More people avoid cars as workers move closer to jobs

Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Liz Essley,Montgomery County,Metro and Traffic

More Washington-area residents are taking bus or rail, walking or telecommuting as a smaller percentage of commuters drive alone or even carpool, according to a new analysis from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The share of workers relying on bus and rail to get to work increased by about 4 percentage points from 2000 to 2011, the regional agency found when it analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data. That means about 162,000 more people are taking transit regularly.

The change occurred as more workers moved closer to their jobs, as governments concentrated on developing offices and apartments near rail and bus stations and as more employers offered transit benefits to their workers, said transportation planner Bob Griffiths, who did the analysis for the council.

"You get to a certain point in commuting where you make the decision that you're going to live closer to your job," Griffiths said. "I think congestion has a way of shifting patterns where workers are shortening their trip length."

How Washington-area residents commute
2000 2011
Drive alone 67.2% 65.8%
Carpool 13% 9.7%
Transit 11.8% 15.4%
Walk 3.1% 3.2%
Bike 0.3% 0.7%
Other 0.8% 0.7%
Work at home 3.7% 4.7%
Source: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

Transportation groups have consistently ranked the Washington area as among the nation's worst for traffic and time wasted in congestion.

About 42,000 more employees both lived and work in Montgomery County between 2000 and 2011, and 41,000 more stayed within the District for home and jobs. Commutes between Maryland and Virginia saw the steepest drops, the analysis showed.

A smaller percentage of commuters drove to work alone each year, and carpooling dropped off, as well. About 36,000 fewer people carpooled in 2011 than did in 2000, even as the region added workers. Contributing to that trend was the increase in the number of people working from home. But driving and carpooling are still the favorite mode of travel for Washington commuters -- about three-fourths traveled to work in a car in 2011.

"One of the problems with carpooling is you have to be on a pretty set schedule to keep a carpool going," Griffiths said. "Not every worker is going to work every day, which makes it hard to maintain a regular carpool."

Griffiths said he was surprised by the increase in the number of people biking to work. The share of commuters biking in the area doubled from 2000 to 2011, with most of those cyclists coming from D.C., as about 6,600 new bike commuters started cycling to and from home and work in the District. Griffiths said that change could point to the success of the city's bike lanes, although cyclists still make up less than 1 percent of commuters.

"It's a lot easier to commute by bike in the District than it was at the beginning of the decade," Griffiths said. "Some of the District's policies to make bike commuting more friendly are working."

The numbers come as the Washington area prepares for Bike to Work Day on Friday, when more than 12,000 cyclists are expected to pedal to their jobs.

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