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The Millennial Mile: How Do We Turn Less Driving Into More Bike Advocacy?

On Tuesday, I sat down with more than 20 active-transportation professionals and allies at the Moving Millennials workshop hosted by Transportation for America. The aim of the full-day session: Learn about trends in transportation for 18-35 year-olds — and figure out how to turn the decreased interest in driving into an increased energy around bicycling.

For those of you who attended the 2012 National Bike Summit, the subject may sound a bit familiar. We had a compelling keynote by Jason Ryan Dorsey, The Gen Y guy, who highlighted the distinguishing factors of this generation; many of which point to increased interest in active transportation.

The conversation was kicked-off by Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG, who gave a great run-down of transportation trends across the board. A recent report from his organization, Transportation and the New Generation, put some compelling data behind what we already know: Millennials are driving less than the generations before them.

The chart Baxandall returned to again and again showed a 6 percent downturn in vehicle miles traveled since 2007 (below). “This is not a blip” he said.

So what’s the cause of the decline in driving? A lot of it stems from the millennials.

The under-35 age group is 25 percent of the transport population, and there was a 23 percent decline in VMT in that age group between 2001 and 2009. During that same span, biking rates shot up 25 percent, and walking rates rose 16 percent.

David Metz, a partner at the public policy research group Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3), shared some helpful insights into millennials’ values. Instead of donating time or effort, he said, millennials are more likely to support causes through monetary contributions. FM3’s research demonstrated that millennials value social ties and interconnectedness. They rated “success” not by how much money or material possessions they own, but by personal relationships such as a happy marriage, supportive friends, and strong family ties.

Between data, inspiring speakers, and insightful discussions, a question emerged: How do we get millennials engaged in bike advocacy? Of course, a question this big couldn’t be answered during a one-day workshop — but the conversation was energizing. Here at the League, we’re trying to get more youth involved through a consistent Facebook and attentive Twitter presence, as well as youth-rate memberships and a reduced registration fee for the National Bike Summit. We’re also planning a Club Leadership webinar focused on getting millenials involved in bike clubs.

But we also know there are miles to go before we sleep, and there’s a lot of work to be done to get millennials involved in making biking better. But the future is certainly bright. As Marc Gorton, founder of OpenPlans said in his speech: If millennials keep decreasing their VMT, “we’ll need to change the way we think about transportation.”

Do you have any insights or stories to share?


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