One Great Potential Benefit Of Higher Gas Prices - Less Traffic
Published 4/23/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
As gas and oil prices continue to push vigorously into higher unprecedented levels, my wallet lets out a single quivering tear drop. But when I find myself mired in the unmoving water boarding torture that is rush hour traffic - I end up rooting for higher gas prices so that financial natural selection can put a slowdown to the serious problem of traffic jams gone wild.
I hate living, visiting, or even driving near cities with bad traffic. Unfortunately I happen to live near a major metropolitan hub that Forbes Magazine views as the city with the worst overall traffic in the United States - Washington D.C. I was rather taken back when I read that since I had always assumed the smoggy Southern California city of Los Angeles claimed that title, but then the dubious distinction doesn't exactly surprise me. The D.C. Beltway certainly deserves that title as the highway is always filled to the brim with honking drivers.
Why does the local suburban crawl population in our area keep expanding every year? It only adds to the ever growing traffic congestion problem in the region where I live and grew up. Just because the public schools in suburban Maryland and Virginia are some of the best in the nation and the federal government places the vast majority of its jobs in the city doesn't mean everyone have to move here. Why not move to say - neighboring West Virginia or the Appalachian area of Southern Virginia? I hear they have plenty of empty space and farm land that can use some occupying. But in all seriousness, the traffic in our nation's capital is utterly insane and spiraling out of control. It is absolutely abnormal and I refuse to accept this dysfunctional bumper to bumper driving as the price of living in a popular metro region.
The American Love For Driving Is Getting Out Of Control And Needs To Be Reigned In
I have friends who spend hours and hours in traffic everyday and see the routine as perfectly normal - they're simply used to it. When I ask them how they deal with the emotional agony, and wear and tear to their vehicles caused by repetitive stop and go traffic every morning and afternoon, they simply shrug and say they're used to it. Most seem to have accepted this lot in life as simply part of the personal daily sacrifice needed to live in a city that offers great schools, great malls, great culture, and great jobs. Unfortunately I'm not as accepting of this plight as they are. Perhaps it's because I'm a life-long public transportation commuter. Since college, I've only commuted by car to work a few times before. The vast majority of the time I take public transportation through the D.C. Metro - our underground subway train system. D.C. Metro is very convenient and reaches most of the major employment centers in the city. Fare prices are reasonable and the subway cars are generally well maintained. However, many people simply refuse to give up driving.
It's truly a national obsession - Americans are infatuated and in love with their cars. Most refuse to give up their love of driving and insist on clogging up the highways with their one occupant vehicles every morning. They insist on being able to enjoy the convenience of commuting to work on their own and see driving their cars as the ultimate liberating American experience. But how liberating is it really when you are stuck in rush hour traffic for a 2 and a half hour commute each way for a total of 5 hours, when the total back and forth commute should have taken only an hour?
Back when I was a child (I sound like an old guy - but I'm only in my late 20's), my family only owned a single car - a compact red Toyota Corolla, for a family of 4 people. It was occasionally inconvenient to share just one vehicle, but we managed well and relied primarily on public subway transportation. Nowadays, families have multiple cars and even children are now getting their own. With the hyper-consumerism mentality of today's younger generation, it's almost expected that each teen gets to have his or her own ride to drive around in. In some households, the number of vehicles, motorcycles, sport utility vehicles (SUV)'s, trucks, and recreation vehicles even dwarfs the number of individuals that make up the household as people nowadays own accessory vehicles such as fancy sports cars for special driving occasions. Eventually, all of these vehicles end up on the highways at the same time - stretching road handling capacity to the breaking point.
Yesterday I needed to run some errands during the day in an area inaccessible by subway so I decided to take my car - bad mistake. I hopped into my car and proceeded to my destination. On my way back home, I didn't realize it was afternoon rush hour until it was too late. By the time I had winded onto the 495 Beltway there was no turning back - the die had been cast and I had become a member of the afternoon herd. I was only a mere 15 miles from home, but my slow chug through heavy rush hour traffic took 2 hours. The constant tapping of the break pedal was frustrating to no end.
Thankfully, High Gas Prices Will Help Control The Number Of Future Cars On The Road And Thin Out Rampant Traffic Jams
That's why even with today's spiraling and increasing gas prices at the pump, there's a silver lining. With higher oil and gas prices will inevitably come a shift and change in American driving habits. The higher cost of driving will force many to think twice about storming onto the roads, and force solitary drivers who commute every day to work by themselves to buddy up and join a car pool. For those who absolutely must commute by themselves, this will require them to re-evaluate about where they need to go and plan ahead to maximize their gas usage. Higher gas prices will help eliminate traffic congestion and allow those who really need to drive to have a better and more efficient transportation experience. Yes it will financially affect me as well, but the price to pay will be worth the greatly improved driving experience.
In most major national and international metropolitan areas such as New York City, Tokyo, and in most densely populated Asian and European cities, city inhabitants have adapted well to a public transportation lifestyle. Many who live in traffic clogged cities don't even own cars and get around fine on foot or via public subway trains and buses. There really is no reason why we must all be driving around huge clunking vehicles when a smaller vehicle option would do just as well. I'm looking forward to the day when higher gas prices eliminate most of the hulking SUV's from the road and replace them with tiny two-man cars or even personal Segway scooters.
Of course, for such major driving and oil consumption habits to change, gas prices would have to increase and surge even more - double or triple from their current levels to maybe $8.00 or $10.00 a gallon. I'm sorry car lovers and driving enthusiasts - but I'm secretly rooting against the development of alternative fuels and the adoption of electricity, hydrogen, and ethanol powered cars. All they'll do is make it cheaper to drive and substantially increase the number of drivers already on the road. In the alternative, if cheaper fuels are developed, I'm all in favor of some type of driving tax or federal traffic toll. Something needs to be done to reduce the number of cars overflowing our roads, choking up our infrastructure, and creating perpetual bottlenecks.