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What Drove the Driving Downturn?

In an (academic) brawl over sprawl, planners are debating whether compact development contributed to a recent decrease in vehicles miles traveled.
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Since 2004, driving as measured by the number of vehicle miles traveled declined, reaching a two-decade low in 2012. Slumping figures for VMT per capita, number of vehicles on the road, and the average age of drivers all seemed to be telling us the same story: We’d passed “peak car” in the United States.

But then things got complicated. As the economy grew and cheap gas got cheaper, VMT per capita started rising anew—it’s gone up for five years straight. So, is there a real long-term decline? And if so, what is—or was—driving it?