Modes of Transportation

Because of my interest in energy, I have a long-standing interest in different modes of transportation. One of the reasons that I am not overly pessimistic about a future in which I foresee even higher long-term oil prices is that I believe we can make a shift from modes of transportation requiring a lot of energy to move people around to modes that require much less energy to move people.

Within the U.S., there are cities in which a large fraction of the population walks to work, cities in which almost everyone drives alone to work, and cities in which more than half of the working population takes public transportation to work. A reader recently called my attention to a database he has developed that compares the various modes of transportation for more than 2,100 U.S. cities. The database is called Modes of Transportation to Work.

The site allows you to find and compare the percentages of people that use different modes of transportation for getting to work (walking, carpooling, driving alone, public transit, etc.). The site has filters that allow you to rank and compare U.S. cities, and find the answers to question such as:

You will discover that there are U.S. cities in which more than 40% of the working population walks to work (Ithaca, NY – 41.8%), cities in which large fractions of the population works from home (Fort Bragg, NC — 48.5%), and cities in which almost everyone drives to work alone (Southgate, Michigan – 91.6%).

Beyond the interesting statistical comparisons are the questions of why one city is walkable, while in another city of similar size almost everyone drives alone to work. With some the issue is population density or climate, but some city governments have just been more proactive in developing programs that encourage car-pooling and mass transit.

I lived in Europe for about 5 years, and was generally impressed that they maintain high standards of living at half the per capita energy consumption of the U.S. Much of this is related to their modes of transportation; Europeans on average travel more efficiently than we do in the U.S. But as this database shows, you don’t have to look all the way across the Atlantic to find examples of walkable cities. And as fossil fuel supplies deplete, we need to learn from some of these cities where workers don’t consume a lot of fuel to commute to work.