As the Economy Grows and Adds Jobs, Americans Keep Driving Less

The 12-month moving average of vehicle miles traveled, adjusted for population. Graph: Dshort.com

Well, there you have it.

Driving is on the decline — even as the economy grows.

You can see in the above chart, created by analyst Doug Short and brought to our attention by Jonathan Maus at BikePortland, America’s shrinking appetite for car travel is outlasting the recession. As the Center for Clean Air Policy pointed out in a 2011 report, the U.S. economy is increasingly “decoupled” from how much Americans drive.

Adjusting for changes in population, the amount of driving on American roads has fallen to 1999 levels. The sustained decline in driving during a period of economic growth is unprecedented in the 41-year period tracked by Short.

Contrast the drop in driving with sunnier employment figures, and it’s clear what’s going on here isn’t due just to job losses and the recession:

Interestingly, the Center for Neighborhood Technology reported last week that households in 29 metro areas have seen transportation costs double since 2000. Americans are responding to higher gas by driving less, and the economy is turning the corner. The galling thing is that even as this structural shift becomes increasingly apparent, the House of Representatives is intent on passing a transportation bill that will essentially compel Americans to drive more by depriving people of other options.