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.
"The idea is that ... people would want to live as close as they could to work, and if the opportunity is there, they would avail of it," he said.
The number of commuters to Baltimore County from other suburbs also grew sharply.
"The question is, will this trend continue?" said Cherlin. "We don't really know. Some people think we haven't seen the end of job growth in the suburbs. Others think the cities are beginning to hold their own."
There was no evidence of a slowdown in suburban job growth in the 2000 census data.
Howard County was still primarily a bedroom for its own residents. Only 38 percent worked in Howard, the smallest proportion in the region, but that was up from 31 percent a decade before.
What Howard did was draw increasing numbers of workers from other counties. Overall employment grew by nearly 35 percent to almost 120,000, the fastest job growth in the area and nearly five times the rate in Baltimore County. Most of those Howard workers come from other jurisdictions where housing may be more affordable.
"I used to work in Baltimore City for a couple of years. No more," said Bethany Crouse, 33, a business development specialist who drives from Catonsville to her Columbia office.
"Parking [in the city] was a major issue, and just dealing with traffic," she said. "Mile-wise, it's about even, but the commute [to Howard] is so much easier. ... We're going against the traffic, so it's very easy to get here."
Many of the new jobs have been in the financial, health care, technology and manufacturing industries. The Columbia Gateway Business Park, with nearly 600 acres west of Interstate 95, has boomed in the past decade. BGE Home's corporate headquarters are there, as is CareFirst's network management operations.
Troy Hill Corporate Center, off U.S. 1 in Elkridge, sprang to life in the mid-1990s and is nearly built out now with distribution facilities, offices and light manufacturing buildings.
Howard County commuters are still more likely to work in the Baltimore area than Washington, although there are signs that will change.
Overall, about 41,000 Howard commuters set out daily to jobs in the Baltimore region, compared with 39,000 bound for Washington and its environs. But the growth rates were higher among those headed for jobs in and around the capital.
Bill Woodcock, 35, a Columbia resident, commutes to a job in Baltimore - one of the rare workers in Howard County who takes a bus.
"There's a stop about 100 yards or so away from my house," said Woodcock. The simple commute was a "big factor" in his recent decision to work as a research administrator at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore. "It's a very efficient means of travel. To get door to door takes me about 35 minutes."
Elsewhere, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties continued to grow and evolve into bedroom communities.
The number of people commuting to jobs in Arundel grew by 4.6 percent during the 1990s, to a total of 225,000. But the portion of Arundel residents who also worked there slipped from 60 percent to just over 56 percent.
Many of them headed to Washington and its suburbs. More than 10 percent of working Arundel residents - 26,270 people - drove to jobs in Prince George's County in 2000, while 15,900 went to the District of Columbia. More than 22,800 commuted to Baltimore City but the growth rate of Washington-bound traffic was much higher.
The number of Arundel residents going to jobs in Howard County grew by more than 66 percent to 14,000.
Carroll County saw an increase of 8,600 jobs during the 1990s. But only 45 percent of its own residents held jobs inside the county, a small decline from 1990.
Twenty percent of Carroll's out-of-county commuters trekked to jobs in Baltimore County, followed by Baltimore City, with 8 percent. But the fastest-growing destinations for Carroll commuters were Frederick County (up 66 percent) and Prince George's County (up 75 percent).
Harford County provided work for more than 75,700 people, a gain of 15 percent from 1990. But a growing percentage of those who found affordable homes in Harford were commuting to jobs elsewhere.
More than 42,000 Harford residents (about 38 percent) were commuting to jobs in Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
The fastest-growing destination for Harford commuters - up by more than 120 percent - was Howard County. Nearly 2,000 people were making the long drive south on I-95, past Baltimore.
Sun staff writers Andrew Green, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Stephen Kiehl and Eric Siegel contributed to this article.