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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.