25 May

Map of the Week: Roads of the World

By Kate Southerland

Roads are a vital part of human travel and have been in existence since as early as 4000 B.C. in the cities of Ur and Babylon in Mesopotamia. The demand for roads increased as trade and travel increased, leading to an intricate system of roads globally. Today, there are a total of 13 million miles (21 million km) worth of roads around the world, from rural back roads to multiple-lane highways. 

Using data from the Global Roads Inventory Project, the map above, by Visual Capitalist, identifies all the roads in the world. The UN classification system for roads were used to divide the roads into three specific categories: Main roads (highways, multi-lane roads, and primary roads) labeled in white, Secondary roads (lanes between neighborhoods, and paved roads) labeled in yellow, and Tertiary/Local roads (residential roads, roads within neighborhoods, and other smaller roads) in red. The classifications help to examine the connections between wealth distribution, infrastructure allocation, and population density. 

According to the map, the United States has the largest motorway system in the world, thanks to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The United States’ roadway system has approximately 14 percent of the world’s roads, followed by China (8 percent) and India (5 percent). One interesting find is Palau, an island nation in the Pacific, which has the smallest road network in the world, measuring a total of 11 miles (18 km).