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Cities with the Greenest Commuters

April 15, 2013
Personal Finance
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As Earth Day approaches, NerdWallet crunched the numbers to celebrate cities whose residents display environmentally conscious everyday behaviors.  To calculate the cities where residents have the most environmentally-friendly commuting habits, we included the percentage of residents who use commuting methods with varying levels of environmental impact, including:

  1. No environmental impact: Percentage of residents who walk to work, bike to work or work from home
  2. Low environmental impact: Percentage of residents who take public transportation
  3. Moderate environmental impact: Percentage of residents who carpool
  4. High environmental impact: Percentage of residents who drive alone to work

Cities with the greenest commuters

1.    Cambridge, MA

Known as the “People’s Republic of Cambridge,” this liberal enclave’s environmentally conscious residents tend to walk, bike or work from home.  Only 28% of residents drive alone to work.  The city’s walkable layout allows commuters to get to work with minimal environmental impact, as the city has a walkability rating of 89/100 on WalkScore.  The city has displayed a strong commitment to sustainability by using green vehicles for public transportation, LED street lights and a comprehensive recycling system.

2.    New York, NY

It’s no surprise that the Big Apple makes this list.  The city’s top-rated public transit system serves a whopping 56% of workers on their daily commute.  The remaining residents tend to walk or carpool, and only 22% commute create a high environmental impact by driving alone.  The residents’ focus on sustainability reflects the city’s—Bloomberg’s PlaNYC aims to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by the year 2030.

3.    Union City, NJ

Public transportation is popular in Union City, with 42% of workers commuting by bus.  For those who work in New York City, Union City can be a great alternative for the steep rent of Manhattan, especially because it is only minutes away from midtown Manhattan by bus.

4.    Washington, DC

60% of DC’s politically minded workers commute without a car, and only 1 in 3 residents drives alone to work.  Washington, DC is highly walkable, and the city received a walkability score of 73/100 from WalkScore.  Mayor Gray’s Sustainability DC Plan strives to make DC the greenest, most livable city in the United States over the next 20 years.

5.    Jersey City, NJ

Almost half of New Jersey commuters take public transportation to work.  Located right across from lower Manhattan, Jersey City commuters can easily take the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail or the plentiful buses to get to their jobs in Manhattan.  Although 31% of commuters drive alone to work, many take advantage of the city’s great public transportation as well.  Jersey City’s eco-minded residents have formed a plethora of collaborative green community groups.

6.    Berkeley, CA

This college town is known for its liberalism and environmentally conscious residents, as evidenced by the residents’ commitment to using public transportation.  San Francisco and Oakland are both just a quick ride away on the BART, and almost a third of Berkeley residents walk, bike or work from home.  The city encourages consumers to buy local, recycle and bike.

7.    San Francisco, CA

With a walkability score of 85 and a public transit score of 80, it’s clear why a full 50% of San Francisco commuters walk, bike, work from home or take public transportation in their commute.  Long commutes to nearby Silicon Valley are common among San Franciscans, and 38% drive alone to work, likely because nearby Silicon Valley is a long commute.  Most of San Francisco’s buses are hybrid or electric, and the city aims to have zero emissions from their public transit buses by 2020.

8.    Boston, MA

Boston’s high public transit rating of 74/100 is indicative of its excellence—33% of Boston’s commuters use the T to get to work.   1 in 5 in this walkable city work from home, walk or bike to work.  Boston has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by at least 25% by 2020, and by at least 80% by 2050, and they are achieving this through waste reduction, buying energy-efficient buses, sustainable architecture and other methods.

9.    Somerville, MA

Along with nearby Boston and Cambridge, Somerville makes our list.  Somerville residents enjoy easy access to the T, making a trip to downtown Boston fairly painless.  The Somerville city government has exhibited a commitment to recycling and green building.

10. Evanston, IL

Half of Evanston’s workers commute to work alone by car, but the remaining half utilize various methods, including walking, biking and public transportation.  The Chicago Transit Authority’s Purple Line runs through Evanston, giving residents easy access to downtown Chicago.  The city itself shows a commitment to sustainability with the Evanston Climate Action Plan, a compilation of 200 strategies to reduce carbon emissions in the city.

Rank City Walk, bike or work from home Public transportation Carpool Drive alone in a car, truck or van Overall score for green commuters
1 Cambridge, Massachusetts 36.4% 29.6% 5.0% 27.9% 61.1
2 New York, New York 15.1% 56.3% 4.7% 22.1% 59.7
3 Union City, New Jersey 15.8% 42.0% 14.4% 26.7% 54.5
4 Washington, District of Columbia 19.8% 39.6% 6.5% 33.1% 52.8
5 Jersey City, New Jersey 12.0% 49.1% 6.9% 30.9% 52.3
6 Berkeley, California 32.4% 19.9% 6.2% 40.5% 50.4
7 San Francisco, California 21.1% 31.6% 7.3% 37.6% 48.5
8 Boston, Massachusetts 20.2% 32.6% 6.9% 39.4% 48.1
9 Somerville, Massachusetts 16.6% 29.6% 7.9% 43.6% 42.8
10 Evanston, Illinois 21.2% 19.9% 7.3% 50.6% 39.8
11 Boulder, Colorado 30.4% 8.2% 6.3% 54.0% 39.7
12 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 14.0% 25.6% 9.1% 50.0% 37.8
13 Newark, New Jersey 11.1% 26.4% 13.4% 47.3% 37.6
14 Chicago, Illinois 12.0% 27.6% 9.0% 49.9% 37.2
15 Seattle, Washington 18.7% 17.4% 9.2% 53.6% 36.4
16 Miami Beach, Florida 23.8% 12.2% 6.6% 51.1% 36.3
17 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 16.6% 18.0% 10.8% 53.1% 35.5
18 Ann Arbor, Michigan 24.5% 11.0% 5.3% 59.0% 35.4
19 Iowa City, Iowa 21.8% 11.5% 8.9% 57.0% 34.9
20 Arlington CDP, Virginia 10.6% 28.4% 5.5% 54.6% 34.7


  • Data came from the U.S. Census
  • 439 of the biggest U.S. cities were included in this analysis
  • Cities received points for each percentage of the population who commutes according to the various methods:
    • 1 point for residents who walk, bike or work from home
    • .75 points for residents who take public transportation
    • .5 points for residents who carpool
    • 0 points for residents who drive alone to work

Businesswoman going to work image from Shutterstock