How Green is the District? Part 1: When it comes to transportation, it seems very green.

Bob Zuraski contributed to this post.

An article in today’s Washington Post, “Metro’s new rail cars are ready for riders on Tuesday” prompted us to look into the commuting patterns of D.C. residents.

To do this we analyzed data from the U.S. Census. As usual, we compared the District to other parts of the nation. Additionally, we highlighted commuting methods that are friendly to the environment and contribute to lower carbon emissions. These include public transportation, bicycling and walking.

Here’s what the data looks like:


  • D.C. ranked second highest among these cities in terms of public transportation use with 38 percent of residents commuting by public transit, exceeded only by New York City.
  • D.C. also had the second highest percent of commuters who walked to work at 12 percent compared to 15 percent for Boston.
  • Portland took top prize among these cities for the percent of residents who biked to work, followed by Seattle and D.C.
  • Even though cities like Portland and Seattle are often recognized as leaders for green initiatives, when it comes to transportation residents there still rely on cars.
  • D.C. and New York are still leaders when it comes to green transit.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of How Green is the District ?

Note: I disagree with the findings of an earlier Economist/Siemens Report “US and Canada Green City Index:  Assessing the environmental performance of 27 major US and Canadian cities” which ranked D.C. only 13th  for transportation. The study stated “the city’s public transport network is shorter than average, at 0.4 miles per square mile, compared with the average of 1.1 miles.”  It is not clear that this measure of public transit coverage factors in where people actually live (does the study’s calculation of public transit per square mile include park areas where residents don’t live? ) nor does this measure distinguish among means of public transit, faster subways compared to slower buses. At the end of the day, rather than focusing on hypothetical measures of availability, the statistics should reflect how residents actually commute.

What exactly is the data?

The data is from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.  A great report on alternative commuting patterns that focuses on walking and cycling is Modes Less Traveled—Bicycling and Walking to Work in the United States: 2008–2012 American Community Survey Reports, by Brian McKenzie, issued May 2014. The Economist/ Siemens study can be accessed here.

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