Easing The Pain Caused by High Fuel Prices


Photo by whatatravisty.

With oil prices hovering around $135 a barrel, many Americans are feeling uneasy about the future. And for good reason; higher prices at the pump channel money away from things like health care, education, and leisure activities that improve our quality of life.

But there’s an upside – during hard times Americans are pushed to innovate and come up with new systems for solving the problems that face them. Below are three solutions to the problem of skyrocketing fuel prices. If implemented, they will have the added value of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, improving public health, and curtailing over-consumption:

  1. Build high-density, mixed-use cities – The vast majority of American cities are built for cars, creating what urban planners call sprawl, low-density areas where people spend too much time and money driving to conduct their daily activity. Cities built around people and walking as opposed to cars and driving have things like single family housing, apartments, grocery stories, office space and retail all within walking distance, eliminating the daily need to get behind the wheel. The rise of New Urbanism in places like Kentlands, Maryland, and the revitalization of American inner cities in places like Chicago, New York, and Washington DC suggests that more and more Americans want a lifestyle that favors short walking trips over long car commutes.
  2. Invest in Mass Transit – Americans are flocking to mass transit in ever greater numbers. At 10.3 billion trips last year, mass transit ridership in the United States is at its highest level since 1957. To match this growing demand, cities should invest money to maintain and expand their mass transit systems. One practical way to do this is to charge car drivers for using the most congested roads and use this revenue to fund mass transit projects. London, Singapore, and Stockholm all have congestion pricing programs which have been wildly successful and, counter to conventional wisdom, popular among residents.
  3. Invest in Cycling Facilities – Increasingly cycling is becoming popular among commuters making short trips around cities. But the spike in the number of city cyclists has yet to be followed by a supply of cycling facilities like bike lanes and bike parking. In many cities cyclists have to compete with cars for road space, a dangerous proposition that drives potential cyclists off their bikes and back into cars. By building special cycle lanes that are physically separated from traffic, cities can make cycling a viable, low-cost form of transit. Cycling can also be instrumental in countering chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, which are now afflicting large swaths of the sedentary American population. Paris, among other cities, has taken cycling a step above the rest, creating a bike sharing program with 15,000 bicycles available at a moments notice for anyone with a credit card. American cities should take note.

So far, the response from politicians on Capitol Hill has been anything but inspiring. Many politicians have disingenuously claimed that we don’t need to change our behavior and can “drill our way out of this problem.” Or that we can apply enough pressure on oil-rich countries, who will then turn against their own self-interests and ramp up production. Or that high fuel standards and alternative fuels like ethanol, which just suffered a huge setback with the Iowa floods, will make all our problems go away.

But in one corner of Washington there seem to be a few people in touch with the rest of Americans who are now bearing the brunt of rising fuel costs. On Capitol Hill, Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic Congressman from Portland, recently spoke out because he couldn’t find a parking spot in the garage of the Rayburn House of Representatives office building. So many Hill staffers now cycle to work that Mr. Blumenauer, for the first time ever, couldn’t find a space on the bike rack to lock his road bike.

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