Marc Hansen's latest column goes over the hidden benefits of rising gas prices. For instance, people may reduce driving speeds on the highway to improve mileage, which will save gas and save lives.
His piece also mentions that higher prices at the pump have increased the number of people using various forms of public transit in a lot of cities.
The New York Times published a similar article on Saturday: Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit. That piece gives examples of growing demand for public transit all over the country, not only in cities with historically strong systems such as New York and Boston, but also in Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco, Houston, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, NC.
This isn't rocket science. If the price of gas keeps going up, count on more people to be looking for alternatives to driving.
Trouble is, the Iowa legislature just adopted (and Governor Culver signed) the TIME-21 transportation plan, which does not require any of the increased transportation funding to be spent on public transit.
People can't switch to the bus if there is no bus line running through their neighborhood and going somewhere they need to go, and they can't take the train if there is no commuter rail in their metro area.
We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on rebuilding and expanding I-235 through Des Moines and the suburbs, yet we didn't even put in a high-occupancy vehicle lane to encourage carpooling. (A high-occupancy vehicle lane can only be used by vehicles carrying at least two licensed drivers.)
Our elected and appointed officials need to be more forward-thinking when it comes to transportation and economic development generally.
It's great that Amtrak is talking about adding passenger rail service to link Iowa City and the Quad Cities to Chicago, but we also need more alternatives to driving that Iowans can use on a daily basis.
For much more on what a smart transportation policy would look like, check out this page at the Smart Growth America website.