The new trend favors more transit

I was on the road this week in Ohio, briefing various transportation advocates and agency officials on NRDC's new polling data showing strong support for more balanced transport policies that favor public transit.

On the flight to Cleveland I perused the most recent issue of The Atlantic magazine and came across an interesting article about why the so-called Millenial generation isn't buying cars or houses. It touched on key issues raised in our poll by noting the undeniable "shift away from traditional suburbs toward denser, urban-light living." (This reminded me of a recent Grist article that decreed, "It's time to invest in city schools, healthy urban food systems, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, parks, and mass transit" because "failing that, America will likely remain a suburban nation, and that's not good for anyone.") But the point raised by The Atlantic is that the younger generation is pushing American society toward more sharing and closer living, which favors investment in transit over roads that feed sprawl.

That story dovetailed nicely with a CNN article earlier this week entitled, "Young Americans ditch the car." Apparently it's not just the recession that's keeping young people from this particular rite of passage. As the article explains, "One reason is demographic: The re-urbanization of America is giving more people access to public transportation. The advent of Zipcar and other car-on-demand businesses is eliminating the need to own and insure an expensive vehicle that often isn't driven much. But mostly it's the explosion of social media. Car ownership just may not be as socially important as it used to be."

The implication is that young people are opting out of auto-dependency because they can, thanks to smart phones that allow them to socialize with friends and also the fact that many Millenials are able to live car-free lifestyles in urban areas that offer mobility via public transportation. All the more reason to invest more in transit.

Then, yesterday, as I read USA Today over breakfast in the hotel I spotted a front-page story proclaiming front porches as the "must have" in housing. Thanks to consumer demand, these days two-thirds of new houses are smaller and feature a front porch. (I added a front porch to my house five years ago, so I get the appeal.) But smack-dab in the middle of the piece was this eye-opening comment from Stephen Melman, with the National Association of Home Builders, who called it a positive trend for "public transportation if new construction is starting to be built closer to employment centers or transit." That was followed by a quote from a Philly-based developer who confirmed, "That's what the market wants."

Yet another clarion call for more transit investment!

Finally, today the USA Today ran another related story -- this one about the decline in solo drivers commuting to work in this country. Partly due to "the dismal economy and skyrocketing gas prices" -- and I would argue the market forces driven by Millenials' lack of driving -- "the share of workers driving to work alone dropped slightly from 2010 to 2011 while commutes on public transportation rose nationally and in some of the largest metropolitan areas," according to new Census data. About two-thirds of U.S. metropolitan areas saw jumps in residents using public transit while the share driving to work alone dropped in about two-thirds or more. Just this week the American Public Transportation Association reported the sixth consecutive quarterly increase in ridership (with rail showing the biggest jump).

The reporter dubbed this "group commuting" -- riding buses, trains, subways or sharing cars or vans. I would call it common sense. After all, who wants to fight traffic every day when commuting by transit is so much easier and cheaper? Of course, that's easier said than done for most people. All the more reason to invest in expanding public transportation to make it more accessible and convenient for more Americans to use it.

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