The title of today’s column is a common adage in the planning world that’s at least 30 years old; I regret that I do not know its original source to provide credit.
At its heart, it reflects the insight that the best way to ensure people can quickly and easily get to the places that they need to go is to ensure that they don’t have to go as far to get there – trips, on average, become shorter.
For motorists, shorter trip lengths mean you drive through fewer intersections and along fewer segments of street which means fewer cars on each street at a time which means less congestion. Shorter trips are also more convenient for active transportation like walking and biking – many folks would walk a few blocks to a restaurant who wouldn’t walk a mile. Many folks would bike a mile to a doctor’s appointment would wouldn’t bike 10 miles. The result? More trips by means other than car.
Many parts of Arlington’s land use plan embrace this. Arlington’s original “urban village” planning maxim was designed around creating neighborhoods, centered around good transit, where people had ready access to work, play and everyday needs like shopping.
For someone living in the denser corridors of Arlington, a huge number of useful destinations are reachable on foot, many more by bike and even more by frequent transit. They may choose to have a car, or some may need a car because of a job located far from transit or a job that requires traveling to many different sites on a daily basis, but many are able to happily live car-free or car-lite and those who do drive generally make shorter trips in those cars.
This growth strategy, along with continued investment in multimodal transportation facilities has allowed Arlington to grow its economy and its population while also holding traffic levels relatively stead, adding new parks (like Long Bridge Park and Mosaic Park) and reducing the relative carbon impact of our residents.
As Arlington embarks on a Missing Middle Housing study, a look at transportation and density in Pentagon City, the Plan Lee Highway Study and a re-examination of some details of the Clarendon Sector Plan, we would do well to remember that everything is easier, from a transportation standpoint, if you let people live nearer to where they want to go on a regular basis.
Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.