As engineers and planners struggle with how to reduce driving time and idle time, they're indirectly shaping how the country is settling and evolving. The press of fuel prices has yet to result in a direct change in how Americans settle, but more Americans are settling closer to where they work and play in an effort to reduce their fuel consumption -- or turning to technology to increase telecommuting and work-from-home opportunities.
By reducing commutes -- the United States Census Bureau tallied the average commute time at about 30 minutes -- cars would produce fewer pollutants. The new trend in urban planning has become "walkable communities." The idea is to mix residential, business and industrial concerns together so people who live in the area could walk to their work, a store or even to their doctor's office without ever needing a car. The incentive here is not only to reduce pollution and use less fuel, but to increase the quality of life for the residents and promote local businesses.
But people will still need to travel. Many of the community plans integrated public transportation, ride-sharing programs or hourly car rental programs such as Zipcar into the overall planning.
Seen from the outside, these communities almost seem unworkable, but whether they come to pass successfully or not, they do spur ideas for immediate ways -- like better public transportation -- to reduce pollution.