An article about housing and transportation costs

While this isn’t directly bike-commuter-related, this is a topic worth sharing. My friend Jefro sent a link to the following article, which discusses housing choice and how that affects transportation costs. Chris Balish also talks about this in his book How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life (book review here). Basically — and this should come as no surprise to the money-saving commuters among us — carefully choosing where one lives and works has the potential to be a financially savvy move:

Housing policymakers have long lamented the trend of home-buyers who “drive to qualify.” If they can’t find anything affordable in the city, house hunters wander farther and father out in search of a mortgage or a rent payment that matches their pocketbook. But of course, there’s a serious flaw in this thinking: The farther you go in search of cheaper housing, the more expensive your transportation costs become.

Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology calls this “the hidden cost of housing location,” and CNT has for several years been trying to illustrate the tradeoff for homeowners and government officials who may not realize gallons of gas add up almost as fast as mortgage payments do. The Chicago-based organization maintains a massive, geo-coded database of location-specific information on average housing costs, driving rates, transportation costs, and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. The online, interactive index is both highly useful in allowing comparisons of typical household costs in different locations and highly revealing as it illuminates the benefits of close-in, walkable neighborhoods in bringing those costs down.

Read the full article by visiting The Atlantic Cities.


  1. Mike Myers March 7, 2012 5:00 am 

    It is quite a dilemma, isn’t it? Jack, I remember when the Suncoast Parkway was built—we were told that allowed Pasco and Hernando counties to become bedroom communities of Tampa. People were encouraged to live in Hernando county then work in Tampa, which is what, 60 miles away?

    I can understand not wanting to raise children in the city, however. There’s something to be said for living in a semi-rural area as a child. So I guess people have to make a choice. Either you live in the city, with all that entails good and bad, so you can make a better living—or you live in a semi-rural area and make less money BUT give you kids a safer environment.

    I can’t imagine that’s an easy decision.

  2. Graham March 7, 2012 5:42 am 

    I wonder what the cost of gasoline will have to be to reverse this trend? For public school teachers this threshold has already been reached which is why I bought a house in town, but I suppose that paid professionals still have some wiggle room in their budgets left. 😉

  3. Emika_B March 7, 2012 9:51 am 

    I live in Hawaii and housing and gas are crazy expensive. Your average single family home is somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 and gas is over $4/gallon. After I got married and moved out of my parents’ house my husband and I made sure that wherever we lived was on a bus line. Fortunately, Oahu has one of the best bus systems around. Unfortunately, Oahu does not have the best bike system around. Buses are equipped with bike racks and for those stretches between bike paths/lanes they’re useful. Otherwise, Hawaii is a very motor-centric state. It’s really sad.

    Anyway, yes, transportation figures very much into my housing choice. Can’t afford to commute by car and commuting by bike can be terrifying, so that just leaves the bus. Accommodation of choice not on the bus line? Forget it. I’d commute entirely by bike if I could and save myself the $60 for my monthly bus pass (or $2.50 per ride if I don’t have it with me).

    Anyone got specs for a bike mounted steel cage to keep the vehicles away? (Kidding – most motorists here are pretty good but are dreadfully unaware of the 3 feet bubble the law requires for bikes.)

  4. BluesCat March 7, 2012 11:03 am 

    Yer Honor, may it please the court, here are the facts of the case before you today.

    My wife and I head in opposite directions when we head out to work in the mornings; quite literally, in fact: she heads southeast and I head northwest.

    Her commute is a 12 mile trip by car, mine is an 8 mile ride on one of my bicycles.

    Her three-year-old Honda gets 23% better gas mileage than my larger, twelve-year-old Honda.

    Sometime during this coming June, the company she works for will be moving their offices to a building even further away from our house, adding approximately 6 to 7 miles to her commute.

    Mrs. Cat feels this is an opportune time to move to a newer home in a better neighborhood southeast of our current location to make for a shorter commute for her. I agree that this is an opportune time to move, but I think we should go northwest, and she might consider quitting her job.

    I put myself at the mercy of the court, thank you.

  5. Ghost Rider March 7, 2012 2:34 pm 

    @Blues — some things to consider (which you probably already have…you seem like a savvy cat):

    — can you live on one salary?
    — are there alternatives for your wife’s commute…namely convenient bus service?
    — do you have it in you for additional mileage on your bike?
    — are there any opportunities for her to telecommute one or more days a week?
    — is moving truly worth it?
    — any job prospects for her closer to your existing residence?

  6. Iron_Man March 7, 2012 4:23 pm 

    The bike commute factored heavily in our home search back in 2007. Homes on or near the designated bike routes were a plus. I had been commuting 36 round trip, three days a week, and was looking forward to a shorter commute so I could switch to everyday and tackle year round. Now the commute is only 14 round trip. When it’s perfect outside I miss the 36 miler, but when it’s freezing, raining, or blazing hot, I don’t miss it much at all–other than the additional 1,600 calories I was burning.

  7. A New Bike March 7, 2012 8:48 pm 

    It amazes me how little location matters to some people. I think most people (see: More than 50 percent) think there is a definite happiness to square feet ratio. I don’t even care about the costs, I just don’t understand how some people make where they sleep irrelevant to where they live.

  8. Mir.I.Am March 7, 2012 8:48 pm 

    I echo your sentiments, Iron Man! I moved out to the burbs ON PURPOSE for almost two years to move in with friends who had a bigger place with more space for my work-from-home BF. 25 miles RT – making the trip 5 days a week depending on rain or late nights at work.

    Said good friend moved out and we moved into a better place in the nitty-gritty city, Chinatown! Definitely worth the small amount of rent upgrade. My commute is down to 3 miles RT now, and I don’t regret it! I never have to take the bus home from work, since I can always walk if I can’t bike. I do miss the sunny morning commutes and two hours of exercise per day, but if that’s the case, I just walk to stretch out the morning…

  9. BluesCat March 8, 2012 8:07 am 

    GR – Yeah, I’ve done preliminary think-tanking about all of those:
    – One salary? Yeah, probably, but her salary gives her a sense of independence and self-worth and it really helps in tough times like these, when my hours have been reduced, temporarily.
    – Public transportation alternatives? The Phoenix metropolitan area has abysmal public transportation; we do have access to the Metro light rail system, and it does head out in the direction of her new office, but I don’t think there are any stations close to her new office.
    – Could I do more miles on the bike? Yeah, I probably could, but the irony is that it would make Mrs. Cat MORE nervous! She doesn’t ride, and so really doesn’t understand how I use local roads, and mall parking lots, to make my ride as wimpy and safe as possible.
    – Telecommuting for Mrs. Cat? She broached the subject with her employer years ago, and it was a no-go; could be a possibility with this office move, though.
    – Is moving worth it? That wouldn’t happen right away; with the improving housing market, we’re really close to being back right-side-up on our mortgage, and we’d BOTH like to get into a smaller place.
    – Mrs. Cat switching jobs? This month, she’ll be hitting 20 years with this company; I’m thinking she might be reluctant to change jobs.

    Luckily, we’ve got some time to talk about, and plan for, her office move.

  10. JazzyJ March 8, 2012 3:23 pm 

    And not just the money, my lord the time!

    This article below was also a real eyeopener for me. I have always made the decision to sacrifice pretty much anything for a short commute because I hate being in a car. So it perpetually blows my mind what people will put up commute-wise.

    “This misconception about what is a reasonable commute is probably the biggest thing that is keeping most people in the US and Canada poor.

    Let’s take a typical day’s drive for this self-destructive couple. Adding 38 miles of round-trip driving at the IRS’s estimate of total driving cost of $0.51 per mile, there’s $19 per day of direct driving and car ownership costs. It is possible to drive for less, but these people happen to have fairly new cars, bought on credit, so they are wasting the full amount.

    Next is the actual human time wasted. At 80 minutes per day, the self-imposed driving would adding the equivalent of almost an entire work day to each work week – so they would now effectively be working 6 workdays per week.

    After 10 years, multiplied across two cars since they have different work schedules, this decision would cost them about $125,000 in wealth (if they had for example chosen to put the $19/day into extra payments on their mortgage), and 1.3 working years worth of time, EACH, spent risking their lives daily behind the wheel.

    That’s EVERY ten years. And that’s with a commute that most Americans claim is “not too bad”.”

  11. Ghost Rider March 8, 2012 4:39 pm 

    I am guilty of “putting up with” a terrible commute…for those of you who live in Florida, you may be familiar with Lake City. I worked there for nearly 8 years, but wouldn’t dream of living there, so I lived south in Gainesville and had a roughly 100 mile roundtrip commute EVERY DAY. Miserable. I spent so much on gas and wasted so much of my time that I am still recovering lo these many years later.

    With that commute, and driving my vehicle for work purposes once I got there, I put over 200000 miles on my truck in just a hair under 4 years. Outside, it looked brand-new, but it was clapped out internally.

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