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Nearly 9 of 10 teachers wake up, get in cars, and drive solo to Arlington Public Schools every day in Arlington County, Va. (15.4% Latino).
This clogs the streets and pollutes the air outside schools.
So, with the student and staff populations set to rise in coming years, how could Arlington get its staff and parents to drive less, and instead use healthier transportation options like ride-sharing, walking, biking, and mass transit?
They tried “transportation demand management,” or TDM.
TDM is the opposite of building bigger roads and parking lots. It focuses on helping people use alternatives to driving.
“At its most basic level, TDM is a program of information, encouragement and incentives provided by local or regional organizations to help people know about and use all their transportation options to optimize all modes in the system,” according to Mobility Lab, “and to counterbalance the incentives to drive that are so prevalent in subsidies of parking and roads.”
How did TDM work in Arlington?
Cars Shouldn’t Be the Only Way to Go
There are many ways to get to where we live, learn, work, eat, play, and pray.
People tend to chose their daily travel option based on total travel time, travel time reliability, and that which allows them to be flexible in the times they travel, according to Mobility Lab.
Unfortunately, cars often come up No. 1.
Car-dominant places have high greenhouse gas emissions. People spend more time sitting and not being physically active.
Cities with poor transportation options also are often burdened by economic segregation and health disparities. For example, many Latino neighborhoods lack streets that are safe for walking and biking, and they suffer more obesity and other conditions, according to a Salud America! research review.
On the bright side, cities can emphasize alternative transportation options.
Arlington Gets It
Over the past 15 years, Arlington County has increased availability and use of alternative transportation.
From 2006 to 2014, Arlington’s population grew by over 10%—yet vehicle miles traveled declined by nearly 6%.
In 2014, about 55.3% of people who commute to work in Arlington drove alone. This is much better than the 76.9% of solo drivers in Houston (44.8% Latino) and 79% in San Antonio (68% Latino), according to the Rivard Report.
On an average weekday in 2015, Arlington drivers took 42,890 fewer daily trips alone, avoiding 782,375 vehicles miles traveled.
How did they do it?
In 1989 they established the Arlington County Commuter Services agency to reduce traffic congestion and improve mobility and air quality.
Their efforts could be summed up in two steps, which, ultimately, inform each other:
- Provide infrastructure that supports alternative transportation (mass transit, sidewalks, bike lanes, ridesharing, and telework).
- Help people use the infrastructure to select alternative transportation.
This, as mentioned earlier, is called Transportation Demand Management (TDM).
Learn more about TDM in this video from Mobility Lab.
TDM educates people about and helps them use transportation options, while influencing complete streets, safe routes to school, livability and sustainability initiatives, and growth and development around transit. All of this can positively impact on Latino health and economic mobility.
The Commuter Store®, an Arlington County Commuter Services program, for example, has four locations and a mobile store to provide information, schedules and one-stop shopping for transit tickets and passes from multiple agencies. They help plan the best way to travel, whether by bus, rail, carpool, vanpool, bicycle or walking.
“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,” according to Paul Goddin with Mobility Lab.
Arlington schools, though, still had heavy driving rates.
Solving School Traffic Congestion
Arlington Public Schools is one of the top employers in Arlington County with more 5,000 employees.
But 88% of them drive alone to work, compared to 53% for the county overall, according to a Toole Design Group survey. On top of that, schools were overcrowded and growing, with a projected 1,300 new students through 2019.
In the old way of thinking, they’d need more parking lots, and cause more congestion.
So Arlington Transportation Partners, another Arlington County Commuter Services program, worked with Arlington school leaders to develop a TDM program. They got grant funding from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation and studied the needs of teachers and school staff.
Since then, more than 40 schools and sites have reduced vehicle traffic and parking congestion, which alleviates strain on community resources.
Many teachers are ditching the solo commute and using alternative options.
“As more APS employees incorporate active transportation into their commutes, they steadily create a new biking and walking culture amongst their colleagues and in their community,” said Elizabeth Denton, Business Development Manager at Arlington Transportation Partners.
That also frees up land that otherwise would serve as parking lots.
“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,” Goddin said.
Can a TDM work in your city or school district, to help build a culture of health with biking and walking options for Latino and all kids?
Connect with mobility leaders in Arlington, and learn from them!