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Philadelphia leaders want the city to cut down on usage of automobiles. Mayor Michael Nutter started a Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and the Office of Sustainability, with goals of making Philly greener more efficient for transportation. Whoever follows him will likely keep the same approach. All of the candidates expressed interest in safer streets for bicycles and improved public transit at a mobility forum last month.

How much work will the candidate who wins have to do? Billy Penn looked at Census data and examined how Philadelphians commute to work; which neighborhoods are most likely to bike, drive or take public transit; and whether Philadelphia is moving in the right direction for becoming less reliant on cars.

Young people are biking more, but we’re still driving a lot

Not surprisingly, Philadelphia is still primarily a driving city. About 50 percent of workers commute to work in a car by themselves, followed by public transit, walking and biking. 

Those percentages haven’t changed too drastically in the last decade, except for biking. The number of bikers commuting to work has doubled from 2005 to 2013.   

For young people, the changes for commuting have been much more drastic. Nearly 7 percent fewer 20- to 24-year-olds are driving to work, and nearly 5 percent more are taking public transit. Like it is with the overall population, almost twice as many are riding bikes to work (note: The Census splits up commuting characteristics differently for age groups, so the percentage for bikers also includes motorcyclists).

That young age group is making the biggest change. Like the population as a whole, people ages 25 to 44 have also just changed their commuting habits slightly, with the biggest difference coming in biking. The share of 25- to 44-year-olds biking to work has increased from 2 percent to 4.1 percent.

Are these percentages normal for a big city? Here’s how Philadelphia compares to Baltimore, New York County (Manhattan), Washington D.C. and Los Angeles County, as well as nearby suburbs Montgomery County and Delaware County.

The bad news is Philadelphia has the longest average commute — even longer than Los Angeles County. However people are choosing to get to work, it’s taking them way too long.

Which neighborhoods feature the most bikers, drivers and people who take public transit? 

Residents of certain areas of Philadelphia commute to work much differently than others. This map highlights the top 10 Census tracts and their respective neighborhood for percentages of people who bike, drive or take public transit to work. The top areas for biking are in orange, the top areas for driving are in purple and the top areas for public transit are in pink.


The areas with the most bikers are clustered in South Philly and West Philly. Point Breeze features three Census tracts among the top 10. Kensington has the lone Census tract not in South or West Philly.

The median household income for Philadelphia, according to the 2013 American Community Survey, is $37,192. Eight out of 10 of these tracts feature median household incomes lower than the Philadelphia median.

Public Transit

Like the areas with the most bikers, the communities that use public transit the most are poorer than the Philadelphia median. Not one of these Census tracts has a median income higher than the Philadelphia median.

The communities who use public transit most are spread throughout the city, but all of them are adjacent to or feature a stop on the El or BSL.  


The people who drive the most live in the Northeast, where public transit options are sparse unless you’re right next to some of the regional rail stops and I-95 is nearby. These numbers include people who drive solo and who carpool to work.

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...