Thursday, January 9, 2014


One of my favorite urban legends is, "Kids/teenagers/millenials don't drive anymore." By itself, the Young People Don't Drive canard would merely be humorous and harmless. Unfortunately, the anecdotal "evidence" behind this claim is now being used by urban planners to reduce parking spaces, and cheat on transportation capacity standards.

Certainly, many young people do walk, bike or use transit. It's a commendable choice. When it makes sense to do so, why wouldn't you? Where the problem comes in, is when planning changes are made based on a myth, and then you have a transportation system that can't handle the volumes that exist in reality.

Reality is the key word. You can conveniently forget the new driver's license hurdles created by many states in recent years, and then twist that data to extrapolate that those teens won't drive when they can later. And you can say teens would rather have an iPhone than a car, but only if you weren't out in the real world, where kids not old enough to drive already have the latest smartphones. There must be a special button in Photoshop that allows you to create fake travel photos. There isn't? Gosh, then how are young folks generating all these "road trip!" shots on social media?

Stop by the Rockville campus of Montgomery College around 11:00 AM, and try to convince yourself that young people are giving up the automobile. Google "the cars of GW." Or check out the car clubs of Penn State, the University of Maryland, or the University of Calgary.

My favorite recent story about young auto enthusiasts was in Bloomberg Businessweek. According to the article, Chinese high school and college students have spent $15.5 billion dollars purchasing cars in the United States between 2012-2013. "A little more than half the vehicles bought by Chinese students in the U.S. during the 22-month period [CNW Marketing Research] studied were new, with an average purchase price of $52,796; and 32 percent of buyers paid cash," Businessweek reported.

In Eugene, Oregon (the town supporters of Bus Rapid Transit in Montgomery County keep referring to us as a model), the University of Oregon has an International Student Auto Club. "While members throw barbecues and help new students navigate the car-buying process," the article notes, "their favorite thing to do is gather in parking lots with their rides." It sounds like California car culture is not only alive and well, but crossing international and political borders.

As top tech and automotive firms refine the technology that will eventually allow autonomous vehicles, the American automobile is far from extinction. That means adequate highway capacity remains a critical necessity in planning. A former DC transportation official was recently quoted saying that we are witnessing the last generation of private automobile ownership. But again, reality is quite different.

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