Is Driving Still an American 'Rite of Passage'?

Economist Joe Cortright doesn't seem to think so. According to his findings, Americans are driving less, with Millennials leading the way, and this unprecedented trend is here to stay.

1 minute read

November 7, 2012, 6:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez


Though Americans have been driving less since 2005, predating the Great Recession, "the question of whether the decline in driving marked a sea change in the way we get around or simply reflected a drop in economic activity has been a matter of considerable debate," reports Stephen Miller.

According to findings presented recently by Cortright, that question may now be settled. When charting federal data on vehicles miles traveled (VMT) before and after the last 5 recessions, Cortright finds that the patterns following the most recent recession were exceptional. "In four of the five recessions, driving was either increasing or stagnant in the two years before the economic slowdown, and it quickly picked up steam during the recovery," reports Miller. "The only exception was the most recent recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. Before the recession, driving per person was dropping. After the recession, driving continued to fall."

Cortright's findings indicate that, "economic and cultural changes are leading to less driving."

"Many people who might otherwise live in the suburbs are choosing instead to live in places where they can get around by walking, biking, and taking transit," writes Miller. These trends are also corroborated by private data, which shows that "congestion in U.S. metropolitan areas has been dropping as well," adds Miller.

Monday, November 5, 2012 in D.C. Streetsblog

Aerial view of homes on green hillsides in Daly City, California.

Depopulation Patterns Get Weird

A recent ranking of “declining” cities heavily features some of the most expensive cities in the country — including New York City and a half-dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area.

April 10, 2024 - California Planning & Development Report

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

A view straight down LaSalle Street, lined by high-rise buildings with an El line running horizontally over the street.

Chicago to Turn High-Rise Offices into Housing

Four commercial buildings in the Chicago Loop have been approved for redevelopment into housing in a bid to revitalize the city’s downtown post-pandemic.

April 10, 2024 - Chicago Construction News

Aerial view of Macarthur Park lake with downtown Los Angeles skyline in background.

LA County Receives Reconnecting Communities Grants

Seven grant awards totaling $162 million will be used for planning, capital projects, and regional partnerships to reduce environmental harm and improve access in disadvantaged communities.

1 minute ago - Streetblog LA

View from middle of River Seine in Paris with Eiffel Tower on right side.

Seine Pollution Could Hinder Olympic Swim Events

Events like the triathlon could be impacted if tests continue to reveal high levels of dangerous bacteria in Paris’ famous river.

1 hour ago - Euronews Green

Four-story light-colored multifamily apartment building.

How Financing Restricts the Rental Housing Market

The way apartment buildings are financed has a major impact on supply and costs.

2 hours ago - Strong Towns

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.