Wednesday, May 28, 2008

bikes...and $4/gallon gas

actually, it's way more than $4 now. it's currently $4.19 per gallon (er, note...make it $4.25).

this is in Los Angeles, which is admittedly above the national average. but still, the numbers are a little shocking.

and that's not even the apex of what they're predicting. some sources are holding to a summer peak of around $4.25 for the national average (reference: BloggingStocks). others are arguing that if petroleum prices surge to $200 per barrel (as opposed to the current ~$120-130 per barrel now), that we may see gasoline prices as high as $6-7 per gallon(reference: New York Times). there are even some claiming that high prices will not be just a summer phenomenon this time, but will be permanent as a result of a confluence of factors--fuel demand in emerging markets, trade imbalances, current economic policies, etc. (reference: Wired).

whatever the forecast is, all i know is that the run-up has been painful. here's the trends in gasoline prices, as compiled by the Department of Energy--which at the very least, provides info on their data collection and measuring:
it's no wonder that i'm seeing more bikes on the road...which is a big thing for Los Angeles, since this place is pretty much the mecca of the American car culture (both by choice and, courtesy of this region's history, by necessity)--trying to live without a car in this godforsaken town of weak public transport (and despite what the politicians say, it is weak. trust me, i know. i've lived in Europe, and i know what real public transportation really looks like) is tantamount to amputating your life.

i'm guessing that the gas prices have finally hit that economic tipping point where the internal cost-benefit analysis of the average LA resident is finally forcing them to re-evaluate the return-on-investment of gasoline (i.e., the value derived from driving a car that needs $4.19 per gallon gas) versus the return-on-investment of alternative modes of travel (i.e., the value derived from riding a bike that needs only time and physical exertion).

i've been seeing people that i've never seen before on bikes. and not just for recreation. but increasingly for errands, social meetings, and even commuting. i know they're not training, because 1) their body types are nothing even close to resembling anything remotely athletic (i.e., they're a bit on the rotund side, and so clearly not professional athletes or elite amateurs), 2) they're not wearing cycling gear, but instead are dressed in pants, and 3) they're not riding racing bikes, but instead are rolling on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, beach cruisers, or quite possibly their parents' forgotten rides retrieved (still-dusty-and-long-forgotten) from the attic.

and Los Angeles isn't the only place. it appears this is a national trend. check out the CNN article:
if that doesn't work, i've included the full text below. but the link also has a video that i think is worth seeing.

is this good or bad? well, you won't hear me complaining. i'm happy to see any signal showing that this city is finally thinking about any alternative to cars--it's just my pseudo-Eurasian childhood rearing its memories in me. and i'm happy to see any movement towards more environmentally-friendly choices. and of course, i'm happy to see anything that increases healthier lifestyles.

including me.

i'm looking into buying a fixed-gear bike. something that's cheap, nothing special, and that'll 1) get me around my neighborhood to do my errands (and avoid spending $4.19 per gallon on gas), 2) make it over the awful pot-holed streets of Los Angeles and its surrounding environs, and 3) not get stolen (which in this town, seems to happen about every second). the last part is kind of crucial--it's the major reason i don't use my race bike for anything other than training.

hopefully i can find something useful. cuz these gas prices are just ridiculous.

and all you people in Europe can laugh (all my friends and relatives always do) and tell us spoiled Americans about your ~$9-11 per gallon (reference: Time). but think about this: at least you have public transportation systems that offer a viable alternative. here in the U.S., especially in Los Angeles, the system is such that we're pretty much pressured to be reliant on cars.

which is why it's such a big deal to get a bike--and ride it. and not just for training. but for living.

yeah, imagine that: living. on bikes.

what a concept!

iReporters change lifestyles to dodge hefty gas bills
By Kate Taylor

As rising gas prices leave drivers with ever-heftier tabs at the pump, Americans have started looking for ways to reduce the drain on their budget. For some, transitioning away from a one-person, one-car lifestyle has proved rewarding.

Janaki Purushe, a 22-year-old genetic researcher living in Rockville, Maryland, bikes just about everywhere she goes. "When I had the opportunity to finally plan my own life after I graduated college," Purushe explains, "I took into consideration where I was going to shop, where my friends live, where my boyfriend lives, and I definitely tried to plan the location of my home around where I was going."

Now, although she still has a car, Purushe bikes to work every day. It's a 10-mile round-trip commute, and she carries a change of clothes for when she gets to the office. She says she loves it. "When I'm riding my bike, I really pay attention to what's around me, and the weather's been great. I feel like I'm getting more out of my days."

Purushe also enjoys biking to the grocery store, and the bank. She admits that such convenience came at the price of living in a costlier part of town, but maintains that by not driving, she's made up for the extra expense.

"I know I'm lucky to be able to bike everywhere," she says.

The Department of Transportation said Monday it had seen the sharpest monthly drop in driving since it began keeping records. In March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles than in March of 2007.

When rising gas prices coincided with a baby on the way for Lucas and Naomi Smith, they knew they had to make some quick changes help keep life affordable. The first move the Smiths made was to sell one of their cars. Between insurance, gas and the depreciation of the car's value, Lucas Smith says the couple saves about $350 a month.

Another benefit of sharing the car is that the Smiths, Herndon, Virginia, residents, now spend more time together, in the car and at home.

"We have to plan out our weeks," Smith explains, "When are you going to pick me up? What days am I going to work later? It actually facilitates conversation."

In making room in the budget for the baby, the Smiths each also gave up their cell phones and cable TV. Smith thinks the change has been nice.

"We've found that there's just such an emphasis on having things, that you don't realize there's a stress cost, the cost of maintaining those things. Although it seems like you have less convenience," he explains, "you also have less stress."

Besides a drop in stress, the money the couple has saved will allow Naomi Smith to stay home with their new baby.

If he had all the money in world Smith says the one thing he might do differently is buy a fun car. "There's something different about having a fun car than having an efficient car," he muses.

Bethany Dietz of Baltimore, Maryland, is the stay-at-home Mom of two daughters, ages 1 and 3. Dietz says her husband works 20 miles from home, so his gas tank gets first priority. "If I stay home all week with the kids," Dietz says, "so be it -- it saves us on gas."

Dietz waits until Friday, when her 3-year-old goes to school, to run all of her errands. The rest of the week, she and her daughters don't really go out.

Although she doesn't mind not driving, Dietz says, "It can get kind of hairy sometimes because my daughter's 3 years old and she likes to go out and do things. She gets a little stir crazy."

Dietz says the family's gas bill is encroaching onto the food budget. "You just have to make the choice," Dietz explains, to conserve money on gas in order to afford food.

With respect to the gas prices that show no sign of leveling, Dietz says, "I see a lot more complications in the future."

1 comment:

Bob Almighty said...

hey in Connecticut we're averaging about $4.20 a gallon, in fact in one town I usually ride through gas was up to $4.33