As a teenager, I had little interest in driving. I lived in Prince George’s County, Maryland, mere blocks from the D.C. city line, with a bus hub down the hill and three Metro stations a mile or so from my parents’ house. And by the time my weekend evenings were done, I was rarely in any shape to get behind the wheel. (Sorry, Mom!)
I never got my driver’s license, which makes me an outlier in a nation of car lovers. But I have something in common with today’s teens. Recentstudies show that American teenagers are far less likely to have their drivers’ licenses than their counterparts thirty years ago, and the trend continues to a lessening degree through the 20-something cohort. Today only 22 percent of drivers are under 30, down from a third in 1983.
As a result of decades of car-oriented land use policy, private automobiles are a necessity for many Americans. Even most urban areas of the SunbeltundefinedAtlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angelesundefinedare barely traversable by foot, bike or train. Despite this reality, Americans seem to be driving less and returning to cities with a diversity of transit options. (I’ve chosen Philadelphia: We still have trolleys!) Young people, especially, are waiting longer to buy cars, and we’re driving less once we get them. Are norms are changing, or is it just the tough economy?Business Insider posits a strong link between this data and the recession: As unemployment goes up, Americans drive lessundefinedbecause many of them suddenly don’t have work to drive to, or because they simply can’t afford to maintain a car.
But it's not as simple as that. “For a very long time, the number of vehicle miles traveled has followed economic trends,” says Angie Schmitt, manager of the Streetsblog network. Yet the past few years have defied that logic: “As the economy has picked up speed a little bit in the last couple years, we haven’t seen vehicle miles traveled pick up.”
An April study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that between 2001 and 2009 the average annual vehicle miles traveled by Americans ages 16 to 34 fell by close to a quarter, from 10,300 to 7,900 per capita (four times greater than the drop among all adults), and from 12,800 to 10,700 among those with jobs. At the same time, the amount of bicycling, walking, and public transit ridership increased. And these trends aren’t just among broke millennials. There was an 100 percent increase in public transit usage among young people with incomes over $70,000.