Asphalt Nation? Where? Not in the US

One of the more enduring myths about the mobility Americans have embraced and the freedom cars provide us is that its unsustainable because we can’t continue to pave over America. America has become an “Asphalt Nation.” It’s a nice bumper sticker but, like most bumper stickers, it’s wrong and even conveys bad information. The most recent contribution to this myth comes from the San Francisco Chronicle:

What if we paved over the whole state of Wisconsin? Actually, we already have. According to recent Federal Highway Administration figures, the United States has close to 240 million motor vehicles – almost 40 million more cars than licensed drivers – and just under 4 million miles of paved roads for them to run on. All told, some 61,000 square miles of the United States – an area a little smaller than the Badger State – is solidly paved over, either with roads or with parking. And, of course, there’s always more pavement on the way.

Let’s take a closer look at these numbers. 61,000 square miles seems like a lot, until you compare it to the surface area of the United States. The US includes 3.5 million square miles according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. That works out to about 1.7% of the nation “covered by asphalt.” Even if we exclude Gov. Palin’s home state, which takes up 570,380 square miles (9.3 times the size of Wisconsin), our roads take up 2% of the nation’s surface land area. In short, we aren’t an “asphalt nation” and never have been.