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Driving Declines in Americas Cities

December 4, 2013

by Doug Short

One of my favorite long-term economic indicators has been the historical pattern of vehicle miles driven. I post a monthly update on the topic shortly after the Department of Transportation's Office of Highway Information publishes its latest data on Traffic Volume Trends.

My preferred way to analyze the data is on a per-capita basis, so I was particularly interested in a study release earlier today by U.S. PRIG on the decline of driving in major cities.

Here is an excerpt from the press release:

The report, "Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America's Biggest Cities," is based on the most current available government data. It is the first ever national study to compare transportation trends for America's largest cities and lists results for each. Among its national findings:

  • The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle -- either alone or in a carpool -- declined in 99 out of 100 of America's most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period averaged in U.S. Census data.
  • From 2006 to 2011, the average number of miles driven per resident fell in almost three-quarters of America's largest urbanized areas for which up-to-date and accurate Federal Highway Administration data are available (54 out of 74 urban areas).
  • The proportion of households without cars increased in 84 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011. The proportion of households with two cars or more cars decreased in 86 out of the 100 of these areas during that period.
  • The proportion of residents bicycling to work increased in 85 out of 100 of America's largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2007-2011.
  • The number of passenger-miles traveled per capita on transit increased in 60 out of 98 of America's large urbanized areas whose trends could be analyzed between 2005 and 2010.
The study found that cities with the largest decreases in driving were not those hit hardest by the recession. On the contrary, the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators.

Here is a link to the full report in PDF format.

Highly recommended is U.S. PRIG's earlier report, "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future" (also in PDF format).