There’s Going to Be Fewer Cars Out There. Deal With It.

Your grandkids may not drive. You may not either someday if you don’t yet have grandkids.

If you follow the news about cities, transportation or the economy, you’ve probably noticed the steady stream of information about Millenials aversion to driving. A recent example of the genre comes from the The Atlantic’s September issue:

The fact is, today’s young people simply don’t drive like their predecessors did. In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985. Miles driven are down, too. Even the proportion of teenagers with a license fell, by 28 percent, between 1998 and 2008.

Authors Derek Thompson and Jordan Weismann go on to hypothesize that the trend away from driving will continue, even as the economy recovers. This piece was followed more recently by articles in the Economist and The Atlantic indicating that car ownership and driving has peaked; in the future, the percentage of people driving will only get smaller. And it may not just be Millenials who eschew cars.

If true, these findings have a clear lesson: build more public transit and fewer car spaces. That means more buses and trains, and the end of things like parking minimums, which I wrote about in August.

More and more research suggests that people are driving less and favoring public transit. That means cities interested in growth should invest in fewer car-centric developments and more walkable, centrally located communities.

This is great news for those of us who want more walkable, healthy, and vibrant places to live in.

But even for people who fear high density housing, public transportation, or all of the things these developments are likely to bring, this is still pretty good news. According to that first article above, that’s because as cities move away from sprawling development, they actually get more productive:

Economic research shows that doubling a community’s population density tends to increase productivity by anywhere between 6 percent and 28 percent. Economists have found that more than half of the variation in output per worker across U.S. states can be explained by density. Our wealth, after all, is determined not only by our own skills and talents, but by our ability to access the ideas of those around us; there’s a lot to be gained by increasing the odds that smart people might bump against each other.

In other words, we as a society are moving toward more traditionally “urban” living which will make us all more prosperous.

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10 Comments

Filed under Development, driving, economics

10 responses to “There’s Going to Be Fewer Cars Out There. Deal With It.

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  4. I would have to check the Atlantic figures on young people buying cars, but my guess is that young people are buying fewer cars because only 50% of them are finding jobs when they graduate from college! I love to drive, I love my car, and I will always vote for those politicians who are doing everything possible to make Provo, Utah County and Utah in general as auto-friendly as possible.

    Having a car means freedom. The places in the world and in the US that have the most mass transit are by far the least free places, also.

    • Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. First, there has been a steady stream of demographic research on this topic over the past few years. I don’t have time to rehash it all right now (though you can search this blog, as I’ve written about it many times) and the general consensus is that there is a sustainable trend away from cars. There will always be individual exceptions of course, but the research speaks for itself.

      I’m also not sure what you mean by “free.” In my experience Londoners enjoy at least as many freedoms as people in the US. Vancouver is a great transit city and it’s similarly free. Even LA, which historically is auto-centric, is beefing up its public transit (and getting a massive amount of attention for it) and that doesn’t seem to have curtailed any freedoms.

      It’s also worth mentioning that public transit is generally the most economically efficient means of getting people around (again, you’ll have to search for old posts b/c I don’t have time to list them all here).

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