Philadelphia Is Growing, But the Car Population Is Shrinking

Next City writer John Geeting has been crunching numbers, and he says that Philadelphia—never a car oasis to begin with—is seeing a substantial rise in its non-car-using population:

Between 2005 and 2011, Philadelphia’s population grew by 10,996 households, and 6,919 of those, or 62.92 percent, did not own a car.

But it’s the second half of that period that is really surprising. Between 2009 and 2011, when Center City population growth started to accelerate, the share of car-free households increased by more than 244 percent.

The number of households increased by 6,594, but those identifying as non-car owners jumped by 16,127 — much more than the net growth in the number of households.

We’ll see if this trend holds when the 2012 American Community Survey results come out in September, but the most recent evidence we have shows that there were fewer car-owning households in 2011 than in 2009. Either Philadelphians have been retiring their cars, or population churn has been replacing car-owning households with car-free households.

What’s this mean? Aside from the fact that we’re all getting skinnier from all the walking we’re doing, Geeting suggests that efforts to restore minimum parking requirements to portions of Philadelphia’s new residential zoning code are wrong-headed. “With bike share allegedly rolling out next year, and car share networks gaining popularity,” Geeting observes, “it’s only going to get easier and more convenient to live car-free.”