Nate Silver: Is American Car Culture on the Skids?

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Nate Silver, the stat-mining fortune teller behind FiveThirtyEight.com, has written a piece for Esquire suggesting that Americans may be weaning themselves off their collective auto addiction. Falling gas prices aside, driving has been on the decline since late 2007, Silver notes. Taking factors like population and unemployment into account, he wonders:

Could it be that there’s been some sort of paradigm shift in Americans’ attitudes toward their cars? Perhaps, given the exorbitant gas prices of last summer, Americans realized that they weren’t quite as dependent on their vehicles as they once thought they were.

Silver also points out that between 2004 and 2008, cities that took the biggest hit in home prices, like Las Vegas and Detroit, were "highly car-dependent," while Portland, Oregon had the largest gains.

  • latron

    I very much hope so.

  • The Portland vs. Detroit example is excellent – and larger than just car-dependence – Portland has jobs and a whole coffee-house culture of bikes and rail developing. Detroit has layoffs and highways to nowhere. Also while Portland has smart growth, Detroit looks like a war zone. I’m going to set Las Vegas aside for now – it’s a holiday destination with a lot of talent. Vegas will always re-invent itself.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I see a generational shift, with younger generations less wedded to to the private motor vehicles. (And given everything else going on in society, they may not be able to afford them either).

    Younger people, however, don’t control politics, so the federal government will be fighting this all the way.

  • My friend and colleague Vince Taylor has posted a critique of Nate (Silver)’s analysis here.

    Vince’s main argument is that the continuing drop in driving — beyond what traditional models predict on the basis of declining economic activity or employment — is at least partly attributable to Americans’ shrunken wealth.

    Vince, a PhD economist, is a penetrating thinker with a rich lifetime of practical experience. His critique is worth reading.

  • partly attributable to Americans’ shrunken wealth

    Wouldn’t surprise me. Car use increases everywhere that wealth does… look at China for example. There’s little reason to believe Americans (of all people) are any different.

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