BL389 Aerial image of NYC

The rise of the automobile was so pervasive, it has radically altered the North American landscape now and for the future – with or without cheap oil.

All told, some 61,000 square miles of the United States – an area a little smaller than the Badger State – is solidly paved over, either with roads or with parking. And, of course, there’s always more pavement on the way.

Source: U.S. urban planning priorities out of whack

I’ve been an advocate of alternative transportation means, reducing pavement area and reducing our reliance on a single, resource and environmentally destructive mode of transport.

[ad#200-left]Engineers and planners have been at the front line of this issue, right behind the politicians that have advocated the linking by highways, larger carparks and bigbox stores taking away from the localized purchasing of previous generations. It is really easy to get wrapped up in the current ideas of consumerism and choice, allowing people to build what they want, where they want and how they want. Unfortunately, the world has never had this many people, people have never been able to travel so freely, eat this much, have this much choice; and it’s all because of the industrial age and cheap oil.

Unlike the author of the quoted statement above, who says that “there’s always more pavement on the way”, I don’t believe this is the case, sure there are currently a number of roads and developments that are planned to be built, but these will be some of the last new roads to be built. The infrastructure deficit we are currently experiencing does not have a solution that will reach a conclusion that includes technologies and fuels currently available – there will be blips of activity as governments attempt to rescue the economy, or as gas prices drop, but on the whole, the opportunities to mend much of our built environment has passed.


Not only do we need a shift in planning priorities, but we need a major shift in understanding the realities of the future and not permitting our governments to squander capital on projects with limited applicability. It feels like I’ve been subject to so many varied opinions on whether the government should be spending or saving, and how generous they should be, and to what projects. Unfortunately traditional transportation projects (in the recent sense) are expensive and may hold limited applicability in a post-peak oil economy.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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