After writing the Knoxville News Sentinel about how one can spend significantly less money by replacing a fraction of trips by bike or foot, there was a very interesting reply by an astute reader. This reader points out two facts: first, that even with high gas prices, saving $2000 a year in gas means riding a whopping 13,700 miles, which is unrealistic. Second, that one would make more money working minimum wage ($7.25/hr) with the time one spends cycling, if we factor in the differences in travel time.
For the first point, if we divided the 13,700 miles/yr by two people for the two cars, we'd still have a substantial 6,850 miles per person per year, which is a substantial 19 miles a day. My letter pointed to a $1000-$2000 savings; if we halved the 19 miles for a more modest $1000 yearly savings, we would have a very realistic 9 miles a day. Restricting savings solely to the costs at the gas station also ignores the costs of the car itself, and the costs of its upkeep, licensing, and registration.
The second point is related to the first, and the claim is true under certain circumstances where the average car speed is substantially higher than the average bike speed. The car gains an advantage when the distance is long and speeds high; it's advantage decreases as distances shrink, and parking becomes more difficult. It's well known that in downtown areas, the bicycle is the fastest means of transportation. Outside of downtown, if one does the math, one finds that average car speeds are around 20-30 miles/hr even with expressways mixed in; faster than a bike, but not overwhelmingly so. In terms of distances traveled, it's known that walking and cycling commuters tend to travel shorter distances to compensate for the reduced speeds. Trips get combined more, for instance.
But as interesting as the minimum wage argument is, there are facts that are ignored. First is the fact that it's unlikely that 1 hour/day jobs that pay anything actually exist. Second are the benefits of exercising, rather than having to find a separate time to dedicate to exercise. Other less tangible benefits such as an improved sense of community and such also exist. Polls show consistently that people prefer to live in communities where "active transportation" options are readily available, and that such amenities draw increased property values and a broader tax base.