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15 American metro areas with transportation bragging rights

February 23rd, 2011


By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

New York City, the nation’s best networked metro area, provides the full course of transportation options. Here you can easily hop a plane, train, bus or taxi. You can live car-free (if you don’t count that taxi) and conduct a low-carbon commute, or even reside a walk away from where you work. You can fly in, you can fly out. You can commute to Boston, if you’re dedicated.

Lincoln residents enjoy an accessible bus service.

So it’s little surprise that NYC — where households average just 9,920 miles of car travel in a year — tops a new list of 15 cities that are providing residents with greener transportation systems.

The list, the result of a study the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart Cities project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, was released today.

The other large cities that made the cut — Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and metro Washington D.C. — also bring a credible history of providing residents with trains, subways, buses and trolleys. (D.C., however, was singled out more for its Capital Bike Share program, which has made more than 1,100 bikes available for pick up at solar-powered docking stations in DC and Arlington County.)

It’s the rest of the list that’s eye-opening. Smart transportation, it seems, has hit the rails for the heartland.

The medium and small cities lauded for enticing motorists out of their cars with cleaner, affordable public transit include the new hotbeds of mass transit, Lincoln, Neb., and Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

Other cities making the list:  Jersey City and Honolulu. Aloha to public transportation.

The NRDC, in collaboration with the CNT, created the list of cities after surveying the availability of public transit, household automobile use and ownership, and innovative transportation programs. It found several small and medium-sized cities were enticing motorists out of their cars with cleaner, affordable public transit that knits their area with multiple modes of  transportation.

In Champaign-Urban, for instance, transportation planners found the the area around the University of Illinois was walkable and provided affordable housing nearby. Those who lived further out, however, were stuck with cars that they often couldn’t afford. So officials expanded the bus system and made it more affordable, just $60 for an annual pass. Ridership shot up and is expected to continue to grow now that 90 percent of the region’s 130,000 residents live within a quarter mile of a bus route.

In Lincoln, Neb., making mass transit affordable and expansive, also worked to bring in riders. Lincoln’s annual bus pass is just $7.50 a month for low income riders (and only $45 for everyone else).

Lincoln also has worked diligently to reel in sprawl (think of it as a smaller Portland) with a variety of policies. It has helped keep residential life comfortable inside the city limits by encouraging “complete streets” that incorporate spaces for pedestrians, bikes and mass transit.

In Lincoln, these policies have made the city’s average commute one of the shortest (17 minutes) among similarly sized cities, and preserved natural spaces around the city for agriculture and wildlife.

“Innovative transit policies not only benefit the environment, but they also add richness to urban life by making city attractions and neighborhoods more accessible,” said Paul McRandle, Senior Editor of NRDC’s Smarter Cities Project. “By enhancing regional transportation programs we can improve our quality of life, boost our local economies, reduce air pollution and even benefit public health by making biking and walking safer and more enjoyable for commuters.”

The Top 15 Smarter Cities for Transportation

Large (population > 1 million)

Boston, MA/NH

Chicago, IL

New York, NY

Portland, OR

Philadelphia, PA/NJ

San Francisco, CA

Washington, DC/MD/VA/WV

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

Boulder-Longmont, CO

Honolulu, HI

Jersey City, NJ

New Haven, CT

Small (pop. < 250,000)

Bremerton, WA

Champaign-Urbana, IL

Lincoln, NE

Yolo, CA

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

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