Gas Prices, Miles Driven and Active Transportation

Just when it appeared that America’s driving behavior had changed permanently, something happened that shows nothing has really changed at all.  Gas prices fell.  As soon as they did, Americans started driving again.  Recently released data from the St. Louis Fed bears this out.  Have a look…

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Miles driven fell dramatically at the start of the Great Recession and were still well below the previous high as late as December 2012.

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But when gas prices plummeted, Americans started making up for lost tlme.

In a sense, this isn’t really all that surprising.  In another sense, it makes no sense at all.  Instead of banking the windfall brought on by lower gas prices, Americans are blowing it by driving more miles.  Take it for what it’s worth.

What it means for those of us who favor active transportation solutions is that we’re likely to face stiff headwinds for the next little while.  As people drive more, traffic congestion will grow worse and there will be louder and more frequent calls for public officials to “do something about it.”  What more and more of these officials will attempt to do is raid funds earmarked for active transportation and use them instead to build more roads that favor cars over other forms of transportation.

This is, of course, extremely short sighted.  Gas prices will not remain low.  This has all happened before, once in the late 1980s and again in the late 1990s.  In both cases, oil companies stopped drilling because it no longer made economic sense to sink money into the ground.  It’s happening again…

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The bad news for those who have built their lives around the fable of fracking and American energy independence is that the production boom in places with names like Bakken and Eagle Ford is already winding down. It was a one time shot in the arm. At least that’s what my friends in the oil business tell me. There are also problems with growing global demand and geopolitical risk. Oil is not a long term solution and it doesn’t really matter how badly we wish otherwise.

So some lessons will need to be learned the hard way and that’s fine. In the meantime, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on in our communities at home. The reasons that we all should embrace active transportation solutions are as valid now as they have ever been.

  • Better you.
  • Better communities.
  • Better planet.

Nothing has changed in that regard, so please don’t be afraid to speak up on behalf of active transportation in your community. It is a sustainable long term solution that leads to better everything. It’s worth fighting for, even when it seems you’re fighting as an Army of one.


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