The overall finding: Residents in densely developed communities with homes above or near stores, restaurants and offices are more likely to forgo driving to walk, ride a bike or take public transit.
Area developers and community planners have seen signs of such a trend for years, particularly among young adults and empty nesters who are moving to such places as Tysons Corner and the White Flint area of North Bethesda, which are morphing from sprawling suburbs into high-rise mini-cities focused around Metrorail stations.
But planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments say their recent household survey in 10 communities provides the first real-world, neighborhood-level data that show how people travel in different kinds of communities: sprawling vs. dense, urban vs. suburban, near mass transit vs. far from bus and rail. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t gather that data at such a detailed neighborhood level, planners said.
“It’s a real window into these communities,” said Ronald Kirby, COG’s transportation planning director. “We’ve never had this information before.”
The communities surveyed this fall were Logan Circle, White Flint, Largo, the city of Frederick, Reston, Woodbridge, and parts of Takoma Park and Langley Park. The report also includes data that Arlington County planners collected in 2010 for Shirlington, the Columbia Pike corridor and Pentagon City/Crystal City.
In Logan Circle, where 85 percent of people live in an apartment or condominium, residents on average walked 56 percent of the time, rode bikes for 7 percent of their trips and took public transit for 15 percent. Just 13 percent of trips were taken alone in cars. About four in 10 residents said they didn’t own a vehicle. Car-sharing programs such as Zipcar have been popular among residents of Logan Circle and similar neighborhoods.
In the suburbs, residents in the Langley Park area along the proposed Purple Line light-rail route walked for 23 percent of all trips and rode bikes for more than 2 percent. Planners say driving is not an option for many residents in lower-income areas, such as Langley Park.
Farther out, more sprawling suburbs such as Woodbridge and Frederick had about 10 percent of trips taken by foot, with about four out of 10 made alone by car.
Robert Griffiths, who directed the survey of 2,200 households, said the findings support the theory that densely developed communities can accommodate growing populations without severely worsening traffic congestion.
“It confirmed what many [local planners] thought was true but didn’t know for sure,” Griffiths said.