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The Benefits of Cutting Vehicle Miles: A Path to Healthier Communities and Economies

In a recent study published by the Rocky Mountain Institute, it was revealed that reducing driving by 20% in Minnesota could have significant positive impacts on both the economy and public health. The study suggests that such a reduction could save the average household $1,700 annually, decrease crash fatalities by 100 per year, and lead to numerous additional lives saved due to improved air quality and healthier lifestyles.


The authors of the report emphasize the pivotal role of State Departments of Transportation in reducing transportation pollution and advancing green transportation goals. They point out that federal funds, such as those provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, can be utilized to support these efforts, but caution against investing in traditional highway expansions which could exacerbate pollution and traffic congestion.


In Minnesota, discussions are underway regarding the redesign of Interstate 94 in the Twin Cities area, with considerations for more pedestrian, cyclist, and public transit-friendly options. Additionally, the state Legislature is contemplating a Clean Transportation Standard to reduce the carbon footprint of the transportation sector, though initial plans have faced criticism for lacking ambition.

Graph on Minnesota on track for VMT reduction goal


Minnesota's Department of Transportation has already set a nonbinding goal to reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20% by 2050, a target that seems attainable given the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to commuting habits. However, it's worth noting that while urban areas like the Twin Cities have seen reductions in VMT, some rural areas have experienced increases.


Experts attribute the decline in VMT to factors such as the Great Recession of 2008 and changing behaviors among younger Americans, who are less inclined to drive compared to previous generations. The report suggests that by intentionally shifting away from a "car culture" mindset, states can realize significant cost savings, prevent pollution, and ultimately save lives.


As Minnesota and other states consider the future of transportation infrastructure and policies, it's clear that prioritizing alternatives to driving can lead to healthier, more sustainable communities, and economies.


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