How to Reach Gen Y and Younger

The future of transportation in this country is currently under debate by a bunch of old folks in Washington. But what about those who will live in that future, people now in their 20s and younger?

How to influence their transportation choices is the topic of today’s featured post on the Streetsblog Network. A student at the University of Montana who writes the Imagine No Cars blog, has this to say:

2458784646_bb6a2f0f85.jpgPhoto by carfreedays via Flickr.

We…can’t think of the "young" as being a monoculture. Here in Missoula, there are two high schools with two different cultures. One is set
in our urban core with almost no parking; most of the students walk,
bike, or take our public transit (since there is no room for school
buses to park and drop off kids). There must be between 100-200 bikes
parked at the high school every day. The other is more suburban, and has
a parking lot the size of several football fields with kids getting
there with either a vehicle, dropped off by parents, or on a school bus.

Local
culture is probably the most important factor. If there is no bicycle
culture present in a city, the work that must be done to get people on
board with bicycle transportation and for them to see the need to get out of the car is hugely increased.
All the blogs, books, and newspaper articles written about the new
trend, environmental, and health concerns will do little… social interaction person to person is probably the most
powerful and effective way to spread such ideas.

He’s right. Infrastructure and planning choices that emphasize safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists are a primary factor in opening the door for active transportation choices. If you design a school so that it makes sense to bike there, kids will do that. They will have fun doing it and tell their friends how much fun it is and then their friends will want to do it, too.

If you design a school so that they can only get there by car, that’s what they’ll do. That’s what will be cool.

And the choices they make as adults will likely be heavily influenced by those experiences — as will the impact they as individuals have on the global and local environment.

Those gray heads in Washington have a pretty heavy responsibility. The future doesn’t really belong to them. And it’s going to look a lot different from the past. It would be great if they could remember that.

More from the network: Crossroads wants transportation to be an issue in the 2010 Pennsylvania race for governor. Urban Velo is looking for your pictures showing how much you love biking in the city. And Muscle Powered writes about the mean streets of Nevada.

  • The high school my daughter attended until last June is bike and pedestrian accessible, and bus service is reasonably good. But a lot of kids insist on driving to school, even though they have to park on the streets and move their cars every two hours to avoid getting tickets.

    Some of them probably drive because they think the alternatives — biking, buses or walking — are uncool. But the big reason, I think, is that cars allow them to escape some forms of adult control. If you have a car, you have a place to smoke (or use stronger substances…) and you can have a choice of places to eat lunch, instead of being stuck with the cafeteria or the one sandwich shop in walking distance.

    A lot of people — especially the school’s neighbors — would like to cut down on the number of kids who drive to school, but the attractions of cars for teenagers are pretty strong — and not entirely related to transportation.

    Any suggestions?

  • Ian Turner

    Mitch,

    You’re also rubbing up against the automobile as a symbol of the coming of age. High schoolers who bicycle are still kids, but those who drive may be considered men.

    Probably the strongest way by far to cut back on student driving is through parking restrictions. It doesn’t sound like your daughter’s school provides parking, so students are parking on the street. All the city needs to do is reserve street parking permits for those who live or work in the immediate area. An even better alternative would be Shoupian pricing, but I imagine that would be extremely unpopular with teachers and residents.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

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