Mapping The Crazy Web Of Trade Between U.S. Cities

Look around your office or living room: There’s a good chance that almost nothing you see, including the clothes you’re wearing, was made locally. Inside the U.S. alone, $17 trillion of goods are shipped back and forth between cities; another $3 trillion are exported and imported. A fascinating new tool from the Brookings Institute maps out that flow of goods.

This map shows the tangled web of trade between the biggest cities, and a second tool lets you pick any town or city–from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to New York–and see where goods are arriving and coming from.

The tool is part of a new report from Brookings that looks at trade, gathering data that was never previously available. The maps make it clear that no matter where you live, you’re relying on distant transportation infrastructure to get the things you need in daily life.

“Des Moines gets goods from the port of L.A.,” says Adie Tomer, one of the authors of the report. “Normally they wouldn’t think about LA’s traffic–but in fact L.A.’s traffic really is their problem too.”

For the researchers, it’s a sign that we need to start better planning for a system that goes beyond the Eisenhower-era goal of a connected network of roads.

“We’ve connected the country, and now the question is how can we target investments better?” says Tomer. “Where is freight slowed down the most? Congestion leads to higher cost–and it’s one of our biggest enemies when it comes to transportation-related emissions.”

Because so much trade crosses state lines, the researchers argue that it’s a problem we need to tackle nationally. “It really underscores to us the importance of having a federal transportation system,” Tomer says.AP