My Turn: To end homelessness, we must reduce dependence on cars
Concord’s Plan to End Homelessness fails to consider that transportation causes as much as one third of the problem.
Our culture is deeply rooted in an auto-centric lifestyle. We assume that people will get around by car and offer few real alternatives. To fully participate in society, owning and operating a car is essentially required.
For those working at the lowest wages in our community, car ownership consumes considerable income. Those unemployed have an even harder time participating. The IRS estimates a car costs 51 cents per mile to own and operate. If someone drives 10 miles round trip for work, that is $5.10 per day. Other errands would add more miles. Assuming one drives 10,000 miles in a year, this equates to $5,100 per year, $14 per day or about $98 each week.
Consider how many weeks a year you, or someone else, has to work to pay for that car. At minimum wage, 40 hours per week earns $5,100 in about 18 weeks or about 4½ months. At this wage, people work from January to mid-May just to pay for the car! That’s more than a third of the year – just for the car!
Housing has additional costs for parking. Ask any developer what it costs to provide parking because it’s not free. This is passed on, increasing the cost of housing, requiring more hours to pay for car storage. Higher property taxes to maintain auto-centric roadways further increases cost of housing.
If Concord is really committed to ending homelessness, the analysis must include consideration of transportation. To do otherwise ignores the elephant in the city. Auto-centric social order is bankrupting America, enslaving some people to work from January through May to pay for it.
From my perspective as an everyday transportation cyclist, the community would be better served by making cycling a safe choice for all people. To do so requires we build infrastructure necessary to allow people to choose alternatives to auto-centric travel. The benefits are considerable from lowering the cost of living, improving health and well being, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and increasing social capital.
We could be investing in infrastructure that protects vulnerable cyclists of all ages. We could make Main Street cycle-friendly for all by painting diagonal parking as back-in instead of front-in. We could be investing in more frequent bus service between Concord and Manchester, with direct access on Main Street. We could be looking at how rail can be reintroduced to Concord to move people efficiently.
There is so much that can be done to end homelessness, but we must face the impact of auto-centric transportation if we are to have any hope of success.
(Robert T. Baker lives in Concord.)