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STAMFORD -- A new study published this week by the public-interest organization ConnPIRG finds that people across America's largest urbanized areas are driving much less than before, and Fairfield County is no different.
In the Bridgeport-Stamford Metropolitan Statistical Area -- which encompasses the same footprint as Fairfield County -- drivers decreased their miles driven by 5.5 percent between 2006 and 2011, outpacing the rest of the state. The drastic decrease landed Fairfield County in the top third of all the largest 100 urbanized areas in the nation for the fastest decline in driving. In New Haven, the rate declined by 3.8 percent, and in Hartford there was a 2.2 percent decrease, according to ConnPIRG.
"Bridgeport-Stamford is No. 32 out of 100 cities in the nation, which is a pretty significant decline in driving and the biggest we've seen in Connecticut," said Sean Doyle, a program associate at ConnPIRG. And it's not just the number of drivers that's decreasing; passengers have also declined in numbers.
"That urbanized area had a 2.9 percent decrease of workers commuting in private vehicles, and that's the 15 highest in the nation," said Doyle.
The decline is seen most dramatically among the millennial generation. ConnPIRG reports that 16- to 34-year-olds reduced their average number of miles driven by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.
"The younger generation is the largest generation in the United States, and I think young people are just more willing and interested in using other forms of transportation," Doyle explained.
That generational shift is easy to see here in Southwestern Connecticut.
For instance, the suburb of Fairfield has the largest general gap between its drivers of any other town in the area, with 74.7 percent of employed residents between the ages of 45 and 54 driving to work, compared with only 38 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds. The 26.7 percent gap in Fairfield is followed by Stamford with the second largest gap, Redding with the third and Bridgeport with the fourth, according to a Hearst Connecticut analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
With millennials at the head of this shift, Doyle said it seems the changes are likely to continue on, and possibly grow over the years.
Another recent study, written by Michael Sivak, director of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan found that in 1983, 46.2 percent of 16-year-olds and 68.9 percent of 17-year-olds had their licenses. By 2008, those numbers had dropped to 31.1 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
"This isn't just a blip in the radar," he said. "This has really been a sustained shift. Driving peaked in 2004, and we haven't -- for almost a decade -- returned to the status quo in increases in driving."
It's an interesting tidbit of information, but Doyle said it could potentially have huge real-world implications for policymakers who need to weigh options when funding transportation.
"Our projections have really shown we need to take into account how people are getting around, and increasingly how young people want to get around," he said. "When we fund transportation infrastructure, these decisions might affect us for 20 to 30 years. We're looking at what's happening and making the calls, to fund the projects most suited for the future."
And in Fairfield County, the data suggests this might mean public transportation options rather than roads.
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