1. Concerning European astonishment at our lack of preparedness, that's a combination of 2 things I think. First of all is Federalism. Here we leave a lot to the states and Lousiana has been known for a very long time as one of the least competent states at that sort of thing. Curiously, perhaps, to a Frenchman, here with a bit of Anglo-Saxon snobbery, that has been blamed on their Gallic (or "latin") heritage--viewed as a sort of "live for today, let tomorrow take care of itself" attitude. Secondly, there is the Federal responsibility. I don't want to get in trouble here, so I'll simply refer you to http://www.andrewsullivan.com for an example of what people are beginning to say (and Sullivan, if you don't know him, is a British expatriot who, until recently, was a Conservative).
2. As to your lifestyle (walk/train/motorcycle), fascinating. I live part of the year in San Francisco which many people here think of as a "European" style city, and when I'm here, I pretty much live just as you describe. I live downtown and can/do walk to many shops and restaurants. When I travel around the city, I take a bus (monthly pass $45), subway, streetcar or one of our well-known "cable cars". If I go to a supermarket or a distant part of town I have a Honda 250cc scooter (gets about 15 miles per liter). So, in truth, I am not terribly much affected directly by the price of gas. I didn't even bother to fill the scooter's tank ahead of the likely price increases. I can get around perfectly well on the bus if I have to and it doesn't much matter if it costs me $5 instead of $3 to fill the scooter's tank (I fill it about twice a month). But my lifestyle is unusual and I am 60 years old. I'm not terribly sure how much longer I will be able to walk as much as I do or ride the scooter (even now, I worry if my aging body would be able to take even a minor crash).