(Updated 6:00 p.m.) A new survey shows that a majority of Arlingtonians are satisfied with public transit, but their levels of satisfaction vary by geography.
Mobility Lab, a division of Arlington County Commuter Services, surveyed county residents last year to gauge travel patterns for work and non-work trips as well as concerns about public transit. This “state of the commute” survey was last conducted in 2010 and 2016, and the 2021 results included additional information about the pandemic’s effect on travel in Arlington.
ACCS uses the data to improve how it markets bicycling, walking and transit options to residents, businesses, and commercial and residential property managers, said Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors. Those people-facing efforts include Bike Arlington, Walk Arlington and Arlington Transportation Partners.
“The primary uses of ACCS surveys are to check how well these programs are running,” she told ARLnow.
Of the 4,213 respondents, 71% of residents said they were satisfied with transit in Arlington. But people living along Metro corridors were happier with their options than people living in parts of South Arlington where the bus is the main transit mode.
People living along the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors were the most satisfied with their options, at 81% and 75%, respectively. And they were more likely to be members of Capital Bikeshare, at 37% and 38%, respectively.
Outside of the Metrorail corridor, the survey found satisfaction levels of 64% in Shirlington, 58% in Columbia Pike and 64% in what was deemed “Other South.” Shirlington residents reported lower rates of availability for various transportation services in general and only 13% said they had a Bikeshare membership.
Pors said a takeaway from the survey for ACCS might be that they need to focus their outreach in Shirlington “to make sure they’re aware of their options… and make sure apartment managers are talking to tenants, and using daily face time to make sure they’re fully informed.”
What the data will not do, Pors said, is set which transit projects to prioritize — for instance, applying more time and staff to improving bus transit along the Pike over adding a second entrance to the Ballston Metro station.
Concerns about safety and long waits
While generally happy with their options, Arlingtonians did have some gripes with the transit system, including how long one must wait for the bus or Metrorail as opposed to driving.
Nearly 40% said they would have to wait too long for transit to arrive while another 35% said the trip would take too long.
As for barriers to bicycling, two-thirds of residents said they don’t feel safe riding a bike in traffic, while another 37% mentioned concerns about the network of bike paths or bike lanes.
The pandemic spurs changes
The survey showed how transit use for non-work trips changed during the pandemic. While remote work contributed to the widely reported steep drop in Metro ridership, between 2015 and 2021, transit use for non-work trips also declined from 87% to 68%.
But one form of transportation increased during the pandemic: walking. About 34% reported walking “somewhat more” for non-work trips and 22% walking “much more.”
In fact, many respondents said the most important transportation needs facing the county post-pandemic are ones that take them outside: walking (58%) and cycling and scooting (42%).
Meanwhile, most respondents said they won’t be changing their commuting mode anytime soon: 81% who drove alone, 82% who used transit, and 71% who biked or walked indicated they would keep doing so post-pandemic.
Still, to chip away at those statistics, Arlington is embarking on extensive marketing efforts to encourage people to swipe their SmarTrip cards and stop driving.
“Through ACCS, [the county is] going to come out with more messaging to get people to feel comfortable on transit again,” Pors said. “There has been that loyal set of riders who’ve stayed through the pandemic. Maybe this is an opportunity for people who shifted to single-occupancy vehicles to try something new, and pitching bus as that option.”
As commuters left to wet roadways this morning, predictions about when rain would switch to snow, and how much snow would fall, shifted.
Arlington is still under a Winter Weather Advisory until 1 p.m. today but Capital Weather Gang reports that the changeover to snow may be delayed in the D.C. area, lowering snow accumulation predictions.
The National Weather Service says snow accumulations up to 1 inch would mostly be on grassy areas. Arlington Public Schools closed today, using the school system’s last traditional snow day, in response to the initial weather advisory that forecast up to 2 inches of snow following rain during the morning commute.
Arlington County Department of Environmental Services tweeted that crews would focus on preventing ice buildup.
“With expectations dwindling for any significant snow today, County crews will focus on preventing ice buildup as temperatures drop below freezing this p.m. and stay there into Sunday. Plan for a slow Friday,” DES posted.
The National Weather Service said to plan on hazardous road conditions, slow down and use caution while driving.
“When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury,” the NWS advisory reads.
Wires were also down in the Lyon Park area, closing a section of Washington Blvd. between 2nd Road N. and 4th Street N., Arlington County Police said.
6:30a update: Switch from rain to snow may be DELAYED until 8 to 10a in DC area. This could lower accumulation potential somewhat to more like a coating to 1" (rather than closer to 2"). But quick burst of snow still possible after switch.
Details: https://t.co/QzFeGlwLwV pic.twitter.com/WTeKasytP4
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) January 20, 2022
See the latest update to the advisory below.
URGENT – WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
732 AM EST Thu Jan 20 2022
District of Columbia-Southern Baltimore-Prince Georges-
Anne Arundel-Charles-Central and Southeast Montgomery-
Central and Southeast Howard-Southeast Harford-
Prince William/Manassas/Manassas Park-Fairfax-
732 AM EST Thu Jan 20 2022
…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1 PM EST THIS
* WHAT…Rain briefly changing to snow by the end of the morning
commute, with snow accumulations of up to one inch mainly on
* WHERE…The Interstate 95 corridor from northeastern Maryland
through the Fredericksburg area, including the DC and Baltimore
* WHEN…Until 1 PM EST this afternoon.
* IMPACTS…Plan on slippery road conditions. The hazardous
conditions will impact the morning commute.
Slow down and use caution while traveling.
When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on
steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery,
increasing your risk of a fall and injury.
The National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory for Thursday morning, saying it expects between up to 2 inches of snow.
The advisory is set for between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. NWS forecasts rain and snow before noon, followed by a chance of snow between noon and 3 p.m. as temperatures fall to around 30 by 5 p.m.
The snowfall could bring closures, as Fairfax County schools already announced a virtual learning day.
The Capital Weather Gang says the timing of the expected snow could lead to a bad morning commute.
“As a strong cold front pushes south, rain will change to snow, which could be heavy for a time between about 7 and 10 a.m.,” according to the Capital Weather Gang. “It will probably too warm for the snow to stick at first. But, as temperatures fall, slick spots could develop, especially in our colder areas north and west of the Beltway.”
See the full advisory below.
…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 6 AM TO 1 PM EST
* WHAT…Snow. Snow accumulations of up to two inches with locally
higher amounts around three inches possible.
* WHERE…The District of Columbia, portions of central, northern
and southern Maryland, and central and northern Virginia.
* WHEN…From 6 AM to 1 PM EST Thursday.
* IMPACTS…Plan on slippery road conditions. The hazardous
conditions will impact the morning commute.
* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Precipitation will start as rain and then
switch over to snow during the Thursday morning commute.
Instructions: Slow down and use caution while traveling. When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury.
Arlington, Falls Church, Alexandria
Prince William, Manassas, Manassas Park
A mild day today ahead of a cold front moving through tonight. Light snow accumulations are possible into Thu morning. Conditions turn colder and more blustery thereafter. Still monitoring the winter storm threat on Fri evening into Sat morning. #MDwx #VAwx #DCwx #WVwx pic.twitter.com/Lj85Ln61r9
— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) January 19, 2022
APS Staff Vax Update — “Overall, 67 percent of all staff and 91 percent of instructional staff are fully vaccinated, and we are following up with all those who have not responded to the survey. This data will be compiled and finalized in early October. Regular testing is required for staff who are unvaccinated or did not respond to the survey.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Dog Reunited With Rescuers — “Arlington County firefighters were reunited with a dog they rescued from under a vehicle in August, according to a post on the fire department’s official Twitter account. Fire units responded on the evening of Aug. 9 for the report of a crash with injuries. Arriving on the scene, fire personnel determined that a dog named Sonny was trapped under a vehicle.” [Patch]
Photos from Wakefield vs. W-L — “In an intra-Arlington rivalry game, Wakefield High School defeated Washington-Liberty, 7-0, in varsity football action at W-L on Sept. 24, 2021. It was the fifth straight Wakefield victory over W-L in football competition.” [Sun Gazette]
Masseuse Misses Commute — “The pandemic changed my commute. It changed everything, of course. First, my commute vanished entirely when I stopped working at a clinic in Arlington, Va., as a massage therapist and instead focused on freelance writing from my home office. No more biking to work… Commutes aren’t generally pined for, but I missed the transformation that happened from door to door.” [Washington Post]
Rowdy Suspect Tased on the Pike — “At approximately 1:00 p.m. on September 28, police were dispatched to the report of an individual screaming and throwing items inside a residential building. Upon arrival, officers heard loud banging from a residence and observed items thrown into the hallway. Officers made contact with the occupant who was acting erratically, disregarded verbal commands and charged towards the officers. A taser was deployed and the subject was taken into custody without incident.” [ACPD]
Yard Waste Issues in Fairfax Co. — “Fairfax County can’t hire enough trash/recycling drivers due to higher-paid jobs at Amazon and Fed Ex. The result – yard waste piling up on curbs.” [Annandale Blog, Twitter]
During the pandemic, many who formerly commuted to work are now working from home.
Some are eager to go back to the office full time when it’s safe to do so, while others may be contemplating a switch to either working from home permanently or at least a couple of days per week.
A wide range of companies are moving to or considering moving to a “hybrid workplace” model post-pandemic. Among them is Microsoft, which will let employees opt to work from home up to 50% of the time, or permanently with a manager’s approval.
It seems likely that many office-based employers in Arlington and elsewhere in the D.C. area will be implementing similar policies as the pandemic (hopefully) comes to an end this year. That has made us wonder about the impact on commuting.
More work from home days collectively would mean less commuting, which is generally a good thing for the environment and for traffic. There may be second order effects, as well, especially in cases where an employer offers flexibility in deciding when you go into the office.
Such flexibility, for instance, may have implications for bike commuting
Arlington County has long worked towards the goal of having more people bike to work, thus taking cars off the road during peak commuting times. So far it’s still a niche commuting option: only 1.5% of Arlington residents report biking as their primary means of commuting, compared to 51.1% who drive alone, according to the latest U.S. Census data.
Should you have the ability to pick and choose when you go to the office, it could allow you to go in on good weather days and skip bad weather days, a big deterrent to regular bike commuting. All of a sudden, with bad weather largely out of the equation, the idea of being able to commute for free without worrying about traffic, while getting a workout and fresh air, may become more attractive.
What do you think?
Arlington’s population and median household income continues to reach new heights.
Data from 2018 American Community Survey (ACS), just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, pegs Arlington’s population at 237,521. That compares to 234,965 for 2017 and 230,050 for 2016.
Arlington County’s more conservative planning division population estimate currently stands at 226,400. The last official Census population count was 207,627 in 2010 — that is set to be updated next year with the 2020 Census.
The latest ACS data puts Arlington’s median household income at $122,394, nearly double the national median of $63,179. Arlington’s median household income in the 2016 ACS was $110,388.
Means of commuting to work showed some minor trends in the latest ACS.
Those driving alone to work dropped to 47.8% of workers over the age of 16, compared to 51.6% in the 2016 ACS. Those working from home rose to 8.8% from 5.7% two years prior, while those taking public transit rose to 28.9% from 26%. Bike commuting dropped from 2.4% in 2016 to 1.5% in 2018, though it rose within the margin of error year-over-year and Arlington now outpaces Alexandria in the category.
Alexandria plummets from 1.8% to 1.0%. Outside the MOE.
Yes, 2018 was the year I worked there, and so 2019 is bound to be a rebound year.
— bikepedantic is out (@bikepedantic) September 26, 2019
Bezos Talks HQ2 — “[Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos was pressed on why Amazon would seek to build its headquarters in a dense area like Arlington, given the potential disruptive impacts of the company’s army of new workers moving into the area. But he reiterated that he’s ‘glad it’s not in the suburbs,’ arguing that the new HQ’s location demonstrates Amazon’s commitment to environmental sustainability.” [Washington Business Journal]
No Plan to Change Lee Highway Name — “Speculation that the currently active Lee Highway Alliance has a name change as part of its planning for re-imagining that major road is unfounded, according to its vice president, Sandra Chesrown.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Pedestrian Tunnel to DCA? — “Plans are slowly coming together for a pedestrian connection linking Reagan National Airport to Crystal City, one of the crucial transportation improvements Arlington pitched when luring Amazon to the area… A crucial decision the county will need to make: whether the pedestrian connection will be a bridge or a tunnel.” [Washington Business Journal]
Solo Commuters on the Decline — “Compared with 2004, the number of [D.C. area] commuters driving alone is down; transit use is up. 58% drive alone — down 13 percentage points.” [WTOP]
Arlington Company Moving to Tysons — Woman-owned consulting firm eGlobalTech moved its headquarters to Tysons after outgrowing its Arlington office. [Tysons Reporter]
Reminder: PARK(ing) Day Today — PARK(ing) Day will transform 13 parking spaces around the county into pop-up parks today. [ARLnow]
Local governments officials are hoping a new trip planning app with cash rewards will incentivize more environmentally-friendly commutes.
The app, called incenTrip, uses real-time data to plot quick routes, and uses artificial intelligence to customize those routes for an individual over time. Regional officials said they’re hopeful the app’s built-in reward system will encourage more commuters to help reduce traffic and carbon emissions by ditching their cars.
“The end goal is to provide the most cost effective tool for our agencies, our community and our employees, to incentivize behavioral changes,” said Dr. Lei Zhang, who was in charge of creating the app as director of the University of Maryland’s Transportation Institute.
A pilot version of incepTrip first hit the app stores last year after being by developed by Commuter Connections, a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments initiative, and the Transportation Institute.
The app features a reward system that gives users “points” when they choose a transportation mode that reduces carbon emissions — like the bus or biking — and gives $10 cash awards once users accumulate at least 1,000 points. At 2,000 points users can receive a check for $25, and at 3,500 points they can receive $50.
The incentives are funded through state and federal transportation departments.
VDOT transportation planner Heidi Mitter said the department “has a big emphasis on multi-modal transportation” that pairs with the app’s mission.
“Arlington is dense and has a lot options,” Mitter said of transit in the county, telling ARLnow that hopefully that meant this app would benefit the county’s residents and commuters.
The app could also help Arlington’s employers, many of which have workers commuting in from other jurisdictions, said Nicholas Ramfos, Director of MWCOG’s Transportation Operations Programs.
“Particularly for employers if they’re having parking issues or other types of recruitment retention issues this is a great way to offer these travel options tho those employees and help reduce some of the congestion that coming into that area,” he said.
When asked, Ramfos added he “absolutely” believed the app could help ease the expected increase in traffic from Amazon’s HQ2, which has started the hiring process for the 25,000 jobs the company promised the county.
Rain will turn to snow Tuesday afternoon, just in time to potentially cause problems for the drive home.
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory ahead of the wintry precipitation, warning of “hazardous conditions” during the evening commute. The snow will be followed by plummeting temperatures that will turn wet spots into icy patches for the Wednesday morning commute.
More from the National Weather Service:
…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 3 PM TUESDAY TO MIDNIGHT EST TUESDAY NIGHT… * WHAT…ANY RAIN WILL CHANGE TO SNOW DURING THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EARLY EVENING HOURS. TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS OF 1 TO 2 INCHES EXPECTED. * WHERE…THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, AND PORTIONS OF CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN MARYLAND AND CENTRAL AND NORTHERN VIRGINIA. * WHEN…FROM 3 PM TUESDAY TO MIDNIGHT EST TUESDAY NIGHT. * ADDITIONAL DETAILS…PLAN ON SLIPPERY ROAD CONDITIONS. THE HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS WILL IMPACT THE EVENING COMMUTE. TEMPERATURES WILL FALL BELOW FREEZING DURING THE EVENING, CAUSING ANY MOISTURE OR SLUSH TO FREEZE ON UNTREATED SURFACES. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW MEANS PERIODS OF SNOW WILL CAUSE PRIMARILY TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. EXPECT SNOW COVERED ROADS AND LIMITED VISIBILITIES, AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING. THE LATEST ROAD CONDITIONS FOR THE STATE YOU ARE CALLING FROM CAN BE OBTAINED BY CALLING 5 1 1. &&
— NWS DC/Baltimore (@NWS_BaltWash) January 28, 2019
More from VDOT and Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services:
Forecast temperatures for much of tomorrow afternoon make rain likely at the start of the expected storm. Pretreatment at this point would likely wash away. Crews will be ready with salt for when temps drop. Plowing requires 2 inches of snowfall. #ArlWX https://t.co/JnvPU3tlvu pic.twitter.com/ikyOAtmLBP
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) January 28, 2019
Be prepared for an impacted Tues PM commute. Snow is forecast to hit around that time. Be aware that temps will drop (freezing) and the winds will pick up. Pls plan to leave work or be home a little early. Clear the roads so we can clear the roads. #teamwork pic.twitter.com/TuDjXbw29S
— VDOT Northern VA (@VaDOTNOVA) January 28, 2019
Spike Mendelsohn Planning New Restaurants in Crystal City — “Already in National Landing with Good Stuff Eatery and We, The Pizza, Mendelsohn has a letter of interest out for two new spaces. One will bring his Mexican taco shop already on Capitol Hill, Santa Rosa, to Virginia. Another is a new concept: fried chicken.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]
Shutdown May Fry Local Economy — “Come February — perhaps by the beginning of the month, probably the middle and definitely by the end — the financial, occupational and psychological impact of this now-record government shutdown will go from the theoretical to the very, very real.” [Washington Business Journal]
Trump Signs Shutdown Backpay Bill — President Trump has signed a bill championed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) that will provide backpay to federal employees affected by the government shutdown. Now Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner are working to provide a similar guarantee for low-wage federal contractors. [Federal News Network]
JBG’s ‘Brutally Honest’ Amazon Pitch — A quote attributed to JBG Smith Chief Development Officer Kai Reynolds, talking about his pitch to Amazon’s HQ2 team: “So we literally sat down at 8 in the morning, and I started the presentation by saying ‘I’ve lived [in this region] a number of years, I had never been [to Crystal City]. While it’s better than I thought, it’s kind of a shithole.'” [Bisnow]
Snow May Disrupt Evening Commute — “The main band of snow is likely to come through during the evening and overnight hours. As the onset of snow may coincide with the evening commute, especially in our western areas, build in extra time to get home or consider leaving a little early to beat the rush. Some slick spots could develop, especially on untreated roads.” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]
Nearby: Attempted Kidnapping in Georgetown — “As she neared her front door about 5 p.m. Tuesday, a woman grabbed the child from behind and tried to abduct her, D.C. police said. The girl fought back and broke free. The nanny in the car screamed, and the woman ran.” [Washington Post]
Amazon says it will offer “transit benefits” to its thousands of employees bound for Arlington, in a bid to incentivize workers to rely on the county’s public transportation options once they arrive.
The tech giant has long worked to help employees at its Seattle headquarters afford train and bus rides and ease their commutes, but Amazon officials didn’t initially detail similar plans for the new offices it plans to set up in Crystal City and Pentagon City.
Yet county officials have said recently that they’ve received assurances from Amazon that the company would indeed offer similar benefits in Arlington, and the tech firm has confirmed that plan to ARLnow.
“Consistent with our other corporate offices, Amazon will provide transit benefits for our employees at our new headquarters in Virginia,” Amazon spokesperson Jill Kerr told ARLnow. “Last year alone, we provided $63 million in transit fares for our employees in Seattle.”
Kerr added that “more than half of our employees in Seattle bike, walk or take public transportation to work,” and she expects that the new “National Landing” campus will “allow for similar commuting.”
The move is quite welcome news for county leaders and transit advocates alike, who are anxious to see the tech giant embrace public transportation in the area. Though Metro’s rail service may well have its problems, many around Arlington hope Amazon’s 25,000 workers embrace transit to ease pressure on the county’s congested roads.
“Ideally, Amazon employees here will be like those in Seattle where a significant number live within walking distance of the headquarters,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth. “But for the rest, offering essentially free transit passes is basically the single most powerful thing they could do to make a difference.”
Kerr declined to provide specifics on how the transit benefits will be structured for future Arlington employees. But posts on the crowdsourced employer review site Glassdoor suggest that the company offers free “ORCA” passes for its Seattle workers, giving them unlimited access to public transit options in the city and its surrounding suburbs.
Schwartz hopes that the company pursues a similar strategy in Arlington, considering that Amazon’s new offices in Crystal City and Pentagon City will sit adjacent to a variety of different transit options.
While the area’s Metro stations are the more obvious options for employees, giving them access to the Blue and Yellow lines, the county also operates a bus-rapid transit system between Crystal City and Potomac Yard (which it will soon expand to Pentagon City).
The neighborhood’s Virginia Railway Express station is also located just a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive from the company’s planned office space, and the VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years. That could put an entrance to the station directly across from a new entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, a project set to be funded largely with state money as part of the proposed Amazon deal that will sit just under one of the company’s buildings.
“They have a very high preference among their employees for multimodal transportation, public transportation, biking, walking, being part of an integrated place that you can get around in a number of ways,” Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development, said during a Dec. 6 question-and-answer session on Amazon. “Pentagon City-Crystal City fits the bill perfectly. You can get on a plane, a train, an automobile, a scooter, all of the amenities.”
But officials do acknowledge that for any drivers glad to see Amazon employees pushed onto public transit, there are also nervous Metro riders who fear crowds of new arrivals. After all, the service already suffers from fairly regular meltdowns leaving huge crowds on platforms during rush hours.
Yet Arlington planners are optimistic that crowds in Crystal City and Pentagon City have died down enough over the years, particularly as military and federal agencies fled the neighborhoods, that there should be plenty of room at the Metro stations near the new headquarters. Metro officials also point to proposals to increase the size of all trains and ramp up rush-hour service as reason for optimism, though Arlington leaders may not be able to find enough cash to afford those improvements just yet.
Of course, county leaders acknowledge that not everyone headed for Amazon HQ can ride Metro. That’s where they hope their work to, eventually, bring Route 1 down to the same grade as other streets in the neighborhood will expand other commuting options as well.
“That’s the desire of the company too, to make it more walkable, bikeable and more connected,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during the Dec. 6 Q&A.