Millennials are driving more than in years past.

During the “Battle of the Bike Lanes” last week, City Councilmember Jill Gaebler claimed that it’s crucial for Colorado Springs to attract thousands of Millennial workers every year and that these younger workers want more bike amenities. We’re skeptical.

First, the Springs is having no trouble attracting younger people even without fully connected bike infrastructure, as we wrote about here.

Second, it’s not clear to us that Millennials are rejecting transport by car much more than their predecessors. It appears many of the articles suggesting as much come from several years ago when statistics on lesser car use may have mostly reflected Millennials’ struggles to bounce back from the recession. More recent data show that bounce back, as younger people–particularly lower income younger people–are once again starting to drive more.

In fact a 2016 paper published in Transport Reviews found that a lot of the Millennial decrease in car usage was not permanent, and as Millennials age they tend to behave more similarly to the generations prior. From the abstract:

Millennials appear to exhibit a lag in adopting the activity patterns of predecessor generations due to delayed lifecycle milestones (e.g. completing their education, getting jobs, marrying, and having children) and lingering effects of the economic recession, suggesting that travel demand will resume growth in the future.

In the conclusion, the authors elaborate:

Based on the trends reported in this paper, transportation planning professionals should not expect a fundamental shift in travel demand in the future. Millennials are often touted as the generation that will bring about transformative changes in the transport sector. Their adoption of technology-based services, the sharing economy, the internet of things, and alternative modes of transportation is seen as the harbinger of a turning point in transportation that is characterised by lower levels of personal car ownership and use. The longitudinal analysis in this paper suggests that, as young adults, millennials are behaving differently, but the differences dampen with age, and are likely to fade further as millennials experience advanced lifecycle milestones.

As we’ve said before, we aren’t against more connected bike infrastructure in the Springs, depending on how it’s done. We are, however, very against the City pushing highly unpopular changes and giving ad hoc justifications after the fact. There are better and worse arguments for replacing traffic lanes with bike lanes. We think the “we need Millennials” line is one of the City’s weakest arguments so far.

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