Skip to content
CityLab
Transportation

The Great Divide in How Americans Commute to Work

We are cleaving into two nations—one where daily life revolves around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of walking, biking, and transit.
More than 30 percent of workers get to their jobs by transit in the New York City metro area, compared to the national average of 5 percent.
More than 30 percent of workers get to their jobs by transit in the New York City metro area, compared to the national average of 5 percent.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

In a previous post, I pointed to the car as a key feature in the nation’s deepening economic and political fissures. It’s becoming clearer that how we get around our cities and towns is a significant aspect of these divides. That’s the big takeaway from my analysis, with my colleague Karen King at the University of Toronto School of Cities, of recently released 2017 commuting data from the American Community Survey. The dataset covers 270-plus metropolitan areas.

Drive alone to work: More than three-quarters (76.4 percent) of commuters drive to work alone. But in the New York metro area, the share is just about half. It’s 57 percent in San Francisco; about two-thirds in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle; and about 70 percent in Chicago and Portland. And, as might be expected, a smaller-than-average share of workers drives to work alone in more compact college towns such as Boulder, Colorado; Corvallis and Eugene, Oregon; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Ames and Iowa City, Iowa.