by German Lopez
As local officials struggle with streetcar and interchange, report demands new direction
Americans are driving less, and fewer Americans are driving, according to a May 14 report
from the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), an advocacy
organization. For Cincinnati, the trend might justify a recent shift in
public policy that embraces more transportation options, including more
bike lanes and a streetcar.
“Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight
years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill
Clinton’s first term,” the report reads. “The unique combination of
conditions that fueled the Driving Boom — from cheap gas prices to the
rapid expansion of the workforce during the Baby Boom generation — no
longer exists. Meanwhile, a new generation — the Millennials — is
demanding a new American Dream less dependent on driving.”
The report also says U.S. transportation policy “remains stuck in the past” and needs to “hit the ‘reset’ button.”
The report, which uses U.S. Department of Transportation
data from 2012, found Americans were driving about 9,000 miles a year
per person in 2012, down from a peak of nearly 10,000 in 2004. Until the
peak, Americans had been driving more miles each year since the end of
World War II.
The report finds the driving trend at odds with other means of transportation: “On the other
hand, Americans took nearly 10 percent more trips via public
transportation in 2011 than we did in 2005. The nation also saw
increases in commuting by bike and on foot.”
The report attributes much of the shift to millennials,
members of the generation born between 1983 and 2000, which the report
says are more likely to demand public transportation and urban and
walkable neighborhoods. The new expectations are
largely driven by Internet-connected technologies, which are “rapidly
spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans
relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected,
vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving,” according to the
PIRG finds the trend will likely stick as gas
prices continue to rise, fewer Americans participate in the labor force
and Americans demands less time spent in travel.
Even if millennials begin driving more in the future, the
report’s findings show Americans are going to be driving much less in
2040 than federal agencies currently assume. “This raises the question
of whether changing trends in driving are being adequately factored
into public policy,” the report reads.
The report concludes local, state and federal governments
should react to the new trend by planning for uncertainty, accommodating
millennials’ demands, reviewing the need for more highway projects,
adapting federal priorities, using transportation funds based on cost-benefit analyses and conducting more transportation research.
For Cincinnati, the trend could have implications for two
major transportation projects: the MLK/I-71 Interchange and the
The streetcar project uses capital funding sources — some uniquely tied to mass transit projects — that some opponents argue should be reallocated to support the MLK/I-71 Interchange project.
But the report’s findings seem to support the city’s
current plans to push forward with mass transit projects like the streetcar, even while
local funding for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project remains uncertain.
After making changes based on feedback from public
meetings, the Ohio Department of Transportation priced the interchange
project at $80 million to $102 million, or $10 million to $32 million
higher than the previous estimate of $70 million.
The higher price didn’t lead to the same outcry that resulted from the streetcar project’s $17.4 million cost overrun, likely because of the interchange project’s broader support, secure state funding and feedback-driven circumstances.
Still, the city could share some of the higher cost burden
for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project. Previously, the city planned to
use funds raised by leasing its parking assets to the Port Authority for the interchange, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
In 2012, the city adopted Plan Cincinnati,
the city’s first master plan since 1980. The plan advocates for more
alternative methods of public transportation, particularly light rail
and bike lanes. But the master plan does not establish means of funding,
so City Council will have to approve funding over time to implement the