Survey looks at transportation costs to find best, worst commutes in U.S.

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 14th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

BTA in Eugene
Riding in downtown Eugene.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A survey of U.S. cities shows that, when transportation costs are figured into the equation, moving out to the suburbs for a cheaper house isn't as affordable as most people think. It also shows that our neighbors to the south, Eugene Oregon, have one of the best commutes in America.

While the analysis doesn't mention how or if bike-ability plays into the equation, it should be noted that Eugene and Boulder, Colorado — two of the most bike-friendly cities in the country — ranked in the top ten on the "best commute" list (first and eighth respectively).

TheStreet and financial advice site Bundle surveyed what people in 90 different metropolitan areas spend on transportation each year and then ranked each city to see who had the best and worst commutes in terms of cost and traffic delay. When looking at data like average length of commute, miles traveled, annual hours delayed, auto expenses, and gas prices, the study found that Eugene was at the top of the "best" list. Dallas, Texas was on the bottom. Portland came in at 42nd.

Beyond the city rankings, the analysis made some important conclusions about our definition of "affordability" when it comes to housing:

Under the traditional definition of housing affordability (30% or less of household income spent on housing), seven out of 10 U.S. communities are considered "affordable" to the average household. But in almost all metro regions of the country, when the definition of affordability includes housing and transportation costs — at 45% of income — the number of communities affordable to low- and moderate-income households declines to four out of 10.

The data for the rankings came from Bundle, the Texas Transportation Institute, and the U.S. Census Bureau. Read the analysis and view a list of the rankings at Bundle.com.

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  • Kt December 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    JM, first paragraph: Neighbors to the north: Eugene is actually south of us. :)

    Part of what makes a great active commute is having your bike or pedestrian routes be connected. It's hard to have an easy commute when you have to zig zag all over the place, when it would be easier to have a most direct way to get places. That's why a lot of the "interested but concerned" folks drive.

    That's one place where vehicular cyclists have it all correct-- by acting like the rest of traffic, all routes are connected.

    When you have streets with no sidewalks or, worse, sidewalks that dead-end at the worst possible moment (for people walking) or no shoulders/bike lanes/slower traffic (for people riding), you don't have connectivity.

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  • Aaron December 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Not sure about Eugene since I haven't lived there, but commuting in Boulder is a nightmare. It is highly compact, but EVERYONE drives. It is bike friendly for road racing, but there is almost no culture of biking as transportation.

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  • Rob December 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    On a related note, the city is on the hook for a $14,000 ECONorthwest study that concluded that we were #3 among western cities in terms of commute cost (source: http://www.wweek.com/editorial/3705/14861/).

    Too bad we didn't pocket that money and spend it more wisely on transportation infrastructure improvements, since Bundle basically just did the same research at no cost? Your tax dollars at work!

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  • Todd Scott December 14, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    It looks like these rankings use the TTI's urban mobility report, which is very suspect and rewards cities with sprawl.

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  • Jackattak December 14, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I have the Best Commute in America.

    14 blocks, from Park Ave Downtown to SW 2nd Ave Downtown.

    Walk to work (cycle in the nice weather) and the only things I burn while getting to work are calories. ;)

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  • Chris December 14, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Folks who like this kind of thing may enjoy this site:


    Side-by-side maps showing cost of housing vs cost of housing + transportation.

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  • Kevin December 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    How ironic that the exact bike lane in the picture has been temporarily removed and replaced with...oncoming traffic!


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  • Quentin December 14, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    The survey has a noticeable automobile-centric perspective and lacks any meaningful information for people who would commute by any other mode of transportation besides a personal automobile. Obviously they did not take into consideration the option to use light rail, bicycle infrastructure, and whether or not a place is covered in snow 5 months of the year.

    Having lived in 2 of the top 10 ranked cities, I wouldn't want to walk or ride a bike in Anchorage or Spokane for much of the year, and along with the meager mass transit options, one is effectively forced to rely on expensive, petroleum-powered personal transportation. Someone can easily live without the expense of owning a car in 42nd-ranked Portland, but would find it virtually impossible to go without a car in 5th-ranked Anchorage. Survey fail.

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  • ME2 December 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    That's interesting that Boulder ranked so high. I wonder how much of the ease of commuting in Boulder has to do with the fact that a lot of their residents work in Denver?

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  • Uncle Muscles December 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I've lived in Portland and now live in Eugene. I commute by bike and ride daily. From my perspective, Portland not only has a much higher percentage of riders on the road daily, but the bike facilities in Portland are better organized and the whole feel of the city is more bike friendly. I came to Eugene expecting a cycling mecca and have been quite disappointed by the lack of ridership I see and the confusing bike infrastructure. I rode 15 miles today to Trader Joe's and a couple other places in some moderate rain and saw one cyclist the entire time I was out. One

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    • Mike Seager December 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

      I think part of that might be that Eugene isn't as well signed as Portland is yet. There are car and bike routes, and non-locals usually don't know the busy bike route/blvds, because they aren't sharrowed or signed well (yet). I might wager (I wouldn't know for sure) that you may have just been on the wrong roads.

      I live in Eugene, and I see many riders every day.

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    • Steve Scarich December 16, 2010 at 11:08 am

      I commuted in Eugene for over 20 years, and, during that time, bicycle commuting decreased about 50%. I left in 2003, and, recently see statistics indicating very high commuting rates. I suspect someone is 'cooking the books' to make Eugene look for bike-friendly than it really is. Anyone in Eugene with knowledge of stats reading this? BTW, bike-commuting in Bend is very sparse. You see a lot more bikes on roof racks than on the street. Lots of racers and recreational cyclists for sure.

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  • Red Five December 14, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I sure wish somebody would tell Sam Adams that we ride bikes east of 82nd.

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  • Former Eugene bike commuter December 14, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I lived in Boulder, Eugene and now here(well, 'boro) and while I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Boulder (over 5 yrs) I gotta agree that it takes a certain (read: heat and cold tolerant) mindset to bike commute there all year. Corvallis and Eugene (and ok, Bend) have been far and away the "easiest" bike commute towns I've lived in, but Eugene took that prize.
    Eugene is very easy to ride in.
    Corvallis shouldn't even count. It's so tiny and laid back I suspect you could ride a lawn mower to work most places.
    Bend just requires some "climate fortitude" and one can commute there all year. Still, Eugene is very easy to get around in by 2 wheels. YMMV.

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    • Ryan Good December 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      Lawnmower, ha! That's great. As a former Corvallis resident, I would have to agree. Corvallis also has one of the greatest bike/ped trail systems anywhere- connecting a number of parks, the campus, downtown, even all the way out to Philomath. Big, wide, car-free paths for miles and miles.

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  • Steve Scarich December 16, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I have lived and commuted in Bend, Boulder, Eugene, and Portland (near Jesuit H.S. going to NW PDX). Here's my 2 cents. Eugene is excellent, with lots of well-marked and safe routes, Boulder had the most beautiful bike paths but commuting is a nightmare, due to lots of high-speed, clueless SUV drivers, Portland was good, although lots of traffic to deal with and the hills killed me, and Bend sucks (no safe north to south route, and east to west routes disappear frequently for a block or two.

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  • Opus the Poet December 16, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Where I live placed in the top ten of the 100 worst commutes, but at least we beat out Houston.

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