Conventional thinking holds that congestion stifles the economy. Sitting in traffic or having it take longer to get someplace important would seem to be a drain on productivity. On the contrary, a group of Texas researchers looking at travel survey data from the Puget Sound area of Washington State found that travelers exposed to traffic congestion and travel delay will simply find a means of getting from point A to point B that doesn’t rely on driving. Their novel approach incorporates data on whether people choose to live in places that support their preferred travel options or way of life, addressing the question of residential self-selection.
Americans are still driving less than before the pandemic
Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the U.S. totaled 3.17 trillion last year, according to preliminary estimates from FHWA. That is a one percent increase from 2021 and a nine percent increase from 2020—the height of the pandemic—but still nearly three percent lower than VMT in 2019. After accounting for population growth, the average American drove four percent less in 2022 than in 2019 and six percent less than the highest point in 2004.
Many are optimistic about the decarbonization blueprint
The Biden administration’s newly released National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization represents an historic mission alignment among federal agencies to meet an economy-wide goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050. The U.S. Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, have developed this joint strategy to guide the decarbonization of the transportation sector—the largest GHG contributor, currently generating roughly one-third of U.S. emissions.
Higher gas usage may point to pandemic era travel patterns
When gas prices rise it seems reasonable to expect people to economize by driving less. According to one indicator brought to light by Eno Center for Transportation, gasoline usage in the U.S.—and by extension driving—hit an all-time high during fiscal year 2022. During the same period gas prices were the highest we’ve seen—adjusted for inflation—since the great recession that began in 2008. But the U.S. is swiftly returning to pre-pandemic levels of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), perhaps due to pandemic-era travel patterns and relocations.
New study finds households with constrained parking drive fewer miles
More studies over the years have shown us that the price and availability of parking has a strong influence on people’s travel choices. A ten-year-old study from New York, for instance, called attention to the influence of parking availability on people’s decision to drive to work. Several years later, I led a study connecting long-term parking growth to citywide increases in car commuting. Now a new study by a cohort of researchers across North America, including myself, makes that connection even clearer by drawing a direct line from residential parking ratios to household VMT.
Partially automated vehicles increase VMT
Numerous studies have raised concerns that self-driving cars could flood our roads with more traffic, as commuters travel longer distances and cars drive themselves in and out of central cities to avoid parking. Fully autonomous vehicles are probably a ways off, giving policymakers time to grapple with the potential impacts, but new research suggests that even common features found in cars today like adaptive cruise control and lane guidance lead to increased vehicle miles traveled.
Millennials aren’t driving as much as previous generations
The consumption choices and lifestyle preferences of Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—and their differences from those of the previous generations have repeatedly piqued academic and policy makers’ interests. Although some suggest they might just be slower in adopting previous trends, a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that they are a generation that prefers to drive about 8-9 percent less than Generation X and Baby Boomers, and that they might continue to drive less as they get older.
Dog owners drive more, but policy and design changes could help lessen the need
We all can identify a walkable neighborhood, whether we live in one or know what we expect to see in one: good sidewalks, connectivity to surrounding areas, and many destinations. But new research suggests those considerations might be significantly different for dog owners. Since more than one third of households own dogs, complexity is thrown into concepts like the “15-minute city” or cities designed for all age groups and abilities.
Perception and psychology may explain why drivers speed when volume is low
Changed travel behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced congestion and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), even while traffic deaths continue to rise. Evidence shows that open roads, speeding, and other dangerous driving behaviors go hand-in-hand. But what is it about people that leads them to speed and drive dangerously in the first place?
Major roads undercut safety benefits of highly accessible places
In working with transportation agencies across the U.S., our team often faces questions about the role of safety in accessibility analysis. While we know the safety and comfort of streets clearly impacts access for people on foot or bicycle, the effects of accessibility on overall safety haven’t been clear. Fortunately, leading experts in both accessibility and traffic safety recently teamed up to answer this question.