Driven To The Brink

Via CityKin, comes a link to "How the Gas Price Spike Popped the Housing Bubble and Devalued the Suburbs," a paper about - well, the title says it all.

Here is a short video (3:44) explaining the concepts. While it focuses mainly on the Chicago area, the paper studies several other metro regions.

The paper looks at the issues from many angles, but the angle I found most interesting was the simple number of vehicle miles traveled per person:

But in the past three years, vehicle travel per capita in the United States has begun to decline. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, total vehicle miles traveled per person per day reached a peak of 27.6 in 2005 and declined to 27.2 in 2007. This represents a substantial departure from the trend established between 1990 and 2003. Vehicle travel is now about 1.5 miles per person, per day, below the 13-year trend. Despite an increasing population, the decline in driving per person has had the effect of reducing gas sales, which in early 2008 were down 1.1 percent from a year earlier (Campoy 2008).

Economists who have studied travel behavior and energy consumption agree that consumer responses to gas price changes are greater in the long run than in the short run. There are very few things, other than combining trips or forsaking travel, that consumers and workers can do in the short run to reduce their travel. But over a longer period of time, consumers can do much to lower their travel and gas consumption. Decisions about where to live or work, which neighborhood to move to and which job to take all profoundly influence travel behavior in the long run.
What might be the policy implications of all this?
  • Government can help families save money by making it easy and convenient to live in mixed-use, close-in neighborhoods served by transit.
  • Reducing vehicle miles traveled not only saves families money, households that drive less have more to spend on other things, stimulating the local economy. Additionally, reducing oil consumption not only cuts greenhouse gas emissions but lowers the trade deficit.
And what about long-distance traveling? Returning from vacation last week, my total elapsed travel time, including getting to the airport early, sitting at the gate, sitting on the runway, and the layover, was about 7 hours. I wonder if high-speed rail could've gotten me there in about the same amount of time? Even if it were a little longer, on the train, it must be cheaper, there must be more space, and it might be easier to work, read, etc. But that's a different story altogether.

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