Driving Less; Millennial Shift

A very interesting new study was announced today. You may have seen the main article that people are linking to from the New York Times: Young Americans Lead Trend to Less Driving.

The actual study is located here:  A New Direction: Our changing relationship with driving and the implications for America’s future. The have produced a nice infographic for the report as well (A New Direction Infographic).

I downloaded a copy and plan to read the entire study soon. In the meantime, I have a couple observations inspired by the study itself and the reporting about the study. The report is separate from other recent work noted in the Washington Post (Why aren’t younger Americans driving anymore?).

First, great summaries of the report can be found at Strong Towns – Charles Marohn has noted a few very interesting notes about what the report means for the future of transportation planning and funding – and at Streets Blog DC. I almost always agree with Charles 100%, so I don’t have much more to say. Go read his thoughts here: The Driving Boom is Over.

A big takeaway noted by Charles is that for years and years we’ve developed based on traffic projections. Now, we should be projecting vehicle traffic to stay flat or fall, but time and time again we are designing for projected increases. Changing this will require a massive shift in engineering standards and practice for traffic engineers. I wonder if current college and university faculty are educing new traffic engineers this way… Unfortunately, I doubt it. Engineering programs should be shifting to teaching all aspects of transportation facility engineering. I hope to eventually take a good look of the current status of traffic engineering curricula across the US. You know, when I have that spare time I’m always looking for…

The StreetsBlog DC report (U.S. PIRG: The Driving Boom is Over But the Road-Building Binge Continues) pulls out the three possible future scenarios presented in the report. I’ve listed them for brevity – be sure to go to their post to read more, and read the full study itself.

Back to the Future: This is just a dip in driving and we’ll pick back up soon and increase driving.

Enduring Shift: The recent shift will last and keep the current driving amounts flat.

Ongoing Decline: The recent dip is the beginning of a much bigger dip in driving.

Second, the New York Times quotes two people in the 2nd half of the article, likely because they wanted to seek out alternative views to keep the story balanced. I’ve read quite a few stories recently about the drop in driving and the causes behind it. Each time I’m struck by the people that stick to their automobiles rule mantra. This time it’s Robert W. Poole Jr. (listed in the article as “director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation”, but also known as Reason’s founder).

I think Robert and the like are just old, grumpy men that don’t “get it”. It’s a cliché in a way – we’re the younger generation doing a new thing, and the older generation just doesn’t understand that we are changing this. Robert, according internet research, was born in 1944. He grew up at the heart of the auto-only lifestyle. Should we ever expect him to understand? As a millennial, I get tired of people saying “When twentysomethings get older and start having kids, they move to the more affordable suburbs in search of more space and better schools — and start driving”, as Kenneth Orski does in the same NY Times article. (My limited internet research of Kenneth doesn’t find an age, but he appears to be another old guy that doesn’t “get it”. Sorry Kenneth.) Who are they to assume what someone from my generation will want? I, in fact, don’t want that to happen. I want my local, inner-city school to get better. I don’t want to HAVE to spend life in the suburbs.

The problem with using transportation specific consultants, like Kenneth, is they don’t take into account the whole aspect of change that is going on. This isn’t just about transportation – it’s about changing cities as a whole. Better schools everywhere, more housing options, more choice in everything.

One Reply to “Driving Less; Millennial Shift”

  1. I think you’re right on when you say “better schools everywhere, more housing options, more choices in everything.” There’s probably only a handful of large cities with “good” schools and I think this is one of the main things that keeps middle class families in the suburbs (obviously there are other factors, but I think schools is a big part). I live in the D.C area and the middle class in D.C proper is very transient. the 25-35 middle class crowd tends to live/rent in the city until kids come into the picture and then they’re back in the suburbs.

    D.C actually does actually do pretty well regarding playgrounds, dog parks, trails, city parks, etc, so I really do think this comes down to schools and the persistent crime issues in D.C. Crimes gone down quite a bit, but car breakins and robberies are still relatively frequent.

    One trend I’ve noticed in the D.C area — and I’m not sure if it’s a nation wide change — is that our suburbs are becoming increasingly diverse, attracting people from many backgrounds and income levels, while D.C itself is increasingly attracting individuals from a very specific income bracket, probably because living in the city is expensive relative to the suburbs. I think the shifting demographics in the city is transient, but I wonder if what’s happening in the suburbs is permanent.

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