Real estate survey shows broad support for biking and walking commutes

The era of developers of office buildings and shopping centers haggling to get as many parking spaces as possible included in their properties may be waning.

At least in major metropolitan areas such as the Washington region.

Respondents to a survey by the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute, an international real estate research group, overwhelmingly said that the region would benefit from more people walking or biking to get to work, and that the trend toward those modes of commuting was likely to increase in coming years.

ULI-Washington, based in the District, polled its local members and partners, a group that includes developers, attorneys, engineers and bankers, and about 100 responded to the nine-question survey.

Almost everyone — 96 percent — said the region would be better off if more people walked or rode bicycles to work, and 86 percent said they expect that trend to grow significantly in coming years.

Driving remains the dominant method of commuting for workers in the Washington area, but its perch is slipping. According to a study last year from the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, 77 percent of trips to work in 2010 were by car, 14 percent were by public transit and just 9 percent either biked, walked or worked from home. Ten years earlier, in 2000, 80 percent rode cars to work and 8 percent biked or walked.

Lisa Rother, executive director of ULI-Washington, said she thought the days when developers, bankers and attorneys constantly fought to get more parking approved for their projects were dwindling with the recognition that commuters — at least in areas where there were other options available to them — were choosing not to drive to work.

“I do think it’s changing, because we are seeing such a modification of behaviors when things are correct — when there are other opportunities to not drive and park, people will take advantage of them,” Rother said.

In some cases, Rother said local governments needed to catch up to the trend. While some jurisdictions have experimented with instituting parking maximums in certain areas, there were still examples of parking incentives that she said probably no longer made sense.

In 2004, the D.C. government — though one of the supportive municipalities for biking and walking — wanted so badly to lure Target to a development in Columbia Heights that it put up some $40 million to build parking for the project. The underground lot, which the city owns and manages, is used far less than expected. “I think the District sort of learned from that,” Rother said.

Only about half of survey respondents — 49 percent — said local governments were doing enough to support biking and walking, and only 20 percent said employers were doing enough. Among the most popular suggestions for improvement were more bike lanes, sidewalks and trails (49 percent); increased public and private funding (22 percent); employer-based incentive programs (10 percent); and more legislation and enforcement of drive, pedestrian and biker rules (9 percent).

Rother said she expects to see owners and managers of office buildings in urban areas begin to offer more incentives for bike commuters, including private bike rentals for employees and bike repair stations.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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