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The Youngins Are Ditching Their Cars ... Or Are They?

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If urban planning publications are to be believed (and why shouldn't they be?), the younger generation is set on ditching the personal automobile for "smarter" modes of transportation, namely transit, biking and walking. Not only is this concept a paradigm shift for the way most people live in this country, it's downright revolutionary in a car-beholden city like Atlanta. Walking home with groceries?! In July?! But hold on a second ... are these whippersnappers really set on ditching the "American Dream" their forefathers cooked up post-World War II? When it comes to predicting the future of our city's car-addicted lifestyle, two Atlanta writers do not see eye-to-eye.

The bike-versus-car debate in Atlanta filled the op-ed page of a recent AJC issue.

In one corner, we have the opinion of Jessica Estep, 26, who like many Atlanta kids grew up with the assumption that a car was the only way to get around, period. And like many 20-somethings, she's come to another conclusion later in life: With a studied combination of transit, biking, carpooling, and walking, she's been able to kick the habit of constant car use. Her reasons for doing so are pretty hard to argue with: Sitting in traffic sucks, owning a vehicle sucks the life out of your income and automobile ownership hasn't exactly done wonders for the environment.

Her transportation choices extend beyond getting from Point A to Point B; they also influenced her choice of living space. She shares a small-ish urban apartment in Midtown with her boyfriend that's within easy walking distance of destinations and transit. Don't think for a second that real estate developers haven't noticed, as that's exactly the motivation behind most of intown's construction activity over the past decade or so. But is all the car bashing just a phase?

Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, seems to think so. In his view, the changing transportation habits of Millenials are more an economic reality than a lifestyle choice. A lot of young people are out of work or underemployed, so of course they're driving less (assuming they would need to drive to work). Kids aren't driving as much because they're not really going anywhere in life: "household formation" is on hold, much less moving out of mom and dad's basement. Once the economy recovers and jobs return, they'll be back on track to that ultimate goal of the good life in the 'burbs. Plus, the projections of withering automobile dependence are just plain manipulated, Poole argues.

So who's right? Sound off in the comments section and let us know your position in the great transportation debate.

· Young adults leaving cars behind? [AJC]

[Photo: idreamofcycling.com]