Which U.S. City Is Really The Best For Getting Around? Hint: Not LA

Detroit doesn't always show up on Best Cities lists. But it does on one of these.

Detroit doesn’t always show up on Best Cities lists. But it does on one of these.

It seems like every other day there’s a new “top cities” list. There are the top cities for foodies, the happiest cities, the best cities for families, and even the weirdest cities. And of course, we care most about the best cities for transit — walking, biking, public transportation, and traffic flow.

While it’s hard to compare lists, we thought it might be useful to see if there are any notable similarities or differences on these “best cities” lists.

Here are five lists from the past few years. Let’s see how they compare.

Livability’s Top 10 Best Downtowns
Livability ranks America’s best places to live, work and visit, based on a wide array of criteria. This particular list, created in 2014, looks at cities; downtowns, based on population growth, the ratio of residents to jobs, income growth, home vacancy rates, affordability of housing, and the vacancy rates of retail and office spaces. We like this list because it is includes some lesser-known cities in lieu of the major U.S. cities seen on most lists.

    1. Fort Worth, Texas
    2. Providence, R.I.
    3. Indianapolis
    4. Provo, Utah
    5. Alexandria, Va.
    6. Frederick, Md.
    7. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
    8. Bellingham, Wash.
    9. Eugene, Ore.
    10. Birmingham, Ala.

Top 10 Best American Downtowns, ranked by Top Tenz
Top Tenz, a site solely dedicated to top 10 lists, included the usual favorites in this list from 2012. But this list deviates from the norm with its inclusion of Detroit and Milwaukee, both of which appear do not appear on any of the other lists we looked at for this post.

Detroit in particular is a noteworthy choice — it seems to wind up on more “worst cities” lists than those that rank the best. But Top Tenz calls Detroit’s downtown “one of the most architecturally impressive in the country” and notes that the city has been revitalized in the recent years following intensive development.

    1. New York City
    2. Washington, D.C.
    3. Chicago
    4. San Francisco
    5. Philadelphia
    6. Miami
    7. Boston
    8. Seattle
    9. Detroit
    10. Milwaukee

America’s 50 Best Cities, according to Bloomberg Businessweek
It looks like Bloomberg only compiled this list twice, in 2011 and 2012 — which is too bad, because it’s one of the more extensive lists we looked at. Cities are ranked on leisure attributes (food, drink, activities), education (performance, numbers of schools and degree-holders), economic factors, crime, and air quality. We siphoned off the top ten cities on the list for comparison.

    1. San Francisco
    2. Seattle
    3. Washington, D.C.
    4. Boston
    5. Portland, Ore.
    6. Denver
    7. New York City
    8. Austin, Texas
    9. San Diego
    10. St. Paul, Minn.

Movoto’s 10 Best Cities for 2013
Movoto, a real estate blog, chose more popular cities than most of the lists we looked at. Arguably all of the cities on this list would be deemed major U.S. cities because of their regional significance. Movoto compiled what they call a “meta-ranking” from fifteen other lists on their site, ranging from the nerdiest cities to the hardest working cities to the funniest cities.

    1. Portland, Ore.
    2. Seattle
    3. Atlanta
    4. San Francisco, Calif.
    5. Washington, D.C.
    6. San Diego, Calif.
    7. Raleigh, N.C.
    8. Denver
    9. Miami
    10. Las Vegas

Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 10 U.S. Cities in 2013
This list, hosted on The Huffington Post, was based on reader’s scores of cities’ culture, friendliness, atmosphere, restaurants, lodging and shopping. These scores were averaged to give each city an overall “Reader’s Choice Rating.”

    1. Charleston, S.C.
    2. Santa Fe, N.M.
    3. San Francisco
    4. Honolulu
    5. Chicago
    6. Carmel, Calif.
    7. New Orleans
    8. New York City
    9. Savannah, Ga.
    10. Napa, Calif.

What we noticed
Ultimately, every list except for Livability‘s included major U.S. cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. But did you notice which major U.S. city didn’t appear on any of these lists? That’s right: Los Angeles wasn’t in the top ten of any of the lists we looked at.

Los Angeles seems to be loved by many, but it’s possible that its decentralized map and dependency on cars make it less attractive for city lovers.

Notably, San Francisco was ranked within the top five of every list here, except for Livability, which seems to be an outlier. Many of the lists praised San Francisco’s nightlife and culture, noting that there’s always something to do in the City by the Bay. Besides San Fran, cities were ranked all over the place.

If you’re looking for information on America’s best cities, here’s a word of advice: specialized lists, like those geared toward bicyclists, foodies or families, are going to offer the most reliable information. While the overall “best cities” rankings are more arbitrary, specialized lists tend to have more credibility due to the author’s expertise and a more narrower focus.

What cities do you think are the best for transit? Let us know in the comments section. 

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