We spend a lot of time praising neighborhood walkability and proximity to transit. But how valuable is the ability to walk to the grocery store if residents still need to drive a long distance to get to work?

A map of “Opportunity Score” values from Redfin for the DC area, with county boundaries added by the contributor.  Scores are based on the number of jobs paying $40,000/year or more accessible by a transit commute of less than half an hour from a given point.

The real-estate company Redfin recently released an online tool called “Opportunity Score”

that lets you explore the number of jobs that are accessible by transit from any address in a number of metro areas, including DC.

For any address in an area that the tool covers, the tool can calculate a numerical score between zero (least transit-accessible jobs) and one hundred (most transit accessible jobs). Alternatively, by searching for a metro area without a specific address, you can see a color-coded map of the numerical scores throughout the region, where green corresponds to the highest scores and red to the lowest.

The Transit Score map for the DC area reveals some interesting, if not entirely surprising, patterns.  Thanks to Metro and good bus service, nearly everywhere within DC, Arlington, and Alexandria has good transit access to jobs.

Some places farther out are similar: several areas in Fairfax County (particularly in the vicinities of Tysons and Reston) and a large part of Montgomery County (in Silver Spring and along the Wisconsin Avenue-Rockville Pike corridor) have very good access to jobs.

In Prince George’s County, however, things are quite different. The relative lack of high-paying jobs in the county and the low density around most of its Metro stations, along with more limited bus service, result in there being very few areas in the county where it is possible to commute to many jobs by transit in under thirty minutes.

Notably, the Prince George’s County section of the Purple Line will connect a number of areas with low access to jobs to the employment centers in Bethesda and Silver Spring.  However, this will serve only a very small portion of the county.  Better bus service as well as increasing density in the more transit-accessible parts of the county are also essential to scaling back the car-dependence of commutes in Prince George’s.

The tool might not be as useful for some as it is others

It is worth noting that Opportunity Score, which is based on Redfin’s Walk Score tool, has a couple of notable limitations. The list of jobs only includes ones that pay over $40,000/year, so it doesn’t tell you anything about the commutes to low-paying jobs (and people with those jobs are particularly likely to use transit). 

It also considers some commuting options that only run at rush hour (i.e., I could take the Camden Line from my apartment in College Park, but it only runs at rush hour, so it doesn’t do me much good if I have a night shift job, for example).

Most jobs that pay over $40,000 do follow the usual 9-to-5, though, so the fact that some of the transit considered is rush-hour-only will matter less to people looking for those jobs than to service workers looking for lower-paying jobs, but who will need to commute at less standard hours.

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DW Rowlands is an adjunct chemistry professor and Prince George’s County native, currently living in College Park. More of their writing on transportation-related and other topics can be found on their website.  They also write on DC transportation and demographic issues for the DC Policy Center, where they are a Fellow. In their spare time, they volunteer for Prince George’s Advocates for Community-Based Transit. However, the views expressed here are their own.