It feels like 2008 all over again. Gas prices are on the rise and suddenly everyone is dusting off the bike or the fuel efficient four door. SUV's have gone back out of vogue and in some metro areas, transit use is on the rise. Of course, transit use has not risen nearly as dramatically as it did in 2008; this is a result of continuing high unemployment and massive service cuts as a result of the Great Recession.
I find it fascinating. Many are surprised over the increases in gas prices. This speaks volumes to the reactionary political policies in place regarding transportation, energy and the economy.
High gas prices are a great opportunity. They always stimulate great conversations about "sustainability" and creating a "post petroleum economy". Then, soon enough, prices decline again life returns to the car oriented status quo.
My hope is that this time, it will be different. Uncountable numbers of independent research groups and scientists have voiced concern over our oil addiction. Turmoil in the Middle East, as well as massive structural problems with our national economy, have only fanned the flames, feeding fear of failure. Without any political support for a gas tax increase, we may have major difficulties simply maintaining our existing infrastructure over the following decade, much less building new infrastructure. Just this week, all high speed rail funding for the next year was cut. I have a hard time understanding how long term infrastructure investments suddenly became partisan issues.
However, there are certainly reasons to be optimistic.
This week, thousands of students converged upon Washington, DC for the 2011 Power Shift Conference. This conference was put on by Energy Action Coalition. From the Power Shift website:
Energy Action Coalition is a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement.
Working with hundreds of campus and youth groups, dozens of youth networks, and hundreds of thousands of young people, Energy Action Coalition and its partners have united a burgeoning movement behind winning local victories and coordinating on state, regional, and national levels in the United States and Canada.
This huge group of young people are spending the week training how to communicate with lobbyists, as well as constituents back home in their respective communities. Communication and education are two crucially important gaps that this conference is attempting to address.
Tucson is improving as well. Between Cyclovia, the Living Streets Alliance, Tucson Velo, the Tucson Modern Streetcar, and the University of Arizona, sustainable transportation and awareness is growing.
The pace is too slow. The issue is always funding. Our bike routes are terribly paved; road work money is always prioritized on high capacity automobile routes. I do not think that money for high capacity arterials is bad; far from it. I simply believe that the quality of our bike routes will only improve if there is a dedicated funding source (more on this issue here). Until then, biking as a form of transportation in Tucson, and elsewhere, will continue to be second tier.
Amsterdam has not always been the most bike friendly city in the world. In the 1950's, the streets were choked with automobile traffic so the city decided to pursue a policy of transit and bike oriented transportation policy. That's it. That's all they did. It took years and decades but it started with political action; it was not some random occurrence. The same goes for Portland, OR or Davis, CA. These cities decided that investments in alternative transportation were more beneficial than investments in car dominant infrastructure.
The American people have spoken: there is large demand for walkable urban development. How will the government and the private sector react to this news?
What do you think?