Houston freeways: Cadillac Ranch, the SUV edition

class=img_thumbleft> Hurricane Rita's jog to the north last Friday was lucky not just for those who stayed in Galveston and Houston but likewise for those who tried to flee, only to find themselves stuck on Texas interstates. From Wednesday onward, gas stations in the Houston area and all along the main routes north and west turned up empty, temporarily stranding thousands and gumming up traffic for miles. After Rita passed on Saturday, Texas officials from Houston Mayor Bill White on up the line vowed to find out what happened.

One root of the problem was evident in the aerial shots of clogged freeways: They were choked with trucks and SUVs that have massive gas tanks and get shitty mileage. The math is not so difficult. The average passenger car's gas tank holds from 12-18 gallons. Trucks and SUVs start in the 22-gallon range (Ford Explorer) and run all the way up to 31 (Chevy Suburban) or even 35 gallons (Dodge Ram ST). And many of them get 10-13 MPG in stop-and-go traffic, which means they go about as far as a lot of cars with gas tanks half the size. No wonder the storage tanks at filling stations were quickly tapped out.

Texas ranks number two in the country in total SUV registrations, trailing only California. Yet while SUVs account for only about 7.5 percent of Texas registrations, that figure does not count pick-up trucks, and does not begin to do justice to the parade of gas guzzlers that took to the freeways leaving Houston last week. Sunday's New York Times Week in Review section carried a half-page photo of one random stretch of suburban interstate; SUVs, trucks, and vans outnumber passenger cars by a roughly 80-50 margin.

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