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Arlington then and now

Arlington's commercial corridors are so urban and bustling these days that it's hard to imagine them as suburban strip highways, but until construction of the Metrorail brought a wave of transit oriented development, suburban strips is exactly what they were.

The changes along the corridors (and the stability of the surrounding neighborhoods) are clearly visible thanks to a fascinating set of historic aerial images taken in the 1970s, posted to the new Arlington County planning department flickr page.

Consider these examples, side by side with contemporary aerials taken by M.V. Jantzen, Arlington County planner Andrew D'huyvetter, and myself. Click through for larger versions of each image.

Ballston, with I-66 under construction
Crystal City
The Orange line corridor

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Another interesting resource that Arlington has is historical aerial photography that looks a lot like Google Maps does today. You can pick a point on the map and it brings up all the historical aerial photos on file that contain that point:

The growth around Columbia Pike following the building of the Pentagon is pretty interesting, for example, as there are pictures from the 1930s until the 1970s for the point I chose.

by Teyo on Nov 4, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

I miss the Pla-Mor lanes on Fairfax. Right next to the Blue Goose. I'm surprised Arlington has not picked up a bowling alley.

by Lou on Nov 4, 2010 3:53 pm • linkreport

Actually, while the large buildings aren't there, you can see a lot of density in the earlier pictures.

Makes me sad the area around Cleveland st north of Lee highway wasn't turned into an urban village. Lots of density already, just needs something to do at night.

by charlie on Nov 4, 2010 4:37 pm • linkreport

How do we get Rockville to make similar changes along 355?

by Andy R on Nov 4, 2010 5:40 pm • linkreport

@Andy R:

Higher density of Metro stations would have been a big help. Ballston-Virginia Square-Clarendon stations are at distances that rival downtown DC, making it easy to walk from one station to then next along the corridor. While Twinbrook and White Flint are fairly close together, the other stations are simply too far to comfortably walk to from each other.

For example, Montgomery County missed a real opportunity to shoehorn one (and maybe two) additional stations in Bethesda to help create the dense, pedestrian-oriented transit corridor that Arlington has with the Orange Line (and the Chevy Chase CC and surrounding low-density neighborhood has a lot to do with that). As it stands now, the distance between Bethesda and Friendship Heights is among the highest in the system (especially at that close a distance to DC) and there's little development going on at the south end of Bethesda (near 355 and Bradley) or at the north end for that matter (near 355 and Battery).

The Wilson-Clarendon corridor doesn't have to worry about a freight railroad (and aboveground Metro line) bisecting the community in half either like Rockville does.

by Reza on Nov 5, 2010 1:26 pm • linkreport

But of course, there's always a trade-off, as more stations on the Red Line "A" route would make the interminable ride from Shady Grove to Downtown even LONGER than it is now.

by Reza on Nov 5, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport


The key to solve that trade-off is MARC.

If we beefed up MARC service to the same kind of levels as some of the New York commuter railroads, then you'd essentially have an express train into Union Station for the long distance trips and enable the Red Line to serve as more of a local transit line instead of a commuter one.

by Alex B. on Nov 5, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B

Good point about frequent all-day MARC service serving more of the longer-distance trips. And when you consider the proposed MARC station at Nicholson Lane near White Flint Mall, it would provide even greater transit service to the Twinbrook-White Flint vicinity and may serve as an additional catalyst to redeveloping that area into something resembling TOD. But the current peak-hour, peak-direction MARC service won't cut it.

by Reza on Nov 5, 2010 2:39 pm • linkreport

No, current MARC service is inadequate.

However, if you added a MARC platform at Shady Grove (perhaps move Metropolitan Grove) to make use of common, end of line parking, add a station at Twinbrook/White Flint, you'd have 3 transfer opportunities (along with Rockville) to switch between the 'local' and the 'express' service.

If we had Metro-North or LIRR level service (trains every 15 at peak, every 30 off-peak, with weekend and reverse-direction service as well), that could work nicely. It would be a huge benefit to areas further out, as well. I don't imagine that increased MARC service would run all the way to Martinsburg WV all the time, as it could turn around at more convenient locations for some of the trains.

by Alex B. on Nov 5, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

What is the point of an additional MARC station at Shady Grove Metro?

If the point is to transfer from MARC to Metro -- you can transfer from MARC to Metro at the very next Metro station in from Shady Grove, namely Rockville. Which, in fact, lots of people do.

If the point is to have a MARC station convenient for people coming south on I-270 -- you can reach MARC very conveniently going south on I-270 at Metropolitan Grove, where there is incidentally a big, mostly empty parking lot.

But if the point is to make use of the common, end of line parking at Shady Grove -- where will the MARC riders park?

by Miriam on Nov 5, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport


What is the point of an additional MARC station at Shady Grove Metro?

If the point is to transfer from MARC to Metro -- you can transfer from MARC to Metro at the very next Metro station in from Shady Grove, namely Rockville. Which, in fact, lots of people do.

So, people drive to Shady Grove, ride Metro one stop, then switch to MARC at Rockville? The point would then be obvious - a station at Shady Grove would eliminate that transfer.

If the point is to have a MARC station convenient for people coming south on I-270 -- you can reach MARC very conveniently going south on I-270 at Metropolitan Grove, where there is incidentally a big, mostly empty parking lot.

If the parking lot is mostly empty, then I'm not sure how convenient it is - either the lot or the transit service.

by Alex B. on Nov 5, 2010 3:20 pm • linkreport

I've only ridden the MARC train a few times, but it seems like the number of stations is part of the problem. Shouldn't we be trying to cut back on the number of stations It seems like it takes forever to get anywhere on the MARC.

by Andy R on Nov 5, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

@ Andy R:

Close Metropolitan Grove, Washington Grove, and Garrett Park (the last one is already slated to close if the Nicholson station is built). Problem (somewhat) solved.

by Reza on Nov 5, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: No. People transfer from MARC to Metro at Rockville. I cannot exclude the possibility that somebody, from somewhere, at some time, has transferred from Metro to MARC at Rockville. But it sure isn't common.

@Andy R and Reza -- of course the fastest way to get the train from Martinsburg, Brunswick, or Frederick to DC is with zero stops. However, as we all know, the purpose of transportation is to move people, not vehicles. And you don't do that by reducing people's access to trains. If you're annoyed about stopping at the smaller stations, ask MARC to add an express train.

by Miriam on Nov 5, 2010 4:36 pm • linkreport

The point of adding a MARC station at Shady Grove would be to better integrate MARC and Metro into one coherent system. Shady Grove's advantage is that it has lots of parking and direct access to I-270 via that spur highway that will be part of the ICC.

People transferring from MARC to Metro at Rockville are probably bound for non-DC destinations, like Bethesda.

Integration between DC area commuter rail and transit isn't nearly as good as it could be, or should be. That would be the idea to tackle here.

by Alex B. on Nov 5, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport


Local service is already provided in the form of Metro. As we all know, express trains are unfeasible with the two-track system that the Brunswick Line uses. In addition, you have those CSX freight trains that tend to muck up the works. The construction of passing tracks, much less an entire third track along the corridor will take a long time and cost a lot of money, the sources of which have not been identified.

In the near term, Garrett Park and Washington Grove are two small stations with lower-than-average ridership within short distance from the next station on the line. The loss of access to these communities is outweighed by the travel time savings that riders would receive.

by Reza on Nov 5, 2010 5:00 pm • linkreport

Metropolitan Grove has a huge TOD under construction right next to it. You won't be able to call it an unimportant station much longer.

by BeyondDC on Nov 5, 2010 11:52 pm • linkreport

Looking forward to Vienna, Dunn Loring, West Falls, and East Falls Church extending some of the nice "pocket communities" along the Orange Line.

by L. Fairfax on Nov 6, 2010 12:37 am • linkreport

I'm generally with Reza on this one, in that you have two small stations at Washington Grove and Garrett Park (which combined only have 37 parking spaces and are very suburban-residential in nature) that could easily be closed and consolidated with neighboring stations. I'd keep Metropolitan Grove, in part because of the development BDC mentioned, but also because it has a fairly large park-and-ride (larger than Gaithersburg) and the Corridor Cities Transitway is planned to interface there.

Farther west, you could also consolidate Dickerson and Boyds into Barnesville and Germantown, respectively.

As for Alex's suggestion about another Metro stop in Bethesda, I think another mode would be more appropriate. Appropriate heavy rail station spacing outside the downtown core is about 1 mile. The only node between Bethesda and Friendship Heights where you could reasonably put a transit station is at Bradley Blvd (it's all residential/Chevy Chase CC south of there), which IMO is too close to the existing Bethesda station. If you want closer spacing, go with buses, or (if ridership justifies) a streetcar along Wisconsin Ave.

by Froggie on Nov 6, 2010 8:38 am • linkreport

Sorry...that was Reza's suggestion.

Forgot to mention that I like Alex's suggestion for putting a MARC station at Shady Grove, with the large P&R and interface with Metro and all. This would also make up for closing the Washington Grove station.

by Froggie on Nov 6, 2010 8:41 am • linkreport

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