National Complete Streets Coalition

Gas Prices

Nearly half of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28 percent are one mile or less – distances easily covered by foot or bicycle. Yet 65 percent of trips under one mile are made by automobile, in large part because incomplete streets make it dangerous or unpleasant to walk, bicycle, or take transit.

Incomplete streets cost families money and encourage oil consumption

Transportation is the second largest expense for American households, costing more than food, clothing, and health care. Even prior to the recent run-up in gasoline prices, Americans spent an average of 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, with the poorest fifth of families spending more than double that figure. Much of this household transportation expense is pumped directly into the gas tank. The United States uses 20 million barrels of oil per day and over 40% of American oil consumption goes to passenger cars .

This high cost is unavoidable for those who live in sprawling areas that lack sidewalks, bike lanes, or convenient public transit. Surveys have found that a lack of sidewalks and safe places to bike are a primary reason people give when asked why they don’t walk or bicycle more. A recent survey of Florida residents found only 25 percent felt it was safe to walk along or to cross the closest U.S. or State road. Transit use is soaring across the country as people seek alternatives to high gas prices. But too many of these new users may be discouraged by long waits at inadequate bus stops or by dangerous street crossings. Incomplete streets leave many commuters with no choice, and rising gas prices are hurting the most in places where people have no alternative to driving.

Much of the transportation infrastructure in the United States is not ready to accommodate an increase in people walking, bicycling, or catching the bus. A majority of short trips continue to be made by automobile because incomplete streets make it dangerous or unpleasant to walk, bicycle, or access transit. A national survey found that bike lanes were available for less than five percent of bicycle trips, and more than one-quarter of pedestrian trips were taking place on roads with neither sidewalks nor shoulders.

Complete Streets are essential to spending less on gasoline

The potential to shift trips to less oil-dependent modes and to save money by doing so is undeniable: Nearly fifty percent of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28 percent are one mile or less – distances easily covered by foot or bicycle. According to multiple analyses, if each day Americans substituted driving with walking or cycling for the distance recommended for daily exercise, the United States could reduce oil consumption by between 35 and 38 percent.

Walking and bicycling of course require no gasoline and transit’s use of fuel is much more efficient than automobiles. Modest increases in bicycling and walking could lead to annual reduction of 2.4 billion gallons of fuel; more substantial increases could amount to 5 billion gallons. Using public transportation helps the United States save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel annually, which is 3.9 million gallons saved every day. That translates into family savings. In fact, a two-person adult household that uses public transportation saves an average of $6,251 annually compared to a household with two cars and no public transportation accessibility.

Places that are giving people options are reducing oil dependency. In California, which has a Complete Streets policy, public transit use saved more than 486 million gallons of oil in 2006, which is similar to taking more than 800,000 cars off the road. If every Californian substituted walking for driving just two miles, four days a week, Californians would save an additional 144 million gallons of gasoline in a year.

Boulder, Colorado is working to create a complete street network, with over 350 miles of dedicated bike facilities, sidewalks, paved shoulders and a comprehensive transit network. Between 1990 and 2003, fewer people in the city drove alone, more people bicycled, and transit trips grew by a staggering 500 percent. Less oil is being consumed, and the reduction in car trips has cut annual CO2 emissions by half a million pounds.

Walking, biking, and taking public transportation save money and reduce our dependence on oil.


[all fact sheet citations are available in the downloadable files]

Additional Resources:

Housing + Transportation Affordability Index
Center for Neighborhood Technology

Active Transportation for America
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2008

A Better Way to Go: Meeting America’s 21st Century Transportation Challenges with Modern Public Transit
California Public Interest Research Group, 2008

Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the U.S.: Reducing Dependence of Oil (.pdf)
ICF International, 2007

Public Attitude Survey of Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning (.pdf)
Wilbur Smith Associates, 2007

Reducing U.S. Oil Dependence: A Real Energy Security Policy
Natural Resources Defense Council

Modal Shift in the Boulder Valley 1990-2006 (.pdf)
National Research Center Inc. for the City of Boulder, Colorado, 2007

A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families (.pdf)
Center for Housing Policy, 2006

Statewide Survey on Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities (.pdf)
Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida for the Florida Department of Transportation, 2005

Exercise-based Transportation Reduces Oil Dependence, Carbon Emissions and Obesity
Environmental Conservation, 2005

Unhooking California: Eleven Things Californians Can Do NOW to Save Gasoline (and Money) (.pdf)
Kathryn Phillips, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, 2004

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