Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Arlington

Development


How do you fix Ballston mall? Make it less like a mall

Problem: The Ballston Common Mall isn't working very well. Solution: Open the mall up to the surrounding streets, so it becomes the center of a lively community rather than a walled-off separate place.


Concept for the Ballston mall renovation. Images from Forest City.

Ballston is one of the smallest malls in the region. It can't compete well against bigger centers with more stores, like Pentagon City or Tysons Corner. Instead, the mall generally only draws customers from a small area nearby, and thus makes less money than other, bigger malls.

Meanwhile, being an enclosed mall that serves mostly local traffic, it saps sidewalk retail away from Ballston's neighborhood streets. Stores that would otherwise be on the sidewalk are instead bottled up in the mall.

To fix this, developer Forest City plans to face more stores to the sidewalk, and give them more inviting storefronts. It will replace nondescript mall doors with open-air plazas that naturally extend the street into the mall. Capping the building will be a new 29-story residential tower.


Concept for the open-air plaza.

Forest City still needs to work with Arlington County to finalize and approve plans. For now, these are just concepts. But if all goes well, the 1980s-style Ballston Common Mall will transition to become the contemporary Ballston Center in 2017 and 2018.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


As Arlington booms, traffic drops

Traffic on several Arlington roads is lower today than decades ago, despite huge increases in density and activity.


The Orange Line corridor, where new high-rises lower traffic counts. Photo by Arlington.

Since 1996, Arlington has boomed. It's added millions of square feet of new development, some of the tallest high-rises in Virginia, and about 50,000 new residents. And in that time, traffic counts have declined.

The explanation: Virtually all the growth has happened in Arlington's Metrorail corridors, where using transit, biking, and walking are the norm. As mixed-use high-rises have replaced the previous generation's car-oriented retail, the new residents don't have to drive as much.

Traffic goes down

Street SegmentStreet Type19962011/2012% Change
1996-2012
Lee Hwy - RosslynEW 6-lane arterial37,77031,951-15.4%
Wash. Blvd. - VA SquareEW 4-lane arterial20,46917,500-14.5%
Clarendon Blvd.EW 2-lane 1-way arterial13,98013,292-5.0%
Wilson Blvd. - ClarendonEW 2-lane 1-way arterial16,36812,603-23.0%
Arlington Blvd.EW 6-lane arterial55,86565,25916.8%
Glebe Road - BallstonNS 6-lane arterial35,23031,000-12.0%
Glebe Road - S. of Col. PikeNS 4-lane arterial29,00027,000-6.0%
George Mason DriveNS 4-lane arterial20,00220,5182.3%
Jefferson Davis Hwy - N. of GlebeNS 6-lane arterial52,00044,000-15.4%

Traffic declined most dramatically on the most urban and high-density streets. Wilson Boulevard, the main street through the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, saw the steepest reduction, 23%.

The next steepest drops were on Route 1 through Crystal City, and on Lee Highway in Rosslyn, which each fell 15.4%.

Why these streets? They've got the best transit, but that's only part of the story. Thanks to high density and mixed-use, many trips that once required a car now happen on foot. Why drive to the store and fight parking when it's only a block away, and walking there only takes 2 minutes?

Other roads that don't mirror Metro lines saw reductions as well. For example the north-south Glebe Road, which saw 6-12% less traffic.

Traffic did rise on some roads. George Mason Drive traffic increased 2% over the period, and Arlington Boulevard (Route 50) went up 16%.

But George Mason is in the western, more suburban part of Arlington, where there's been less growth and less of a shift to the car-free diet. And Route 50 is a major commuting route for traffic from the outer suburbs, where smart growth is less prevalent, and more growth still means more cars.

Transit ridership goes up

During the same time period, Arlington's transit ridership is way up.

FY1996 ActualFY2013 Actual% Growth
Metrorail Arlington Stations45,335,00059,528,74431.3%
Metrobus Arlington Routes12,049,00014,848,03623.2%
VRECrystal City567,0001,102,07694.4%
Arlington Transit (ART)105,0002,644,0002,518%
Total Annual Ridership58,076,00078,122,85634.5%

Arlington's local bus operation, ART, went from a very small system to a major countywide network. The Crystal City VRE stop saw its ridership double (VRE service began in 1992). Metrorail and Metrobus grew by 31% and 23%, respectively.

Put it all together and you get one staggering statistic: Fully 40% of all Virginia statewide transit trips either begin or end in Arlington.

It almost didn't happen this way

Arlington has embraced transit-oriented development and walkability for a long time, but in the 1970s and '80s when the county was originally debating its plans, some of Arlington's choices seemed like risky moves.

Building the Metro through the heart of Arlington's business districts rather than in highway medians added huge expense to the project. But it also made possible places like Clarendon and Ballston as we know them today. Without that big initial investment, they'd likely look more like Seven Corners or Bailey's Crossroads.

For the next generation, Arlington hopes to add to its transit-oriented successes with the Columbia Pike Streetcar, the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, and new Metrorail station entrances, confident that these will put more people on transit and take more cars off the streets.

Transit


Which Metro stations are physically "walkable"?

Anyone who's seen the area around a variety of Metro stations knows that some are very walkable and some are not. Is there a scientific measure of that? Metro planners crunched the numbers to find out.

Metro rider surveys have shown that most people are willing to walk up to about a half mile to get to a Metro station. Research in other cities also has settled on the half-mile zone.

But the land within a half mile of a station is not the same all across the system. You can't walk in any direction; there are things in the way, whether buildings, rivers, or highways. Where there is a good grid of streets near the station, it's possible to reach a lot by walking up to half a mile. Elsewhere, most of that half-mile radius circle actually requires a longer walk.

Landover, for instance, is right next to a highway. There is only one road leading to the station's parking lot, and no connection over the highway to the nearest residential neighborhood. At Takoma, on the other hand, the street grid lets riders reach many commercial streets and neighborhoods with a half-mile walk.

Metro planners calculated the percentage of land within a half mile you can reach by walking a half mile. It's little surprise that the worst stations are mostly in Fairfax and Prince George's, two jurisdictions that did not try to locate their stations in walkable areas or, during Metro's first few decades, work very hard to plan transit-oriented development around them.


Images from WMATA.

Which stations and jurisdictions fare best and worst?

The worst stations in DC appear to be Fort Totten, a station in the middle of a federal park, and Rhode Island Avenue, a station hemmed in by strip mall development and lacking a good street grid on most sides. (The pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the railroad tracks to the Metropolitan Branch Trail may improve that station's score once it opens.)

In Arlington, it's National Airport (no surprise there; you can't walk on most of an airport) and East Falls Church (but the county has a plan for that area). The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, most of DC (especially in the L'Enfant city) and Montgomery County (particularly inside the Beltway) fare well.

Alexandria is very mixed, with two stations hemmed in by the Beltway and in areas with weaker grids. Prince George's stations are generally more unwalkable than walkable, with College Park the biggest exception. In Fairfax, only Huntington gets anywhere close to a good score. It will be interesting to see how the Tysons stations rank once they open, now and in the future.

The planners also found that the walkability rank correlates very strongly with a station's morning peak ridership. This makes sense, because at the vast majority of stations, even when there is parking there is not that much compared to all the capacity of the trains that pass through. The stations which get a lot of use are those with many people living or working nearby.

There's more to walkability

It's important to note that this is one of several measures of walkability. This analysis computes the size of a station's "walk shed," or how far you can physically get by walking. That is a necessary first step to making a place walkable.

While the Metro planners excluded highways, this analysis still treats roads the same, even though some have no sidewalks, or are multi-lane high-speed roads that are intimidating and unsafe to walk on. But since most of the time good street grids go hand in hand with safer streets to walk on, that shouldn't affect the results much.

More significantly, when people talk about walkable neighborhoods, they are generally thinking beyond just the literal ability to walk. Walkability also includes whether there are amenities such as stores, parks, and more that you can reach by walking. The WalkScore tool computes these in its scores for an area.

Some Metro stations are in places which are physically walkable, but where there isn't much to walk to except for the houses immediately nearby. Glenmont or Forest Glen might be good examples. On the other end of the scale, Prince George's Plaza has a terrible walk shed, but there are lots of stores right near the station.

Regardless, this analysis says something important, and something that's most directly under government planners' control. If jurisdictions want their Metro stations to thrive, a critical first step is making sure people can get to them from the immediate area without having to drive and take up a scarce (and expensive) parking spot.

Roads


A realigned Columbia Pike inches toward reality

The east end of Columbia Pike in Arlington already looks quite different after the 70-year-old Navy Annex was torn down last year, but it may change even more under a proposed 3-way land swap between Arlington County, the Department of Defense, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.


Map by Arlington County.

The swap envisions realigning Columbia Pike, removing the old Southgate Road, building a new Southgate Road, and completely reworking the Columbia Pike-Washington Boulevard interchange.

Arlington National Cemetery is running out of land for additional burials. That is largely driving this deal, which will give the cemetery more contiguous land, but it also means beneficial changes for the transportation network.

While the exact parcels have not been fully identified, the swap will likely mostly resemble the map above. The cemetery will get the green area, consisting of old Navy Annex land, the former Southgate Road and former Columbia Pike, South Joyce Street, and portions of the Columbia Pike-Washington Boulevard cloverleaf interchange.

The yellow area will go to Arlington for a proposed Freedmen's Village museum and other public uses. The blue area is DoD property that used to house a gas station and the purple is part of the current cloverleaf.

Columbia Pike gets straightened out and rebuilt. The new portion of Columbia Pike would include 4 general-purpose lanes and a sidewalk on the south side. A 10-foot sidepath on the north side would connect with a similar sidepath planned for this section of Columbia Pike.

The cloverleaf with Route 27 would become a more compact diamond interchange. A new Southgate Road would connect Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to Columbia Pike by a shorter route than the road today.

An earlier land swap proposal was authorized in 2008 which would not have realigned the Pike. It would have simply swapped the county's Southgate Road right-of-way for a similarly-sized piece of the Navy Annex, but it was tabled in 2012.

Arlington and the federal government signed a new memorandum of understanding in 2013, and authority to make the swap recently appeared in the proposed Department of Defense appropriations bill.

Bicycling


Every DC & Arlington cycletrack, in one map

With DC's M Street and 1st Street cycletracks on the ground, the central city network of protected bike lanes is starting to actually look like a network.


Image by the author using Google.

This map shows every cycletrack in town. In addition to M Street and 1st Street, there's L Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, good old reliable 15th Street, and the diminutive R Street lane near the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

For the sake of completeness I also included Rosslyn's super tiny cycletrack, which exists mainly to access a popular Capital Bikeshare station.

Between DC's proposed 70 mile cycltrack network and plans coming together in South Arlington, hopefully future iterations of this map will look even better.

Notice anything missing or wrong?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Northern Virginia skyscraper rivalry has a new leader: Fairfax approves 470′ Capital One tower

Last Friday, Fairfax officially approved a new headquarters tower for Capital One in Tysons Corner. At 470 feet tall the new building will be the tallest in the DC region after the Washington Monument.


Proposed Capital One skyscraper. Image from Fairfax.

If that news sounds familiar, it's because in May of 2013 Fairfax approved developers proposed a 435 foot tall building, then the tallest in the region yet. And when Alexandria approved a 396 foot tall tower, that also would've been the tallest. Meanwhile, Arlington's 384 foot tall 1812 North Moore tower recently finished construction, officially taking over the title of region's tallest skyscraper (for now).

There may not be an explicit competition, but the fact is undeniable: Northern Virginia's in a full-on skyscraper rivalry. And Tysons is pulling insurmountably ahead.

At 470 feet tall, this new Tysons building will be the first in the DC region to officially eclipse Richmond's tallest, the 449 foot tall Monroe Building. Baltimore and Virginia Beach each have towers above 500 feet, often considered to be the breaking point for a true skyscraper.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Events


Events roundup: What do you want to tell the Park Service?

Do you have feedback for the National Park Service? For Arlington about transit or cycletracks? For Alexandria about a street in Del Rey Ray? Weigh in this week, plus a history lesson about the waterfront and walking tours all over the region.


Photo by Park Ranger on Flickr.

Town hall with NPS: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is convening a town hall meeting with leaders of the National Park Service in our region to talk about how they are managing many of DC's parks, large and small.

David Alpert will participate on the panel, along with NPS National Capital Region Director Steve Whitesell, Richard Bradley from the Downtown BID, and Greg Odell of Events DC. The discussion is Wednesday, May 21, 6:30-8:30 in Room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What topics should David bring up? Post your qualms, frustrations, plaudits, and questions in the comments.

Arlington Transit forum: Give Arlington's government your input on transit service at a public meeting from 7-9 pm tonight, Monday, May 19 at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 South Dinwiddie Street. If you can't make it, you can take an online survey to give your feedback.

Monroe Avenue, a complete street: Alexandria wants to redesign Monroe Avenue in Del Ray to calm traffic and better accommodate bicyclists. Officials will present options and hear from residents on Tuesday, May 20 (tomorrow), 6-8 pm at Commonwealth Academy on Leslie Avenue.

South Eads Street cycletrack: What should bike lanes, cycletracks, or other infrastructure look like on South Eads Street in Arlington? The county will be building a pilot cycletrack on a part of South Eads, and wants your feedback on the long-term plans for the road. Speak up on Wednesday, May 21 from 7-8:30 at the Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th Street South, or take the online survey.

History of the DC waterfront: Ever wonder about the early days of the DC Waterfront? The DC Library is hosting a book talk with author John R. Wennersten on his new book, The Historic Waterfront of Washington, DC. He will discuss the history of the area and the current issues facing the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The talk is Wednesday, May 21 at 6:30 pm in the Black Studies Center at the MLK Memorial Library (901 G Street NW).

Search for the W&OD in Alexandria: Join the VeloCity Bike Co-op for a community bike ride in search of the remnants of the Washington and Old Dominion railroad in Alexandria. Hear about some area history and envision future uses for the space. The ride will begin at the VeloCity Co-op (2111 Mount Vernon Ave in Alexandria) at 10 am on Saturday, May 24.

MoCo candidates on transportation: Maryland is having a primary election on June 24, and in many races the primary will be the deciding contest. A group of smart growth, transit, bicycling, and other organizations are sponsoring a forum for candidates for Montgomery County Council.

WAMU's Martin Di Caro will moderate the forum, and you can submit questions online ahead of time. The candidates will face off on Thursday, May 29 from 7-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading two more Saturday walking tours in the coming weeks. Come hear about the past and future of Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7, while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 31: come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Contact events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Transit


Bus stop or transit station? It's not all the same thing

The more riders who use a bus stop, the larger and more amenity-filled the stop should be. That's the message behind this nifty infographic from Arlington, showing the basic types of stops, and when they're appropriate.


Image from Arlington County

Much of the outcry over Arlington's "million-dollar bus stop" seemed to stem from the widespread belief that all bus stops are the same. But while the Arlington stops did benefit from a redesign, the general idea that "a bus stop is a bus stop is a bus stop" is wrong. Actually there are several different kinds, appropriate in different times and places.

For very small stops, used by less than about 40 passengers per day, simple "flag pole" bus stops are perfectly fine.

Bigger stops serving up to a couple hundred people per day need a little extra space for waiting, and at that level it's nice to provide basic amenities like seats and trash cans, so transit agencies step it up with sheltered bus stops.

But what if there's even more passengers? What if you're getting as many riders as a light rail or BRT station, on the order of a few hundred or even a thousand per day?

At that level you naturally need a station comparable to light rail or BRT, bigger with more waiting area. And it makes sense to introduce even more amenities that can speed up service or improve the customer experience, like high curbs for level boarding, off-vehicle fare payment, real-time arrival displays, and bike racks.

Meanwhile, when hundreds or thousands of riders a day are using a single space, it's no longer just a bus stop. At that point, it's a highly-visible civic gathering spot.

And as important it is to provide transit riders with attractive facilities, it's also important even for non-transit riders that our civic spaces be attractive. Thus it's appropriate for large transit stations to look nicer (and cost more, and last longer) than a row of mass produced bus shelters.

The continuum of transit stations doesn't even stop there. For more than 1,000 riders per day you start to need entire buildings with space for multiple vehicles, bathrooms, a staffed information desk, and more. Or you need bus subway stations, which are vastly more expensive still.

What's appropriate on Columbia Pike?

With about 16,000 bus riders per day, Columbia Pike is already the busiest bus corridor in Virginia. Buses on Columbia Pike carry more riders each day than the Norfolk light rail, and about as many as either of VRE's two commuter rail lines. It's a serious transit corridor.

And it's only going to get more serious. With the streetcar, transit ridership on Columbia Pike is expected to approximately double, to over 30,000 per day by 2030.

That's a lot of riders. That's considerably more than any bus route in DC, and about 1/3 the expected 2030 ridership of the Metrorail Silver Line. That many riders need and deserve good facilities.

What's odd about the debate in Arlington is that everyone seems to agree Columbia Pike needs vastly improved transit, but people are outraged about the costs anyway. Opponents to the planned streetcar aren't saying "don't build anything." They're saying "build BRT instead."

Putting aside the fact that full BRT is impossible because Arlington isn't allowed to dedicate Columbia Pike's lanes for transit, these expensive bus stations are exactly what BRT looks like. No matter whether you favor streetcar or bus, big transit stations are necessary.

And no matter where you go, they're expensive. For example, BRT stations in Eugene, OR run $445,000, while in Grand Rapids, MI they're $662,000. Norfolk's light rail stations are $762,000.

Naturally, Arlington isn't building these larger transit stations at every bus stop. They're only going in at a handful of the busiest stops, where passenger capacities meet that threshold of a few hundred per day, or soon will.

For example, according to Arlington Transit Bureau Chief Steve Del Giudice, the eastbound Walter Reed station is currently hosting about 525 boardings per day (that's boardings only, not including alightings). Assume it doubles with the streetcar, and Walter Reed will soon have over 1,000 boardings per day.

That's half as many boardings as the Arlington Cemetery Metro station. Far too many for a simple shelter.

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