How much have we changed as a society due to the greater diversity of transportation choices made by Millennials? Has the automobile seen it’s heyday?
The latest Census data from the 2013 American Community Survey examines changes of younger and older commuters — focusing on the country’s largest metropolitan areas. Millennials and Generation Xers are apparently more multimodal than those of previous generations. Consideration and use of mass transit, biking, walking, as well as driving are in the mix of their choices.
Unlike Europe, where people count on mass transit in many situations and it is readily there for them, the US has for six decades been an automobile-led society. Millennials identify with the automobiles differently than baby boomers who are perhaps too attached to them, however. Millennials go for diversity of modes, including public transportation and walking, while the numbers still show very high levels of car use by baby boomers.
Economics and practicality play a large part into this trend towards reduced driving. The trend, however, exists even among young people who are doing well financially with gainful employment. More people choose an apartment or house while considering proximity to good transit.
The new Census data estimate that over 85% of all workers still get to their jobs by private automobile. According to Brookings, this is also “relatively consistent with our commuting patterns from 1980, when nearly the same percentage of workers commuted by car.” Although, Brookings continues by pointing out that those long-term trends mask real changes over the past few years.
“The share of national commuters traveling by private vehicle is edging down for the first time in decades—from 86.5 percent in 2007 to 85.8 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, other transportation modes have grown in relative importance.”
Biking, Telecommuting, & Transit
With all of the successfully growing urban bike-sharing programs and improved infrastructure, the country is experiencing the revival of bicycling as a mode of transport that is not simply recreational. On the rise, bicycling combined with walking accounts for almost 4 percent of all commuters.
However, part of that is more due to another trend than simply a swap of transportation modes. Due to the growth of online work and telecommuting, the largest increase comes from those workers who do not commute anywhere for work. Working at home now matches the numbers of who ride public transportation to their jobs.
Brookings‘ full report on commuting explains a key reason that this pair of 40-year trends is reversing. “The share of Americans that commute by transit increased from 2000 to 2008, while the share of those that drive alone to work fell slightly.” It is a switch that occurs due to availability and convenience. Many people are inclined to use mass transit and not be strapped to a large vehicle in traffic if possible. Communities that have experienced car-free experiments report an increased sense of well-being.
Perhaps the Millennials are innately tuned into this consciousness, coupled with the practical economics. Increases in public transportation (a 2013 report showed that Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation last year) have led to the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years.
The Built Environment
“Over time, these evolving commuting habits will help influence—and be shaped by—the built environment of our communities,” Brookings notes. “The proliferation of pedestrian-scaled developments, for instance, represents one way in which many metropolitan areas are stitching together their urban fabric and responding to a new geography of innovation. As more individuals work from home, stroll to their office, or even engage in widespread bike sharing and car sharing, metropolitan areas will need to consider a range of plans and policies that further address these multimodal needs.”
Streetsblog, however, questions whether the choices of Millennials will transition back to automobiles as they grow into families. Things change and people change and children’s schedules present timing issues. The problem of getting to work in sprawling areas coupled with the lack of adequate transit systems is a reason they may change.
It seems availability, comfort, and convenience is the primary issue. The US is still playing catchup with mass transit accessibility and convenience. Perhaps if transportation became more accessible for everyone, traffic would stay on the lower rung of choices.
However, that needs to be a target of jurisdictions and funding needs to go into more varied infrastructure. Streetblogs reports: “Given the variety of trends emerging nationwide and the need to make targeted investments mounting on state and local governments, metropolitan leaders will have to closely monitor their region’s commuting demands to begin answering these questions in years to come.”
Miami might be setting a new standard that will encourage other urban areas to follow suit. This attractive revitalization of dormant mass transit is looking to open up options. On September 18, 2014, All Aboard Florida announced the plans and structure of an extensive new downtown train-station complex. Supporters of this new transit center say this is a substantial step in Miami’s quest to arrive as one the world’s great urban centers.
Illinois, meanwhile, is advancing high-speed rail between two large cities. Funding for high-speed rail between Chicago and St Louis was announced just last month. The $102 million capital investment will surely help to develop more transit-oriented developments.
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