WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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.
For every dollar working families save on housing, it spends nearly $2 on transportation, according to research by the nonpartisan Center for Housing Policy. Their research shows that of the 20 fastest-growing counties in the U.S., 15 are located 30 miles or more from the closest central business districts.
As some politicians see it, where you live is now a matter of national energy policy. Places with plenty of mass transit and high rates of bicycle usage have received applause from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama on the campaign trail lately. And some on Capitol Hill want to legislate shorter commutes that require less fuel.
Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) recently introduced a bill that would enable home buyers to qualify for lower interest rates on mortgages for homes located near mass transit. Although it isn't expected to get to a floor vote before November elections, it has an ally in powerful House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
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. Kicking the car habit yields larger consequences: Traffic congestion sucked $78 billion from the economy in 2005, added 4.2 billion hours in commuter time, and wasted almost 3 billion gallons of gasoline, according to a 2007 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute.
We asked the Center for Neighborhood Technology to help identify cheap rides in America's largest metropolitan areas. It classified a neighborhood's low transportation costs as the metro area mean transportation costs minus one standard deviation.
Energy usage can vary widely within the same market. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the average household in the leafy urban neighborhood of East Isles, adjacent to Lake Calhoun, drives 9,420 miles per year and spends $620 a month on transportation costs. That compares to 21,684 miles per year in exurban Rosemount, where monthly transportation costs top $1,000.
In America's largest metro area, New York City, the most efficient place for transportation isn't in Manhattan. Brooklyn Heights, located at the foot of Brooklyn Bridge's eastern edge, requires the least amount of transit money per household.
In sprawling Houston, where 60-minute commutes are common, living in the Montrose area means you'll be able to get away with driving slightly less than the average 12,000 miles per car per year in the U.S.
How to keep transportation costs under control in car-obsessed Los Angeles? Snag a place to live in ethnically diverse Koreatown, near stylish West Hollywood, where households spend less than $700 a month.
You can't always rule out the suburbs. The central location of Arlington, Va., which doubles as a government-contracting hub and a D.C. bedroom community to Northern Virginia's high-tech firms and Washington's downtown section, makes monthly transit costs here cheaper than large sections of the nation's capital.