Child Miles Traveled

Vis a vis the recent discussion at the Transportation Experts blog on the question of whether car VMT in the U.S. should be reduced as a matter of federal policy, I was curious about this factoid over on the Rocky Mountain Institute’s website.

Improve public transportation, they say. Develop housing near mass transport nodes. Form carpools at the office. These are all effective and viable measures to address the average American business commute, and we should indeed do all of these things. But what if our business commute isn’t necessarily where we have the most influence? What if it’s our kids’ activities driving us to drive more — our child miles traveled (CMTs)?

According to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, the average vehicle travels 3,956 miles for family and personal business. In 1969, that average was 1,270 miles. We’ve tripled our family business mileage, but VMTs for business commuting only increased 36 percent during the same period. Looks like our family miles are to blame.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 6th, 2009 at 1:32 pm and is filed under Commuting, Congestion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Child Miles Traveled”

  1. Jan-Albert de Leur Says:

    Me and al lot of my collegues (transport specialists) still tend to overvalue the traffic flows in rush ours and connecting this to commuting between home and work locations. Research has shown that in the Netherlands this type of traffic is only around 12,5% of total traffic and this rate is declining. Most motives for travelling are connected with family (home-school, family visits etc.) and recreation. I think we mostly ignore this phenomenon, because the government doesn’t have much influence on the choices made by induviduals in their family circle. We have a fair deal of influence on the standard commuting relations.
    When I look at my own situation, it is also true that for most of these trips the car is the only realistic mode of transport. traveling by public transport with my family is expensive and time comsuming, the bike is only attractive up to 7 or 8 kilometer range. Also most of these trips are made in evening hours and weekends, when congestion is not that heavy (yet) and public transport supply at these times is at a minimum.

    Jan-Albert de Leur
    traffic specialist – Heerhugowaard, the Netherlands

  2. Ed Hillsman Says:

    Actually, local governments have more influence on family travel than we realize, through infrastructure. When I was a child, I had a large area within which I could walk and bike safely to friends’ homes, school, the recreation center, the library, a movie theater, and shops. A child in post-1970 suburbia has to go a lot farther to get to anything useful, and may have to be driven because subdivisions feed onto busy arterials that are not safe for children to bike on.

    If you build small parks with baseball or soccer fields, scattered throughout a community, and if you form leagues based on geography (neighborhoods, school attendance areas), then a child could walk/bike to the “home field”, for an average of half of the games in which s/he participated. “Away” games would require transportation by driving (or bus). If instead you build large multi-field/multi-sport recreation complexes out on the edge of town (because that’s where large parcels of inexpensive land are), then virtually all children have to be driven to virtually all league games. Even if you have neighborhood playing fields, if you don’t form leagues based on geography, you get a lot of driving.

    Given the number of foreclosed and abandoned houses, I wonder whether it might make sense to look for playing-field-sized clusters of abandoned houses in suburbia, buy them, tear them down, and redevelop the land as small neighborhood recreation parks within subdivisions. Yes, including space for the visiting team’s parents to park their cars. But I’m sure the rest of the neighborhood would object to the prospective traffic.

    Ed Hillsman
    USF, Tampa, FL

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How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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