Tuesday, March 13, 2007

how roads will die

We all know that cars are an endangered species and that the road network will fall apart as we enter the final phases of Peak Oil, but how will it actually proceed?
The first signs will be uncertain petrol supplies, government inaction and a slow falling-off of the number of cars and lorries on the roads. The media will start to stir everyone up with dark conspiracy theories, but there will be no conspiracy behind this, just simple supply and demand
economics. Already some of the stronger nations are tying oil-producing nations into long-term contract agreements, or simply invading them, keeping the wholesale price of oil around $60 a barrel.
Suddenly the airwaves and press will be full of 'how to manage without your car' articles and transport policy will swing away from roads and towards all forms of rail. Petrol rationing will be introduced, probably within 5 to 10 years. The very last new driving licenses will be issued around 2025.
There are plenty of stories doing the rounds about replacements for petrol, but study them closely you'll see they are flawed. Biofuel is a joke - it would never be economic even at ten times the price of petrol and land use would compete with food growing etc. Hydrogen is unworkable. Fuel cells would be very expensive, electric cars would increase energy demands so much the climate would go out of control ... cheap oil was a once in a billion years windfall and we've wasted it on frivolity.
The roads are the key - as demand falls away and 99% of us have to find other ways to get around the roads themselves will collapse. No local authority will prioritise road maintenance as climate breaks down and economies change completely. Roads will become no go areas for everything other than Land Rovers, horses and walkers. If roads survive at all it will be as multi-use leisure facilities at the fringes of towns and villages. Some may find new uses as longer distance cycle ways and bridleways, some may be lucky enough to be reborn as railways.
Because of course rail is the key to keeping some sort of regional transport system. There will have to be a HUGE expansion of the heavy and light rail network if we're going to retain any sort of wider economy in the UK (or more likely independent nations within the UK).
We have about 30 years to make the change so that there is not too much civil unrest. Peak Oil will soon become far more of a 'demon' than climate change because, of course, Peak Oil is a far greater threat over the short to medium term. You've been warned!

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