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Why — and at what stations — Metro expects ridership to grow

Passengers board a train at L’Enfant Plaza. (Photo by Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)
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Metro ridership is down. There could be a number of reasons for this, among them cuts to federal commuter benefits, the local economic slowdown or a rise in telecommuting.

The slide is disconcerting for Metro, which is trying to make the case for more spending on system improvements at a time when the transit agency lacks a chief executive director and is considered in need of “across-the-board management improvement.”

But Metro’s planning staff is optimistic, and here is why: most of all the development going on in the region is near Metro stations.

If many more people are working, living, shopping or going to school near Metro stations in the future, the thinking goes, more people will be riding the trains.

[Related: Decline in Metro commuters prompts concerns for real estate]

This is particularly true for the construction of office buildings. The local office market has been struggling lately. But of all the new space currently being built in the area, 86 percent of it is within a quarter-mile of a Metro station, according to the services firm JLL.

Here’s a map of the office buildings on the way, with Metro stations represented as purple dots.

Why are developers only building near Metro stations? It’s pretty simple — that’s where the demand is from companies looking to relocate. More than 90 percent of leasing this year (for deals of at least 20,000 square feet) is within a half-mile of a planned or existing Metro station.

There are some caveats to this data, namely that many of the region’s office buildings are near Metro anyhow, so perhaps it should not be all that surprising that most leasing is happening there. About a quarter of the region’s office space is centered around either downtown D.C. or Tysons Corner, which were both big office markets before Metro’s arrival.

Second, the area around each Metro station is different, and some are much more accommodating to pedestrians than others. Being within a half-mile of the Ballston station is much more accommodating that being within a half-mile of the Cheverly station, given the differences in sidewalks and road networks.

But new buildings are being built near Metro, and it is isn’t just offices. Using this and other data, Metro officials have begun anticipating where they see ridership growth.

[Related: Maryland, D.C. officials seek Metro management overhaul]

Looking at the development projects that are underway already, Metro anticipates dramatic growth over the next five years on the eastern side of D.C., particularly at the NoMa, Union Station (already the busiest in the system) and Navy Yard stations.

The map shows anticipated gains by station. Blue indicates passengers boarding for morning rush and blue indicates passengers boarding for evening rush.

What would all the new building near stations mean for Metro? According to the agency’s planning staff, the system could add 84,000 trips per average weekday, or added daily revenue of about $240,000.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on @oconnellpostbiz