EMR has sent VDOT the following question:
Why does VDOT ‘assume’ there will be more Large, Private vehicles using the US Route 29 Corridor in 2017 than there were in 2007?
We have provided below, based on the recent work at SYNERGY, some of the reasons citizens should question ANY assumption of growth in Large, Private vehicle travel in the US Route 29 Corridor – or in any other InterRegional corridor in the Commonwealth:
High fuel prices drive down travel demand, especially travel in Large, Private vehicles. The ONLY thing that is keeping the cost of fuel low in October of 2009 is The Great Recession.
Going forward there appear to be three broad options with respect fuel prices and thus travel demand in Large, Private vehicles in the US Route 29 Corridor or anywhere else:
1. The Great Recession will end soon with a return to the 2002 / 2006 economic / consumption trajectory. Not many predict this outcome but if it occurs fuel prices will go back up making Large, Private vehicles economic dinosaurs. Economic reality will reshape travel demand and functional Mobility and Access systems.
The configuration of these transformations can be predicted by considering the impacts of high fuel / energy price events over the past four decades. All serious examinations of the growth / consumption scenario point to more compact human settlement patterns served by shared-vehicle systems and much smaller, lighter, slower and safer vehicles for IntraRegional Mobility and Access. InterRegional (and MegaRegional) Mobility and Access will depend on more efficient shared-vehicle systems.
2. The Great Recession does not end soon. With a long recession / depression few will be able to afford a Large, Private vehicle much less the fuel to take long trips. Economists suggest that a ‘recovery’ from a long recession / depression may be similar to the ‘recovery’ following The Long Depression (1876 to 1893). That economic transformation ushered in a new settlement pattern – the rise of the Industrial Center that eclipsed the society that was 95 percent agrarian / 5 percent Urban (aka, The ‘Cities / Agrarian Society) that evolved over the prior 13,000 years. The Industrial Center (the settlement pattern template of the Industrial Revolution) was dependent on the evolution of railways for Mobility and Access.
The shape of the settlement pattern that will replace the Large, Private Vehicle Settlement Pattern that has evolved since 1920 can be projected based on an understanding of economic activity and the trajectory of property values of organic components of human settlement (measured Radius Band by Radius Band) over the past three decades. This new settlement pattern must be – like the ‘The Great Recession Ends Soon’ alternative scenario – more efficient and compact. These patterns and densities of land use will by necessity rely far less Large, Private vehicles because of economic and physical reality – high fuel costs and the space required to drive and park Large, Private vehicles.
3. There is middle ground between these two polar options. This is often called The ‘Modest’ Recovery. A ‘modest’ recovery is the current Federal Reserve prediction and that of many economists. Under this scenario there will be little employment growth in the US of A or Virginia because of Global outsourcing and increased application and productivity of machines and technology. This has been the case in the ‘recoveries’ from the last two recessions.
In the modest recovery scenario Enterprise ‘profit’ will be based on cutting costs – including employment – not revenue growth. Stock and commodity markets will continue to reflect speculative activity rather than citizen prosperity. The wealth gap will continue to widen. This is not a context where there will be growth in travel demand in Large, Private vehicles. The same long term trends to more compact and efficient patterns of settlement will be evident.
Whatever future scenario is closest to evolving reality there will be a smaller and smaller role for Large, Private vehicles to provide citizens with Mobility and Access.
The key question is: Will there be resources left under ANY scenario to carry out the transition to a sustainable trajectory without dire, society-disrupting poverty and conflict?
Humans will need to learn to embrace the joys of living ‘smaller’ and living ‘closer’ to the Jobs, Services and Recreation. They will need to live ‘smaller’ and ‘closer’ if they are to maintain an acceptable quality of life in a technologically based Urban society.
As Urban society has evolved, few humans in any location on the planet find reversion to hardscrabble subsistence agriculture or hunter / gatherer existence an attractive option.
Economic reality will force the federal, state and municipal Agencies to stop subsidizing the travel between dysfunctionally scattered origins and destinations. This means there will be less use of Large, Private vehicles for both passenger and freight. Urban dwellings in remote locations will continue to lose value.
These scenarios reflect the reality that humans have come to the end of cheap energy – aka, Peak Oil. Peak Oil (aka, Hubbert’s Peak) is an issue of ‘WHEN.’ It is NOT an issue of ‘IF’ as noted in Appendix Four of SYNERGY’S study “Timberfence Truth of Consequences” citing a number of recent studies including the UK Energy Research Centre.
In fact citizens are already facing “peaklike” conditions.
Food riots in poor nation-states, economic turmoil in nation-states with declining petroleum reserves (e.g. Mexico) and high / fluctuating fuel and energy costs are all “peaklike” conditions. These conditions will grow more sever as the Industrial Green Revolution based on cheap petroleum and abundant water exacerbates the process of shifting to more expensive energy sources.
There is no cheap replacement for the carbon / fossil based energy – the ‘natural capital’ that has been accumulated over the past 4 billion years. Humans have burned through much of this natural capital in the last 200 years – and especially the last 113 years of industrial growth / Mass OverConsumption since the end of The Long Depression. Citizens must learn to live on natural (solar) ‘income’ now that stored natural capital is becoming more scarce and more expensive.
There are MANY alternative energy sources but NONE of them will be cheap compared to carbon / fossil based sources. In addition, no known energy source is as well suited as petroleum to fuel Large, Private vehicles. If there was such a source, it would be in wide-spread use now.
There is no question that fossil sources of fuel are finite and becoming more and more costly to bring to market. The same is true for petroleum substitutes.
The Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) for ethanol is at or below one when all the costs and subsidies are considered. The same will be true for all petroleum substitutes that rely on irrigation for growth and / or water for processing. It is also true for hydrogen, ‘safe’ nuclear, ultra-deep geothermal, direct and indirect solar conversion as well as recent deep off-shore and ultra-deep terrestrial petroleum discoveries.
VDOT and its consultants should have been preparing for the advent of Peak Oil since at least 1973. Instead they have been blindly continuing the subsidy of travel in Large, Private vehicles.
As a result of Business-As-Usual, there has evolved a Perfect Storm of dysfunctional and untransportable human settlement patterns. State Agencies say municipalities are responsible of ‘land use’ (aka, human settlement patterns) and municipal Agencies say the Commonwealth is responsible for Mobility and Access.
If VDOT was not preparing for Peak Oil and the decline of Large, Private vehicles, then the Governor, the legislature, the Commonwealth Transportation Board and concerned citizens should have required that they prepare. They did not and now the price must be paid.
Back to the US Route 29 Corridor: Can VDOT or its consultants name ANY growth curve which is dependent upon a finite resource that has continued to grow geometrically? SYNERGY has identified no scientifically verified example of a sustainable growth curve with the configuration similar to the growth in vehicle miles traveled by Large, Private vehicles over the past 50 in the Commonwealth. Why is VDOT relying on an unprecedented condition as the basis for public action in the US Route 29 Corridor?
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