The looming challenge for cities like Merriam, Kan. is described in Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us
These uniquely American sprawling suburban metros were designed around the idea of cheap oil. Peak oil may change all that.
Here’s an excerpt:
[L]iving in Merriam means owning a car. The whole town is designed around the idea that cheap gasoline will always be available. The main shopping centre is a strip mall off the Interstate. Sidewalks—and easily walkable grid street plans—come and go throughout the neighborhoods, following the whims of past developers. Merriam has two bike routes, but one is mostly aimed at recreation. It doesn’t follow any path that people travel daily for business, school, or shopping. The other bike route begins and ends suddenly, covering only a small portion of busy Shawnee Mission Parkway. There are bus lines that pass through town, but the service isn’t particularly robust. Most of the buses are strictly for commuters, offering a handful of morning trips to downtown Kansas City and evening trips back. The system isn’t really meant for general mobility. A trip from Merriam’s main shopping centre to my favourite Chinese restaurant in nearby Overland Park is a nine-minute drive. By bus, it’s 40-four minutes, and you can’t go for lunch or a late dinner. The buses don’t run between nine a.m. and four p.m., and they shut down for the night after six p.m. You see the problem here.
As the price of gas climbs, and middle-class Americans have to start seriously thinking about whether they can afford a given trip, the residents of Merriam will find themselves without an easy, all-weather way to navigate the crazy quilt of metro towns that surrounds them. For those who work outside Merriam, it’ll be harder to get to work. Inside Merriam, businesses will suffer the loss of the heavy traffic that now passes by twice a day.
Read a longer excerpt at Scientific American.
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