Concerned about gas prices? Demand Complete Streets

The rising price of gasoline is uniting Americans in collective dread.

If we think prices are high now, we are warned, wait until summertime.

While we have no idea why gas prices keep going up, we do know that we are mad as hell! Who’s responsible for this outrage? The president? The previous president? Speculators? Iran? Oil companies? Environmentalists?

Voldemort? Kony?

The fact that half of us believe the federal gas tax goes up every year (it last increased in 1993) suggests we will entertain any explanation, no matter how unlikely. Yet, despite our complaints – in letters to the editor, on Facebook, or around the water cooler –some of us behave as if gas is still cheap enough to waste.

A bicycle provides a superior vantage point from which to see and hear what’s happening on our streets. If you ride near parked cars, you can hear if any have their motors running.

I recently rode past a two–block–long queue of parents waiting in their vehicles to collect their children at the end of the school day. Those near the front of the line had staked out their positions early, perhaps 30 minutes or more before the bell.

Although it was 77 degrees and there was a pleasant breeze, almost every other car was idling with windows rolled up and the AC cranked.

Meanwhile, legislation introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives would gut funding for Safe Routes to School programs, which if implemented on a comprehensive scale would allow many students to safely walk or ride their bikes to school.

Having pedaled past this scene, I was shortly overtaken by an aggressive motorist. So anxious was he to pass, he swung around me and accelerated toward a traffic signal he had just watched turn red. That’s right. He sped up even though he knew he’d have to stop almost immediately.

Meanwhile, legislation was proposed in the Georgia Senate earlier this year that seemed aimed at appeasing this sort of impatient driver.  Fortunately, this time there’s a happy ending. The bill’s author, Sen. Butch Miller of Gainesville, announced he would not pursue passage of SB 468 (to cyclists to always ride single file) and instead would work toward adoption of a state Complete Streets policy.

That phrase, “Complete Streets,” will come up frequently in the near future. The idea that transportation infrastructure must provide choices and not focus exclusively on maximizing motor vehicle speed is one whose time has come.

The fact that we can’t agree on who or what is to blame for rising gas prices suggests that none of the silver bullet solutions advanced so far is likely to work. An oil pipeline from Canada won’t save us. Drilling here and drilling now won’t save us. Even reducing domestic demand won’t save us, as we are driving less and still prices are going up.

The only sure way to insulate working Americans from high gas prices is to make it possible for them to buy less of the stuff.

While some of us can indulge in idling at the curb or racing toward red lights, others are locked into long commutes by circumstances they cannot control. Rising gas prices will continue to eat away at their incomes and they will be looking for ways to conserve fuel.

Being able to walk or bicycle to the store at the end of the day, for example, would provide a measure of help by saving gas for trips that must be made by car. Unfortunately, many of us live in areas that require car use for every trip, no matter how short. It’s a situation that was created by decades of automobile–centric planning that failed to foresee volatile fuel prices.

Complete Streets initiatives will begin to undo some of this damage to the built environment, restore transportation options and provide many people at least a small measure of freedom from the tyranny of the gas pump. It is up to us to insist that going forward, our streets accommodate all users.

About The Author

John Bennett

John Bennett is Safety Education Programs Manager at Georgia Bikes.

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