A new report found that gas consumption in the northwestern states is at its lowest point in 50 years. The study, conducted by Seattle’s Sightline Institute, found that after more than a decade of rising and volatile prices at the gas pump, northwesterners’ consumption of motor fuel is now on the decline.

According to the report, “Northwest Gasoline Consumption Shifts into Reverse,” residents of Oregon and Washington traveled 13 percent fewer miles per capita on state-owned roads in 2011 than the peak year of 2002. As a result, residents only burned an average of 7.2 gallons of gas per week in 2011, and the numbers suggest per capita consumption has dropped even lower in 2012. (Check out an infographic charting these numbers here).

So what’s behind this shrinking appetite for oil and gas? It can’t just be all the bike commuters in Portland. Researchers say high fuel prices, social trends and new technologies have all played a part in the region’s changing perspective on gas consumption. As one might expect, it’s young people who are leading the trend away from personal vehicle use. In 2009, employed drivers aged 16 to 34 drove 16 percent fewer miles than their same-aged counterparts in 2001.

You might think that all those hybrids and electric cars are to blame, but findings suggest increased vehicle efficiency only played a small role in the decline of gasoline consumption. “Despite stricter federal standards and more customer interest in high-mpg cars, the real-world efficiency of the nation’s vehicles improved only slightly over the last decade,” said Clark Williams-Derry, Research Director at Sightline Institute and principal author of the report.

Ultimately, it seems that high prices are what have finally compelled a significant portion of northwestern residents to rethink their transportation options. The report found that despite a marked decline in miles driven, high oil prices meant that the region still spent a record $22 billion on petroleum in 2011, and in tough economic times, residents are finding it harder and harder to justify the expense.

While less gas powered cars on the road is good news for the environment, it could lead to unforeseen challenges for those tasked with maintaining infrastructure. According to the report’s authors, if northwesterners continue to use less gas, state transportation agencies could face serious revenue shortfalls—and may be forced to reconsider their expensive plans to expand the region’s highway network. But if less people are driving, is that really a bad thing?

Featured photo credit: Oregon DOT/Flickr