Is a 90-minute transit commute really a benchmark to shoot for?


A Brookings report says that the D.C. area is ranked 17th on America’s list of of systems by accessibility. Immediately easy to dispel a report that ranks New York’s as the 13th-best. Have you seen the subway? It’s the 10th Wonder of the World, after hip-hop producer Ninth Wonder.

Consider the criteria used to determine that Honolulu (all buses, much smaller city, unique geography) has superior transit to Washington: Wait time during time for public transit during rush hour, percentage of people who live near transit and percentage of metro area jobs reachable within 90 minutes via public transit.

The first one is a fine barometer: Frequent headways are so key to choosing to use transit. As is the second: Living near transit is the basis of using it. The third…negatory. 90 minutes is a ridiculous number here, few people find that acceptable. In Tom Vanderbilt’s “Traffic,” he finds that the sweet spot which all drivers aim for is 30 minutes.

The average D.C. commute time found by the Census during the period from 2005-2009 is 29.4 minutes. This includes all modes of transportation.

So a study like Brookings sets the bar way too low. Our goal should be MUCH faster times than a 90-minute commute. And amazingly, just 37 percent of the D.C. area’s jobs meet that criteria. That should bring to mind a discussion of planning rather than transit insults: People would need to live closer to work to put transit offerings within reach, and mixed-use developments would be helpful as well. As such, it’s not Metro’s fault that it takes someone 90 minutes to get from Suitland to Tysons Corner by transit, or any other myriad of crazy commutes.

Note: Any study that includes Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and my home city of Portland, Maine, (ranked 81st — never used  it once) on the same list as NYC, Philly, Chicago, D.C. and San Francisco is hard to take seriously.

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