318. MOPEDS SAVE SUBURBIA
We're all familiar with The Long Emergency and Jim Kunstler's rants against suburbia. Apparently peak oil is going to drive gasoline prices through the roof, causing a Katrina-style evacuation to the cities, and making the American suburbs into the slums of the future.
I don't buy this, first of all because the source is so obviously biased. I think Kunstler is having a lurid fantasy more than making a sober forecast of the likely future.
Second of all, I will prove to you that suburbia can be saved. I could do it with an electric bicycle (my favorite solution), but today I think I'll use a moped because mopeds are cool, and I like the idea of Kunstler tossing and turning in his sleep at the very idea that mopeds -- do you hear me?!! f*cking MOPEDs!! arggghhhh!! -- saved suburbia.
So... first we need some stats on commuting. According to an ABC News poll:
[American commuters] report an average one-way commute time of 26 minutes (over an average distance of 16 miles). But the variance is huge: On the best days, the average commute is 19 minutes; on the worst days, 46 minutes.Recklessly calculating, it appears that Joe Sixpack commutes at a speed of about 37mph, dropping to 21mph in congestion, and rising to 50mph in smooth periods. YMMV.
Now, let's look at the moped Joe is going to be driving. I picked it at random after about a minute of searching:
The relevant specs:
FULLY AUTOMATIC - TWIST & GO!
ELECTRIC PUSH BUTTON START & KICK START
LOCKABLE UNDER SEAT STORAGE
100 MILES + PER GALLON
TOP SPEED 45MPH
£649 = $1323
Now, I don't see any good reason why Joe Sixpack can't, under pressure, commute using this type of vehicle. Price isn't an issue. He already owns 1 or 2 cars which cost 10-20 times as much. If necessary, he can sell the car(s), to raise money for the moped. He'll have a bunch of money left over, and also save money on each commute. (Average fuel economy in the U.S. was 24.7mpg in 2004, and the moped gets 100mpg, for savings of about $.10/mile. At 45mph, the pay-off for driving the moped is $4.50/hr tax-free, almost like a second job.)
Schedules won't change much. Even in smooth traffic, the car only edges the moped by about 2 minutes over the average commute of 16 miles. In congestion the moped will be far superior.
Now, here is my argument: Since suburbia is so popular, and is such a massive sunk cost, it will only "die" if there is absolutely no way at all to save it in the face of peak oil -- i.e. if it is physically/financially impossible for people to remain in suburbia in the face of peak oil. I believe this moped solution shows that not to be the case. In fact, it is very feasible -- even easy -- for commuters to economically get to work, even with gasoline prices 4 times higher than they are today. No exotic solutions necessary. Therefore, suburbia will survive.