Americans Drive Twice As Much As Brits, & Bike 25 Times Less Than The Dutch

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Lindsay Wilson of Shrink That Footprint just published a pretty awesome little infographic on some interest transportation statistics. Needless to say, the US compares rather depressingly to other countries in this arena. I keep up on this stuff pretty obsessively, but I have to say that I was quite surprised by some of the stats. Comments on those below the infographic.

Flying — Man, the Irish are going crazy! As Lindsay notes, that has got to be at least partially (if not largely) due to Ryanair.

Rail — Wow, I knew the Japanese were on top, but they’re way on top. Even more surprising, had no idea the Swiss rode the rails so much more than everyone but the Japanese. Oy, US…

Driving — Man, we drive that much more than Canadians and Australians! Wow. The scariest thing there, though, is how tiny China’s bar is on that one, and how much bigger the country wants it to become.

Biking — I’m with with Lindsay on that one: “Personally I prefer the Dutch option, as I wrote in my ode to Amsterdam.” For my perspective, I’ll throw in: 15 Things I Loved about Living & Bicycling in Groningen (the Netherlands) +25 Pictures.

But biking is great beyond the Netherlands. Also see:

  1. 7 Things I Loved about Living & Bicycling in Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, & Redwood City, CA
  2. 10 Things I Loved about Living & Biking in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, NC
  3. 10 Things I Loved about Living & Bicycling in Sarasota, Florida

Any other big thoughts?

Keep a close eye on our clean transport channel for more along these lines, and if you’re really enthusiastic, subscribe to our cleantech newsletter.

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18 thoughts on “Americans Drive Twice As Much As Brits, & Bike 25 Times Less Than The Dutch

  • It’s that darn 70 mile commute to work!!

  • America is simply too big for walking and biking so we drive more. Brits live and work in crowded cities. My sister from England told me so.

    • We can improve mass transit and biking in our major cities.

  • I haven’t traveled extensively abroad (grew up in Pennsylvania, lived in Arizona most of my adult life,) but I did get to take a week-long trip to England in 2005. After spending the better part of a day in a jetliner, I landed in the Gatwick Airport, just outside of London. My destination, South Hampton, was about 150 miles to the south and west.

    All I had to do was walk a few hundred feet from the baggage claim to a rail terminal within the airport and, for about $50 US, I soon found myself on a modern train, whisking my way across the countryside. The bed & breakfast where I was staying was just a few blocks away from the South Hampton Rail Station. Bus service in the city for the week I was there was excellent and reasonably priced. It all worked very well.

    Upon returning to the US, I first landed in Houston. As with any large American city I’ve visited (save, perhaps, JFK in Queens,) there were no adjoining rail stations at the airports. You have to rent a car to get anywhere beyond the nearest adjacent city, or get back onto another plane. Same story with my home town of Tucson, where I arrived later that night.

    A mixup with my parked car necessitated taking a van/taxi ride to my house and returning to the airport to claim it the next morning (my wife, out of town when I came home, had parked it in a rather obscure nearby private lot instead of the public one, where I expected to find it.) So, I decided to take a local bus out to the airport to get my vehicle. Sadly, the experience was nothing like public transportation in South Hampton. The most direct route took me all over town and it took as long to make the 12 mile trip than my 150 mile train ride through south England a week earlier.

    Solutions for the US: fewer cars and make those electric. Build up public transportation in the cities and make the streets as bike-friendly as possible. Replace smaller commuter airplanes for those 300 mile or less hops in most places with decent passenger rail. Connect those passenger rail lines to major airports.

    • I have traveled extensively outside the US and public transportation is much better everywhere I’ve traveled. Iceland might be the exception. I had to rent a car to see the countryside there.

      Except for Iceland I’ve never rented a car in years (cumulatively) spent outside the US. It’s been easy and convenient to get almost everywhere. Sometimes in remote parts of less developed countries you might have to wait for a while for enough passengers to show up for the bus/taxi to depart but that’s no big deal.

      Year before last I came back early from a trip to Ecuador. I had parked my car at a friend’s house about 140 miles from the SF airport. He was away at the time so I had to make my way there using public transportation.
      Plane arrived in the evening. No buses out in the evening so spent a night in a motel. (At least they had an airport shuttle.)

      Caught the city bus the next morning to the Greyhound station. City bus runs by the motel only once per hour. Get to the bus stop a half hour early, just in case.

      Took the Hound to Sacramento. No buses to Placerville after the Hound arrives in Sacramento so spent a second night in a motel.

      Caught the 7am bus to Placerville. Local taxi wanted $150 for the 12 mile trip to where my car was parked. Thumbed a ride for the first ten miles and walked the last two.

      Almost 48 hours and two motel stays to travel 140 miles.

      Our public transportation system has major holes.

    • The problem is that London has around 13,000 people per square mile, while Houston has 5,000 per square mile. That is a lot less tax money to spend on public transportation; and, since everything is more sparse, that makes it difficult to plan public routes.

      Also, Harvard just came out with a study showing that electric cars cost more than gas cars. While they do save on gas in the long run, they have higher upfront costs and big depreciation that makes them more expensive overall. The solution: more research.

      Understand that these solutions are ideal, just not practical.

      • Do you have a link to that study?

        I suspect they screwed up the depreciation. What several people have done is calculate depreciation from the new selling price and not from what the buyer actually paid after the rebate.

        I recently ran some numbers. Making monthly payments and purchasing electricity for a $30k EV is about the same as making monthly payments and purchasing gas/oil for a $24k ICEV.

        4.5%, 6 year payoff. 13,000 miles per year. 12c/kWh and $3/gallon.

        I need to run the numbers for a $35k Tesla 3 with the $7,500 federal subsidy. After dinner….

        • 4.5%, 6 year payoff. 13,000 miles per year. 12c/kWh and $3/gallon.

          $35,000 Model 3
          Monthly payment = $556
          Electricity cost per mo. = $39
          Total = $595

          $28,000 ICEV 30 MPG
          Monthly payment = $444
          Monthly fuel bill = $108
          Oil change = $12
          Total = $564

          Approximately the same considering higher maintenance costs for the ICEV.

          Now, a Tesla 3 after the $7,500 federal subsidy.
          Monthly payment = $437
          Electricity cost per mo. = $39
          Total = $476

          $22,000 ICEV 30 MPG
          Monthly payment = $349
          Monthly fuel bill = $108
          Oil change = $12
          Total = $469

  • These behaviors are often the logical result of geography. People in the Netherlands are much more likely to bike, given the mild maritime climate and relative flatness of the country. (The highest elevation in the country is just over 1050 feet/320 meters) Other people have made similar observations about other countries. Ireland is a member of the common market, but it is an island and logically must fly if it wants to round trip in a 1 day to other common market countries- it is why an extreme budget airline like Ryanair was successful there to begin with.

    The author mentions three columns about biking in various posts about biking in various parts of the US. All three of them have very mild winters and climates conducive to biking, as well as significant areas of with gentle grading. Sarasota is functionally level, and while the mountains are close to the coast in California, the coastal plain has significant areas of gentle grading.

    I live in the Central Massachusetts of the US, and it is not uncommon to have elevation changes of several hundred feet in a less than ten miles in our region. This makes for challenging bike rides, but definitely limits it as an option for regular commuting, errand running and shopping. We have a commuter rail station just about 3 miles from my house, but it is about four hundred feet lower in elevation than my home.

    • You make a valid point, bluestater, regarding bicycling terrain. I certainly have done more pedaling here in flat southern Arizona as a middle-ager than I ever did in my youth around hilly central Pennsylvania. Although I have to deal with oppressive desert heat a few months out of the year, this is also far preferable to traversing ice and snow in sub-freezing temperatures on two human-powered wheels.

      Perhaps something like the Copenhagen Wheel will make all our unassisted bikes into ebikes and back to regular again, on demand, by simply re-installing the standard wheel . . .

      Where Bob and I found a common theme was with observing a lack of real passenger rail infrastructure in the US and no coordinated attempt to connect what little passenger rail we do have to airports. I’m not sure if this is something that’s ever been addressed in the various transportation studies.

      • Some time ago, the e-mail program at was changed- and the new one is terrible. Because of that, I am reluctantly abandoning this long held address. Please change your e-mail address that you have for me to Sorry for the hassle.

      • In defense of US public transportation, they did connect BART to the SF Airport a couple years back. Now one can go from well east of the Bay straight into the terminal. Very sweet.

        • Quite convenient. I had a very long layover in SF a couple years ago and easily left the airport and went to the city for a short time between flights. Quite well planned.

    • Point about Ireland crossed my mind after publishing.

      Netherlands: there’s a long list of reasons why they chose to adopt biking. A book could be written about it, sure one could.

      I’ve loved biking everywhere I’ve lived. But Sarasota/Florida is one of the worst places to bike in the US. Ton of cars, developed around the car, sprawled out, very hot. Think FL is the least safe state in the US for bicycling. But I still found it more enjoyable than driving.

      • Some time ago, the e-mail program at was changed- and the new one is terrible. Because of that, I am reluctantly abandoning this long held address. Please change your e-mail address that you have for me to Sorry for the hassle.

  • Biking is my favorite mode of transportation and is growing in the USA! Let’s keep the movement going

  • Like other comments pointed out, America is big. Europe, and especially the Netherlands, has a very high population density. Cities and towns are compact, easy to traverse, and things are close together. In America, cities and towns are very sprawled out. Many people travel 25+ miles to work, up and down hills, and, in the south, in 100 degree weather. They just can’t do this on bikes.

    Also, with such a low population density, there’s not enough tax money to support rail.

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