In a previous post, we discussed how Portlanders in the past few decades have steadily shifted their preferred way of commuting to work away from driving alone to more active transportation options. Recall in 1990, 68 percent of commuters drove alone to work. By 2000, that number was down to 64 percent. In 2011, less than 60 percent of Portland workers were driving alone to work.
In this follow-up post, we’ll discuss how that trend will most likely continue over the next few decades, given demographic trends. And keep Portland on track towards its goal: by 2035, 70 percent of commuters will either take transit, bike, walk, telecommute or carpool.
Portland is on the path towards that future, but much work still must be done. The good news is, we have demographics on our side. Over the next few decades, the scales may tip with the preferences of the baby boomers and their children — the Millennials — of the later 1970s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
Combined, they are the largest population group. And their preferences will shape the mobility landscape in the years to come.
Just as boomers’ preference for driving shaped the development of the country over the last forty to fifty years, so too, as they age, will their increasing preference to take transit shape how the urban landscape evolves. Their children, who make up an even larger group than the boomers, will have a similar impact, if not more.
How these demographic groups choose to live and get around will have an impact on all Portlanders.
The American Assocation of Retired Persons recently reported that as baby boomers move into retirement age and older, driving will continue to steadily decline as an option for getting around. And more and more seniors will increasingly depend on a variety of public transportation options.
On the other end of the age spectrum, fewer teens, 20-somethings and early 30-somethigs are falling in love with the car culture. Fewer young people are getting their driver’s license. Researchers and various media report that between half and two-thirds of 18-year olds had their driving licenses in 2008; in 1983, more than 80 percent had their licenses. And they’re buying fewer cars.
Millenials also don’t mind getting around by transit, walking or biking. Carpooling and even car-sharing is an acceptable alternative. Owning a car is not out of the question, so long as they do not have to spend so much of their income on a monthly payment.
Millenials also prefer — even demand — a more urban lifestyle. They tend to want something different from the suburban way of life of their parents’ generation. Most young workers today want to live in a more urban setting.
And more and more, too, Millenials are choosing to live alone (or with a dog). Thus, the trend is towards smaller and smaller households that demand less space.
Given these demographic trends, a variety of policies will need to be put in place to address mobility and access services and the complementary land use activities that reinforce such services. To be sure, over the long run, investment in public transportation to make it more accessible to seniors will also benefit young working adults. And building communities that invite more transit use, walking and bicycling, while also supporting affordable and inclusive housing options, will help spread the benefits of good living to all Portlanders.
Given these preferences of the two largest population cohorts, it should be no surprise, then, that a high probability of better quality urbanism is in all of our futures.