InTrans / Aug 21, 2014

Suburban sprawl series: Young people driving less

Go! Magazine

Brick buildingposted on August 21, 2014

The Suburban Sprawl Series is a two-part story of how our roadways impact our living spaces, and vice versa. The suburban sprawl trend that rapidly took hold in the 1950s still influences our housing and transportation options today. This series is meant to inform upcoming generations about how their decisions on where to live impacts our transportation environment, as well as their own personal lives. For information on the history of suburban expansion, read: “Wait, what is a suburb?”

Christy and Jim are both 25 and are on their way to work this morning. When Jim goes to work, he rides his bike to the nearest train, which takes him right to his job. Christy gets in her car and has a 12 mile commute, which mainly consists of highway travel. Can you guess whether Jim or Christy live in the city?

If you guessed Jim, you are correct! More people from Jim and Christy’s generation are beginning to transition towards Jim’s lifestyle. Their generation, the Millennials, consists of those Americans born from 1980–1999. Millennials are reportedly driving less, which is drastically changing the national trend. Previously, vehicular travel had experienced steady increase every year for six decades (US PIRG). With a greater desire for non-vehicular transportation options and a passion for eco-friendly habits, Millennials are reinventing the way Americans have lived for the past 60 years. And since people in the Millennial generation are reconsidering their transportation options, they must also are rethink their decision on where to live. Living priorities are no longer solely based on location, but on ease of access to amenities as well.

Millennials are already the largest generation in the United States and their choices will play a crucial role in determining future transportation infrastructure needs. 1 – US PIRG

Smart growth

Smart growth is a tactic used by city planners to develop and maintain living spaces to support healthy communities. The approach works to limit suburban sprawl and instead create more sustainable living environments. Smart growth development has great potential to serve the needs and wants of the Millennial generation. Reports say Millennials desire urban livelihoods that are conducive to walking, more non-vehicular transportation options, and more mobile technology-based transportation applications (US PIRG).

The recent reduction in driving and embrace of less auto-dependent ways of living by Millennials and others creates a golden opportunity for America to adopt transportation policies that use resources more efficiently, preserve our existing infrastructure, and provide support for Americans seeking alternatives to car travel. 2 – US PIRG

What would smart growth look like?

Smart growth can take on many different illustrations. An example of smart growth is shown in Figure 1. The photo incorporates several smart growth characteristics: mixed land use (housing above shops), various public transportation options, and walkable neighborhoods.

Figure 1. An example of mixed-use zoning in Bitola, Macedonia
Figure 1. An example of mixed-use zoning in Bitola, Macedonia. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Smart growth reflects many of the popular trends the Millennials have started. For the past six decades, our transportation efforts have prioritized personal vehicle travel. With more non-vehicular transit options trending, there is an opportunity to switch to a more sustainable transportation and housing infrastructure.

Future generations

Decisions on where and how people choose to live have a major impact on transportation trends. If generations to come continue to support smart growth trends, America’s transportation and housing infrastructure could include walkable neighborhoods, mixed use zoning, bike-friendly pathways, and other non-vehicular public transit options.

Green careers: Want to create a sustainable living and transportation system?

Are you interested in creating a sustainable community, area, or city? If so,consider these careers:

  • City and Regional Planning
  • Civil Engineering
  • Construction Management
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Design Geography
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Transportation Engineering


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By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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