Seems like the right thing to me, and perhaps a terrific New Year’s resolution.

Wasting money on the most expensive way of doing things seems wrong.  But for many, as they say, “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” And of course, when there is partisan ideology to be served, the howling voices won’t be stilled by mere words. Or votes, for that matter.

Brent Toderian writes in Metro Vancouver on the size of subsidies paid out for different modes of transportation, as one example.

A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver, however, suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just one cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive, the less we all pay.

Another study in Copenhagen (where the full cost of transportation choices are routinely calculated) found that when you factor in costs like time, accidents, pollution and climate change, each kilometre cycled actually gains society 18 cents!



Saving us all money

Meanwhile, a few years ago, Jack Diamond and David Thompson wrote in the Globe and Mail on such costs.  They contend that suburban sprawl costs taxpayers more to develop, returns less in taxes, and consumes more in maintenance and upkeep than more compact forms of development.  They highlight the personal costs of having chosen a sprawl-oriented life.

Moving to the suburbs often means a need for a second car. Even economical cars cost about $10,000 a year to own. Other, less quantifiable costs include long commutes, increased emissions, higher risk of road accidents, fatigue and less home time.

In municipal terms, there are the increased infrastructural costs and their maintenance in comparison to more compact development. While trunk-line infrastructure and expressways are paid for by provincial governments, these costs are, of course, passed on to all taxpayers.

Recognizing these hidden costs is the first step to finding more economically, socially and environmentally effective housing.

Some municipalities have begun to gather data on the full costs of this form of residential development, and innovators across the country are beginning to look at policies meant to encourage more efficient, higher-density neighbourhoods.