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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.)

Legacy Comments13

I read this letter as more pro-cycling/anti car, than caring about the homeless. Just what we need, an even more spandex friendly downtown.

Yes! There's our answer! We must provide all homeless persons with free bicycles! That will solve their problems!

They have bikes in NYC now. You swipe your credit card and you rent a bike directly. They could swipe their EBT card, just like they do at the liquor store and when they buy cigarettes. That might work.

Here's how the headline should've read: To end homeless, we must reduce dependence on alcohol and drugs.

To end homelessness we need a President and Congress who will unleash the economy by reducing regulations, fines, fees and taxes so that demand for goods increases, thus, creating more jobs and opportunities for everyone!

How does demand for good increase when you reduce regulations, fines, fees and taxes on the producers? Don't you need to increase the consumers' spending power before demand will increase? You can have the most deregulated economy in the world, but if people don't have extra money to spend, they're not going to spend it. The only other way to increase demand is to lower prices. Can't see that happening anytime soon. Corporations gotta make a profit.

Demand increases because of competition and better prices. Competition breeds lower prices. If you only have one cable company in NH, they can charge what they want, they have a monopoly. NYC is a perfect example of competition. When you live there, you know where to get the best at the lowest cost. That is why WalMart is so successful and Shaws is going under. Why would you pay shaw's prices when you have the choice of Hanaford of Market Basket? That also applies to Main Street. Small store inventories require higher prices to make a profit. That is why they are going under on Main Street. Concord does not have the income levels to support small expensive stores or services. I love Main Street stores and Services, but the reality is that it takes a certain income level to afford to shop there. We are not Concord MA.

There is an important fundamental work in classical economics called Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." As it appears you are conflicted on many economic principles this is a well recommended read.

Itsa - get with the lingo of the day....the solution is to raise minimum wages 40% and take all of other peoples wealth and redistribute it.

do cities like NYC, where public transportation is everywhere, have large homeless populations?

Bingo! Homelessness is not happening at the same level here in NH. It is not just about jobs, it is about mental illness but the patient rights movement of the 1970's released many folks to the streets and if you look into history, that is when people started being homeless.

Bingo is right. Homelessness did exist before but accelerated when not everyone released from the Old State Hospital, took advantage of the free bus tickets to Ma. that were handed out. Bleeding hearts were all for more humane treatment, yet here we are nearly 44 years later and the same folks don't want to see them in Concord.

There were lots of homeless in Boston when I lived there, but I didn't have to be one of them if something happened to my car because it was a short walk to the T. In Concord if your car dies and you don't live close to work you will probably end up jobless (then homeless) if you can't afford your car.

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