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America's Best Cities for Transit, According to Walk Score

New York, San Francisco, Boston, and D.C. top a new ranking of the best cities for transit.


Americans are in the middle of a great shift in the way we get around. Millennials aren't all that interested in cars anymore and they're looking for other ways to get from place to place. Last year, the average American drove 6 percent fewer miles than they did in 2004. Whether it's a result of the Great Reset, high gas prices, or environmental concern, Americans are cutting driving out when they can and seeking out other ways to get to work, school, and everywhere in between. 

No doubt with all that in mind, the team behind Walk Score has just released a new study ranking the 25 best American cities for public transit, based on a new index they've dubbed Transit Score. Transit Score measures how well a location is served by public transportation using open data released by local public transit agencies. (As such, only those cities that provide open public transit data were ranked.)

It's no surprise that New York tops the list. The nation's largest city is particularly well served by transit. But, transit use extends across the greater metro area as well. While eight in 10 Manhattanites get to work via transit, bike, or on foot, more than four in 10 of all commuters in the Greater New York metro area do so as well. San Francisco is second, Boston third, and Washington, D.C. fourth, where 25 to 30 percent of workers use transit, bike, or walk to work. All the major cities that comprise the Bos-Wash corridor, the three above plus Philadelphia and Baltimore, make the top ten.

Here's the full list:

  1. New York (81)
  2. San Francisco (80)
  3. Boston (74)
  4. Washington, D.C. (69)
  5. Philadelphia (68)
  6. Chicago (65)
  7. Seattle (59)
  8. Miami (57)
  9. Baltimore (57)
  10. Portland (50)
  11. Los Angeles (49)
  12. Milwaukee (49)
  13. Denver (47)
  14. Cleveland (45)
  15. San Jose (40)
  16. Dallas (39)
  17. Houston (36)
  18. San Diego (36)
  19. San Antonio (35)
  20. Kansas City (34)
  21. Austin (33)
  22. Sacramento (32)
  23. Las Vegas (32)
  24. Columbus (29)
  25. Raleigh (23)

A close look at the Transit Score rankings shows that even highly ranked cities are not ideal. Even New York fails to make the top category of a "rider's paradise," ranking in the second category - "excellent transport." Only two other cities, San Francisco and Boston, fall into this group. Seven are in the "good transit" category; 14 are in the "some transit" category; and Raleigh is considered to have "minimal transit." (Here's how Walk Score breaks down the categories). 

Transit use is associated with several key characteristics of metro areas, according to an analysis by Todd Gabe, an economics professor at the University of Maine. Some are obvious, like density. But transit use is also more common in knowledge-based metros with greater shares of the scientists, engineers, techies, artists, designers, and professionals that make up the creative class.

Metros that are well served by transit also gain on the economic development front. Commuters can work on transit, as opposed to in their cars, improving their well-being and boosting productivity, according to other research. And metros with good transit systems gain a big edge in attracting younger people who favor cities with transit, where they can save money by not having to buy a car.

Americans are shifting away from the car, but most cities and metros still have a long way to go.

Top image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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