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Locals put brakes on driving

Americans log fewest miles driven nationally in the last 37 years

Posted: January 27, 2009 9:15 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Cars are parked on the side of the road at the park-and-ride lot at San Fernando Road and the 14 freeway Tuesday.


Santa Clarita Valley motorists are squelching their driving habits to cope with a gloomy economy and unstable fuel prices that crept back over $2 per gallon, according to traffic officials.

Data from November 2008 showed the biggest decline in collective vehicle travel miles since 1971, said Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox.

Santa Clarita motorists said they are driving more strategically.

"I had to move from Lancaster because driving from there to here for work cost me probably $200 a month," said Maryi Ordonez, 25, of Santa Clarita. "I'm definitely driving less."

Jae Woo, 40 of Santa Clarita, only drives when necessary, he said.

"I'm changing my habits, planning out my trips, and being more conscientious."

Some SCV drivers avoid driving altogether.

"I leave my car at home and take the bus," said Manny Garcia, 24, of Santa Clarita. "I have a big Sequoia that eats gas like none other."

The most-recent data from the highway administration's latest traffic volume report shows a 5.3-percent decline in miles driven in November 2008 compared with November 2007, a loss of 12.9 billion vehicle-miles traveled nationally.

The California traffic-volume report showed a 6.4-percent decrease in miles traveled.

"Originally we assumed it had to do with high gas prices and as the gas prices continued to grow, that theory seemed to be fairly intuitive," Hecox said. "But as the gas prices began to come back down, people didn't go back out on the road like we assumed they would."

The report showed a 13-month trend of declined driving between November 2008 and November 2007.

The numbers represent the largest decline of miles traveled during November since monthly data estimates began in 1971.

In Santa Clarita, it's harder to tell whether people are driving less, said City Senior Traffic Engineer Ian Pari.

"In our city, either a new road was opened causing traffic volumes to shift or new development (was built) that causes an increase in traffic," he said. "If there was any change due to the downturn of the economy, that's mixed up with those two factors.

"Traffic volumes in general can vary up to 10 percent a day. That's just typical variation."

Economic challenges faced by consumers probably affect California's VMT numbers, but future implications are unknown, Hecox said.

"There may be an overall perception on the part of the average consumer that they just need to watch their pennies," he said. "But if you're unemployed there's no reason for you to go to work, so you're not commuting and you're going to be monitoring your household pocketbook."


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