The ultimate D.C. question: To drive or to Metro?

Ari Ashe,

WASHINGTON, DC – Some people drive into work. Others take Metro, walk or bike. The decision on how to commute often depends on where you live and work.

“I work in Fairfax and live in Falls Church,” says Ann Gutkin. “There is no Metro station near my office, so a car is my only option.”

However, her husband, Robert, takes Metro from West Falls Church to Washington, D.C.

“He likes not having to drive. But he doesn’t like the fact that Metro breaks down a lot and is often very crowded and uncomfortable. He’s often quite agitated when I pick him up in the evening,” Gutkin says.

“Everybody either gets on Vienna or West Falls Church, so by the time the train gets to East Falls Church, you’re standing-room only, holding a book in your hand and grabbing hold of a pole,” says John Vaughn, who drives into Northeast D.C.

About 73 percent of Falls Church residents either drive alone or carpool into the office, according to a new report from the Transportation Planning Board.

Only 7 percent of all weekday trips are on mass transit. Both numbers are consistent with regional averages, even with the close proximity of two Metro stops.

“The problem is there isn’t the same level of high density right around the Falls Church station like around Friendship Heights. The other thing is that there’s I- 66 with HOV lanes as an option,” says Robert Griffiths, who authored the report.

The report also investigated National Harbor, where there is no Metro station. The closest station is King Street in Alexandria, over the Wilson Bridge.

However, most commuters prefer to drive to Metro, park their car and take the train, meaning the Branch Avenue station is the choice. It’s 10 miles from National Harbor.

“I commute to Woodbridge. It’s usually a 30-minute drive, but with an accident, it could be more than an hour,” says Monica Barrett, who lives up the street from Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

“I commute to Southwest D.C. It’s not a bad drive. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to get into work,” says Arnold Carroll, who also lives near National Harbor.

About 84 percent of all commuters at National Harbor drive or carpool, a number that surpasses the regional average.

“If there were a Metro stop here, I would use it. I am looking forward to them creating a Silver Line here, like in Tysons, connecting over the Wilson Bridge,” says Barrett.

However, the biggest dichotomy is between Friendship Heights and Dulles North.

At Dulles North, covering the Sterling community, about 90 percent of people drive or carpool into work. In Friendship Heights, only 50 percent do so.

Only 9 percent of those at Dulles North use mass transit, versus 37 percent in Friendship Heights. Another 12 percent bike or walk into work.

Eventually, those numbers could shift when Phase II of the Silver Line offers Dulles area residents a Metro option.

“What we’re interested in is seeing if we can replicate what’s going on in Friendship Heights in other parts of our community,” says Ron Kirby, director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Read the full report here.

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