Imagining a Car-Free World - Cabot Wealth Network

Imagining a Car-Free World

A Car-Free World

Another Way to Get in on the Green Revolution

In Case You Missed It

Imagine a place where no one owns a car and everyone walks, rides their bikes or takes public transportation to work, to the store, to school or anywhere else they need to go. No, this isn’t some Star Trek-like fantasy world, it’s Vauban, Germany, a planned community where cars are largely banned in favor of other modes of transportation.

A New York Times article this week detailed the particulars of this forward-thinking community; where a tram runs through the center of town, shops and houses are mixed together so no one has to travel far to do the shopping and people embrace biking and walking as primary means of travel.

As a resident of a pretty urban area (Somerville, right outside of Boston), I often walk to the store, ride my bike around the neighborhood and take the T (the subway), when heading into downtown. But a sign on Interstate-93 stating “Horses, Bicycles, Pedestrians Banned” prevents me from taking alternative transportation to work.

Reading about Vauban and seeing other people biking and walking to work inspires envy in me, especially since gasoline prices are on the rise again. Imagine knocking out both your morning commute and exercise routine for the day at once?

After the article appeared in the Times, a debate began raging on their Web site comments section about whether this type of lifestyle was possible in the U.S.

(There are already some car-free or nearly car-free communities in the U.S., including Catalina Island in California, Bald Head Island in North Carolina and Mackinac Island in Michigan, but most of them are vacation locations with few permanent residents.)

Many urban-dwellers of cities like New York, Boston and Chicago said that the Vauban lifestyle is pretty much how they live already. But most other commenters said that while this seemed like a fine idea, they didn’t see how it would work in a country where suburbs spring up like weeds and some people live in exurban environments (or The Sticks as we like to call it in my home state of New Hampshire).

While I think a community like Vauban is an excellent idea, I agree that it seems difficult to imagine most Americans giving up their cars in favor of bikes and trams.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fully 77% of American workers drive to their jobs alone, while only 0.4% ride a bike, 2.5% walk and 4.7% take public transportation. Everyone else uses some other mode of transportation, including car-pooling, or they don’t commute at all because they work from home.

Portland, Oregon, often hailed as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the U.S., has the highest number of two-wheeled commuters. About 3.5% of Portland’s workers pedal to work, which is about eight times the national average.

Boston had the highest percentage among large cities of commuters who walk to work, with about 13% of workers pounding the pavement to get to their jobs each day.

Those Americans who are always walking or biking to work are already realizing the many benefits of a community like Vauban. One is huge personal financial savings: no car means no car insurance, no car payments, no gasoline purchases, no car repairs, the list goes on.

There are also the health benefits. Instead of driving to the gym (something I do several times a week–the irony does not escape me), you would get exercise by walking or biking to work, to do errands, to go pretty much anywhere. An alternative commute: A way to fatten your wallet while trimming your waistline.

Perhaps one of the most intangible benefits of walking and biking is also one of the most important and that is the connection to the community you gain by being “on the ground.” When you walk and bike, you’re more apt to talk to your neighbors and get to know the people and places around you in a much more intimate way.

This type of community does have some problems that weren’t really addressed in the Times article. What happens to the elderly, disabled or injured/sick who can’t ride a bike or walk as easily? What happens when you live in a place that regularly hits sub-zero or 100-plus temperatures? What happens when you live really far away from everything?

It seems unlikely that the U.S. will see such a drastic shift in society, one that allows us to be car-free. But Vauban does serve as a good example of how neighborhoods can be planned to better accommodate biking, walking and mass transit. If nothing else, the idea of a car-free community gives us something to contemplate as we enter an age when oil will grow less plentiful and more expensive and greenhouse gas emissions will need to be reduced (as Editor Brendan Coffey discussed in Thursday’s Cabot Wealth Advisory).

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If you can’t ride your bike, walk or take public transportation to work, you can still get in on the Green revolution by buying Green stocks. Last month in Cabot Wealth Advisory, Cabot Green Investor Editor Brendan Coffey wrote about one that he has great expectations for: Tetra Tech (TTEK) …

“As the government and corporations look to get more environmentally sound, they’ll be turning to Pasadena, California-based Tetra Tech, an environmental consulting company that does everything from figuring out how to clean up the Port of Los Angeles to where best to site wind turbines in upstate New York.

“Essentially, Tetra Tech is the environmental expert people turn to the figure out the nitty gritty of getting eco-projects done. Its architects designed the ultra-Green office building Visionaire in Manhattan while its massive model on global warming is the standard world governments refer to.

“The company’s core business is built around safe drinking water–the U.S. Agency for International Development is using the company to create drinking water systems in Afghanistan while its engineers are tackling water and sewer systems for cities including Detroit and Seattle.

“Growth is impressive (if not eye-popping) at a compounded annual rate of 28% since 2004, but it is seeing booming interest in its wind business, which promises to add a strong growth element to sales.

“In wind, Tetra Tech does everything but build the turbine–it selects optimal sites, handles permitting, coordinates with utilities and more. T. Boone Pickens is one notable client.  

“Tetra also has some crucial advantages that make it a fine defensive play: with one-third of revenues coming from the federal government, sales are more predictable, while in a credit-crunched market, the company’s management works with exceptionally little debt. In fiscal 2008, in which is generated $1.22 billion in net revenues, it had just $6 million net debt on the books. Net income per share for fiscal 2009 (ending September) is estimated to come in at $1.14 a share on sales of $1.3 billion–and that’s before any stimulus package money has worked its way into the system.

“I first alerted Cabot Green Investor subscribers to TTEK in November and we added it to the Cabot Green Investor portfolio in February. TTEK is still trading at a fine price right now, but the stock hasn’t made the advancing move we’re expecting. By year’s end, I expect Tetra to reward investors with an eye toward capitalizing on the shift to Green we’re all a part of.”

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In case you didn’t get a chance to read all the issues of Cabot Wealth Advisory this week and want to catch up on any investing and stock tips you might have missed, I have links below to each issue.

Cabot Wealth Advisory 5/11/09 – Indicators May Signal Bull Market Blast-Off

On Monday, Michael Cintolo wrote about two rare indicators that may signal a bull market blast-off. Mike discussed two exchange-traded funds that he thinks are good ways to play the market’s rally. Mike finished by discussing a commodity stock that shows promise. Featured stock: Southwestern Energy (SWN).

After this issue appeared, a subscriber wrote in to say, “Why do I always have this gut feeling that Mike Cintolo really knows what he is talking about and lays it out so well for us? I so appreciate and respect “Dr Mike” when he speaks (or writes). Thank you.” Find out why …

Cabot Wealth Advisory 5/13/09 – How to Pick Value Stocks

On Friday, J. Royden Ward wrote about how to pick value stocks using the seven criteria Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, laid out years ago. Roy wrote about a stock he recommended in April that meets all of Graham’s criteria for being an excellent value stock to buy. Featured stock: Hubbell B (symbol: HUBB or sometimes HUB. B or HUB/B).

Cabot Wealth Advisory 5/14/09 – Even Big Oil is Going Green

On Thursday, Brendan Coffey wrote about his recent experience at the Chief Executives’ Club of Boston meeting and what Cheron’s CEO says about Green. Brendan also wrote about a company that helps power plants burn fuel more efficiently and cleanly. Brendan finished by writing about the recent surge in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ stock and how his subscribers profited from his mid-April recommendation. Featured stocks: Fuel Tech (FTEK) and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR).

Until next time,

Elyse Andrews
Editor of Cabot Wealth Advisory

Editor’s Note: Cabot China & Emerging Markets Report was recently named the top-performing newsletter for the past five years on a risk-adjusted basis by Hulbert Financial Digest. The Report gained 12.2% for the five years ending March 31, 2009, trumping the -27% return for the Dow during that time. And Cabot China & Emerging Markets Report Editor Paul Goodwin has issued a BUY signal! He’s taking advantage of the market’s rebound and snapping up some high-potential stocks. Don’t let this opportunity in the emerging markets pass you by.


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