Peak Travel – Minnesota Edition

The industrialized world may have reached peak (auto) travel in the early 2000’s:

A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices. It could be a sign, researchers said, that the demand for travel and the demand for car ownership in those countries has reached a saturation point.

According to the study, the US peak was about 8,100 miles per car per capita. How does Minnesota compare?  According to MNDOT statistics, VMT per capita in Minnesota stopped growing in 2004, just one year after what the study defines as the national peak.  Not only has VMT per capita stopped growing, but total VMT in Minnesota has been on the decline since 2007.

Although other countries have hit “peak travel” as well, the peak is not the same.  The peak for Japan, for instance, was 2,500 miles per car per capita.  So as the authors suggest, there must be other factors (gridlock, parking, gas prices) affecting demand.  Or perhaps, as one commenter noted, there is nowhere new to go:

What’s the use of travelling anywhere when everywhere is the same? Same strip malls, big box stores, culture, etc. You get in a car, endure onerous expense, congestion, parking problems to arrive at — surprise! — the place that you left.

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  • Mike Hicks

    Hmm. They mention the magic 1.1 hour travel time in the article. As Tom Vanderbilt noted in his book Traffic, that’s an average daily travel time for all sorts of different human cultures throughout history. In general, people just don’t want to spend more than that amount of time getting from place to place each day (clearly, many people are willing to spend more time than that, while others prefer to spend less).

    The automobile allowed industrialized nations to cheat that natural state for several decades, but sprawl has caused us to catch up. There are a lot of other things which have happened which likely had an effect (September 11th, cell phones, the Internet, the relocation of jobs from downtown centers to suburban zones closer to workers, etc.), but I’d put a lot of weight behind the idea that people have just reached their natural travel time limits.

    The big question for me is whether people in America are able to live full lives with that amount of travel time. If sprawl keeps happening, the answer will increasingly become “no”.

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