RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In need of some gas saving strategies? You might start by moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, or Bremerton, Washington, or Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, or any of the dozens of other cities across this country with innovative, extensive public transit systems. A new report from nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC's) Smarter Cities program, which studies environmentally friendly city planning, found that urban areas, both large and small, are finding ways to get people out of their cars as a means to better air quality, healthier citizens, and, in an era of $4 per gallon gas prices, more value from transportation dollars by spending them on something other than gasoline.
"Transportation is an integral part of cities," says Paul McRandle, senior editor of the Smarter Cities program. "If transportation systems are working well, it makes the city more walkable, more pleasant, and more liveable in every way. If transport is functioning poorly, cities become a mess to live in, and health impacts on residents are pretty large," he adds, citing problems caused by heavy traffic, such as poor air quality that exacerbates allergies, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.
THE DETAILS: In partnership with another nonprofit called the Center for Neighborhood Technology, NRDC's researchers analyzed transportation in 337 metropolitan regions across the U.S. Dividing the regions into large (populations of more than 1 million), medium (between 250,000 and 1 million residents), and small (populations of fewer than 250,000), they looked at each area's transit systems in terms of access, use (how many people utilized the systems), and affordability. They ultimately identified 15 cities considered top-performing regions, all of which not only offered a variety of public transit options, but also implemented programs that combined both transportation alternatives and walking and biking, offered discount transit passes, and had other things, like tolls or expensive parking meters, that discourage automobile use.
In the large city category, some predictable names reached the top of the list: Boston, New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC, all cities that have efficient, low-cost subway and bus systems. But in the small- and medium-size city category, there were a few surprises, including Lincoln, NE, and the suburban town of Bremerton, WA. Others include Boulder, CO; Honolulu, HI; Jersey City, NJ; and New Haven, CT.