Note from Wayne. This entry was written by Betsey Krumholz of the Planning Commissioners Journal staff. Betsey was able to join me for three days in the Washington, DC, area.
Arlington, Virginia has come a long way. But Arlington’s stretch of Route 50 has a long way to go.
Tim Torma, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- who wrote about school sprawl for the Planning Commissioners Journal -- met me at The Java Shack, an awesome "third place" in Arlington to talk about pedestrian issues in his city.
We were joined by Peter Owens, Chair of the Arlington Transportation Commission; Chris Zimmerman, Chairman of the Arlington County Board; and Joe Schilling, a Professor in Practice at Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute.
They filled me in on some of the particular challenges faced along this stretch of Route 50, known locally as Arlington Boulevard.
To the south Route 50 is bordered by: a small hidden neighborhood; Arlington National Cemetery (which you would never know was there without a map); Fort Myer; some single family homes (behind chain link fence); a middle school with a community park; and some aging strip development.
photo along Route 50 of Fort Myer housing:
On the north side of Route 50 there's: a variety of housing; the "dead-ends" of cul-de-sac streets of a few lovely neighborhoods; some institutional uses; and more aging strip commercial development.
The City of Arlington has done a good job of meeting the challenge of “transit-oriented-development” in its primary urban cores -– expanding housing and commercial opportunities adjacent to its Washington Metro rail stations. Minutes away from downtown Washington, DC, the central business area of Arlington is an exciting urban environment that takes full advantage of the transportation grid.
But the Route 50 corridor has not yet benefited from the same progressive actions.
While most of Arlington’s residential neighborhoods are walkable, tree-lined, and close to necessary services, the city remains bifurcated by the highway. There are only a few safe routes for pedestrians or cyclists -- including some aging above-grade crossings -- and widely separated cross-streets to bring even automobile traffic from one side of Arlington to the other. Driving along the highway -- and getting out to walk for a bit with my hosts -- I have to admit that their Route 50 corridor can stand as a "poster child" of what happens when the street grid is disconnected.
- it is nearly impossible to cross;
- it is inhospitable for public transit users;
- it is unkempt in appearance;
- it is difficult to navigate sidewalks along it; and
- the land uses along the corridor are underutilized in an environment of skyrocketing land values.
Joe Schilling, a Professor in Practice, worked with his urban affairs and planning students on a Route 50 BRT/TOD Corridor Study which was presented to the Arlington Transportation Commission last month. This comprehensive study details the challenges and opportunities presented by such a vital artery and the extraordinary land redevelopment possibilities along the corridor.
Joe has a vision -- using the corridor for Bus Rapid Transit -- but he is less than convinced that it will be endorsed, much less funded, by the primary decision-maker, the Virginia DOT. But it’s a much needed document to help the transportation planners all along the corridor focus on the challenges of the residents, businesses, and commuters.
All of my hosts bemoaned the fact that they had not shown me the best of Arlington. But with their energy and vision, I think the best is yet to come!