Milwaukee, Madison Top List of 100 American Cities Where People are Driving Less

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Rise in Public Transit Miles, Biking Among Steepest in Nation

WISPIRG Foundation

Madison – A first-of-its-kind report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and released by WISPIRG Foundation shows reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in Wisconsin’s urbanized areas—including Madison and Milwaukee —and greater use of public transit and biking.

The report found that, of the 100 largest urbanized areas nationally, Milwaukee and Madison ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in declines in driving miles per capita, behind only New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina likely played a large role. 

“There is a shift away from driving in our cities here in Wisconsin and across the country,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Foundation Director. “Policy makers need to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. We need to stop wasting money on new and expanded highways and invest instead in improving public transit and biking, which are growing around the country.”

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 first ever national study to compare transportation trends for America’s largest cities. Among its findings:                                                  

  • In the Milwaukee urbanized area, there was a 20.9 percent decrease in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita from 2006 to 2011; in the Madison urbanized area, there was a 17.7 percent decrease in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita.
  • The proportion of households without a car increased 2.0 percent in the Madison urbanized area and increased 1.0 percent in the Milwaukee urbanized area between 2006 and 2011. This proportion fell 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 Madison, where it fell 2.8 percent.
  • The proportion of commuters travelling by bicycle grew in Madison, as it did in 85 of the most populous 100 urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010. In Madison the increase in bike commuting was 1,4 percent of all commuters, the second steepest increase in the nation. In Milwaukee the increase was 0.3 percent of all commuters, putting Milwaukee at 19th.
  • The number of passenger miles travelled on transit per capita increased 12.8 percent in Madison between 2005 and 2010. Measured in terms of the number of trips taken on public transit per-capita, Madison witnessed a 9.7 percent increase from 2005 to 2010.
  • 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 2007-2011 period.

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.

“It’s time for our state leaders to support transportation initiatives that reflects these travel trends,” said Speight. “Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars continuing to enlarge our grandfather’s Interstate Highway System, we should be investing in the kinds of transportation options that the public increasingly favors.”

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 shows that transit plays a crucial role in Wisconsin’s future. If we want to keep the next generation of leaders in Wisconsin we will have to slow highway spending and invest in transit,” said Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

To read an earlier WISPIRG 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.

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WISPIRG Foundation works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.