Alabama ranks poorly in gasoline consumption rates

Traffic backs up on Highway 280 outside of Birmingham. (Birmingham News/ Mark Almond)

Think about how much gasoline you used over the past year. In a state with some of the lowest rates of transit ridership, carpooling, or walking and bicycling commuting, chances are the amount of gas used to get you from home to work or school was fairly substantial. When you consider most Alabamians are dependent on the automobile, it should come as no surprise that we use a lot of gasoline. A lot.

Jefferson and Mobile Counties each use over 200 million gallons of gasoline per year, according to a new report by the National Resource Defense Council. The findings illustrate the need for more transportation choices for all residents and the importance of reliable, affordable public transit systems in our state’s largest metropolitan areas.

Reducing our dependence on gasoline will require a combination of policies and regulations from all levels of government. The recently announced federal fuel-efficiency standards will play a vital role in reducing our gasoline consumption, but local changes in how we design and build our communities will be equally important. Unless local and state officials promote policies that slow the urban sprawl throughout Alabama, the reductions we will see from more fuel-efficient vehicles will be offset by our need to drive further to school or work.

Implementing Complete Streets at the local level is one approach for reducing the number of trips taken in a car. Connecting neighborhoods with sidewalks allows for residents to take short trips on foot to see friends, providing bike lanes around schools allows children to bicycle rather than ride in a automobile, building greenway trails allows for an alternative transportation option when travelling to local stores and restaurants. All of these options provide citizens with more transportation choices, which provides them freedom from the increasingly expensive cost of gasoline. Effective transit services can also reduce gas consumption, while improving air quality and reducing traffic congestion.

Although Jefferson and Mobile counties lead Alabama in gasoline consumption, our entire state is in need of improvement. Alabama ranks fourth nationally in per capita fuel consumption, behind sparsely-populated Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Alabama’s gasoline consumption per GDP ranks third nationally, behind only Mississippi and Montana.

Community design standards, road and trail networks, and dependable transit systems are reliant on cooperation among local counties and cities, as well as leadership from the state level. In order for Alabama to address its poor rankings, officials at all levels of government must make a commitments that will grow stronger communities, protect our state’s resources, and improve our public health.

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