When I wrote the Concrete Life (Part 2 and Part 3) a couple years ago, I was rather pessimistic that anything would change anytime soon in the U.S. – that the huge sprawling urban centers would only continue to grow. It can be enjoyable traveling to a large city to enjoy the diversity and entertainment that they offer, but after a couple days of driving around on crowded freeways and seeing miles and miles and miles of box stores, parking lots, and strip malls, I usually end up being a bit more depressed. I end up wondering where are the clean futuristic cities that were portrayed in the science fiction of years ago. It would seem we are trapped with overbuilt and aging infrastructure with the only thing that could transform society and the economy is a catastrophe (let’s hope not!).
One method of changing the polluted concrete American jungle into something more desirable would be through changing our priorities. As I mentioned in “Housing Starts Are Negative“, if we place more emphasis on other metrics of progress, like economic efficiency, health, happiness, etc. then maybe there will be less focus on building more stuff (just for the economy’s sake). When we stop looking upon the building of a new freeway interchange as a sign of progress and instead a sign of more traffic jams and pollution, then we will be getting somewhere.
The other method of changing some aspects of the concrete life is through technology. The pollution created on all the freeways around the country could be cut down with the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). The effect would be even better if people powered them up using solar panels – which some early-adopters are already doing. Helping spur this transition toward EVs is a company I have profiled a couple of times here in the blog – Project Better Place. They just recently launched a fleet of 100 EVs for the roads in Israel. The cars have a range of 100 miles and can have their batteries switched at one of several different “battery stations” in the country. Next year, they expect the top selling cars in Israel and Denmark to be electric. Of course, it is one thing to drive EVs and make a big impact in tiny countries like Denmark and Israel, it is another thing to do it in the U.S. Hopefully they can make money overseas in order to expand more here in the U.S. Currently, I think they only have one battery changing station in the San Francisco Bay area (and one in Tokyo).
RelayRides for car sharing
Another way that traffic and pollution might come down is through car sharing. At first this sounded rather foreign to me because like most Americans I treat my car like an extension of my home. It is almost a like fundamental right of being American – to have your own car. After I thought about it a bit more, it started to make sense, and it is definitely making more and more sense for young people in Urban environments around the U.S and in Europe. Car sharing is increasing. I could probably get by on car sharing. My wife and I live within walking or biking distance to work. We would only need to rent/share a car one a week for groceries/shopping, and about once a month to visit family or relatives outside of Wausau.
Not only does car sharing cut down on traffic, it saves people who don’t drive a lot a ton of money. Owning a car is a huge money sink. The upfront cost is of course one of the bigger expenditures people make in their life (other than a house). Then there are the ongoing costs which pile up significantly – most of them mandated by government.
- Fuel costs, including ever increasing gas taxes.
- Parking cost, exorbitant in big cities
- Insurance, mandated in most states
- Toll roads in many areas of the country
- Car tax – the yearly registration – always going up.
- Regular maintenance
- Annual vehicle inspections/smog inspections in many states
- Fines for not maintaining you vehicle
- The list goes on and on.
When I think about how little time I spend in my car (especially in the Summer when I ride to work), it is amazing how much money I pour into it. We certainly value our freedom to roam.
Have a nice Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew
Posted under Alternative Energy, Pollution, Technology
This post was written by jloew on January 30, 2012