Melinda Burns in Miller-McCune profiles a new study with some surprising news:
A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices. It could be a sign, researchers said, that the demand for travel and the demand for car ownership in those countries has reached a saturation point.
There are signs of saturation in vehicle ownership, too, at about 700 cars per 1,000 people in the U.S. — more cars than licensed drivers — and about 500 cars per 1,000 people in Japan and most of the European countries. Car ownership has declined in the U.S. since 2007 because of the recession.
It will be interesting to see how much car ownership rebounds as the US emerges from recession, which of course depends on when and how quickly that emergence occurs. There are certainly some signals that the sustainable-urbanist alternative to car ownership — urban life dependent on a suite of options including transit, cycling, walking, and car-sharing — is holding its value through the recession better than car-dependent life is doing. If so, we might never see car ownership rebound to the 2007 rate.
Car ownership is still rising in the developing world, of course, but Schipper doubts that can continue.
“My basic thesis is, ‘There ain’t room on the road,’” he said. “You can’t move in Jakarta or Bangkok or any large city in Latin America or in any city in the wealthy part of China. I think Manila takes the prize. Yes, fuel economy is really important, and yes, hybrid cars will help. But even a car that generates no CO2 still generates a traffic problem.
“Sadly, what is going to restrain car use the most is that you can’t move.”
Well, if developing-world cities weren't growing horizontally, creating new space for gridlock, I'd be more confident in that call. But it's definitely encouraging.