Car and Transportation Almanac

Statistics about Cars, Energy, Pollution, Bikes, and more


Car emissions kill 30,000 people each year in the U.S. (2, 1998)

More than half of the people in the U.S. live in areas that failed to meet federal air quality standards at least several days a year (7, 1990), and around 80 million Americans live in areas that continually fail to meet these standards (6, 1998).

Most ozone pollution is caused by motor vehicles, which account for 72% of nitrogen oxides and 52% of reactive hydrocarbons (principal components of smog). (7, 1990)

Emissions from cars dwarf that from power plants. In May 2000, Austin Energy planned to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 40% at its Decker and Holly power plants, from 1700 tons per year to less than 1000tpy by 2003.

By comparison, NOx emissions in Travis County from motor vehicles totaled approximately 30,000 tons per year in 1996 – the last year for which complete data was available. (1, 2000)

SUV’s put out 43% more global-warming pollutants (28 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of gas consumed) and 47% more air pollution than the average car. (4, cited in 2002)

General information about vehicle pollution is here.

Natural gas buses no better than diesel. Read about it here.

More pollution stats are available in this research report.

Here’s a calculator which shows how much pollution is caused by your household electricity usage. This can be handy for comparing how much pollution you save by biking vs. how much is created in your home.

Congestion. Since much pollution is caused while traffic is slowed or stalled due to congestion, many people mistakenly think that this pollution can be prevented by decreasing congestion.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work, as every attempt to facilitate traffic flow simply results in more traffic. This topic has been studied exhaustively.

CO2 emissions from cars is 20.4 lbs. per gallon. (EPA, 2005; start with 19.4 lbs./gallon, then add 5% as shown in step #4 on that page)

CO2 emissions from U.S. cars & trucks totaled 314 million metric tons in 2002. That’s as much as would be released from burning all the coal in a train 50,000 miles long — enough to circle around the world, twice. (Environmental Defense, Nov-.Dec. 2006, p. 8, PDF)



Bicycling wastes gas? Bicycling actually uses fossil fuels, if you consider the fossil fuels that go into producing the food to fuel the cyclist. Eating meat is most wasteful because of all the energy required to produce animal foods while eating fruits, grains, and vegetables is more efficient. (article)

Bikes vs. Cars. David Lawyer wrote the ultimate paper comparing bicycle vs. automobile energy use and found that bikes are 2/3 more efficient than cars even after factoring in the energy to produce the extra food the cyclist requires. (David Lawyer)

Bicycle MPG. If we spent our gas money (at $3.72/gallon) on food to fuel our biking, that $3.72 would take us 26 miles on beef, 48 miles on potatoes, 106 miles on beans, and 109 miles on rice. (source)

Bicycling is 117% more efficient than walking. (source)

Using a bicycle to commute four days a week for four miles (one-way) saves 54 gallons of gas annually. (2)

The energy and resources needed to build one medium-sized car could produce 100 bicycles. (2)


The U.S. uses about half of the world’s gasoline. (6)

Cars and SUV’s use 40% of the oil that’s used daily in the U.S. (13)

Switching from an average new car to a 13 mpg SUV for a year would waste more energy than leaving a refrigerator door open for six years, a bathroom light burning for 30 years, or a color TV turned on for 28 years. (4)

Raising the fuel-economy standards for SUV’s and other light trucks to equal that of cars would save 1 million barrels of oil a day. (4)

Improving the average fuel efficiency of vehicles in the United States by 2.7 miles per gallon would equal all U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf, according to conservation advocate Amory Lovins. (12)

Big pickups are even worse than SUV’s. The fuel efficiency of the average pickup has also declined from as high as 19.2 miles a gallon in the 1987 model year to 16.8 miles a gallon today.

The average S.U.V. gets 17.8 miles a gallon now and the average car 24.8. And even those averages do not count the very biggest vehicles those weighing more than 8,500 pounds fully loaded which are exempt under federal law.

Like the Hummer and other giant sports utilities, the biggest pickups average little more than 10 miles a gallon. (NYT, July 31, 2003)

Fuel Economy. After the 1973-74 energy crisis, Congress required cars to be more efficient and to get an average of 27.5 mpg by 1985. It worked.

From 1964-74 gas consumption had risen 48% to 6.5 million bbl. a day. But increased fuel economy meant that gas consumption barely went up at all between 1976 and 1991 (7 million bbl. a day to only 7.2 million).

Progress stopped in 1988 under Bush the elder, and Clinton and Bush Jr. along with Congress were happy to give automakers a free ride, and fuel economy has gone steadily downward. (Time magazine, “Why America is Running Out of Gas“, July 13, 2003)

If every commuter car in the U.S. carried just one more person, we’d save eight billion gallons of gas a year. (7)

95% of a car’s energy goes towards moving the car itself, and only 5% of moving the passenger. The average passenger car weighs 3000 lbs. (source), so if a person weighs 150 lbs., then 3000 / (3000 + 150) = 95.2%. Put two people in the car and it drops to 91% (3000 / (3000 + 150 + 150).

With four people, it’s 83% (3000 / (3000+150+150+150+150). Contrast with a 30-lb. bicycle: 83% of the energy goes towards transporting the rider, not the vehicle (150 / (30+150).

Traffic congestion wastes three billion gallons of gas a year. (7) (But note that it’s not possible to save energy by reducing congestion because every attempt to facilitate traffic flow simply results in more traffic. This issue has been studied exhaustively.)

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.

Current gas prices are available at

Gas tax. It’s silly how Americans complain about how “outrageous” gas prices are, given that they have some of the lowest gas prices on the planet. The main reason for that is that U.S. gas isn’t taxed very much — a mere $0.40 per gallon, compared to $1.03 in Canada, $2.07 in Japan, and $4.24 in Britain. (New York Times, 2006)

Cigarette lighter penalty. Using the cigarette lighter to power 200 watts of devices decreases fuel economy by about 1 mpg. (200 watts is hefty—an iPhone might use around 10). (WP, 2008)


Fuel Economy. U.S. aircraft used 19,704 gallons of fuel and traveled 848 billion passenger miles in June 2007 to May 2008, which works out to 43 pMPG. Note that David Lawyer gets 45.6 pMPG for 2005 using the DOE’s Transportation Energy Data Book.

However, for the same amount of fuel used, planes the climate change impact of planes is 2.7 times higher than for cars, because the planes are up in the sky. See my article on damage caused by flying for comparison with driving.


Principal on car loan$3579
Finance charges on car loan359
Gas & Oil1279
Maintenance & Repair662
Licenses, Parking, & Misc.534
Total Yearly Costs$7,232

Annual costs of car ownership in the U.S. is over $7000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics gave the breakdown shown in the table at right in 2001. AAA of Minnesota puts the annual cost at $7,754 for 2003 for a vehicle driven 15,000 miles. Cost per mile is $0.517

One interesting thing we can do with the car costs is converting 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 than 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)

Urban automobile speed:

  • Average of ~31mph, with a range of 18 to 43.5 mph, depending on the city and time. (CitySpeed, 2012; Rockefeller Foundation, p. 30, 2004)
  • Average of about 25 mph, but slower during peak hours. (11, 2001)
  • The EPA’s “City” test for fuel economy assumes 20 mph. (WP, 2008)
  • NYC business district (60th St. to Battery) (all from NYT, 2010)
  • Weekday average: 9.5mph, or “about the speed of a farmyard chicken at full gallop”.
  • Slowest day recorded in a one-year period: 7.5mph on 11/13/2008, or “about the speed of the typical jogger in Central Park”.
  • Fastest time: 16mph at 5:00-6:00 am.
  • East Midtown: Weekdays 6.3mph, Weekends 8.5 mph.


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 by 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 similar payments in lieu of parking?” .(E Magazine, 2005)

Popularity of Transportation Modes

Popularity of transportation choices by country.

Trips made by…USACanadaNetherlands
Public Transit2%10%7%

(Taken from a lecture by Dr. John Pucher, 1999; see also 1990 & 2000 Census PDF, p.3)

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)

Fewer 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 1960s. 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 an 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.

Miles Traveled

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 site 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:

Miles TraveledSource
150 billionConsumer Product Safety Commission “Bicycle Study” (doc. #344), 1991. States 67M cyclists riding 15B hours. Frankly, this figure is not very believable.
6 to 21 billionU.S. Dept. of Trans. / Fed. Hwy Admin.The Environmental Benefits of Bicycling and Walking“, 1993
6.2 billionBureau 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)

Take the bicycling survey

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)

Cars popular even in China

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)

Bicycle Sales

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 children. (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 studied, the safest for pedestrians were Pittsburgh PA, Boston MA, and Rochester NY. The most dangerous were:

  • Tampa FL
  • Atlanta GA
  • Miami FL
  • Orlando FL
  • Jacksonville FL
  • Phoenix AZ
  • West Palm Beach, FL
  • Memphis, TN
  • Dallas, TX
  • New Orleans, LA
  • (Austin ranked 25th, and is the 21st most populous U.S. city) (3)

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)

Safety / Accidents / Fatalities

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

(11) [Lyndon Henry writes to us on 9-21-01:] The figure of 12 mph for Austin’s bus system was cited to me in the early 1970s by Joe Ternus, then director of Austin’s Department of Traffic and Transportation. Also, that department performed a study (I don’t have the title) in 1972 which cited an average Austin Transit bus speed of 12 mph. Average automobile speed was given as 2.13 times that of a bus, which equals about 25.6 mph for cars.

The highway-oriented consulting firm of Wilbur Smith and Associates performed a landmark study in 1966 for the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA). Published as a book, the title is ‘Transportation and Parking for Tomorrow’s Cities‘ (AMA, New Haven, 1966). On p. 96, this book states: “Operating speeds for most local transit services average about 10 miles per hour.” The book also cites a study which indicates that “automobile traffic seems to flow at about 20 miles per hour; transit, 13.” [p. 97]

Further data on average urban automobile speeds is given by the Institute of Transportation Engineers in their ‘Transportation and Traffic Engineering Handbook‘ (Prentice-Hall, NY, 1976). In Table 5.25, on p. 170, this book lists “Average Network Speed” for urban auto trips in about 23 “Urbanized Areas”. The average automobile speed for areas of Austin’s size or greater is 23.8 mph.

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.”