Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What Can Be Done

Below I said that perhaps nothing could be done about the gas issue long term. I was specifically referring to gasoline prices and I meant that there's a good chance there's nothing to be done to prevent gas prices from staying at this level and going higher long term. Get used to $3 gas, in other words. There is of course a lot which can and should be done to slow the speed at which gas prices rise as well as reducing dependence on the automobile. One doesn't have to believe in a peak oil economic apocalypse to understand that when we hit the limit on either oil extraction capacity or refining capacity gas prices are going to spike a lot. Improving CAFE standards and other such things can slow the outward shift of the demand curve, reducing the degree to which prices increase, especially once we hit supply capacity.

In addition, the reason gas prices cause so much pain for many people is that for too many people in this country there just is no substitute for personal automobile travel for even the most basic of travel needs - not walking, not bicycling, not taxis, not carpooling, not mass transit. In so many areas any relatively affluent household has one car per driving-age household member because there's no other way to get around. The living options just don't exist. I'm relatively agnostic on the question of whether people really want their suburbs built that way or whether they just don't have any experience with anything else to understand that there can be a better way, but nonetheless that's how so much development is done in this country.

I'm not saying destroy the suburbs and steal everyone's SUV, but I would suggest that it would go a long way to improve things if mass transit options were improved and high density development was allowed/encouraged around transit corridors. This would leave most of the suburban landscape as it is, if that's what people really want, while providing an improved transit situation for the rest of us.