You wouldn't guess it from the inbound traffic jams on the Jones Falls Expressway, but Baltimore City continued to wither as a work destination during the 1990s, while Baltimore and Howard counties blossomed.
Commuting data from the 2000 census released today show that Baltimore County, which overtook the city in population during the 1990s, was poised to surpass the city as a workplace, too, with more than 371,700 people commuting to jobs there in April 2000.
Harford, Carroll and Anne Arundel became more like bedroom communities during the 1990s, supplying jobs for shrinking proportions of their residents. But Baltimore County and Howard County headed in the opposite direction, providing jobs for a growing segment of their populations.
"Baltimore, like other, older central cities, is competing with the newer, shinier suburban ring," said Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin. "It's got some assets. It still has a thriving downtown and still has mass transit aimed at its hub. We'll have to see if that's enough to keep its job base."
The increasing tangle of traffic within and between counties makes it almost impossible for traditional mass transit to serve commuters who are now headed every which way in their cars.
"It's something that confounds the whole transit industry," said Henry Kay, planning director for the Maryland Transit Administration. "We're spending public money. We can't afford to go chasing after every trip."
That leaves growing legions of suburb-to-suburb commuters in their cars. About 75 percent of Marylanders commute alone, and their drive times are increasing, the census shows.
"This trend has really strained the [Baltimore] Beltway and other interstate highways, which weren't designed with this type of growth in mind," said Cherlin. "So as we're widening the Beltway to four lanes on the west side, by the time we do, we'll probably need five lanes."
The latest census figures are estimates, derived from the answers to "long form" questionnaires filled out by one household in six on April 1, 2000.
The commuting question asked: "At what location did this person work last week?"
The data tell a continuing tale of the departure of people and jobs from Baltimore. The decline began in the 1950s when the city's population peaked at 950,000. By 2000 it had fallen to 651,154.
Many forces paved the exit ramps: white flight, the departure of urban factory jobs, growing suburban job centers, increasing wealth and car ownership, interstate highways, and the pursuit of suburban lifestyles, better schools and safer neighborhoods.
Many big employers have left town. A recent report by the Goldseker Foundation found that just three of the region's 10 largest employment centers are in Baltimore, compared with seven of 10 four decades ago.
During the 1990s, Baltimore City lost 84,000 residents, more than 11 percent of its population. But the number of people coming to work each day in Baltimore City sank even faster, by 13.7 percent.
Almost all of those lost jobs had been held by city residents in 1990. A decade later, barely 45 percent of the 342,000 jobs in Baltimore were held by city residents, down from 51 percent in 1990.
At the same time, about 14,000 Baltimore County residents who had commuted into the city in 1990 were no longer showing up.
"We want more jobs," said Gloria Griffin, manager of special projects for the city's planning department. "We want people to work in the city and live in the city."
A proposed East Baltimore biotech park and the creation of new housing downtown and on the west side could help reverse the job losses, said Dunbar Brooks, a demographer with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
"You have to create housing opportunities to generate more service and retail employment," he said.
Notably absent from the data is any evidence of the ballyhooed migration of Washington residents to Baltimore, where they rehabilitate old houses and commute to their Washington jobs by rail.
The number of people living in Baltimore and working in Washington actually declined by 132 during the 1990s. (The city has since stepped up its marketing to capital-area residents.)
As the city's employment picture faded during the 1990s, Baltimore County's grew brighter.
The number of people working in the county grew by more than 23,000, bringing it within a few hundred of Baltimore City's total in 2000. By now, the county has likely surpassed the city as a job destination for the first time.
More than half of the county's residents also worked there in 2000. County officials credit economic development efforts that drew major employers to its growth centers, including MBNA, Allison Transmission and Toyota Financial Services.
Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller said the county has also created an attractive mix of housing in its commercial corridors - apartments, townhouses, condominiums and single-family homes. That makes it possible for a broad range of people to live and work in the same area.