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.
Renewed HQ2 Buzz — The New York Times has published a lengthy look at Crystal City, which is being discussed as a frontrunner to land Amazon’s second headquarters. “All of the signs are pointing to Crystal City,” one of the people quoted in the article said. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that only some of the 20 HQ2 finalist cities — including New York City, Newark, N.J., Chicago and the D.C. area — have received second visits from Amazon officials. [New York Times, Wall Street Journal]
Former Wizard Selling Home in Arlington — Former Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat has listed his house in Arlington’s Cherrydale neighborhood for $1.9 million. [Real House Life of Arlington]
Upton Hill Park Caught in Complaint Crossfire — After acceding to demands of tree advocates and scrapping plans for a 17-space parking lot at Upton Hill Park, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is now facing opposition to its proposed park upgrades from nearby residents worried that the lack of additional parking will cause more vehicles to be parked in the neighborhood. [InsideNova]
New Option for Commuting to Arlington — “Sameride, a ridesharing app that allows drivers and passengers to offer and request rides, has launched a new route from Herndon, Reston and Loudoun County to Arlington and the District.” [Reston Now]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Judge Dismisses Dewey Horse Punch Case — A man who was accused of punching a police horse in Dewey Beach is now trying to clear his name after the case was dismissed. Surveillance video reportedly exonerated the man, who might not actually be from Arlington as originally reported. [Cape Gazette]
Rosslyn Transportation Meeting Tonight — “Join Arlington County and the Rosslyn BID to provide feedback at this public meeting that will focus on the Core of Rosslyn Transportation Study. This study will examine the feasibility and potential impacts of permanent changes to the street network in the core of Rosslyn, with the goals of improving safety and accessibility for all users, including those walking, biking, using transit and driving.” [Rosslyn]
Another Commute Alternative: Running — As Metro continues on a downward ridership spiral, some are finding running to be an attractive commuting alternative, providing exercise and fresh air while eliminating costs and unpredictable delays. [Runners World]
Angels of the Battlefield Gala Tonight — The Armed Services YMCA will present its annual Angels of the Battlefield awards tonight during a gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. Among the 2018 recipients of the prestigious awards are Senior Airman Linda Wilson, who helped save lives during the Las Vegas mass shooting last year. [ASYMCA, Air Force Times]
New Film Fest Coming to Clarendon — “Georgetown’s Halcyon and Arlington’s Clarendon Ballroom will be the venues for a new film festival – Flicks4Change — that links the entertainment world with charitable activism. The film festival first started in Los Angeles, expanded to Australia and now comes to the DC area.” [Georgetown Dish]
Nearby: Pete’s Apizza Closes in Md. — Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza has closed its Silver Spring location. The D.C. and Clarendon locations remain open. [Bethesda Beat]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Civic Federation Holds Candidate Forum — The unofficial kickoff to the local fall campaign season took place on Tuesday: the Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum. Contenders for County Board, School Board and Congress squared off in front of a standing-room-only audience at Virginia Hospital Center’s auditorium. [InsideNova, InsideNova, Blue Virginia]
Drug Take-Back Boxes Deemed a Success — “In June, Arlington County installed three permanent drug take-back boxes to address a crucial public safety and public health crisis facing communities across the country – prescription drug abuse. In the first three months of the program, the public safely disposed of 407 pounds of unused, unwanted or expired prescription medications. Due to the success of the program, the police department is exploring expanding the program.” [Arlington County]
New Commuter Store Opens — A new Arlington Commuter Store opened at the Pentagon on Tuesday, near bus bays 7 and 8. [Commuter Page]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is indefinitely suspending its incentive program to push employees out of their cars, after the effort proved to be a bit too successful — and expensive.
The school system’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Commuter Program provides stipends to employees for turning to public transit, walking, bicycling, carpooling and other options to limit the number of cars going to and from schools.
It was budgeted for $222,600 last year, but School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos said actual expenses were over $389,000. While the difference was covered in last year’s budget, Erdos said the budget for the program remained the same for FY 2019 without the same flexibility.
“No one wanted to make any changes, but we also had to find a way to reduce the growing deficit,” said Erdos in an email. “Carpoolers and transit users also receive stipends, and staff believed that maintaining those programs was important because it immediately reduces an employee’s direct costs for commuting (fares, toll fees and fuel) and keeps the number of cars in school parking lots lower.”
Erdos said the school system looked at reducing the stipend for walkers and bicyclists, but were still left with a $50,000 deficit.
At last Thursday’s School Board meeting (Aug. 30), Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick stated that part of the reason the bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ incentives were targeted was because the data showed they’d be more likely to continue using those methods to get to school.
“Looking at numbers and usage, those members of staff who used to bike and walk would be most likely to continue using walking and biking to school,” said Chadwick. “If we applied the benefit to users of the carpool, we would likely get more people returning to single use cars and have more cars around our schools, more congestion, which causes safety concerns and issues of air quality. Faced with a difficult decision, we determined it would be most useful to suspend bike [and] walk benefits.”
Teachers at the Aug. 30 meeting said they dismayed by the decision.
“Two years ago, the incentive program helped me change my habits,” said Aaron Schuetz, a physics teacher at Yorktown High School. “Now, biking to work is my primary mode of transportation… [it was] disappointing to get email that it was cancelled.”
The suspension of the motor-free benefits was effective Sept. 1, which some teachers noted was an abrupt change.
“I was surprised to see benefits eliminated with three days notice,” said Jeffrey Bunting, an english teacher at Yorktown High School. “I found the process maybe a little cynical how it was eliminated… I fully agree there are probably improvements that can be done, but I encourage the Board and Mr. Chadwick not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Erdos said the Office of Multimodal Transportation Planning in the Department of Facilities & Operations will continue to work on reorganizing the program and will release more information later this year about the changes.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools