Best 'Time-Saving Cities' on the West Coast

Time-Saving CitiesThe phrase "New York minute" is said to have originated in Texas around 1967, a reference to how a Manhattanite does in an instant what a Texan would take a minute to do. Comedian Johnny Carson once defined "New York minute" as the interval between a Manhattan traffic light turning green and the guy behind you honking his horn.

So what would the late "Tonight Show" host, or proud Texans like George W. Bush say to New York's being listed by Real Simple magazine as only the 13th fastest "Time-Saving City" in America?

Adam Bluestein, a writer for Real Simple, defines a time-saving city as having takeout on every corner, easy access to a doctor, and timed traffic lights, among other criteria. "These conveniences can ease even the most chaotic days," he writes.

If so, the top three listees -- Seattle, Portland, San Francisco -- seem to indicate that the west coast is inherently less of a time waster than the east coast. Boston was the highest eastern-seaboard scorer at fourth, with Minneapolis and Denver rounding out the top five.

Bluestein and magazine staffers sorted through reams of data and rank large American cities on five criteria: "Getting Around" (traffic, walkability, airport on-time performance); "Health and Safety" (average doctor-appointment wait time, response times of emergency medical services); "Information and Technology" (broadband and wireless availability, bookstores and libraries per capita); "Green Time-Savers" (recycling access, number of farmers' markets and community gardens, bike friendliness); and "Lifestyle" (number of personal trainers and organizers, restaurants offering takeout per capita).

Bluestein calls the top finisher, known for its coffee, grunge music and idyllic natural setting, "an icon of urban efficiency," noting Seattle has one of the country's most on-time airports, 50 miles of new bike lanes added in the last two years, more Wi-Fi hot spots and more coffee shops per capita than any other American city and short waits for a doctor's appointment. Also earning kudos was Seattle's innovative signal-optimization program, which synchronizes hundreds of traffic lights to allow more efficient travel and commuting.

Naturally, lists such as these are highly subjective and it's easy to manipulate data without necessarily proving anything. For example, Seattleites may appreciate having a relatively low number of airline delays at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport given that it's not a hub like NYC's JFK or Chicago's O'Hare. But what about the fact that Sea-Tac (as it's more commonly known) is halfway between the two cities, and thus further from the city center than airports in many other urban areas. Similarly, Denver's airport is a whopping 25 miles from the city center, but the city scored high on the list for other reasons, like having the most personal trainers per capita.

Portland, the #2-ranked city on this list, is enjoying an urban renaissance thanks to its pedestrian friendliness, investments in mass transit, bicycle culture and the rise of street-food vendors in neighborhoods throughout the city. But the Rose City is merely a drop in the bucket when compared to the rail-based services of New York, Chicago, Boston or Washington, DC. Portland has been investing a lot over the last three decades because its MAX line only dates back that far. More importantly, for all of Portland's it-city popularity, the city has suffered some of the Great Recession's highest unemployment rates. Maybe traffic is easier and fewer people are in line at the airport because they don't have jobs.

There are also at least five cities on the list that are notorious for their sprawl, which is the ultimate urban time-killer: Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles.

"Atlanta makes up for bad traffic with the shortest wait to get a doctor's appointment of all the cities in our survey, a progressive recycling program, and abundant community gardens," Bluestein notes cheerfully. But how do recycling and the abundance of gardens help one save time, especially when it takes more than an hour to make your way across the city?

Dallas, similarly, is forgiven for its sprawling city plan "with fast emergency services, a 24-hour 311 hotline, a single-stream curbside recycling program, and a seven-year plan to double the size of its rapid-transit system." Does a 311 hotline and transit in 2017 make life faster in a culture where people traditionally speak with a famously slow drawl?

It's not to say that Real Simple's time-saving cities list is wrong. It is easier to get around in Portland and Seattle than most big urban metropolises, and the magazine has created a conversation piece in its matrix of doctor's office waiting room times, mass transit investments, personal trainers per capita, recycling rates -- a virtual how-to guide for a healthy overall lifestyle. Even so, one can grant a native New Yorker a little gimme-a-break cynicism if asked to adopt the phrase "Seattle minute".
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