Astonishing. Based on the best estimates I can come up with, residents of the US Northwest are on track to use a little less gasoline in 2006 than in 1999. That’s right, the region’s gasoline consumption—total, not per capita—has flatlined over the last 7 years.

Over the same period, the region’s population grew by 9 percent or so. And that means that per capita gas consumption fell by about 9 percent between 1999-2006. As far as I can tell, that puts per person gas consumption in 2006 lower than at any point in the last 4 decades!Per capita gasoline NW chart - 375

There are a probably a couple of forces in play here. First, the region went through a recession a few years back—unemployment was up and wages were flat. So some of the decline in personal consumption may have stemmed from a slow economy.

Second, gas was at historic inflation-adjusted lows in the late 1990s, but since then prices have more than doubled; and much of the price increase occurred just as the recession was easing. People have responded to high prices by cutting back on consumption—using transit a bit more, buying slightly more efficient cars, perhaps driving a bit less, or using the more efficient car if two are parked in the driveway.

Third, a gradual trend towards more compact and centered urban development may be reducing how much city-dwellers need to drive to get to where they need to go.

No matter what the cause, it’s reason for celebration in a gloomy, rain-soaked season.