News & Politics

Here’s How Commuters Get to and From Arlington

A new study shows Metro ridership is declining, while more people are biking, walking, or just working from home.

Arlington might be going through an identity crisis about its future transit planning, but workers in the region’s second-largest city still use a diverse array of methods to get to and from their jobs, according to a study published this week by the county’s Mobility Lab. Analysts at the transportation think tank studied the methods used by the 131,300 Arlington residents with jobs and the 180,300 people who work in Arlington, finding that while driving alone to work is still the dominant mode of commuting, there have been significant gains in the numbers of people working from home and walking or biking to the office.

About 65,500 Arlingtonians—or 53.3 percent—drive to work alone, Mobility Lab found, a tiny drop from the 55.8 percent reported in 2010. The roughly 99,700 people driving alone to jobs in Arlington accounts for 55.3 percent of the county’s workforce. Regionally, only DC is lower with about 38 percent of workers accounting for solo drivers; Fairfax County tops 70 percent. One of the primary reasons Arlington goes well below those rates is a relative lack of free parking throughout the densely built-up suburb. While half of all Arlington workers have access to free parking at work, only 40 percent who work near a Metro station have that kind of perk.

Charts courtesy Mobility Lab.

Transit has actually sagged in recent years since Metrorail ridership hit an all-time peak in 2009. Eighteen percent of working Arlington residents and people with jobs in the county take a train to work, down from over 20 percent in previous studies. Bus ridership by Arlington residents is up to 9 percent, but fewer people are taking the bus into Arlington for work. Carpooling is also becoming less popular.

The biggest gains have been made by the ranks of people who don’t need to leave the house for their jobs, and by those who prefer to walk or bike. Mobility Lab found that 8,400 county residents are self-employed and work from home, while another 8,200 perform telework for at least half the week, a figure that has doubled since 2001. About 8,000, or 4.5 percent, of Arlington office dwellers get to work by walking or cycling. Meanwhile, about 7 percent of the county’s residents walk or bike to work, putting Arlington a few percentage points behind DC, but well ahead of third-place Alexandria.

A colorful chart attached to the study breaks down more figures about Arlington’s commuter patterns, along with where the county’s residents are going to work and where its workers are coming from. Of those 131,300 working Arlingtonians, 44,300 are staying in town, while 54,200 head into the District. Fairfax County sends about 57,300 of its residents to work in Arlington, with Prince George’s County contributing 19,300 and DC sending 17,100 workers across the Potomac.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.