Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Gas prices drop in time for Memorial Day

May 22, 2012 - 08:54 AM
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(Photo: flickr/pat00139)

Although most forms of transportation will become more expensive this summer, drivers will experience a brief respite for the coming weekend holiday. Average D.C. gas prices have fallen to about $3.82 a gallon these days, which, while not perfect, is a huge improvement from last year's $4.13. D.C. residents have stared down gas prices exceeding $4 for many weeks so far in 2012. Although we're a city lucky enough to enjoy a plethora of options, from WMATA rail and bus to biking to walking to car-sharing, the car remains a reality for many in our city. Last month gas prices had crept up to $4.18 a gallon, as I noted at the time.

The price of transportation is especially relevant considering the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts about 34.8 million people will travel distances of 50+ miles around the U.S. this year, about half a million more than last year, and more than 30 million will travel by car. A survey conducted by the auto club found that nearly half the intended travelers saw gas prices as an issue influencing their plans. These shifting gas price numbers frequently become an emotional and even political touchstone for Americans, sometimes more justifiably than others.

Yet perhaps the high prices reflect the real worth of the fuel. Look to European gas prices for comparison. As Americans stared at $4 a gallon this year, some European countries paid far more — around $10 a gallon in Great Britain earlier this spring, as one CNN columnist observed. One longstanding argument suggests higher fuel prices will be what forces us to consider more fuel-efficient vehicles and change our commuting habits in favor of more walking, biking, and public transportation.

Another holiday concern is traffic safety. Traffic fatalities tend to spike around any holiday, in part due to drunk driving deaths, and Memorial Day weekend is no different. Federal analysis shows that the year's major holidays have featured spikes in traffic deaths going back decades. In 2009, 473 people died during the three-day Memorial Day weekend period, with 42% of deaths attributed to alcohol-impaired driving. Risk is naturally elevated as more people take to the wheel along the Mid-Atlantic, with plans likely to take people up to Delaware, to Baltimore or Boston, Philly, or down South, trips for leisure, to see family, to visit the beach.

Stay safe this weekend, D.C., and for those traveling by car, be glad gas prices aren't quite as debilitating as last year.

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