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5 Best Midwest Cities for Green Commuters

The Midwest might not have the reputation for environmental friendliness of the West Coast or the Northeast when it comes to urban planning and transportation. But you shouldn’t write it off. Some Midwestern cities have stepped up their game to become leaders in green commuting, with high numbers of residents who walk, bike, take public transit, or carpool to work.

Check out the list below for the cities doing the most to help improve the environment – not to mention their residents’ health and finances – by developing and promoting green commuting practices. You might be surprised at how far the Midwest has come.


1)    Minneapolis, MN: Right on Target

In Minneapolis, nearly 33% of commuters go green. The city has the highest percentage of commuters who use green transportation methods. With a 4.25 mile trail that runs along the Mississippi River, downtown, and 177 miles of bike lanes, including 4 bike corridors, green commuting in Minneapolis also is a good workout. Don’t feel like braving the winter weather? The Minneapolis skyway system connects more than 80 blocks downtown so you can live, eat, work, and shop without ever stepping outside (or into a car)!


2)    Madison, WI: Bike This Way

The city is nicknamed ‘Mad Town,’ but its extensive walking and bike trails leave little to be angry about. Madison ranks highest on the list for number of commuters who walk and bike to work. Bikers and walkers can enjoy Madison’s most pleasant days, with sun and temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees 64 days each year.


3)    Cleveland, OH: Walk and Roll

As the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland knows how to rock. The city also knows how to walk. Its residents enjoy lovely scenery, nice weather (the most days – 68 – with sun and temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees of any of the cities we considered), and great places to ride bikes. The city has invested in public transportation heavily as well, so residents can still commute greenly when the winter weather isn’t so appealing.


4)   Milwaukee, WI: Carpool-line cool

Milwaukee’s name is derived from the Native American word ‘millioki’ or gathering place by the water. The city has sustained that reputation by gathering in troves for the morning commute. With 11.9%, Milwaukee has the second highest percentage of carpoolers on the list. When commuters need to keep the time, they can look up at the Allen Bradley clock tower, which boasts the largest 4-faced clock in the world.


5)    Dayton, OH: Grounded

Dayton may be the birthplace of aviation, but many residents have their feet planted firmly on the ground. About 8% of all Daytonians walk to work: the second highest percentage on the list. Walkers enjoy the parks, pathways, and scenery that the Great Miami River affords. The Gem City also has great public transportation infrastructure, so green routes to work don’t have to be as stressful.

How we ranked them:

We studied 13 major Midwest cities with populations ranging from 100,000 to 600,000 that have made major efforts to boost commuting. See how they stacked up below:


Criteria and sources:

  • % of commuters who walk, ride public transit, bike, and carpool from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey of 2012.
  • Weather: # of “pleasant days” between temperatures 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit without significant precipitation or snow depth from the Kelly Norton map based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association http://www.kellegous.com/j/2014/02/03/pleasant-places/
  • Air quality: rankings based on the median Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality Index for each city. http://www.epa.gov/airdata/ad_rep_aqi.html