First Annual Index Ranks Climate Impact of Transportation for 100 Largest US Metro Areas

StreetLight Data Analysis Reveals New York, San Francisco, and Madison are Leading the Way in Lower-Impact Transportation

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, burning fossil fuels for transportation is the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and the US is second only to China as the world’s top greenhouse gas producer, notes the United Nations Emissions Gap Report 2019. The Global Carbon Project also indicates that the world is setting new emissions records every year, which puts our country’s transportation experts and city planners in the driver’s seat to effect change.

StreetLight Data, Inc, the leader in Big Data analytics for mobility, recognizes that managing transportation is a major engine of climate change mitigation, and is providing new data to enable cities and agencies to manage and measure their progress. The company today unveiled its first annual US Transportation Climate Impact Index, which ranks the country’s 100 most populous metro areas based on several carbon-related transportation factors, including Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), bicycle and pedestrian commute metrics, population density, and circuity (the difference between an actual route taken and a straight line between origin and destination).

The nationwide multimode mobility metrics pioneered by StreetLight allow the company’s data scientists to measure more than just transportation infrastructure – they can illustrate real-life mobility behavior and point cities toward behavior with the highest climate impact for their locality. As such, StreetLight Data’s 2020 US Transportation Climate Impact Index goes far beyond traditional transportation design-basedmeasures (such as how many miles of bike paths exist), and draws on performance-basedmetrics (how much actual bike commuting people do).

This fresh perspective highlights the tight connection between transportation and urban planning. It offers insight into ways that cities with extensive car travel can successfully offset that carbon output, and shows that commuters might walk or bike even in the country’s most brutal winter weather.

For the StreetLight Data 2020 US Transportation Climate Impact Index, the company ranked the country’s largest metro areas from 1 (best) to 100 (worst) on six individual factors: VMT, bike commuting miles, pedestrian commuting miles, transit ridership, population density, and circuity.

The StreetLight Data 2020 US Transportation Climate Impact Index Top 10 US Metro Areas:

The top metro areas generally have low VMT, high mileage in bike and pedestrian commuting, high per-capita transit use, high population density, and low circuity.  

1.   New York, NY Newark-Jersey City, NJ 
2.   San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
3.   Madison, WI
4.   Philadelphia, PA-Camden, NJ-Wilmington, DE
5.   Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA
6.   San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
7.   Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA
8.   Lancaster, PA
9.   New Haven-Milford, CT
10. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

“Studying sustainable transportation metrics can help urban and community planners understand the potential for change and where to improve,” said Laura Schewel, CEO and co-founder of StreetLight Data. “For example, can a city find ways to encourage more bike and pedestrian travel? Does the city’s land-use planning lend itself to increasing density? A goal of our 2020 US Transportation Climate Impact Index is to use objective and clear data to help spark discussions and new ways of addressing mobility in context.”

Look out for an audio interview with Laura Schewel on this website next week and a full version of this story in the forthcoming issue of Thinking Highways.