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.
[Jeffrey Ball of The New Republic] notes that many millennials who go carless live in a handful of mostly coastal cities. Read one way, this shows that it is not a widespread phenomenon. Read another, it proves that transportation preferences are malleable. Most of those millennials grew up in car-dependent suburbs. They stopped driving when they moved to cities because they now live somewhere denser, with fewer incentives to drive and better alternatives. Offer that same deal to Americans in other places, especially the poor, and many of them would gladly take it.
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.
“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.
[…] because the Texas 130 toll road is carrying traffic about half of what was projected when it opened in October.
A one-off occurrence, or a sign of a larger trend?
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):
A Harvard study found that motorists pay only 25 to 40 percent of the cost of their transportation. The remaining costs are borne by employers (through such amenities as free parking), by other travelers (due to increased congestion, reduced safety, etc.), and by governments and taxpayers who pay for the expansion and maintenance of roads. […]
The costs not directly paid by motorists each year include $13.3 billion for highway construction and repair, $7.9 billion for highway maintenance, $68 billion for highway services (police, fire, etc.), and $85 billion for free parking.
Germany is a world-leader in the design of expensive luxury cars, and has a network of freeways with no speed limits where you can push these cars to their ecstatic edge. But most urban travel in Germany happens on bikes, feet, or civilized and useful public transit systems in pleasant and sustainable cities. Transit’s purpose is to appeal to massive numbers of diverse riders, not chase the choosy few who would rather be on the Autobahn.
How long can states afford to keep building new roads, considering that the amount we drive keeps decreasing each year?
It’s been nearly two decades since Congress last increased the federal gas and diesel taxes that have historically paid for highways. Meanwhile, the cost of road and bridge construction has gone up and the purchasing power of fuel taxes has declined by more than a third. Revenue is also down because people have been driving less due to the uncertain economy and because cars are becoming more fuel-efficient.