Updating peak travel

Chart - MN VMT 2011

Chuck Marohn has a new post at streets.mn lamenting the long-term inaccuracy of modeling and projections – in this case, traffic projections.  Without commenting on his critique (ok, maybe a little: I think projections can be useful in many circumstances, especially when paired with scenarios), I wanted to update my old peak travel post from 2011.

The peak of auto travel in Minnesota is still 2006, with per capita travel peaking one year later.  For 2011 total auto travel continues to decline, although the decline is slowing (-0.15% versus -0.37% for 2009 to 2010).  2011 population estimates for Minnesota aren’t out yet, but I imagine the flatline trend is the same for per capita miles.  I’m told the Metropolitan Council (and MnDOT?) project growth in VMT in the 7-county metro to increase 1.5% annually through 2020.

Have we reached peak travel?  I’m not sure, but it sure is interesting to think about the reversal of an assumption (ever-growing auto travel) that’s been held for a generation or more.

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.