OTREC – Relationship between Economic Activity and Vehicle Miles Traveled

The Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) released a November 2011 report researching the relationship between vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and economic activity. The report seeks to determine if higher VMT would lead to economic growth, with current policies attempting to curb VMTs thereby adversely impacting the economic activity of the country. Their results display that the relationship between VMT and GDP is dependent upon the stage of the business cycle and the macroeconomy, that VMT tends to cause economic activity in downturns, while in upturns the opposite holds true. The relationship is similarly dependent upon the size and level of development of the city, with smaller, less dense urban areas with higher VMTs generating economic growth. The report concludes stating that “under normal circumstances in well-developed urban areas, it is reasonable that GHG-related VMT-reduction policies would not result in significant drops in economic activity.”

This report, while not finding conclusive results one way or another, still highlights the idea that VMT-reduction policies and Complete Streets/bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements do not result in significant drops of economic activity. In fact, multiple studies have shown that reducing vehicles on our roadways and increasing the numbers of bicycles and pedestrians create safer, healthier, and more inclusive roadways while boosting the economy by increasing property values and revitalizing commercial areas.¹ By minimizing VMT and instead choosing to increase the attractiveness of our roadway to other modes of mobility, we also increase the livability of our communities and equity of our streets.
¹ Street Redesign for Revitalization, West Palm Beach, FL. Case Study No. 16. http://www.walkinginfo.org/pedsafe/casestudy.cfm?CS_NUM=16.

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