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The Impending Shift in Transportation

The Impending Shift in Transportation

Transportation trends may change more now than ever as gas prices in New Jersey and across the US soar amongst high rates of inflation and financial burdens from the Covid-19 pandemic. The cost of living now has become expensive and disproportionately affects poor, working class, and middle-class families. [1] For this reason, people are reevaluating the cost of their daily activities and changing the way from which they go from point A to B, and we must be prepared to adopt for those changes and make our roads safer for them.

Gas station sign in June 2022 showing 4.99

A gas station in New Jersey, June 2022.

Historical Precedents

Changes in gas prices along with shifts in transportation uses have been witnessed before in US history. A prime example is the 1973 Oil Crisis, when oil manufacturers banned exports to the US. That year gas prices averaged $2.90 adjusted for inflation.[2] In response, President Nixon called for people to carpool and introduced legislation to lower speed limits on highways to 50 mph.[3] This ban continued into 1974, when gas prices rose once again to $3.69 inflation-adjusted.[4] Prices continues to rise with the second oil crisis of the decade, which began in 1978 as a result of the Iranian Revolution and pushed prices as high $3.18 inflation-adjusted.[5]

The US, however, simultaneously experienced a bike boom. The bike boom, signaled by an increased demand for bikes (especially for adults), started as a way for environmentalist and physical-fitness fans to push their causes forward.[6] The 1973 Oil Crisis added fuel to the bike boom as people used bikes as a solution to high gas prices and speed restrictions.[7] In reaction to this, 252 bike-oriented bills were introduced, politicians urged urban planners to build infrastructure for bikes, and the Federal-Aid Highway Act provided $120 million for bikeways.[8] Nevertheless, as quickly as the bike boom appeared, it disappeared.

What changes could we be looking at?

Recommendations on how to avoid high gas prices today include using public transportation, taking care of vehicles to maintain fuel efficiency, buying fuel efficient vehicles, biking or walking, and planning more efficient trips by carpooling or minimizing the number of stops during an outing.

Reducing driving in order to conserve gas is the easiest way for people to avoid high gas prices. According to a survey conducted by AAA, 59% of people would make changes to their driving habits or lifestyle if the cost of gas rose to $4, and 75% of people said they would need to change their lifestyle if the cost rose to $5.[9] Among those who said they would make changes, 80% said they would drive less by carpooling, combing trips and errands, and reducing shopping or dining out.[10]

Alternative modes of transportation are also a popular way for people to avoid high gas prices. An example of this is the boom in current e-bikes and e-cargo bikes, which are bikes that run on pedal power and rechargeable batteries. The demand for e-bikes and e-cargo bikes started at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic as people looked for new ways to travel safely and it has continued as people seek more affordable modes of transportation.[11] E-bikes and e-cargo bikes are also an attractive solution because they bridge fill in a gap between biking and driving in the US. They maintain a faster pace over a long distance, can overcome challenging terrain, and can accommodate small children and heavy loads.[12] They also contribute to healthier lifestyles, reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and support global efforts to pressure Russia to end the war against Ukraine.

Adjusting For Change

Considering high gas prices, high rates of inflation, and other financial burdens from the Covid-19 pandemic, adjustment to changes must be made. The possibility of fewer cars on the road could mean more dangerous driving on the road. During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic there was a historic 24% surge in the crash death rate, as those with more dangerous cars drove more and reckless drivers sped through empty roads.[13]

The possibility of more e-bikes and e-cargo bikes on the road could also mean more vulnerable road users will be present. In a poll conducted by PeopleforBikes in 2018, 70% of people from eight US cities said that roads were not safe enough for families to bike and 63% of those would ride if they felt safer.[14] It is important, therefore, to make roads as safe as possible.

Fortunately, everyone is capable of contributing to efforts to make roads safer. For example, New Jersey passed a Safe Passing Law[15] that outlines safe practices when driving with other vulnerable users on the road. Following this law and educating others about it with this toolkit[16] can reduce fatalities on the road. Following other laws[17] such as 39:4-11, which requires bikes to have an audible device heard at least 100 feet away, are important, too. Additionally, New Jersey’s regional TMAs can provide free technical assistance[18] to establish safe routes for all road users. Finally, working to improve roads using the Safe System Approach[19] and Complete Streets design guidelines[20] can contribute to increased road safety.

By Sophia Pereira