By Kelly Hultgren

Arizona Public Media

Americans are driving less for the first time since World War II, according to a new study from the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.

In 2007, Arizonans drove more than 62 billion miles. Despite an increase in the state’s population, that figure decreased by almost three billion miles in 2010, said Diane Brown, executive director with Arizona PIRG.

Higher gas prices, new licensing’s laws and improvements in public transportation, have convinced people to step away from their cars. Last year, the average American drove six miles fewer than in 2004, she said.

This trend is more prevalent in young adults. For ages 16-34, the average person drove 20 percent fewer miles in 2009, than in 2001, according to the study.

Instead, they are using public transportation.

“At the same time America’s young people are decreasing the amount they drive, they are increasing their use of public transportation,” Brown said. “From 2001 to 2009, the number of passenger miles traveled by 16-34 year olds on public transit, increased by 40 percent.”

These new findings call for new perspectives, Brown said.

“Federal and local governments have historically made massive investments in new highway capacity on the assumption that driving will continue to increase,” she said. “The changing transportation preferences of young people and Americans overall, throw those assumptions into doubt. “

Instead of the proposed plans to widen the I-10, decision makers need to focus on alternative transportation planning, like the new, 4-mile streetcar in the current Regional Transportation Plan, said Marilyn Robinson, associate director and urban planner with the Drachman Institute College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture/Planning.

The new rail system, along with other enhancements for bicycle and pedestrian commuters, will make Tucson a more favorable place to live, Robinson said.

“Anyone who has traveled to communities with high quality rail transit and supportive bicycle and pedestrian elements, knows the difference such a transportation system makes for the quality of life for all residents,” Robinson said.