Housing Complex

More People, Less Driving

The Washington regional population is booming—but more people doesn't mean more driving, according to a report out today from the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.

The region's population grew by nearly 350,000 people, or 7.3 percent, between 2005 and 2011, the report states, but total daily driving hardly budged, holding firm right around 110 million vehicle-miles per day. In other words, the average number of daily miles driven by residents of the region fell from 22.9 in 2005 to 21.5 in 2011.

Where in the region did this drop occur? Well, everywhere. But the biggest decline came in the outer suburbs of Frederick, Charles, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties, where the drop was more than 10 percent. In the "regional core" of D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria, per-capita driving declined 5.6 percent, to 15.1 miles per day.

That the biggest decline in driving is occurring in the suburbs might seem surprising, given that these areas are largely car-dependent. But a Transportation Planning Board study last month found that the commutes that saw the biggest gains between 2000 and 2011 were Montgomery County to Montgomery County (+42,000), D.C. to D.C. (41,000), Loudoun County to Loudoun County (31,000), and Prince William County to Prince William County (29,000). In other words, many more suburban residents are taking shorter commutes within their own counties, rather than taking long drives into the District, and that—combined with the fact that transit usage has increased in every jurisdiction in the region—could account for the drop in average mileage covered by suburbanites.

Transit usage is still minimal in the outer suburbs, though: Among Loudoun County residents, for example, it comprises just 2.1 percent of commutes. But in D.C., it's another story: Transit commute mode share has jumped from 32.3 percent in 2000 to 40.2 percent in 2011. Add to that the growing popularity of Capital Bikeshare and the fact that more D.C. workers are choosing to live closer to their jobs, and D.C.'s drop in driving makes plenty of sense.

  • name

    Wrong conclusions based on limited view of the data.

    The business cycle is the biggest factor. Plot the employment rates and you'll see a similar trend.

  • Northwesterner

    Seriously, this is the third Aaron Weiner article I clicked on that uses faulty if not actually false analysis of data. This guy seriously has no idea what he's reading most of the time, but for some reason this doesn't shame him into being quiet, he keeps piling on the stupid. You know Aaron, those of us who understand math better than you do are mocking you.

  • Skeptic

    "It's the economy, Stupid."

    Which explains both why this is a nation-wide trend (a fact that TPB newletter mentioned) and why, locally, the largest decreases in VMT were found in areas that had the worst transit use.

    And it's just ludicrous to attribute this decrease in VMT to bikeshare. Hell, internet shopping has no doubt made a greater dent in local VMT than CaBi (which only very rarely replaces trips that would otherwise have involved driving).

  • Crickey7

    Our region did not experience the economic disruption other regions did, but still saw drops in mileage comparable to or greater than other regions. In fact, this phenomemon is being observed in virtually all First World nations.

    Yes, the economy is a factor. But it's rather obviously not the only factor.

  • Huh?

    I think Mr. Weiner needs some stronger editorial help because this article and the conclusions he made to support it are comical.

  • ceefer

    More useless "information" and "insight" from the guy who gave us that wonderful piece of "journalism" entitled "There Is No War on Cars So why do we keep hearing so much about it?" back in April that offered no facts or data to support his argument besides a hatchet job on AAA spokesman John Townsend for having the audacity to call out David Alpert for advancing an anti-car agenda in DC and waging a personal vendetta against AAA.

    Now Aaron Wiener serves up yet another exercise in car-hate hyperbole and intellectual laziness.

    Nothing to see here, folks. Keep it moving.

  • http://www.amazon.com/The-Polluters-Chemically-Altered-Environment/dp/0199930961 Ben Ross

    The nationwide decline in driving started in 2004. The economic crash gave it an extra push after 2008, but is obviously not the cause of something that was already under way at the peak of the boom.

  • AWalkerInTheCity

    "Which explains both why this is a nation-wide trend (a fact that TPB newletter mentioned) and why, locally, the largest decreases in VMT were found in areas that had the worst transit use."

    Low transit use, but also low unemployment - and high telework usage and I suppose high general usage of the internet as a substitute for trips.

    As has been stated the decline started before the downturn, and has not reversed with the recovery. It may not be transit or bikeshare so much, but its probably got to do with more than the economy - the internet seems like the most likely explanation.

  • name

    The early decline in drivership was due to the steep increase in oil prices in the run up to the economic crash.

    The lack of a "jobs" recovery is why the mileage hasn't recovered. It's a efficiency only recovery so far.

    People have short memories and didn't take enough math in college.

  • Watcher

    If lack of employment was the main cause of the decrease in driving, wouldn't the population growth in this area also be slower (or even negative)? Before we rake Aaron Wiener over the coals, lets at least acknowledge that more is going on than just a bad economy.

  • mizark

    Can those of you who have said, "you don't understand the data and don't know how to do math" help me understand what's wrong with the interpretation? The article seems straightforward to me, but as a layperson, I'd love to learn more about how the use of data was flawed? His conclusions are basically the same as the MWCOG report that the article links to.