Forbes Reports: "America's Most Fuel-Efficient Neighborhoods"

Forbes: "With the national average price of gasoline topping $4 a gallon, it's a propitious time to make the case for gas-sipping neighborhoods. Indeed, Americans coping with soaring energy costs are choosing to spend their economic stimulus checks at the gas pump and reduce their driving habits by billions of miles."

Forbes consulted with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in building this list of fuel-efficient neighborhoods -- and also referred to location efficiency comparisons here at CNU, reporting "Owning a home in walkable neighborhoods saves residents $300 to $400 a month, up to 4,800 a year, on gas expenses alone, according to research by the Congress for the New Urbanism."

Read the full story at:


Let's Think a Little Deeper Here

First, a big shout out to the Center for Neighborhood Technology for having this information available to get this article off the ground. Its always great when good work gets good reviews! Tip of the hat to you!

However, some elements of this article do miss the mark. Most glaring is that the article defines fuel efficiency in terms of monthly cost. While this may be relevant from a free market perspective, New Urbanists should gauge this loose definition with a little more thought. For instance, should a neighborhood blessed with low gas prices really be considered more fuel efficient than a neighborhood with similar average commute times but higher average gas prices? And what about vehicle miles traveled? a 45 minute commute in traffic will use less fuel than on deserted country roads where you can travel long distances at high speeds, but is either desirable? And a 90 minute commute on a train where you can begin your work day as soon as you board can beat them all! Yet this article references none of these factors.

While it is valuable that this article would bring to the forefront the issue of transportation costs, it does a disservice to energy conscious home-buyers in not showing them all the true variables involved in transportation efficiency.

Nah, Take a Closer Look ... Forbes Got it Right!

The calculator of household transportation costs that Forbes – and CNU! – use courtesy of CNT is about as sound as you’re going to find these days. You ask about vehicle miles traveled? Estimates of the average driving miles per household in each census tract are exactly what drive these rankings. In auto-dependent areas where people drive long distances on a daily basis, household transportation costs wind up being higher. In the walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods where they drive less, transportation costs (including transit fares) are considerably less.

I don’t believe these calculations even take into account variation in pump prices between regions. There isn’t a region in the country that’s been spared soaring gasoline prices. And as you can see from the CNU Google map that tracks news reports and academic studies on the downs and ups in the housing market, the shift in consumer demand away from auto-dependent areas and towards is showing up pretty much everywhere.

All that aside, you make a good point about how there are other important transportation costs to consider, not just the dollars you spend on gas, auto loan payments, the whole shebang, but the time you spend fighting traffic. As you say, a similar amount of time spent commuting by train can provide a convenient opportunity to review the sports section of the morning paper and get a jump on the day’s e-mail.

paytonc's picture

time vs. money

three things to keep in mind:
1. gasoline pump prices vary by what, 15% nationally? as prices go higher, the regional differences in taxes and formulation are becoming more marginal.
2. the comparison maps are only comparing different parts of the same metro region, in order to control for regional variations in both gas and housing prices.
3. the time cost of doing something is very abstract, whereas the pocketbook cost is more concrete and easier to grasp. think about those people who will, say, wait in line all day to get cheap stadium seats, or those who drive across town to save a few dollars on a purchase. not the wisest strategy, but people do it.

you know what's an even better time saver than taking transit, though? walking and cycling actually create time. every minute you walk adds three minutes to your life: you don't "spend" or "waste" time by walking, you're investing it -- with compound interest!


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