Someone once said that in urban planning and livability discussions, all roads lead to transportation. And while that’s a terrible pun, it’s also true. Americans spend an awful lot of their time in between places.
An increase in retirement-age Americans, high unemployment and underemployment, and the rise in telecommuting, among other factors, means that commute time is important for many but not all. However, everyone needs to get around even if it’s not to and from work. We looked for places with options and affordability – two of our driving principles for the Index.
Americans are driving fewer miles these days. Therefore, the more choices available, the more likely it is that each resident can find something workable.
We analyzed data about access to major airports, walkability, transportation costs and the percentage of the population who commute to work by some means other than driving alone. The last seems a good proxy for both options and adds in utilization, another of our principles. We also looked at the number of broadband providers in a market because Internet access is increasingly an important part of a city’s infrastructure. Places with shorter commutes, higher percentages of people who don't drive alone to work, more airports and broadband providers scored the highest. The average score across all the cities we measured was 46.
Transportation affordability is especially important as these costs are eating a larger and larger share of a household budget. The Center for Neighborhood Technology has developed a methodology, which we use in the Index, that estimates the combined burden of housing and transportation. The H&T Affordability ratings demonstrate that suburban housing might seem like a bargain in terms of the amount of house you can afford, but when you include increased transportation costs, you could actually wind up spending more to live farther away.
We also included Walk Score data here. It is a well-tested measure of how walkable a neighborhood or town is, but it’s more than that. Research has shown that a high Walk Score correlates to higher home prices, reduced obesity and increased economic performance of the area.
None of this is to say that we’re punishing cities that are car-bound. Rather, we’re rewarding cities that are taking steps to adjust to what appear to be sweeping changes in the way we get around – especially for younger Americans who are embracing biking and bike sharing, walking, public transportation, car-sharing and more. Even retiring baby boomers are taking advantage of the options offered in cities large and small.
If you’ve been reading our livability blog, you’ve read about this in interviews with experts like Jeff Speck, Christopher Leinberger, Robin Chase, and mayors from cities including Tampa and Grand Rapids. All of them have talked about the changing shape of transportation in what has traditionally been an entirely car-centric country.
It’s a complicated set of trends we’re following related to these critical issues. The importance of transportation and infrastructure impacts our day-to-day livability in many ways.