News Release

Study Shows Driving Decline in America’s Cities

Car Use, Public Transit, and Biking Trends Compared in 100 Largest U.S. Cities
For Immediate Release

BOSTON – A first-of-its-kind report by U.S.PIRG Education Fund details reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in America’s most populous urbanized areas, as well as greater use of public transit and biking in most cities.

“There is a shift away from driving,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “The cities in this report are home to most of America’s population and are engines of the economy. Policy leaders need to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. Instead of expanding new highways, our government leaders should focus on investing in public transit and biking for the future.”

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.

“Government should support transportation initiatives that reflect these travel trends,” said Baxandall. “Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars continuing to enlarge our grandfather’s Interstate Highway System, we should invest in the kinds of transportation options that the public increasingly favors.”

The Millennial generation, which will comprise that largest share of future travelers, is leading these trends. Previous research by U.S. PIRG Education Fund has shown that across the nation, young people have the steepest reductions in driving. Americans 16 to 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Download the new report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities” here.

To read an earlier U.S.PIRG Education Fund report on the implications of the national decline in driving, download, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” download here.

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