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Why “One Less Car” is not just a hipster mantra

Prior to COVID, It occurred to me that the biggest challenge to our economic success as individuals–and perhaps our biggest economic challenge as a community at large–is that we all work too far from where we live.

That is, if our commutes were shorter in terms of both time and distance, we’d all be better off. This idea isn’t new, of course, but it hadn’t really been proven until COVID-mania destroyed the American work-commute cycle as we know it.

When governors ordered businesses closed, and millions of people lost their jobs, the impact on commuting at large was instantly felt as, suddenly, far fewer cars were on the roads… and the impact was big.

Among those still employed, a majority were now working remotely, with many Americans now pocketing the 2 to 4% of their income ordinarily spent on automotive fuel and upkeep–adding instantly to their saving or spending power. This is the same effect, perhaps to a smaller degree, that would be seen if people simply commuted a shorter distance in a post-COVID world.

This got me thinking – shorter commutes are more compatible with riding a bike to work. In many work environments, a commute of less than 10 miles creates a pragmatic opportunity for bike riders to combine their work commute with a calorie burn.

But that’s not the only benefit of a bicycle commute. With places like Naples largely land-locked and highly developed, there isn’t any room left for more lanes of traffic. There simply aren’t any ways to accommodate more cars. Riding your bike means getting a car off the roads, and in a rapidly urbanizing place like Naples, that’s beneficial to all modes of transports. In this sense, cars slow things down, while bicycle use reduces gridlock and brings more value to the roadways.

Which brings us to the point: how close would your home have to be from your workplace for you to consider riding your bike to work? What about the grocery story, or the salon?

How can communities like Naples, now suffering with the car-first design paradigms of decades’ past, adopt the philosophy of “one less car”?

It’s important that we figure out answers to that question, and soon. In a mainly service-based local economy, only catering to cars prices certain kinds of labor of out of the marketplace. That is, many workers cannot afford to live in Naples… and now, sadly, many workers cannot afford to WORK here either, because the roads are too clogged for the buses, the commutes are too long to bicycle, or the commutes are too fuel-consuming to be financially worth it.

So, we’ve got our work cut out for us as a community. We need to find ways for people to live closer to their jobs, provide safe, time-effective pathways for transport by bicycle, and make it possible for cars to stay in the garage at commute time.

One project that addresses two of these three outcomes–at least partially, is the Paradise Coast Trail project of the Naples Pathways Coalition. Please consider supporting it.