America’s Smartest Regions for Transportation

2 Mar

A new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Neighborhood Technology compares and profiles U.S. cities based on public transit availability and use; household automobile ownership and use; and innovative, sustainable and affordable transportation programs.

As expected, New York City was on the top of the list in the large city category for having by far the highest percentage of commuters using transit (50 percent) as well as its ever-growing bike lane network. Philadelphia also made the large city list. New Jersey’s own Jersey City made the medium city list.

Some interesting facts highlighted by the study:

  • In Lincoln, Neb., low-income riders pay a mere $7.50 for unlimited bus rides all month long.
  • In Jersey City, N.J. only 60 percent of residents own or have access to a car. More than 98 percent of households, a higher percentage than in anywhere else in the United States, have access to transportation, meaning that they are located within a quarter-mile of a bus stop or within a half-mile of a rail station.
  • Chicago wants to be electric-vehicle-ready by 2012, with 280 electric vehicle charging stations throughout Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.
  • In downtown Boston, around 65 percent of trips during peak hours are non-motorized; more people walk to work in Boston than anywhere else in the country.
  • Philadelphia has selectively expanded the city’s public transit system in certain neighborhoods to increase residents’ access to fresh food.
  • Boulder, Colo., has built paved pathways along Boulder Creek that allow walkers and bikers to travel up to 52 miles without ever having to cross traffic.
  • At an average of 9,920 miles a year per household, New Yorkers travel fewer miles in the car than residents in any other region in the country besides Jersey City, New Jersey.

The full list of the smartest regions is below, with links to writeups of NRDC’s findings.

Large (population > 1 million)

Medium (pop. between 250,000 – 1 million)

Small (pop. < 250,000)

“Transportation policies that deliver a variety mobility options including integrated bike paths, bus, rail, and even vanpools not only benefit the environment, but they also enrich urban life by making city attractions and neighborhoods more accessible,” said Deron Lovaas, director of Federal Transportation Policy at NRDC, in the press release. “By improving regional transportation programs we boost local economies, reduce air pollution, enhance quality of life, and even benefit public health by making walking and biking safer and more enjoyable for commuters.”

This transportation study is the second in the Smarter Cities series, which aim to inspire regions nationwide by recognizing what leading metro regions, cities and municipalities across the country are doing to make themselves more efficient and livable. To identify these leaders, the Smarter Cities team focus on one sustainability factor at a time — energy, air quality or smart growth, for example — and using quantitative and qualitative analysis, compare regions on their efforts to make themselves more sustainable.

The Smarter Cities team established a transportation sustainability factor independent from the energy and smart growth factors because of the sheer size and influence of the transportation sector. “While it’s no secret that carbon pollution has risen steadily in recent decades, increasing 27 percent between 1990 and 2007, it isn’t as well known that nearly half of that net increase has been due to increasing emissions from the transportation sector,” notes Colin Peppard, deputy director of Federal Transportation Policy at NRDC. “As a result, transportation currently accounts for 32 percent of the total carbon emissions in the United States.”

The team deliberately left out smart growth from this analysis, despite the fact that transportation and smart growth are so strongly interconnected that new domains like ‘transit-oriented development’ have emerged. “As smart growth is so significant, we thought we should treat it as its own sustainability factor,” says Paul McRandle, senior editor of Smarter Cities, “We plan to look at it next with the hopes of having our evaluation complete some time in the fall of 2011.”

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