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Driven to Drive Less in SD

March 23, 2009

Madison, WI - With people driving less these days, will everything from zoning to energy policy change to reflect a possible shift away from the culture of the car? The latest figures from the federal Department of Transportation say miles driven in South Dakota in December were down 1.3 percent when compared with the year before. That follows a six percent slide in November.

Eric Sundquist, an energy and transportation policy analyst at University of Wisconsin, says that, if these numbers become trends, major policy changes could result. He says looking at a Google Earth image of a major city clearly shows how automobile-centered we've become.

"There are just little dots of buildings surrounded by asphalt. Nobody can really walk from building to building, because it's so far and so unpleasant."

Sundquist says a benefit of fewer miles driven is less need for wide expanses to be paved to accommodate a previously ever-expanding hunger for more parking.

"If you have a walkable neighborhood you should be able to lower that, because you're going to need less parking, and make everything more compact."

Sundquist says a less car-centered society could result in policy changes that impact our basic notion of how cities are designed.

"There are ways to build good, compact neighborhoods that don't bring back memories of 1890 and tenements and such things that people sometimes think of when they think about density."

Sundquist says if the number of miles driven continues to drop, policy makers could change zoning laws to require less paving and parking, and more resources could be devoted to walking and public transportation. Historically, miles driven usually increase when gas prices are low, but the number continued to fall even as gas prices tumbled in November and December.

The entire Department of Transportation report is available online at
www.fhwa.dot.gov

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - SD