Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Demographics


The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area

Using a consistent apples-to-apples counting method, Demographia ranked the world's major urban areas by population. With nearly 38 million residents, Tokyo is by far the world's largest, and is nearly twice the size of New York's 21 million. DC clocks in with about 5 million, good for 77th in the world.

Tokyo is the world's largest city. Photo from reddit user panic_switch.

Cities are hard to measure

It's actually quite difficult to compare urban populations on any kind of consistent basis. City populations that follow municipal boundaries are arbitrary and inconsistent—some cities include their suburbs, while others do not.

Metropolitan areas are likewise difficult to nail down. In the US, the Census defines metro areas based on county boundaries, resulting in huge geographic disparities, especially in the west where some counties are the size of eastern states. Other countries use totally different methods.

Generally, the only way to build an apples-to-apples comparison is to map out the continuous built-up area of a region, and then measure the population within that area. With good enough data and consistent cut-off points, meaningful comparisons are possible. That's called an urban area, and enough countries publish data on them that it's possible to build a reasonably consistent world list.

Demographia did the leg work of stapling together government population data from countries around the world to build this list. Demographia is owned by famous sprawl proponent Wendell Cox, and pushes a generally pro-car/anti-transit ideology. But numbers are numbers, and these are interesting numbers.

The ranking

Demographia's complete list covers every urban area in the world with a population above 500,000. It's about 1,000 cities long.

Tokyo tops the list with almost 38 million people. Jakarta is second with about 30 million. Delhi, Manila, and Seoul round out the top five.

New York has 21 million and is the largest urban area outside of Asia, good for 9th worldwide. Los Angeles has 15 million and is 18th. Paris is 29th. London is 32nd.

In Maryland and Virginia, Baltimore is 206th with 2.3 million, Norfolk/Virginia Beach is 336th with 1.5 million, and Richmond is 485th with about 1 million.

What surprises you? What stands out?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Here's what keeps people from riding a bike

For 10 years, urban policymakers have been talking more and more about the so-called "interested but concerned"—people who would like to bike more but who are, for some reason, held back.

Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.

Make biking attractive to those people, the thinking goes, and great things can happen to a city: road capacity rises, parking shortages ease, auto dependence declines, development costs fall, public health improves.

Since then, several local studies have explored the opinions of these people, usually within cities that were already fairly bike-friendly. But since the "interested but concerned" concept was popularized, there's never been a study of these people at the national level.

Until now, that is.

Photo by 10 10 on Flickr.

A new national survey interviewed 9,376 adults who want to bike more

As part of its new national survey about bicycling participation, PeopleForBikes hired a public research firm to anonymously ask thousands of U.S. adults a series of questions. One of them: whether they would like to ride a bicycle more often.

To make sure people weren't lying to make us happy, we also asked whether they'd ever visited an imaginary website, and then disregarded all answers from people who claimed they had. After that, to ensure a representative sample, we weighted the remaining answers by age, gender, region, ethnicity, and income to make the sample look like the United States.

As we shared earlier this month, 53 percent of American adults answered that yes, they want to bike more.

But that question also gave us an opportunity to do something else: to look more closely at the situations of the people who answered "yes" to this question. By comparing their answers to different questions, we can explore one of the holy grails of bicycling advocacy: what the most important obstacles to biking might be.

After a week of looking closely at the numbers, here are our six most interesting discoveries.

Chicago's Milwaukee Avenue. Photo by John Greenfield on Flickr.

1. One third of people who want to bike more are dissatisfied with existing bike infrastructure

Among people who would like to ride more, 34 percent disagree with the statement below, 26 percent are neutral and 38 percent agree.

All graphs from People for Bikes.

This is actually slightly better than the population at large (31 percent of all adults agree with the statement), which probably reflects the fact that people who like to bike tend to live in bike-friendlier areas. But it still leaves a huge share of adults who disagree—and speaks to the fact that in the United States, we simply haven't built enough bike-friendly neighborhoods to serve even the people who currently wish they could live in them.

Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo from People for Bikes.

2. Bicycle ownership is a major barrier to riding, especially among poorer households

It's pretty hard to ride a bike regularly if you don't own one—or, even more frustrating, if your tire went flat or your brake cable snapped and you've never gotten around to fixing it.

The good news is that adults who know they want to ride more are about 25 percent likelier than the population at large to have at least one working adult bike in their home. But even among these interested adults, 35 percent still have no bike. This problem is dramatically higher for low-income families:

This is actually a powerful argument for (among other things) affordable, accessible bike sharing. Because bike-share systems essentially pool bike purchase and maintenance costs among many different people, they can be even cheaper than bike ownership as a way to get around.

Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr via People for Bikes.

3. Fear of being personally targeted is a major barrier to riders of color

Traffic collisions aren't the only physical threat that keeps people off bicycles. Depending on what you look like and where you live, you might be biking less than you'd like because you're afraid of being targeted by a criminal—or maybe, sad to say, by law enforcement. On average, 41 percent of people who want to bike more agree with the statement below, but there's a lot of variation by race—more than the variation by gender, region or income.

According to this survey, white adults who want to bike more are least likely to have this concern; 38 percent do. But the concern is shared by more than half of Hispanic adults who want to bike more: 52 percent.

Photo by radworld on Flickr.

4. The western United States is much better at the bike + transit combo

Bicycles are the "secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport," says Ben Plowden of Transport for London. By designing all-ages bikeways that connect to public transit routes and hubs, U.S. suburbs can dramatically reduce car dependence and start increasing transit quality.

But to do that, you've got to be able to ride your bike to the rail station, load it onto a bus rack, park it securely while you're away, and so on. Our survey found that 35 percent of U.S. adults disagree with the statement below, compared to 26 percent who are neutral and 38 perent who agree. Intriguingly, the answer to this question varies widely by region. "Interested but concerned" bikers in the western United States are far more likely to be satisfied with bike-transit integration. Cities and transit agencies east of the Great Plains should look to Asia and Europe for ideas, but they can also look west.

Monroe, Washington. Photo by papahazama on Flickr.

5. Every group worries a lot about getting hit by cars, but some more than others

There wasn't much divide on this issue among men and women or among people of different incomes. There was a bigger difference by race and ethnicity. Black adults were the least likely to agree with this statement (though still 57 percent) and Hispanic adults the most likely (a whopping 66 percent).

But the biggest divide of all was actually by region, with 65 percent of adults in the South agreeing with this worry and only 54 percent of adults in the Midwest.

This brings us to our final observation...

Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh. Photo from People for Bikes.

6. Every single demographic group wants protected bike lanes

Not much ambiguity here.

Compared to 46 percent of the general population, an overwhelming 64 percent of people who would like to bike more say that protected bike lanes would make a difference to their transportation choices. Of this "interested but concerned" group—which, to reiterate, consists of half the U.S. adult population—only 13 percent disagreed with the statement above.

As with the other questions, we broke this finding out by gender, region, income and race to look for trends within the data. We found exactly one trend: everyone feels more or less the same way.

And that's all we have to say about that.

This post originally appeared on the blog of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps US cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.


Young people are living closer to the center of the region

There are more people in their 20s and early 30s in the center of the region than there were in the past, but farther out, they're less prevalent. A great set of graphs from UVA's StatChat show the change:

Graph for the Washington area. Image from UVA StatChat.

The orange line represents the 1990 Census; the brown one, the 2008-2012 ACS 5-year estimates. This counts people from age 22 (to try to exclude college students) to 34 (the usual line between Millenials and Generation Xers).

The StatChat post emphasizes that if the 2012 line is lower than the 1990 line, that doesn't mean young people are abandoning that area. Rather,

Across the country, young adults make up a smaller percentage of the population than they have in a long time. It's not because there are fewer of them (though there may be soon), but because there are far more older people. Thus, in any given area or group, they make up a smaller proportion of the population.
So if you pick a random smaller US city not known for its "creative economy" hub, the percentage of young people has declined at all distances. But the trend is very different close to many city centers, including ours.

The StatChat post also reminds us that just because more Millenials are moving to the center, it doesn't mean all are. Young people live everywhere. And, as Dan Reed has pointed out, many are clustering around other urban places like Silver Spring, which doesn't show up on this graph since it's aggregated with everything else six miles from downtown.

I'm curious why our region has (and had in 1990) a peak around 22 miles from the core. Is that the "drive till you qualify" line where housing is cheap enough for younger people to afford? Or is there a specific area with a lot of younger people around that distance? Any ideas?


A city can be diverse but its neighborhoods may still not be. (And DC scores poorly on both measures.)

How do you measure a city's diversity? If a city has a lot of different racial and ethnic groups in their own segregated sections, is that diverse?

A blog called priceonomics recently ranked major American cities on diversity by looking at the percentage of major racial and ethnic groups within the city's limits. The District of Columbia came in 21st, slightly less diverse than Oklahoma City.

Photo by Eric Hews, posted with permission.

However, while this analysis is useful, it it doesn't reveal whether the neighborhoods in each city are themselves diverse, or whether the city boundary just encompasses some all-black areas, other all-white areas, and so on.

If we modify this methodology to measure the average diversity of a city's neighborhoods, rather than of the city as a whole, we are able to quantify how integrated these place are. On this new measure, the District performs even worse.

A neighborhood-level calculation changes the results

Consider Chicago. With roughly equal-sized black, white, and Latino populations, the Windy City ranks as the fifth most diverse city in the country on the priceonomics scale. However, if we instead use priceonomics' same methodology (it took the percentage of black, white, Asian, Latino, and other people in the city, then used a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index to combine those numbers into a single score) for each of Chicago's individual census tracts, then take the weighted average, Chicago suddenly drops to 38th out of 45.

Chicago, as a whole, is diverse, but its neighborhoods are not. The average Chicago census tract is less diverse than a typical tract in Portland or Colorado Springs, both relatively homogeneous cities that scored near the bottom in the original citywide index. Both are close to 70% white, but the non-white population isn't all clumped in a small non-white area.

Chicago's diverse population is largely segregated. Sacramento is diverse, and so are its neighborhoods.

Here are the scores for all of the cities in the analysis. You can click on a column in this table to sort it. Click on the name of any city in this table to see a map of that city's Census tracts and their diversity levels.

NameNew rankDiversity index
Original rankDiversity index (citywide)Rank change
Long Beach30.40482440.2853671
San Jose50.41991260.2959631
San Francisco60.42005080.3118102
Las Vegas70.439887170.33810610
San Diego80.46835190.3127091
Fort Worth90.478435130.3246714
Oklahoma City140.502493200.3743756
Virginia Beach150.510308330.45543618
New York190.52082730.260531-16
Los Angeles210.526386180.339228-3
Colorado Springs300.565902410.52823311
San Antonio320.574919350.4746363
Kansas City330.579408280.399368-5
El Paso430.706141440.6633451
Note: Priceonomics used the 2013 1-year American Community Survey estimates for their analysis. This analysis uses the 5-year estimates, because it is available at both the Place and Census Tract levels. As a result, the citywide index scores may vary slightly from the data presented by Priceonomics.

California cities dominate the adjusted rankings, accounting for the top six spots: Sacramento, Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno, San Jose, and San Francisco. Virginia Beach moved up 18 slots, representing the largest jump of any one city.

DC, on the other hand, drops into the bottom quartile, neck and neck with Omaha. Like Chicago (well, not quite as bad as Chicago), the District's citywide diversity doesn't extend to diversity within most of its neighborhoods.

The diversity of each census tract in DC.

How citywide diversity relates to neighborhood diversity

There is a correlation between diversity in a city and diversity within its neighborhoods, although places like Chicago and DC remind us that it is not necessarily as strong relationship. Here's a scatter plot comparing the citywide and neighborhood average diversity indices for each of the 45 cities:

Diversity within neighborhoods compared to overall city diversity, with the most integrated and most segregated cities labeled.

Cities above the trend line have less diverse census tracts than the city's overall diversity would suggest. These are therefore relatively segregated. Chicago and DC fall into this category.

Miami is among the least diverse cities on the entire list (remember that according to this methodology, "diversity" only considers 5 distinct groups, lumping together, for example, everyone who identifies as Hispanic/Latino), but on a neighborhood level it's even more segregated still.

Cities below the trend line have neighborhoods that are more diverse than comparable cities at their level of citywide diversity. This group includes Sacramento, which is both diverse and integrated, as well as Portland, which is not diverse, but relatively well-integrated.

Diversity and integration are both important, and the District has a long way to go on both measures. What do you notice?

Cross-posted at R.U. Seriousing Me?


Watch the region get older as young people cluster around stuff to do

New maps from the Census Bureau show where young adults lived between 1980 and 2013. While the DC area as a whole is aging, urban neighborhoods both in the District and throughout the region are getting younger.

Darker areas have a higher concentration of young people. Map from the Census Bureau, animated by the author.

The District rebounds after decades of losing young people

The Census Bureau released the full set of maps, along with data a set of maps and data that looks at the habits of Millennials, or young adults roughly between 18 and 34. Overall, Greater Washington, which includes DC and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is getting older.

In 1980, young adults made up 32.2% of the DC area's population. By 2013, that share had fallen to 24.6%. Even though Millennials are flocking to the DC area, the population of older adults appears to be growing faster. That's probably because Baby Boomers, who make up the largest portion of the population after Millennials, are aging.

Where young adults choose to live within the region has shifted over time. The District's population of young adults fell from 34% in 1980 to 30% in 2000, before rebounding to 35% in 2013. While Millennials flock to Arlington, the share of young adults there actually fell from 38% to 36% during the same time period. Meanwhile, the percentage of young adults in the region's other jurisdictions has fallen even more.

Young people want stuff to do, whether or not it's in DC

This might prove the conventional wisdom is that Millennials are abandoning the suburbs for the city. But when you look at individual census tracts, it's clear that young adults are clustering around the region's activity centers: places with shopping, jobs, transit, and stuff to do, both inside and outside of the District.

Where young people live across the region. Map from the Census Bureau, animated by the author.

Not surprisingly, there's a huge concentration of young people in the core of DC, from Tenleytown and Columbia Heights south to Capitol Hill, and in Arlington along the Orange Line and around Crystal City and Pentagon City. And naturally, there are lots of young people around the region's universities, like Georgetown, and military bases like Bolling Air Force Base.

From there, "fingers" of youth reach out along I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia, I-270 in Montgomery County, and Route 1 in Prince George's County. These areas include both walkable downtowns like Silver Spring, as well as sprawling, car-oriented "edge cities" like Tysons Corner. What they have in common are lots of jobs and places to shop and hang out. These areas also track Metro's Silver, Orange, Red, and Green lines.

No matter where they are, activity centers have seen their young adult populations explode. Census Tract 35 in the District, which covers part of Columbia Heights, grew from 26% in 1980 to 65% in 2013. As Fairfax County seeks to make Tysons a more urban place, the percentage of young adults in one of its census tracts tripled from 17.6% in 1980 to 50.7% in 2013. Alexandria's Carlyle/Eisenhower area grew from 31% to 71% during the same time period, making it one of the region's youngest neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, suburban neighborhoods get older

As activity centers get younger, bedroom communities are getting older. Even as Millennials flock to central DC, the percentage of young adults in far northeast DC and east of the Anacostia is falling.

Meanwhile, the string of affluent communities along the Potomac River, from Upper Northwest DC to Great Falls in Virginia and Potomac in Maryland, have aged dramatically. But so have further-out suburban neighborhoods that once drew young families seeking affordable starter homes. In 1980, young adults made up over 48% of Census Tract 7014.04 in northeastern Montgomery County, which includes Burtonsville. Today, they're less than one-fourth of the population.

Jurisdictions compete for a smaller share of young adults

One of the reasons why DC and Arlington began chasing young adults, and why Montgomery and Fairfax are following suit, is because they pay more taxes than they require in services. With young people making up a smaller share of the region's population, the fight to attract them (and their tax revenue) will grow more intense.

Urban places contain a major share of the region's economic power. As long as young adults want urbanism, local jurisdictions will try to provide it.


New info about who rides a bike in DC will let us make the city even greater for cyclists

There's new data on who rides a bike or walks to work in DC, and it will likely guide future decisions on how to accommodate and encourage bicycle use.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The data comes from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)'s just-released draft report of all the planned bike and pedestrian improvements coming to the region.

The most striking piece of information from the study is that people who either make a whole lot of money or not much at all are more both more likely to bike or to work than those whose income falls somewhere in the middle.

Rich and poor people are both biking more than average, but it's probably for different reasons

Average incomes of bike commuters. Image from MWCOG.

MWCOG says its income-related findings are consistent with national data.

As the report also has data on what has (and hasn't) changed about cyclist and pedestrian demographics in the DC region, it also tells us that the numbers of people biking or walking to work at the highest and lowest income levels has at least doubled since 2004 in most cases. Meanwhile, numbers have fallen in some of the middle brackets.

The report doesn't speculate that much on why people specifically choose to ride or walk, but it does look at existing barriers, which allows us to do some back of the envelope analysis.

One big factor for most people is the distance they'd have to bike or walk to work. The large number of high-income riders could suggest that people are choosing to live closer to work, while those at the bottom of the spectrum may be biking because of the rising costs of transportation modes.

There's a difference in how often people of different races ride bikes, too

Demographics of bike commuters in the DC region. Image from MWCOG.

In terms of race, the number of white bicycle riders or walkers has held steady while the number of Asian riders and walkers has grown and the number of black and hispanic riders and walkers has declined. This confirms that there's a racial disparity in DC among bicycle riders.

The report doesn't try to explain the cycling and walking rates among different races, or even say if race is a factor. Targeted studies in predominantly black and hispanic neighborhoods could give insight on how to get more people back on to bikes or choosing to walk to work. We know that adding bike infrastructure tends to increase overall usage for bike riding, so it's possible that those neighborhoods simply need more bike lanes or protected bikeways.

Data like this can show us who needs help getting on bikes in the first place, as well as who would benefit from more infrastructure. The more we know, the more focused our future bicycle infrastructure projects will be.

Correction: The original version of this post described the MWCOG data as applying just to bicycling. In fact, the report combines bicycle and walking trips. We have corrected the article.


"Subway driver" is the most unusually common job in Maryland

Live in Maryland and operate a train? You're not alone. A graphic from Business Insider, which has been going around the web for a few months, shows the job that is most out of proportion in each state.

While it's no surprise the job on the map for DC is political scientists and Texas is petroleum engineers, would you have guessed Maryland's would be "subway drivers"?

Graphic from Business Insider. Click for the full image.

It actually makes sense. In addition to Metro trains, Maryland has the Baltimore Subway, Light Rail, and MARC train. That's a lot more transit per capita than most states.

This map uses a Bureau of Labor Statistics measure called "location quotient." That's how frequent the job is in one area (say, 8.3 people per 10,000 jobs) divided by its frequency nationwide. The map shows the job with at least 1,000 workers in each state with the highest location quotient.

Transportation-related careers stand out in a few other states as well. The careers on the map for Alaska, Louisiana, Maine, and Florida all involve navigating waterways. South Carolina gets tire builders, and Washington has a lot of workers who build airplanes. Finally, Vermont has a lot of people maintaining its highways compared to other states.


Many Silver Line riders make a long trek from Metro's eastern branches

Fifteen percent of commuters who take Metro's Silver Line to Tysons Corner or Wiehle Avenue come from east of the Anacostia River in DC or Prince George's County. These long commutes result from a growth pattern that puts jobs in far-flung western suburbs and affordable housing in the east. They're part of the price our region pays for sprawl.

Wiehle Avenue station. Photo by Matt Johnson.

Data released last week from Metro shows that 150 of the 983 morning rush hour riders arriving daily at Wiehle Avenue come from the system's easternmost stations. With 126 out of 827 passengers coming from the same area, the new Tysons station has similar numbers. The percentage is even higher at Spring Hill station.

These numbers are particularly noteworthy because only 20% of Metro's morning riders come from east of the Anacostia or Prince George's in the first place.

Silver Line stationAM peak riders
from EOTR/PG
Total AM
peak riders
Tysons Corner12682715%
Spring Hill8440620%
Wiehle Ave15098315%
Click on a column header to sort.

Some of those arriving at Wiehle Avenue are no doubt well-off homeowners who chose long commutes in order to live near Chesapeake Bay. After years of long car treks around the crowded Beltway, they might well prefer to park at New Carrollton or Largo and take a train trip of 70 minutes or more.

But the most common motivation for Silver Line riders from the east side is surely economic necessity, as most board at stations that draw riders from less affluent neighborhoods nearby.

Going from New Carrollton or Addison Road to Reston is a tough commute no matter how one travels, and if you have to wait for the bus at one or both ends, it's brutal. These ridership figures are a reminder of how painful it is when low wages meet land use policies that separate jobs from affordable housing.

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