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Posts about East-west Divide


Why Washington's transportation is a problem, in one map

Why does Metro have budget problems? Why is traffic bad? While there are many reasons, this map shows the biggest one: Our region keeps growing mostly on one side, which taxes strained transportation networks and wastes resources.

Image from PlanItMetro based on COG forecasts. Read the analysis.

This map shows projected growth around the region. There's a stark line between all the highest-growth areas, in the west, and lower growth to the east. The folks at PlanItMetro, who made this map, wrote:

Between 2020 and 2040, the region expects to add about 870,000 more jobs (25% increase) and 1 million more people (16% increase). As shown in the map below, much of that growth is planned where transit is already at or exceeding capacity, while many other areas that have high-quality transit continue to be underdeveloped. The result: more congestion.
These stats were part of a big new study, called ConnectGreaterWashington. Last weekend, I wrote about the broad strokes in the Washington Post. The key takeaway: Our region is not growing enough in areas, mostly on the east side of the region, where there's already ample transit (and road) infrastructure, while the growth that is happening is straining the infrastructure we have.

There's a real price tag for this.

Unbalanced growth costs money

In the ConnectGreaterWashington study, WMATA planners modeled several scenarios. With no particular change in our current path, Metro will have crush loaded trains (which are not just uncomfortable but more often delayed) on the Orange/Silver lines west of Rosslyn and the Yellow/Green lines south of L'Enfant. Meanwhile, its operations will cost local governments $350 million a year by 2040 (up from about $245 now) in subsidy.

Just making the areas around stations more walkable and bikeable and changing fares to encourage off-peak travel helped only a tiny bit on its own. Shifting predicted growth between 2020 and 2040 inside individual jurisdictions, from places far from transit to places near, helped more, but the crowding imbalance on Metro (and roads), where trains (and highways) are packed in one direction and nearly empty in the other, didn't change.

Metro could be profitable! Or, at least, closer to it

There was a scenario which fixed myriad problems: Rebalancing growth more evenly across the region from 2020 to 2040. If the region focused enough of its economic development efforts where there is underused transportation capacity, Metro could even run a surplus of $270 million a year. That's a revenue stream WMATA could bond against for fixes like a second Rosslyn station to relieve Blue Line crowding (costs about a billion), walkways between downtown transfer stations (similar), or all eight-car trains (about $1.7 billion).

Those fixes would be even more needed than they are today, as under this scenario, Metro would also need more capacity. And I wouldn't oversell the chance that Metro becomes "profitable"—it probably requires more shifting of growth than most governments, employers, or developers are willing to go for.

Besides, it's not clear that running a surplus is what a transportation system ought to plan around. We build transportation systems to move people, and they cost money. Many European cities happily spend much more on their transit systems, because they find them valuable and are willing to invest in public works projects. It's worthwhile to have transit even if its ridership isn't astronomically high.

The hole will just get deeper

However, we need to recognize that for every year the western edge of the region grows much faster than the east side, we're digging a bigger hole. New COG projections, which come from local governments' own growth plans and aspirations, estimate that Loudoun and Prince William will add 100,000 jobs each by 2045, or 75% more than they have today. Meanwhile, the forecast estimates Prince George's will just gain 19% more jobs and 10% more residents.

For every year that kind of pattern continues, we're making Metro more expensive, fiscally, than it needs to be and making the challenges of crowding on roads and rails worse. This is costing every jurisdiction and taxpayer far more than it should, including those on the west side of the region.

Or, to put it more starkly: Even Virginians and western Montgomery residents pay every day for the lack of growth in Prince George's, and it's in their interests as well as everyone else's to better balance our growth.


Jobs are clustering in parts of the region, but the east is falling behind

There's a growing economic gap in the region, with jobs concentrating in the west while poverty is growing in the east. This from a new Brookings Institute report on how close people were to jobs in 2000 and 2012.

A map showing areas that saw an increase (or decrease) in nearby jobs. Image from Brookings.

Most poor residents can only afford to live in the east, which leaves them stranded far away from job opportunities.

DC has a "favored quarter," and if you don't live in it, it's hard to find work

Jobs in the DC region are heavily concentrated in a "favored quarter" that starts downtown and stretches west-northwest. Residents in the ten-mile-wide circle that covers the northwest quadrant of DC, Arlington, and neighboring parts of Montgomery and Fairfax counties, can easily commute to about a million jobs.

For people in that area, chances are pretty good that one of those jobs will suit them. City Observatory recently noted based on Brookings' data, core-area residents in the DC region have, on average, three times as many jobs within commuting distance as residents of more distant areas.

DC's favored quarter is also adding more jobs. Between 2000 and 2012, about 100,000 new jobs became available within a reasonable commuting distance of north Arlington, Bethesda, Wards 2 and 3 in DC, Herndon, and Sterling.

In the years the study looks at, the average resident of the "core jurisdictions" inside the original DC diamond (the District, Arlington, and Alexandria) saw their proximity to jobs improve by 8.6%. That's far better than the region-wide 2% average.

For a practical look at these findings' implications, consider Tysons Corner and Largo Town Center, two areas opposite one another on the Capital Beltway. Tysons residents have four times as many jobs within commuting distance. Largo residents, on the other hand, have to commute across the entire region in search of work.

The difference between being inside and outside of the core is even starker for areas with non-white majorities. Census tracts within the diamond where most residents are not white saw 7.5% more jobs within commuting distance in 2012 than in 2000.

While most of the region's jobs didn't shift far from the favored quarter,
the Dulles Airport/Route 28 area did emerge as a big new job center. Unfortunately, that area is far from transit, and very far from where most of the region's residents live.

And most areas in the favored quarter are doing a pitiful job of adding new housing units, meaning they're missing out on opportunities for people to live near where they work. Policy makers in these areas seem content to let housing prices rise, while rejecting new transit lines that would improve connections to their job centers.

Job locations have a huge impact on home values

When it comes to housing costs, proximity to jobs has a whole lot to do with why housing prices within the diamond have increased relative to farther-out areas.

That difference in home values is growing as job opportunities keep expanding in the west and shrinking in the east, causing poverty to shift farther into eastern areas that are sometimes ill-equipped to deal with service needs.

Outside of the Beltway, the lack of job opportunity in Prince George's and eastern Montgomery counties has depressed property values and ruined many families' finances.

All of this leads to what social scientists call a "spatial mismatch" between jobs and affordable housing. Over time, a spatial mismatch can widen into what sociologist Robert Putnam calls an opportunity equality gap, disadvantaging families for multiple generations.

Despite all this, smart transit and planning are reasons to be optimistic

Encouragingly, some job location trends in recent years are chipping away at the problem, particularly for residents who live within Metro's reach and especially within the diamond. Jobs are shifting away from distant locations, towards transit accessible areas like downtown DC. This shift should make it easier for residents who live outside the favored quarter to reach job opportunities.

New transit links to existing job centers, like Maryland's Purple Line, will also literally bridge the east-west divide. More infill residential development within the favored quarter, both at job centers like Tysons and within neighborhoods, will also improve access to opportunity and cut long commute times.

One caveat about the report: due to data limitations, the study assumes that people travel a "typical commute distance" in an as-the-crow-flies radius around their homes. It doesn't take into account whether transportation routes, like bridges or transit lines, are available between those points.

What else do you notice from the report? How can we cut down the spatial mismatch between jobs and housing in the DC region?


Three graphs show where the educated, affluent, and young are moving in the DC region

UVA demographic researchers made some fascinating graphs of demographic divides in the Washington area which show what we know is happening: more affluent and educated people are moving farther east in the region, and young people are living near the center more than ever.

Images from UVA StatCh@t.

The researchers, from the University of Virginia Cooper Center's Demographics Research Group, looked at the populations within 5, 10, 15, and 20 miles of the White House and how they compare on the eastern half and western half of our region.

The percentage of people with graduate and professional degrees used to drop very sharply between west and east (the white line). It has increased all across the region, but most of all in the center (mostly DC and Arlington). And the drop-off has become far less steep, reflecting how many highly-educated people have been moving into neighborhoods on the east side of DC and places like Silver Spring.

The same applies for income. Notice how the lowest point for both advanced degrees and income are not at the places farthest from the core in the east, but places about 5-15 miles—mostly Prince George's County on either side of the Beltway, where the older communities are. More educated and affluent people have leapfrogged that area to more exurban places.

There's a little bit of that effect on the west side, but far less; there, the people with the most education and means generally want to live closer to the center, and that trend is growing stronger.

Young people don't seem to care that much about the east-west divide—or many simply can't afford to live in the more expensive west. People in their 20s always were most concentrated in the core, but that trend has also strengthened a lot, with places more than about 4 miles from the center having a smaller share of 20-somethings in 2012 than in 1990.

Meanwhile, the east-west imbalance has disappeared, or even slightly reversed itself, as younger people moved into more affordable neighborhoods east of 16th Street in DC.


Worried about redrawing school boundaries? Why not try controlled choice zones instead?

DC Councilmembers voiced anxiety about an impending change in school boundaries at a hearing last week. But instead of redrawing boundaries, maybe we should replace them with school choice zones.

Photo by Cedward Brice on Flickr.

Three education policy analysts recently penned an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for "controlled choice zones" in parts of DC. They suggested that in certain gentrifying areas, students should no longer be assigned to their closest neighborhood school.

Instead, families would list their preferences within a certain zone, and an algorithm would match them with one of their preferred schools while simultaneously taking family income into account. The objective would be to ensure that all schools within the zone have a mix of socioeconomic groups.

The concept is intriguing, but why limit it to certain neighborhoods? We should consider extending it to include all students enrolling in public schools in the District, in any part of town and any time of year.

The San Francisco plan, modified

Currently, DC students have a right to enroll in their in-boundary DCPS school at any time. They can also apply to enroll in out-of-boundary DCPS schools or charter schools through a lottery. Under a District-wide controlled choice model, there would be no more school boundaries.

San Francisco has a city-wide controlled choice model, with no school boundaries and algorithmic school placement. But the city isn't divided into zones, so conceivably a student could be placed at a school on the other side of town.

This system aggravates many San Francisco parents, but the resulting educational diversity has created one of the highest quality urban school systems in the country.

That's because research has shown that a balance of socioeconomic status produces the best educational outcomes, both overall and for students at each socioeconomic level.

There's already evidence of that in the District. The top elementary school in terms of student growth is not Janney, Mann, or another school populated entirely with students from within a wealthy boundary. It's Hyde, whose students are evenly split between affluent Georgetown families and out-of-boundary lottery applicants.

Obviously, the central political hurdle to this system is getting people to give up the right to buy their way into a good school district. But the only way to provide diverse schools is to eliminate the property right to the school closest to your house and place students using an algorithm. There's no way around it.

But that doesn't mean we have to adopt the San Francisco system. With controlled choice zones, we could have many of the educational benefits of greater diversity without the anxiety of possibly being placed in a school far from home.

Benefits of District-wide controlled choice

The authors of the Post op-ed suggest that parents be allowed to choose any DCPS or charter school within a given zone. They limit their proposal to "strategic parts of the city (namely, Capitol Hill, Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan, Dupont/Logan Circle, and Petworth)."

This would promote greater diversity, resulting in school quality and test score growth. And it would create a system that values strong neighborhood schools, regardless of whether they are charter or DCPS.

However, expanding controlled choice zones to the entire District would deliver several additional benefits. Imagine if the lottery website allowed you to prioritize all of the elementary schools within 2 miles of your home, middle schools within 2.5 miles of your home, or high schools within 3 miles of your home.

Again, these schools would include both DCPS and charter schools. If the radius runs up against the District line, you could extend the radius in the opposite direction to compensate so as to have the same amount of choices. The algorithmic placement of students within these zones would generate the following additional benefits:

  • No parents would have to watch kids from across town attend a nearby high-performing charter school that didn't admit their own kids.
  • More affluent families moving east would be integrated into existing schools, raising the performance of all students.
  • If this enrollment system includes mid-year enrollees, students who move to town or are expelled from a school mid-year would be placed using the same algorithm. Charters would thus grapple with the same mid-year enrollees as DCPS.
  • Students wouldn't be allowed to transfer within their zone during the year, putting a stop to the practice of "counseling out" students with greater educational challenges.
This proposal isn't as far-fetched as it may seem to some. Chancellor Henderson has floated the idea of creating multiple District-wide high schools open to all, in addition to more District-wide magnet schools. And the three leading challengers to Mayor Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary—Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, and Jack Evans—have all committed to supporting neighborhood preference in charter school admissions.

Some may object that confining students to schools within one zone would limit choice, making zip code one's education destiny. But the reality is that most students already travel within the distances I'm suggesting.

In fact, a DC government task force cited the short commuting distances of charter students as a reason that neighborhood preference in admissions is unnecessary.

Furthermore, what if the choice one wants is a diverse school? Under the District's current system, families don't always have that choice. Schools that begin to attract affluent students can quickly "flip" from overwhelmingly low-income to the opposite.

Will all zones in DC benefit?

Another objection is that some zones in DC wouldn't have nearly enough non-poor students to create the diversity this plans aims for. However, it's precisely in these poorer parts of town—Wards 5, 7, and 8—that the plan would deliver the most support.

Because the plan would force charters to share the burden of mid-year enrollees and would stop mid-year "voluntary" transfers, enrollment numbers in DCPS schools in high-poverty areas would stabilize.

Also, as more affluent families move into these parts of town—a trend that many consider inevitable—this model ensures they will be integrated into existing schools for the maximum benefit of all students. There will be no more "flipping" of schools.

Some affluent families may not move into poor neighborhoods because they don't want to share in the work of supporting community institutions. The result will be a slower migration into these neighborhoods, but one that is more equitable for all and prevents displacement of long-time residents.

Finally, the controlled choice model would solve the intractable problem of overcrowding at Wilson High School. DCPS officials seem hesitant to solve the problem by returning Ellington High School in Georgetown to its original function as a neighborhood high school drawing students from Hardy Middle School.

That has left parents in Ward 4 whose elementary schools feed into Deal Middle School and Wilson particularly nervous. DCPS may decide to route those students into a less desirable feeder pattern.

And if that happens, it could generate a federal civil rights lawsuit, as school officials will have drawn boundaries that reflect racial and socioeconomic fault lines in the District. In fact, it was just such a civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco that led a judge to require the controlled choice model they have today.

Let's consider adopting the controlled choice model for DC. It works because it prioritizes both school choice and neighborhood schools. What do you think?


School lottery demand shows sharp east-west divide

Parents who have applied to preschool, pre-kindergarten, or out-of-boundary lotteries for DC public schools are anxiously looking at the results today. These lotteries are far from equally competitive; the most desired schools are all in 4 wards of the city, while the least in-demand are all in 3 other wards in the eastern part of the city.

Schools with more than 5 applicants per available spot, 2012-2013 (blue pins) and schools with less than 1 per spot (red pins). Maps on Google Maps by the author.

Analyzing the lottery data from both the 2011-2012 school year and 2012-2013 school year, every school with more than 5 applicants per available spot was located in wards 1, 2, 3, or 6, while every school with less than 1 applicant per spot was located in wards 5, 7, or 8.

The lottery for preschool (for children turning 3 by September 30th) and pre-K (for children turning 4 by September 30th) spots is different from the out-of-boundary lottery because in-boundary students in these grades are not guaranteed a spot at their in-boundary school. This means that every spot in these grades is filled from the lottery.

Students with a sibling and students who are in-boundary still have priority in the lottery, but simply living within the school's boundary does not guarantee admission to that school in the early years.

Research suggests that those first few years are critical for brain development and that early childhood education is linked to higher high school graduation rates, lower rates of incarceration later in life, and higher wages. Clearly, parents have taken this to heart as is evidenced by the thousands of parents who apply for the lottery on behalf of their child in the hopes that they will be granted one of the few coveted spots at their school of choice.

Where are the schools parents most covet?

From analyzing the lottery data, that school of choice is most likely located in ward 3, and may be in wards 1, 2, or 6. For the 2011-2012 school year, Oyster-Adams Elementary School in Woodley Park (ward 3), for example, received over 27 applications for each and every one of the 14 spots in the preschool class, followed by Watkins of the Capitol Hill Cluster School (ward 6) at 18.3 applicants for each spot.

Janney Elementary School in Tenleytown (ward 3) placed 400 prekindergarten students on the waitlist after in-boundary students filled its 57 spots. Further, in-boundary students accounted for 4 out of every 5 spots in the ward 3 schools, which limits access to these schools for those who cannot afford to live in these wards.

Schools with more than 5 applicants per available spot, 2011-2012 (blue pins) and schools with less than 1 per spot (red pins).

The data for the 2012-2013 school year tells a familiar story with Dupont Circle's Ross Elementary School (in ward 2) getting over 21 applicants per spot and by Watkins of the Capitol Hill Cluster School (ward 6) at 18.3 applicants for each spot. Similarly, Janney placed 390 students on the waitlist after all of its 57 spots were filled by in-boundary students.

In both years, though the order was different, the schools with the most applicants per spot were the same. For the 2011-2012 school year Oyster-Adams, Watkins, Mann, Ross, and Brent rounded out the top five spots and for the 2012-2013 school year it was Ross, Watkins, Hyde-Addison, Mann, and Oyster-Adams. The schools with the fewest applicants were also similar in both years.

It's important to note that the number of lottery applicants alone does not indicate a school's quality, but it does indicate which schools are perceived as high quality schools and, more importantly, where parents want to send their children.

Independent of whether or not these schools are high quality, there are a significant number of schools in these wards that are not meeting the needs or standards of parents who live in these areas and parents believe that a better fit for their student can be found in other areas of DC. The pattern of low confidence in these schools is a huge obstacle to improving them.

The pattern of high numbers of applicants in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6 and low in wards 5, 7, and 8 is particularly troubling because poverty is highest in wards 5 (19 percent), 7 (27 percent), and 8 (34 percent). Additionally, these are the wards with the lowest rate of high school graduates as well as the highest rates of unemployment.

Access to high quality early child education is an important component in future student achievement including whether the student graduates from high school.


Mapping underwater mortgages shows shocking divide

The Washington Post created this astounding map of the places where the greatest percentage of mortgages are "underwater," or owe more than the home's current value.

The Post's article, which talks about how home prices have risen, says:

Many of the homeowners with mortgages higher than their home's value were clustered in the eastern parts of the District and in Prince George's County.
This makes it clear that the economic recovery is not hitting all areas or all people equally. We need more jobs east of the river and in Prince George's County, especially at Metro stations, to help our economic success benefit all.


"Degree density" maps show region's east-west divide

What's the difference between Friendship Heights and Capitol Heights? The number of people with college degrees.

Degree density in and around DC. Each blue dot represents 1,000 people 25 and over with a college degree; each pink dot, 1,000 people 25+ without. Maps by Rob Pitingolo.

Rob Pitingolo has done a lot of research on which places have more or fewer people with college degrees. DC has the fourth most college degrees per square mile of any city in the nation, but that doesn't apply everywhere in the region or everywhere in DC.

Rob created these maps that show the locations of people with and without college degrees aged 25 and over.

There seems to be a fair amount of mixing in Virginia, but in DC and Maryland, the divide is starker. East of the Anacostia, blue dots are very few; west of Rock Creek and in the central city, they overwhelm the pink dots.

A lot of news stories talk about the DC region in terms of the division between black and white. The city's history of racial segregation has left a legacy of educational and socioeconomic inequality. As a result, many commentators use race as a simplistic shorthand for conflicts that are really about college educated versus not, or wealthy versus poor, or young versus old.

Race is immutable, but other characteristics are not. If our divisions are really about black versus white, they're not going to change unless some people move out of the city, and that's not what we want to happen. But education levels can change, and it's good for everyone if we can help all people in our region access better education.


Thundersnow traffic illustrates east-west divide

As thundersnow passed through the DC area right at rush hour, we were able to see the nadir of bad traffic via Google Maps.

The map is color-coded based on speed: green for fast, yellow for slow, red for very slow. The red-and-black striped areas are probably where car traffic has stopped entirely. You can see that auto traffic in the DC area affects both suburbs and city equally, even if those who don't have to drive can avoid it. But most importantly, you can see how normal, everyday highway chokepoints—like the Beltway/I-270 merge—have converged with other chokepoints, forming miles-long traffic jams, like the one along the Beltway from College Park to Springfield.

But the Beltway commute isn't terrible for everyone. Notice how the most of the Beltway's eastern half, going through Prince George's County, is yellow. If you're driving from, say, Largo to Greenbelt, your trip is probably a little slower than usual, but still fine.

There aren't too many people in that situation, as most of the region's jobs are located on the west side, in places like Bethesda and Tysons Corner. One of the reasons why traffic was so bad last night, and relatively bad every other night, is because every morning thousands of people have to travel from one side of the region to the other.

Commuters are then faced with a choice: pay more to live near your job, whether it's in DC, Tysons or elsewhere, or spend less money on a home farther away from your job. That doesn't always mean moving to a more distant suburb. For many, the most affordable housing choice, and often the only affordable housing choice, is in Prince George's County, right on the District line.

There are lots of ways to fix this problem, like providing more housing in places like Tysons Corner where people already work, or putting more jobs in places like Prince George's County where people already live.

These solutions won't help anyone in traffic last night, but if implemented, they'll make future rush hours more bearable for people on both sides of the Beltway.

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