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Streetfacts #2: Americans Are Driving Less

We continue our Streetfacts series by looking at the data on driving in the U.S. Beginning in 2005, per-capita driving has declined every year. That's not a blip, it's now an 8-year trend.

The reason? Neither the state of the economy nor changes in gas prices offer a satisfactory explanation. Social preferences and demographic shifts seem to be playing a role. Young people today are less likely to own a car or have a driver's license than young people several years ago. At the same time, America's growing population of seniors are no longer in their peak driving years.

Whatever the combination of factors, people are riding transit, walking, and bicycling more. Even magazines like Motor Trend are examining the shift away from cars.

The upshot is that we need to start making smart transportation investments that align with the new reality: Americans are driving less.

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Daniel Winks

    Exactly, we have plenty of existing roads. Freeways already ARE being torn out of cities and that trend will definitely increase in the future. My city (Columbus, Ohio) has been wasting billions on a I70/I71 exchange project in the core of the downtown. Billions on a project that will likely be bulldozed in a few decades, at most. Any interstate traffic that needs to go through Columbus can just as easily take the I270 bypass (as hazmat already has to do), so there's no need for either of those freeways to bisect our downtown.

  • Alex Knight

    Oh please. Roads are in no way, shape, or form self-sustaining and never have been, even before the highway trust fund became insolvent. Since the 1950s, the US as a whole has subsidized driving at enormous levels, both directly and indirectly. Meanwhile, transit investment plummeted, making most transit in the US inefficient and undesirable. THAT'S why you have to subsidize it so much and why a lot of it has to run empty.

    Add in parking minimums and road designs that make all other forms of transport slow, unpleasant, or unsafe and you have a massive government mandate that, to be able to function in our society, you MUST have a car. The playing field hasn't been level for decades so to babble on incessantly about how driving cars is some kind of free market choice of the American people is idiotic. Luckily, you're on the losing side of history on this one. We can't afford to keep gobbling up land for every-wider (and just as congested) highways, especially since decreasing numbers of people want auto-centric lifestyles. Will driving disappear? I don't think so by a long shot. But we've overbuilt and put all our chips on it in a way that's scarred us financially, physically, environmentally, and mentally. Time to correct course.