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Move over, Portland. The Midwest is coming to get you!

Gasoline demand may have peaked in the United States, but our appetite for driving isn’t going away.

The downturn, as reported by the Associated Press today, is primarily because of two factors: stricter mileage requirements, and the federal renewable fuel mandate. The number of cars on the road, the number of miles they’re driving, and the total amount of fuel they’re consuming, are still projected to increase.

That means there is still a lot of potential to further decrease gasoline consumption (which, in America, is by far the highest in the world per capita) – through reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Recently, a group of transportation planners from Chicago, Minneapolis and other cities traveled to the transit-and-bike-o-topia of Portland, Oregon, to find out how to do that (Jay Walljasper, a Twin-Cities based writer, went along for the ride and offers this report).

Some participants were surprised to learn that in Portland, as in every other major American city, the majority of people still get around by car. Nevertheless, per-capita vehicle miles traveled in the city has been declining since the mid-1990s, thanks to investments in mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

And much of the credit for that decline goes to a simple idea: paint. Bike lanes, left-turn boxes, and other types of infrastructure have proven to be relatively simple and inexpensive to install. Bike infrastructure in the city accounts for less than one percent of city transportation costs while carrying 3-7 percent of all trips.

But the bigger economic benefit comes from money being spent in the city rather than flowing out through gasoline and other car-related purchases. Walljasper notes a recent study that pegs that amount at $800 million. Portland’s bike industry supports nearly 1,000 workers and $100 million in annual economic activity.

Reducing oil consumption is fine and good, but boosting local economies is nice, too.

Read Jay’s post on bikesbelong.org for more details about the trip.

Photo by livewombat via Creative Commons

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.