Most D.C. households own cars. Sixty-two percent of them, to be precise. That figure comes up repeatedly at debates over zoning changes, parking minimums, and the District government’s alleged “war on cars” in a city where most households own them.
But Greater Greater Washington reports a different statistic that’s much more revealing about where the city’s headed. Sure, more than six in 10 D.C. households have cars. But nearly nine in 10 new D.C. households don’t have cars.
According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the total number of D.C. households increased from 252,388 to 266,662 from 2010 to 2012. During that same period, the number of car-free households jumped from 88,390 to 101,002. In other words, of the net gain in households, 88 percent were car-free.
Of course, it’s possible that slightly more than 12 percent of new households have cars, and that some existing households simply chose to get rid of their cars—-or that fewer than 12 percent of new households own vehicles while existing ones have gained vehicles. But in any case, the trend is clear: D.C. residents are rapidly becoming less dependent on cars.
This is precisely why the Office of Planning and others have pushed for an end to parking minimums, which require developers of new buildings to have a minimum number of parking spaces relative to the number of units in the building. (After initially proposing the elimination of parking minimums near Metro stations and high-capacity bus routes, the Office of Planning relented to criticism and instead moved to reduce those minimums. The changes are still pending approval by the Zoning Commission.) If developers think there’s demand for parking spaces, they’ll build them. But if they think the new residents will get around largely by Metro or foot or bike or car-sharing, they won’t have to build a huge parking garage that’ll sit mostly empty, at a high price borne by the residents to whom the cost has been passed on in the form of steeper rents or sale prices.
The city is not waging a war on cars. It’s merely trying to adapt to the trends it’s witnessing. The real war on cars is a passive one being waged by residents who simply don’t want to own them. And it’s looking like a successful campaign.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery