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Arlington County and Virginia Tech partner to improve transit along heavily trafficked Columbia Pike

An Arlington Transit (ART) bus on Columbia Pike in Arlington County, Va.  Photo source: Flickr user Cliff

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NACo is developing a three-part blog series with Arlington, Cuyahoga and Montgomery counties to share how counties can utilize local government-university partnerships and the MetroLab Network to undertake projects that improve infrastructure, public services and environmental sustainability through technological and analytically-based solutions. Launched as part of the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative in September 2015, MetroLab Network is a group of more than 35 local government-university partnerships in which the university is the local government’s research and development department and the county is a test-bed. 


Arlington County, Virginia, is one of four counties in the MetroLab Network. In the Spring of 2016, the County Board approved a memorandum of understanding with Virginia Tech to jointly undertake research and deployment projects. “Becoming a part of this national network of local governments and universities will spur innovative solutions for our community,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “It will be exciting to watch this partnership use data and technology to improve the County’s infrastructure, and enhance both economic development and the quality of life for all who live and work here.” 

Columbia Pike Transit 

The Columbia Pike Corridor has been the focus of extensive planning efforts for many years.  Community based planning efforts have defined a vision that calls for affordable housing, improved transit, more urban parks, a safe environment to bike and walk and a revitalization plan that will guide sustainable development and housing for all.  One of the strategies for realizing the vision for improved transit includes making transportation and other public improvements. 

Columbia Pike is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the Washington metropolitan region. Currently, the corridor is primarily served by buses.  On July 16, 2016, the County Board unanimously adopted the new Transit Development Plan (TDP).  To accommodate higher ridership, the plan provides for the creation of a Premium Transit Network that offers bus service that is fast, frequent, reliable and easy to use, with features including simplified bus routes and increased weekday and weekend service. 

Arlington County and Virginia Tech are joining forces in a data analysis initiative to inform other transit options for consideration to further support Arlington's goal to increase transit throughput in the Columbia Pike Corridor.  Specifically, the partnership will assess the current situation, including the newly approved bus features, and discuss alternatives that are worthy of consideration.  The initiative will undertake the following process: identification and aggregation of relevant data sources; fusion and visualization of the data; identification of current pain points and consideration for areas of improvement; and the modeling of different scenarios to test alternatives. 

As we consider how to maximize transit throughput, the County's initial efforts will focus on the following data sources:  

  • Video cameras at intersections that provide live feeds; 
  • County owned traffic signals that track signal times; 
  • Automated traffic counters imbedded in the street that identify the vehicle class and speed; 
  • County and regional buses that track GPS location, scheduled arrival times, fare collections, and passenger counts, including which stops riders embark and debark; and 
  • Waze data (In the Spring of 2016, the County joined Google's Connected Citizens Program, which includes a data sharing agreement with Waze.  Arlington provides Waze with information on major planned street closures, including closures from special events; and in return, the County receives real-time information, crowd-sourced from the streets, on traffic conditions and flow in Arlington.)

Upon completion of this initiative, the County will have data-driven information that can track, analyze and reengineer, as appropriate, processes that improve the delivery of public transit services. With an emphasis on continuous improvement, the County can continually reassess its efforts not only in the Columbia Pike Corridor, but also extend this methodology to other neighborhoods with a transit priority. 

In addition, there will also be opportunities in the future for the County to consider extending this initial assessment to include tracking other indicators, such as weather, environmental, economic and demographic.  In doing so, the County can further assess the delivery of transformation services in support of the other goals defined in the planning effort.  For example, we can investigate correlations between public transit alternatives and affordable housing; suggest the best mix of residential and retail development along transit routes; recommend new services to be provided at key transit hubs; etc. 

Other Projects

The County is very excited about its partnership with Virginia Tech. In addition to this initiative, the County and Virginia Tech are working together on other IoT deployments and data analysis projects.  Being a member of the MetroLab Network affords the two the opportunity to pool ideas, experiences and results with a consortium of members to share innovative, scalable and sustainable models that will benefit all of member communities.   

About Kristanne Littlefield (Full Bio)

Chief Digital Innovation Officer, Arlington County, Dept of Technology Services

Kristanne Littlefield drives the adoption of digital technologies and public sector innovation through the generation of new ideas, inventive strategies, outcome driven decision-making, and responsive development.  She utilizes an iterative, information-centric, and agile approach to transform concepts into tangible solutions that make governmen

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