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Posts from the Cars Category

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Are Millennials Racing to Buy Cars? Nope

Crossposted from City Observatory.

Hot on the heels of claims that Millennials are buying houses come stories asserting that Millennials are suddenly big car buyers. We pointed out the flaws in the home-buying story earlier this month, and now let’s take a look at the car market.

The Chicago Tribune offered up a feature presenting “The Four Reasons Millennials are buying cars in big numbers,” assuring us that millennials just “got a late start” in car ownership, but are now getting credit cards, starting families and trooping into auto dealerships “just like previous generations.”

Similar stories have appeared elsewhere. The Portland Oregonian chimed in: “Millennials are becoming car owners after all.”

Not quite a year ago, we addressed similar claims purporting to show that Millennials were becoming just as likely to buy cars as previous generations. Actually, it turns out that on a per-person basis, Millennials are about 29 percent less likely than those in Gen X to purchase a car.

We pointed out that several of these stories rested on comparing different sized birth year cohorts (a 17-year group of so-called Gen Y with an 11-year group of so-called Gen X). After applying the highly sophisticated statistical technique known as “long division” to estimate the number of cars purchased per 1,000 persons in each generation, we showed that Gen Y was about 29 percent less likely than Gen X to purchase a car.

More generally though, we know that there’s a relationship between age and car-buying. Thirty-five-year-olds are much more likely to own and buy cars than 20-year-olds. So as Millennials age out of their teen years and age into their thirties, it’s hardly surprising that the number of Millennials who are car owners increases. But the real question—as we pointed out with housing—is whether Millennials are buying as many cars as did previous generations.

The answer is no.

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Remixing Great Masterpieces for the Highway Age

Minnesota activists calling themselves Minnesota Citizens for Roads, Asphalt and Parking (MinnCRAP) updated American painter Andrew Wyath's famous "Christina's World" to illustrate the effects of car culture on the natural world.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” reimagined with a modern touch, courtesy of the activists calling themselves Minnesota Citizens for Roads, Asphalt and Parking (MinnCRAP).

Last week we highlighted the Photoshop work of Memphis resident David Lindsey, who updated Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” to comment on the way cars have come to intrude on almost every public space. Lindsey was motivated by the decision to allow overflow parking from the Memphis Zoo in the city’s historic Overton Park, but his concept quickly inspired activists in other cities.

The people behind the satirical Facebook page Citizens for Roads Asphalt and Parking (MinnCRAP) altered two famous works of art for the motor age. Above, Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” Below, Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night.”

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Carseats and the Limitations of American Safety Culture

One lesson they really hammer home, when you’re a new parent, is the importance of carseats.

Alarming articles about car seat fails are part of the territory for new parents. But the scaremongering stops short. Image: Today

Alarming articles about carseat failures are part of the territory for new parents. Image: Today

Hospitals won’t let you take a newborn home from the hospital unless you can show you have a carseat. And they warn you of this fact in Lamaze class and in all the parenting books and on all the parenting websites.

I had a baby six months ago, and we had our carseat installed at a fire station when I was in my third trimester. Fire stations are recommended because a lot of carseats are so complicated to install, you need help from specially trained safety officials. My child, to be sure, has never traveled a mile in a car without a carseat, so in my case, anyway, the campaign succeeded admirably.

Since people know I’m a new mom, I sometimes get sent scary articles about mistakes you can make with your carseat that can kill your child. (For the record, don’t put your child in a carseat in a winter coat, and don’t put your child in an unstrapped car seat for napping.)

There’s a lot of emphasis on carseats because the public health community has rallied around them, and for good reason. For kids under 1, carseats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent, and for kids ages 1 to 4, risk is reduced about 54 percent, according to the CDC.

So carseats are crucial and necessary, but as a tool, they have some limitations. They aren’t tested at speeds higher than 35 miles per hour. And they’re designed to minimize the damage from front end collisions, meaning they can be of limited use in side and rear impact situations.

The reality is that driving is inherently risky, especially for child passengers, and the best a carseat can do is mitigate that risk. Carseats help when you’re in a collision — the safest thing to do is avoid collisions in the first place. But when you have a baby, nobody says, “Hey to protect your kid, maybe try driving less, taking transit more, or just avoid highways and don’t drive at higher speeds.” Even the CDC’s advice for parents doesn’t go beyond recommending carseats and seat belts, with one reference to drunk driving.

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“Adam Ruins Everything” Explains the Origins of “Jaywalking”

Think the origins of “jaywalking” in 1920s car industry propaganda are too esoteric for a mainstream audience? Watch this clip from truTV’s “Adam Ruins Everything” that adapts research from Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic, a history of how motordom conquered American streets in the early 20th century. It’s a good sign when productions backed by the entertainment industry start devoting attention to topics like this.

Hat tip Michael Briggs.

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Choose Your Own Utopia: What Will We Make of Driverless Cars?

Cross-posted from the Frontier Group

A century ago, a new transportation technology burst onto the scene that threatened to disrupt everything: the car.

Thinkers of the day, along with boosters of the new technology, dreamed grand dreams of the utopia it would bring. General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair (shown in the amazing 1940 promotional film, To New Horizons) envisioned a nation criss-crossed by broad highways engineered for “safety – safety with increased speed”; American cities that were “replanned around the highly developed, modern traffic system”; and a network of urban express highways with rights of way “so routed so as to displace outmoded business sections and undesirable slum areas whenever possible.”

Sound familiar? The vision of the future dreamed up by General Motors largely came to pass… but utopia did not follow. Missing from Futurama, as from most utopian visions, was a full understanding of the trade-offs involved — the gutting of city after city for the construction of urban freeways; the expenditure of trillions of dollars over the last half-century on the highway system; the loss of roughly a million lives to motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. since 1990 alone (so much for “safety with speed”); environmental degradation and public health damage from vehicle exhaust and fossil fuel production — the list goes on and on.

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Pedestrian Protection Doesn’t Come Standard in Volvo’s “City Safety” System

Warning: This video contains a disturbing moment of violence.

Via Kashmir Hill at Fusion, this video from a Dominican blog shows the scary results of a self-parking Volvo demonstration gone wrong. (No one was seriously hurt.)

The car was equipped with Volvo’s “city safety” system, which apparently lulled the crowd around it into dropping their guard. But as Hill reports, the city safety feature is designed only to prevent rear-ending other cars in slow-moving traffic. “Pedestrian detection” is an add-on that costs an additional $3,000.

“Keeping the car safe is included as a standard feature, but keeping pedestrians safe isn’t,” writes Hill.

Even if the car came with pedestrian detection, Volvo told Hill, a driver who hits the accelerator would deactivate it. The utopia of driverless cars that can avoid all crashes is still a long way off.

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No, Millennials Aren’t Buying More Cars Than Gen X

Millennials are far less likely to have bought cars over ?. Graph: City Observatory

Millennials are far less likely to have bought cars over the last year than their Gen X counterparts. Graph: City Observatory

Cross-posted from City Observatory

Will somebody teach the Atlantic and Bloomberg how to do long division?

Today, we take down more breathless contrarian reporting about how Millennials are just as suburban and car-obsessed as previous generations. Following several stories drawing questionable inferences from flawed migration data claiming that Millennials are disproportionately choosing the suburbs (they’re not) come two articles in quick succession from Bloomberg and the Atlantic, purporting to show the Millennials’ newfound love of automobiles.

Bloomberg wrote, “Millennials Embrace Cars, Defying Predictions of Sales Implosion.” Hot on its heels came a piece from Derek Thompson at the Atlantic (alternately titled “The Great Millennial Car Comeback” and “Millennials not so cheap after all”) recanting an earlier column that predicted Millennials would be less likely than previous generations to own cars.

The Atlantic and Bloomberg stories are both based on new estimates of auto sales produced by JD Power and Associates. The data for this report were not available on the JD Power website. However, JD Power released a press release making broadly similar claims last summer; we relied on that to better understand their methodology and definitions. (We’ll post a link to the new JD Power report as soon as it becomes available).

The headline finding is that Millennials (the so-called Gen Y) bought about 3.7 million cars, while their older Gen X peers bought only 3.3 million. (We extracted these numbers from the charts in the Atlantic story). Superficially, that seems to be evidence that Millennials are in fact buying more cars.

But there’s a huge problem with this interpretation: There are way, way more people in “Gen Y” than there are in “Gen X.” Part of the reason is that the Gen Y group — also often called the “echo boom” — were born in years when far more children were born in the U.S. The bigger, and less obvious problem is the arbitrary and varying periods used to define “generations.” According to the definitions used by JD Power, Gen Y includes people born from 1977 to 1994 (a 17-year cohort), while Gen X includes those born between 1965 and 1976 — just an 11-year cohort. As a result, these definitions put nearly 78 million people in Gen Y and fewer than 45 million in GenX. There are fully 33 million more Gen Xers than Gen Y.* Hardly surprising, and not at all meaningful, that this much larger group buys about 10 percent more cars than the much smaller group.

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Across the U.S., Poor Job Access Compels Even People Without Cars to Drive

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Metropolitan share of zero-vehicle commuters driving to work, 2013. Source: Brookings analysis of American Community Survey data

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends.

While more Americans are relying on alternative modes to get to work every day, cars still define most of our commutes. Over time, these high driving rates not only reflect a built environment that continues to promote vehicle usage — despite recent shifts toward city living and job clustering — but also call into question how well our transportation networks offer access to economic opportunity for all workers.

This is especially important for those workers without cars.

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed light on the commuting habits of the 6.3 million workers who don’t have a private vehicle at home. That’s about 4.5 percent of all workers, up from 4.2 percent in 2007.

Zero-vehicle workers still do quite a bit of driving. Over 20 percent drive alone to work — meaning they find a private car to borrow — and another 12 percent commute via carpool. Both rates jumped between 2007 and 2013, defying national trends toward less driving. This paints a discouraging picture about transportation access across the country for a segment of commuters who must expend extra effort to get to work.

Metropolitan data underscores the breadth of this problem. Transit-rich metros like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have the most zero-vehicle workers, and they drive less frequently. However, in other large metro areas like Dallas, Detroit, and Riverside, over half the zero-vehicle workers find a car to drive to work. Driving rates jump to over 70 percent in metros like Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; and Provo, UT. Across 77 of the 100 largest metro areas, at least 40 percent of zero-vehicle commuters drive to work.

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Someone Has Built the Ultimate 1950s Fantasy Vehicle All Over Again

Terrafugia's prototype blocks the bike lane . Photo: Mary Jordan/Flick

Congestion? This flying car will fix it! Photo: @Mary Jordan

UPDATE in fourth paragraph about takeoff and landing space.

This photo pretty much says everything that needs to be said about the absurdity of the flying car.

I wouldn’t even bring it up except a flying car salesman was the man of the hour at an otherwise (mostly, er, somewhat) serious daylong forum on transportation issues yesterday sponsored by the Washington Post. The flying car in question was parked outside the building, blocking a bike lane on 14th Street.

Carl Dietrich of Terrafugia (“escape the earth” in Latin) worked hard to convince the audience that what he acknowledged has long been a “pop culture joke” was a real, serious answer to the real-world problem of traffic congestion.

Not that we need to get into the numbers, but a Terrafugia plane required a third of a mile of empty runway to take off when it first — ahem — launched in 2009. More recent reports put it at 100 feet. I tried calling Terrafugia to confirm the figure, but no one picked up. I’ll let you know if I get a response to my email. (UPDATE 10/23: Alex Min of Terrafugia replied, “The TF-X will be a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle so there will be no need for a runway. Much like a helicopter, any suitable landing area will be sufficient, but you still have to abide by FAA regulations.”)

Indeed, all of Terrafugia’s promotional materials show personal airplanes flying above farmland, and when the wings retract the pilot retreats home to a suburban single-family McMansion where the vehicle fits conveniently inside a standard-size garage.

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Peter Norton: We Can Learn From the Movement to Enshrine Car Dependence

It used to be normal to play in the streets. We're just one revolution away from being able to do that again. Photo via Peter Norton

It used to be normal to play in the streets. Photo via Peter Norton

Yesterday, we published part one of my interview with Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. We talked about whether the push for infrastructure investment is always code for increasing car capacity, and how the Vision Zero campaign bears the legacy of 100-year-old movements to make streets safe for everyone.

Norton will be speaking on November 13 at the opening reception of Transportation Alternatives’ national Vision Zero for Cities Symposium in New York City.

Below is the audio of our conversation, which went on long after this written transcript. Feel free to take a listen, and forgive the background noise — we were talking in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, one of DC’s most iconic urban green spaces.

Here is a transcript of part two of the interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

We keep calling [the current movement for Vision Zero and livable streets] a “fundamental restructuring,” and I’m curious whether you think that’s accurate. What you’re talking about at the beginning of the last century, which you wrote about in “Fighting Traffic,” was a much more fundamental questioning — because it was new — of the role of cars on streets and in cities. And I’m wondering if you think what’s happening now really gets to those questions or whether it’s just, “Oh, can we just have a little space; we just want some accommodation; we want the buses to be a little better, we want a little bike lane”?

Such an interesting question, because I think that dilemma that we’re in right now in 2014, between fundamental rethinking and just fixes here and fixes there, is the same dilemma that advocates of the automobile found themselves in, especially in the early- to mid-1920s. At first a lot of them said, “We need to take the street as it is and do some fine tuning, things like optimize the traffic signal timings–“

The same solutions we’re looking at!

Exactly! The first synchronized traffic lights for motor vehicles were timed in Chicago in 1926, and at the meeting I was just in, they were still talking about getting the timing right.

Then there were others who began to say, “Stop talking about just retooling the streets to make cars fit in them better; we need to actually re-concieve this.” There was an editorial in Engineering News Record in 1920 — Engineering News Record then and now is the journal of the civil engineers — and the editorial said, “We need a fundamental re-conception of what a city street is for.”

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