Science fiction fans will recognize this plot line. A woman travels into the past, telling her ancestors about her reality in the future, only to be called a lunatic because of the incredible nature of what she is saying.
Anyone who lives and works in 2013 Arlington, Virginia might be met with the same reaction if she were to go back to 1979 and tell someone about the county’s population, employment, and transportation trends.
Arlington’s population and employment have jumped nearly 40 percent over the past three decades. Meanwhile, traffic on major arterials like Wilson and Arlington Boulevards has increased at a much lower rate or even declined.
Nevertheless, according to our latest research (also embedded below), most executives and business managers based in Arlington County think it’s a fantastical notion that the county will meet its goal of capping rush-hour traffic at 2005 levels over the next two decades.
Of course, first these leaders had to learn that Arlington even has this target. Only 11 percent surveyed knew that the county actually intends to keep rush-hour trips and rush-hour vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) at or below 5 percent growth of their respective 2005 levels by 2030 (PDF; 1 MB). This goal is in place even though Arlington County planners expect that the population will rise by 19 percent and jobs will increase by 42 percent over that same period.
Once business leaders heard about the cap, a majority (61 percent) agreed that keeping traffic near 2005 levels is important to achieve. However, given the growth projections, it’s not surprising that so many in our business community do not think that we can get to our goal. It may be worth reminding them that other jurisdictions have more aggressive targets. San José, California, for one, wants to reduce the VMT within its borders by 40 percent from its 2009 level by 2040.
Arlington County Commuter Services continues to refine the way in which the county government keeps a lid on traffic with the infrastructure already in place. In 2012, ACCS’s outreach work throughout the county shifted 45,000 car trips each work day from a solo-driven car to some other form of transportation. The Silver Line’s opening at the end of the year will give new options for the large numbers of Fairfax County residents who travel into Arlington or through it to Washington D.C.
Yet now is also a time in which many of our region’s transportation visionaries and transit providers are thinking big about the future. The Coalition for Smarter Growth just released a report that catalogues the many existing plans to improve transit across the region in order to get us Thinking Big, Planning Smart, and Metro’s Momentum plan for improvements by 2040 is a expression of what the heart of our region’s transportation success could look like for the next generation.
Clearly, the billions of dollars needed to make these and other investments possible will not appear out of thin air and, as a community, the D.C. region will need to make bold decisions (just as Arlington has by strictly following its transportation vision set out in the 1970s).
Luckily, Arlington’s business community seems to be on board. Seventy-nine percent think that improving the transit system is important. And Arlington’s track record of success and the attitudes found in our survey of business leaders indicate that meeting the county’s traffic goal is realistic after all.
Does your community have an explicit goal to cap traffic? If so, we would like to hear about it, because seeing the state of practice helps us all make the case that taming traffic is, in fact, possible. Just like in science fiction, it only seems crazy because we have not done it yet.