When stay-at-home directives began to be put in place in March 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was evident commute travel patterns would change during the pandemic. But what about non-work travel? Did Arlington residents change when, why, or how they traveled for errands and leisure activities since the pandemic started? To get data that can help answer these questions, we can refer to the 2021 Arlington Resident Travel Survey and Special Analysis report for more information.
The 2021 Arlington Resident Travel Survey and Special Analysis report provides an in-depth profile of commute and non-work travel patterns and travel behavior of Arlington County residents. The report also provides insight into the level of awareness and satisfaction that residents have regarding transportation resources and services in Arlington County.
The 2021 survey was conducted from May to July 2021, using a representative sample of Arlington residents. Due to the timing of the survey, the survey included additional questions aimed at better understanding travel behavior as the COVID-19 pandemic continued into 2021. To provide better context to travel behavior during this time, the 2021 survey asked questions about current travel behavior, as well as any changes made to frequency or choice of mode since the pandemic began. Having both datapoints help provide a more nuanced understanding of reported travel patterns on the back of travel behavior changes in response to the pandemic.
Based on the 2021 survey results, while non-work travel modes generally mirrored commute modes (i.e., drive alone commuters were likely to drive alone for non-work trips), non-work travel in Arlington changed in the following ways since the pandemic began: driving alone and walking surged in popularity, while use of shared modes such as ridehailing and transit (e.g., train and bus) dropped dramatically.
Non-work travel patterns
According to the survey results, 97% of respondents reported making a non-work trip in the most recent weekday or most recent weekend. Non-work trips are trips made for more varied purposes other than traveling to a workplace location. To illustrate, among Arlington residents the most frequently cited purposes of non-work trips are errands (74%), shopping (70%), and restaurant/meal trips (66%).
Non-work trips were slightly more common on weekends: 95% made a non-work trip on a Saturday or Sunday compared to 85% who made a non-work trip on a weekday. On weekends it was more likely for Arlington residents to go on non-work trips for shopping, restaurant visits or meals, social, and entertainment purposes. On the other hand, trips for personal or work-related meetings/appointments were made more often on weekdays.
Mode split for non-work trips
While driving alone was the most common mode for non-work travel in general, 48% made a non-work trip by walking, and 22% took some form of transit such as a train or bus. Use of bicycle/scooter and taxi/ridehailing services for non-work trips were almost at par with each other, at 16% and 15%, respectively.
Modes used for non-work trips appeared to mirror pre-pandemic commute modes. According to the survey data, 64% of pre-pandemic transit commuters used transit for a non-work trip, 69% of pre-pandemic bike commuters rode a bike for a non-work trip, and 83% of those who walked to work before the pandemic also walked for a non-work trip.
Modes used for non-work trips also appeared to vary depending on where respondents lived in Arlington County. Residents of areas near the Metrorail corridor were most likely to take transit, walk, or use ridehailing services for non-work travel. To illustrate, 65% of Rosslyn-Ballston residents walked and 35% took transit for non-work trips. Similarly, 61% of Route 1 Corridor residents walked and 40% took transit for non-work trips. On the other hand, Arlington residents living in areas farther from the Metrorail corridors were more likely to drive alone for non-work travel: 86% of Shirlington residents, 73% of Columbia Pike residents, 80% of residents living in all other areas north of Route 50, and 84% of residents living in all other areas south of Route 50.
More walking, biking and drive alone; less transit use
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, respondents reported increased use of active transportation modes for non-work trips: 51% net increase in walking and 12% net increase in using a personal bicycle. On the other hand, driving alone for non-work trips also increased (23% net increase). Respondents also reported using transit less for non-work trips (62% net decrease).
The uptick in walking for non-work trips was driven by respondents going out for walks as a form of exercise/recreation. Of those that reported walking more, 58% walked more for both exercise trips and to reach a destination with a non-exercise purpose. There were more respondents who reported walking more for exercise/recreation (31%) than those who replaced it with another mode (11%).
Respondents reported decreasing their use of shared modes such as transit, ridehail, and taxi in 2021. Transit use exhibited the largest net change (-62%), followed by ridehail (-43%), and taxi (-28%).
Use of transit for non-work travel in 2021 was lower than in 2015. In 2021, the share of respondents who report at least some occasional non-work travel (i.e., at least once per month) via transit dropped to 68%, compared to 87% in 2015. In fact, the share of respondents who report never using transit for non-work trips grew to 32% in 2021 compared to only 13% in the 2015 survey.
It should be noted that while the survey did not ask about trip reduction in terms of number of trips, the results above suggest that based on survey responses collected in 2021, there was a general pattern of Arlington residents shifting away from shared modes where they would encounter other travelers (e.g., transit, ridehail, taxi, drive/ride with others) and shifting towards individual modes where encounters with other travelers are reduced (e.g., drive alone, walking, personal bicycle).