Pedaling Your Way to Living Cheaply in Paradise

Opting for a Bicycle Instead of a Car Saves Thousands

Housing is scarce in this city, and you only need to scroll through the first page of rooms for rent on craigslist to see that renting in Santa Barbara is terribly expensive. This market can leave people with a tight budget at the end of the month, wondering how to cut other costs. Gas is cheap these days, which might make a move to Goleta or Ventura for more affordable housing less unappealing — or there’s always living in your car — but if you enjoy the amenities of a proper domicile or can’t stand the thought of a daily commute on the 101, consider buying a bike as a way to trim expenses. No gas, insurance, or car payments (not to mention gridlock) necessary.

With an up-front investment that can be anywhere from one hundred to a few thousand dollars, you can get around town, to school, to work, and back home with minimal monthly expenses thereafter. Check out local bike shops and talk to salespeople to find a bike that fits you, or consider buying a used bike off craigslist. I can assure you that the finest of commuter bikes would still cost significantly less than a brand new car of any make. Beyond that you’ll want to buy a helmet and a bike pump for home. Where you go from there is up to you — clothes, lights, bells and whistles — but remember to ride safely and obey traffic laws. If you do, you can say you’ve managed to cut another expense associated with owning a car — speeding tickets! And you’ll never have to worry about our friends in the parking enforcement golf carts.

When I had a car in Santa Barbara, other than the weekly trip to the gas station, I recall all sorts of incidentals popping up with my Volvo station wagon: oil changes, replacement parts, maintenance, flat tires. Even just having to buy wiper fluid was a drag on top of all the other car-stuff. Let’s be honest, if you’re already stressing about your high rent, you probably don’t own a 2015 Toyota or BMW. Your car is going to give you trouble, especially if you’re driving it every day, and when you rely on your car for mobility, these expenses become top priority, even trumping other necessities. Believe me, I’ve been there.

With a bike, it’s the occasional flat tire, or maybe an adjustment to a cable here or there. A tube for a bike costs around six dollars, and if you become a daily rider, you should learn how to patch and change a tube. Again, just ask around at local bike shops for how much a tune-up costs, then compare that to what it costs for an automobile. What’s also nice is how easy it is to work on your bike yourself, with simple tools that you can buy cheaply or borrow from a friend. There’s no need for an auto lift or impact wrench. Most repairs to get you rolling can be done with a cheap, simple multi-tool like this one made by Park Tool that you can carry around with you.

Page from City of Santa Barbara 1975 transportation pamphlet

And while biking is a great way to cut costs and enjoy living in Santa Barbara, the city has to do its part to make your way to save safe. The city can’t mandate that all rent be lowered, but it can make its streets safe for those who ride. A recent council decision not to draft an ordinance for short-term rentals in Santa Barbara reflects a couple things: One is that some people are looking for creative ways to pay their housing costs; the other is that council is sensitive to the housing affordability issue. With both of these in mind, council should pass the Bicycle Master Plan and show that this city is serious about affordability, acknowledging that people may choose to bike as a way to save money. To connect existing bike infrastructure with new, high-quality projects would communicate a vision of equity for road users and safety for riders of every level of experience. If the city is serious about a car-share program, this would also help with a person’s choice to shed their automobile and buy a bicycle.

Don’t get me wrong; despite the costs, it’s a nice thing to have access to a car. But I think it’s an even nicer thing to live comfortably in Santa Barbara. If affording to live here means living without a car, I gladly accept this condition. City Council and the City of Santa Barbara should understand that creating a more bike-friendly city isn’t just for die hard “bike people” who already ride to work every day. Connected bike infrastructure is also another way to creatively address our affordability issue and will help people looking to cut costs of living in this beautiful, expensive city.


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