Housing Complex

D.C. Wins as Commuter Landscape Changes

This afternoon, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board presented a new study of commuting patterns in the D.C. area. The findings quantify what we can all see around us: The share of people commuting by cars is dropping, while transit use and biking are skyrocketing.

Here are a few of the numbers for the region overall (D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Montgomery, Prince George's, Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Frederick, and Charles):

  • Driving alone to work has declined, from 67.2 percent of commuters in 2000 to 65.8 percent in 2011.
  • Carpooling has declined from 13 percent to 9.7 percent.
  • Transit has increased from 11.8 percent to 15.4 percent.
  • Walking has nudged up from 3.1 percent to 3.2 percent.
  • Biking has increased from 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent (though the TPB warns that figures under 1 percent are imprecise).
  • Working at home has increased from 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent.

And among people working in the District:

  • Driving alone has decreased from 39 percent to 33 percent.
  • Carpooling has declined from 10.5 percent to 6.3 percent.
  • Transit has increased from 32.3 percent to 40.2 percent.
  • Walking has declined from 11.9 percent to 11.5 percent.
  • Biking has more than doubled, from 1.4 percent to 3.5 percent.
  • Working at home has increased from 3.9 percent to 4.9 percent.

The spikes in transit and biking are striking, but the figure that really jumped out at me was this one: "About 90% of the workers added to the District's labor force between 2000 and 2011 both lived and worked in DC."

This is extraordinary. As Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning pointed out at the presentation, "Our regular number is that 30 percent of people who work in the District live in the District."

We keep hearing over and over and over again that the reason for D.C.'s recent economic success is bloated federal spending. But the 90 percent figure presents a different theory. Since the advent of home rule, D.C. has been hamstrung by its inability to levy a commuter tax, meaning that the majority of D.C.'s workers aren't paying D.C. taxes. Now, that tide seems to be turning. For one reason or another, people who work in D.C. now want to live in D.C.—and that means more tax revenue (and retail business, and housing demand, etc.) for the city.

You can assign credit as you will—to the dropping crime rate, to the efforts of city leaders, to better noncar transit options in the city, or to the traffic jams on the Beltway that make commutes unbearable—but the numbers show that D.C.'s become a more attractive place to live, and we as a city are reaping both the costs (in higher rents) and the benefits.

Graph from the TPB presentation

  • Tom M.

    @ Aaron - Any time something goes from 1 in 100 to 3 in 100, the use of the term "spike" should not be applied. I would agree in using "spike" toward DC transit increase as it now exceeds "drive alone" and the 8% increase from that base of 32% in this time period is impressive. As to the new workers in the DC labor force also living in DC in much higher percentages, it begs the question- what was the number of "workers added to the labor force" in the district? If that is a large number -- which i doubt given the recession and other changes in the economy -- you have a good point. If the number is modest or small, the comment is questionable.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    @Tom M.: Good point. D.C. added about 46,000 workers between 2000 and 2011. So about 41,400 of them moved to the District, compared to the 13,800 who would have moved to the District under the standard 30% figure -- a net gain of 27,600 workers living in D.C. According to the TPB study, there were 258,700 workers (not children, retired people, unemployed, disabled, etc.) living in D.C. in 2000. So the net gain was more than 10 percent of the prior workforce living in the city. That can provide a substantial economic boost.

  • Tom M.

    @ Aaron - Gotta ask though if these are workers who MOVED to DC. Additional workers can reflect work attachment by previously unemployed or out of labor force people. The overall population increased by around 60,000 in this period. I'd be surprised if 75% of the population growth was employed (and had job in DC).

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