Just when the buzz about oil prices seemed to be settling a little, two days worth of headlines ($200 prediction and $135 reality) have turned my attention back from who might end up challenging me in the District 1 County Commission race to what it will cost people to drive around Sarasota.
Our county was laid out, zoned, and generally designed during an era when crude oil was less than $30 a barrel. How our somewhat sprawling county is going to operate when oil may soon cost five (or more) times that amount is a daunting challenge. New York Times writers (second article above) blame supply problems and increased demand in the developing world, but others identify speculation and outrageous profits as contributing factors.
Key elements in any response will be those approaches that enable citizens to reduce driving, strategies such as transit and affordable housing close to employment (or transit). Reducing the need to drive by placing services closer to residences through mixed use zoning should also be part of the mix. Other strategies include lowering the cost per mile by increasing efficiencies through hybrid technology and producing lighter weight vehicles that remain safe.
The biggest complicating factor right now is the uncertainty regarding whether oil prices will continue to rise or if yet another speculative bubble is about to burst (see poll on right). Economists, oil executives, citizens, and petroleum analysts such as Arjun N. Murti (profiled in the first article above and graphic based on his work at top of story) seem to to have wildly divergent predictions (see earlier blogs).
County planners and decision makers now face a difficult choice -- listen to those who believe prices will drop back below $100 by the end of the year or begin serious planning to minimize the negative effects of rapidly increasing fuel costs that threaten to further consume Sarasotan's household budgets.