Will gas costs push people to move from suburbs to DC?

A recent analysis of the 2006 American Community Survey, Long Island Express: The Surprisingly Short Commutes Of Suburban New Yorkers, challenges the assumption that as gas prices increase, “people will begin moving from farther out in the suburbs to locations closer to the cores.”

Turns out the people who live and work in the outer suburbs of New York City (NYC) have shorter commutes to work.  If you live in Bergen County, NJ, your commute to work is shorter than if you live in Manhattan.

If you live in an outer suburb and commute to Manhattan, you would have a long commute… so most people living in the region don’t commute to the central business district.  The image of the harried stockbroker enduring long commuter train rides may be powerful, but it’s not the typical worker in the region.

Most suburbanites work near where they live, and don’t need to spend a hour “getting there from here.”   Yes, NYC has extreme commuters spending 90 minutes or more getting to work, but most people choose to work near where they live.  (If they got the job before moving to the area, they were savvy enough to find a way to live near where they work.)

The Census 2000 Journey to Work statistics show the only 10% of PW County workers commuted all the way into DC (15,368 out of 150,526 workers).   One-third of the PW County residents who had jobs (50,435 people) actually worked in PW County that year; they did not need to angst about traffic congestion inside the Beltway.

As PW County population has grown, we’ve added more workers – and many of us are making long commutes.  The 2006 American Community Survey shows that 25% (47,614 of 184,507 workers) of workers who lived in PW County spent 60 or more minutes getting to work.  Ugh.

Maybe higher gas prices might stimulate some of those long-distance commuters to look for housing closer to their job site… but the statistics don’t suggest we’ll see a mass migration from PW County to the central city.  PW County commuters are not all going to the same place.  Many are headed to jobs in Reston, Tysons, or other locations in Fairfax County, not to downtown DC.

The statistics do raise an interesting question – should we focus our transit funding on upgrading VRE to meet the needs of the 10% who commute to DC, or should we invest in more-flexible transit that helps the commuters headed to other places?  Hey, maybe we should focus on improving transportation within PW County, so it’s easier to get to jobs in PW County.

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1 comment so far

  1. cre8fate on

    The misguieded belief, by many of our supervisors, is that PWC will have mass transit. I do not see that happening in the forseeable future. If we can get our image updated, what we need to do is bring more quality jobs here in the county so residents don’t HAVE to commute so far!


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