Philly Is One of the Most Car-Free Cities in the U.S.

For good reasons, and bad.

Photo Credit: Philly Bike Share

Photo Credit: Philly Bike Share

Philadelphia is one of the most car-free cities in the country, according to an analysis by Governing of Census Bureau data.

There were .968 vehicles per household in Philly in 2013. Only 14 of 794 cities that Governing reviewed had less than one car per household. New York City, Washington, D.C. and Boston were on that list along with Philly.

Don’t get too excited though, urbanists. One of the likely reasons we’re so car-free isn’t great:

Cities with the fewest cars per household … include Camden, N.J., and Reading, Pa. — two places with some of the nation’s highest poverty rates. More residents in these cities simply can’t afford to own vehicles. Poverty rates of cities reviewed correlated with lower numbers of vehicles per household.

Philadelphia’s poverty rate was 26.3 percent in 2013, making it the poorest large city in the nation. It’s also got the highest deep-poverty rate of the country’s 10 biggest cities. So while part of why we’re relatively car-free may be because millennials are going without a vehicle by choice, it seems a bigger reason is that many residents simply can’t afford a car.

More than 33 percent of households in Philly don’t have a car, according to Governing’s report. Despite this, transportation hasn’t been a major — or even a minor — issue in Philadelphia’s mayoral race so far. Poverty has gotten slightly more attention in the campaign, though usually only through lens of public education. Rarely, if ever, has it come up through the lens of transportation.

The Bicycle Coalition and other groups are working to put the transportation issue at the forefront of this campaign by advocating for a platform for mayoral and Council candidates in the May 19th election. (Relatedly, Philadelphia magazine is co-sponsoring a mayoral forum on transportation issues on March 19. Citified’s Patrick Kerkstra is moderating. RSVP here.)