Monday, May 14, 2012

Traffic and Commutes in DC Area Ranked Worst in the Country

The Transportation Planning Board and Census Bureau have ranked traffic in the Washington region as the worst in the country.  WTOP reports four local commuting routes between cities in the area fall within the top 12 worst in the entire nation.

Even more recent reports from a variety of sources show that smaller houses and shorter commutes in areas closer to urban centers and places of employment are becoming important to consumers and homebuyers. The nation's increasing traffic problem and development trajectory begs the question: is it time to choose convenience, smaller homes and lower costs over square feet and lengthy commutes?

Last month Time Magazine reported that, as car sales and prices increase, Americans are driving less.  Why?  Gas prices, traffic, the shift to urban living and public transportation.  Sprawl has stalled as populations have grown fastest not in exurbs but in and around cities.  A significant number of consumers have already changed their behavior due to rising gas prices. It’s in or near big cities that rentals and jobs are easiest to find, and where the cost of living—and need to fill up the car—remains lower.

The Washington Post reported last month that across the nation residential exurbs which sprouted on the edge of metropolitan areas are seeing their growth fizzle, according to new 2011 U.S. Census estimates.  Gas prices discourage long commutes.  Young singles prefer city apartments.  Two years after the recession technically ended, and despite some signs of economic recovery, there's a reversal of urbanites' decades-long exodus to roomy homes in distant towns.

Finally, the National Association of Home Builders reports homes are expected to average 2,152 square feet in 2015, 10% smaller than the average size of single-family homes started in the first three quarters of 2010.

"The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us," Yale University economist Robert Shiller said.  Shiller, co-creator of the Standard & Poor's Home Price Index, is perhaps best known for identifying the risks of a U.S. housing bubble before it actually burst in 2006.  It is telling that Shiller has also articluated this observation on the development and structure of American communities for the future.

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