize – after living in a moderately sized house by American standards, we decided we never wanted a big house (over 2,000 sq ft). We ended up buying a home nearly half the size of our last house which has forced us to take a more minimalist approach to objects and consumption. This focuses us to spend money and time only on things that align most with our values.
- A long-term investment that would yield both comfort and monetary return. The home we bought was recently renovated, and has minimal required maintenance which allows us to enjoy the things we call Park City home for – skiing, biking, etc… Additionally, Park City has seen great real estate appreciation so even if we paid more than we would have liked to get in, we’re confident that 10-15 years down the road the return will be worth it.
- Listen to Tim Ferriss’s Interview & Learn More About Mr. Money Mustache
- Watch “The Amazing Way Bicycles Change You” Ted Talk
- Read Happy City by Charles Montgomery