It’s been quite a while—several years, actually, since my last post on transportation issues. But it’s still as important as ever; more so, if that’s possible. More than 90% of all transportation systems depend on fossil fuels—oil and gasoline, specifically.

Notwithstanding, we have a feckless Congress powered by shortsighted in the extreme Republicans, who can’t seem to see their way into a future beyond a week from yesterday, unable to agree on funding for enhanced transportation or addressing the myriad current needs. Certainly any federal efforts to improve options now or provide for a broader range of opportunities later is absolutely verboten according to right-wing “principles.” (What happens if the public starts considering the realities of necessary government services? Can’t have that!)

Do any of them possess the minimal level of wherewithal to ask what happens when the finite supplies continue to exhibit their finite qualities in a world where billions more seek to improve their own ways of life—with those same finite fuels being relied upon? Do they understand that tight oil contributions to increased production totals bow to no one, and that the facts and realities of exploration of and production from shale formations will thus extend benefits and advantages only for a few short years more?

Leaders and knowledgeable officials ought to … you know, lead and share what they know, even if the response is less than full-throated roars of approval at the messages they deliver.

Transportation—given its vital role in society for almost we do and need—deserves a bit more thought and advance planning than your run-of-the-mill issues of the day. Several months ago, the always-informative Angie Schmitt of DC Streetsblog offered her views on a RAND Corporation report studying the transportation world less than two decades from now. Her conclusion about the two likeliest options the RAND report considered:

the choice that emerges is still pretty stark.

So it is, especially in light of the details suggested in each of the two scenarios.

In the first scenario, oil prices continue to climb until 2030 and greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, as a result of the recognition of the harm caused by global warming. Zoning laws have been reformed to promote walkable urban and suburban communities. Transit use has increased substantially. Road pricing is widely used to limit congestion and generate revenue for transportation projects. Vehicle efficiency standards have been tightened, and most drivers use electric vehicles. This is the scenario researchers at RAND call, rather dourly, ‘No Free Lunch.’

In the second scenario, ‘Fueled and Freewheeling,’ oil prices are relatively low in 2030 due to increasingly advanced extraction methods. Americans’ relationship to energy is much like it was in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll own more vehicles overall and drive more miles. Suburbanization will continue. Roads are in bad shape because no revenues are raised to repair them. Congestion is worse. This scenario represents the future if little action is taken to counter the effects of global warming.

Good to know that’s all taken care of!

As to the first scenario, how does the expectation of substantial increases in transit use square with the present realities of Republican Party intransigence to funding for just the basics today? And oil prices which continue to climb may not meet with the full approval of the buying public. What happens when they say “that’s too much?” and/or “I just can’t pay that much all the time.”

When consumers stem the outflow of funding the industry needs to at least sustain production efforts at current rates, a pretty obvious problem arises very quickly. What happens?

A Republican Party which has a unique viewpoint on governments regulating anything and a fact-free perspective on climate change does not suggest a strong likelihood that we’ll see “tightly regulated” emissions, widespread changes in zoning laws, aggressive and innovating road pricing (or any) and even stronger vehicle efficiency mandates. Kinda hints at a few more problems if anyone is insisting that facts be considered.

As for the second RAND scenario? Low prices won’t be providing the means for any “advanced extraction methods”, period! If we own more vehicle and are driving ore, what are the odds that a few hundred million people in other nations around the world might be doing the same? Finite resources will still be finite resources then, so if we’re got all this extra demand, what is more likely to happen? If funding for repairs is as inadequate as it is now, then I’m thinking road conditions will get worse. Dominoes will fall as a result.

Perhaps a re-think is in order.

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 05.18.14  


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