Has car ownership peaked? Let’s hope so


By Steven T. Jones
New data shows that the number of automobiles in the United States last year declined for the first time since World War II, possibly indicating that Americans’ once-boundless affinity for the car actually does have some limits. And that’s good news for San Francisco and people who care about global warming, oil wars, and the rapid proliferation of these vehicles of mass destruction.

Our top urban thinkers, from Livable Cities’ Tom Radulovich (who forward me this news item) to SPUR’s Gabriel Metcalf to various official city policies, all agree that San Francisco can only continue to responsibly grow if we actively limit the use of automobiles. That reality may irk and inconvenience some overentitled motorists, but it’s basic math.

This already-congested city will become gridlocked if we don’t expand and improve public transit and facilitate modes like the bicycle while discouraging automobile use by limiting new residential parking, better managing commercial parking to encourage turnover, and creating other disincentives to drive.

Many San Franciscans still lose their minds over talk like this, as shown during the recent debates of extended meter hours. But maybe these new car ownership figures show that, at least among young urban residents, living without a car just isn’t as unthinkable as it once was.