Americans Shifting Away From the Auto, Maybe

The auto may no longer be "the quintessential symbol of American mobility, status and independence," opines Robert J. Samuelson for The Washington Post, as the latest demographic and auto ownership data point to a change in American mobility.

July 12, 2016, 5:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Cars and Herbie

JD Hancock / Flickr

"Now there are signs that the car and its many offshoots (SUVs, pickup trucks) are losing their grip on the American psyche and pocketbook," writes Samuelson, economics columnist for The Post.

The car culture may be dying or, at any rate, slumping into a prolonged era of eclipse. The only question is whether the signs of change can be believed. It’s not clear.

Clearly SUVs and light trucks have not lost favor with American passenger vehicle consumers, as 2015 sales numbers show. Samuelson's observations do appear to hold up, though, for compact cars, hybrids, and electric vehicles, sadly (from an environmental perspective), as "crossovers replace the family car."

Fewer drivers

"Just recently, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published figures — first reported on the Atlantic magazine’s CityLab website — indicating that the number of licensed drivers 16 or younger in 2014 had dropped 37 percent since 2009 and, at 1.08 million, was 'the lowest number since the 1960s," writes Samuelson.

More impressive, the trend seems long term. A report from the Highway Loss Data Institute [supported by the auto insurance industry] cites studies showing that from 1983 to 2010 the share of 16-year-olds with a license fell from 46 percent to 28 percent; over the same period, the share of licensed 17-year-olds declined from 69 percent to 46 percent .

"It's not only young adults who are delaying in getting drivers licenses, but a drop in licenses among [almost] all age groups according to a new analysis of license data from 1983-2014 by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute," notes a January post here. "The only age group to show a slight increase (in drivers licenses) since 2008 is the 70-and-older crowd," according to UMTRI."

Auto ownership

Samuelson provides various reasons for the decline in youths with drivers licenses, debated here as well, and points to "a new study by Federal Reserve economists Christopher Kurz, Geng Li and Daniel Vine...[that] suggests that most potential young buyers couldn’t afford a new vehicle or didn’t want to incur the debt and operating expenses of doing so. Economic considerations dominated." Of course, there's a major difference between getting a license and owning a motor vehicle.

Whether it be economic or cultural, the trends are pointing to a lessening in the nation's systemic auto addiction. But Samuelson ends on a sober tone.

"We simply don’t know," he writes, referring to the future of American mobility.

What we do know is that we are, to a large extent, prisoners of the past. The car created today’s residential geography, and it cannot be repealed simply or swiftly.

Hat tip to Kenyon Karl.

Sunday, July 10, 2016 in The Washington Post

Indian Trail, North Carolina

Four ‘Low-Hanging Fruit’ Zoning Reforms

An excerpt from the latest book on zoning argues for four approaches to reform that can immediately improve land use regulation in the United States.

June 26, 2022 - M. Nolan Gray

Car Traffic

San Francisco Just Ended Single-Family Zoning

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to Tuesday to eliminate single-family zoning, but pro-development advocates say additional changes are needed to unleash a wave of construction.

June 29, 2022 - San Francisco Chronicle

Rent

U.S. Rental Market Crosses a New Threshold of Affordability

In a first for the country's rental market, most U.S. apartments are asking for more than $2,000 to rent, according to data recently published by Redfin.

June 21, 2022 - Redfin

New Jersey Power Plant

Supreme Court Guts the U.S. EPA’s Ability to Limit Carbon Emissions

The consequences of this ruling have long been foretold. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now officially barred from the fight against climate change, Congress will have to act to reduce carbon emissions.

June 30 - Yahoo News

Central Los Angeles

California Approves Revised Los Angeles Housing Element

State officials officially approved the city’s housing plan, which was initially rejected for not doing enough to enhance housing equity.

June 30 - Urbanize LA

A fly fisher casts on a fog-covered river.

Lawsuit Could Open Public Access to Colorado Rivers

Colorado is one of few U.S. states that has decided that private property owners supersede the public when it comes to access to rivers and streams.

June 30 - High Country News

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

International Real Estate Strategies and Deal Negotiation

Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education

Affordable Housing: Principles for Changing Domestic and Global Markets

Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education

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.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.