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Gas Prices Changing Your Plans?

Here's a sampler of what pops up in a search of the phrase "rising gas prices" in The Post's archive:

-- "In Washington, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman acknowledged that rising gas prices have become a crisis. But he suggested that finding short-term fixes to soothe consumers angered by pump prices topping $3 per gallon might be difficult." May 1, 2006

-- "The election is on. How can we tell? Because at the Sept. 20 meeting of the D.C. Council, topic number one was voter anger over rising gas prices." Sept. 29, 2005

-- "In some ways, rising gas prices can be a good thing. They're a wake-up call to all of us to drive more slowly and conserve energy." June 24, 2004

-- "There is no relief just yet for area motorists being driven to distraction by rising gas prices." Feb. 28, 2003

You know we could go on. You probably remember TV and newspaper reports in which you learned that people were planning to drive less, take transit more and modify holiday plans in response to their outrage over rising gasoline prices. Know many people who actually did those things?

It's a good time to take the long view, as the price of gas nationwide, now at $3.218 per gallon, approaches a historic inflation-adjusted high.

The high was set in 1981, a quarter of a century ago. We have a history of complaining, not of modifying our behavior.

Changes in gas prices -- at least in the ranges that most American adults have seen -- just aren't something that travelers respond to in decisive ways. As in years past, there will be plenty of talk around here about the price of fuel. Yet we live in a congested region where people engage in some of the nation's longest commutes, mostly driving by themselves. Metrorail ridership isn't increasing as much as in previous years. VRE ridership has been declining since 2005.

We're part of a wealthy region, where many people are blessed with incomes that can cushion them against at least a few price shocks. Plus, our traveling lives are complicated. People change jobs, sometimes picking a better position in an office farther away from home. In two-worker famliies, one may have a short train ride to work, while the other drives 30 miles.

What determines your travel patterns? Is gas price among the top five factors? Or am I underrating the role fuel prices play, and you're monitoring sites like WashingtonDCgas prices.com and GasBuddy.com to find the cheapest place to fill up?

By Robert Thomson  |  May 23, 2007; 11:56 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Comments

I know that gas prices did help me determine where to move, though not in the sense of finding the cheap gas. I might not have looked so much for somewhere close to Metro had it not been for the gas crunch, and I wouldn't have strongly preferred Metro-accessible jobs in my job hunt last summer as much if gas prices weren't so high. This has resulted in my cutting down use of my car, though I still do use it. (I figured out that Metro and car commuting ended up costing about the same amount if you factor in gas and parking, and with Metro I'm not the one sitting in traffic and I can read a book on the way in or out.)

I've been trying to walk more and find ways to avoid using my car if I can, but I suspect that will become harder with the height of heat in the summer, just like it was when the snow and ice completely covered the sidewalks by me last February.

Posted by: Ugh. | May 23, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The weekly Department of Energy data on gasoline shows we continue to use more gas than last year (and the year before and the year before).

Americans use less gas? I'll believe it when I see it.

Posted by: Josey | May 23, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I drive to work (a 4-mile commute that would take much more time if I used mass transit instead of driving), and I also used to drive to get lunch almost every day. I stopped almost all lunchtime driving several years ago when gas prices started to shoot up. I also buy groceries and run errands on the way home from work, instead of making special trips on weekends, and I do all I can to combine trips in other ways. And last month I traded in my old car for a Prius, and even though I'm still in the break-in period (when gas mileage is not yet at its best) I'm getting twice the mpg that I used to get from my old car. So yeah, I am definitely trying to use less gas.

Posted by: arlington | May 23, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I still took my V8 on a trip instead of my V6. So - no it hasn't affected me at all, except that there are more people on the metro.

Posted by: yo | May 23, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Not a big effect. I second Arlington: 5 mile/15 minute commute by car (compare to 40 minutes by bus), walking to get lunch instead of driving or bringing leftovers, combining trips...and not going out without a group of us to make it worth the gas.

My household only puts about 6000 miles on the cars annually as it is so no big changes are needed. We drive smaller cars (a Jetta and a Honda S2000), which get great gas mileage. Our budget will not take a huge increase in gas costs, however, so here's hoping they don't double from current levels.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | May 23, 2007 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't much pay attention to the price of gas; it is what it is. That doesn't mean I won't go to a cheaper station if there is one on my route (although I won't use no-name brands of gas like Liberty), but I won't drive out of my way to try to save 2¢ a gallon when I'd probably just use up the savings driving there.

Based on the number of times I fill up each month, a $1.00 per gallon increase in the price of gas means an extra $540 a year for me. That's not enough money annually to make me need to change my driving habits.

I HAVE become intrigued recently by a new Italian motorcycle I read about, the Piaggio MP3. The notion of getting 60 mpg AND being able to use the HOV lane without having to pick up slugs is intriguing. But I'm hesitant to consider a motorcycle in the DC area because I don't know how safe it would be.

Posted by: Rich | May 23, 2007 5:15 PM | Report abuse

For many of us in the DC region, I believe gas prices are minor compared to job choice and commuting time.

A $10,000/year better job buys a ton of extra gas. E.g., at $3.50/gallon, if the better job needs 2 extra gallons/day, you still earn more than five times the cost of the extra gas. Ok, with taxes, maybe 3 times.

And time spent in jammed traffic is EXPENSIVE. Consider how much you get paid per hour and compare that to the cost of the gas you use per hour commuting. Ugh.

Posted by: Lee | May 23, 2007 9:18 PM | Report abuse

I get reimbursed for mileage when
I drive to visit clients. Even with the the increased cost of gas, I still make money on the deal.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 23, 2007 9:32 PM | Report abuse

We have to remember that it should not be just an individual wake up call to change their behavior. While not everyone can get a job close to their home, you can take other action than solely complaining about gas prices. Talk to your elected officials to tell them that you need better bus and rail service. Tell your officials to spend money to make it more convenient to find other ways to get to work than driving. Part of the problem is that we do not have as extensive a bus and train network as say London. Expensive gas is fine and will become the norm, but we should improve our transit situation in the interim to make it easy to go from say Leesburg to Bethesda via rail.

Posted by: Jay | May 24, 2007 12:10 AM | Report abuse

The Piaggio MP3 is a scooter, not a motorcycle. I want gas to go up to $5/gal so that more people will get off the road and out of my way. I have a 15 min commute and also 3 motorcycles. Plus Metro is nearby. And I bought back in 1999 before the prices went up. Yay me.

Posted by: Stick | May 24, 2007 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I drive about 20,000 miles a year, and have a Prius. I get better than 50 MPG, so the price of gasoline is not a concern to me (I pay the same for a fill up as I did years ago with the Prius' predecessor, which got about 25 MPG). Increasing gas prices and the future prospects for oil-based fuels was one factor involved in the decision to buy a Prius rather than some other vehicle.

Posted by: Laszlo in DC | May 24, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

"The Piaggio MP3 is a scooter, not a motorcycle."

Other than the smaller engine, and the less-annoying exhaust sound, what's the practical difference? You still need the Class M endorsement on your driver's license, and it still seems like a potentially sound commuting choice if it can be done safely.

Posted by: Rich | May 24, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I take an hour to get to work (from one burb to another) via my feet, and Metro when it would take 20 minutes by car. Frankly I feel good about my decision, I get a lot of reading done, and I have lost weight since I stopped driving.

Try to think about others besides yourself. Think about how this affects others in our nation. Charities such as Meals On Wheels that rely on cars to serve the needy are being hit hard by higher gas prices.

Posted by: CD | May 24, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Jay,

This region simply doesn't have the density to support a rail system on the level of London's or New York. The few dense areas in the region are already served by Metro rail and a good bus line network.

For the region to reach the density required to justify the cost of a comprehensive rail network, it will need to overcome its irrational aversion to tall buildings; you'll never achieve much density with 13-story building height restrictions in the central city and a mindset that calls a 12-story building in a commercial suburban area a "tower" and considers an unobstructed panoramic view to be a birthright.

And we need more roads. This region never completed its planned highway network, mainly because its elected officials have a history of kowtowing to a small group of loud, well-organized, narrowly-focused special interest groups that always come out in opposition to every new road project proposed. The result is the nation's third-worst congestion, despite its already significant investment in rail (the nation's second-largest system and rate of usage). Not only do vehicles stuck in traffic waste expensive fuel, they also pollute.

The NIMBY's and the Sierra Club are just as responsible for your high gas costs as are the oil companies. Remember that the next time you're stuck in traffic burning gas to go nowhere.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 24, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

"you'll never achieve much density with 13-story building height restrictions in the central city"

Buildings in DC have height restrictions based on building codes that say the streets are not wide enough for tall buildings. It is not due to considering "an unobstructed panoramic view to be a birthright."

I know this is not necessarily true for the suburban areas of VA and MD, but it wouldn't surprise me if these states also have some sort of building code that dictates this.

Posted by: Laura | May 25, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

"Buildings in DC have height restrictions based on building codes that say the streets are not wide enough for tall buildings."

Really? If that is so, then the restrictions are even MORE silly, in fact illogical and plain stupid, considering that the streets of Lower Manhattan, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and parts of downtown LA and Chicago's Loop are even narrower.

Using the "street width" logic, the 50+ -story buildings in the most prosperous and progressive US cities - Houston, Dallas, Denver, Minneaolis, Seattle, Atlanta, Charlotte, and others - should be fronted by streets 500-ft wide.

Has the silliness of the street-width arguement reached you yet?

"It is not due to considering "an unobstructed panoramic view to be a birthright."

History lesson: The DC height limits were orginally implemented after influential residents of Kalorama complained to Congress after the Kalorama folks failed in their efforts to get DC to stop construction of a 14-story apartment building that blocked their view of the Washington Monument.

The reasoning behind the street-width formula is purely emotional view/vista preservation; it has no logical basis, as in safety or fire prevention.

Even so, European cities such as London and Paris have proven that historical structures, open spaces, and contemporary taller buildings can aesthetically coexist.

Strange, how neo-urbanists, DC apologists, and road-haters can point to Eurpoean cities when they want to oppose roads and suburban development, and then turn away from their precous European examples of urban paradise when the matter of increased building heights to enable the density they profess to desire is brought up.

The "view" argument is a favorite of regional opponents of taller structures are large developments. The opposition to the National Harbor project in PG County and the proposed 30-story JBG towers in Rosslyn are only 2 of the most notable recent examples.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 26, 2007 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I think CEEAF has a valid point that there was originally an ulterior motive for the building height cap. However, on the other hand, I think the law is not WHOLLY bad (and I put "wholly" in caps for a reason). Ever been to Richmond? You can't see the historic state capitol until you're right on top of it, literally. It's swallowed up by taller buildings. As someone who's lived in the DC area since 1974, I know I can be somewhat jaded, but at the same time on a morning when the traffic isn't so bad there's something majestic about the Capitol coming into view after I pass the Pentagon, or about the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument rearing up in front of me if I take Memorial Bridge instead of the 14th Street Bridge.

It seems to me that even if the original reason for capping building heights was cynical (as CEEAF says), I have no beef with it ****in the downtown area****. Say again, IN THE DOWNTOWN AREA. Which is to say, they might be OK elsewhere--see below. Moreover, ****IF**** tall buildings would obstruct Reagan Airport, then I would support banning the tall buildings (Dulles is a pain for shorter flights!!!!).

BUT------this is not to say that there cannot be taller buildings farther away within DC. Take the so-called "Friendship Heights" area, for instance (an area that bears little relation to its historic bounds, but whatever). There is no principled reason why there can't be taller buildings within DC in that general area. Good road access, good transit access, no FAA issues. Same thing goes for the next few stops down the Red Line to the south of there.

I'm sure there are other areas within DC that, if they were carefully targeted, could meet the dual aesthetic of keeping the historic area visible while also allowing for upward growth. What they are, I don't know offhand, but they must exist. Anyone got ideas?


(BTW, lest anyone misunderstand, I am referring SOLELY to the District of Columbia. Let Ballston and Tysons climb skywards!)

Posted by: Rich | May 28, 2007 11:19 PM | Report abuse

I just want to say I personally think there should be larger buildings in the city. CEEAF makes good points that cities with much smaller streets that have very tall buildings as well. It's a CITY for cripes sake, it should have taller buildings. I was just pointing out the legal reasons behind the lack of tall buildings rather than the subjective ones. Many people believe there is a rule that buildings can be no taller than the Washington Monument. This is pure myth though.

Posted by: Laura | May 31, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

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