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Progressive Voice: Transportation Options in Arlington Work Pretty Well, Until You Have Kids

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Kelley Coyner

When I first came to Arlington as a college student I stayed to launch a career, lured my city-centric fiancé to the suburbs and returned from graduate studies and other adventures. Back then Metro worked and walking and driving worked pretty well for me and my husband.

Over time, that changed. We added three children (now in their teens and 20s) to the mix, expanded our friendships across ages, focused our professional lives locally and adopted a lighter car diet — primarily for financial reasons.

Like others, we soon realized that even as Arlington pressed forward with travel options, things did not work so well for families with young children, for school-age kids and for older adults.

Want to use a car share to make the deadline for extended day or preschool pickup? Beware there is no car seat.

Your teens work after school or help with younger children? Teens may be able to take a school bus on a fixed schedule. But their independent travel is limited by the lack of cross-county north-south bus service.

Even walking and biking to school and to Metro is hampered by competing views of the value of sidewalks, safety concerns about biking and more.

Eager to get to sports practice, theater rehearsals, tutoring or dance lessons? If it’s not an after-school event, getting around is hard without a culture of carpooling or ways for older kids to get themselves where they need to go.

Although it has been a while since I had a preschooler, I still get flagged down in Ballston with the question, “Aren’t you the lady who used to carry a booster seat on your back?”

In the year we lived carless, our family started the transportation day waiting at the bus stop in a busy construction zone. Why the booster seat? On the way back to pick the kids up from school, I would snag a Zip Car to make the six o’clock pickups at Key School and at preschool in Clarendon.

More than 10 years later, car sharing still is not helpful for a family with carseat kids. Seems like if car shares can find a way to add bike racks, they could figure out something for car seats.

In the meantime, we could, with some intentionality and innovation, give Arlington’s families more options to easily stay mobile by:

  1. Rethinking ART bus routes and pilot cross-county service so that high schoolers do not have to change buses mid-county.
  2. Taking into account middle schoolers and high schoolers as the county considers flexible routes and new services north of Lee Highway. These new approaches might also provide carless options for older adults looking to travel in and around Arlington.
  3. Expanding the trails across Arlington with a focus on separated bike lanes.
  4. Prioritizing sidewalks and other pedestrian-safety investments in walk zones for all Arlington’s schools.
  5. Recognizing how the needs of older adults align with those of younger walkers, bikers and transit riders. And keep in mind that accessibility concerns cut across generations for physically, visually and cognitively limited individuals.

You can contribute your solutions and support now to any of the ideas above as a combined County and Schools task force analyzes walking, biking and other family-friendly options in Arlington.

Of course a strong, reliable and safe Metro system is the backbone for commuting and for family-friendly transportation in Arlington. But last week as I saw news of the Metro shutdown at Virginia Square, I shuddered.

“Thank goodness I did not have to sweat getting my kids from extended day and preschool after commuting. And thank goodness I wasn’t counting on dropping my 80-year-old mother at a smoky Metro Station to visit the museums.”

Arlington needs to do more to expand practical, workable and safe options beyond the rail system. Arlington needs to do more to make it easier for kids, families and older adults to get around within our 26 square miles.

Kelley Coyner is CEO and Founder of Mobility e3. She lives, walks and rides the bus in central Arlington.

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