November 10, 2012, Washington, DC: My one-way commute to the office recently shrank from 35 miles down to six. While the work itself is similar in the new job, the lifestyle change is dramatic. I no longer spend the morning racing down the highway out of the city. I fill my gas tank once a month now rather than once a week.
It’s not necessarily hours I’ve gained — sometimes venturing six miles across D.C. can take the same amount of time as driving forty miles against traffic — but I have newfound options and flexibility. Mostly I take Metro and connect to a bus up the hill. Often I bike home on Bikeshare rather than returning to the Metro. Once in awhile, I drive. And I’ve made it a goal to run/walk home once a week — down Embassy Row, past the White House, and along the National Mall towards the Capitol. It’s the choices I enjoy. I appreciate spending less on gas and I appreciate how easy it is to incorporate city life into my day on the way home when I don’t have to worry about parking the car. I enjoy the flexibility that comes with living and working in places accessible to transportation alternatives, even if it means renting a smaller apartment in a great location.
How far away is work and how do you get there? A study released this week by Brookings focuses on this very topic. It examines how people and their jobs are connected within the D.C. area, revealing that within the District itself, nearly 40 percent of people use public transportation for their commute, and 36 percent of households don’t own a car. It says the average morning rush hour provides access to public transit options every six minutes.
It also concludes that paying the price for access to transportation networks is the major challenge.
“Strong projected job and population growth are likely to put continued pressure on housing affordability in the region, particularly those areas with access to high quality transit service,” the report states. “It should be a high priority for all new transit service to preserve sites for affordable housing and to create incentives to preserve and create new affordable housing options.”
I looked up our own region of the city, broadly categorized as the east side of the city/Capitol Hill, to see how it stacks up. It’s a top scorer in terms of transportation access and it’s ranked as slightly more affordable than other close-in, comparably accessible areas. Downtown DC, the neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, Arlington, and Alexandria all receive high accessibility scores and are slightly more expensive. Still, the report makes clear that the cost of living anywhere in the broader Washington region currently prices many people out. In calculating the median rent in each area and the annual household earnings needed to afford that rent, the report concludes that there is not one region on the list, including counties farther afield like Prince William and Prince Georges counties, in which a low-skilled worker can afford to live on his or her own.
Would you live somewhere more accessible if it were more affordable to do so? How far away is work and how do you get there?