Strong Towns was recently invited to test out a new comprehensive mapping tool called mySidewalk. In collaboration with mySidewalk, I wrote this piece, utilizing the tool to examine commuting costs in three cities across the country. 


Washington, DC: Average Percent of Income Spent on Transportation. Source: mySidewalk, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT): Location Affordability Portal, Version 2: Location Affordability Index.

Washington, DC: Average Percent of Income Spent on Transportation. Source: mySidewalk, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT): Location Affordability Portal, Version 2: Location Affordability Index.

Over the last sixty years, as our cities have become more and more spread out, commute times have lengthened. A forty-five minute drive to work is considered normal for many people and with housing costs skyrocketing in many major metro areas, some people turn to homes on the far edges of cities, sacrificing time spent in the car for more affordable housing. As an advocate for walkable, affordable places through my work at Strong Towns, I often encourage people to take a hard look at their transportation costs (both financially as well as time and health-related) and ask themselves how much they are really spending in order to get that house on the edge of the city. How much additional gas, parking passes and car repairs must residents spend as a result of living in auto-centric areas, and, after calculating that, are they really saving anything with the cheaper suburban house?

With a whole nation of data available to me through mySidewalk, I thought it would be interesting to compare the percent of income the average person spends on transportation in three different places where I’ve personally lived: Walla Walla, WA (where I went to college), Washington, DC (where I lived a couple years ago), and Milwaukee, WI (where I currently reside).

By the Numbers

For a bit of background, the populations of each city vary:

  • Washington, DC: 659,000
  • Milwaukee: 600,000
  • Walla Walla: 32,000

Now, these numbers don’t really tell us the whole story because they only include the number of people residing within the city limits. When we examine the metro areas around each, we get a wider range of numbers. Washington, DC has an extensive network of far reaching suburbs, Milwaukee has several first and second tier suburbs, and even Walla Walla has a couple neighboring towns. When you include all these, their populations are approximately as follows:

  • Washington DC metro: 6 million
  • Milwaukee metro: 1.6 million
  • Walla Walla county: 59,500

A Bigger, Better Picture with Data

Before diving into the data, I assumed that the larger and more populous the metro area, the higher the transportation costs those on the edges. But I wasn’t exactly right...  Visit the mySidewalk blog to read the rest.

(Top photo from Unsplash)