How will peak oil impact bicycling in the East Bay over the next five years?
I assume the following.
1) Peak oil occurred in 2005.
2) Global conventional oil production will be close to the 2005 level for about five years, and then begin a continuous decline. Global demand will continue to increase, although less rapidly than recently.
3) Gas prices may vary, but will remain above $4/gal and will be in the $7-$10 range by 2013.
Near-term impacts (already happening)
1) The mix of cars sold will shift rapidly from SUVs and trucks to smaller cars.
2) Miles driven will decline slightly but not substantially.
3) Republicans will advocate increasing US oil drilling and production.
4) The US stock market and dollar will decline.
Medium-term impacts (3 years out)
1) Global car companies will produce plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars. These cars will be expensive to buy and expensive to operate. Battery replacement costs will be high. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will remain prohibitively expensive. Some cars will have swap-out battery packs supporting longer range travel, but these will be expensive and rare. SUV/truck sales will continue to drop, but a significant market will continue to exist for hybrid SUVs, which will be the last hope for solvency for GM and Ford.
2) Electric scooters and similar small vehicles will become common.
3) Electricity demand will increase significantly, leading to higher costs and contentious political debates about how to supply this demand. Solar thermal and PV will become cost-competitive ("grid-parity") without subsidies, but ramping them up will be slow.
4) The US economy will enter a prolonged recession, decreasing oil demand. "Congestion" will no longer be a significant problem.
5) Housing in outer suburbs will become very cheap. Some companies will move operations to outer suburbs to take advantage of the cheap housing, but most will not because managers don't want to live there.
6) Public transit will continue to become more popular, but this will be tempered by rising fares due to economic recession cutting subsidies.
Long-term impacts (5 years out)
1) Medium-term impacts will all intensify.
2) Fixed-electric public transit, such as BART, will begin to see substantial cost advantages over gas- and diesel-powered public and private transit. Efforts will be made to electrify passenger (CalTrain, trolleys, etc.) and freight traffic, but lead times will be long. Proposals will be made to run fixed-electric buses on freeway lanes and over the bridges.
3) Laws requiring companies to offer telecommuting options where reasonable will be passed. Web sites will use location-aware devices like cell phones to match drivers and riders to share gas cost in real time.
4) Air travel will be a luxury. Much business travel will be replaced by "telepresence" technology. Taking a bike on a flight will become very expensive.
5) Solar thermal and PV installations will increase rapidly, but will still constitute only a small fraction of electric generating capacity. Coal and tar sands mining will increase, despite global-warming implications. "Cleaner coal" will be promoted incessantly, but will not actually exist due to costs. Electric capacity will be sufficient to recharge cars at night, but fear will be expressed about whether increasing reliance on electric cars and daytime solar electricity sources are compatible.
6) Road maintenance will deteriorate due to tight budgets and increasing cost of asphalt. Significant attention will be given to asphalt alternatives, but all will have higher costs and none will be implemented broadly.
7) New housing construction will be almost entirely in inner locations, with smaller apartments and condos predominating. The state may take over land use decision-making to overcome NIMBY's. Outer suburbs may become the new slums.
8) Fear about the future will become common. Depression will increase. Peak oil will be an accepted fact. Politicians will argue about nuclear, coal, solar and other renewables and about "free markets". Exxon and Chevron will be wealthy beyond imagination, but will be in the process of liquidating themselves as their reserves diminish. They will buy startup renewable energy companies with promising technologies.
9) Famine will increase in many parts of the world. Immigration to the US from Mexico will increase as Mexican oil production declines sharply, causing a prolonged depression in Mexico. The US, Canada and Mexico will announce a North American energy treaty, with joint development of solar in the southwestern US and northern Mexico.
10) Many oil-producing regions will be militarized to ensure "security". Saudi Arabia will continue to maximize production under implicit threat of invasion by the US.
Assuming all this, what are the implications for bicycling in the East Bay?
1) BART will become very crowded for more of the day. The number of trains accepting bicycles on board will decline, perhaps substantially. Pressure will increase to limit bikes on all types of trains, such as Amtrak and CalTrain
2) The car volumes on roads accessible to bikes will decline, but not by more than about 10%. Given the lack of alternatives, people will shift to hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars, but continue to do most of the driving they are doing now. These cars will be expensive, but due to car dependence, people will pay.
3) Quieter cars may increase risks to bicyclists and pedestrians.
4) "Bike-like" vehicles will increase in popularity. Battery-assisted bikes, scooters and similar vehicles will increasingly inhabit the same parts of the road as bikes. Users of these vehicles will encounter many of the same conditions as bikes and may be natural allies of bike advocates.
5) Smog and exhaust are likely to decline somewhat, although climate change could offset the benefits by increasing the number of hot, stagnant air days.
6) Funding for bicycle facilities may decline, since bike facilities will be competing with electrification of trains, buses and car parking lots in a decreasing tax revenue environment.
7) Big-rigs, RVs, SUVs and monster trucks will constitute a smaller percentage of motor vehicle traffic. To a limited extent car drivers may drive more slowly to conserve gas. Bicycle-motor vehicle collisions are likely to be less deadly for bicyclists, although the difference may not be substantial.
8) Human-powered bicycle trip share is likely to increase, but not dramatically.
9) Mild decreases in traffic volume will force CalTrans to revisit trip forecasts. Keeping the Richmond Bridge closed to bicyclists based on forecast future car demand may become untenable. The Caldecott 4th bore may receive renewed scrutiny. Transportation funding may shift somewhat from freeway projects to transit.
10) As the longer-term implications of peak oil become clear and as the number of people riding bikes or bike-like vehicles increases modestly, the general public attitude toward bicyclists may improve.
11) As people become effectively poorer, they will take less energy-intensive vacations. This will result in car traffic volumes in local vacation destinations, such as Napa and Big Sur, remaining relatively unchanged. Bicyclists touring on their bikes for a vacation may not see decreased traffic volumes for quite a long time.
12) Bicyclists may encounter increasingly rough roads.
Overall, peak oil will probably be a net positive for bicycling over the next five years, but it is unlikely to usher in a new golden age of bicycling in the East Bay.