Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not saving gas and not having fun

Last Monday I drove from Washington to Annapolis, Maryland, to visit a friend. I came away with the impression that $4.00 per gallon gas has had scant impact on American driving habits, at least so far. Limited access highways around Washington, DC, especially the notorious Washington Beltway (route 495) were choked with traffic.

Hoping to avoid traffic congestion, I began my outbound trip at 10AM in the morning and began my return trip at 3:00,hoping to avoid traffic - to little or no avail. On the trip out, I got snarled in a construction area with most route signs removed. It took four circuits, each with requests for directions at filling stations before I was able to extricate myself. On the return trip, there was a 20 min period when I inched along at about 2 mph, along with thousands of other frustrated drivers. During ‘rush hour’ - a misnomer if there ever was one - the traffic is worse. How much fuel is wasted, each day, by traffic congestion?

Since there is a direct relationship between speed and cost per mile, one might think that cost conscious drivers would be seeking to save money by reducing driving speeds, at least to the posted speed limits. One might expect this especially of truck drivers who are now paying $4.75 or more for diesel and complaining bitterly about declining profits. But no, the pattern of high-speed, life-threatening truck driving - my 21 year old Honda Civic makes me particularly sensitive to this - seems unchanged.

I wonder how high gas prices must go before US government - federal, state and local -will be motivated to offer decent public transit and before Americans, especially professional truckers, will be motivated to drive responsibly. Is it $6, $10 per gallon - or what?

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