February 4, 2015

The Daily Durning: What’s driving Millennials?

Durning finds out that not all Millennials everywhere are giving up on cars.

From Voice of San Diego:


What San Diego’s Young Adults Want (and What They Don’t)


Surveys show young people in San Diego are doing more driving, not less. But the jury’s still out on whether that means they don’t care about transit, or whether the city’s just not meeting their needs. …

The evidence doesn’t support the idea that young people in San Diego are abandoning cars.

CityLab last month pulled together Census data on the share of young adults who commuted by car in a handful of cities from 2009 through 2013 and compared it with the same rate back in 1980.

That young-people-are-driving-less dynamic happened in nine cities. San Diego wasn’t one of them. In fact, of the 25 largest metro areas, San Diego had the largest increase in the share of young adults who commuted by car.

Nearly 76 percent of young San Diegans commuted by car in 1980; now nearly 85 percent of them do. Six other metro areas also saw an increase.

By that measure, it’s pretty clear that whatever desires young adults express about rejecting their parents’ suburban preferences haven’t translated to behavior changes in San Diego.  And that’s the best concrete data we have that speaks to San Diego specifically. Beyond that, we’re left wondering if San Diego somehow bucks the national trends.

But Colin Parent, policy counsel at transportation advocacy group Circulate San Diego, takes a different lesson from those numbers.

To him, national polls (here and here and here and here, as examples) that show young people are less attached to their cars and like living places they can walk or take transit to their jobs or restaurants and cafes, combined with data showing the increased share of young San Diego car commuters, shows the city has failed to deliver.

“The polling stuff is very relevant because it speaks to how preferences don’t match up with actions,” he said. “You could have people say they want to live downtown but they don’t, is it because they don’t really want to, or because they can’t afford it?”

The polling isn’t universal, though: a recent one from the National Association of Homebuilders found two-thirds of 20- and 30-somethings eventually want to own a home away from a city center.

Parent says thinking of an urban-suburban, car-transit split misses the point. After all, suburbs aren’t all the same. Some are more walkable than others, some have enough transit that you can reduce car trips even if you still own a car.

Parent says there’s plenty of evidence outside of polls that show San Diego’s Millennials feel the same about smart growth as young people across the nation: prices and rents are getting pushed up most in dense, walkable neighborhoods — and not just places like downtown and North Park, but also in the more walkable, transit-centric parts of suburbs like La Mesa.

“San Diego is absolutely not unique,” he said. “Just looking at rent levels, you can see that the more walkable, transit-oriented communities are more attractive, people are trying to move in, and they’re driving up rent. Market forces show there’s a growing preference for these kinds of communities.”


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  1. Time for a little bit of myth deflation. From the results of an MTV survey:
    MTV Study Debunks the Myth Millennials Don’t Drive

    And in a similar vein, Robert Reich skewers the “sharing economy” as being in reality a “sharing the scraps economy”:

      1. Are all studies suspect if they don’t support your viewpoint? I’m sorry if I misunderstood Gordon’s intent, it appeared to me to he was presenting San Diego as an outlier.

      2. All studies should be evaluated for who did them, and how they did them. In this case, MTV, which sells advertising, paid to have a study done that concluded that automakers should buy ads aimed at millennials, and conveniently, they just happen to have a channel available to that target market. There wouldn’t be much point in them publishing a study that said their viewers weren’t buying cars.

        The statistics about San Diego are interesting, but there wasn’t much digging into the reasons why. Or to what extent the subject millennials wanted to drive cars, or needed to.

        1. Jeff,

          How interesting that you are so quick to judge negatively the veracity and sampling methods of a study that does not support increasing cyclist numbers, yet you refuse to similarly question the veracity and sampling methods of studies that oppose mandatory helmet laws. Your assessments are selective and inconsistent.

        2. Not so.

          Make sure you review which helmet company funded the original bike helmet research, thus creating a new product class.