Using Peak Traffic and Peak Energy

a new legal strategy for transportation triage

Summary: Transportation planning in the United States -- the epicenter of oil combustion -- has been remarkably impervious to rising gasoline prices, the end of traffic increases (caused mostly by those rising prices), growing awareness of climate change and the geological reality of finite fossil fuel supplies.  Plans for "NAFTA superhighways," new bypasses and Outer Beltways assume limitless cheap oil and ever increasing car traffic. Building these roads would be a trillion dollar mistake that must be corrected if there is a hope for a relocalized, renewable energy society after petroleum. This article examines transportation planning in the United States and offers a legal tool that concerned citizens could use to force governments to shift long term plans to prepare to mitigate Peak Oil.

This article was originally published as "Peak Traffic: Planning NAFTA Superhighways at the End of the Age of Oil," May 10, 2006 at From the Wilderness. This was their introduction:

[In an engaging discussion of the effects of Peak Oil on automobile traffic, Mark Robinowitz examines the ridiculousness of implementing "superhighway" plans while the nation faces an inevitable oil drop-off. Learn how the interstate highway system was originally a military venture of the 1950's after the "streetcar conspiracy," and about methods that are more effective responses to swelling traffic than imposing more oil-heavy highway expansions. Robinowitz tells FTW readers why supposedly-green programs like "inter-modal" transportation or "Smart Growth" serve only to divide and divert activists, while generating more problems than solutions. From Eisenhower, to Clinton, to George W. Bush, read how decades of presidencies have added to the monstrosity of highway systems in America, not for the good of the people, but to line wealthy pockets with profitable pavement and catapult America swiftly towards "the end of suburbia." - FTW]

[In the second part of Mark Robinowitz’s discussion of the effects of Peak Oil on automobile traffic, he reveals the ironies of many specific highway laws, including why proposed highway projects have made gravely incorrect estimations of future traffic by excluding Peak Oil as a variable. Read further to learn about the fine print within National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations that allows for major changes in the focus and allocation of federal transportation funds so that Americans may make use of less energy-expensive forms of transportation. Learn the difference between the façade of the "Power Shift" program, and why Richard Heinberg’s "Powerdown" program is brilliantly realistic, yet unsupported by oil elites. Robinowitz provides FTW readers with an extensive compilation of valuable resources, including news, books, articles, websites, and the best names in the Peak Oil discourse. Robinowitz clearly exposes his best-case scenario as to what might happen if America were to turn its oil and traffic troubles around before it’s too late. – FTW]

Part 1

Part 2

Transportation planning in the United States -- the epicenter of oil combustion -- has been remarkably impervious to rising gasoline prices and growing awareness of climate change and the geological reality of finite fossil fuel supplies.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been committed for massive expansions of the interstate highway system.   The plans for these "NAFTA superhighways" and Outer Beltways assume limitless cheap oil, a trillion dollar mistake that must be corrected if there is a hope for a renewable energy society after petroleum.  This article examines transportation planning in the United States and offers a tool that concerned citizens could use to force governments to shift long term plans to prepare to mitigate Peak Oil.

Peak Oil: Personal Impact and Public Policies

Three dollar a gallon gasoline has increased public concern about energy supplies, but this awareness has not translated into changes in public policies. Widespread outrage about astronomical oil company profits has not fueled political pressure to tax excessive profits to fund a European style inter-city rail network, put solar panels on millions of homes or other initiatives designed for a Post-Peak Oil world.

The arrival of Peak Oil and climate change onto the world political stage has not deterred governments from further investments in suburban sprawl, more highways, and other overdevelopment dependent on endless supplies of dollar a gallon petrol.  

A large part of the public discussion about Peak Oil is about personal transportation issues, since most people’s consciousness of industrial energy systems is focused on purchasing petroleum at the pump.  There are many excellent strategies for reducting one’s energy consumption:  driving less, carpooling, car sharing , using public transportation (if available), bicycling, walking, living closer to your job (if possible) and buying locally made products to reduce transportation demands.  However, an effective response to Peak Oil will require efforts at all levels - family, neighborhood, city, state, nation and planet -- to be useful in the post-Peak era.

From the Wilderness , Life After the Oil Crash , Energy Bulletin and many other news sources have documented that the most important issues of Peak Oil are about food supplies (especially for metropolitan areas far removed from farms), civil liberties , economic instabilities and global conflicts.

A shift in transportation policy that admits to Peak Oil and climate change is needed to spark widespread discussions of needed changes to retool civilization for a post-carbon future.


The Highway Industrial Complex

"Above all, it is the young who succumb to this magic. They experience the triumph of the motorcar with the full temperment of their impressionable hearts. It must be seen as a sign of the invigorating power of our people that they give themselves with such fanatic devotion to this invention, an invention which provides the basis and structure of our modern traffic."
-- Adolf Hitler

American way of life (AWOL): a method of consuming non-renewable resources that Vice President Dick Cheney says is "not negotiable"
-- Permatopia Dictionary

Highway construction is a key part of the wealth transfer scheme called "the economy."  Road expansion unites powerful interests, including real estate speculators, developers, road construction, sand and gravel mining, and lending institutions.  In most communities in North America, these elites are the financial sponsors of local politicians who make zoning and planning decisions to build new highways and the associated development.


If a highway violates too many federal laws, the Federal Highway Administration may decide not to approve a road project even if local governments are vocal supporters (since the FHWA is the agency that gets sued, not local governments who contribute very little toward construction but gain all of the benefits).


Multiple Bypass Surgery

The interstate highway system was created in the 1950s, part of a "National Defense" network promoted by President Eisenhower as a military necessity for moving troops and equipment (similar to the Autobahn network built in Nazi Germany).  

This massive construction was a consequence of the conspiracy between General Motors, Firestone Tire and Standard Oil to destroy public transit systems in over 100 cities (partly a result of these companies using their war profits to transform the civilian economy).  A websearch on "streetcar conspiracy" will retrieve numerous articles that document this part of American history.  

Ironically, the United States is now spending billions to build new light rail and street car networks in cities from coast to coast -- if the rails had been left intact, American cities would not be as car dependent, a tragic mistake that will make coping with Peak Oil much more difficult.

The interstates quickly became fuel for generating vast areas of car-dependent suburbs that created a "donut" form of development, turning some inner cities into semi-abandoned areas.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of many who decried the inherent racism of these road schemes.   In his speech "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," delivered on March 31, 1968 , King said "These forty million [poor] people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich; because our expressways carry us away from the ghetto, we don't see the poor."  It is surreal that numerous highways are now named after someone who decried the "white flight" fueled by freeways.

During the peak of the civil rights struggle in Washington, D.C., a rallying cry of opponents who spent a decade to stop Interstate 95 from tearing through the inner city was "No White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Homes."  An article that explores this history is "Interview with a Freeway Fighter."

Cities that had public campaigns that stopped highways include Boston, San Francisco, Memphis, Toronto (Canada), Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Portland (OR), Eugene (OR) and Pasadena (CA).

In the wake of the 1960s explosion of freeway fighting, few new major highways were proposed.  The focus of many transportation agencies was to complete projects proposed in the 1950s, which were delayed by the rise of citizen activism and increasing construction costs (especially after the 1973 Saudi oil embargo).

In the 1990s, there was a resurgence of plans for new freeways.  Several major upgrades to the interstate system were unveiled to help implement the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), building new and expanded north-south trucking routes between Canada and Mexico.  Metastasizing metropolitan areas also made new plans for megaroads, since outer suburbs require more asphalt per capita and are more car dependent than urban cores or inner suburbs built during the street car era (early 1900s).

NAFTA Superhighways: Bush, Clinton, Bush

The NAFTA superhighway concept was first included in the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA).  ISTEA was enacted two years before the NAFTA treaty was passed by a Democratic controlled Congress.  ISTEA included numerous new and expanded north-south interstate highways to facilitate increased truck traffic between Canada and Mexico, plus dozens of other projects to benefit the highway lobby, national distributors such as Wal-Mart, and the metastasization of suburban sprawl.   This was George H. W. Bush’s highway law.

ISTEA’s expansion of the highway network was followed by the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which funneled even more pork dollars for bypasses and NAFTA superhighways.  Bill Clinton signed TEA-21 into law.

George W. Bush’s turn at the public trough was Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), an even larger expansion than ISTEA or TEA-21.

These full extent of these expansions have received very little public scrutiny, even from most groups that do not want more roads.  It is odd that amateur enthusiasts who like freeways and want more of them have done a better job of tracking the expansion of the national highway network than the environmental groups.  For example, the Sierra Club’s transportation website is an excellent resource of the social and environmental impacts from highways, "induced demand" (building more roads creates more traffic jams), and why public transit is beneficial -- but the Sierra Club and their allies do not highlight the new superhighway network that is the largest part of these transportation appropriations.


This map from the Federal Highway Administration shows new and expanded highways proposed in ISTEA and TEA-21.  Corridor 18 is the proposed extension of Interstate 69, perhaps the most prominent "NAFTA superhighway" project.  Highway boosters in Indiana campaigning to extend I-69 from Indianapolis to Kentucky convinced their allies in other states to band together to make an integrated NAFTA superhighway proposal a national priority to ensure federal funding for their segment.  The 2005 SAFETEA-LU law has 80 priority corridors, a massive highway expansion on the cusp of Peak Oil.


Limited Hang Out:  "inter-modal" transportation

ISTEA was sold to the national environmental groups as a multi-modal transportation bill, funding not just new and wider roads but also public transit systems and bicycle / pedestrian improvements.

ISTEA did appropriate billions for subways, light rail, buses and required that each State Department of Transportation had to include pedestrian and bicycle issues.   Much of the literature from these groups made ISTEA seem like a effort to ensure that every community would have bicycle lanes and effective public transit -- ignoring the fact that most of the money went toward roads.

TEA-21, the Transportation Equity Act was also marketed as a envronmental improvement by most environmental groups.  However, the "Equity" did not refer to choice between transportation modes, but to funding levels between the States.

Despite these lopsided funding levels (roads vs. transit), most national environmental groups rallied behind the meager improvements in ISTEA and TEA-21 and ignored the embedded NAFTA superhighway proposals.  Many of these organizations are dependent on grants from foundations invested in destructive industries.  This dynamic is similar to the "left gatekeepers" phenomenon that has keep the liberal "alternative" media from examining issues such as the coup against President Kennedy and the war games on 9/11 that confused the air defenses over Washington and New York).

The "inter-modal" emphasis was effective at splitting environmentalists between those who are appeased by inclusion of a bike path along a new highway and those with a holistic perspective who want a paradigm shift.

An example of the compromising approach is a recent action alert from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association urging its members to demand inclusion of a bicycle path along the proposed $3 billion Inter County Connector superhighway in Maryland.  This campaign did not express solidarity with the many environmental and community groups who have spent years (and decades) in opposition to this enormously destructive project, but focused solely on the side-issue of whether this new segment of the Washington Outer Beltway would have a token parallel bike route or not.

Interstate 84 in Portland, Oregon:  six lanes of freeway traffic plus the MAX Light Rail line.  The traffic on I-84 is helping to melt the polar ice caps, but at least commuters in this area have a choice of transportation options.  (The electricity to run the train is generated by a blend of hydropower, coal, natural gas, nuclear power and wind.)

Environmentalist Myopia

The environmental movement has largely ignored the ecological implications of Peak Oil, despite the fact the solutions to finite fossil fuels and climate change are intertwined and nearly identical.

An example of environmentalist refusal to incorporate Peak Oil into their analyses is the "Region 2040" program in Portland, Oregon.  This long term planning effort grew out of the "Land Use, Transportation, Air Quality (LUTRAQ)" initiative, one of the more famous examples of "progressive" land use planning.   LUTRAQ was an effort that successfully stopped a proposed freeway bypass by showing that a new new rail line combined with land use shifts to encourage transit oriented development was superior to the highway for traffic mitigation and air quality levels.  Region 2040 and LUTRAQ are improvements over the traditional suburbia development model, but their omission of Peak Oil suggest they are going to be irrelevant long before the year 2040.

Environmental perspectives are desperately needed to challenge centralized energy conglomerates proposals for a revival of nuclear power, so-called clean coal, oil drilling in wilderness regions and conversion of farmland and forests to biofuel production.  These destructive practices are unlikely to be stopped as long we cling to the assumption that we can continue to have endless growth.

Smart Growth versus Sustainability

"You will change nothing until you change the way that money works"
-- M. King Hubbert, author of the mathematical model to predict Peak Oil

Sustainability refers to practices that can be continued generation after generation.  This word has been co-opted by polluters trying to confuse the public to ensure continued unsustainable extraction, the basis of the modern industrial economic paradigm.

Sustainability does not mean nice words or good intentions -- it refers to practices that your great-great-great-great grandchildren will still be able to do once the oil is gone.   By that standard, virtually no one in North America is living "sustainably," with the exception of Amish and some Native American / First Nations communities.

Most of the best practices marketed as "sustainable" are merely efficiency.  A 100 mile per gallon car is an efficient use of non-renewable petroleum, but it is not sustainable.  Most forms of renewable energy are a means of using non-renewable resources (oil for plastics and transport, minerals) to capture sunlight, wind, etc.  It is hard to envision a successful transition from our current industrial paradigm to true sustainability, but honesty is critical for designing any successful outcomes.

"Smart Growth," sometimes called "Sustainable Growth," is another mantra of pseudo-environmentalism.   This oxymoronic slogan ignores the realities of overpopulation and overconsumption.

The first politician to use the term "Smart Growth" was Maryland Governor Parris Glendening (1994-2002), a Democrat.   In 1997, he embraced the term at the height of his campaign to promote construction of the Inter County Connector (ICC) superhighway, part of the long planned Outer Beltway around Washington.   This policy claimed to refocus public subsidies away from sprawling outer suburbs to reinvest in urban areas, but it also allowed connector roads between designated growth areas - a loophole large enough for the entire Outer Beltway. "Smart Growth" was embraced by the foundation funded environmental groups but scorned by grassroots who saw it as a distraction from the Governor’s superhighway plans.  This "greenwash" (the false claim of environmentalism) did not succeed in approving the project, since in 1998 the FHWA quietly concluded that the ICC would not withstand a legal challenge, and the approval process stalled.

The "Smart Growth" is an example of how highway funds are used for social engineering.  The Glendening plan directed public subsidies toward the most urban parts of the State which are the most Democratic constituencies.  In contrast, outer suburb edge cities and rural areas are more Republican and use more gasoline per capita than Democratic.   Oil consumption is a variable that shows whether a community is more likely to vote for the D’s or for the R’s.

In 2006, former Governor Glendening is now president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute and a board member of Smart Growth America , a national coalition of organizations advocating alternatives to urban sprawl.  If the Democrats are allowed to take over the White House in 2008, look for Glendening to take a key post promoting "Smart Growth."

The current Republican governor of Maryland revived the ICC, and the Bush administration made it a national priority (since it would connect military and intelligence contractors throughout the Washington area with key federal facilities, especially Fort Meade, home to the National Security Agency).  On May 29, 2006, the FHWA issued a "Record of Decision" for the ICC and environmental groups plan to sue to block construction through parks and neighborhoods.

New land use and economic paradigms needed

Most who promote "Smart Growth" have good intentions.  But this paradigm is an inadequate examination, since it only looks at personal transportation issues and ignores many of the other ecological impacts of cities.  Whether people live in apartment buildings served by public transit or dispersed edge cities, they use the same amount of energy to grow and transport the food they eat.  Urban areas have an ecological "footprint" that is many times larger than the size of the metropolitan region to extract the raw materials needed to keep the City fed, lit, heated and economically vibrant.  

"Smart Growth" won't do much to keep metropolitan areas fed after the peak of petroleum is past.  It might keep some farmland near cities from being paved - but urban agriculture will be needed to address food shortages in the future -- which is in contradiction to "Smart Growth's" insistence on greater density in cities.  It's hard to have community gardens when cities get too dense, although rooftop gardens are a practical way to supplement urban diets.

A new form of urban planning is needed to integrate transportation and land use planning with ecological footprint analyses.   Most ecological efforts to reduce car use and create more livable cities have stressed density as a solution to the transportation crisis, but overbuilt neighborhoods still require lots of delivery trucks bringing in food from distant farms.  A genuine solution would balance neighborhood density, intelligent urban design, converting lawns and parking lots to gardens and other efforts to make cities become more locally oriented in their consumption.

Steady state economics are a prerequisite for any sensible strategy to achieve a harmonious balance with the natural world to plan beyond the era of cheap oil..  M. King Hubbert pointed out that the solutions required abandoning the economic paradigm of growth and shifting toward steady -state economics.   Several articles about this are linked from

One analogy for a steady state economy is an old growth forest ecosystem.  A definition of a mature forest is a system where growth and decay are in balance.  The total tonnage of biomass may remain consistent in a given area, but life continues to be dynamic for individual species.   A forest in balance is still a dynamic place for the mouse being eaten by an owl, or for a sapling feeding on the soil created by trees that fell over decades ago.

Smart Growth cannot solve exponential growth, overshoot, Peak Oil and other resource depletions.   Smart Growth is riding First Class on the Titanic, ecological destruction with good taste.

In nature, endless growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.   A truly sustainable society would mimc natural processes, since we live on a finite planet and must change our politics, economics and psychology to adjust to this reality.


An introduction to Highway Laws

Freeway fighting is a complex and obscure topic. It involves arcane laws, reading thick reports, neighborhood association politics and seemingly endless governmental meetings designed to soak up your time. Most of the best guides to stopping unnecessary roads were written in the 1970s, following the "peak" of successful citizen efforts to block highways, and are nearly impossible to find. The best resource this author has seen is the 1977 book "The End of the Road: A Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Problemsolving" from the National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Action (the latter group has been defunct since the late 1990s).

Fortunately, federal transportation laws are some of the strongest environmental laws remaining in the United States. There are many good precedents that even corrupt judges must provide some lip service to. A short guide to some of the most important laws suggests that Peak Oil could be used to force major shifts from new highway construction toward policies that would better prepare communities for the energy crisis.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed by President Nixon, and governs all federal actions that impact the environment, even (acknowledged) military bases. NEPA is sometimes misrepresented as the National Environmental Protection Act, but it is procedural law, not substantive -- it merely requires adequate disclosure of all decisions. If an administration planned to destroy all life on Earth, NEPA would require that they analyze a range of alternatives (perhaps an option to destroy half of the Earth along with a "No Action" option), since NEPA does not require selecting the least destructive alternative.

NEPA is the law that requires Environmental Impact Statements (for large projects) and Environmental Assessments (for smaller projects). The start of an EIS or EA is the drafting of a "Purpose and Need" to identify a problem, followed by "scoping" of a range of reasonable alternatives. The preferred alternative is approved in a "Record of Decision" after the Final EIS, at which time citizens can sue to block the project.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, also signed by Nixon, regulates the destruction of wetlands. Most highways destroy wetlands, an activity regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Wetland permits need to evaluate whether the action is avoidable before examining how to mitigate the impacts. The highway lobby has worked for many years to attack this law, and the Roberts Supreme Court is likely to reduce its effectiveness.

The Clean Air Act regulates highway construction in smoggy urban areas that are polluted beyond officially acceptable levels. Road construction using federal funds in these communities can only be approved in conjunction with promises that the projects will not worsen the smog problems -- often an exercise in statistical manipulation that does not protect public health. A metropolitan area that fails to meet Clean Air standards can be threatened with a loss of federal highway funds. Ironically, the cutoff of those funds would be part of a lasting solution to air pollution, not merely a punishment for regions downplaying the problem.

Perhaps the most powerful and least known highway law is Section 4(f) of the 1966 Transportation Act, which prohibits transportation projects through parks and historic sites unless there is not a "prudent and feasible" alternative. (Roads built without federal money or other federal DOT actions are not affected by this restriction.) It was passed as a consequence of citizen anger of highways tearing up parks, since it is much cheaper for the highwaymen to decimate parkland than to compensate people for bulldozing their homes. The 1995 SAFETEA-LU law introduced a "de minimus" standard (too small to notice) to exempt minor impacts from 4(f) consideration.

Some highways also violate the Endangered Species Act, but this legal tact has rarely been successful in stopping road construction. The ESA is also under attack, and the environmental community is on the defensive trying to hold onto Nixon-era laws, rather than taking the initiative to create stronger protections to slow down or reverse the destruction of the biosphere. It is incredible that protections for extremely rare species are being eviscerated as climate change, habitat destruction and toxic wastes are leading to the sixth great mass extinction of life in the Earth’s history.

One of the best guides to understand highway law is the FHWA Environmental Guidebook, a review of highway laws and regulations written for State transportation planners to ensure they design projects that will withstand legal challenges.


Segmentation and ISTEA: how to use Peak Oil to change transportation policies

The FHWA’s implementation of the NEPA law requires that the full impacts of a highway must be analyzed before a Record of Decision is issued. Approving a road that forces additional construction that is ignored in the environmental documentation is illegal "segmentation" of the project.

In the 1991 ISTEA law, a provision was added to federal highway approvals that requires all highway plans in a metropolitan area to fit into a regional long range transportation budget to avoid a form of fiscal segmentation. If a metro area wants lots of new roads, they have to show how the projects could be paid for (federal and local funds) over a 20 year period. Approving a project that lacks funding is therefore a form of segmentation. The funds need not be available when construction begins, but the entire project has to fit within a constrained transportation budget - a process similar to buying a home with a mortgage (a home buyer has to show their potential ability to raise all of the funds over the span of the loan).

A few highway officials have privately admitted to this writer that they understand that Peak Oil should be included in transportation planning, the agencies they work for have a "Not See" attitude and do not dare discuss it.

FHWA funded highway projects are designed to meet traffic needs 20 years in the future - not for existing traffic snarls. If Peak Oil were included in these projections, it would force major changes to transportation policies at the local and national levels.

While no one, not even Dick Cheney, knows precisely what will happen with Peak Oil, to ignore it completely and make more "growth" projections and traffic models that assume constant supplies and pricing of petroleum is delusional. When FHWA finally requires energy analyses in NEPA documentation, they could examine a range of scenarios: gasoline at $5 per gallon in 2025, gasoline at $50 per gallon in 2025, and gasoline not available to the public in 2025 (only to elites and the military).

It is impossible to project what oil will cost when annual extraction is roughly half of current levels (as the best estimates project for 2030). When that happens, current traffic demand statistics will probably be worthless.


Peak traffic

The 2005 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Inter County Connector highway had this response to a comment that referenced Peak Oil as a reason not to build the road:

It is speculative to assume that increases in gasoline prices will "reduce congestion." Evidence indicates that very substantial price increases might be needed in order to substantially change transportation choices and decisions. Price increases could cause a variety of responses which might not affect highway usage; e.g. production and acquisition of more fuel-efficient vehicles. The travel forecasts were made assuming a cost per mile for operating an automobile. Historically as the price of gasoline has increased the miles traveled per gallon of gas have also increased. In fact, gas costs less per mile traveled today than it did prior to the first oil embargo in 1974. Petroleum scarcity as a result of consumption in China is speculative.
- Final Environmental Impact Statement, Inter County Connector (I-370)

This EIS is correct to state that planning for rising gas prices is speculative, but planning as if prices will remain constant for the next two decades is even more speculative.

It is not "speculation" to predict that higher gas prices will prevent traffic increases. Here is a small example of how this works, which shows that the price increases likely from Peak Oil will lower traffic demand considerably in the design year of 2030.
Americans drive less for first time in 25 years
Higher gas prices cut not only sales of SUVs, but also time spent on the road: study.
POSTED: 3:47 p.m. EST, November 30, 2006
HOUSTON (Reuters) -- High gasoline prices not only slowed fuel demand growth and cut sales of gas-guzzling vehicles in 2005, they also prompted Americans to drive less for the first time in 25 years, a consulting group said in a report Thursday.
The drop in driving was small - the average American drove 13,657 miles (21,978.8 km) per year in 2005, down from 13,711 miles in 2004

More riders crowd buses
The rising cost of driving sends record numbers to LTD, where human traffic jams the aisles
The Register-Guard
Published: Thursday, April 6, 2006

TRAFFIC AT THE YORK TOLLS on the Maine Turnpike - a standard measure of tourism in the state - was down in June and even more in July compared with the same time last year. . . Traffic passing through the York tolls had increased every year until five years ago, when it became stable. This is the first time it has dropped significantly; the decrease was 5.3 percent when comparing June 2004 and June 2005, and 5.8 percent when comparing July numbers. . The national average price for regular unleaded gas was $2.41 a gallon, compared with $1.86 a year ago

High gasoline prices filling bus, train seats
Tue Apr 25, 2006
By Bernie Woodall, Reuters
Some mass transit advocates hesitate to say the price spike has forced drivers onto public transportation, including Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black.
But in some cities where the car is undisputed king of transportation such as Houston and Los Angeles, public transportation ridership is up.
In Houston, home to many oil refineries, ridership was up 10.2 percent in the most recent fiscal year, said Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority, which has a large bus fleet.
In Los Angeles, Metro Rail ridership rose 11.4 percent and the number of bus passengers increased 7 percent in the first quarter of 2006. About 1.4 million ride Los Angeles County buses and trains daily.
It's difficult to say how many are on board because of gasoline prices, said Dave Sotero of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"When gas prices go up, we do see spikes in ridership," said Sotero. "We're hopeful people who haven't used public transit, they will carry on riding even if gasoline prices drop," said Sotero.
Last week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in the nation's capital had the two highest ridership days in the Metrorail's 30-year history that were not linked to a special event. The highest day was April 20, with 780,820 riders, up 6.2 percent from a year ago.
But WMATA spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said it's hard to peg that on gasoline prices -- nice weather last week may have had more to do with it, he said.

These statistics do not suggest a major shift (yet) due to increasing gas prices, but they hint at much larger changes to come on the petroleum downslope.



Peak Asphalt
Soaring costs throw Oregon road projects a curve
Rough road - Officials are facing steep price increases for asphalt and other materials
Monday, July 31, 2006
The Oregonian
Asphalt prices delay pressing road repairs
By Joseph Gidjunis
Staff Writer
The Daily Times, Salisbury, Maryland
Fri, Jun. 16, 2006
Asphalt prices skyrocket, highway officials scramble to adjust
Associated Press
Asphalt Prices May Mean Fewer New Shreveport Street


Peak Oil and transportation planning

There are two ways that Peak Oil could be inserted into highway planning for a large road project. These issues could be raised during the "Scoping" process that is the first step for an Environmental Impact Statement. If this framework was required to include reasonable scenario for energy availability in the year 2030, new highways would be scrapped in favor of better transit, a revitalized train network, and maintaining existing infrastructure (especially aging bridges.

If project is further advanced, NEPA mandates that a "Supplemental" EIS must be prepared if there are "new circumstances" not anticipated when the scoping process was conducted. Surely reaching the peak of petroleum production worldwide is an important circumstance for a transportation project allegedly designed for travel long past the peak of petroleum.

If FHWA included Peak Oil into environmental analyses for highway projects, this could create a seismic shift in transportation planning across the United States, allowing for honest public discussion about energy and transportation policies. There are several ways this shift could happen: a successful Federal lawsuit forces FHWA to include Peak Oil, the start of gasoline rationing makes transportation planners consider alternatives, or a change in national policies (probably the least likely in the near future).


Council on Environmental Quality regulations implementing NEPA

40 CFR 1502.9: Draft, final and supplemental statements.

(c) Agencies:

(1) Shall prepare supplements to either draft or final environmental impact statements if:

(i) The agency makes substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns; or

(ii) There are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts.


Federal Highway Administration regulations about NEPA

23 CFR § 771.130 Supplemental environmental impact statements.

(a) A draft EIS, final EIS, or supplemental EIS may be supplemented at any time. An EIS shall be supplemented whenever the Administration determines that:

(1) Changes to the proposed action would result in significant environmental impacts that were not evaluated in the EIS; or

(2) New information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns and bearings on the proposed action or its impacts would result in significant environmental impacts not evaluated in the EIS.


Power Shift or Powerdown?

As Peak Oil awareness continues to spread, supporters of the dominant industrial paradigm will increase their propaganda that technological shifts are sufficient to solve the problems. These efforts to maintain the status quo of growth based economics in the face of resource limitations distract from practical steps our society could have taken to mitigate these impacts.

An egregious example of this limited focus (on demand side solutions) is the Power Shift series of conferences across the country, sponsored by a coalition including environmentalists (Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists) and warmongers (Center for the Defense of Democracies, a neo-conservative supporter of the "War on Terror"). Power Shift is a carefully crafted means of keeping grassroots who are concerned about these issues from recommending policies and logistics that would be needed to address the problems.

The brochure distributed at the April 8 Power Shift event in Portland, Oregon had pictures of interstate highways and messages about our right to Middle East oil, but there was no mention of relocalization of food production, Amtrak, or converting the bloated military budget for peaceful uses.

Power Shift is a proposal to substitute alternative fuels (other than oil) to maintain car culture and centralized energy systems, even though biofuels, liquified coal and other demand side technologies cannot possibly fill maintain current overconsumption levels.

Powerdown, the title of Richard Heinberg’s excellent book, is a more realistic approach. Powerdown includes relocalizing production, renewable energy, efficiency, conservation and reduction of demand. Unfortunately, the elites who fund many energy outreach efforts cannot figure out how to profit as much from this approach, and therefore are not interested in Powerdown.

From the Wilderness published two articles about some of the players behind "Power Shift" and the "Oil Storm" scenario exercise they present to audiences.

Torrance, CA Emergency Simulation Targets Big Business and Local Government Managers
Ominous Timing in Advance of Hurricane Katrina
by Zac Evans and Michael C. Ruppert

How Dumb Can the Left Get?
by Michael C. Ruppert


Reviving the Rails: a best case Peak Oil scenario

"In the United States, we have a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. We desperately are going to need railroad transport for moving people around, for moving goods around – we don’t have that. What we do have is a trucking system that is going to become increasingly dysfunctional, especially as the expense mounts of maintaining the tremendous interstate highway system. It costs so much money every year to maintain what the engineers call a high level of service – which means that the trucks that are delivering things from the central valley of California to Toronto don’t break their axles while they’re bringing those Caesar salads to Toronto. Once you have a certain number of trucks that are breaking their axles in that 3,000 mile journey, that’s the end of transcontinental trucking – which also implies that this is the end of certain economic relationships that we have gotten used to."
-- author James Howard Kunstler, from an interview in the film "The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the End of the American Dream"

It is serious time to look at the nationalization of America's critical infrastructure industries: oil, gas, electricity, and others that have gouged the American consumer and now deserve to lose their windfall profits in a nationalization effort that will return to them ten cents on the dollar, if they are lucky.
- Wayne Madsen Report, April 25, 2006

In the 1960s, the success of freeway fighters in stopping the Boston Inner Belt spurred Congress to change transportation laws to allow money programmed for Interstate highways to be used for public transit. Several rail systems were created from unused freeway funds, most notably the initial construction phase of the Washington, D.C. Metro.

If the United States ever makes shifts to have an ecological, socially just policy to cope with Peak Oil, it would need to shift money from the NAFTA superhighway program to a serious revival of inter-city rail to efficiently move people and goods with less energy consumption.

A best case scenario for mitigating Peak Oil could include

If we continue on the current road of overshoot, the likely consequence will be a "national Katrina" disaster, where a small group would still have access to fuels, capital, and quality food while a much larger underclass would be left to scramble for survival. But that dismal potential shares one outcome with the "positive scenario" -- both the cooperative, conservation future and the collapse scenario would greatly reduce need for more highways. Whether we cope with Peak Oil and climate change or continue to ignore the problems until they become catastrophic and un-mitigable, there is no need to continue to expand highway network.

Relocalizing production and building renewable energy systems is a bigger priority for using the remaining oil than more freeways for Wal-Mart delivery trucks.

Future generations will regret that essential farmland was paved over - not that one more dumb highway was not built.

Politicians who have nothing practical for the public to mitigate the consequences of Peak Oil risk being thrown out of office once the price of gas goes up and stays up. Who will get the blame for ignoring the issue?

The most important question regarding planning for 2030 is what type of economy we will have after the cheap abundant oil is replaced by expensive, scarce oil. Will we use the remaining oil to relocalize production and build lots of renewable energy equipment or will this oil be used to build more freeways and fuel a futile World War to control the remaining oil fields? The answers to these questions determine the future of the human race.


proposed, unfunded network of high speed rail corridors, a step toward a real passenger train network


old Amtrak (long distance trains traveling 80 mph / 130 kph) and new Amtrak (Cascades route using Spanish trains that can go 124 mph / 200 kph, but the tracks they travel cannot accommodate those speeds)


Amtrak "Acela" train from Boston to Washington, D.C. (150 mph / 240 kph) - almost as fast as high speed rail in Japan, Europe, and Korea.


Magnetic Levitation test track in Germany. MagLev trains travel around 300 mph / 480 kph. Demonstration routes for ultra high speed trains are proposed between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Florida, and in southern California.


Additional resources:

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Howard Kunstler

The UnPlanning Journal discusses the Oregon Transportation Plan and some detailed comments.

The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream (movie).

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, a film from Community Solution.

Food Not Lawns, Eugene, Oregon

City Farmer, Vancouver, BC

Urban Gardening Help

City Repair, Portland, Oregon

Saving Oil in a Hurry: Oil Demand Restraint in Transport
Workshop on Managing Oil Demand in Transport (2005)
archived at

Future U.S. Highway Energy Use: A Fifty Year Perspective (DRAFT)
May 3, 2001
Office of Transportation Technologies
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
U.S Department of Energy
archived at

Association for the Study of Peak Oil
334. New roads and a tunnel in Switzerland (March 2004 issue)

Switzerland operates a devolved form of government seeking to involve its citizens in major issues rather than impose decisions by parliamentarians under the iron grip of party machines, as practised in many so-called democracies. The decision now facing the Swiss people is whether or not to modernise the highway system and build a new tunnel under the Alps. Linear extrapolation of past trends of traffic and goods transport has no doubt been used to justify the mammoth undertaking, but it is meeting strong opposition, partly built on recognition of oil depletion. A cartoon has appeared depicting a future scene of a cyclist and an old man looking down on an empty highway with trees growing through the cracks. The old man comments "In my day we believed in all that" to which the cyclist replies "You still had petrol."
The Swiss Federal Office of Energy is holding a Workshop on oil and gas resources on February 27th which will be open to the public. ASPO will be represented by Campbell and Bauquis in a discussion with representatives of the IEA, IHS, Schlumberger and Chevron-Texaco. It remains to be seen if it will have any positive outcome, as the accompanying report commissioned by the Federal Office simply contrasts the views of so called "optimists" and "pessimists" to reach a neutral position, absolving the government from the need to take any firm action. The likely outcome is that the investments in roads and tunnels will be neither approved nor rejected but simply delayed – it might indeed be a good political response, given that impact of peak oil will soon be self-evident.

Published on 4 Apr 2005 by New Zealand Herald.
New Zealand: No easy solutions in sight to keep oil prices in check
by Cameron Pitches

... New Zealand’s transport agencies need a contingency plan for the rising price of oil. At US$70 a barrel, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority should be looking to secure options on electric rolling stock for our rail network.
At US$100, the Government should be suspending all new roading projects. At US$200, Auckland International Airport’s proposals for a second runway should be shelved in favour of a container wharf for shipping.
Reliance on emerging new energy technologies such as hydrogen won’t help us in the short term, either. The so-called hydrogen economy is a net energy-loss proposition - more energy is put in to the extraction, compression and storage of hydrogen than comes out of it.
In addition, more than 90 per cent of hydrogen is obtained from fossil fuels, which defeats the purpose of an alternative fuel.
A bridge too far: Big men and their little toys
May 24, 2005
Am Johal

... Building our way out of congestion through highway expansion seems incredibly short-sighted, especially in the context of oil reaching $100 a barrel by 2010 and a public transportation sadly in need of a billion dollar overhaul.