Here It Is: The Ultimate Absurdity in American Transportation

We really have to give Jeff Speck credit. In his new book, Walkable City, he amasses a wealth of evidence that skillfully reveals just how absurd American attitudes toward transportation and cities have become. We interviewed Speck about his book last month, and we can’t help returning to it to highlight this little factoid. If it isn’t the ultimate sign of everything that’s wrong with American transportation policy, well, we’d like to see what is.

This passage comes from Ivan Illich in his 1978 book, Toward a History of Needs, quoted by Speck:

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down to meeting the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his waking 16 hours on the road or gathering resources for it …

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only only 3 to 8 percent of their society’s budget to traffic instead of 28 percent.

Speck points out that this passage was written in 1978, when Americans drove less and spent less on their cars than they do now.