Thursday, June 19, 2008

Americans Off the Roads

According to CNN, Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April of this year, as compared to April of 2007. Now, why is certainly no mystery. I am curious to know, however, what everyone is doing to cut back on so many miles. Carpooling? Walking? Bus riding?

The article also says that Americans are buying smaller cars, which makes sense. But what to do when you can't drive a smaller car, like this family of seven in Ohio.

Now, I think we all agree that the halcyon days of $1.50/gallon gasoline are over. And at least we haven't descended into chaos over our new fuel cost reality. But really, I wonder how we will cope with our fuel and driving addiction in this country, vis-a-vis ever mounting gasoline costs.

Many Americans are at a disadvantage. Our family is fortunate enough to live a walkable distance to town, with sidewalks all the way. Most Americans, however, do not. Many Americans also have larger families, which makes using transportation other than their own vehicles, impractical at best. Walkable Urbanism is the new buzz word on this topic, and refers to people moving from the suburbs and rural outposts back into the cities, where public transportation is readily available and most necessities are a walkable distance from home. It has also been used to describe the redesign of existing suburban towns to promote walking.

Being an ex-New Yorker, I'm all for walking more. But Walkable Urbanism is an expensive solution. Who pays for all of suburban America to be redesigned? And moving back to the cities? Who pays for that? As Derek Hunter says in the NPR story, moving a family of seven from Lima, OH to New York City hardly seems like an affordable solution to their family's current fuel cost crisis.

So, what's the solution? How is your family coping with the rising cost of fuel? And what are your plans for the long term?


Ruth said...

I think about this issue often. I hate driving, but I'm not really ready to give up the convenience of the minivan for a weekend road trip or errands in bad weather.
Since I happen to be moving, this time I am choosing a location that is walkable, so that we can minimize car trips and walk almost everywhere.
Realistically, the infrastructure of our country does not lend itself to life without a car. I doubt we will give up cars anytime soon, so the solution is probably going to have to involve alternative ways of powering them. What do you think?

Meaghan said...

I agree, driving less and driving more efficiently, are probably the best short term solutions.

And I also agree that the long term solution must involve alternative fuel, for so many reasons. I do have issues with the current gas alternative cars, however. My main issue is that they are not (currently) a viable way for Americans to save money. Basically, hybrids cost so much more than their gas-only counterparts that this higher cost offsets gas savings to the point that driving a hybrid, for the first 8-10 years that you own it, is more expensive. Many models also (see Chevy Tahoe hybrid) are not even particularly fuel efficient. And the adorable and ubiquitous Prius simply won't cut it as for a family with 3 kids, not as the family car, anyway.

That's not to say that I don't believe in the future of alternatively powered vehicles--I do. And I am 100% behind finding ways to reduce pollution. I just hope we find a realistic and viable way to do this. I mean: real, family cars that are affordable and energy efficient. We've put a man on the moon, for crying out loud! Why is this so hard?