With gas now at $3.90 / gallon by my house, I am officially glad that I traded the Element for the Fit. Sure, I miss the cargo space and and I’m certain I’ll miss the 4WD when winter hits, but I don’t mind getting 60% better gas mileage (40mpg vs 25mpg, or about $30 per week). Apparently lots of other people are noticing too, as the US Department of Transportation reported that March 2008 saw the single biggest decrease in miles driven, ever.
Last Thursday I drove my friend to Strawberry Square for her first-ever Civil Service exam (AO and Records Specialist, for anyone keeping score). We left Etters around 7am, thinking that with rush hour, we’d have plenty of time to arrive, park, and hit Starbucks before her 8:15 test. Her first test of the day was for AO, which is a notoriously ridiculous test. Most of the approximately 10,000 questions on the test were apparently written by the criminally insane, making a brief coffee-and-muffin-and-relax period before the test fairly important. We figured we’d have about 10-15 minutes before sign-in.
Turns out we arrived around 7:20. That is, after getting on 83, it took us about 20 minutes to go from Hillside Cafe to Second Street, climb to the 9th floor (for good luck) of the Walnut Street garage, park, and walk to Starbucks. There was a slight increase in traffic over normal times, but it didn’t affect our driving at all. Maybe a lot of in-city workers just happened to call of sick that day (it was a nice day out), maybe we just got lucky, or maybe it was some other fluke.
It’s been a long time since I’ve driven into or out of the city during rush hour. I have the luxury of working a glorious 4 – midnight shift in the NOC. Even during those occasional overtime shifts, when I find myself driving at 8am, I’m usually going against the flow of traffic so rush hour rarely impacts me at all. But I can’t help but think that last week’s Thursday Morning Sampler seemed a lot more mild than I remember. Years ago I used to have to cut through downtown on my way to work every morning around 7:30, and I clearly recall more than one occasion where it took several minutes to move two blocks.
Could it be that more people are carpooling, taking public transportation, or even finding jobs closer to home? Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but I’d like to think that our current gas prices are forcing people away from the “One Escalade Per Person” mentality. Has the fact that the price per gallon has nearly doubled in the past 18 months, where us lucky ones are “only” paying $100 per month in gas, wielded the ever-powerful dollar to convince a few more people to share a ride to work, thus removing 2-4 cars from morning rush hour in a single shot?
Or am I just imagining things? I’d like to hear from anyone who regularly drives during rush hour, since this may very well have been a one-off fluke in our favor.
Epilogue: In an unprecedented act of speediness, the Civil Service Commission graded her test today, less than one week after she took it. 87% on Administrative Officer and 91% on Records Specialist. And to think I’m still waiting on my promotion scores from a month ago.