As the Baby Boomer generation continues its inexorable march toward the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the AARP is taking a close look at the impacts America's biggest generation has had and is still having on U.S. culture and transportation since the Woodstock Festival.

The hippies turned yuppies — people born between 1946 and 1964 — who are now beginning to retire are on the cusp of a huge change as far as how they get around goes. Most of them were born in the suburbs, have lived there their whole lives, and will most likely die in the suburbs (shudder).


Boomers started driving young, and over the past four decades have driven more cars farther than anyone else in the history of man. All kinds of things have caused that — more women working, suburban sprawl, etc.

Here's what the indelible mark they've left on the world looks like, and here three things that the AARP says are going to change as these Boomers age.

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1. More Cars

Dual income families meant more cars. Cars for parents; cars for children; extra cars just in case those cars don't work. If you've lived in or been to the suburbs, you know the drill (and have probably had a neighbor like me with a pile of crapcans sitting in the driveway bringing down property values). By the time I'd reached college age, my family had four cars. Anyway, the number of vehicles on American roads has tripled over the past 40 years because of stuff like that.

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2. People Drive More Miles

The number of cars has tripled, but the number of miles traveled per person has jumped by 15 miles per day since the '70s, or 20 miles per household per day. Why? you have to drive to do anything when you're in the 'burbs. Plus, with both parents working, mothers and fathers drive around a lot so that they can go to work and pick up Kyle and Kaitlyn from co-ed soccer practice.


Perhaps because of that, our collective mentality has changed about using cars so that they're used even for short trips that might be more simply undertaken on a bicycle or on foot.

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3. More Congestion

The number of work trips per person has remained the same over the past four decades. But factoring in the extra sprawl mileage means people typically commute farther to get to work. As a result, traffic can be gnarly in many urban-suburban areas where development has been spread over the landscape like a thin, vile paste, dominating "planning" (L.A., San Diego, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, etc.).

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4. His & Hers Cars

Two incomes means that both mom and dad get cars. Boomers have really increased a trend that began in the '60s. Can you imagine — outside of Portland and Brooklyn — most families actually sharing one car? Could happen, but why have one when you can have two. Say a pickup for me and a sleek sedan for her, or so the thinking goes.

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5. Sprawl

With everyone in the family having access to a car, it's been possible for more people to move to suburbs more distant from the city center. Since the late '70s, the amount of sprawl that's developed around cities has been phenomenal. Families are smaller now than they were in 1970, but they tend to live in larger houses on larger lots that are farther away from useful things like jobs and stores.

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6. Outsourced Food and Daycare

Baby Boomers have spent much of their lives driving and working, so household chores like spending time with children and preparing food have been outsourced to daycare centers and restaurants. That doesn't mean they're sending their children to India, but if you think about it, the home is a microcosm of a telecom company. Although come to think of it, I was actually outsourced to the Indian family across the street when I was in Kindergarten.

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7. More Personal Travel

Boomers have always been an I'll-take-my-own-car-thanks sort of crowd, so the number of personal trip miles traveled is a lot higher now that it was in the '70s. That could be anything from a tanning bed and gym appointments to visits to the local brothel. Stuff that's personal, but not work related (unless visiting a brothel is somehow work related, in which case, we won't ask too many questions).

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8: A More Urban Population

The Baby Boomer generation's expansion of suburbs has led to more jobs being located there. That's been one of the reasons for more miles traveled, and has also contributed to sprawl. Added to that is that many rural people have moved to urban areas and aging suburbs which are experiencing an urban ossification.

A major trend of the last half-century is the growth of urban areas. The urban population has more than doubled since 1950 (increasing 130 percent), while the population in rural areas-those not incorporated into nearby urban areas- has grown only 8 percent. Urban areas expanded to encompass huge tracts of formerly rural land for sprawling housing developments far from the city centers.

No one knows exactly what the future will look like, but with suburban areas becoming more city-like, we we have a pretty good idea. That will affect transportation, how people spend their time/driving miles, etc. See? Everything's connected, maaann, just like that drum circle guy said back during the Summer of Love.

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Big Change #1: More Medical Travel

As they approach retirement age, where Boomers are driving is changing. People tend to visit doctors more as they age, and the generation that rocked Woodstock is now rocking the number of trips traveled to get eye exams and colonoscopies (hopefully not at the same time). Fortunately, the distance people travel for medical services hasn't increased over time, and hovers around 10 miles.

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Big Change #2: More Public Transit Travel

With so many people in one generation — people who so drastically increased America's use of cars — things will change as Boomers become too old to drive. It'll still be a while before large numbers of wings are clipped, but the impending torrent has begun with a foreboding trickle. Already, more of them are using subways, buses, trains, and, believe it or not, bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters (which might kick up the medical miles numbers in a few years).

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Big Change #3: More Autonomous Cars

AARP's study suggests that the family car's progression from station wagon to minivan to SUV to increasingly autonomous vanlike people moving device is due to Boomers' lifestyle impacts. They're getting older, but they'll still depend upon cars to get places. That means nanny controls could help. This may be troubling for performance drivers, but it may be a good thing in general. After all, when my parents get too old to drive but still aren't rickety enough for the state to take away their licenses, I don't want them crashing into post offices like people often do down in Florida.

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