Last month, we reported on the groundbreaking national study, called "Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are driving less and what it means for transportation policy", prepared by the U.S. PRIG Education Fund and the Frontier Group. This week, there was an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com that translated these findings into what it means for Florida. We hope that the various state and local agencies, committees, organizations, and elected bodies in Florida will begin to take actions in response to this new reality. Read the article below.
Sun Sentinel Senior Editorial Writer
May 5, 2012
It's not because he's my kid. Of course I'm biased. I think my son's great, but that's not the point. What should matter is he's part of a growing number of young adults who seem to be shying away from the rush to get behind the wheel of a car. It seems that young people are driving less, and that has big ramifications for the Sunshine State.
From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by people between the ages 16 and 34 decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita, a drop of 23 percent, according to a study by the Frontier Group.
The trend isn't exactly a momentarily blip, or necessarily a boon to those who may think that our streets and highways would be better off without young motorists. We're looking at a new pocketbook issue here, one that could one day spur government officials in Tallahassee to rank quality of life issues right up there with tax breaks to make Florida a better place for business growth and jobs.
Higher gas prices, tougher driving licensing laws, new technologies and a shift in values are all cited as reasons young adults are driving less. They're walking more frequently and relying more on public transit, the Transportation and the New Generation study found. They're more concerned about preserving the environment, and they prefer living in places where they can easily walk, bike or take public transportation.
It's that last point that should serve as a wake-up call to a car-crazed state that simply couldn't function without the automobile. Florida, like many American communities, has developed a set of road building policies that assume driving will continue to increase at a rapid pace. What young adults seem to be saying is many of those policies are simply out of touch with a new reality.
"Driving is really important to a lot of the kids in the culture, but it isn't the central focus like it was 25 years ago," the study quoted an administrator at a Washington, D.C.-based drivers education program. It seems spending time on extracurricular activities, social media, even studying has greater priority.
Imagine a new generation that would rather hop a bus, bike or walk to nearby destinations as part of a new demand for a better quality of life. The problem facing Florida is that if government officials don't move fast enough to address what will become a new wave of competition for economic and human development, they may see the state's best talent vote with their feet and leave Florida for more desirable communities, and jobs. In fact, some believe this trend has already begun.
"Young adults have begun leaving their parents' homes to move into vibrant, compact and walkable communities full of economic, social and recreational activities," according to the Brookings Institution, which estimates 77 percent of young people between 18 and 35 plan to live in urban centers.
Mason C. Jackson, president and CEO of Workforce One, was ahead of the trend. Years ago, he noticed several studies that indicated young adults – and ultimately employers — would gravitate toward communities that were affordable, vibrant, socially diverse and "green," as in environmentally friendly. He often wondered how well the Sunshine State would fare in such a trend.
"Unlike the good ol' days, the reality is that work now moves around the world at the click of a mouse, which means increasingly talent is choosing where they want to live and good employers with good jobs will follow the talent," Jackson wrote in a 2009 Sun-Sentinel column. "Our task is both to invest in our talent base and to have the quality of life which attracts and keeps that talent and therefore the kind of employers we would like to see here."
The challenge facing our state government is to think beyond tolls and tax breaks. Quality of life for a new generation had better become job 1, if we hope to be competitive in attracting, and keeping, young talent in Florida.
Douglas C. Lyons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 954-356-4638.