Evolving the Baldwin commute

The folks over at the Minnesota-based Strong Towns blog are asking tough questions about the development of towns of all sizes. In their recent post, The Cost to Cities of Auto-centricity, they discuss how revamping cities from a small town model to a current suburban model has weakened towns by making their residents beholden to cars.

Cars which, they point out, come at a high cost.

The American Automobile Association estimates that if you tally up purchasing price, gasoline and maintenance, it costs about $9,519 a year to operate a medium sized car driving 15,000 miles annually. That number jumps to $11,085 for four-wheel-drive SUVs, and even more if you consider the average 24,000 mile yearly commute to Minneapolis from Baldwin.

Writers of the Strong Towns blog are asking: what if a two-car family could become a one-car family who uses the money they’ve saved to purchase a better house or improving the one they have. This would raise the tax base.

What if that one-car family spent that money in the local economy? What if the option to be a one-car family attracted new residents Baldwin or enticed current residents to stay?

Of course, the reality is that even if Baldwin residents want to give up their cars and use public transportation to take the Northstar Line into the city, they still have to get to the Elk River station first.

But what if Baldwin had a bus that connected with the Northstar line, like the one running out of St. Cloud?

Perhaps Princeton, Baldwin and Zimmerman could work together to share the cost of a bus, which would provide service to the three communities.

Even without finding a way to manage a bus route, Baldwin could help its commuters facilitate car pools by having a section of their website that helped riders connect. Or by adding links to sites like eRideShare.com, which already do this. The website also helps connect people seeking non-communting ride sharing options.

Taking public transit has its own costs — less freedom for the traveler and fees per ride. But comparing apples to apples, it does save money to commute this way.

Combining the cost for riding the bus (using the St. Cloud line figures), riding the Northstar Line and then the Light Rail once you get downtown to reach a final destination the total yearly cost to travel 5 days a week is about $5,400. That’s over $4,000 in yearly savings.

Is that enough to inspire you to give up your car and take public transit? How do you think Baldwin can help its commuters deal with increasing transportation costs?

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