The feds have finally–albeit quietly–admitted that America’s driving boom is over. The Federal Highway Administration’s most recent forecast of Vehicle Miles Travelled predicts that growth in driving per capita will be much flatter in the future. This a far more accurate prediction than their past claims that driving rates will once again grow rapidly in the US, since VMT has hardly increased over the last decade.
It’s a huge sign that the era of cars is coming to an end. But how did we get here in the first place? In reality, automobiles in the 1920s struggled to gain popularity because of traffic and fatalities. One of the reasons for their eventual success was because of interference from special interests. The car industry and road builders lobbied the government to build roads that were more suitable for cars, and urged them to create a gas tax to fund highways. It resulted in decades of suburban growth, but at what cost? After generations of rapid suburbanization, we can no longer afford to maintain our streets and sidewalks, and our economic resilience and financial productivity are dismal.
We’ve invested so much in urban highways, only to find out that they might actually destroy wealth rather than help build it. While conventional planning saw infrastructure investment as a way to stimulate the American economy, it turns out that building highways has turned out to be more expensive than investing in public transit and failed to create long lasting economic growth. In fact, older cities adjacent to highways might be worse off economically as a result of the traffic and pollution produced by them.
Dense, walkable urbanism is the new ideal in urban planning, and it’ll be exciting to see the wide-scale changes that’ll take place over the next few decades.