real estate

10 Best Cities for Commuters

If the daily slog through rush-hour gridlock is wearing through your tires, your psyche and your pocketbook, consider our list of the ten American cities with the easiest, most affordable commutes.

To make the cut, our cities all have a metro population of at least 1 million and a low congestion cost (a measurement of wasted time and fuel calculated by the Texas Transportation Institute). We also factored in the average length of commute, local gas prices, yearly delays per commuter, and public transit use.

See our 10 Best Cities for Commuters as a slide show.

Our winners have some shared characteristics. Most have populations between 1 and 2 million. Their congestion costs all fall below $550 per person (the national average is $808). Some have seen massive population declines, clearing out roadways built for heavy travel. Others take advantage of abundant land, sprawling highway systems, and lots of urban parking lots. All have some of the happiest, least-stressed urban commuters in the country.

NATIONAL AVERAGES:

Yearly Congestion Cost: $808 Average Length of Commute: 11.79 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.23 per gallon Yearly Delays per Commuter: 34 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 28 gallons Public Transit Users: 5%

10. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT

Population: 1,195,998 Yearly Congestion Cost: $541 Average Length of Commute: 13.92 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.38 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 24 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 21 gallons Public Transit Users: 3.3%

Hartford edges out Sacramento for the last spot on our list of easy, affordable commutes. The city offers a free downtown circulator bus service called the Star Shuttle. There are 45 parking garages downtown, some of which are free, and lots of on-street parking.

9. Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

Population: 1,258,577 Yearly Congestion Cost: $521 Average Length of Commute: 10.62 Cost of Regular Gas: $3.27 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 22 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 19 gallons Public Transit Users: 2.8%

At the intersection of the Watterson (I-264) and Gene Snyder (I-265) highways, Louisville offers 13 city-owned downtown parking garages and six lots. Commuters can buy monthly parking permits or use prepaid parking meter smart cards, which refund the minutes you don’t use. Commutes are shorter, congestion is low.

8. Kansas City, MO-KS

Population: 2,067,585 Yearly Congestion Cost: $498 Average Length of Commute: 9.16 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.04 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 21 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted: 20 gallons Public Transit Users: 1.7%

Most Kansas City commuters drive, taking advantage of the city’s flat, expansive highway system. Downtown features easy access from I-70, I-35 and U.S. 71 roadways. Parking is abundant, with nearly 22,000 parking spots downtown. Prices vary, but many spots are free (for a max of three hours). Gas is cheap here, too, relative to the rest of the country.

7. Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN

Population: 2,171,896 Yearly Congestion Cost: $451 Average Length of Commute: 10.52 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.28 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 19 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 15 gallons Public Transit Users: 3.2%

Cincinnati’s population of more than 2 million (the largest on our list) hardly clogs up the roads. 3.2% of the city’s residents use public transit, which includes two bus services: The city-owned METRO and Kentucky’s TANK service. Cincinnati also plans to add a streetcar to the mix, a major project which seeks to replicate transit systems in Atlanta and Seattle.

6. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH

Population: 2,091,286 Yearly Congestion Cost: $423 Average Length of Commute: 10.81 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $ $3.27 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 19 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 16 gallons Public Transit Users: 4.8%

Cleveland boasts the highest rate of public transit users on our list, with 4.8% of its residents taking advantage of the city’s buses and trolleys. Almost 13% of Cleveland residents carpool to work, beating the national average of 10.5%. In October, the city opened its $9.6 million Stephanie Tubbs Jones Transit Center, a downtown bus hub. Population losses have made its heavy-duty highway system a boon for commuters.

5. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY

Population: 1,123,804 Yearly Congestion Cost: $417 Average Length of Commute: 8.15 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.38 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 17 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 16 gallons Public Transit Users: 4.1%

Snow happens in Buffalo. But congestion hardly does. The 1.4-mile, 110-foot-tall Skyway offers a fast journey from South Buffalo to downtown (although ice sometimes makes it impassable). Buffalo’s population has halved in the past 60 years. The double-edged result is easy driving for those who remain.

4. Richmond, VA

Population: 1,238,187 Yearly Congestion Cost: $411 Average Length of Commute: 12.31 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.08 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 19 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted: 16 gallons Public Transit Users: 2.3%

Richmond is easily traveled by car, with several major highways feeding right through the center of the city. Average temperatures rarely dip below freezing, giving Richmond the perfect commuting weather. The nightmare congestion of I-95 around Washington, D.C., 120 miles to the north is far, far away. Gas prices are lower than the national average, too.

3. Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA

Population: 1,600,642 Yearly Congestion Cost: $406 Average Length of Commute: 11.62 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.26 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 19 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 15 gallons Public Transit Users: 2.9%

Located at the crux of I-95 and I-195, the capital of the Ocean State boasts convenient highway access. In addition to 40 parking garages, the city has more than 1,000 on-street parking spaces that charge about $1 per hour. Yearly fuel wasted here is almost half the national average.

2. Columbus, OH

Population: 1,801,848 Yearly Congestion Cost: $388 Average Length of Commute: 12.30 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $3.28 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 17 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted per Commuter: 15 gallons Public Transit Users: 2.2%

What else can you expect from a city whose mayor, Michael B. Coleman, is nicknamed “Bikin’ Mike”? Columbus supports a bike-friendly commuter culture while pouring money into its roadways. Over the past several years, the city has teamed up with the Ohio Department of Transportation to improve safety and conditions on its I-70/71 corridor.

1. Rochester, NY

Population: 1,035,566 Yearly Congestion Cost: $273 Average Length of Commute: 10.23 miles Cost of Regular Gas: $ 3.38 Yearly Delays per Commuter: 12 hours Yearly Fuel Wasted: 11 gallons Public Transit Users: 2.9%

Rochester boasts an annual congestion cost that is $100 less than our runner-up. Residents spend a mere 19 minutes on average commuting to work, compared with a national average of 25 minutes. A Roc-City commuter’s chief challenge is the snowfall, which averages about 100 inches annually. But local drivers are snow pros: It’s not uncommon to see homemade plows clearing driveways and side streets after a particularly heavy fall.

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