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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Car appeal sinks in rising gas price tide

Andy Singer cartoon
Could America really be ending its love affair with the car?

Earlier on this blog, I wondered if rapidly escalating gas prices might indicate a "tipping point", where the U.S. begins moving to more sustainable transportation, such as bicycling, transit, and walking. Most bicyclists, myself included, doubt that rising fuel costs alone will do the trick. We will continue to need proactive advocacy for bicycling; at a minimum the recent energy "crisis" has given us an opportunity to gain more media awareness for bikes.

However, a few interesting articles in important outlets this week may indicate that if the tipping point is not on the immediate horizon, it might not be far beyond it. From the New York Times, 07.06.08:

At $100 for Tank of Gas, Some Choke on ‘Fill It’
With gasoline prices high and rising, a new financial milestone has arrived: the $100 tank of gas. For decades, the $100 barrel stood as a hypothetical outlier in doom-and-gloom conversations about future oil prices. And nobody could even imagine an American family paying $100 to fill the tank. But the future is here...

For people who love their big vehicles, the pain is acute...Hummer clubs are hurting...In Nebraska, Ric Hines of the Omaha Hummer Owner Group--known as Omahog--stopped doing off-road trips this summer and started riding his recumbent bicycle instead. “I get to camp either way, and biking pushes me to save a few hundred dollars on gas,” Mr. Hines said. (Read more.)
Even more evidence of a rush to sanity in the auto-crazed United States appears in the Guardian (UK). From, 07.07.08:
America’s Love Affair Fades as the Car Becomes Burden of Suburbia
It is known as the Inland Empire: a vast stretch of land tucked in the high desert valleys east of Los Angeles. Once home to fruit trees and Indians, it is now a concrete sprawl of jammed freeways, endless suburbs and shopping malls. But here, in the heartland of the four-wheel drive, a revolution is under way. What was once unthinkable is becoming a shocking reality: America’s all-consuming love affair with the car is fading.

Surging petrol prices have worked where environmental arguments have failed. Many Americans have long been told to cut back on car use. Now, facing $4-a-gallon fuel, they have no choice.

Jonathan Baty used to be a pioneer. The lighting designer has cycled to work every day since 1993. It’s a nine-mile round trip through the heartland of a car-based culture once famously termed ‘Autopia’. But now Baty has company on his daily rides as others choose two wheels rather than four to navigate southern California’s streets. ‘We have seen a whole emergence of a bike culture in this area. There is a crescendo of interest,’ said Baty, who does volunteer work for a cycling group, Bicycle Commuter Coalition of the Inland Empire. (Read more.)
Sprawl is the great enemy of bicycle commuting, as expansive car-dependent development creates communities where destinations are spread farther apart. Many communities are pursuing "smart growth" planning strategies to combat sprawl and encourage denser walkable and bikeable development. One of the national leaders in the "smart growth" movement turns out to be my own city of Sacramento. From the Wall Street Journal, 07.07.08:
With Gas Over $4, Cities Explore Whether It's Smart to Be Dense
Sacramento's 'Blueprint' for Growth Draws National Attention

Gasoline was less than $2 a gallon when Mike McKeever brought his gospel of bikes, light rail and tightly packed neighborhoods to this state synonymous with cars, freeways and suburban sprawl. "The development industry was very concerned," says Mr. McKeever, head of Sacramento's regional planning agency.

Seven years later, with gasoline hurtling past $4 a gallon, Sacramento has become one of the nation's most-watched experiments in whether urban planning can help solve everything from high fuel prices to the housing bust to global warming. For decades, backers of "smart-growth" planning principles have preached the benefit of clustering the places where people live more closely with the businesses where they work and shop. Less travel would mean less fuel consumption and less air pollution. "Expensive oil is going to transform the American culture as radically as cheap oil did," predicts David Mogavero, a Sacramento-based architect and smart-growth proponent. (Read more, includes multimedia.)
It won't happen overnight, but a brighter future for bicycle commuting seems probable.

(Apologies to readers: You may have noticed that I'm blogging less this month. I'm presently working on a bicycle commuting book project, which I'm contractually obligated to deliver to the publisher by July 17. Once completed I hope to resume blogging more actively. Certainly the news these days is favorable.)

Image: Andy Singer.
Visit: Suburbs feeling the pinch as fuel prices soar, Reuters
Visit: Bikes help commuters get around gas prices, Los Angeles Times
Visit: Bicycle commuting good for the earth, the wallet and the body, Birmingham News (AL)
Visit: Up yours Big Oil, I'll bicycle, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bicycling makes communities healthier, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


flarosa said...

Every time I read some article about the next revolutionary high-mileage commuter vehicle, which will be available in four years and cost $30,000, I shake my head.

The solution to commuting is so much simpler. Live closer to work; ride a bike; take the bus. I've been doing all three for 20 years now, not to save money on gas, not because I'm an environmental saint, but for no other reason than I hate spending time stuck in a car at rush hour. That this is not reason enough to sway more people is mystifying.

Tom said...

HEy great news on the bike commuting book. Can you tell us more?

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your book. As I've said, I found your beginner tips -- from the point of view of a middle-aged, non-athlete novice bike commuter -- very helpful.

Tell your readers that if they can do it 30 times, starting twice a week three days apart and working their way up, they won't want to get to work any other way.

Anonymous said...

Congradulations on the book! Hope to read more about it soon!
I started commuting several months ago, found your tips site & that really helped. I have lost 36lbs, gone from 2 meds to control the diabetes to 1. So, I commute to save gas & my own life.

crotach said...

I too am thrilled to hear about your book project. I look forward to hearing more - especially when it might be out. I've learned a great deal from your blog and I look forward to adding your book to my very tiny collection of commuter tomes.

John B. said...

I'm so pleased to have found your blog. As of last week I'm using a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation, and today I've started a blog about my experiences, Cycling in Wichita. There's not much content there yet, but that will change. I've taken the liberty of linking to you, and I look forward to returning often.

I'm also very pleased to learn about your book--best of luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Great news about the book. Is there a book tour planned? Where can I stand in line for my own autographed copy?

Anonymous said...

You need some of John Briner's Bitter Biker Beer to get through the commute! Here is a picture of it from the Skagway bike race:

Anonymous said...

If you can't ride a bike to work because work is too far or there is no safe route, you might consider moving your office closer to where you live. Ask your boss if you can work from a remote office. Remote Office Centers lease offices, internet access and phone systems to workers from multiple companies in shared centers that are usually located around the suburbs. There is a free web site for finding and listing Remote Office Centers:

Imagine how much better off your life would be if you could trade your hour long commute in a car for a 15 minute ride on a bike.