Millennials, even those with children, are multimodal and urban

If anyone is under the impression that young adults’ preference for urban, multimodal living is a passing fad, they need to think again.

Unlike previous generations, Millennials are unlikely to move to distant suburbs in droves as soon as they start raising families, according to a just-released study by the American Public Transportation Association based in Washington, DC.

The study focused on the transportation and living preferences for the Millennial generation, here defined as born from 1982 through 2003. (When we first heard about this generation, the ages given was 1978 to 1996, but other reports say 1980 to 2000, and other ranges.)

This survey of 1,000 generational cohorts was focused on six metro areas — Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (OR), and Washington, DC. That’s a very urban group, and these cities are all top destinations for college-educated Millennials — which comprises the majority of this generation, but not all.

The vast majority of Millennials in this survey either live in the city (56 percent), or in a close-in suburb (34 percent). Only 10 percent live in far suburbs. Those who own vehicles prefer a suburban lifestyle only to a slightly higher degree.

Some experts and demographers have speculated that Millennials will move to the suburbs as soon as they have children. Many already do have children, and according to this report, Millennials with children are mostly likely to live downtown, near downtown, or within city limits. When Millennials have a child, they are more likely to buy a car. But they are not likely to move to the suburbs. Only 21 percent of this group moved to the suburbs in the last two years, and 23 percent of them intend to do so in the next five years. "On an attitudinal level, Millennial parents may be more likely to feel freedom in options for how they’d like to live –- with or without a car, in an urban or suburban environment. Millennial parents may be more likely to “opt-in” to car ownership-- as part of a multi-modal strategy to have options for getting around.”

Those surveyed are split on whether they see themselves living in the city or suburbs in the long-term. Given this generation’s current, heavily urban lifestyle, the suburban choice is likely to be close to the city. Note that parents are less likely to say having a family requires a move to the suburbs.


Interestingly, only 27 percent of Millennial parents surveyed said they required a car to get around, as opposed to 36 percent of Millennial singles. (That may be, ironically, because Millennial singles are less likely to have a car, and therefore feel the lack of wheels more keenly).

This generation is multimodal, APTA says. For a third of this generation, transportation choice is a conscientious one, related to concern for the environment. Of that third, walking (73 percent say it is better for the environment) and bicycling (64 percent) enjoy a huge advantage from an environmental point of view, and transit also does well (50 percent). Driving fares dismally (8 percent of Millennials consider it better for the environment).

Yet the top four reasons for choosing transportation mode is more practical. Saving money and convenience are the top two reasons (46 percent), followed by a desire for exercise (44 percent), and “I live in an area where transit makes more sense” (35 percent). Of these top reasons, only the convenience option favors driving, and that is not the case downtown or near downtown.

The underlying message from the APTA survey is that most Millennials want driving to be an option, but not the only option. They are choosing, and plan to live, in areas where transportation choice is available. They may still own cars, but they don’t want to be forced to use them.

Millennials “choose the best transportation mode (driving, transit, bike, or walk) based on the trip they are planning to take. Communities that attract Millennials have a multitude of transportation choices, as proven by Millennial hotspots, popular zip codes where residents have self-selected into a multi-modal lifestyle,” APTA notes.

This generation also values Wi-Fi options while traveling, which tends to rule out motoring, and public transit agencies need to capitalize on that market advantage, the report says. 

“Public transportation options are considered the best for digital socializing and among the most likely to connect the user with their communities. Transit also allows Millennials to work as they travel, a trend noted by 40 percent of those polled.”

For more in-depth coverage: 

• Subscribe to Better! Cities & Towns to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.

• Get the September-October 2013 issue. Topics: Phoenix: The ultimate car city seeks change, The end of the suburban era, Public housing towers, Upward mobility linked to walkability, 500 complete streets policies, Health in TODs, New Urbanism still on cutting edge, Seaside and Kentlands, The broad appeal of per-acre tax evaluation, Report calls for broad real estate reforms, Hamburg, NY, Urbanism Without Effort, Overcoming barriers to transit-oriented development, Is starchitecture compatible with New Urbanism? New Urban Update, CNU Charter Awards add topics, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk on New Urbanism impact

• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.