The Future of Cars

Owning and driving a car, once deemed a core aspect of any American’s life, is now on the decline in this country.

A recent New York Times article titled, “The End of Car Culture” examines how Americans are “buying fewer cars, driving less and getting fewer licenses.” The hypothesis is that the country has passed its peak driving period and that different modes of transportation are now edging their way into the transportation market that had previously been inundated with personal cars. Even the percentage of individuals that have a drivers license in their teens, 20s and 30s has declined significantly since 1983.

The data that the article used was adjusted for population and found that the quantity of miles driven by Americans peaked in 2005 and has declined since. While some have speculated that the decline in cars purchased and miles driven was a cause of the recession, those declines actually began two to three years prior. There are also other theories to the cause of this trend.

“Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift,” said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.

Reduced use of personal vehicles has positive results for the environment and carbon emissions. Transportation is the second leading source of carbon emissions (power plants are first). New York’s bike sharing program is growing in popularity as tolls increase and funding that promotes car ownership decreases.

To further support the idea that this trend is more than economic, the age group of those most likely to purchase a car and to have a license is increasingly the elderly. The youth are expressing less interest in cars and more interest in living in communities where a car is unnecessary and the public transit is satisfactory.

The article mentions Bay Area Rapid Transit, a transportation system in San Francisco that optimizes bus routes by looking at frequency of use and land use in the area. Our very own LANta is in the process of studying Bus Rapid Transit for the Lehigh Valley. Their report is part of the Envision Lehigh Valley project and will be released soon. The trend across the country points to the need for multimodal transportation options and this is an important step by LANta. As our population increases in city centers, there is less need for a personal car but short bus routes and safe biking paths are still important transit developments. All of these options are environmentally promising and are sustainable alternatives to individuals relying solely on their personal car.

Posted on July 4, 2013, in Energy, Federal Policy, Neighborhoods, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Trends, Uncategorized, Urbanism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It’s good to see studies confirming the beginning of a trend away from cars — another reason why the hundreds of millions in tax dollars proposed for widening US 22 should be devoted instead to improving public transit, including both LANTA and light rail. [See June 24 letter to the Express-Times.]

    Improved routes, public participation in decision-making, and comfortable & attractive vehicles can do a lot to make public transit a viable option, especially in combination with safe bicycle routes. Boulder, CO is a good example of just how successful this can be; Honolulu was also making some good moves on an integrated system.

    Bus rapid transit offers some of the advantages of light rail, such as greatly-reduced transit times, but is not as effective in spurring transit-oriented development; this is mostly because of BRT’s flexibility, which means the routes and stops can be changed at any time.

    All forms of public transit and alternative transportation also help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] that cause global warming, which already threatens future generations and all vulnerable people.

    You might expect our economic development and planning agencies to be at the forefront of a major push for sustainable transportation to replace most individual car use, since the economic future of the region depends on this. The fact that we are seeing some baby steps in this direction is cause for cautious optimism that they are waking up to the need for a truly comprehensive approach to a sustainable future.

  2. Peter Crownfield’s link above is incorrect. Use the following to see the intended referenced content:

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  1. Pingback: Americans driving fewer miles | SMART Lehigh Valley

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