How Driving Loses “The Cool Factor” for Millennials

23-Aug-2013 For my 16th birthday, I was bestowed a beautiful piece of metal. This car symbolized to me one thing: freedom.

Growing up in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, I spent a good portion of my childhood in my mom’s minivan driving from school to sports practice and everything in between. My life changed the day I got my own driver’s license. I now had the freedom and independence to take myself to these places. No longer would I be waiting outside buildings for my driver. Instead, I dealt with the hassles of traffic and parking – and running late suddenly became my fault.

Then I went off to college and lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan for four years, where I learned the beauty of a walkable lifestyle. I walked to everything, and only used a car to get to the grocery store. My commute to work and class was a 15-minute walk, and if I had to go to north campus, I diligently sat on the campus bus.

Now, as one of 21.6 million American Millennials living at home with my parents, I am back to a car-dependent lifestyle in suburbia, and I hate it.

I hate that I cannot walk down the street for coffee; I do not get to interact with neighbors; and if I want to go anywhere, I have to drive, find parking, check traffic warnings, and listen to the radio.

To get to my internship every morning, I avoid paying for parking and rely on my mother’s timeliness to get me to the Washington D.C.-area Metro subway. However, once I step onto the long escalators of the Bethesda Metro, the sense of independence I desperately crave emerges. I used to get this feeling from driving, but now, whenever I turn my engine on, I am filled with anger and annoyance.

The cool factor of driving has worn off.

Montgomery County is currently in the process of approving its proposed Bus Rapid Transit network. I recently attended a planning commission hearing regarding the issue. As I looked around the crowd, I noticed a major lack of young people. Drew Morrison was one of the few young people in the room who testified. Drew argued that – to attract young people – the county must invest in public transportation. His argument aligns with this Los Angeles Times article, highlighting a deep misunderstanding between planners and the needs and wants of different generations.

I plan to sell my car as soon as I can and use the money to afford living in a place where I do not need to worry about the qualms of a car-dependent lifestyle. My generation likes the independence we get not from sitting behind the wheel, but from navigating the array of public transportation disposable to us: grabbing the bike from the Capital Bikeshare rack, hopping on the D.C. Circulator bus, or simply putting one step in front of the other.

I see the generational gap as some type of suburban rebellion from the boring places we called home as teens. We are desperate for a sustainable and equitable walkable environment that inherently creates a sense of community. I no longer see a car-driven suburban lifestyle as convenient. Rather, convenience is having choices to get me to my destination through an array of transit options.

Drew is right. If Montgomery County wants to attract more young people, its leaders must consider the next generation’s wants and needs. I want a place where I have options, and I need a place where I do not have to afford a car – because we Millennials can barely afford anything.

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