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21 top time-saving cities

By Adam Bluestein, Real Simple
It's not just location you need to consider when moving, but also how much time a city can cost or save you.
It's not just location you need to consider when moving, but also how much time a city can cost or save you.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cities are rated on several time-saving issues, including commutes
  • Seattle is No. 1 with quick ease of getting around and most Wi-Fi hot spots
  • Phoenix is No. 21 with on-time airport but low score in health and safety
  • Minneapolis gets high marks for gardens and citywide Internet access

(RealSimple.com) -- According to a survey by Real Simple, the living is surprisingly easy in these urban areas.

Takeout on every corner. Easy access to a doctor. Timed traffic lights. These conveniences can ease even the most chaotic days.

To assess which places help you make the most of your precious hours, we sorted through reams of data on dozens of large American cities, ranked each on various criteria in five categories (see below) on a scale of 1 to 5, and added up those categories to get an overall score.

Category 1: Getting around --Includes average commute, walkability, traffic congestion, airport on-time performance.

Category 2: Health and safety --Includes average wait to get a doctor's appointment, physicians per capita, response times of emergency medical services.

Category 3: Information and technology -- Includes broadband and wireless availability, bookstores and libraries per capita, helpful resources such as 311 hotlines.

Category 4: Green time-savers -- Includes recycling access and cost, number of farmers' markets and community gardens, bike friendliness.

Category 5: Lifestyle -- Includes number of personal trainers and organizers, restaurants offering takeout per capita, miscellaneous time-saving services.

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Read on to learn our winners nationwide, starting with the highest scorer.

1. Seattle -- Score: 22.5 -- Population: 598,541

With extensive public transit, one of the country's most on-time airports, and 50 miles of new bike lanes in the last two years, our winning city, Seattle, is an icon of urban efficiency. It has more Wi-Fi hot spots and more coffee shops (no shocker there) than any other U.S. city and impressively short waits for a doctor's appointment.

"Our 13 Neighborhood Service Centers are huge time-savers," says Karin Zaugg Black, a spokesperson for the city's Office of Economic Development. "At many of them, you can apply for a passport, pay utility bills or parking tickets, or have a hearing with the magistrate."

Also cool: The city's state-of-the-art signal-optimization program, which synchronizes hundreds of traffic lights, thereby allowing smoother travel through the city.

Getting around: 3.5
Health and safety: 5
Information and technology: 4.5
Green time-savers: 5
Lifestyle: 4.5

2. Portland, Oregon -- Score: 21.5 -- Population: 557,706

It's no hassle getting around this town, whether by bike or on the nation's fourth-largest light-rail system. There are few airport delays, and speedy emergency services translate to one of the highest cardiac-arrest survival rates.

And finding lunch is easy, with about 450 gourmet food carts around the city. "I could hit 100 carts in an hour," says Brett Burmeister, who runs Foodcartsportland.com. "It takes less than five minutes to get a cheap, amazing lunch."

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Getting around: 4.5
Health and safety: 4.5
Information and technology: 4
Green time-savers: 4.5
Lifestyle: 4

3. San Francisco --Score: 21 -- Population: 808,976

San Francisco's copious lifestyle perks and the local government's smart use of technology help residents make the most of their time. This tourist mecca ties Seattle for the most booksellers per capita and offers tons of takeout options. In addition to a 24-hour 311 information hotline, the city boasts a 511 phone and online service that provides updates on biking, public- transit, and traffic conditions.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 4.5
Information and technology: 4.5
Green time-savers: 4.5
Lifestyle: 4.5

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4. Boston -- Score: 20 -- Population: 609,023

Thanks to its compact layout, Boston has the nation's highest walk-to-work rate. Single-stream recycling pickup (no sorting!) and farmers' markets add to the green appeal, and digitally well-connected residents can make use of tools like Boston's Citizens Connect app, which lets them instantly send a complaint or report a problem, with photos for documentation, right from an iPhone.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 3
Information and technology: 4.5
Green time-savers: 5
Lifestyle: 4.5

5. Minneapolis -- Score: 19.5 -- Population: 382,605

Despite frigid winters, Minneapolis is number one for farmers' markets and number two for bike accessibility, and it has one of the highest numbers of community gardens per capita. A citywide wireless network provides low-cost Internet access. Snow-emergency alerts go out via text message, e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. And savvy locals know that when it's cold outside, there's hot, fast food at Punch Pizza, a popular Twin Cities chain that cranks out crusty Neapolitan pies in 90 seconds flat.

Getting around: 4.5
Health and safety: 3
Information and technology: 4.5
Green time-savers: 4.5
Lifestyle: 3.5

6. Denver -- Score: 19 -- Population: 598,707

Short waits to visit a doctor. The most certified personal trainers per person. Yep, life in the Mile High City is good for the body. Wide-spread Internet accessibility and library services speed the flow of information, and the city's bicycle-share program speeds the way for two-wheel riders as well.

Getting around: 3.5
Health and safety: 3.5
Information and technology: 4.5
Green time-savers: 4
Lifestyle: 3.5

7. Washington, D.C.-- Score: 18.5 -- Population: 591,833

The nation's capital is neither red nor blue, but green -- with the country's second-highest non-car commuting rate and one of the best ratings of farmers' markets per capita ratios. D.C. is also near the top of our list for time-saving conveniences, like professional organizers, certified personal trainers, and restaurants with takeout.

Getting around: 2
Health and safety: 2.5
Information and technology: 4.5
Green time-savers: 4.5
Lifestyle: 5

8. Pittsburgh -- score: 18 -- Population: 310,037

Pittsburgh's public-transit system is large for a city of its size, including three bus-only highways, making for a zippy trip to work. And who knew Steelers fans were such big readers? The city is in the top five for bookstores per capita.

Getting around: 3.5
Health and safety: 4
Information and technology: 4
Green time-savers: 4
Lifestyle: 2.5

9. Miami -- Score: 17.5 -- Population: 413,201

No coins for the parking meter? No problem. Miami is the first major U.S. city to let you pay for street parking via cell phone (text alerts tell you when time is running out). And with the most doctors per capita of any city in our survey, excellent Internet access, free single-stream recycling pickup, and a big selection of food to go, Miami has more going for it than just sunshine.

Getting around: 3.5
Health and safety: 4
Information and technology: 3.5
Green time-savers: 3
Lifestyle: 3.5

10. Atlanta -- score: 17 -- Population: 537,958

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.

Getting around: 1
Health and safety: 4.5
Information and technology: 3.5
Green time-savers: 4
Lifestyle: 4

11. Baltimore --Score: 16.5 -- Population: 636,919

In the top tier of wired cities, Baltimore also has stellar recycling and a popular public-transit system. Bonus: Book Thing, a local nonprofit, gives away thousands of donated books every weekend, offering visitors as many as they can take. Talk about a way to build a library.

Getting around: 3.5
Health and safety: 3
Information and technology: 4
Green time-savers: 4
Lifestyle: 2

12. Philadelphia --Score: 16 -- Population: 1,447,395

Very walkable and notably uncongested, Philly is also the largest East Coast city to offer weekly single-stream recycling, with a pilot program called Recycling Rewards that offers points redeemable at local and national businesses.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 2.5
Information and technology: 3.5
Green time-savers: 4.5
Lifestyle: 2.5

13. New York City -- Score: 15.5 -- Population: 8,363,710

Yes, the three local airports have the nation's worst delays, but once you're in town, the city's dense layout means everything is within walking distance, and a whopping half of all restaurants deliver. Don't forget the massive and (mostly) efficient transit system and the pioneering 311 hotline.

Getting around: 2.5
Health and safety: 3
Information and technology: 3.5
Green time-savers: 4
Lifestyle: 2.5

14. Chicago --Score: 15 -- Population: 2,853,114

Chicago ranks high for walkability, and the city has made transportation strides with its mobile bus-tracking tool, a single transit-system fare card, and more than 175 miles of bike lanes and routes.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 2
Information and technology: 3
Green time-savers: 4
Lifestyle: 3

15. Austin, Texas --Score: 14.5 -- Population: 757,688

In addition to a short commute time, residents enjoy some of the best wireless Internet coverage in the nation. And a new light-rail line (set to open around press time) boasts Wi-Fi access as well as fold-out work tables and room for bicycles.

Getting around: 2.5
Health and safety: 2.5
Information and technology: 4
Green time-savers: 3
Lifestyle: 2.5

16. (3-way tie) Cleveland -- Score: 14 -- Population: 433,748

With the number two on-time airport in our survey and one of the shortest commutes (just 23.5 minutes), Cleveland scores additional points for its free downtown trolley and large number of farmers' markets.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 3.5
Information and technology: 3
Green time-savers: 3.5
Lifestyle: 1

16. (3-way tie) Dallas -- Score: 14 -- Population: 1,279,910

Dallas makes up for a 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.

Getting around: 2
Health and safety: 3.5
Information and technology: 3
Green time-savers: 3
Lifestyle: 2.5

16. (3-way tie) Los Angeles -- Score 14 -- Population: 3,833,995

The airport ranks in the top five in our survey, and -- surprise! -- this famously gridlocked city's average ride to the office is a full six minutes shorter than New York's. Also nice: reserving seats in advance at ArcLight Cinemas and the while-you-work car-washing services found at many businesses and studio lots.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 2
Information and technology: 3.5
Green time-savers: 3
Lifestyle: 2.5

19. San Diego -- Score: 13.5 -- Population: 1,279,329

Laid-back and sunny, with plentiful public parkland, San Diego also offers the shortest average commute among the 10 largest U.S. cities, at 25 minutes.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 2
Information and technology: 2.5
Green time-savers: 2.5
Lifestyle: 3.5

20. Houston -- Score: 13 -- Population: 2,242,193

Houston's 88 percent on-time airport departures make it a great home base for travelers. The city earns extra points for services like unsorted recycling pickup and a 311 hotline.

Getting around: 2.5
Health and safety: 3.5
Information and technology: 2.5
Green time-savers: 3
Lifestyle: 1.5

21. Phoenix -- Score: 11 -- Population: 1,567,924

This Sunbelt metropolis boasts an airport with the best on-time record of any big city, and a new light-rail line should reduce congestion.

Getting around: 3
Health and safety: 1
Information and technology: 2.5
Green time-savers: 2.5
Lifestyle: 2

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