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NOVA’s Tight Grip On Autos

A recent Washington Post/Schar poll has reconfirmed past survey results (the Census most recently) that suburban Washington still relies heavily on single occupant vehicle (SOV) use as the primary means of transportation.  While the numbers vary occasionally, SOV use in the suburbs has consistently been in the 80% range for decades.  This recent survey found similar results.

While these results don’t necessarily mean we are not making any inroads in decreasing our dependency on the automobile, the struggle is evident.  Changing work demographics, new mobility options, and the continued growth in our outer suburbs are proving hard trends to overcome.  The reduction in the federal workforce – a job base that has been historically located downtown and around transit – has led to lower transit usage and a dispersion of private sector job growth in the suburbs, which are typically less transit accessible.  The introduction of Uber/Lyft has shifted many non-SOV trips back to SOV trips. And the continued pursuit of cheap land in our outer suburbs to develop more housing continues the trend of suburban sprawl that is totally auto-dependent.

The good news is that walking ranked second, after car usage, as the most popular method of how residents “get around” the Washington, DC region.  Overall, 74% answered that they walked when asked “In the past 12 months, have you ____ to get from one place to another in the Washington area?”  In DC, 89% responded affirmatively to walking, with 71%, and 72% responding yes in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, respectively.

It is no surprise that walking, biking, and scooter use are highest in our inner region as well.  As local planners continue to transform these landscapes into more pedestrian and bike friendly domains, we should see a continued rise in these modes of transportation.  The challenges lie in the outer suburbs (DATA’s service area, by the way), where bus and metro are limited, bike and pedestrian facilities are discontinuous, and most residents feel that the car is their only alternative for transport.  DATA is committed to continue to promote mobility options and to see that these communities become more transportation diversified.  The Silver Line is a start, but there is a long way to go to provide real options to the vast majority of our outer regions.

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