Younger Generation Less Tied to Cars for Transportation

September 5, 2012

Photo by Mark Thompson.
Cities looking to attract young professionals would do well to examine their transportation infrastructure and policy, as for the first time since WW II, Americans, particularly young people ages 16-34, are driving less and using alternative forms of transportation more, according to the April 2012 report Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People Are Driving Less and What It Means for Transportation Policy.

“The trend away from steady growth in driving is likely to be long-lasting—even once the economy recovers,” said Transportation and the New Generation authors Benjamin Davis and Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group; and Phineas Baxandall of the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Young people are driving less for a host of reasons-- higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation preferences and changes in Generation Y’s values and preferences.”

The report found that the average American is driving 6 percent fewer miles in 2011 than in 2004. From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by those ages 16-34, often called Millennials or Generation Y, dropped 23 percent from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita. Additionally, the use of transportation alternatives is steadily increasing among 16-34 year-olds:
  • 24 percent take more bike trips than they did in 2001;
  • 16 percent walked to destinations more frequently than they did in 2001;
  • From 2001-2009, the number of passenger miles they traveled on public transit increased by 40 percent.
"This survey underscores other surveys showing that transit, pedestrian and bicycle facilities are desirable components of a balanced transportation system,” said Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes!, the state’s bicycle advocacy organization. “Communities that rank highly on "quality-of-life" indices are almost always walkable, bicycle-friendly places.”
Not only do Millennials want to easily walk and bike but they want they also prefer to live in places with nearby shopping, restaurants, schools and public transportation as opposed to sprawl, according to a recent study by the National Association for Realtors.
“The Millennials are looking for interaction,” said Fred Boykin, a commissioner in the city of Decatur, which boasts three transit stations and a neighborhood-connected, walkable downtown filled with restaurants and retail shops. “They want to spend time doing things like shopping, meeting friends at restaurants and recreating, without having to get in a car and drive someplace.”
Cities can take advantage of the latest trends and draw young professionals to town by building connections to the city’s core, be it the downtown square or some other central gather place, Boykin added.
“Folks want to be together in groups,” he said. “If you can find the core or a spark that can bring people together, for Decatur it was festivals, you can attract young people to your city.”
Cities should draw concentric circles from the center and see what connections then can make, Boykin added. “You can add a sidewalk, a bench or a tree,” he said. “Also when you look at doing anything with your roads or corridors, look at it as a complete street, meaning, ‘is it a transportation choice for everybody, not just the motor vehicle driver but the pedestrian or the bike rider—is it comfortable and accessible to them?’”
While the city of Macon doesn’t have transportation policy to specifically address the desires of young residents, the city is revitalizing its downtown area in an effort to make it more walkable, said Nigel Floyd, traffic engineer for Macon-Bibb County.
“One project that we are working on is College Hill Corridor,” Floyd explained. “It is a direct route from Mercer University to the downtown corridor. We want to make the streets in and around Mercer University more conducive to pedestrian traffic and bicycles.” Already a small grocery store has opened in the area to accommodate the students.
Kingsland would like to accommodate the transportation desires of the young adults living in the city and on the city’s Navy Base but doesn’t yet have the money to do so.
“We have a plan for bicycle paths in place but there are currently no funding options for construction,” said Kingsland Planning Director Ken Kessler. “When another SPLOST comes up for a vote, hopefully next spring, we plan to include funding for new sidewalks.”
“We have experienced [young people driving less] and expect to see more of that,” said David Spear, press secretary for the Georgia Department of Transportation. “It’s a double edge sword. One the one hand we have less congestion; congestion has been down 2 to 3 percent since about 2008, parallel with the recession. The negative aspect is so much of our funding is tied to the gas tax: less drivers means less motor fuel tax.” Spear added that GDOT has to prioritize more than ever and doesn’t complete projects as rapidly as it would like.
“We always try to dedicate a significant portion of our funding to intermodal levels of transportation,” he said. “We cannot use the state motor fuel tax for anything but highways and bridge-ways. We cannot use it for sidewalks. We include a lot more trails or bike spaces in a resurfacing or widening. However, the preponderance is towards automobiles, 80 plus percent of commuters will drive and more often than not, drive by themselves. We have to also recognize what people are going to do. We can’t just stop working on the highways.”
The study authors suggest that to make the best of limited resources, transportation planners must anticipate trends, 10, 20 or 40 years into the future.
“The shift away from six decades of increasing vehicle travel to a new reality of slow-growing or even declining vehicle travel has potentially seismic implications for transportation policy,” they wrote. “It calls into question the wisdom of our current transportation investment priorities as well as the sources of revenue used to pay for those priorities. It creates both a multitude of new opportunities as well as difficult challenges.”