Driving’s Long Decline in Oregon

Call it peak driving, or the end of an era: Americans are driving less.

For 10 years now, Oregon motorists have been driving less. No one is quite sure why. Photo: AAroads

The slump that began before the recession has continued into the period of economic and job growth, and no one seems to know exactly what’s causing it.

It may not surprise you that the state of Oregon was a bit precocious in this arena. Residents of the Beaver State changed their driving behavior before the rest of the nation and don’t seem poised to return to their old ways anytime soon, reports Joseph Rose at the Oregonian’s Hard Drive blog:

The AAA on Tuesday predicted that gas prices will peak “earlier than normal” this year, reaching $4.35 before Memorial Day, and retract steadily the rest of the year. But even if there’s a significant dip, it’s hard to say if Oregonians and southwest Washington residents will ever drive the way they used to.

Despite the economy showing signs of life, people appear determined to spend less and less time behind the wheel. For the ninth time in 10 years, vehicle miles traveled by Oregonians dropped in 2011, according to preliminary state numbers. Nationally, meanwhile, driving hasn’t recovered since taking a big dip in 2007.

Naturally, when fuel prices spike, people drive less. But transportation talk about a cultural shift that encompasses everything from an aging population and fewer teenagers getting licenses to the growing popularity of home offices and online shopping.

“But it’s still hard to say exactly what’s going on,” said Marie Dodds, a spokeswoman for AAA Oregon and Idaho. “Even before the recession, driving has been on the decline in Oregon for years.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Fast Lane honors school systems in Colorado and a Wisconsin for their efforts to implement Safe Routes to School. Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space reports that DC is getting a smaller, more flexible alternative to car sharing. And the Congress for New Urbanism Salon blog says that the latest round of HUD Choice Neighborhood Planning Grants will require communities to adhere to LEED neighborhood design standards.