Analysis of military base travel choices leads to improved pedestrian connections, more transportation options

Arlington’s work to improve military base transportation options gets top marks

Look at a map of Arlington County, Virginia, and it’s easy to see just how much of it is covered by Arlington National Cemetery and the crescent moon-shaped Fort Myer-Henderson Hall military base on its western border.

But, considering Arlington’s wide array of public transportation options, it’s eye-opening that the people living and working on the base cannot access many of the options available throughout other parts of the county.

That should change on August 1, when Fort Myer-Henderson Hall’s Henry Gate – completely closed to pedestrians and drivers since September 11, 2001, for security concerns – becomes accessible for military pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Right outside the Henry Gate along Arlington Boulevard, there is Capital Bikeshare, bus stops, a bike trail, and Zipcars,” said Brendan Casey of Arlington Transportation Partners, which worked with base officials, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, and Ashley Robbins of Mobility Lab to explore ways to reduce the vast ratio of people driving to get in and around the area.

Robbins added, “The barracks are in close proximity to the Henry Gate, but the enlisted officers and their families who live on base currently have no easy access to the facilities just outside of that gate. In order to get to a bus stop or even bikeshare, they have to leave from a gate much further away and walk nearly half way around the base.”

Over about eight months, ATP and Mobility Lab met with base officials, culminating in a survey garnering 467 responses across both military and civilian populations.

The survey found that 88 percent of the commuting population drives alone. Some recommendations to lower this include:

  • Most military personnel commuting to the base report at the same time, so drive-alone rates could be reduced by forming carpools or vanpools. Currently, there are very few due to lack of awareness of local ride-matching and incentive programs like Vanpool Connect and Commuter Connections.
  • The underutilized current government-vehicle fleet could be downsized and in some cases replaced by more cost-effective private carsharing companies like car2go and Zipcar. This would ultimately reduce the need for long-term parking on base, which will become even more necessary as the cemetery expands onto the base’s land.
  • Re-opening the Henry Gate to pedestrians, which received overwhelming support among all surveyed, including those who live off of the base.

Along with other key findings in the survey, some of the most interesting information came from comments written into the survey by respondents, including:

  • “While I lived on post a few months back, I would request an Uber or taxi. One of two things would happen. One being the Uber directions took them through Henry Gate which I could not reach. Two, taxis have to wait 20 mins for background checks and searches in which case they hate to leave their vehicle so they would just refuse to come. Henry Gate being opened for pedestrians would be overall beneficial to these young soldiers to leave and enter post. Using Uber, Lyft, taxi, bus routes, and bicycles all around in any fashion would help these soldiers.”
  • “Considering the difficulties that taxis, Uber, and Lyft have getting on post, all of which are perfectly understandable for security, it has become increasingly difficult to access public and really ANY form of transportation. Opening Henry Gate will open up a whole new world to the soldiers, civilians, and families who live and work here. Metrobus is right outside the gate, taxi’s and other forms of car rides could pickup and dropoff at Pershing Shoppes. Metrobus will give much better access to Metrorail, Capital Bikeshare will allow everyone more access to extracurricular activity and exercise, AND it will boost the local economy. More importantly, it will encourage our soldiers to get out of the barracks and boost morale. I cannot stress how many times when we’ve gone out, including with our neighbors, to Clarendon and discussed how much better it would be if the Henry Gate were open so we could just walk to our destination! PLEASE OPEN THAT GATE!”

Casey of ATP confirmed that lots of rides booked on the base through Uber and Lyft are indeed cancelled. Part of the plan once the Henry Gate opens is to create a “geofence” – a set pickup location across the street from the gate – where Ubers and Lyfts can retrieve passengers.

Fort Myer-Hendeson Hall location

The location of the Henry Gate, with Fort Myer-Henderson Hall to the east.

In a letter to ATP and Mobility Lab, Todd Bowers, director of UberMILITARY, applauded the analysis that informed the move. “The research that you and your team provided was incredible and should be a national standard (in my humble opinion) for every military installation. Without understanding the problem in full, we will never solve the issues at hand.”

While opening the Henry Gate will vastly increase the ease of access to transportation options around the base, base officials still needs to address the difficulties paratransit services have accessing the base in order to serve people with disabilities. The base would like to have a pre-screened list of paratransit drivers who have passed a background check so that they can efficiently get on base for pickups and drop offs. However, MetroAccess and STAR do not have cleared drivers on staff. Without a large pool of pre-screened drivers, this potential solution will be difficult to implement.

No doubt there are unique needs – such as security concerns – on military bases around the country. But there may often be too little coordination between transportation agencies and these bases. Drive-alone rates and accessibility to public transportation are two of the first baseline statistics to grasp. From there, it becomes easier to start measuring progress and, more importantly, positively blending our military population into communities in ways not previously considered.

Photo: The Henry Gate pedestrian entrance (black box in the center of the image) in 2012. Since then an improved portion of the Arlington Boulevard Trail has been added to the streetscape. (Image from Google Streetview)

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