Good story today in the Washington Post as part of their ongoing “Oil Shock” series, with this one focusing on the consumer impacts of rising prices. If it’s not already, this is beginning to sound like the theme of 2008, as rising energy prices are like a rudder in the water turning the ship of consumer preference around — albeit slowly. It is worthwhile to note that it’s not about regulations or fiat — this is the response of the market. As President Bush said a few weeks ago, “They’re smart enough to figure out whether they’re going to drive less or not…the consumer’s plenty bright.”
Federal spending is about 4 to 1 in favor of highways over transit. Today, more than 99 percent of the trips taken by U.S. residents are in cars or some other non-transit vehicle, largely as a result of decades of such unbalanced spending.
The policies — building so many highways and building so many houses near those highways — have had a direct bearing on how and where people live and work. More Americans, 52 percent, live in the suburbs than anywhere else. The suburban growth rate exceeded 90 percent in the past decade.
But there’s been a radical shift in recent months. Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer highway miles in May than a year earlier. In the Washington area and elsewhere, mass transit ridership is setting records. Last year, transit trips nationwide topped 10.3 billion, a 50-year high.
Home prices in the far suburbs, such as Prince William and Loudoun counties, have collapsed; those in the District and inner suburbs have stayed the same or increased. A recent survey of real estate agents by Coldwell Banker found an increased interest in urban living because of the high cost of commuting.