From Emily Badger in the Washington Post:

The American decline in driving actually began way earlier than you think


I mentioned last week that car travel in America appears to have peaked backed in 2004. Since then, “vehicle miles traveled” per person in the U.S. have been falling or flat-lining, prompting a fascinating debate over whether we’re witnessing some fundamental shift in the American relationship to the car, or some economic blip instead.

Timothy J. Garceau, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Connecticut, and professors Carol Atkinson-Palombo and Norman Garrick offer a different way to think about the answer. …

Their results further challenge the argument that Americans have merely been driving less of late because of the bad economy: Washington state experienced “peak car travel” all the way back in 1992, and Nevada, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia all did before the new millennium. By this measure, peak car happened in D.C. in 1996.

“The longevity of this phenomenon at the state level,” the researchers write, “provides evidence that peak car travel in the U.S. is a more permanent phenomenon than previously thought.”

By 2011, the last year for which they gathered data, 48 of 50 states had peaked in miles traveled per capita. The two outliers: Alabama and North Dakota, where an energy boom has made the state a national exception on many fronts.

Here are the earliest states to experience peak car, starting with Washington in 1992:



More here.


An obvious question: Where are the British Columbia data?  And given the implications (Yes, Massey Bridge, I’m thinking of you), we had better find out.


  1. driving started to decline when oil price started to pick up in the mid 2000…
    (the “condoification” of US downtown in the 2000s could have to do with the trend too)

    At the time to design bothe Golden Ears bridge and the Port Mann bridge, those data was already there for everyone to see…study demonstrating that traffic projections were constantly overvaluated was already popping up

    For the Golden ears the original projection was this

    Obviously not a single private partner was willing to bet on it, all revenue risk supported by Translink in this P3, like for the Port Mann

    more detail here:

    1. It’s not as simple as you think Guest.

      When my dad retired his driving changed from two long trips per day to several short ones. Some weeks he drove more as a retiree than he ever did as a working man. My mom can no longer walk to the store so that’s another class of driving trips that have increased with age.

      I commute by bike/transit so when I retire I will definitely get around by car (my own, co-op, robo-taxi) far more than I do now.

      1. Actually when I retired I bought a bike and started riding around a lot more than I did before. I used to take the bus to work, now I ride all over the place because I don’t have the same time pressures I used to.

        1. My thinking is that I usually travel to places that are well served by transit. After retirement a smaller percentage of destinations will be convenient to reach by transit and my ability to carry heavy loads on my bike will be reduced. I’ve still lot of years to go before then so maybe my prediction will turn out to be wrong.

  2. Some redistribution was a logical expectation. Driving over the bridge takes a couple of minutes whereas waiting for the ferry could take almost two hours at peak times.

    I remember a letter to the editor from a tradesman complaining about the toll. He chose to drive from Maple Ridge to Mission and cross the free bridge and then drive Hwy. 1 from Abbotsford to Langley. I calculated at the time that it was costing him almost as much in fuel for his pickup as he was saving in bridge tolls. His commute was also 40 minutes/day longer so it was costing him both time and money, but he still did it. Commuting time is apparently worth absolutely nothing to him.

    That raises a really big question in my mind. How many other commuters also treat their commute time as completely worthless?

    If it’s a significant number, then every business case written to justify capacity improvements needs to be thrown in the trash and re-written placing much less value on time.

  3. per capita is somewhat misleading in a growing population like the US or Canada with 1% population growth and some cities 2-4 times that.

    And now with lower oil prices we may see more of it again, too.

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