So maybe we won’t need all those new highways? Like the Trinity toll road?

That’s the gist of this piece from the New York Times, which reported that in May, with gasoline at more than $4 a gallon in the northeast, traffic at key bridges and tunnels dropped 4.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago. Meanwhile, mass transit use was up 4.3 to 9 percent on the systems that bring commuters into Manhattan. This includes a 5.5 increase for the Long Island Rail Road, which New Yorkers love to hate. Said one expert quoted by the Times: "We’re at the point where people really are changing habits."

Obviously, one or two months is much too small a sample size to do much with, and New York’s mass transit system is much more extensive than ours. And gas prices could plop down again, like they did two summers ago, when they broke $3 a gallon for the first time.

But the intriguing thing to consider is whether, if we’re now facing $4-$5 gas as a fact of life, we’re missing the point with our transit planning. The state sees toll roads as the solution to our transportation woes, and those of us who oppose toll roads are arguing that we can find better ways to fund highway construction. But what if $5 gas changes the equation, and we’re spending our time arguing about building roads that we won’t need because high gas prices will change driving habits?

Could that actually happen?


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