RIVERSIDE, Calif. - At the corner of Magnolia Street and Terracina Drive, just off the Riverside Community College campus, empty spots on the front bicycle racks of Riverside Transit Agency buses are becoming a hot commodity.
On a recent day, students snagged the two holders on a southwest-bound bus, leaving another to wait for the next bus to come along.
The high cost of driving and a greater interest in personal fitness and environmental stewardship have many young adults ditching their cars and trucks in favor of buses and bikes.
Analysts with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for increased transit and pedestrian spending, found that Americans between the ages of 16 and 34 -- commonly called "Generation Y" -- are driving less. According to the data, primarily culled from Census Bureau and other federal agency findings, between 2001 and 2009 the number of miles young people drove dropped from 10,300 on average to 7,900.
Evidence of that trend is apparent on the bicycle racks on buses, the bike lockers at many Metrolink stations and the racks on the UC Riverside campus.
"It's just been a humongous change since I came here in the late '90s," said UCR professor Raymond Rogers, a frequent cyclist. "On campus, we used to have a handful of ruddy little bikes, commuter bikes ... now you see serious cycling bikes and a lot more of them."
And officials are responding. Riverside has built bike lanes into roads when they widen them, and bus officials are increasing the number of slots available on bus racks as new coaches are purchased.
The 23 percent drop in driving by Gen Y is more than for other groups. Since U.S. driving peaked in 2004, the average American is driving about 6 percent less as of May, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Gasoline prices often determine people's driving habits, leading to reductions when costs climb.
Some young people are not driving at all; 26 percent of those ages 14 to 34 did not have a driver's license in 2010, up from 21 percent in 2000.
Reasons for the drop in driving included the added costs of driving, improved health from the effects of cycling and walking and environmental concerns, researchers said. Young professionals, for example, are choosing to live closer to work and amenities like bars and restaurants; thus making it more likely they will hop on their bikes or onto a bus rather than behind the wheel.
Rogers, 62, said biking at colleges has been common, but lately more students and more types of students are choosing cycling because of the low cost, easy maintenance and cultural significance. He said he often talks to students who know about the brands and maintenance of bicycles like many previous generations talked about cars.
"I think these are the equivalent of my generation's Volkswagen Beetle," Rogers said with a laugh.
Bus and bike riders are likely to laud the benefits of not using a car.
"I'd rather be out there active," said Robert Rahon, 21, as he waited with his bicycle at a downtown Riverside bus stop. "You see so much more that you don't see driving."
Plus, in California where gas costs around $4.20 a gallon, it allows students and young people to save money for other things.
"It's a lot cheaper to ride a bike," said Jenny Sheppard, 19, of Riverside. "You don't have gas or repairs that cost $1,000, and insurance."
Officials are making the roads friendlier to encourage cycling. Along Canyon Crest Drive near Martin Luther King Boulevard on the UC Riverside campus, workers painted part of the bicycle lane green to help make drivers and cyclists more aware.
"We wanted to test what we think is an effective way to mark a transition lane for bicyclists," said Mike Delo, transportation services director for the campus, in an email.
Elsewhere, painting bicycle lanes green has improved safety, according to analysis in Oregon. In a Portland-area study, 92 percent of drivers yielded to bicyclists on the green lane, as opposed to 72 percent before the color change.
Los Angeles transportation officials painted green bicycle lanes along Spring Street downtown and First Street in Boyle Heights last year. Officials are still assessing whether they have improved safety and made the city more bicycle-friendly, said transportation engineer Tim Fremaux.
So-called "mixing areas" where cars and cyclists must cross -- such as intersections -- are where officials believe they'll see the most benefits.
"In terms of getting the best bang for your buck, that might be the place," Fremaux said.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)
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