Technology Can Help People Go Car-Free, But Don’t Forget the Basics

Image: Mobilizing the Region
The cities with the highest share of car-free household are still the ones that excel at the basics of transit and walkability. Image: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Last week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a ranking of the top 10 cities for “wired” transportation, where newer technologies like bike-share, real-time transit data, and app-based ride-hailing services are helping people get around without a car. After rating 70 metro areas based on the availability of 11 different technologies, Austin came out on top.

Joseph Cutrufo at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog adds some important context today, pointing out that the cities with the most savvy on transportation tech don’t necessarily align with the cities seeing a surge in car-free living. Austin, for example, has seen its share of car-free households decline in recent years.

The places where living car-free is most common are still the cities with two basic strengths: good transit and a walkable built environment. “New transportation technology can complement but can’t replace transit, density and walkability,” Cutrufo says.

  • Tony Dutzik

    Yes, no doubt. Having worked on the report in question, the purpose was never to cast tech tools as more important than “the basics” of walkability and good transit. (Indeed, we took pains to make this clear in the text.) Rather, it was to look at how these “new technologies on the block” are working together to expand options in cities across the country. There’s no doubt that more Austinites, for example, would have the ability to go car-free if the city were walkable and had better transit. But Austinites do have many more options as a result of these new technologies, and the city’s leadership in adopting those new tools is helping to ameliorate some of the negative impacts of otherwise bad transportation and land use decision-making. Innovative transportation tools aren’t the most important part of the puzzle, but they are an increasingly important part and worth paying attention to.

  • ahwr

    It also helps to have a lot of single people living alone, NYC (56.51%) is the only city on the list on the left where a majority of car free households have two or more people. Austin has a higher share of large households (four or more) living car free than Portland or Seattle.

  • Mark

    Having lived in Portland for a few years a decade ago (doing the whole early 20s Im a cool hipster thing) I will literally never understand how people can claim it’s walkable. I rarely go back, but when I do I guess maybe some areas seem more walkable than they used to? Maybe that just goes with the increase in wealth (more shops/restaurants)?

  • Hugerat

    Odd that this ranking would be called an “Innovative Transportation Index.” The technologies that make it possible to go without a car in NYC, DC, Boston, and San Fran are all well over a century old. Sometimes the old technology is still the best. And “innovative” would strike most Bostonians as a strange description for our transit network.

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  • deon5464

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