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In car-crazed USA, auto usage, ownership in decline

It may not be noticeable at street level, but automobile travel is dropping in U. S. cities. That’s according to Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Citiesa recent report from U. S. PIRG. The consumer group says the typical American has reduced car trips by eight percent since 2004, when auto use peaked.

Driving is down in almost three-quarters of America’s largest urban areas from 2006 to 2011. Also down: the share of households that own cars. By contrast, most cities increased mass transit and cycling in this timeframe.

The report suggests that the troubled U. S. economy is not the explanation. U. S. PIRG cites data indicating that cities with the biggest automobile declines were only marginally impacted by the recession. The changes are instead attributed to municipal efforts to encourage less driving.

Other researchers have drawn less optimistic conclusions. “Many regions have seen congestion get worse as the economy gets better,” concludes the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in its latest Urban Mobility Report. The institute also finds that “traffic congestion for commuters is relatively stable over the last few years.”

The U. S. PIRG report recommends a shift away from expenditures on “expensive, unnecessary highways” toward road maintenance and clean transit.


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