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July 30, 2008

Driving Report

Almost every day in the past two months I've ridden my bike past the intruding gas station marquee that advertises the current price for a gallon of gasoline. It has become my morning news; my ticker-tape for the state of the economy. As prices have been increasing, I've felt an increasing sense of pride that I've been driving less and biking more. The fear of economic depression and insecurity is looming, but hasn't gotten under my skin, yet. I was also proud to hear that driving has declined across America. Yesterday, Atlanta Business Chronicle reported this:

Federal Highway Administration data released Monday [shows] Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles this May than in May 2007, the third-largest monthly drop in the 66 years the data has been collected.

The May decline was 3.7 percent from a year earlier and continues a seven-month decrease in driving that has amounted to more than 40 billion fewer miles traveled since November 2007 compared with the same period a year earlier.

It is apparent that Americans' driving behaviors are changing dramatically and quickly, in response to increasing gas prices. This will have interesting effects in a society whose infrastructure has evolved in the past 50 years to accommodate almost exclusively the privately-owned automobile.

Very recently, gasoline prices have begun to recede slightly--presumably due to the decrease in driving (i.e., demand). I am wondering, if dramatic increases in prices will modify behavior as we are seeing, will the opposite be true, and in just as little time? My suspicion is that is will not. People's behaviors are also changing because our future is becoming less certain or predictable. Driving less is a result of economic fearfulness and we won't be quick to peek our heads out from under the comforter. [Any thoughts or comments on this?]

Perhaps driving less will force us to stay within and move around our neighborhoods, by bike, or on foot. Maybe this will at first feel like a trap or prison, with limited breathing room. I'll admit, I'm worried to think that traveling to Cincinnati or Cleveland, let alone North Carolina, will become increasingly difficult. But it's also exciting to think that maybe our communities will be better because of this new (potential) situation. Of course, new technologies and alternative options will become more available. One day we might find ourselves catching a solar powered (?) train traveling between Cleveland and Porkopolis, right down the middle of empty ol' Interstate 71.

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