Mirroring a national shift in transportation habits, Southern California residents are driving less and using transit more than they were a decade ago, according to a study by two national think tanks published Wednesday.
The average American drives about 7.6% fewer miles than he or she did in 2004, according to an analysis of federal data released by the Frontier Group and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. More Americans now commute to work using bicycles or public transportation, and fewer families own two or more cars.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area saw similar changes since the mid-2000s. Residents drove 2.3% fewer miles in 2010 than they did in 2006, the study said, using the most recent data available. In total, the number of miles fell by about 2.9 billion miles.
The volume of workers who commuted by car in the same area fell by about 2% during roughly the same time frame. Other California areas, including Riverside-San Bernardino, San Diego and San Francisco, saw similar declines.
Miles driven in the United States peaked around 2004. Any decreases since then can be attributed to a number of factors, the study's authors wrote, including rising gasoline prices, Baby Boomers who no longer work, and new technologies that have made transportation options like public transit and car-sharing more accessible.
"The time has come for cities and states to shift their transportation priorities ... toward the development of new transportation choices for Americans," authors Benjamin Davis and Phineas Baxandall wrote in the study. They added that public officials should begin to move money away from highway expansion and toward projects that encourage transit use, bicycling and walking.
The average number of miles traveled on public transit in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana increased by about 14% in the second half of the 2000's, the study said. The number of trips rose by 1.1%.
In 2011, about 0.2% of Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana workers commuted by bicycle, and about 1.1% of employees worked from home, according to the study.
In some California cities, the results were more mixed. Although transit use and bicycling both increased in Sacramento, the average driver was on the road for about 268 more miles in 2010 than in 2006.