While Arlington County’s transportation network benefits from being directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., the county has worked hard to get people moving in ways other than by car.
“We have the lowest drive-alone rate for commuters in the state,” noted Larry Filler, bureau chief of Arlington County Commuter Services. But that rate doesn’t happen on its own: it’s partially a product of employers and property managers creating a welcoming environment for biking, walking, carpooling, and transit.
Filler’s comment kicked off a celebratory breakfast honoring the 221 employers, commercial and multi-family residential building managers, and schools that take part in Arlington Transportation Partners’ Champions program.
ATP recognizes Champions in a tier system, awarding bronze, silver, gold, and platinum statuses based on participants’ efforts. And ATP makes sure each employer and property re-ups its efforts each year to continue promoting and supporting biking, walking, taking transit, teleworking, and getting IRS transit benefits throughout the county.
“Traditional contests are very employer-focused, and they look at what organizations are doing right now,” said Wendy Duren, ATP’s program director. “The multi-family residential properties have really embraced Champions. They are always trying to get new residents and new amenities in their buildings. And across all sectors, it’s promoting a little friendly competition to attract the best talent and keep up with the Joneses.”
One key to ATP’s successful efforts is that it remains a constant resource and advocate for Arlington’s attractive network of transportation options. For example, Nestle USA announced this week it will move its headquarters from California to Arlington, and ATP sales representatives have already worked with Nestle to ensure a smooth transition. One ATP rep will even travel to California to meet with Nestle employees before they move to Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood starting this summer.
“Part of the appeal of Arlington to Nestle was that our ATP has been working with them from the beginning,” confirmed County Board Chair Jay Fisette.
He said a major part of the county’s vision is to work well with the private sector and that ATP has been “stepping up to bring that vision to life.” Speaking at the banquet, Fisette cited Arlington’s mix of transportation options as a major selling point for potential employers and residents alike.
Fisette specifically noted ATP’s work with schools. “Very rarely do you see a school system as committed to [transportation issues] as ours. A lot of our schools are not in our transit corridors, but our school system has committed to work with us to enhance those transportation choices,” he said.
Of course, Arlington’s focus on educating the public about its transportation possibilities diverges from older thinking. Robert Thomson, better known as The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock,” gave the keynote address to the Champions in attendance.
“There’s a cloud on my horizon. It’s called Arlington County,” he joked. “I have a vested interest in commuter frustration.”
At the Post, Thomson is considered “the Dear Abby of traffic.” “Tell [my readers] that the nuclear summit is in D.C. or the Pope is in town, and they don’t ask for the best method of travel. They ask for a detour.” He added, “Many people have not had a bad experience on Metro: they have had no experience on Metro.”
Thomson’s comments make clear how important it remains – and how much work is left, especially for organizations like Arlington Transportation Partners – to get more people traveling in more and different ways.