Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed this morning how the US living and transportation patterns will not cope with high oil prices as well as European cities:
Changing the geography of American metropolitan areas will be hard. For one thing, houses last a lot longer than cars. Long after today’s S.U.V.’s have become antique collectors’ items, millions of people will still be living in subdivisions built when gas was $1.50 or less a gallon.
Infrastructure is another problem. Public transit, in particular, faces a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to justify transit systems unless there’s sufficient population density, yet it’s hard to persuade people to live in denser neighborhoods unless they come with the advantage of transit access.
Over the long-run the US can adapt it’s living patterns to expensive oil by curbing it’s habit of subsidizing roadways. However, only if density restrictions soften accordingly.
If drivers were responsible for the full costs of their location and transportation decisions, they would gradually locate to more European-like locations. This will naturally increase the demand for transit. Private investment and entrepreneurship under such conditions should be able to provide innovative solutions to the chicken-and egg problem Krugman is concerned about.