Now that the snow is melting and the city is returning to normal, let’s focus on a non-snow topic for a change. Last Friday’s commute from hell showed us all that the city’s transportation network wasn’t quite ready for the influx of commuters going to work. That got me thinking– how many people commute into DC, and how does that compare with other cities? And does the population of the District really double during the day?
Once again, the Census provides all these answers– so keep in mind this data is almost a decade old, but until we fill out and return our Census forms this spring, it’s the best we can do. The Census tells us that in 2000, 572,059 people lived in the District (and because DC is such an awesome city, more people are moving here– the population was estimated at 588,373 in 2008). On top of that, over 400,000 more people commute into the District from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania on any given weekday. That leaves DC’s daytime population in 2000 at 982,853– 172% of its nighttime population.
That seems like a LOT of additional people, right? Well, it definitely is, and DC is pretty much off the charts with this giant daytime population increase. Even Boston, the next closest city in our population category, only sees 141% of its nighttime population during the day. DC’s employment/population ratio is 2.57, meaning that 2.57 times as many people work here as live here (this includes people who live and work in DC). That’s off the charts for any other major American city.
So even though the District is just a city of less than 600,000 people, it has to provide services for about a million people during the day. That’s the reasoning behind a commuter tax (which is so politically unpopular it would never happen), or a congestion fee (which has been successful in places like London, but the logistics of setting up such a system in the District are insane)– trying to get some money from those who don’t pay District income taxes, but do use District services.
Now that it’s Census time again, it will be interesting to see how these numbers change. I’m sure the District will be at the top of all other cities again, but perhaps by a less staggering gap. DC has really reinvented itself in the past ten years as a place to live– neighborhoods have been revitalized, community facilities have seen additional investment, and downtown is now seen as a safe and attractive community. Many people who want to live closer to their jobs are choosing to live in the District now, whereas ten years ago they’d probably have settled in Arlington instead.
There you have it– the rumors are (almost) true! DC’s population increases by a huge margin during the day– though not quite double– and it is out of the realm of any other major American city. In terms of people (rather than percentages), only New York City sees more commuters enter the city during the day. The person you walk by on the sidewalk is just about as likely to live in Arlington or Fairfax or Rockville as the District.