Driving not keeping pace with population growth in our region

Driving not keeping pace with population growth in our region

Between 2005 and 2011, the regions population grew by 7.3 percent, adding nearly 350,000 residents. But total daily driving on area roadways barely changed, says a report by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). As a result, average daily driving per person fell from 22.9 miles a day in 2005 to 21.5 miles a day in 2011, reversing a decades-long trend.

The biggest declines were in the outer suburbs of Frederick, Charles, Loudoun and Prince William counties, where daily averages fell by 10.6 percent, from 24.5 miles a day to 22 miles a day. The next biggest declines were with the close-in localities of DC, Arlington and Alexandria (24.6 to 22 miles a day). The smallest changes were in Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties. So why are area roads still so congested? (See previous article on infrastructure.)

TPB notes that the decline in driving started before the recession, so the economy alone cannot explain it. Other factors it cites: more sensitivity to fuel prices, widespread use of e-commerce and electronic communications, and increased telecommuting. And as has been widely reported, many of the new residents are younger people for whom driving holds limited appeal – at least so far.

As a result of the changes, TPB has lowered its forecast of total driving in 2040 by 4 percent from last years forecast. TPB noted, however, that whether the downward trend in driving per person observed over the last several years continues, especially after the national economy recovers, remains to be seen.

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