Here are 7 takeaways from TPB’s regional travel trends study


A recent Transportation Planning Board (TPB) analysis looked at trends in how people in the region travel, including riding Metro and transit, bicycling, walking, carpooling, and telecommuting. The research found that changing demographics, population growth, expanding non-auto travel options, and good planning are impacting how people get around the region.

Here are the top seven regional travel trends:

The region added more people, but driving remained flat

Between 2007 and 2017, the population in the region grew by 16 percent, increasing from 4.8 million to 5.6 million people. Even though the region added 800,000 new residents, weekday vehicle miles of travel increased only .4 percent during the same period. When adjusted for population, the vehicle miles of travel per person actually decreased nearly 13 percent.

Fewer people are riding Metrorail

Metrorail ridership has declined since 2010. Last year, Metrorail ridership reached 613,000 average weekday trips, the lowest point since 2000, and down from its highest level in 2008 when this number was 752,000. Ridership on other transit modes like Metrobus, local transit, and commuter rail remained comparatively flat.

Metrorail ridership has continued to decline since 2010 while ridership on other transit modes has remained flat. (TPB)

More aging Baby Boomers are choosing to remain in our region

Researchers also looked at the region’s demographic trends. They found that Baby boomers over 55 years-old, a generation retiring in large numbers, made up the fastest-growing age group amongst the region’s residents. While not necessarily known as a retirement destination, the metropolitan Washington region increasingly hosts retiring older adults, who choose to age in place instead of relocating to other areas. These older adults also tend to take fewer and shorter trips.

Baby Boomers are the fastest growing age group in the region. (TPB)

More people live in Activity Centers

The study also notes that while the region continues to grow, the percentage of people located in Activity Centers, or communities with high concentrations of jobs, housing, and transportation, is also increasing, and the percentage of jobs in Activity Centers has remained about the same. This reflects local governments’ successful land-use planning efforts to locate future growth in areas more aligned with the region’s transportation infrastructure, which can lead to fewer and shorter vehicle trips.

Telework continues to grow

According to the analysis, more and more people are teleworking. In 2016, nearly one-third, or 32 percent, of regional commuters teleworked at least occasionally, up from just 11 percent in 2001. Persons that telework most often tend to be those who have longer-distance commutes. In other words, more teleworking removes more long-distance commute trips from the region’s transportation system.

The chart above represents commuters who at least occasionally telework. 32% said they had occasionally teleworked in 2016. (TPB)

The car is still king, but fewer people are driving to work

Since 2010, there has been a decrease in the percentage of commutes by automobile and subsequent increases in other modes. Despite this shift, the automobile continues to be the primary mode of travel in the region.

In 2016 fewer people reported driving alone to work compared with 2010 and 2013. (TPB)

Congestion remains about the same during the morning and evening rush

TPB researchers note that even though regional travel has remained flat compared to regional growth, we still experience substantial congestion in key areas during the morning and evening peak periods.

One of the metrics used to measure congestion is the travel time index, which is a ratio of actual travel time to free-flow conditions. In one example, the study points out that congestion, as measured by the travel time index, decreased on the region’s interstates between 2010 and 2012, but has increased since then.

Despite any decreases that occurred during this period on interstates, these roadways were still considered congested during peak periods. This adversely affects quality of life, efficiency of commerce, and delivery of time-sensitive services in our region.

Despite more people choosing not to drive alone for their commutes, congestion is still a problem in the region. (TPB)

These travel trends will be presented to the TPB at its June 20 meeting. The TPB updates the travel trends data for the metropolitan Washington region approximately every three years. These trends are used to better understand the impact of travel behavior on the region’s the transportation system and will be incorporated into Visualize 2045, the TPB’s long-range transportation plan.

MORE: Read the full travel trends report.

Timothy Canan, AICP, is a professional land use and transportation planner and is the Planning Data and Research Program Director for TPB. He, along with TPB Principal GIS Analyst Charlene Howard, COG Senior Regional Planner Nicole McCall, and TPB GIS Analyst Jessica Mirr prepared the Travel Trends Analysis.

Cover photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

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