Car Ownership May Be Down in the U.S., But It’s Soaring Globally

The number of cars per person more than doubled in China in just four years. This BMW ad is designed for the booming Chinese market. Photo: ##http://adsofchina.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/bmw-bmw-5-series-li/##Ads of China##

Two weeks ago, transportation researcher Michael Sivak brought us the news that there are fewer cars per person in the U.S. now than there were a few years ago – and that the number isn’t expected to rise again.

But globally, the trend is in the opposite direction, and it’s alarming. The world is producing more cars than ever. A new report from the Worldwatch Institute shows that automobile production hit a new high in 2012 — and 2013 is expected to surpass that record. “According to London-based IHS Automotive, passenger-car production rose from 62.6 million in 2011 to 66.7 million in 2012, and it may reach 68.3 million in 2013,” write Worldwatch’s Michael Renner and Maaz Gardezi. “When cars are combined with light trucks, total light vehicle production rose from 76.9 million in 2011 to 81.5 million in 2012 and is projected to total 83.3 million in 2013.”

The troubling new reality is that while the United States and other developed countries are beginning to lay off the gas, other countries are accelerating wildly. Though the U.S. still has by far the largest fleet of passenger cars, auto sales in China overtook the U.S. in 2011. In 2010, the number of cars in the world hit one billion.

Taken together, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the "BRICs") buy more cars that the United States. Image: ##http://www.economist.com/node/12544933##The Economist##

The number of cars per person in the U.S. has been declining since 2006. But in other countries, the trend is ever upward. According to World Bank data, there were 18 passenger cars per 1,000 Chinese in 2006 and 44 cars per 1,000 in 2010. The Arab world and Eastern Europe have seen tremendous growth in private car ownership over the same period – from 87 to 123 cars per thousand people in Jordan, 18 to 36 in Syria, 230 to 345 in Bulgaria, 351 to 451 in Poland. In the meantime, U.S. rates declined from 453 to 423 per thousand. France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also saw declines.

In 2011, the OECD’s International Transport Forum forecast that the number of cars worldwide would reach 2.5 billion by 2050, with the growth expected to be almost entirely in the developing world. At an ITF meeting, a Chinese professor dismissed the idea of bicycles as an alternative means of transportation, despite the fact that China is famous for its bicycle rush hour. The professor said, apparently without irony, that bicycle use in Beijing is declining “due to poor air quality and the danger from car traffic.”

Meanwhile, a member of India’s Planning Commission derided cycling as “a miniscule thing,” saying, “That’s not the future.”

For what it’s worth, fuel economy in other countries tends to be better than in the United States. Japan, the European Union, and India have far stricter limits on carbon emissions than the U.S., according to Worldwatch. Chinese emissions standards are currently about the same as U.S. standards for cars, but if you add in other light-duty vehicles, Chinese standards come out far better. And the emissions standards that China is currently studying would put it way out in front of the United States.

But developing nations have higher levels of vehicle ownership now than wealthy nations did at similar income levels, according to a 2012 article in The Economist, “because their transport infrastructure has developed faster than it did in richer countries, cars are cheaper in real terms and urbanisation is happening faster.”

Will these countries repeat the American mistake of building out too many highways and designing roads only to move cars. There are reasons to hope that the developing world won’t get weighed down with excessive sprawl and traffic, despite booming car sales. Their infrastructure won’t tolerate a massive influx of cars — car congestion is already overwhelming in some places. (Remember China’s 11-day traffic jam in 2010?) A recent story about Chinese bike-share systems in the English-language paper China Daily hints that the tide may already be turning away from car-based transport.

As Chen Yanyan, a professor at the Beijing University of Technology’s transport research center, told the paper: “It’s natural that people will figure out a solution when the traffic jams and environmental pollution reach a certain point.”

  • Alen Teplitsky

    car sales are dropping, is ownership dropping? until the iphone integration thing comes out i’m not buying a new car. no reason to. someone i know just got rid of an Acura after driving it for almost 10 years and bought a used Lexus they plan on driving for years

  • Joe R.

    China and India both became developed after things like high-speed rail were feasible. They both had the opportunity to completely bypass car-oriented development by just not building highways or parking, and yet chose not to. I think in both cases this makes little sense because the majority of people in both countries will never be affluent enough to own a car. Even in first world countries like the US, a significant number of people can’t afford to own a car. They’re basically building the roads for the 1%, at the expense of the 99%. If real democracy ever comes to these countries, this policy could easily reverse course. All the people need to do is look at all the problems extensive auto use has caused in places like the US.

  • Anonymous

    Cars are a sign of economic progress. That you consider more cars “alarming” is elitist and naive. In general, the ignorance about the kind of prosperity that automobiles has enabled – one which you have obviously *totally* taken for granted, instead choosing to be blinded by intellectually dishonest ideals – is utterly sickening.

  • Joe R.

    Automobiles aren’t an inevitable result of economic progress. They exist only because we design our built environment to accommodate them. We could just as easily have a transportation system 100% based on rail, cycling, and walking if we designed our environment for it. The trend is “alarming” because the consequences of car ownership are already huge in terms of public health despite only a small fraction of the world’s population owning a car. The last thing we need are more unnecessary deaths just getting people from point A to point B. Cars in their essence are transportation, nothing more, nothing less. We can choose to use other forms of transportation which have a smaller impact. I’m frankly not seeing how we have the resources for another billion autos on the planet anyway. Besides that, when everyone decides to drive, most of the convenience and speed is lost. Look at our urban areas, for example. Thanks to congestion, cycling is actually faster than driving in many places. If that’s the case, what’s the point? Cars are only beneficial to their users if roads are almost empty most of the time. That in turn only happens when a very small minority of the population drives.

    The bottom line is cars are so wasteful of space and other resources that it doesn’t take more than a small fraction of people driving to make life miserable for everyone else who doesn’t. Look at Manhattan, for example. Less than 10% of the population regularly drives, and yet all the congestion makes the streets a dangerous, polluted hell for much of the day for the other 90%. What’s really elitist here is the fact that car users, who usually tend to be wealthier, think it’s OK to impose the negative externalities of their auto use on everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    You truly have no understanding of >50% of the American male population, who continue to view cars as a lifestyle choice, rather than “mode of transportation.” Almost nobody who buys a Ferrari will tell you that their purchase was motived to enable transport from A to B. Same can be said about many avid bicycle activists, who perceive bicycling as more a way of life, rather than mode of transportation.

  • Anonymous

    Disgusting paternalism here. Why should Indians and Chinese not be allowed to aspire to the middle class? As you so aptly put it, car ownership is in reality, a symbol of economic success – particularly in a developing economy. The goal to mitigated increases in car ownership must be on developing safe, comfortable, efficient and attractive alternatives to automobiles – which are very comforting vessels of privacy, cleanliness and security in many places (even in US cities.

  • Kevin Love

    Joe wrote:
    “They’re basically building the roads for the 1%”

    Kevin’s comment:
    That’s because in China the 1% are members of a Communist Party dictatorship.

  • Joe R.

    There are plenty of middle class people who live fulfilling lives without using or owning cars. Any decent system of rail transit can provide transportation which is superior in terms of comfort and speed to private autos, and at a fraction of the cost. That in turn enables the middle class to spend their money on other things instead of cars. Why are we so locked in the paradigm that widespread auto use in necessary or desireable? In fact, the more people who choose to drive, the less the benefits over other forms of transportation.

  • Joe R.

    Who cares if it’s a “lifestyle choice”? I could say the same thing about a serial killer. The problem is in both cases someone else’s lifestyle choice has severe negative impacts on those who don’t make the same choice. In fact, in the case of cars, the choice of more people to own cars negatively affects others who are driving also. I’m all for choice when others don’t have to suffer the consequences. I should be able to go out and breathe clean air. I should be able to cycle or walk without having a momentary lapse in attention result in serious injury or death. That’s the problem. If the cars were all underground and I didn’t have to see them, hear them, smell them, or potentially get killed by them then it’s not a problem.

    I’m not sure I get your comparison of cycling to cars, here. Sure, some people may buy expensive bikes as status symbols, but by and large people use bikes for two things-transportation and exercise. I guess you could view recreational cycling as a way of life, but it’s a way of life which doesn’t have severe negative impacts to those around them. The same can’t be said of people who drive when other choices are available. Society would function just fine if the majority of people didn’t have access to private automobiles.

  • Anonymous

    Said like a true first-world born-and-raised person. In a country like China where there are far fewer women than men, every male needs to prove to prospective suitors that he is successful and will be able to provide financially for his family in the future. Since credit financing (has not historically been available) is still relatively rare in developing nations, owning a car signals economic success to potential mates, peers, employers, family, neighbors, etc. It is very important, sociologically speaking – just as luxury goods from Europe and America are.

    If you want to make an impact in China, the focus needs to be on ensuring the infrastructure for public transportation is in place, so when the society (both within and without) perceive Chinese as having “made it” to the global middle class, they will choose public transportation voluntarily because it is the BEST option, not merely the CHEAPEST option for losers without good jobs.

  • Joe R.

    I’m sure that explains quite a bit here. The good news is worldwide there is a growing movement against the elite availing themselves of privileges which negatively affect everyone else. It may take longer for this to catch on in China with their closed system, but hopefully it’ll happen before the damage is done. China should refrain from building any more highways and parking. The real shame is Chinese cities largely used bicycles as transportation until a decade ago. They already had a good system which, if supplemented by decent rail transport, would enable everyone to go where they needed to go efficiently and cheaply. Why this huge step backwards? Auto transport in cities certainly isn’t fast or efficient. Moreover, only a small fraction use autos but everyone else pays the price.

  • Anonymous

    Anybody can afford to own a car in USA. Minimum wage here can earn enough to buy a nice-enough new car in merely 32 weeks. That doesn’t mean it makes economic sense. In China, many people spend over two years income on making a new car purchase, and aspire to upgrade from a Hyundai to a BMW as soon as feasible.

  • Joe R.

    You’re talking here about a societal problem, not a transportation problem. If a potential suitor wants to prove he is successful, how about just showing his paycheck? Why flaunt your wealth with silly, pointless spending on cars when that only makes you poorer in the long run? The paradigm that car=wealth is fleeting. It’s not the 1950s anymore. Even here in the US, someone owning a car is becoming more likely to be seen as broke than as desirable.

    It’s true what you wrote about public transit, but we’re not going to build a world class public transit system by diverting a lot of the money to road construction. That’s why I think trying to increase auto use is an exercise in futility in developing countries. These countries have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight because they can see firsthand what a disaster autocentric policies have been in places like the US. More than half the population is overweight, it take forever to get anywhere thanks to congestion, roads are is disrepair because we just can’t afford it, and so forth. The best thing these countries could do is to not make any effort at all to accommodate cars while at the same time massively building more rail transit. That and cycling are easily the best options in urban areas.

  • Anonymous

    Add to that, only 10% of drivers in China have even a rudimentary understanding of any standardized “rules of the road.”

  • Joe R.

    Anyone can own a car in the USA? That’s news to me. Housing costs in many places eat up 50% of take home pay. And auto insurance is very expensive, not to mention gas. An average car owner spends over 10K annually on their car. That means they need to earn at least $15K more before taxes than what they need for basic living expenses to cover the car. BTW, most people on minimum wage jobs are hard-pressed to pay for bicycle repairs or subway fare, never mind buying new cars.

    Anyone who spends two years income on a car should have their heads examined. Seriously, that’s money right down the toilet. In a few years the car will depreciate to practically nothing, and it’ll be a money pit to operate while it’s depreciating. You’re going to be seeing a bunch of broke Chinese soon. It’s all the more ironic because I recall an old Chinese proverb was “don’t spend all your prosperity at once”. It’s a shame when people can’t learn from their own history.

  • Anonymous

    If more Streetsblog commenters, American politicians and American civil planners thought like you, we would have a much livable country. Instead, most are squrely divided into either a CARS RULE!!! credo, or DEATH TO THE AUTOMOBILE ideology that prevents them from considering what is best for the long-term development of America. Undergrounding infrastructure such as transmission lines, train tracks, freeways, automobile parking, warehouse storage, etc., would dramatically improve our streetscapes and quality of life.

    Unfortunately, most StreetsBlog commenters are too ideologically motivated to see things objectively.

  • Joe R.

    You’re right about the ideological divides. One of my pet peeves here on Streetsblog is how any transportation infrastructure not on grade level is viewed negatively. If we really want to make our planet more liveable, and have more compact development, then everything can’t be on one level or it’ll be massively crowded like Manhattan streets are now. To me truly liveable streets are those where all mechanized transportation is underground, and the streets are reserved for walking or biking. And in areas where there are lots of pedestrians, even the bikes should go on another level.

    Anyway, thanks a bunch for viewing my post in the light it was intended-as a way to solve our problems without taking a hard line ideological stance. To be sure, I like cars, especially electric cars, but I don’t like their negative effects. Putting them underground is a way of having your cake and eating it, too. I’m still all for less car use, but we’ll always need delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles, paratransit, etc. We just need to find better ways to accommodate everyone.

  • Anonymous

    I deplore cars, but treasure the freedom to own or rent one for the few times a year I want to use one. Expecting kids soon, I foresee needing to use a car more frequently (sudden rush to the emergency room, shuttling 4 kids to or from a soccer match, etc.). Therefore, I will soon buy a car. However, I still believe it is a luxury that should be charged for, as the presence of cars and their infrastructure impose distinct and significant costs on society.

  • Anonymous

    It IS a societal problem: a problem of economic development and population distortions. Telling the “poor Chinese” that they are not “entitled” to the freedom of aspiration that Westerners take for granted is offensive. Perhaps if the West fully-funded the development of 21st century public transit infrastructure investment in the developing world, our desires to regulate CO2 emissions and halt development would seem less hypocritical, as we have been gross polluting car consumers for over a century andthey have only been doing so for about a decade.

  • Joe R.

    I fully agree about the hypocrisy. The issues here are very complex to say the least. Yes, a lot of the development in the US was extremely dirty, and even now, some people in the US just don’t get it. They still feel they’re entitled to drive a huge SUV and to have $1 per gallon gas, regardless of the societal costs of this. It’s easy for someone in China to think Americans should first practice what they preach before telling other countries what to do.

    All that said, for its own well-being China needs to grow up a lot greener than the US did. For one thing, it has a lot less arable farmland and habitable space relative to its population than the US. The room for many of their 1.35 billion people to live a sprawling lifestyle doesn’t exist. India is in an even worse position in that regard. Therefore, it’s a given that many more Chinese will live in urban areas compared to the US (although the US is becoming more urban also). That in turn dictates the best modes of transport. China has actually already seen the results of auto use firsthand in terms of smog and congestion. They also have the advantage of a government which can make unpopular rules by fiat in order to curb the negative effects of economic growth. Unfortunately, sometimes ruling by fiat has unintended consequences, such as the present shortage of females caused by the one child per family policy.

    Policy decisions aside, I’m seeing a lot of what’s going on in China in terms of the desireability of car ownership as a passing fad. They’re emulating the worst parts of Western culture now while eschewing the best parts of their own culture. With the US as an example this isn’t surprising. Moreover, their knowledge of what’s going on in the West is limited by their government. The average person probably isn’t that cognizant of the small but growing movement towards sustainability in the US, but they are aware of US car culture and materialism (that’s a great propaganda tool by the government to get people to work harder). To be sure, with rampant environmental destruction China has its own green movement but for a long time the motto there has been growth at all costs. And the insatiable desire in the US for cheap goods has helped fuel this. Anyway, now that the negative effects of auto use are readily apparent in China, it’s not hard to see some changes there. I feel China will become the world leader producing electric vehicles, and this in turn will push automakers everywhere else to produce a fleet which is mostly electric. I also feel within a decade, car ownership will be largely frowned upon as a wasteful indulgence. Cars are money pits any way you look at it. I don’t doubt eventually there will be pressure from within the family to spend the money on something more productive. This will be doubly true in urban areas where car travel really doesn’t offer any speed advantages over biking or rail transit. At the same time, the downward trends in car ownership in Western countries will continue, perhaps eventually trending towards zero as we develop self-driven cars.

  • Kevin Love

    The primary rule of the road in China is that if I’m a Communist Party boss, I can sent you to a concentration camp. So get out of my way. Or else.

  • Anonymous

    Joe, your understanding of the world is shockingly, horrifically wrong. So wrong it actually depresses me. That you think we can create a prosperous, efficient society entirely through rail and cycling is so preposterous it would be a waste of my time to explain reality. I am not a champion of cars at all, but I am certainly intellectually honest about the pros and cons of them, something you cannot even come close to claiming. You are a religious fundamentalist.

    I find your total lack of appreciation for everything that cars have given you (evidently a computer of some sorts, among I’m sure many other affordable goods and services that you undoubtedly take for granted) to be infantile, and what angers me is that if given the choice, you would rather see emerging markets such as China and India remain mired in deep poverty so that you could feel all warm and fuzzy about your extremist views on the automobile. Keep preaching your absurd arguments, and while your at it tell us all about how the earth revolves around the sun.

  • Kevin Love

    Not to mention the crash “investigations.” Hint: If you are in a crash with a Communist Party boss, it won’t be “No Criminality Suspected.” Instead it will be “Enemy of the People Suspected.”

  • Anonymous

    What goes up must come down – it is simply a matter of how long it takes and what the consequences are.

  • Joe R.

    I guess you didn’t understand my post at all. Having economic progress and not having cars aren’t mutually exclusive. You’re the one who’s being intellectually dishonest here when you say things like “I find your total lack of appreciation for everything that cars have given you (evidently a computer of some sorts, among I’m sure many other affordable goods and services that you undoubtedly take for granted) to be infantile”. Last I checked goods are transported by trucks, trains, planes, and ships, not private automobiles. If you bother to read my posts, including some in this thread, I make a point of mentioning that motor vehicles like delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, buses, sanitation trucks, construction vehicles, and paratransit are essential. We can eventually set up society differently so maybe some of these functions can be performed without motor vehicles, but for now we need them. We don’t need a large portion of the population owning and using private autos. If anything, this makes goods you and I purchase more costly by delaying delivery trucks and taking up space where they can load/unload.

    The reality is that private autos are wants, not needs. If anything is infantile in today’s society, it’s the fact that so many so-called adults can’t separate wants from needs. Auto ownership has been bred into the populace through a combination of clever advertising, zoning laws which favor sprawl, and neglecting other modes. You seem to think autos are sign or an enabler of economic progress. Quite the contrary. The numerous problems they cause, which we all pay for, are a drag on the economy. We wonder why it’s taking so long to get out of this recession. Well, let’s start with the fact that people are spending large fractions of their pay just getting to work instead of on other things. The health of the economy is directly tied to discretionary spending but auto use greatly reduces discretionary income. I’m not even blaming the average person here who often really has no alternative but to drive. I blame so-called leaders who got us to the point where we’re overly dependent on private autos. I also blame them for telling people what they want to hear, even when they know long term today’s lifestyles are unsustainable. And now it seems other countries are making the same mistakes we did, even though they have 20/20 hindsight. Extremist best describes the position of those on the other side. Frankly, the lack of ability to see any other way of living is depressing. There are all sorts of ways people can live happy, fulfilling lives without needing 2-ton conveyances to go from point A to point B.

    Keep denying everything, thinking the entire planet can somehow live like we do in the US without major consequences. Keep telling poor people in other countries what they want to hear instead of the truth. We don’t need to deny people prosperity. It’s just that it has to be a different kind of prosperity than now. Lots of innovations are possible or nearly possible to enable prosperity without autos. We can vertical farm in cities. We’ll soon be able to manufacture goods locally with 3D printers, while at the same time recycling the raw materials from used goods. We’ll be able to power all this with solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro, fission, and eventually fusion. People can have all the space they want if go up instead of out. Sure, it’s different from how we live, but third world countries are just now building cities. They have the freedom to not go down the path we did. And we need to change our path in the long run or face the consequences.

    Finally, I don’t know where the fuck you get that I’m a religious fundamentalist. I’m about as anti-religion as they come. I personally feel religion is responsible for more of our problems than anything else but that’s all I’ll say about it.

  • Joe R.

    And the consequences would be less if it didn’t go up as much.

  • Anonymous

    “I am not a champion of cars at all, but I am certainly intellectually honest about the pros and cons of them.”

    Ok, let’s see you write some intellectually honest criticisms of automobile use in America and abroad. What you have written thus far fails to achieve the meager status of a distant echo from the concept of intellectual honesty.

  • Anonymous

    How are cars a sign of economic *progress* in 2013?

  • Anonymous

    My messages have been largely one-sided because the responses to my messages are similarly one-sided, albeit on the other side.

    My chief concern with reliance on cars is how it disproportionately burdens low income households, who end up spending a far greater percent of their income on gas than middle and upper class. We have this whole strata of society that is basically hostage to something (gas prices) which they have no control over, and it’s too burdensome and unfair of a tax at today’s prices. I would support some kind of food stamps for gas program.

    Other than that, the externalities mostly dont concern me terribly. Smog is a problem although not a large one, even though environmental nuts would have us all believe the air contains nothing but poison. Here in Chicago, we have lots of cars but we dont have much of an air pollution problem. Some cities are worse, most are better. I dont buy into hysteria about people literally dying because of smog, it’s just environmental fundamentalists pushing conspiracy theories. Obviously I dont like smog but in most places in the US, the air quality is quite good. Lost productivity from congestion is just a fact of life, like high housing prices in NYC and other desirable places to live. Accidents are just that, accidents…another unfortunate fact of life. We throw people in jail for egregious offenses like reckless or drunk driving.

    The benefits far outweigh the costs, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. What fires me up though is the demonization of cars, and worse, the insane injection of morality into driving a car. Maybe you and Joe can unite in your crazy jihad against cars.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s a few good analyses of the externalities of auto use:

    http://www.ce.utexas.edu/prof/kockelman/public_html/trb08vehicleexternalities.pdf

    http://ecocalc-test.ecotransit.org/CE_Delft_4215_External_Costs_of_Transport_in_Europe_def.pdf

    http://tu-dresden.de/die_tu_dresden/fakultaeten/vkw/ivs/oeko/dateien/The_true_costs_of_cars_EN_20121220.pdf

    Plenty more if you search. The info is there for those who want to find it. You can conveniently say broad statements like “The benefits far outweigh the costs, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.” but that doesn’t make it so. The primary economic benefit of car travel is the time savings over other modes. Ironically, in many places that’s zero or less than zero thanks to congestion. So that leaves your benefit side blank. And even when there is a net benefit to auto users, congestion increases the costs of goods and services for everyone else. I’m not saying cars couldn’t potentially have a net benefit, only that they can’t in a society where many people drive. If the only people who drive are people who really have to drive in order to do their jobs, then there can be a net benefit from motor vehicle use.

    I was actually encouraged reading your second paragraph, at least up until the point where you mentioned your food stamps for gas idea. It would make more sense to either build public transit for poor people, or subsidize housing in places they can live without a car. Subsidizing car use for poor people so they can generate yet more externalities which again cost government money is not good public policy. Moreover, those dollars spent on gas flow right out of the country.

    I’m not on a jihad against cars here. I’m against using cars in places where they don’t make sense, like dense urban areas. Live in the suburbs and use your car all you want. Just make sure you can afford all the costs, both internal and external.

  • Anonymous

    Your so-called intellectual honesty could benefit from some honest research, as well as a little restraint in making sweeping generalizations.

    As for my war against cars, I actually believe that cars and roads have an important place in American culture, the movement of commerce, and every day life; however, we have built-out our road network beyond what can reasonably be deemed an optimal level while at the same time having severely under-invested in transit and alternative transportation.

    While it may be nice to summarily discount all those inconvenient externalities, intellectual honesty demands that they be given due consideration. Your comments about Chicago air quality, for example, seem to lack insight into the facts surrounding Chicago’s air quality – hardly an honest appraisal. The most recent American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report gives Cook County an “F.” In fact, the area is still classified as a non-attainment area for certain important measures under EPA air quality standards. The people that live closest to our congested urban interstates – often concentrations of low to moderate income individuals and families that you suggest provide the basis for one of the few concerns you have about – are at disproportionate risk of physical impairments associated with air pollution coming from the highways that they do not benefit from.

    To suggest that “food stamps for gas” will somehow allow the poor huddling masses to get off the bus and start driving cars further demonstrates the depth and breadth of your disconnect from intellectual honesty. There’s obviously more to owning and operating a car than purchasing gas, and it is abundantly clear to a person of average intelligence that providing reliable, affordable, and efficient alternatives to driving would benefit economically disadvantaged populations more than subsidized fuel purchase.

    Furthermore, congestion isn’t a fact of life. Combinations of major transit investment, highway pricing, and alternative transportation are actually able to make significant progress toward relieving congestion and improving road safety. We simply need to stop making the same ill-advised investments we’ve always made, i.e., adding incremental capacity at great cost with little or negative ROI.

    Seems that you need a few swimming lessons before jumping into the deep end of the pool.

    Intellectual honesty? Not even close . . .

  • Anonymous

    “The primary economic benefit of car travel is the time savings over other modes.” Yep, and as you’ve noted, even that benefit erodes under all too many circumstances.

    My wife and I joke from time-to-time as we watch the morning news that the traffic report uses the same phrase every morning: “Expect delays on . . .” It’s like a broken record — to the point of being comedic. As urban and suburban dwellers, we’re conditioned to “expect delays” and thus have low expectations for our major investments; bedhead1’s “congestion is a fact of life” is emblematic of America’s apathy toward congestion and ignorance over the tools we have available to us now – not in the future, but now – to effectively address this troublesome symptom of a failed investment strategy.

    FHWA writes in reference to congestion, “In the past, the primary focus of congestion responses was oriented to adding more physical capacity: changing highway alignment, adding more lanes (including turning lanes at signals), and improving merging and weaving areas at interchanges. But addressing the ‘temporary losses in capacity’ from other sources is equally important.”

    That’s an interesting comment. First, they refer to capacity enhancement strategies as being “in the past.” Why are state DOTs, like Illinois’, still pursuing that strategy with blind ambition in the 21st century, then? Secondly, the emphasis placed on “temporary losses in capacity” is quite telling because research shows that the majority of causes contributing to temporary congestion can’t be influenced by highway expansion – they’re a combination of driver behavior, weather, and events like disabled cars, etc.

    The only way to effectively address congestion is to get people out of their cars, yet we keep making investments that endeavor to support ever-increasing auto usage.

  • Anonymous

    ” . . . car ownership is in reality, a symbol of economic success…” or is it a symptom of failure?

    Automobiles can be both; even good things taken to the excess often become liabilities.

  • Nathanael

    I know quite a lot of people who cannot afford to own a car. They have to spend their money on, you know, food, clothing, rent.

  • Anonymous

    As one can buy a whole new fashionable outfit at Uniqlo for about $15, or cheaper at The Goodwill, clothing is a non-issue. Kids clothes at Uniqlo and Gap costs less than $5.

  • Anonymous

    Irrelevances. These are, for example, couples who are trying to live on a single, blue-collar income. It’s practically impossible these days even if you get all your clothes from goodwill and all your food from the food pantry.

  • Anonymous

    The daily cost of food s less than an hour’s wage at minimum wage, and at that wage level, one qualifies for food stamps, so NO, there are no issues of affordability of food or clothing in the USA.

  • Mark

    You can check the latest owner of your previous car at Vinaudit. It just worked 🙂

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An Old Car Interred

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Bud & Walter Brewer Collection/Tulsa Historical Society, via The New York Times. Fifty years ago last Friday, the people of Tulsa, Oklahoma, assembled downtown and buried a brand new Plymouth Belvedere hardtop as a time capsule to be opened in 2007. The car, and $100 plus 50 years worth of accrued compound interest (a bit more than $700), would […]

Are Millennials Racing to Buy Cars? Nope

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Crossposted from City Observatory. Hot on the heels of claims that Millennials are buying houses come stories asserting that Millennials are suddenly big car buyers. We pointed out the flaws in the home-buying story earlier this month, and now let’s take a look at the car market. The Chicago Tribune offered up a feature presenting […]

New Report Finds American Auto Fleet Shrinking

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Could the nation be turning away from its decades-old yen for auto ownership? Americans got rid of more cars than they retained in 2009, reversing a trend that saw total U.S. vehicles exceed the number of drivers more than 35 years ago, according to a report released today by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI). (Chart: […]

No, Millennials Aren’t Buying More Cars Than Gen X

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Cross-posted from City Observatory.  Will somebody teach the Atlantic and Bloomberg how to do long division? Today, we take down more breathless contrarian reporting about how Millennials are just as suburban and car-obsessed as previous generations. Following several stories drawing questionable inferences from flawed migration data claiming that Millennials are disproportionately choosing the suburbs (they’re not) […]

The Economist: Don’t Expect Driving Rates to Rise Again

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This whole “peak car” may be more than just a sustainability nut’s fantasy. We’ve seen time after time that young people are souring on car culture and finding other ways to get around and connect with friends. We know that the suburban sprawl that fueled the rise of the automobile is in decline. And now […]