A recent study by Bundle & The Street, lends some credibility to the notion that purchasing a home in the suburbs based upon the premise that it’s “cheaper” may not really be that true at all. The study focused on a number of major and minor metro regions across the nation and pitted their daily commute times, distances and also added the metric averaging what a household might spend on transportation per month. The numbers paint a striking picture. A couple of infographics were released with the report that displayed some of the maximum and minimum commutes. You can peruse through the data for yourself if you are curious. It is quite striking the number of hours wasted in some places, and how many not wasted in others, when compared to Indianapolis.
If you travel in urban or transportation study circles, my post is late to the game. So I thought I would take this a step further, and compare Indianapolis, to a few of it’s peer cities; or as Brookings is now calling a group of these similar performers, “The New Heartland”. Brooking’s released a report recently called, “The State of Metropolitan America” and in it, examined how some metro areas are performing, or underperforming. A better definition can be taken directly from the report:
New Heartland metro areas are also fast growing, highly educated locales, but have lower shares of Hispanic and Asian populations than the national average. These 19 metro areas include many in the “New South” where blacks are the dominant minority group, such as Atlanta and Charlotte, as well as largely white metro areas throughout the Midwest and West, such as Indianapolis and Portland, OR
Aaron Renn, whom I consider one of the foremost authority on urban study, broke down the report a while back. It’s a great read if you have the time. Some of the cities that are classified as “New Heartland”, and whom I will be using for comparison in this analysis are Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland, Kansas City & Minneapolis. There is no basis for their selection except that they are New Heartland cities. The data was taken from this link that includes the data for all 90 cities examined.
If we look at the data presented for these cities, we can see that they perform as follows:
The first thing that jumps out, is that the typical commute distance is similar for all cities, despite a shorter distance for Portland. The next thing that grabs us, is the amount of money spent each month on automobile related expenses. The harder to capture metric, and what may bridge the link between the data and perception, is the following graphic. I have taken the 90 metro image, and highlighted the cities in focus. You can see that some cities have a “taller” bar than others. This indicates the amount of people on the region’s roadways at peak commuting times. I think this tells the story about cities like Atlanta who have a reputation of longer waiting times in traffic, but what is not really indicated on the table above.
In wrapping up, I thought that it would be interesting to contrast the transit systems provided by each of these cities. Indianapolis and Kansas City both lack any sort of rail transit system while the rest do. The cost data would suggest that Portland & Atlanta are cheaper places to commute. They do both have somewhat robust rail systems that afford passengers a hassle free commute to their respective region’s core. Minneapolis and Charlotte are both just entering this game while KC & Indy both still struggle to find the civic will to make this happen. Indy is by far the worst city on this list in terms of general public transit options. The fact that it lists the lowest amount of people on the road, yet one of the higher amounts of monthly spend, points to a larger dependence on the automobile to get to and from work; it is also, the longest commute distance of any of the cities examined.
What else can we say about the data provided here? From a shear cost comparison, Portland & Atlanta both look like nice places to move to should you want to spend less on commuting. However, Atlanta and Minneapolis both offer a seemingly frustrating drive due to the amount of people on the roads.
Locally, should Indianapolis continue to grow as the Brookings New Heartland typology suggests, commuting expenses could get worse as more people choose to live here. With the price of parking set to double in the next couple of years due to the recent parking meter lease, the monthly spend for people commuting to the downtown area only stands to increase. Coupled with the expected economic rebound, and oil prices being driven up, Indy commuters are looking down the barrel of monthly auto related spending north of $500 per household. To that end, these data points paint a pretty good picture for transit advocates.