Trans­porta­tion ‘gun­slinger’ rides o≠ into the sunset

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY KATHER­INE SHAVER

For 21 years, Lon An­der­son has con­sid­ered him­self a “gun­slinger” against traf­fic jams, a “gla­di­a­tor” against drunken driv­ing and the “staunch de­fender” of nearly 4 mil­lion be­lea­guered mo­torists.

As di­rec­tor of public and gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions for AAA Mid-At­lantic, An­der­son has been the Washington re­gion’s most vis­i­ble and in­flu­en­tial mo­torist ad­vo­cate, ver­bally flog­ging area gov­ern­ments to crack down on un­safe driv­ers, fix dan­ger­ous roads and ease some of the worst grid­lock in the na­tion. His weapon: catchy, go-for-the-throat sound bites that the media— and law­mak­ers— sim­ply can’t ig­nore.

He’s ac­cused “money-grub­bing” Dis­trict of­fi­cials of turn­ing one par­tic­u­larly prof­itable speed cam­era into “an old-fash­ioned, money-mak­ing, mo­torist rip-off speed trap right out of the ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ ” Public of­fi­cials in “Rip Van Mary­land,” he says, have snoozed while Vir­ginia has added ex­press toll lanes to the Cap­i­tal Belt­way and built the Sil­ver Line Metro­rail ex­ten­sion.

His ta­ble-smack­ing in­ter­jec­tions of “Out­ra­geous!” have

drawn gavel-pound­ing from leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee chair­men and earned him the nick­name “the rev­erend.” Friends de­scribe him as pas­sion­ate — and laugh­ingly agree with one vet­eran trans­porta­tion jour­nal­ist’s de­scrip­tion of An­der­son years ago as “the Billy Graham of the road gangers.”

“He’s been a real main­stay in the re­gion and one of the main voices for bet­ter trans­porta­tion,” said for­mer Mont­gomery county ex­ec­u­tive Doug Dun­can (D). “A lot of peo­ple com­plain about it, but very few peo­ple ad­vo­cate for so­lu­tions. He’s been that voice for a long, long time.”

An­der­son, 66, is set to re­tire from AAA at the end of this month, but not be­fore he lets a few more zingers fly at the gov­ern­ment agen­cies he blames for the Washington area’s teethg­nash­ing traf­fic.

“You don’t get to have the worst con­ges­tion in the United States with­out decades of bad de­ci­sions,” he said re­cently at AAA Mid-At­lantic’s of­fices in down­town D.C. “If they make a bad de­ci­sion, I’m go­ing to pounce on it and throw a punch.”

Yes, cy­cling has surged in the Dis­trict, and sub­urbs are see­ing mil­len­ni­als and empty-nester baby boomers grav­i­tate to more walk­a­ble, transit-ori­ented com­mu­ni­ties so they can drive less — or not own a car at all.

But 72 per­cent of Wash­ing­tonarea res­i­dents still com­mute by car, and another 12 per­cent who use car­pools or buses also rely on the roads. While many peo­ple think of AAA as a road­side as­sis­tance ser­vice, it also is one of the most in­flu­en­tial ad­vo­cacy groups in trans­porta­tion pol­i­tics. An­der­son re­minds politi­cians that his group rep­re­sents 3.7 mil­lion mo­torists in the Dis­trict, Mary­land, Vir­ginia, Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Penn­syl­va­nia.

“On the power in­dex, he was at the higher end,” said Jim Dine­gar, pres­i­dent of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “He rep­re­sented a very pow­er­ful group, and he gave voice to it. . . . If, by God, Lon op­posed your leg­is­la­tion, he’d come at you with ev­ery­thing AAA had — and that was quite a bit. And if he sup­ported you, he’d throw the full weight of the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­hind you.”

An­der­son has his de­trac­tors, mostly among transit and cy­cling ad­vo­cates who clashed with him over street space for bike lanes and his calls for another Po­tomac River cross­ing be­yond the chron­i­cally con­gested Amer­i­can Le­gion Bridge.

Stewart Schwartz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Coali­tion For Smarter Growth, said An­der­son is “very good with a quip” but “out of date” on trans­porta­tion pol­icy. Schwartz said the “outer Belt­way” bridge An­der­son wants would suck up bil­lions of dol­lars needed for mass transit and lead to more sprawl de­vel­op­ment and, in turn, more traf­fic.

“Al­most more than any­one else,” Schwartz said, “he’s never met a high­way he didn’t like.”

More­over, Schwartz said, An­der­son has had an “in­her­ent con­flict of in­ter­est” be­cause AAA re­lies on dues-pay­ing mo­torists.

“That means he’ll sup­port poli­cies that re­sult in more peo­ple driv­ing more,” Schwartz said. “That could color your com­ments on trans­porta­tion pol­icy.”

But oth­ers say they have seen An­der­son, along with AAA Mid-At­lantic, evolve from no-holds­barred road ad­vo­cates to sup­port­ers of a more bal­anced ap­proach that in­cludes the need for bet­ter transit and pedes­trian and bike safety. AAA Mid-At­lantic sup­ported con­struc­tion of the Sil­ver Line and has em­braced plans for a light-rail Pur­ple Line in Mary­land.

“I think there was an evo­lu­tion in his think­ing,” said David Sny­der, vice mayor of Falls Church and a long­time mem­ber of the re­gion’s Trans­porta­tion Plan­ning Board. “The re­al­ity is you can’t sim­ply put down more as­phalt.”

D.C. Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son (D), another long­time trans­porta­tion board mem­ber, said An­der­son and his group be­came “less stri­dent” over the years.

“I think they re­al­ized that if you want to drive your car,” Men­del­son said, “the whole sys­tem has to work.”

The way An­der­son sees it: More peo­ple rid­ing mass transit means fewer clog­ging the roads for those who have to drive. In turn, more free-flow­ing roads pro­vide bet­ter transit ser­vice for bus pas­sen­gers. He notes that he’s an avid walker— he works to get in his 10,000 steps daily — and that AAA Mid-At­lantic re­cently ex­tended its road­side as­sis­tance pro­gram to bi­cy­clists.

“But will walk­ing and cy­cling re­place the need for roads to of­fer mo­bil­ity to cars and buses?” An­der­son said. “No. . . . And transit can’t re­place the need for au­to­mo­biles.”

An­der­son has had much of his in­flu­ence as a vo­cal critic. One of his big­gest beefs: His belief that the Dis­trict gov­ern­ment has de- clared “war on mo­torists” by plac­ing some speed cam­eras to make money for the city rather than im­prove safety. The num­ber of park­ing tick­ets the city writes also gets him riled up.

“Peo­ple come to Washington to see the cherry blos­soms,” he said in a boom­ing voice, “but they have a bet­ter chance of see­ing pink (ci­ta­tions) un­der their wind­shield wiper.”

He is un­apolo­getic about seek­ing media cov­er­age to pro­mote his group’s agenda. He said he knows from his early years as a jour­nal­ist— he was a re­porter for the Fred­er­ick News-Post and once owned a weekly news­pa­per in Damascus — what re­porters are look­ing for: ac­cu­rate, quick in­for­ma­tion and frank quotes.

He made him­self so avail­able to re­porters that his wife, Claudia Tid­well, said she is most ex­cited at the prospect of soon eat­ing out with­out her hus­band leav­ing the ta­ble for a res­tau­rant park­ing lot in­ter­view.

“This is a town where ev­ery­one wants to be in the media and be quoted,” An­der­son said. “If you want to rise above the chat­ter, you’ve got to be good.”

His big­gest dis­ap­point­ment: leav­ing the job with­out per­suad­ing Vir­ginia law­mak­ers to make driv­ing with­out a seat belt a pri­mary of­fense. Un­der cur­rent law, po­lice can only cite mo­torists for fail­ure to wear a seat belt if they stop them for another vi­o­la­tion first.

Among his proud­est ac­com­plish­ments: per­suad­ing Mary­land law­mak­ers to strengthen the state’s ve­hic­u­lar homi­cide law and lead­ing a suc­cess­ful cam­paign in the 1990s for safety bar­ri­ers on the Ge­orge Washington Park­way af­ter a string of fa­tal head-on col­li­sions.

Ad­dress­ing his team of 16 AAA em­ploy­ees at his re­cent re­tire­ment party, An­der­son grew teary and barely choked out, “We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

An­der­son said he and his wife will move soon from Sil­ver Spring to West Vir­ginia, where they plan to spend more time hik­ing in the moun­tains than stew­ing in traf­fic. He might even try his hand at blog­ging.

“I think,” he said, “I still have a few things to say.”

“If, by God, Lon op­posed your leg­is­la­tion, he’d come at you with ev­ery­thing AAA had — and that was quite a bit.”

Jim Dine­gar, pres­i­dent of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, on Lon An­der­son of AAA Mid-At­lantic

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Lon An­der­son, known for aim­ing zingers at the agen­cies he blames for the area’s traf­fic jams, at the In­ter­county Con­nec­tor in Ol­ney, Md.

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