Dulles Rail and the Realities of Suburban Hubs
When Gov. Tim Kaine makes his last-ditch plea for federal funding to extend Metro to Dulles airport, he will of course talk about the need for mass transit both to get air travelers out to the airport and to ease the painful congestion commuters face every day. And he'll talk about the reimagining of Tysons Corner and other suburban Edge Cities that grew up in an entirely car-driven era.
But the emerging research on how we live now and how we're likely to organize our lives in the coming decades adds an even more powerful argument to the case for urbanizing our suburban hubs and using transit to connect those hubs to where we live.
A new study by the Brookings Institution's Harry Holzer and Michael Stoll finds that 65 percent of all Americans and nearly 60 percent of all jobs are now located in the suburbs. We sort of knew that already, but what the study tells us in a fresh way is how Americans move within the suburbs--namely, how throughout the past decade, the population of lower-income suburbs burgeoned while job growth took place primarily in higher-income suburbs. Result: A powerful increase in demand for transportation between those two different kinds of suburbs.
That's what's been feeding the agitation for the Purple Line light rail route in the inner suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Inter-county Connector highway linking I-95 and I-270 in the northern parts of those counties. And that's what's behind the tremendous business, university and political support for the Metro rail extension in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
One of the biggest shifts the study found in daily movement of people was among Hispanics who live in lower-income suburbs (for example, Salvadorans in Silver Spring, Culmore, or Manassas) and need ways to get to jobs in higher-income suburbs (such as the I-270 biotech corridor, the Dulles tech cluster, downtown Bethesda and Tysons Corner.)
This, the authors say, is a big change from the model that dominated the latter decades of the 20th century, "in which minority residents of segregated urban neighborhoods have limited access to increasingly suburban jobs."
There's still a slightly higher percentage of Americans who live in the suburbs than there is of people who work in the suburbs, but not by much. And while 35 percent of us live in central cities, only 41 percent of us work there, a significant decline from past decades.
The most overwhelming change in the study is in the whereabouts of Latinos, who have been moving to low-income suburbs at a rate several times that of blacks or non-Hispanic whites. (Is this at the root of the agitation against immigrants, a movement centered largely in and near less affluent suburbs?)
And job growth has lagged considerably in those lower-income suburbs, as developers and companies choose to locate instead in more affluent areas of most cities' suburban rings.
For some people, the Washington region is better off than other metro areas in the study, where good jobs are often located clear across the metro area from lower-income suburbs. In those regions, huge numbers of workers must take on commutes far longer than the average drive in this region. In Atlanta, Denver and Chicago, for example, the job growth tends to be located on the other side of the central city from the lower-income suburbs.
Here, while we do have more affluence to the west of the District than to the east, and job growth has lagged in Prince George's County, some lower-income families--mostly Hispanics--are still able to work closer to where they live. But for many blacks and Hispanics in lower-income areas of Prince George's, jobs in the Dulles and I-270 corridors seem awfully far away--and our road and transit systems are not oriented to help with such commutes.
Rail to Dulles wouldn't address that issue of taking people from one side of the District to the other, but it's important to note that most transportation initiatives in the region are essentially east-west in design--smart moves to try to connect where people live with where they do or might work.
By Marc Fisher |
February 1, 2008; 7:39 AM ET
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