If national statistics can be applied to EV World readers, fewer than one percent of you rode a bike today. In fact, you probably didn't even know that today, May 17, 2013, is 'Bike-to-Work' Day in most American cities.
Instead, like tens of millions of other Americans you probably drove your ton-and-half steel and glass chariot and in the process burned several gallons of hydrocarbons, generating as much as 60-100 pounds of CO2. That's what most of us do, day-in and day-out without much thought as to the impact not just on the environment but on our own bodies, our own minds.
But there is some good news to report on Bike-to-Work Day. We're actually driving fewer miles and spending less time (412 million hours) stuck in traffic; and nobody really quite knows why. After decades of a steady, seemingly inexorable climb in vehicle miles travelled or VMT, the upward trend has stalled.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently looked at this trend and in its A New Direction report, noted "a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States… is over."
Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term. The unique combination of conditions that fueled the Driving Boom—from cheap gas prices to the rapid expansion of the workforce during the Baby Boom generation—no longer exists.
U.S. PIRG sees the "Millennial generation" born between 1980 and 2000 as a important contributing factor. What is now the largest demographic group in the United States are, for the moment while they are still in their teens and 20's, driving 23% fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001.
Instead, notes U.S. PIRG…
Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving.
The big unknown for city planners and carmakers is what happens when this cohort of more than 78 million people enter their prime parenthood years from 34-54 that continues through to 2040. Will they opt to marry and raise families in urban neighborhoods or follow their grandparents out to suburbia, which today still obligates one to own an automobile.
U.S. PIRG developed three future scenarios: Steady State, Enduring Shift, Back to the Future. The first scenario involves see the Millennial-led driving decline continuing for another dozen years and even while population increases 21%, total VMT near the 2004 peak. Enduring Shift sees the trend begun by Millennials perpetuated into future generations resulting in only a 7% increase in driving by 2040. Back to the Future envisions Millennial readopting their parents driving habits with VMT climbing 24% by 2040.
What the research group recommends is a 'new vision for transportation policy' at the federal, state and local level the encompasses the following:
Plan for uncertainty. With future driving patterns uncertain, federal, state and local transportation officials should evaluate the costs and benefits of all transportation projects based on several scenarios of future demand for driving. Decision-makers should also prioritize those projects that are most likely to deliver benefits under a range of future circumstances.
Support the Millennials and other Americans in their desire to drive less. Federal, state and local policies should help create the conditions under which Americans can fulfill their desire to drive less. Increasing investments in public transportation, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure and intercity rail—especially when coupled with regulatory changes to enable the development of walkable neighborhoods—can help provide more Americans with a broader range of transportation options.
Revisit plans for new or expanded highways. Many highway projects currently awaiting funding were initially conceived of decades ago and proposed based on traffic projections made before the recent decline in driving. Local, state and federal governments should revisit the need for these “legacy projects” and ensure that proposals for new or expanded highways are still a priority in light of recent travel trends.
Refocus the federal role. The federal government should adopt a more strategic role in transportation policy, focusing resources on key priorities (such as repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure and the expansion of transportation options) and evaluating projects competitively on the basis of their benefits to society.
Use transportation revenue where it makes the most sense. Transportation spending decisions should be based on overall priorities and a rigorous evaluation of project costs and benefits—not on the source of the revenue.
Do your homework. Federal and state governments should invest in research to evaluate the accuracy and usefulness of transportation models and better understand changing transportation trends in the post-Driving Boom era.
As we've pointed out before here on EV World, one of the most cost effective investments cities can make is in cycling infrastructure, from cycle tracks to bike racks. Because of its support for bicycling, the city of Copenhagen, Denmark only has to spend around $94 per person on its road and highway infrastructure, while the city of Sydney, Australia spends over twice that amount per capita. Large bicycle share systems with thousands of bikes and hundred of docking stations can be built for what it costs to build a single mile of expressway.
Promoting cycling -- both conventional and electric-assist -- isn't some 'greenie' issue. It's an economic, dollars and common sense issue. There's less costly infrastructure to maintain, which means taxes can be lower; and the added benefit is, the citizenry will be healthier, and that helps cut rising medical costs.
Smart cities will recognize these advantages and respond appropriately, leading their citizens into a future were Bike-to-Work can safely be anyday of the year, not just on May 17th.
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