To start with, let's look at our own government's current surprisingly alarmist position using the 2007 National Surface Transportation Policy report.
It's worth noting that this is just one of several extremely major relevant and reputable reports to come out recently, including 2007's United Nations (4th) Global Environment Outlook Report which is 572 pages, 1993 U.S DOT report "The Environmental Benefits Of Bicycling And Walking", and the Lung Association ongoing report on auto pollution deaths, not to mention the slew of recent documentary films.

This report (over 260 pages) mentions bikes specifically very little. It is by nature based on the angle of maintaining an automotive highway system, and was produced under an oil friendly administration. But even so, it has reams of well supported interesting things to say about the current state of transportation affairs and recent history, and is significantly stern and serious about the severity of the approaching traffic support scalability challenges. On this subject, traffic news hounds have been hearing reports for many months of some U.S. cities recently reaching complete traffic and transit saturation maximums, including Washington DC.

Now let's hear some example "Did You Know?" bottom lines from the report, some relevant, some just interesting:


    • On average, the typical American now travels about 14,500 miles annually including 4,900 miles on long-distance trips each year.
    • There is effectively one working automotive vehicle for every person 16 years and older in the U.S.
    • However there are areas of notably low concentration of car owners. Most NYC residents for example don't own cars (2002). New York City total: 54% (vs. 57% in 1990), The Bronx: 60%, Brooklyn: 54%, and Manhattan: 78% do not own cars. (vs. 77% in 1990. (Transportation Alternatives 2002)
    • Vehicle growth has far outpaced the growth in population, employment, and households, more than tripling in the last four decades alone.
    • 87% of daily trips were taken by personal vehicle (aka "car").
    • Eighty-five million workers commute by car daily, over 88% (or almost all) in private vehicles.
      On an average day, American drivers spend more than 81 minutes behind the wheel.
    • Average Daily Percent of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) under congested conditions has increased about 6% over ten years. In 2004, the average annual delay experienced by the peak period travelers for all urbanized areas was 48 hours.
    • In 2004 about $145 billion was generated for all government levels spending on highways and bridges. Approximately 57% in user charges such as tolls and specific taxes, and 43% from other taxes, bonds, investments, other.
    • The United States has about 4 million miles of roadway.
      3 million miles are rural roads or urban.
      The Interstate System accounts for just over 1% of total mileage but carries 24% of total travel.
      Urban mileage constitutes 25% but carried 64% of the total Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).
      That leaves remaining rural 74% carrying remaining 12% VMT?
    • I must point out that this computes to over $36,000/mile/year. But I'm not well versed in such urban planning details.


    • Biking accounts for 0.2% of all road miles traveled, and 1% of all trips in the U.S. (2001, Bureau of Transportation Statistics)
    • 41 million Americans (maybe 1/7th?) rode a bike six times or more in 2002. (Washington Post, Dec. 2004)
      Fever than a third 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)
    • Of average summer cyclists: 40% are 16 to 24, 26% are 45 to 54, and about 9% are 65 or older. (That leaves 25% under 16?). (US DOT, 2003)


    • Mass Transit provides basic mobility to people with limited incomes and without cars. The 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) found that 43% of nationwide mass transit riders live in households with incomes of less than $20,000 and that 44% come from households without cars.
    • Americans made 9.6 billion individual transit trips were taken in 2004. Of theses 59.9% were made by bus, 28.7% by heavy rail, and 11.4% by all other transit modes combined.
    • 54% of mass transit trips made by Americans in 2004 were work trips; 15% school trips; 9% shopping trips; 9% social trips; and 5.5% medical.
    • Annual investment needs for mass transit are estimated to be $15.8 billion to maintain the conditions and performance of the system at its 2004 level. This would appear to be about a tenth the highway budget, but an interesting derivation beyond me right now, would be funding equitability comparison metrics.


    • Public transportation's popularity has been affected by changing social and economic forces. During World War II, public transportation was the dominant mode on the transportation landscape. Ridership peaked in 1946, when Americans took 23.4 billion trips on trains, buses and trolleys. Visualize, that means THREE TIMES the number of mass transit user, just over a mere sixty years ago.
    • After World War II, mass transit ridership experienced a decline due to inexpensive fuel and government policies favoring low density suburban development and the sprawl created by the new interstate highway system. By 1960, ridership dropped to 9.3 billion trips, and continued to decline to a low of 6.5 billion trips in 1972.
    • After 1973, mass transit ridership has increased, reaching 9.6 billion trips in 2004. Some of the reasons for this increase are increasing fuel costs, the strong economy, improved mass transit, and higher levels investment in public transportation.
    • Finally, this NSTP report projected that "America population in 50 years may reach 420 million, much of that coming in working age immigration rather than births, with therefore vastly different transportation assumptions." Well that's hopeful.