Young People Really Are Driving Less

Many who presently live in the car-centric White Flint area have trouble envisioning our lives without our vehicles.  But, as I share with some frequency, there is a rising trend among the younger generation to avoid cars altogether.  Young adults and, particularly young professionals, are graduating from school with mountains of debt and find themselves reluctant to assume more in the form of a car. They’d rather use any extra funds on technology and socializing.  But, they also cite environmental reasons and connecting with their communities as reasons to eschew the car.

“The share of 14- to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license was 26 percent in 2010, up from 21 percent in 2000, the study says, quoting the Federal Highway Administration. In 2009, the 16- to 34-year-old age group took 24-percent-more bike trips than in 2001, even as its population shrank by 2 percent. The same age group walked to more destinations in ’09 than in ’01, and the distance it traveled by public transit increased 40 percent,” according to Motor Trend Magazine.

Phineas Baxandall authored a report on this very concept and the underlying factors.  “There has been ‘an extraordinary shift’ in how people travel… For eight years in a row, Americans have been driving less on a per-person basis than the year before,” he said.  This shift has come at the same time as “increases in the use of the Internet, cellphones and smartphones, with younger Americans more likely to own a smartphone,” he says.

This demographic of young people is looking for urban, walkable settings where they can reach their destination with ease and via a variety of modalities.  Although we’re seeing it most among Generation Y, these trends are popping up all along the lifespan.  Not everyone wants to get behind the car for every trip.  Having a choice is important to many people.  Between the community we’re working to build in White Flint and the improved connectivity offered by Rapid Transit, we’re on the way to being the destination people seek.

Should Road Safety Be A Community Health Issue?

In recent years, many health professionals and community planners started focusing their attention on the connections between the built environment and health, especially the issue of obesity.

Robert Steuteville, a writer for Better Cities & Towns’ blog, recently discussed a report focused on health and urbanism completed by Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT). Steuteville believes that this report is missing a major issue that we all face everyday that can affect everyone’s health: car crashes. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death for people ages 5-34. As car fatalities happen more often among younger populations, it makes this issue more serious. We can see that car accidents are affecting our health but as of now, “vehicle crashes are not fully addressed as a community health issue because all Americans have been facing this danger their entire lives.” With the more recent trend in community development of updating or in some cases creating biking and pedestrian infrastructure throughout suburbs and urban areas, the public needs to take a serious look at how they approach road safety, and perhaps start considering it as a community health issue.

Steuteville’s most relevant point in his post for us here in White Flint is the reason for the higher number of car accidents occurring in suburbs versus cities. Suburbs are often seen as safer than cities but when it comes to road safety, that is whole other story. Suburbs often havesprawling and disconnected street networks,” providing more chances for accidents to occur. Residents in the White Flint area can completely understand this point, which is why creating a connected street grid is so essential for the Sector Plan.

Health professionals and community developers focus much of their attention and money on the built environment, since the built environment can help reduce health costs. Roads, streets, and transportation infrastructure can help reduce health costs if they are designed to be productive and safe. This brings us back to the model of complete streets, which works to incorporate both road/traffic safety and issues of health such as obesity. We deserve to have streets we feel safe and secure traveling on whether that be by foot, bicycle, car, or bus. In addition, we should have spaces that encourage physical activity such as walking and bicycling. To have a holistic approach towards redevelopment, both of these issues need to be considered. So yes, road safety is a community health issue and should be treated like one too, just like obesity.