Gas Prices Dropping! That’s Good, Right?

Bad as prices are, they are getting better…at least temporarily. Today’s L.A. Times reports some gas
stations [not many yet] offering gas BELOW $4 a gallon. This is awesome…And, it’s also paradoxical.
The price of crude is dropping because, imagine this, at higher prices consumers reacted by driving less for the first time since 1942. Producers rushed supplies to market, trying to take advantage of high prices. But, high prices made demand drop, so there is now an over-supply of gas, causing the price to drop. Those lower prices are now hitting the pump….

All this is basic economics, but it’s so twisted..What happens now? Do people jump back into their Yukons and Escalades, dumping their shiny new bicycles in the trash? Or, will we actually take this time to realize we really do need to change our habits?

Two approaches to this problem seem to have evolved rather quickly. One, let’s get more oil as fast as we can. Let’s drill everywhere and push suppliers to increase production. The second says oil and all carbon-based fuels are skyrocketing greenhouse gases, causing global warming. Both would respond to current high gas prices by more carefully managing our consumption, but differ on the long-term tactics.

Even T. Boone Pickens says we “can’t drill our way out of this one,” yet it’s a foregone conclusion, to me anyway, that if current gas prices drop below $4, people will jump right back into their giant cars, gunning them at 80 miles an hour down the freeway. Conservation is hard and requires careful calculation while waste is easy. So, I’m almost tempted to wish prices would stay high. Then, I think not only of the many who truly need their cars to get to work, who can’t “turn on a dime” as the saying goes, changing their cars and homes overnight. Coming to sunny California lo these many years ago from Montreal, I also think about the horrible effect of high heating oil prices in parts of our country with heavy winters.

In sum, I think the heavy economic toll on our economy comes from the suddenness of the rise in the price of crude. Maybe we should have been prepared as we have known this day was coming since the 70s, but we still weren’t ready. Combined with the incalculable drag on our economy of two interminable wars, an eternal “war on terror”, a sinking dollar and a bursting housing “bubble”, it’s no wonder that the stratospheric rise of the price of crude has exploded throughout the economy blasting financial shrapnel into unexpected corners–RV sales almost eliminated, SUV sales tanking, American auto makers crippled, their stock prices tumbling, companies shedding jobs like water,  transportation taxes down, vegetable prices up, meat prices up, retail sales stagnant…the list of woes grows everyday.

Every good thing seems to trigger something bad. Municipalities have long sought to increase ridership on public transportation but now are staggering under rising costs and CUTTING ROUTES. This is so crazy. Long-term, we obviously need MORE routes and alternative-fuel buses, read natural gas. Short-term, it seems we could make biking safer and easier. How expensive is that?

The other day I rode my bike to the library, a round-trip of maybe 8 miles. It was great exercise, but scary as cars rule, despite traffic regulations, laws and what have you. The seeming murderous intent of some car drivers is what made me stop biking a few years ago, except on the wonderful bike path we have in Azusa which runs 35 miles all the way to the beach. Why not make riding  safer for cyclists? Why not really encourage biking? And build paths along streets, but separate from the roads where cars are, so masses of cyclists could ride to work and around town.

The other day I was watching a PBS series on TV called “Foyle’s War”. About a British detective in the waning days of World War II, the series is highly atmospheric. But, here’s what got to me. Everyone was riding bicycles all over the place, conserving petrol for the war effort, no doubt. The weather there is atrocious, so everyone is shown with scarves and coats, even carting along bundled-up babies.  Imagine!

In Paris, taking a cue from the Germans, the French have rental bikes all over the place–pay the fee, take one from the rental rack, ride it your destination, drop it off at another rental rack. Now the idea has come to Washington, DC…But, hey, we have the best weather in the country!  Also the highest gas prices. What’s wrong with L.A. or Pasadena or West Covina getting into the act?

All the wrangling about the Wilshire corridor. That 15 miles of staightaway from downtown to the ocean–what a perfect place for bicyclists. Keep the double-barreled buses, add the bikes and get rid of the cars! That’s a lot cheaper than $10 billion for an additional subway line..

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