By Pablo Monsivais and Rhonda Kae Young
Americans are feeling the squeeze of the highest annual inflation rates in 40 years, especially when it comes to gas prices and the costs of transportation.
Leading this trend was energy, with gas prices increasing by 49% from May 2021 and blowing past $5 per gallon in June 2022. Year-over-year prices for motor vehicles have also shown double-digit increases, putting average monthly car payments for new and used at $648 and $503, respectively. Together with insurance, maintenance costs, and depreciation, owning and operating a car eats a big chunk of household budgets. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that an average car driven 15,000 miles per year in 2020 costs American households more than $9500 per year. It’s no wonder that transportation costs make up the second largest category of household spending, after housing.
With cars and gas so costly, people are switching it up when it comes to getting around. A recent survey of U.S. drivers found that 2 out of 3 have made or will make significant changes to their driving patterns if fuel prices stay high. Most common changes included cutting back vehicle use for just necessities, combining trips, and even canceling planned summer holiday travels by car. That survey also found that 1 in 3 drivers were leaving their cars parked and using public transit. Another survey conducted in April found that high gas prices prompted 44% of drivers to replace some car trips with walking and 18% of drivers to hop on a bike instead of drive. With expensive and volatile gas prices on top of higher cost of motor vehicles, increasing the range of high-quality transportation options is more important than ever for our community.
As residents and visitors seek out transportation alternatives, the network of options for getting around Spokane safely and cheaply is gaining momentum, with even grander plans on the horizon. Under construction now, the next phase of the South Gorge Trail will fully connect downtown Spokane through Peaceful Valley to the Sandifur Bridge, creating a nearly complete loop for walking and biking around the Spokane River Gorge. The Riverside Avenue improvements, under construction this year and next, will provide all new east- and west-bound protected bike lanes. The recently passed Move Ahead Washington transportation bill includes a slew of infrastructure investments for walking and bicycling, including Neighborhood Greenways on Cook Street and Pacific Avenue, as well as completion of the long-planned Millwood Trail. Shared mobility options such as the Lime e-scooters and e-bikes provide a convenient option for making use of these new routes and help lower the barrier of entry through equity incentives such as the Lime Access program.
Investments in protected bike lanes like those on Riverside and separated paths like those along the Gorge represents the next generation of bicycle infrastructure, physically separating people on bicycles from motor vehicle traffic. Research studies show that giving motor vehicles and bicycles their own space makes city streets safer for everyone. Replacing some car trips with walking, biking, and taking the bus can save you money, and offer a fun and healthy alternative for your household. And with Spokane’s growing network of protected lanes and paths, safety for people on bikes is also improving. As our days get longer and warmer, it’s a great time to try going places by bike! This summer solstice, experience a route of car-free streets around Manito and Comstock Parks with the return of Spokane Summer Parkways on Tuesday evening.
Pablo Monsivais, PhD, MPH, is an academic public health scientist and teacher and a member of the City of Spokane’s Bicycle Advisory Board. Rhonda Kae Young, PhD, PE, is an academic transportation engineer and teacher and is a member of City of Spokane’s Bicycle Advisory Board.
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