By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
New data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show the average American drove 9,360 miles in 2012—44 fewer miles than they drove in 2011. More surprising is that the peak in miles driven per person (aka vehicle miles traveled, VMT) occurred back in 2004, when Americans, on average, drove 10,118 miles. Driving per person is down 7.5 percent over the last 8 years. This persistent decrease in driving is occurring as transit ridership, bicycling, and walking are all increasing (e.g. The American Public Transit Public Association just announced a record 10.5 billion rides on US public transit in 2012; the 2012 Bike Walk Twin Cities Count Report shows that in the Twin Cities over the last 6 years bicycling is up by 51 percent and walking by 24 percent).
Looking at this trend in a different way, the FHWA also reports total miles driven in the US rose slightly in 2012, but the percentage of the increase was less than the increase in population for the year. Total miles driven in the US peaked at 3 trillion in 2006 and 2007, and hasn’t hit the 3-trillion-per-year mark again since.
A recent article from the State Smart Transportation Initiative at the University of Wisconsin Madison offers some reasons for this decline:
A variety of factors have been cited for the decline, including retiring Baby Boomers; less enthusiasm for cars among Millennials; a move in many places toward more compact and mixed-use development; and demand-side policy efforts, including TDM [travel demand management], tolling, and market-pricing of parking. In addition, some trends that fueled VMT growth in the last century have eased: The transition toward women working outside the home is essentially complete, car-ownership has gone from rare to common, and people’s time budgets for car travel may have reached their maximum.
As we await the release of Minnesota’s own 2012 numbers this May or June, what might the national decline in driving tell us about the future?
It’s good for the air, public health, and community livability.
This decline in driving should give us pause about adding to the size of our state highway system. Minnesota already has a large road network (the 5th largest road system in the US, and 8th largest regional highway system in the US), and in the future we could have trouble maintaining a highway system that doesn’t align with driving trends.
Our state should also consider and respond to the preferences of residents as we make investments. A recent statewide poll found widespread agreement among Minnesotans that transit is a good investment for the state, and also that building more roads will not solve traffic congestion alone.
We hope these changing travel patterns will mean a greater focus on investment in transit service and repair of the roadway system we have. The trends also reinforce the goal of retrofitting more of our roadway networks as complete streets—safer for people who are choosing different ways to get around.
For more on driving trends in Minnesota see information from MnDOT here (PDF).