Your Brain on $4 a Gallon Gas

Bumper-to-bumper gridlock didn't do it. Nowhere-to-park didn't do it. Taxes on city driving didn't do it. But $4 a gallon gas is finally driving people to not drive anymore say news reports.

So many car commuters conceded to buses or trains in March and April, Denver saw an eight percent rise in public transit riders, south Florida, 20 percent and Charlotte, NC an amazing 34 percent.

In Chicago you can own a car, unlike New York City, but don't have to, like Los Angeles, and so thousands of workers in the downtown Loop have traditionally looked at the car/train choice as a toss-up.

Sure, parking costs more than strap hanging and trains whiz by while you're contemplating a vista of tail pipes. Sure you're polluting the air and squandering fossil fuels.

There's the convenience of leaving, if not arriving, when you want, sitting down, temperature control -- heat on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) vehicles is confined to summer -- a way to carry and store your belongings and having your Music full blast.

So, even though Chicagoans will take the train to Cubs and Sox games and major city events and attractions -- sometimes even enjoying the high jinks in "club" cars packed with over-served patrons -- for work, they traditionally buckle up.

They even drive to the airport and pay short or long term parking rates rather than board the CTA Blue Line train which brings you into the terminal and practically to your gate for two dollars. Go figure.

Getting people out of their cars is a tough psychological sell say Chicago transit activists.

Driving a private automobile is not only a deeply ingrained habit and regarded as a "right," it gives people a feeling of safety, control and even identity. (Witness the panic, disorientation and sense of violation towing produces.)

Nor do people even want to share.

Car pools don't work because people don't trust the "other guy's" driving. Similarly with car share programs in which the car is only used as needed, people don't trust the other guy to maintain the vehicle.

The result is zip codes full of cars people don't need, thrown into high relief this past winter in Chicago when cars remained submerged in snow drifts for weeks after a series of major storms. (A new version of the old barfly whine, "I can't find my car.")

City planners have always said as long as employers subsidize drivers with free parking but not transit commuters, the true cost of car commuting in fuel, pollution, traffic congestion and land use is obscured. Of course that was before $4 a gallon gas.

But there's another reason to take the key out of the ignition say transit activists: carbon brain.

While transit commuters arrive at work calm and with their work done, drivers are often irritated and distraught. Some have even given the finger to people they are going to be riding the elevator with. Some have eaten their bag lunch at 8:15.

"In control" of their car, they find they are out of control when it comes to everything else: road congestion, parking, other motorists, time and of course gas prices.

Worse, they have lost their "wait" tolerance thanks to immediate gratification technology like computers and cells and too many venti coffees from Starbucks (drive-thrus of course).

It's been a decade since US drivers ceased yielding to other drivers or letting them merge. Now they're close to doing the same with pedestrians.

Raise your hand if you've encountered the driver turning right who turns right on top of your tracks, even clipping you when cross you the street -- to "hurry" you!

You made him late to work.

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