Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Sperling, a professor from UC Davis speak about his book Two Billion Cars on the USF Campus. I thought that his presence on campus was timely given the recent announcement regarding high speed rail in Florida. His book has gotten a great deal of attention and he has consulted with the government of the State of California and the US Government on transportation policy.
His presentation was interesting in that he discussed how we are creating more and more cars (over 2 billion) and that their impact is quite dangerous to our society. We are reaching, or have reached peak oil; we are running out of infrastructure; and we are running out of money to expand infrastructure options. While cars remain a convenient desirable transportation choice, they are a challenge to the environment and to infrastructure.
He suggests several ways out of the current situation. First of all he advocates improving federal guidelines for fuel efficiency. He believes that we have the technology to greatly reduce emissions and fuel consumption by improving the technology of cars and developing new fuel sources. Second, he advocates developing more transportation options such as car sharing, public transit, and jitney services.
My concern regarding transit in Florida is that it is difficult to move discussion away from the car and that there is little political will to change the status quo. In addition, the infrastructure of our cities (low density developments, great distances between points of interest) make mass transit difficult. Yet, innovation and bold ideas bring success. For example, Portland decided to set a goal of having 25 percent of all transit trips made by bicycle. This goal informed a variety of policy decisions including the building of new bicycle transportation infrastructure. Indeed, Portland invested the equivalent of the cost of 1 freeway mile of road to build the nation's most impressive bicycle infrastructure in the nation.
There is no doubt that as oil becomes more expensive that some type of change will occur. The question is what type of change? Will the car evolve or will we develop new transportation options and behaviors? Will we redevelop our cities around a less expensive form of transit?