Guest Post: It’s the End of Car Culture As We Know It
This week, the New York Times took a look at the “end of car culture,” analyzing America’s trend away from car ownership as other modes of transportation continue to rise in popularity and use. Cynthia Hoyle, a planner with Orion Planning Group and a League Cycling Instructor, offers her thoughts on this cultural shift in this guest post.
Having grown children in their 20’s, employing interns from the planning graduate program at the University of Illinois, and staying in contact with many of my former interns who are now out and working, I have a lot of contact with folks in their 20’s.
My observation is that this generation is not as interested in cars as previous generations. With a few exceptions, I do not hear excited conversations about buying cars — it is not the accomplishment it was for some of my classmates right after getting a job out of grad school in the 80’s. The auto companies have been slow to grasp this fact, as demonstrated in the backlash to the ad that GM ran on college campuses in 2011. The response ad from Giant more closely reflects the feelings of this generation.
I often hear discussions from this generation about how they are not sure they will be able to find a job someplace where they can live without a car. A car is generally seen, at best, as a necessary, but expensive, tool for transportation. They mostly prefer using transit, bicycles, and car share programs when they can. They would rather spend their money traveling abroad, on new electronic equipment, etc. Cars are not very cool.
As this generation marries and begins to have children, they may shift to more car use, but it will not be an enthusiastic transition. My mother offered to buy my daughter a new car when she graduated and my daughter told her she didn’t want one — but a new bicycle would be great. (She has no student loans, but feels cars are expensive, a lot of trouble, and bad for the planet.) That said, my daughter’s boyfriend, who is in grad school, did buy a used car and he loves to work on it.
I live in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and we have documented a leveling off of driving and significant increases in transit ridership, increases in bicycling rates, and continued reasonably high rates of walking (17% in Urbana). Fewer students bring cars to the University of Illinois every year, and the sales of parking permits has been declining in both cities and at the U of I. Installation of more bicycle parking is underway. Both cities, Champaign and Urbana, as well as the University of Illinois, have been awarded Bicycle-Friendly status. It is seen as an asset for recruiting new employees that living without a car is a choice that is viable here.
The car culture is not gone, but a nice car is no longer the status symbol of the Millennial generation.
(Photo by Allan Crawford)