There’s good news, I think, in the new Census numbers that are just out on commuting habits in the fifty largest US cities. Here’s how the two in the Northwest stack up.

Portland Seattle
Public transit…… 13.3 10th 17.0 8th
Walk………………. 4.3 11th 6.9 6th
Work at home…. 5.3 2nd 5.1 3rd
Bicycle…………… 3.5 1st 2.3 3rd
Carpool………….. 10.4 31st 10.3 32nd
Total 36.7 41.6

[Figures show the percent of commuters who use each mode of transportation, and national rank.]

I always like a head to head comparison. But what’s really interesting is not the contrast between the two cities but their similarities. Both cities are in the nation’s top 10 (or nearly so) in four of the five categories, and they’re often neck and neck in the rankings. (Over at Slog, Josh Feit has more detailed listings.)

Neither city is near the top for carpooling, but that’s primarily because carpooling tends to be more popular in sprawling cities where cars are the only practical option. So places like Phoenix, Fort Worth, and Charlotte tend to be in the lead for carpooling.

I think the upshot here is that both Northwest cities have done an impressive amount to foster transportation choices. Relative to big eastern and midwestern cities, both Seattle and Portland are young. And partly as a result, they’re less dense and didn’t benefit from industrial-era investments in subways or elevated trains.

Even so, the Northwest’s big cities are among the best for providing real alternatives to solo driving. (Notably, Seattle is the only city in the top 10 for transit use that doesn’t have fixed rail or rapid transit.) Seattle’s and Portland’s successes show that it really is possible for cities to provide meaningful transportation choices—and thereby to wean themselves from petroleum and congestion.