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New U of M study measures accessibility to jobs in top U.S. cities 

Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks fifth in convenience by car

April 5, 2013

Every year, Americans face a steady stream of discouraging transportation news. We’re spending more time stuck in traffic, and congestion in our metro areas is on the rise. Yet these reports focus almost exclusively on traffic mobility—how quickly travelers can move between any two points via automobile or transit.

But according to a new University of Minnesota study, there’s much more to the story.

"Focusing solely on mobility and traffic delay doesn't provide a complete picture of how traffic systems function," said David Levinson, professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota. "In many cities, travelers have the ability to reach their destinations, such as shopping, jobs and recreation, in a reasonable amount of time despite congestion and slower travel because these cities have greater density of activities."

The new study, "Access Across America," goes beyond congestion rankings to focus on accessibility—a measure that examines both land use and the transportation system. The study is the first systematic comparison of trends in accessibility to jobs by car within the United States. By comparing accessibility to jobs by automobile during the morning peak period for 51 metropolitan areas, the study examines which cities are performing well in terms of accessibility and which have seen the greatest change.

To generate the rankings for this study, Levinson, who holds the Richard P. Braun/Center for Transportation Studies Chair in Transportation, created a weighted average of accessibility, giving a higher weight to close-proximity jobs. Jobs reachable within 10 minutes are weighted most heavily, and then jobs are given decreasing weight as travel time increases up to 60 minutes. Based on this measure, the 10 metro areas that provide the greatest average accessibility to jobs by car are Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Jose, Washington, Dallas, Boston and Houston.

"It can be surprising to see that some of the cities often ranked as the most congested also have the highest levels of job accessibility," Levinson said. "This is due to the density of jobs those urban areas offer."

Levinson also found that job accessibility has changed over time. In the past two decades, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fla., and Austin, Texas, have seen the largest percentage gains in job accessibility while Cleveland, Detroit, Honolulu and Los Angeles have seen the largest percentage drops.

According to Levinson, this research offers an important takeaway for metro areas interested in increasing accessibility. "There are two ways for cities to improve accessibility—by making transportation faster and more direct or by increasing the density of activities, such as locating jobs closer together and closer to workers. While neither of these things can easily be shifted overnight, they can make a significant impact over the long term."

The complete study and an interactive map are online at

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