Workers who pedal, carpool, bus, or shuffle down the hall in their pajamas to get to work are saving the world not only from gridlock but from the extra emissions that would come from driving solo to and from the office.
According to the Federal Transit Administration, cutting out 10 miles of driving in a 25-mile-per-gallon vehicle can also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 7.8 pounds per day. Over a longer term, those emissions reductions can add up: cutting out 10 miles of daily car commuting can cut nearly 40 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per workweek and over 2,000 pounds over the course of a year. Data shows that, while many American workers leave the car at home, the alternate modes of transit that they choose can vary greatly by city.
According to Census Bureau data, the metropolitan areas in which the largest shares of workers choose carbon-saving options like public transit, biking, and walking, include sprawling metropolises as well as more compact, midsized cities. And different cities have distinctly different transit landscapes. The New York City workforce, for example, is dominated by public transit commuters, and public transit is also the most popular option for workers in many other large U.S. metro areas, like Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Meanwhile, smaller cities, like Boulder, Colo., and Eugene, Ore., tend to have larger shares of bike commuters than their larger counterparts.
Broken down by types of commuters, there are other interesting trends. For example, among the 10 cities with the biggest shares of carpoolers are five in California, a notoriously traffic-ridden state. According to the 2010 Annual Highway Report by the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based libertarian think tank, California has the most congested urban interstate roadways in the nation, according to 2008 data. Two of Oregon's major cities, Eugene and Portland, are also among the cities with the most bikers, with Eugene at No. 1, with 5.6 percent of its commuters riding their bicycles to work. Portland has promoted bicycle safety by painting "bike boxes" on its roads. These "boxes" are designated areas for bikers to wait at intersections, undisturbed by motor vehicles. Eugene, meanwhile, boasts 89 miles of on-street bicycle lanes, and works to continuously expand its bike network.
Technological advancements, and particularly the advance of broadband nationwide, have helped to promote rates of working from home by increasing the convenience of telecommuting—connecting to work via mobile telecommunications instead of going to a physical work site. According to a 2011 study by WorldatWork, an international association of human resources professionals and business leaders, the share of teleworkers who telework one day per week or more grew from 72 percent in 2008 to 84 percent in 2010. Chuck Wilsker, the president and CEO of the Telework Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for increased telecommuting, notes that while many workers choose to telecommute for less altruistic reasons, like saving time and money, the environmental benefits are ever-present. "It doesn't matter why you do it. The fact that you do it means that you are contribute to the overall good of the environment, of energy usage, of work-life balance," says Wilsker.
These are the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas (population 300,000 or greater) in which the biggest shares of workers carpool, ride public transit, bicycle, or walk to work, or work from home.
|Metro Area||Carpool %||Public Transit %||Bike %||Walk %||Work from Home %||TOTAL|
|New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.||7.0||30.5||0.4||6.3||3.9||48.1|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.||10.2||14.6||1.5||4.4||6.0||36.7|
|Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, Calif.||15.1||3.9||3.7||4.8||5.7||33.3|
Environmental benefits aside, the monetary savings of leaving the car at home can also be substantial. According to the American Public Transportation Association, an organization that advocates for the advancement of public transit, residents in some of the country's largest cities can save over $10,000 annually on parking and fuel costs by taking public transit instead of driving to work. The organization estimates that New Yorkers stand to save the most money—an average of $14,600 annually—by ditching the car and taking public transit.
Of course, there is no reliable data for which cities have the most drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles, which also help to reduce commuters' carbon footprints. But as these types of cars become more ubiquitous on America's roadways, the picture of what makes for earth-friendly transit is also sure to change rapidly.