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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Americans and their cars: A love affair on fumes?


Associated Press
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 1972 file photo, cars pass by on Interstate 90, into the Black Hills in Murdo, S.D. After rising continuously since World War II, driving by American households has declined nearly 10 percent since 2004. (AP Photo/File)
                                                                                                                                             The The'57 Chevy was still a year away when the launch of the interstate highway system kicked U.S. car culture into high gear. But six decades later, changing habits and attitudes suggest America's romance with the road may be fading.

After rising almost continuously since World War II, driving by U.S. households has declined nearly 10 percent since 2004, with a start before the Great Recession suggesting economics is not the only cause. "There's something more fundamental going on," says Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The average American household now owns fewer than two cars, returning to the levels of the early 1990s.
More teens and 20-somethings are waiting to get a license. Less than 70 percent of 19-year-olds now have one, down from 87 percent two decades ago.

"I wonder if they've decided that there's another, better way to be free and to be mobile," says Cotten Seiler, author of "Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America."
Those changes — whether its car trips replaced by shopping online or traffic jams that have turned drives into a chore — pose complicated questions and choices.
A second light rail line opens in June. Street corners sprout racks of blue-and-green shared bikes. About 45 percent of those who work downtown commute by means other than a car, mostly by express bus.

That syncs with figures showing Americans took a record 10.7 billion trips on mass transit last year, up 37 percent since 1995.
"There's a lot of people who want the less-driving lifestyle, definitely," says Sam Newberg, an urban planning consultant and transportation blogger.

They include Kimani Beard, 40, who used to drive for a package express company. Now he's a graphic and apparel designer who walks or bikes to a coffee shop a few days a week, with its Wi-Fi providing an instant office.

"I don't want to drive anywhere," he says. "I've spent my time behind the wheel, but I think I've done enough."

Meanwhile, some are rethinking the paradigm of vehicle ownership.

In the suburbs just north of Chicago, Eugene Dunn and Justin Sakofs live four miles apart, but met only because Dunn's 2005 Pontiac broke down.

Dunn, 43 and a math tutor, takes a train to work. But getting to his second job, refereeing youth basketball on weekends, required a car he didn't have.

Luckily, Sakofs, the director of a Jewish day school, had a Nissan he didn't need from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, when his Sabbath observance precludes driving. They found each other through RelayRides, whose app pairs individual car owners with neighbors looking to rent.

"Right now, I just need (a car) to get back and forth and make money," Dunn said.