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Young People Drive 23 Percent Less Than They Did in 2001

Young people also biked more, walked more, and took more trips on public transit than they did in 2001, according to a new report.

Back in 2001, I still lived in my parents’ house, in the middle of New Jersey. From there, I could walk to a neighbor’s house, or across a country road to a nature preserve, or—with cars whizzing by 50 miles per hour—down to the crossroads, where there was a post office and a sandwich shop and not much else. So mostly, I drove.

I wasn't alone. According to a new report [PDF]. people in between age 16 and 34 drove 10,300 vehicle-miles per capita that year. By 2009, the year I moved to Manhattan and began walking or taking public transit everywhere I went, my fellow young people drove only 7,900 vehicle-miles per capita—a 23 percent drop. Members of my generation biked more, walked more, and took more trips on public transit than they did in 2001, according to the report, from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group. They took fewer trips in cars, and the trips that they did take were shorter.

The report attributes this shift in part to people making the same choices that I did, choosing to live in cities or small-but-dense communities that might have a coffee shop, a few restaurants, a yoga studio or a gym, and a few stores within walking distance.

The real estate industry is particularly interested in these preferences because it wants to be able to sell or rent young folks places to lives. A survey by the National Association of Realtors found that 62 percent of young people (between age 18 and 29, in this case) want to live in communities where homes are close to stores, restaurants, and public amenities from libraries to public transportation. More than half of us would also accept less space in exchange proximity to these resources, according to the real estate research group RCLCO, which also found that 77 percent of Millennials plan to live in cities.

The driving habits report also found that young people with jobs, especially those with income to spare, are choosing to drive less. Young people living in households with at least $70,000 in income more than doubled their use of public transportation between 2001 and 2009. These shifts aren’t happening just because the economy has been bad.

These are difficult changes to make, and in the future, it’ll be important to ensure that people with less financial flexibility can afford to live in the dense neighborhoods that make these choices easier. But for now, it’s refreshing to know that we’re making these choices because we want to, not because we have to.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user DaveFayram

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