Monday, July 28, 2008

Driving Less

It's quite interesting, really, though it's a bit sad that many people don't have other options.

A report to be released Monday by the Transportation Department shows that over the past seven months, Americans have reduced their driving by more than 40 billion miles. Because of high gasoline prices, they drove 3.7% fewer miles in May than they did a year earlier, the report says, more than double the 1.8% drop-off seen in April.
A big barrier to policies (land use&zoning, transportation, etc.) is that so many people have never lived in an area where car-free existence is fathomable that they can't even picture it.

But will they work? Will the simple proximity and easy access to a train station necessarily compel residents of the new developments to use mass transit?

“It's hard to envision anyone would really give up their car and just take the train. Honestly, some of that concern sort of resonates throughout all of these communities,” said Warminster solicitor Michael Savona.

Simply having access to a train station isn't enough to make car-free existence attractive. Development must also include certain neighborhood amenities and retail which are within walking distance. But if people don't need a car to commute, you've taken away a big part of the reason they need a car. Add a walkable supermarket and you've taken away another big part. Have car sharing service around and you can cover the rest of any car needs without ownership. The point isn't that people will never want or use cars even if they are in transit-friendly places, the point is to create more affordable and desirable places which allow for reduced automobile dependency.

Much of the country is never really going to be easy to retrofit this way. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of car-dependent suburbs left after all the oil is gone! But there are plenty of places that can be greatly improved with minor land use changes.