Denver Sees 9th Largest Drop in Driving Per Capita

Media Contacts

Colorado Springs 9th Largest Decline for Commuting in Car

CoPIRG Foundation

A first-of-its-kind report by CoPIRG Foundation shows reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in Colorado’s largest urbanized areas, Denver and Colorado Springs. In addition, both cities saw greater use of public transit and Denver saw greater use in biking.

“There is a shift away from driving in our cities here in Colorado and across the country,” said Danny Katz, Director of the CoPIRG Foundation. “Denver policy makers have done a lot to ensure Coloradans have access to transportation alternatives. Based on these national and local trends, we need to continue to invest in public transit and biking for the future.”

The report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” is based on the most current available government data. It is the firstever national study tocompare transportation trends for America’s largest cities. Among its findings:

  • The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011period.
  • In the Denver urbanized area, there was a 10.6 percent decrease in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita from 2006 to 2011. In Colorado Springs driving miles per capita decreased by 6.0 percent. The decrease in Denver was the 9th largest percent decrease among America’s 100 largest cities.
  • The percent of workers commuting by private vehicle in the Colorado Springs urbanized area fell 3.4 percent between 2000 and the 2007 to 2011 period—the 8th largest reduction out of the 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. In Denver the drop was 2.8 percent, 17th largest.
  • The number of passenger miles travelled on transit per capita increased 13.5 percent in Denver between 2005 and 2010. In Colorado Springs, transit passenger miles per person increased by 4.2 percent. Measured in terms of the number of trips taken on public transit per-capita, Denver witnessed a 3.5 percent increase from 2005 to 2010. 
  • The proportion of commuters travelling by bicycle grew in Denver, as it did in 85 of the most populous 100 urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010. In Denver, the increase was 0.5 percent, the fourth largest increase in the nation.
  • The proportion of households without a car increased 0.3 percent in the Denver urbanized area between 2006 and 2011. This proportion increased in 84 of the largest 100 urbanized areas. Likewise, the proportion of households with two or more vehicles fell in 86 out the 100 most populous urbanized areas during this period, including Denver, where it fell 0.6 percent. 
  • The proportion of residents working out of their home increased in all 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010, including in Denver which had a 1.2% increase.

The study found that cities with the largest decreases in driving were not those hit hardest by the recession. On the contrary, the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators.

“Over the last decade, the Denver metro area has been doing a lot to provide alternatives for people to get around from improved bus service to new light-rail lines to the many investments that helped shape new bikeable and walkable communities,” said Katz. “The data shows we need to continue to make these investments as more and more Coloradans increasingly favor traveling without a car.”

“Denver has always prided itself on being a forward-thinking community.  And we should be proud again of being a leader in reducing vehicle miles traveled,” said Rocky Piro, Manager of the City and County of Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development. “As we continue to evolve into a more sustainable, world-class 21st century city, we are committed to providing more choices to driving – including better opportunities for walking, biking, and using transit.  Providing more options not only improves our overall mobility and accessibility, it also reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and helps us to create more vibrant and healthy communities.”

Across the nation, young people have shown the steepest reductions in driving. Americans 16 to 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

“This report once again makes the strong argument for additional investments in public transit to serve our metro area,” said Scott Reed, the Assistant General Manager, Communications, for the Regional Transportation District (RTD). “The 10.6 percent decrease in vehicle miles travelled combined with the 13.5 percent increase in passenger miles aboard transit clearly shows the growing mode of preference is public transit.  Add in the increase in bicycle usage and we are looking at a dramatic and growing change in the Denver area’s travel patterns and mode choices.”

Download the report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities” at

To read an earlier CoPIRG Foundation report on the implications of the national decline in driving, download, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” download here.