Disparity across D.C. region’s commute times a “serious equity problem”

An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.

Washington Post reporter Faiz Siddiqui notes that the map shows serious revelations regarding commuters’ proximity to the District and their ability to reach frequent transit:

… [D]ata shows that wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs have an easier time tapping into it, while residents of poor and lower-income neighborhoods on the eastern side of the District and, farther east, across the border in Maryland face longer and often more-complex commutes.

… Most striking, commuters in some areas in Southwest and Southeast Washington and close-in Prince George’s have longer trips to get downtown than more transit-connected locations dozens of miles away from the White House.

Speaking to the Post, Mobility Lab’s managing director Howard Jennings expressed concerns that the disparities in transit access will only worsen with the coming cutbacks to Metrorail’s operating hours, set to come into effect in June. “People who are used to being rail riders, who are not bus riders, you’re going to have a real shift there in awareness of options. The onus is really going to be on providers of information.”

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Faiz Siddiqui, John Muyskens, Howard Jennings, and J.D. Godchaux look over the Mapzen visualizations at Bus Hack Night. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

Using Mapzen’s Mobility Explorer and Transitland interfaces (both featured at last week’s Bus Hack Night at WMATA headquarters), The Washington Post also constructed an in-depth display of who exactly “gets left behind” by these changes. District residents in Wards 7 and 8 east of the river, for example, comprise the most concentrated areas of low-income households who are also regular transit riders.

Using the isochrone mapping technique, the Post analysis shows just how these neighborhoods would be cut off from late-night transit access under Metrorail’s new late-night schedule. Clicking from “PM rush” to “Late, no Metro” shows many areas east of the Anacostia requiring 45 to 60 minutes of travel to reach downtown.

See the full set of visualizations here, which include current peak-hour commute times and projected travel times under the new late-night schedule.

Ed. note: Contrary to the quote from Howard Jennings in the Washington Post article, WMATA is the fifth-largest transit system in the United States, not the second, based on average daily trips.

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