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Arlington, Virginia: Livable By Design

10:49 AM EST on December 17, 2010

It's clear you have arrived on the sustainable transportation scene when the president of the League of American Bicyclists asks if you are the new Amsterdam.

Yes, Arlington, Virginia is a rising star in the livable cities movement. And new Census data is bearing out the Washington suburb's reputation as a mid-Atlantic biking and transit Mecca.

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Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that 14 percent of all work commuting trips across metro D.C. are made by public transit. Arlington bested that figure by eight points at 22 percent -- matching the percentage of central city residents who commute by transit. Meanwhile, the percentage of Arlington residents who drive to work alone was 54 percent -- a full 12 points below the wider metropolitan rate.

In a post on the Commuter Page Blog, Howard Jennings, director of research and development for Arlington County Commuter Service, outlines how this inner-ring D.C. suburb managed to give residents transportation options besides driving:

In Arlington there are also many factors at work that are a result of conscious policies to reduce reliance on driving and produce less traffic and associated benefits for the business climate and quality of life.

On one hand, Arlington has designed its growth plan around the Metrorail and bus systems, and has development requirements that result in compact, mixed-use “urban villages” which are highly walkable and served by excellent public transit, bike routes, and HOV facilities. This has the twin advantages of making it easier to get around without having to drive, and has proven to attract people who enjoy the urban amenities and less car-dependent lifestyle, including the vital younger generations referenced in the article.

On the other hand, Arlington County Commuter Services provides one of the most comprehensive sets of services in the US to help residents and employees understand and use the myriad choices other than driving, such as rail and bus transit, walking, biking, carpooling, and telework. Research shows that these services entice people to switch from driving alone to other modes and thus take 41,000 trips off the roads in Arlington on the average workday in 2010. When you consider that one lane of urban interstate highway typically carries 5,000 – 6,000 vehicles during the 3 hour rush period, these trips taken off the road reduce traffic congestion dramatically. You can see and feel the difference in Arlington where traffic counts on most of the County’s major arterial streets have remained flat or actually decreased over the past 10 years. This is a pretty amazing fact in the core of the DC region.

Kudos to Arlington. A great model for other inner suburbs around the country to emulate.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Car Free Baltimore takes a close look at one example of small city livability in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Portland Transport examines the city/suburb divide on political issues and how it affects regional environmental policies. And Publicola reports on a University of Washington study which found that it's best to focus on urban areas in public efforts to reduce traffic.

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