Today’s Washington Post article on the recently released American Community Survey (ACS) journey to work data noted some very interesting trends in the DC region since 2000, Public transit use has increased from 11% of all commutes to 14% and drive alone commuting has decreased from 68% to 66%. Arlington County Commuter Services has been conducting research over the last several years that corroborate this trend and more. According to the ACS, for Arlington the transit number is 22% and drive-alone is 54% - a huge difference from the regional average. The Post article by Carol Morello and Dan Keating cites higher gas prices and changing demographics as among the reasons behind these changes, which are quite true. However, in Arlington there are also many factors at work that are a result of conscious policies to reduce reliance on driving and produce less traffic and associated benefits for the business climate and quality of life.
On one hand, Arlington has designed its growth plan around the Metrorail and bus systems, and has development requirements that result in compact, mixed-use “urban villages” which are highly walkable and served by excellent public transit, bike routes, and HOV facilities. This has the twin advantages of making it easier to get around without having to drive, and has proven to attract people who enjoy the urban amenities and less car-dependent lifestyle, including the vital younger generations referenced in the article.
On the other hand, Arlington County Commuter Services provides one of the most comprehensive sets of services in the US to help residents and employees understand and use the myriad choices other than driving, such as rail and bus transit, walking, biking, carpooling, and telework. Research shows that these services entice people to switch from driving alone to other modes and thus take 41,000 trips off the roads in Arlington on the average workday in 2010. When you consider that one lane of urban interstate highway typically carries 5,000 – 6,000 vehicles during the 3 hour rush period, these trips taken off the road reduce traffic congestion dramatically. You can see and feel the difference in Arlington where traffic counts on most of the County’s major arterial streets have remained flat or actually decreased over the past 10 years. This is a pretty amazing fact in the core of the DC region.
Research has documented that these benefits are not lost on the residents and businesses in the County. Residents’ satisfaction with transportation in Arlington raises their perception of their quality of life by 9%, while business leaders cite transportation/ease of access to be the number one reason to locate a business in Arlington.
The story behind the numbers is one that brings very tangible benefits to those who live and work in Arlington, and it is no accident.
Howard Jennings is Director of Research and Development for Arlington County Commuter Services and is a Metrorail and bike commuter.