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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Bureau of Transportation

Phone: 503-823-5185

Fax: 503-823-7576

1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 1331, Portland, OR 97204

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Not all peaks are a bummer

By now the term peak oil is a relatively well known part of the economic lexicon.  It refers to the "point in time when the maximum global output of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline" (hat tip to Wikipedia for that one). 

In other words, no more cheap oil.  The prospects of a post-peak oil economy usually comes with scary forecasts that will require fundamental shifts in our daily lives (the one that always gets me is the thought of no coffee - makes me shudder just to write it).

In the year 2000?

Nah, just Bridge Pedal

But what if we are already making those fundamental shifts?

Peak oil deals with production, and because most of us don't work in the petroleum industry we aren't too concerned with geological deposits.  However, most of us do go to the gas station and we do drive a car.  Researchers are finding that we may have already hit peak gas and peak car - perhaps before we've hit peak oil.

What do peak gas and peak car mean?  That gasoline sales and the number of miles we drove hit a high in about 2000 and have fallen over the past decade.  In addition, cultural and demographic trends are pointing to reduced demand for automobiles and the gasoline we put in them.  

Unlike peak oil, I find these other peaks full of sunny optimism.  These are longer-term trends that don't correlate to the recession.  Instead, people are looking for ways to change their commute or live closer to work, and the generation that is coming of driving age now isn't all that interested in that old-school rite-of-passage.  As I like to quote from a recent Grist article: iPhone is the new Prius.

What do you think?  Is this a true trend or are we seeing a blip in our still auto-centric culture?