As the Planet Warms, Who Should Get to Drive?

But for Americans in poverty—those for whom a car-free lifestyle is a matter of economic necessity—the costs of adopting or abandoning different modes of transportation may be a more complicated judgment. A new study in the Journal of Planning Education and Research offers a glimpse into why. It shows that, over the past 50 years, owning a car has been among the most powerful economic advantages a U.S. family can have.

The methodology of the paper is fairly intricate—first, drawing on decades of survey and administrative data, King and fellow transportation scholars Michael Smart and Michael Manville show how the high costs of owning and maintaining a car have long posed a barrier to low-income households. Then, they craft a historical narrative about how infrastructure changed to accommodate driving as the default mode of transportation, with governments constructing highways, paving and widening roads, inventing anti-jaywalking laws, and building parking galore.

City Lab, February 8, 2019