Why America Stopped Driving

The most shocking thing about this driving decline is that it doesn’t seem to be caused by the weak economy. […]

Some say higher gas prices have caused drivers to stay home. It’s a nice story, but there’s not much evidence backing it up. Gas prices are lower today than they were six and a half years ago. And average fuel efficiency has surged over the last decade, putting the real cost of gasoline usage today no higher than it was a decade ago. […]

Remember, Americans drove 918 billion fewer miles over the last eight years than they would have if 2006 driving trends hadn’t changed. If a car has a lifespan of 200,000 miles, that ultimately means demand for vehicles over the last eight years was about half a million cars per year lower than it would have been at old driving rates.

Ford CEO: More Cars in Cities “Not Going to Work”

But [Ford CEO Alan Mulally] also said he wasn’t sure what role Ford would play in the future of transportation in big cities. According to the Financial Times, Mulally said that adding more cars in urban environments is “not going to work” and that he was interested in developments in “personal mobility” and “quality of life.” Then he seemed to indicate Ford is interested in getting into transit, car sharing, or other models that don’t align with private car ownership.

When Ford gets it…

Turns out cities are safest places to live

Whether you live in rural areas or the city, you’re much less likely to die from a gunshot wound — either from someone else or self-inflicted — than you are in a simple accident. Especially car crashes, which make up the bulk of unintentional injury deaths — motor-vehicle-injury-related deaths occurred at a rate that is more than 1.4 times higher than the next leading cause of death. […]

But guns — whether used accidentally or with intent — are much less likely to be the cause of death than another tool: cars. And people drive more, drive longer, drive faster and drive drunker in rural areas than in urban ones, where they can walk or take public transit.

Baby boomers now buying more new cars than their children

People aged 55-64 had the highest rate of new-vehicle purchases in 2011, according to the study, and they’ve become the age group most likely to buy a new car. Just four years ago, the population aged 35-44 was most likely to buy a new car, which goes to show how much the auto industry and its customer base has changed since the recession in 2008. But the decline in miles driven by Americans started in 2004, according to another study by the University of Michigan, much of which has been related to lifestyle choices, such as urban living and public transit.

The End of Car Culture

“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.

I’ve linked to lots of similar articles before, but it’s interesting to watch media outlets catching on to the fact that this is a long-term trend.

No mechanism for electorate to challenge ODOT

A letter-to-the-editor from Jake Mecklenborg published in the Enquirer:

Much of the argument for reconstruction of I-75 and the Brent Spence Bridge is the “functional obsolescence” of those facilities (“The big I-75 fix” June 2). We are told that the elimination of left-side ramps and improvement of safety shoulders – at a cost of about $3 billion for a few miles of roadway – will usher in a new era of prosperity.

Since vehicle ownership and miles driven started their decline in the early 2000s, leading cities shifted away from highway projects and instead invested heavily in public transportation. New York City has no plans to improve or replace its innumerable functionally obsolete bridges, tunnels, and left-side ramps. Los Angeles is expanding its subway system and building a downtown streetcar rather than expanding its highway network.

Here ODOT is reconstructing I-75 and building a new Brent Spence Bridge for a future that will never arrive. However, the public has no say in the matter, since Cincinnatians have not voted on a road project since 1956 and no mechanism exists for the electorate to challenge ODOT’s activities.

While “anti-tax” groups and grandstanding governors feign outrage over the cost of rail transit projects, they don’t make a peep about much higher-cost highway projects. (Hint: they’re not actually upset about the cost; they’re upset because they see anything but road construction and suburbia as an attack on their preferred way of life.)

And even if we wanted to, we don’t have a way of forcing a referendum on ODOT. As a reminder, here’s a cost comparison of some local rail and highway projects proposed over the years (some of the numbers have changed since this chart was first published in early 2011):

Cost Comparison

Why are parking lots minimized in SimCity?

Stone Librande, lead designer of SimCity:

When I started measuring out our local grocery store, which I don’t think of as being that big, I was blown away by how much more space was parking lot rather than actual store. That was kind of a problem, because we were originally just going to model real cities, but we quickly realized there were way too many parking lots in the real world and that our game was going to be really boring if it was proportional in terms of parking lots.

Freakonomics on the automobile

Two recent episodes of the Freakonomics podcast shed light on automobile-related problems that most drivers misunderstand or don’t even think about.

On The Downside of More Miles Per Gallon (6 minutes), the hosts discuss the problems associated with fuel efficiency going up and and less gas tax being collected. They discuss alternative ways that we could find the money needed to build and maintain our roads and bridges.

On Parking is Hell (36 minutes), the hosts interview Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. He says:

Everybody likes free parking, including me, probably you. But just because the driver doesn’t pay for it doesn’t mean that the cost goes away. If you don’t pay for parking your car, somebody else has to pay for it. And that somebody is everybody. We pay for free parking in the prices of the goods we buy at places where the parking is free. And we pay for parking as residents when we get free parking with our housing. We pay for it as taxpayers. Increasingly, I think we’re paying for it in terms of the environmental harm that it causes.

People of my generation believed that our private automobile said a lot about who we are, that [it] defined our power and our status. The younger generations don’t seem to be buying into that anymore, and they are seeing automobiles as simply a tool.

Transportation planner Jeffrey Tumlin, quoted in NPR’s story “What Drives Us? Car Sharing Reflects Cultural Shift”