The Atlantic Cities: Is Urbanism Slowing the Rise of Car Travel?
Early last week the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a sustainable transport program funded by the Department of Transportation, released some charts on the continued decline of vehicle-miles traveled in the United States. Overall VMT dropped 1.2 percent in 2011 from the previous year, reaching its lowest total since 2003, and per capita VMT fell 2.1 percent to levels not seen since 1998:
Researchers have been saying for several years now that cities in the United States and other developed countries may have reached "peak driving" — a level of vehicle miles at or near the saturation point. The idea is that the sheer volume of VMT can't possibly rise at the same rate it did in the second half of the 20th century, so mileage will either increase far more modestly than it has in the recent past, or perhaps even start to decline.
So far that prediction seems on point. SSTI notes a DOT study from 2006 [PDF] that estimated a rise of 50 to 60 percent in VMT from 2001 to 2025. That would be a significantly slower rise than over the previous 25-year period, 1977 to 2001, during which VMT rose 151 percent. But even this conservative estimate now seems incredibly generous: "In the first 10 years of the period, per capita VMT actually declined by nearly 3 percent," SSTI reports.
The 64-mile-per-gallon question is why. ...