How green are our commutes?

On Thursday last week (May 8, 2014), the U.S. Census released a new summary of the 2012 American Community Survey data. The report has statistical information on commutes for residents 16 and older. Here are a few highlights from the results:

The percentage of people who “drove alone” as their principal mode of travel to and from work is lower in Melrose than in Stoneham, Wakefield and Saugus.


Percent of commuters who drove by themselves with lower percentages in darker green [click image to enlarge]

Not surprisingly, much of this difference comes from our proximity to several public transit options. Here’s a plot of public transit usage:

Transit usage

Percent usage of public transit with higher transit usage in darker colors [click image to enlarge]

In Melrose, public transit usage by census tract ranges from a low of 13.3% in the northeast corner of the city to a high of 35% in the southwest corner of the city (compare to a Massachusetts average of 9.2%).

Biking and walking do not show up quite so strongly in the survey. Bicycling as a principal mode of commute ranges from a low of zero in the northern sections of Melrose to a high of 3.6% at the southern end (state average is 0.7%), while walking ranges from 0.4% to 3.7%, this time with the high value centered around West Wyoming Ave, lagging the state average of 4.7%.

It is worth noting that this data is obtained via a survey and only captures commute information, and not transportation for any other purpose. It also only allows respondents to select one mode of transportation, and thus does not say anything about how people got to and from public transit (the survey question states, “How did this person usually get to work last week? If this person usually used more than one method of transportation during the trip, mark (X) the box of the one used for most of the distance.”).

As Wendy Landman of WalkBoston notes, transit is often “the middle leg of a walking trip.” In Melrose, where public transit is one of the amenities that figures prominently in our transportation modes and in the choice people make to move here, it’s critical for us to keep the walking and biking portions of the journey in mind.


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