- A city of sidewalk cafes. (Photo: flickr/daquella manera)
The Brookings Institution has released on a new report on the millions in America who live the zero-vehicle life. The new breakdown, which pulls its numbers from the American Community Survey as well as 371 transit providers, shows that 7.5 million households in America's 100 biggest metropolitan areas don't have access to a private car.
That reality holds especially true in D.C. — here, 193,558 households survive without access to personal automobiles. That's just under 10% of all households in the D.C. metro area.
The report comes with a demographic breakdown of what this means in the D.C. area, which you can see below. The majority of these households have low incomes (69%), live in the city (57%) rather than a suburb, and are black (41%, with white people comprising 29% and Hispanics making up 20%). Most of these households (56%) rely on transit to commute to work.
In D.C., the idea that there are close to 200,000 households without a private car doesn't strike me as a bad thing so much as a natural one. In America's capital, we've long relied on other forms of commuting, from the Metro to bikes to the bus to our own two feet. The Brookings illustration shows that most zero-vehicle households, at upwards of 90%, are near a transit stop. Despite all of Metro's problems, the service does allow countless people to travel in a way not possible in many places around the U.S. Many of my friends never saw the need to have a car here and viewed the notion more as a burden than anything. Who wants to deal with all the street sweeping and high gas prices?
Still, the situation isn't so rosy when looking at the numbers of the nation as a whole. When looking at the 100 largest metro areas, 700,000 of these zero-car households have no recourse to public transit nearby. What are these households doing?
- (Photo: Brookings Institution)
With its 193,000 carless households, D.C. ranks seventh highest among the metro areas that the Brookings Institution examined. The highest is, unsurprisingly, the broader New York City metropolitan area, with more than two million households living the zero-car life. Chicago is next with around 400,000, then L.A. with 358,000, and Philadelphia 310,000. Then Boston, San Francisco, and finally us.
The data is largely reassuring and makes sense. Households living near transit should be more likely to exist without cars. The alignment between those two factors is inevitable, especially considering some of the well-established public transit systems in this big American cities. When considering the problem nationally, Brookings concludes that the real issue that is even with public transit nearby, many of these households fall short of the job opportunities that they would enjoy with a car.
The reality means that there are more people walking and biking than ever and should serve as a wake-up call for safety and awareness of a changing traffic world in big urban areas. According to the recent Transportation for America report "Dangerous By Design," three percent of Washingtonians walk to work every day, based on data from 2005-2009. There were 854 pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2009. Over that same period, all traffic fatalities amounted to just under 6,000 people. The need for safer roads, intersections, and better etiquette is vital. Reverend Frank Dunn recently spoke with me about his fear of all the biking going on amid Columbia Heights sidewalks, but the problem goes far deeper than that and is hardly a question of walkers versus bikes, or bikes versus cars. It's everyone.
The Brookings numbers also reinforce the importance of fixing WMATA and ensuring that system provides a reliable, safe form of transportation. For hundreds of thousands of people, there's often little alternative.