When given the option, most millennials would prefer new running shoes to a Rolls Royce. OK, maybe that’s taking things a bit too far, but survey after survey shows millennials aren’t as “car crazy” as their parents.
For instance, recent data out of the American Planning Association suggested that over 50 percent of millennials want to live in highly walkable areas. Even more surprising, an increasing number of millennials aren’t interested in getting their driver’s license.
Believe it or not, the number of 16-year-olds with driver’s licenses fell from about 50 percent in the 1970s to 33 percent in 2008. AAA recently discovered that only 54 percent of millennials have a driver’s license by the time they turn 18.
Recent car sales also reflect this “disdain for driving” in the millennial generation. Between 2007 – 2011, car sales in America dropped by about 30 percent in the millennial demographic.
What’s With This “Carless Trend?”
By now, you’re probably wondering why millennials are migrating to carless transportation options. Well, there are many potential contributing factors, so let’s take a look at each one at a time.
First, compared with other generations, millennials tend to place a high priority on environmental concerns. Since bicycling and walking don’t leave a carbon footprint, they are desirable options for eco-conscious millennials.
Related to the environment, many millennials are attracted to non-car alternatives because they’re great for physical fitness. Interestingly, recent survey results found that at least half of millennials participate in intensive workouts at least once per week. Another survey by AARP found that 44 percent of millennials liked walking because it gave them a chance to exercise.
But it’s not all fitness and forests that “drive” millennials to walkable neighborhoods—some are just interested in frugality. Data from the AARP study found that about 46 percent of millennials choose transportation options based on money issues.
It’s important to remember that millennials are living through times of unprecedented economic change. Millennials were coming of age during the 2008 Financial Crisis and now have to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it’s no surprise that finances play a partial role in this shift towards low-cost transportation options.
Another reason millennials are turning away from cars has to do with the incredible rise in ride-share services. And we’re not just talking about Uber and Lyft (although millennials disproportionately use these companies). Many cities have created bike-share and scooter-share programs that have been extremely popular amongst millennials.
Could American Cities Get Less Car-Friendly?
As more millennials search for homes in walkable neighborhoods, many US cities will likely re-think urban design in the ensuing years. Indeed, we’re already getting a taste for how American cities might transform during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As more Americans choose to walk or ride bicycles due to the coronavirus, many city leaders are experimenting with car-free streets. For instance, cities like Oakland and San Francisco created “Slow Streets” initiatives that promote social distancing in select areas.
Although it’s unclear whether these carless streets will remain post-COVID, initiatives like “Slow Streets” help Americans re-think car-centric city designs. As millennials come of age, it’s safe to say “walkability” will be a primary focus in the future of urban design.