Thursday, June 21, 2012

Getting the keys to the family car: not as cool as it used to be

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.

Recently in Atlanta, there has been a good deal (and yet not enough) discussion about the upcoming vote on a regional transportation referendum. The need for the referendum, as is explained by the Untie Atlanta effort, which was organized by the Citizens for Transportation Mobility, is because: "Traffic is choking metro Atlanta. Billions of dollars are wasted in traffic congestion each year, costing the average metro commuter $924 annually in wasted fuel and lost time." The case statement goes further to address the impact on businesses, job creation, and housing values, but as they say, you had me at hello. The issue is by no means a simple one, but as someone who is often stymied by the lack of transportation options, I feel strongly that if we miss this opportunity to work on a true regional scale, then we will be taking a giant leap backwards.

Obviously, as a member of the Market Street team, this opportunity is one that I consider from the lens of holistic economic development planning. So the potential to improve our quality of life, infrastructure, and overall competitiveness is what dominates the referendum discussions I have with friends and colleagues. But on a personal level, I just don't like driving and would really love to spend less time in traffic.

And I know I'm not alone, which almost goes without saying and hardly needs any evidence provided for that statement to be convincing. But I'll provide a little extra information anyway... What's interesting to me is the trends that are coming our way. Young Americans increasingly seem to not only share my preferences, but increasingly, they are actually living out their preferences, which translates to living without cars.

As reported this month in the Kiplinger Letter, a quarter of the driving age population don't have a license. Moreover, a recent University of Michigan study determined that approximately 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage had dropped to about 75 percent, which is comparable to rate changes for all teen age groups.

Our future workforce is telling us they don't want to drive, and yet most communities (including Atlanta) have few transportation alternatives. Clearly the winners will be the communities that proactively plan for better options. I hope Atlanta is on that list.