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New York transportation leads the way in reducing impact on climate

An index from StreetLight Data ranks the 100 most populous metro areas based on a range of carbon-related transportation factors, including vehicle miles travelled.

New Yorkers ranked top in the country for walking
New Yorkers ranked top in the country for walking

New York, San Francisco and Madison have been identified as leading the way in “lower-Impact” transportation in a new index which ranks cities in the US.


Streetlight Data’s first annual US Transportation Climate Impact Index sets out to score the country’s 100 most populous metro areas based on several carbon-related factors.


Cities in the driving seat


For the index, the mobility data analytics company ranked the country’s largest metro areas from one (best) to 100 (worst) on six individual factors: vehicle miles travelled (VMT); bike commuting miles; pedestrian commuting miles; transit ridership; population density; and circuity (the difference between an actual route taken and a straight line between origin and destination).


Streetlight Data points out that the Global Carbon Project indicates that the world is setting new emissions records every year, which puts transportation experts and city planners in the driver’s seat to effect change.


It claims the new index goes far beyond traditional transportation design-based measures (such as how many miles of bike paths exist) and draws on performance-based metrics (how much actual bike commuting people do). Its nationwide multi-mode mobility metrics can also illustrate real-life mobility behaviour and point cities toward behaviour(s) with the highest climate impact for their locality.


The top metro areas generally have low VMT, high mileage in bike and pedestrian commuting, high per-capita transit use, high population density and low circuity. The top 10 metro areas are:


1 New York, NY Newark-Jersey City, NJ

2 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

3 Madison, WI

4 Philadelphia, PA-Camden, NJ-Wilmington, DE

5 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA

6 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

7 Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA

8 Lancaster, PA

9 New Haven-Milford, CT

10 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY


The New York metro area tops the index even with a very high level of VMT. While New York’s commuters drive notoriously long distances, alternative modes of travel in the urban centre make up for car miles. Its extensive transit system is the most-used in the country and New Yorkers also top the country in walking.


“Studying sustainable transportation metrics can help urban and community planners understand the potential for change and where to improve.”


Meanwhile, despite the often-clogged Bay Bridge and busy freeways, walking, bikes, scooters, skateboards and even hoverboards, along with programmes such as Sunday Streets which closes streets to cars one day a month, help to put San Francisco in second place. It was awarded top-four scores for zero-emissions commuting, transit and density.


The Wisconsin city of Madison placed in the top third on every factor except population density, and was boosted by a top-10 VMT score. Streetlight reports that much of Madison’s transportation planning discussion centres on highway improvements like widening the Beltway, but alternative transportation is making inroads.


The Metro system is the 16th most-used transit network in the country, and students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison contribute high bike and pedestrian commuting scores.


Bottom-ranked areas


The bottom-ranked metro overall is Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington with Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land placed 99th and 98th respectively.


“Studying sustainable transportation metrics can help urban and community planners understand the potential for change and where to improve,” said Laura Schewel, CEO and co-founder of StreetLight Data.


“For example, can a city find ways to encourage more bike and pedestrian travel? Does the city’s land-use planning lend itself to increasing density? A goal of our 2020 US Transportation Climate Impact Index is to use objective and clear data to help spark discussions and new ways of addressing mobility in context.”



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