8. Meeting the Needs of Coming Generations
Throughout the 20th century cars meant more than transportation in the imagination of Americans — they were potent symbols of personal success, even sexiness. It's a new era today, because the rising millennials (the largest generation in American history) view transportation quite differently. As noted earlier, the car is only one way to get around for these young people who are now entering the workforce in massive numbers and want a variety of transportation choices, including public transit, biking and walking.
In fact, 70 percent of people age 18 to 34 regularly rely upon two or more forms of transportation each week, according to the survey Millennials & Mobility. Millennials interviewed rank transit highest of all travel modes for connecting to other forms of transportation in the study, which also notes that smartphones give public transit riders more opportunities to be flexible and spontaneous in choosing routes and times.
Young people today are driving less than previous generations. Research from the Federal Highway Administration found miles traveled by drivers ages 16 to 24 dropped five miles per day (22 percent) between 2001 and 2009. Over the same period, the number of miles traveled on public transportation by 16 to 34 year olds increased 40 percent per capita. Even Motor Trend magazine admits, "Today's young people appear to have less interest in driving and owning a car than do their … older counterparts."
A study done by the National Association of Realtors found that 62 percent of people age 18 to 29 would prefer to live in a neighborhood with public transit options, sidewalks and businesses nearby than in a neighborhood with large lots but without transit or sidewalks. The study also found that better public transportation was rated by people of all ages as the number one "community need" and the "preferred answer to reducing traffic congestion."
9. Boosting Our Health (and Cutting America's Medical Costs)
An often overlooked benefit of broadening our transportation options beyond cars is improved public health. Biking and walking allow people to get exercise in the course of daily activities, rather than trying to squeeze a workout into their already crowded schedules.
Public transit also boosts physical activity. Almost all bus and train trips involve a walk on both ends of the ride. If a person takes transit even just twice a day and the walks are only seven-and-a-half minutes each, they've already hit the magic healthy number: 30 minutes of moderate daily physical activity, which significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's, depression, diabetes, colon cancer, stroke, obesity and many other conditions, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Intensive study of public health in neighborhoods before and after a light rail line was constructed in Charlotte, North Carolina, confirms the important role of public transit in promoting moderate physical activity. Researchers publishing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine conclude that increasing the public's use of light rail transit (LRT) systems could "provide improvements in health outcomes for millions of individuals."
A comprehensive study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, a Canadian think tank, finds that public transit riders get three times the daily exercise as those who drive. Other health benefits of public transportation cited in the study include fewer traffic accidents, less stress and cleaner air.
10. Relieving Traffic Congestion
The benefits of more transportation choices extend even to people who drive everywhere. Recent research shows that trains and buses improve traffic congestion more than previously believed.
Critics of public transit frequently charge that bus and trains don't make a dent in congestion levels, but a study from University of California-Berkeley professor Michael L. Anderson concludes that "transit riders are likely to be individuals who commute along routes with the most severe roadway delays." The choices made by these individuals have a "very high” impact on congestion.
11. Curbing Global Climate Change
Between 1990 (when climate change was first widely recognized as a threat) and 2006, transportation accounted for almost half of all growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., with surface transportation accounting for 85 percent. By contrast, more than 35 percent of public transit buses on America's streets now are hybrid vehicles or use alternative fuels, both of which reduce CO2 pollution.
If a person commuting 20 miles round-trip to work switches to public transit, biking or walking, it reduces his or her carbon footprint by at least 4,800 tons — which is equal to about 10 percent of all greenhouse emissions in a typical two-adult, two-car household.
Trains, buses, biking and walking help make a greener world through less emissions and also by encouraging close-knit, energy-efficient neighborhoods. An EPA report highlights the potential of public transit-oriented development to strengthen the environmental quality of our communities, land resources, air, water and wild ecosystems.
Jay Walljasper is a Minneapolis-based writer, consultant and speaker who specializes in livability topics. This article is adapted from a report he wrote for Rail-Volution, a nonprofit organization that works to integrate transportation into the creation of more livable communities. Jay is also the co-author of America's Walking Revolution, a free book published by America Walks.
Published April 2015