May 21, 2007, 11:35 A.M.
American Island: Several weeks ago Dianne and I traveled with our son to New York where he is looking at colleges. The traffic was extremely heavy on the LIE, but because there were four of us on the trip we were able to utse the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. I was pleasantly surprised at how much this speeded up our trip. I was amazed, however, at the number of cars and trucks that we passed, idling in traffic in the lanes for the single-passenger cars.
I was amazed by this observation for several reasons. First, the price of gas was a full fifty cents more per gallon than we were used to at home and there were still that many people driving down a highway that was parallel to and less than a mile from the Long Island Railroad. Second, the HOV lane was speeding us along at 55 MPH while traffic in the other three lanes of traffic was at a virtual standstill. We were thus able to save a considerable amount of time and money by being eligible to drive in the HOV lane.
Of course we were all family members going to the same place at the same time, but it occurred to me that, with all of the people going in the same direction on that highway, some of them must have been going to the same or nearly the same place. Despite the extra time and expense, thousands upon thousands of commuters chose to drive their own cars to work, as people do all over the country, rather than make the effort to share a ride. Gas really is not expensive enough yet.
While Iím sitting up here on my high horse, I have to admit to being as guilty as anyone on this front. I should walk to work, or ride with Dianne more, and I should be better about planning my driving in order to save fuel, to save money (did I mention that we are looking at colleges) and to relieve some pressure on the environment.
On my way to a meeting recently, I noticed how many of my neighbors and friends were going to the same meeting at the same time from the same area. We were all in our own cars. Had we all spoken beforehand, we could have taken half the number of cars and we might have had some time to catch up before the meeting, or to debrief afterwards. Iím going to suggest a carpool next month.
Traffic is becoming more of a problem everywhere. It would be easy to suggest that everyone wants to take their own car because they are selfish or antisocial (or self-conscious or chronically late, etc.). Iím not convinced that itís all intentional. I think some of us just havenít been motivated to change our behavior yet.
Certainly there is enough evidence of the damage we are doing to the environment to motivate some of us and Iím happy to see the success of hybrid cars that is a result. Manufacturers are being rewarded for producing more environmentally friendly fuel-efficient cars with increased sales and we all benefit. We can do a lot more and we should. I, for one, intend to start now.
The 800 lb Gorilla in all of this is the dependence of our country in fossil fuel acquisition, production sales and distribution. I suspect that it is time to call upon all of us to voluntarily reduce fossil fuel use and then perhaps to impose a tax to motivate those among us who are not inclined to voluntarily reduce consumption. It has been suggested that gas prices are not yet high enough to affect our behavior. If that is the case, then there needs to be a minimum price for gasoline. Any time the price falls below the minimum, a tax would kick in. The money collected could be used to help develop more fuel-efficient cars or to develop alternatives to fossil fuels to meet future transportation and energy costs.
NYCís Mayor Bloomberg has proposed an $8.00 toll for vehicles entering Manhattan during peak traffic congestion hours during the week. Another excellent idea.
Our insatiable appetite for gasoline has made us dependant on foreign sources of fuel. The instability of the oil producing countries, and the increasing demand for oil by China are but two reasons why the future of cheap available fuel looks bleak and the impact on our overall economy will be devastating. We need to become less susceptible to the whims of the market and to take control of our destiny by reducing consumption and by developing alternative technologies now.
If we do not change our behavior individually, and as a society, we will truly become an American Island, isolated from the rest of the world politically and economically. The billions of dollars, boundless depths of international goodwill and thousands of lost lives swallowed up by Bushís war in Iraq do nothing to advance our cause.
A walk to the store, a ride with a friend or a carpool to work may not seem like much but itís a place to start. Who knows, the idea might catch on and HOV lanes will be a thing of the past.