NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 1, 2007

Suburban sprawl and automobiles are rapidly acquiring a reputation as scourges of modern American society, say authors Ted Balaker and Sam Staley.

But of all the myths created by the anti-suburbs culture about sprawl and driving, a few deserve to be reconsidered:

  • Americans are not addicted to driving, nor do Europeans have an enlightened culture about public transit -- in the United States, automobiles account for about 88 percent of travel, in Europe, the figure is about 78 percent, and they are gaining on us.
  • Public transit does not reduce traffic congestion; even if the nation's transit system tripled in size and filled up with riders; according to Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution, it would not notably reduce rush-hour congestion, primarily because transit would continue to account for only a small percentage of commuting trips.


  • Air quality is getting much better, not worse; since 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports a dramatic decrease in every major pollutant it measures, although driving is increasing by 1 percent to 3 percent each year, average vehicle emissions are dropping about 10 percent annually.
  • Most people already live in developed areas, so it's easy to get the impression that humans are paving over America, yet only 5.4 percent of U.S. land is developed, further, while house size has increased between 1970 and 2000, the average lot size shrank from 14,000 square feet to 10,000.
  • Driving less will not help combat global warming; even if we reach all Kyoto requirements; Tom M.L. Wigley, chief scientist at the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research, calculates that the Earth would be only .07 degrees centigrade cooler by 2050.

Source: Ted Balaker and Sam Staley, "5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture,", January 31, 2007.


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