To Continue as a Leader, Arlington Must Look to Future of Transportation

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Nicholas Scherer of the George Mason TPOL program presents at Mobility Lab

Arlington, Virginia is a well-known national leader when it comes to fiscally responsible practices of transit-oriented development and transportation demand management.

For many years, Arlington has primarily focused its attention on the “low-hanging fruit” of encouraging people to take Metro, bus, walk, and bicycle instead of their cars when possible. This work has been done mainly by focusing on outreach to salaried workers in the county – people whose employers are more likely to extend the federal transit benefit.

8-80 Recomms

However, in a compelling report to Mobility Lab, a talented group of transportation policy graduate students from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy have made specific program recommendations to extend the benefits of TOD and TDM to two important age demographics, Arlington’s youth and senior populations.

The recommendations address deficiencies faced by senior citizens, such as the many Arlington sidewalks and road crossings that don’t yet meet Americans with Disability Act requirements. Others addressed concerns voiced by parents, such as a belief that the county’s on-street bike lanes are not safe enough for children’s use.

The 80-page book of recommendations for Arlington County was presented this past week at Mobility Lab by the students. The 2014 Transportation Policy, Operations, and Logistics (TPOL) Practicum Team was led by Dr. Laurie Schintler in partnership with Mobility Lab.

Arlington County: 8-80 Cities Recommendations (PDF) follows the principles of 8-80 Cities, a Canadian based non-profit with an international outlook, promoting walking and bicycling, urban parks, trails, and other public spaces as great ways to improve communities. The students used Mobility Lab information to make the recommendations more transportation-related than what 8-80 Cities provides in that realm.

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Brian Bancy of TPOL

Over the course of a very short semester (one that included a lot of disruptive winter weather), the program acquired its data of child and senior needs from 50 survey responses by parents of 5- to 12-year-olds in Arlington schools and 52 survey responses by seniors aged 65 and up at Culpepper Garden Senior Residence in the Ballston area of Arlington.

The students’ main recommendation to help Arlington stay ahead of the curve is to follow more of the international urban-planning trends rather than just those that are happening in other U.S. cities.

Some of the other interesting and promising recommendations offered include:

Biking and walking to school: 75 percent of parents surveyed rated these kinds of trips to school as various degrees of unsafe. Further, about half of those called the routes “extremely unsafe.” To encourage walking and bicycling, the parents suggested the county focus on improvements like wider sidewalks, traffic calming, more crossing guards, among other items, especially in areas within close proximity to schools. At least then, children who live close to schools could walk and bike.

Mobility in areas with lots of seniors: 61 percent of senior trips are for basic needs like groceries, pharmacy pickups, or retail shopping. 35 percent would like to do more social and personal trips if transportation were not an issue. Seniors follow travel routines based on comfort, and they tend to use phones to call transportation services rather than look up information for services on the internet. Like with the children, recommendations included street and sidewalk repairs be implemented first around senior centers. More use of rubberized sidewalks would also cause fewer injuries from falling on pavement and would promote fewer cracking and uneven surfaces, especially around tree roots.

More Complete Streets and Open Streets: There is much more room for Arlington to temporarily close specific streets in commercial areas for pedestrians to visit vendors and for bicycling events. Also, space above highways and on building roofs could be better utilized to increase aesthetic value and green space in what is essentially a county with nowhere left to build out.

Bikeshare: Arlington could gradually incorporate tricycles and electric-assisted bicycles into its portion of the Capital Bikeshare system. The San Francisco region, through City CarShare, has begun using electric bikes. B-Trikes have been added to the San Antonio B-Cycle system as well as Madison, Wisconsin’s B-Cycle network.

Gaming: Creative use of educational gaming can go a long way in promoting biking and walking to school. Such games could identify safe routes, help the kids connect with friends, offer notifications from crossing guards, and offer awards to players. The GMU students did not know of any specific examples in existence of good gaming for safe routes to school.

Digital Signage: More digital signage of nearby transportation options is recommended in senior centers and residences. They have already been proven to work well in Arlington County buildings, bus stations, and Metrorail stations.

Private Taxis: These could be utilized for senior services and subsidized by the county. And private taxis have been shown to be more cost effective than paratransit services.

Grocery Delivery Vouchers: The students proposed that the county purchase discount grocery and pharmacy delivery vouchers to provide to seniors. These could provide something like $99 annual passes for delivery, which would deeply discount, for example, per-delivery charges of around $10 currently offered by companies like Peapod.

Other Improvements: Back-in angle parking eliminates parallel parking and makes it easier for young and older people to park and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. County-sponsored “Family Nights” would encourage families to stay home one night a week to have dinner and activities together, with the added benefit of minimizing traffic. (Interesting side notes to this: An average American adult eats five meals out per week, and one in five meals or snacks by American adults are eaten in a vehicle.)

Photos by M.V. Jantzen

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