This piece originally appeared on Mobilizing the Region.
Amid significant growth in transit commuting in New Jersey, rising CTTransit ridership in Connecticut, Metro-North’s recent gains and a 1.1 percent increase in ridership on the MTA’s subways and buses in 2011, transit boosters have another reason to cheer: A recently released report from the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) and Frontier Group has found that, since the middle of the last decade, Americans have been driving less and traveling by foot, bike or transit more. The trend, they found, is led by young people, age 16 to 34.
The report’s key findings are encouraging for transportation and sustainable development advocates:
• From 2001 to 2009, the annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (ages 16 to 34) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles—a drop of 23 percent. • In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds took 24 percent more bike trips than they did in 2001. • In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds walked to destinations 16 percent more frequently than in 2001 • Between 2001 and 2009, the annual number of miles traveled by 16 to 34 year olds on public transit such as trains and buses increased by 40 percent.
NJPIRG and Frontier Group also suggested that the trend away from car dependency among young people would endure, even as the economy rebounds. Young people, they said, would likely continue taking transit, cycling and walking for a variety of reasons, including:
• Legal and financial barriers to car ownership • The high price of fuel • Improved technology, which eases the use of public transit (real-time bus tracking, for example) • Environmental and health concerns
The report also found that a majority of Americans, regardless of age, prefer to live in areas of “smart growth” (defined as places with a mix of single family houses, apartments and condos, with stores, restaurants, libraries, schools and access to public transportation).
Credit: NJPIRG/Frontier Group
Clearly, Americans are demanding walkable, compact communities that offer a variety of transportation options, and reports from the New York metropolitan area bear this out. According to a recent poll, two-thirds of New Jerseyans believe that their state needs more walkable, sustainable communities; nearly three in four New Jerseyans said that they would definitely or probably like to live in such a community. In Connecticut, communities requested more than $13 million in transit-oriented development grants in 2011, although the state could only fund $5 million of them. In New York, the Lower Hudson Valley is crying out for public transit on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Now, more than ever, the region’s investment in transit, cycling and walking projects must keep pace with rising demand.