Skip to content
Menu

Safer Streets and Better Transit

Growing up in the suburbs of south Georgia and north Florida, I was surrounded by cars.

Using my trusty Wal-Mart-bought bicycle to get round town to work, the shopping mall, and friend’s houses, I happily rode on sidewalks when available, but often had to carefully squeeze along the curb of highways – knuckles tight and white, sweating from anxiety just as much as from physical exertion.

The bus system was anemic, with as much as a full hour headway between busses on a route with high fares that required exact change.

Not until I moved to the DC area did I discover a better (and safer!) way. I was amazed by DC’s Metrorail system (despite its many, many problems), and fell in love with the pedestrian friendliness and vibrancy of my first home at the Reston Town Center.

And it wasn’t just DC that I was able to experience – my career as a communications consultant took me to New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, Indianapolis, and many small towns in between. In every place I visited (with the sole exception of Kearney, Nebraska) I was sure to try out and learn about the local transit options, walk around their downtown or main street, and take note of how the local cyclists got around.

And you want to know something surprising? The benefits of transit isn’t just about moving people from Point A to Point B. It’s also a great way to better use land, expanding green space, build new housing, and do our part in fighting climate change by drastically reducing emissions.

Arlington clearly has it good compared to where I grew up, and even compared to many large cities I’d visited over the years. But there are some surprising failures. There are also some opportunities where we can step up and become national leaders in using transit and multi-modal transportation to improve public safety and fight climate change.

 

Safety of our streets and transit is especially important for our schools, hospitals, and recreation centers.

Arlington leadership must also step up to demand fixes to safety problems that continue to plague WMATA (Metro).

SAFER PER MILE TRAVELLED

Taking the bus, cycling, and walking are much safer and healthier methods of travel than cars for short or routine distances. If we truly want to prioritize public safety and health then we must design our streets to encourage these safer and healthier modes of transportation, involving dedicated bus lanes, protected bike paths, and inviting sidewalks along major roads, boulevards, and highways. It means adopting signal-priority and off-board ticketing for a modern bus system. And yes, even the trendy e-scooters can be safe and kept off sidewalks if we have the proper infrastructure with plenty of docking stations!

even if it means putting roads on “diets”, narrowing lanes, and undoing harmful “stroads” (roads with both pedestrians and high speed limits for cars).

FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE

All of the safety and personal health benefits don’t even get into the environmental benefits of mass transit and “human-powered” transportation. America’s transportation needs account for approximately 35% of carbon dioxide emissions. Any solution for climate change must tackle that.

Expand Ridership

One potentially rewarding method to expand ridership of our local bus system is to shift high school students over to using our local public bus network rather than APS busses, allowing us to downside our bus fleet and concentrating 

MAKING ROOM

There are many policy changes that can be made to increase the housing supply in our community, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked is to be more efficient with our urban spaces. Parking garages, multi-lane roads, and other infrastructure used by automobiles take up a large amount of space that could be better used for extra housing or even parks.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT

Our current method of piecemeal projects cobbled together from one year to the next provides too many opportunities for wasteful spending and built results that don’t match real-world requirements. To help perform comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, increase opportunities for competitive contract bidding, and perhaps even incentivize private investment, multi-modal infrastructure should be bundled together and treated as a Capital Improvement Program that can be comprehensively planned and tracked.

FAIRER Traffic ENFORCEMENT

It won’t be cheap or easy, but in order to eliminate bias in encounters between civilians and police officers, we should begin carefully building automated systems that use smart cameras and other sensors to enforce parking, traffic, and perhaps also noise violations. These systems must uphold the highest levels of privacy and cybersecurity protections, never have biometrics such as facial recognition enabled, and be isolated from all other government agencies that may misuse the data.

FINDING FUNDING

Funding is often the barrier for this development, however. As something that improves public safety, it should be prioritized as such over the many luxury amenities that the county often tries to build such as the Rosslyn boathouse, schools designed by world famous architects, and high-end Aquatics Center.

Having beautiful amenities is wonderful, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of essential infrastructure.
 
Additionally, allowing commercial advertising on our ART busses should be seriously considered.

CURRENT FAILURES

It’s critical that our elected leaders be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. I love streetcars and hope they can someday make an appearance in Arlington, but the earlier plan was wasteful, poorly designed, and didn’t have nearly enough risk-management controls in place to be worthy of taxpayer dollars.

Similarly, the current build-out of bus stops along Columbia Pike is going atrociously, with severe quality failures and inflated costs of almost $800,000 dollars per custom “kit based” bus stop – almost triple what a traditional pre-fabricated stop should cost.

RIDE-HAILING

Not everyone can take the bus, bike, or walk to their destination all of the time. We must also take into account ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft with plenty of convenient carve-out spaces for easy pick-up and drop-off of riders in new developments so they don’t snarl traffic.