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Revitalizing the Pike

Who says you need a subway for Smart Growth? Columbia Pike lies outside the County’s two Metro corridors, but Smart Growth planning principles are transforming it into a vibrant Main Street. Guided by a community vision crafted through a years-long intensive planning effort, new public and private development along the Pike is making it a better place to live, work and play.

Why revitalize a corridor that has functioned since the 1800s? The Pike is a vital east-west transportation corridor across south Arlington. Connecting two large employment centers, Pentagon City and Skyline Plaza, it is the most heavily traveled corridor in Northern Virginia not served by Metro. Between now and 2040, the Pike is expected to add another 2.2 million square feet of commercial development, 7,000 jobs, 3,900 homes and 7,300 residents. You need a plan to handle that amount of development, population growth — and traffic.

How to handle the growth? The County is carefully guiding development, encouraging mixed-use projects with ground-floor retail that will enliven the Pike, and working on major transportation improvements. The vision calls for remaking the Pike into a place where you will want to linger — not just whizz through in a car.

What will the new Pike look like? The new Pike will be a place where people will have robust transit options to get them to great places to walk around, window shop, relax in outdoor cafes and meet friends. It will have public plazas where folks can gather for events and farmers’ markets. It will have restaurants and other small businesses and sidewalks that will encourage walking. There will be more trees along the Pike, more people, more street life.

The centerpiece of the transportation improvements is a proposed modern streetcar line, which Arlington is developing in partnership with Fairfax County. The 4.9-mile line, stretching from the Pentagon City Metro to Skyline Plaza in Fairfax County, will connect in Pentagon City with a streetcar line under development for Crystal City that will extend to Potomac Yard.  One day, Arlington’s streetcar system will become part of a regional transit network across Northern Virginia.

What guides the Pike planning effort? Planning for the Pike is guided by the Columbia Pike Initiative, (CPI), a comprehensive, multi-year revitalization plan, put together through an intensive joint effort by residents, businesses, organization working in partnership with Couty planners. It provides the framework for environmentally sustainable development that will maintain a housing supply that serves residents with a broad mix of incomes.

How is revitalization working out so far? In the past four years, developers have added nearly 1,000 residential units and 200,000 square feet of commercial space to along the Pike. The CPI can be credited for initiating the activity. Four CPI-related projects have been built since 2008 and more projects are getting ready to go.

Here is what Smart Growth – Arlington’s signature planning approach that clusters mixed-use development near transit options — looks like on the Pike:

Promoting Mixed-Use Development
  • Form Based Code, adopted by the County Board, regulates land development on the Pike by setting careful and clear controls on building form – with broad parameters on building use – to shape clear public space (good streets, neighborhoods and parks) with a healthy mix of uses.
Investing in public buildings
  • Arlington Mill.  The County is building a bigger, better community center on the Pike, at S. Dinwiddie Street. Scheduled to open in 2013, it will offer a broad array of services, a new public plaza on the south end of the site, and 122 adjacent affordable apartments on the site’s north end.
Creating a housing plan for the Pike
  • Land Use and Housing Study. This plan, developed with broad community participation, guides public and private investment to match community goals, including sustaining a housing supply that serves residents with a broad mix of incomes. The Pike Neighborhoods Plan is set to be completed in 2012.
Layering transit options, improving infrastructure.
  • Improving bus service. Buses already run at six-minute intervals during rush hour, and service is getting better. The County is building the first three of nearly two dozen Super Stops planned for the Pike. Construction has begun on the eastbound stop (south side) of the Pike at Walter Reed Drive, and two additional stops will follow at Columbia Pike and Dinwiddie/Columbus. The new Super Stops will offer Pike commuters ample seating, real time information and better lighting.
  • Replacing Washington Boulevard Bridge. VDOT has awarded a contract to replace the 70-year-old Washington Boulevard Bridge over Columbia Pike. The new Freedman’s Village Bridge will be a vast improvement over the old eyesore. Its reconfigured ramps, greater height, shared-use paths on each side, sound walls and other improvements will make it safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. VDOT expects construction to begin in 2012 and be completed in 2015.
  • Undergrounding utilities. Between Four Mile Run and S. Wakefield Street, new water, sanitary sewer and gas lines have been installed in the middle of the road. Bids will be requested soon for undergrounding overhead utilities and making street improvements including the realignment of S. Four Mile Run Dr. (minor) with S. Buchanan St. to the north
  • Improving streetscape. The County is adding wider sidewalks, more trees and other amenities to make the Pike a great place to stroll.
  • Realigning intersections. The County is realigning several intersections on the Pike to ease the flow of traffic and increase safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
Developing a streetcar line
  • In partnership with Fairfax County, Arlington plans to build a4.9-mile street car line to run from the Pentagon City Metro Station down Columbia Pike to Skyline Plaza in Fairfax County. The streetcar will:
    • Move more people, more efficiently down the Pike.
    • Reduce traffic congestion and spur development by making it easier for people to travel – and stop to shop or dine – along the Pike.
    • Reduce emissions and noise, because it will run on electricity.
    • Be complemented by upgraded bus service.
    • Provide a safe, efficient, comfortable ride along the Pike.
    • Be easier for those with disabilities, or those pushing strollers to get on and off because it will be low-floored and even with the curb.
    • Link to the planned Route 1 streetcar line, which will knit together Crystal City, Pentagon City, Potomac Yard and extend into Alexandria, to Braddock Road.
  • The County is putting the finishing touches on an alternatives analysis and environmental assessment of the proposed streetcar, required as part of the federal funding process.  A federal review of the analysis is nearly complete. County staff this spring will seek public comment on the analysis and federal review — including on cost estimates and funding options. A final version is expected to  go before both the Arlington and Fairfax County Boards for approval in mid 2012.