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Stastistics about Cars, Energy, Pollution, Bikes, and more
Principal on car loan
Finance charges on car loan
Gas & Oil
Maintenance & Repair
Licenses, Parking, & Misc.
Total Yearly Costs
One interesting thing we can do with the car costs is convert the car costs into time. The average American earns about $17/hr., or $14/hr. after federal taxes. So $7,754 in annual car costs takes 554 hours to earn. That's over three full months of work each year. Just to pay for the car. And cars are supposed to be saving us time? Drive to work, work to drive.
Another way to convert money into time is to figure out the average speed of a car after accounting for the time needed to earn money to pay for it. Based on a 7-mile one-way commute which is all we'll drive, our annual car costs are $6248 (capital costs of $5789/yr. plus operating costs of $0.131/mile, or $459). We'll figure a bicycle will cost us $220/yr. ($400 for a bike that lasts five years, $200 in accessories for the same time period, and $100/yr. for maintenance.) So our car costs less bicycle costs for a year are $6028, which will take 431 hours to pay for. The time we spend actually driving will be 140 hours, assuming the average speeds for urban autos at 25mph (11). So adding the time spent driving plus the time spent earning the money to drive, we spend 571 hours to go 3500 miles. That's an effective speed of 6.1mph, slower than a bicycle.
Another interesting thing we can do is to see how rich we'd become if we invested the money we would have spent on our car. Taking annual car costs of $7,754 minus annual bike costs of $220 and investing that every year from age 25 to 67 at 8%, we'd wind up with $2.3 million. Yes, that's right, over two million dollars. (Okay, so inflation reduces that to about $638,000 in today's dollars. It's still a shitload of money.) Bikes At Work offers calculators to figure how rich you'd be based on your own circumstances..
In a shorter term, investing your car savings as soon as your kids are born would mean that you'd have plenty of money to send them to college when they turned 18. Or you could use the money to buy a house, and make mortgage payments instead of car payments.
Oasis Design lists other cost factors not typically accounted for in published statistics, including societal costs. The author concludes that his family has saved $180,000 so far.
External costs of driving. The estimated annual external cost of driving (including air pollution, climate change, imported oil security, congestion, accidents, noise, etc.) is $126.3 billion.(E Magazine, 2005)
Higher gas prices don't decrease consumption. Knight Ridder maintains that at least in the spring of 2006, gas consumption kept increasing even as prices went up.
Average urban local bus speed is about 12 mph. (11, 2001)
IUrban automobile speed:
Texas fully congested. About a quarter of the Texas interstate system in metropolitan and urban areas is at 95 percent capacity, and an additional 40 percent has reached 80 percent capacity. Traffic is expected to increase 50 percent in the next 18 years. (9)
Traffic congestion wastes three billion gallons of gas a year. (7) [Note there is no real way to save that energy by reducing congestion, because whenever new roadways are built new drivers simply fill them up again.]
Thirty percent of morning traffic is caused by parents dropping their kids off at school. (Salon, 2004)
Urban rush-hour drivers were stuck in traffic for an average of 46 hours in 2002, nearly triple the time in 1982, according to a study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute. (Time, Nov. 2004)
Seven to twelve bicycles can park in one automobile parking space. (2)
It costs about $50 to build and maintain one space in a bike rack and $500 for a bike locker, yet one car parking space in a parking structure costs about $8,500. (2)
The easy availability of bike parking makes it twice as likely that people will bike to work.
The costs of subsidized car parking. "A Canadian study by Auto-Free Ottawa found that 86 percent of the American workforce commutes to work by car, and more than 90 percent of those commuters park for free. The average national value for a parking space is approximately $1,000, so that means $85 billion in annual subsidies. Ending these free subsidies would reduce the number of solo commuters by as much as 81 percent. And if ending the free ride is not a possibility, why can't we offer people who take public transit or bike to work a similar subsidy&emdash;payments in lieu of parking?" .(E Magazine, 2005)
Popularity of transportation choices by country.
(Taken from a lecture by Dr. John Pucher, 1999; see also 1990 & 2000 Census PDF, p.3)
Trips made by...
USA Canada Netherlands
89% 76% 45%
2% 10% 7%
6% 10% 18%
<1% 2% 28%
3% 2% 2%
Biking accounts for 0.2% of all road miles traveled, and 1% of all trips in the U.S. (2001, Bureau of Transportation Statistics) In 1998, 1% of Austin-area residents commuted by bike, and 3% walked. (Patrick Goetz reported this to us in 1998, citing a 1997 survey by the Austin Transportation Study)
U.S. Census data shows what percentage of commuters in a given city ride a bike, and what percentage of households are car-free. (U.S. Census, 2000)
41.4 million Americans rode a bike six times or more in 2002. (Washington Post, Dec. 2004)
Fever than 30% of Americans ride a bike at all during the summer. (US DOT, 2003)
90% of children who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked to school in the 1960's. Only 31% do so today. (Salon, 2004)
More bikes than cars are sold in the U.S. (2.55
million vs. 2.4 million). They're just not used as much as
cars. (Treehugger, 2009)
Bicycling decreases with age. Nearly 40 percent of those 16 to 24 ride a bicycle during the summer, while 26 percent of those 45 to 54 ride. Only about 9 percent of those age 65 and older report they ride a bike. (US DOT, 2003)
Most NYC residents don't own cars. New York City total: 54% (vs. 57% in 1990), The Bronx: 60%, Brooklyn: 54%, Manhattan: 78% (vs. 77% in 1990. Unclear if this is actual decline in car ownership or from rounding the numbers.), Queens: 34%, Staten Island: 20%. (Transportation Alternatives, Apr. 2002)
Big pickups getting more popular. The biggest pickups, which were just 8.6 percent of the nation's new vehicles in 1990, now account for 13.2 percent, about one in every eight vehicles sold. (NYT, July 31, 2003)
The easy availability of bike parking makes it twice as likely that people will bike to work.
The availability of showers at work makes it five times as likely that people will bike to work.
Highway miles traveled by auto in the U.S. is 2.9 trillion miles a year. Air travel is only 6 billion miles. (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2003; this page has a breakdown for cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc.).
Bicycle miles traveled: X to Y. The figures for annual bicycle miles traveled in the U.S. vary tremendously depending on which source you consult:
Consumer Product Safety Commission "Bicycle Study (PDF)" (doc. #344), 1991. States 67M cyclists riding 15B hours. Frankly, this figure is not very believable.
U.S. Dept. of Trans. / Fed. Hwy Admin. "The Environmental Benefits of Bicycling and Walking", 1993
Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Household Travel Survey, 2001
Volume. The design capacity for a freeway lane is roughly about 1,500 persons/hour. A single track of light rail can carry as many passengers in an hour as a four-lane freeway (assuming 1.2 passengers per vehicle which is the average in North Texas) and use much less space.
Volume, Take 2. One road lane can move about 2100 cars per hour no matter what their speed. [If they go faster, then they're spaced farther apart, to give enough room to brake.]
Damage to roads by trucks. Each fully loaded 18-wheeler does nearly as much damage to a roadway as 9,600 automobiles. (9)
BicyclingLife et al are running a survey to try to get better data about cycling demographics. You can help by taking the online survey.
Nationwide, trucks carried about 58 percent of commodity tons in 1997 while trains carried about 11 percent, said Dr. Steve Roop, director of rail research at the Texas Transportation Institute. Much of the rest traveled by water, pipeline and air. (10)
Truck traffic has increased sharply in the past decade, with 80 percent of traffic from the North American Free Trade Agreement lumbering on Texas concrete. (10)
One rail car equals about four trucks. (9)
China loves cars. Even in China, where the use of bicycles by its citizens is legendary, the number of cars has been doubling every five years for the past 30 years. (6)
Stats for bike sales (U.S. & worldwide) are available at Bicycle Retailer News.
Between World War II and 1980, about 1,500 miles of Texas rail lines were abandoned and stripped. That has increased to 4,000 miles in the last decade. (9)
Popularity. The number of trips taken on foot has dropped 42% in the last 20 years. Americans took less than 6% of their trips on foot in 1997 & 1998, while pedestrians accounted for 13% of all traffic deaths. Of those nearly 11,000 deaths, 1500 were chlidren. (3)
Danger. Walking is 36 times more dangerous than driving, because Americans lack safe places to walk (e.g. trend towards fewer sidewalks and crosswalks). In 59% of cases for which information is available, pedestrians died in places where they could not find a crosswalk. (3)
Danger. Of the 47 metro regions studed, the safest for pedestrians were Pittsburgh PA, Boston MA, and Rochester NY. The most dangerous were:
Spending. On average, states spent just 55 cents per person of their federal transportation funds on pedestrian projects in the years studied, less than 1% of their total federal transportation dollars. Average spending on highways came to $72 per person. (3)
We have stats on the carnage wrought by autos on a separate page.
(1) Austin Energy brochure, 2000
(2) From the Eugene/Springfield (OR) Bicycle Map (1998?), which further credits the American Lung Association, Oregon Traffic Commission, Association of Commuter Transportation, American Automobile Association, and City of Eugene.
(3) "Mean Streets 2000", Surface Transportation Policy Project report, 6-00
(5) "Airbus Industries is Considering a Very Big Bet", New York Times, July 14, 2000, C1.
(6) World Resources Institute. 1998-99 World Resources: A Guide to the Global Environment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
(7) 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Los Angeles: South California Edison, 1990, p. 11.
(8) Traffix brochure, Texas Department of Transportation, 2001.
(9) Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols, quoted in "Rally to save the rails tries to gain steam at Capitol", Dallas Morning News, May 6, 2001
(10) "Rally to save the rails tries to gain steam at Capitol", Dallas Morning News, May 6, 2001
(11) See below for Lyndon Henry's note to us on 9-21-01.
(12) Newsweek, April 15, 2002.
(13) Associated Press, July 30, 2003, on Yahoo
Dr. Vukan R. Vuchic, in his widely used textbook 'Urban Public Transportation' (Prentice-Hall, NJ, 1981) cites typical local bus operating speeds: "Most typical bus routes on urban streets operate with overall speeds of 15 to 20 km/h [9 to 12 mph] during off-peak hours. During peaks, speeds of only 8 to 14 km/h [5 to 9 mph] are typical."
Last update: Dec. 13, 2012
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