An exurban office park in California shows that we don't have to spend long commutes alone in our cars if we don't want to
Today's national average gas price is $3.77 for regular, which means we'll spend about $1.428 billion dollars on gasoline today. But what if we decided not to? Instead of bloviating about drilling our way out of high prices, or coming up with magical green fuels and sparkly green cars, or punishing these alleged speculators in the oil market, we could--as a nation--take our foot off the gas. Think of it as a sort of Shock and Awe at the pump.
The American driver buys about a quarter of the world's oil production and has been willing to put up with higher and higher prices, despite the extraordinary drain on our household and national economies. (In March, we spent more than $42 billion on gasoline. Our gas tanks have become a stimulus program in reverse.) If we significantly reduced our commutes, we'd not only reduce the amount of money we're spending on oil, we might also send a message to the oil market that there are limits to what we'll pay, thus dampening prices.
But conventional wisdom says that Americans will not get out of our cars. Only 4.5 percent of us take public transit because it's too [fill in the blank] inconvenient, expensive, slow, unpredictable, dangerous, or un-American. Another 10 percent or so use carpools, but nearly nine out of 10 of us commute to work in cars, mostly alone. (Outside transit-rich cities like New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco, this number is higher.) The hurdle to change the way Americans commute seems impossibly high, and made of expensive investments in high-speed rail, light rail, and long-term changes in development patterns.