Arlington held it’s first of two Amazon listening sessions December 17, 2018, at Gunston Middle School. The school is not close to rail or regular bus transportation; I was unable to attend for that reason. Arlington County and other governments reveal how little they think of car-less stakeholders and transit-connected planning when they hold community listening sessions in transit deserts.
WMATA’s Bike Restriction Applies to Scooters
I planned on a mixed-mode commute because the meeting location was more than 10 miles from my home. The weather was warm enough to ride my electric scooter the whole way, but the battery’s winter range is only about 15 miles. So, I planned to ride Metrorail to Crystal City with my scooter in tow and ride the two miles to Gunston’s single-family home, suburban neighborhood location.
The Station Manager at the Brookland-CUA Metro stop halted me before entry. They wouldn’t let me take my scooter into the station; it fell under the rush hour bike restriction. Stymied from the rail plus scooter route, I didn’t have enough time to chart another course that got me to the hearing before it started. I try to get to these events early so I can set audio equipment up and take pictures as well.
Metrorail plus walking wasn’t an option because it would’ve taken 75 minutes and I would’ve had to walk two miles lugging A/V equipment. Bus routes would take 1.75 to two hours. If I dropped my scooter off at home and took Metrorail to Crystal City, I would still need to catch the 10A Metrobus in Crystal City out to Gunston Middle School—a trip that takes 15 minutes without adding wait times and road congestion delays.
Arlington County Holds Amazon Hearing at Car-Dependent School
This is Gunston Middle School. It’s nice. Pretty idyllic, low-density suburb location zoned only for single-family homes with a street design that includes traffic calming for slow pedestrians but no bike lanes for cyclists or scooter commuters. Your reaction there is: but who in this neighborhood uses a bike or scooter to commute? Precisely. This is not a location with safe streets for non-car uses. Residents have wide driveways, garages, and Gunston has a giant parking lot. The 10A bus does run along nearby S. Arlington Ride Road, but bike lanes don’t. It’s a decent street for a confident cyclist like me, but not where a parent would feel confident picking up their kids from school in a cargo bike.
There are lots of reasons why community events get held at specific schools or community centers. I go to a lot of them, and it’s usually some combination of an organization partnership, a free room rental fee, or—as we see here—lots of parking. It’s probably too much to read a great deal into Arlington’s choice of Gunston as their listening session location. But, a lot is revealed about the assumptions Arlington makes here about who wants to come and how they’ll get there. The obvious: Arlington assumed people would drive there, park, and that they lead lives where they commute with a car.
Will Arlington Hold a Transit-Friendly Hearing in January?
This reporter asks whether Arlington will put January’s second listening session in a transit-friendly location. Or, will they pick a similar, car-dependent school and assume all the stakeholders have cars when they most certainly do not. This Twitter user says Gunston is one of the busiest schools in Arlington and frequently hosts community events. Really? That means Arlington thinks and cares less of car-less residents than one would hope.
It’s true that a lot of Northern Virginians own cars, use cars for nearly all trips, and worry about traffic caused by 25,000 new workers. However, that does not mean Arlington should assume they want to own cars, want to use cars for most trips, and wouldn’t sooner use transit rather than sit in traffic—if Arlington provided reliable, frequent, comprehensive public transportation. In this, and most other development debates, Arlington and other DC governments are reactive rather than proactive. They hear that residents fear traffic, congestion, and pedestrian safety, so they (sometimes) try to fix symptoms to win political favor.
Arlington’s Amazon Transportation Problem is Car Dependency
Arlington’s Amazon transportation problem is car dependency and assumptions that everyone who participates in society has or should have a car. If Arlington really “got it,” they’d put community listening sessions in Potomac Yard along the good and soon-to-be greater Metroway BRT route. If Arlington thought of bike and scooter commuters, they’d set a pop-up listening booth in Gravelly Point so Mount Vernon Trail users could talk about the new cycling amenities in National Landing such as the planned Four Mile Run/Potomac Avenue connection (Page 5).
Not for nothing, but Amazon employees are a self-selected group far more likely to be car-less and rely on transit for all their trips. So, shouldn’t the real concern be capacity and routing of DASH and ART buses? DASH looks unprepared. Is Metroway ready for more riders? An Amazon employee is probably more likely to live in Dupont and commute via Metrorail than buy in Aurora Highlands and drive two miles over to Crystal City. If they did buy, they probably won’t have or want to use a car to commute. How about making Western National Landing more walkable and cycling-friendly?
Watch Arlington’s Learning Sessions about Amazon Online
For more details about Amazon’s arrival to Northern Virginia and plans from Arlington and Alexandria to prepare, watch their Online Learning Series here. There is one more online learning webinar in December, one in January 2019, and a second listening session in January. Arlington has done many online learning sessions, but will only hold two in-person events where stakeholders can give feedback. Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU-FM show held a live taping in Crystal City late 2018, and you can listen here.