Arlington County First in Nation with Program to Ease Public-School Staff Commutes

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[quote_right][feature_box title=”TDM TAKEAWAY” title_color=”fff” header_color=”369″]School systems, whose faculty and staff take many single-occupancy car trips, are a large untapped market for TDM services. [/feature_box][/quote_right]

The only transportation demand management (TDM) program for public school faculty and staff in the U.S. has been created in Arlington County, Virginia.

The program, called “ATP Schools,” is being administered by Arlington Transportation Partners (ATP), the employer-outreach arm of Arlington County Commuter Services. Funded by a grant from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, it is aimed at reducing traffic by reducing the drive-alone rate of the more than 5,000 employees of Arlington Public Schools (APS), one of the top employers in the county.

Not only is ATP Schools the only district-wide TDM program in the country targeting school staff, but there is a large unmet local need for the service. According to a survey performed by Toole Design Group as part of a broad district-wide transportation initiative called APS GO!, the drive-alone rate for Arlington Public Schools staff is a surprisingly high 88 percent, compared to 53 percent for the county overall.

When it comes to schools, jurisdictions have typically focused their TDM efforts on student trips. These efforts, under the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, encourage students to walk or bike to school. ATP Schools is a natural complement to a student-based TDM program.

6276738863_5c26dbfc48_bBy reaching out to APS teachers and staff using its business-to-business model for TDM, ATP has a good chance of switching many of these solo drivers over to more sustainable options, such as biking, transit, or carpool. The goals of the APS GO! initiative are to increase the student walk and bike rate and decrease the staff drive-alone rate by 2020.

The model has worked well for the county in the past. Arlington officials point to TDM as a key variable that has allowed the county to add tens of thousands of new residents over the last decade without adding traffic to its arterial roadways.

TDM, a set of strategies to reduce automobile congestion by educating people about transportation options, could also help ease “congestion” of another sort — inside the walls of the county’s public schools themselves.

Arlington has been grappling with overcrowding in its public schools of late. This year alone, school enrollment in Arlington increased an unprecedented 5.2 percent, and the county’s 36 schools are unable to accommodate all of them.

While Arlington comes up with alternatives to accommodate the 1,300 new students projected through 2019 — plans that include school expansions and at least one entirely new building — constructing its way out of this problem isn’t a long-term solution.

With a dearth of new land to build upon, Arlington’s land-use decisions must be deliberate. Without TDM, new construction and expansions would require more parking and add more congestion. In conjunction with TDM, on the other hand, it is possible that existing surface parking could be reclaimed for more productive uses, such as school expansions accommodating more students on the same amount of property.

The county’s schools have some specific challenges that make TDM difficult. For instance, many Arlington schools are in areas not readily accessible by Metro. And for elementary-school teachers who often cart materials to and from school, transit is a less-attractive commuting mode. Additionally, there’s a perception among APS staff that bus service is inconvenient.

Elizabeth Denton, the business-development manager in charge of the ATP Schools initiative, is sensitive to the needs of the teachers and school staff. “We don’t want to add one more requirement on teachers who are already stressed out. Rather, we intend to frame this program as something that helps the schools, and something that is fun.”

In addition to getting buy-in from APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Denton plans on eliciting support from the Arlington School Board. So far, in the very early stages of the program, she has visited about a dozen area schools.

She sees healthy competition, for which APS schools are known, as a way to build excitement and motivate staff to participate in the program. She plans to engage staff with a “School Champions” awards program patterned off the Champions program developed by ATP for businesses located throughout the county.

Finally, Denton plans to boost the program with environmental messaging, which she says is an important motivational factor for this particular Arlington audience. APS is a “green” school system, having been ranked second nationally in green-energy usage by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In many ways, the dynamics of Arlington Public Schools mirror that of the county as a whole: a population that’s bursting at the seams, with overburdened infrastructure and limited resources. These issues may not be universal, but TDM as a way to combat them — and gain more utility from the existing infrastructure — certainly is.

How is your school system growing sustainably? Could TDM help your school grow?

Photos of Arlington schools courtesy of K.W. Barrett and the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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3 Comment(s)

Chris

Not everything in APS is about maximizing efficiency for travel for students and staff. For instance APS is moving 23 Montessori Pre-K students from Ashlawn and relocating them to another school. They are offering to bus these students to the new school even though 20 of 23 of the students in the Ashlawn Montessori Program list Ashlawn as their home school and 10 of the students are within walking distance of Ashlawn. This does not matter to APS Leadership, nor did they engage the community when they made this decision. APS Leadership and the School are not accountable for the decisions they make, they are just worried about this number. This program will take back seat to APS’ priorities

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kevin

Ashlawn at 140% capacity. The primary mission of the APS elementary schoos is to educate elementary students, not pre-K students. To reconcile the 140%, if there is a choice between allocating limited resources to students who are of actual elementary age and pre-K, then the pre-K students unfortunately have to accomodate the elementary kids (rather than redistricting the elementary kids).

I educated my kids though a non-APS pre-K program. There are a lot more options for pre-K outside of APS than there are for our elementary kids. In fact, I don’t really view the pre-K kids as APS responsibility (as most of them our in fact outside of the APS system). They just pick them up at their discretion, resource permitting. Bottom line: APS is bursting at the seam to fulfill its core responsibility of teaching those students of actual elementary age Programs that educate non-elementary age students need to be secondary to that core mission.

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Lucinda Jamison

I applaud the TDM undertaken by APS. It’s a good first step. Other areas to look within Arlington Co to implement similar commuting-reduction programs may include essential staffs at public colleges, universities, and hospitals.

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