How the Routing of Washington's Metro Led to Arlington's Success

In the premier episode of NPR's special series, "U.S. Commutes: The Way We Get To Work", host David Greene explores the background of the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Va., and how a planning decision in the 1960s was crucial to its vibrancy today.

2 minute read

October 26, 2013, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Arlington County was transformed from a sleepy, car-dependent suburb of the District of Columbia to a vibrant community because of a risky planning decision regarding placement of the Ballston, Washington Metro subway station made half a century ago. "Instead of having a line bypass these nearby Virginia suburbs aboveground, next to a highway, planners decided to run it underground and redevelop the neighborhoods above", writes NPR's Morning Programming Host/Correspondent David Greene. [Listen here].

"I think we were bold at the time, and it has paid off. I can't imagine what this area would be like without it," says Jay Ricks, a former board member in Arlington County.

Arlington is one of those few communities that has seen an increase in population and decrease in traffic, due not only to its relationship with the Metro, but the manner in which it has developed, receiving the 2002 Environmental Protection Agency smart growth award for it. Now it risks being a victim of its own success, according to Arlington resident and EPA employee Lynn Richards, who fears skyrocketing housing prices "could eventually undermine one of the main purposes there — to change a community without increasing traffic."

Robert Brosnan, the county planning chief, expresses pride in the accomplishments of the county, one that draws visitors from abroad (the tape features urban planners from China) to study. When asked by Greene what can be improved, he points to architecture.

"Look at this building. We were ecstatic about that at the time, but you look at it now, you say, 'Oh boy, this is a new city.' It's been developed over the past 35 years. So I think it's a matter of refinement and maturing."

One of the delightful parts of the broadcast is Greene accompanying Arlington resident Becca Bullard on her commute to downtown Washington that involves a smart phone (to check bus arrival time), and "cutting through the bushes" during the rush to a bus stop for her trip to the Metro.

Correspondent's note: According to Wikipedia, Arlington County, "(w)ith a land area of 26 square miles (67 km2), is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, and due to state law regarding population density, has no other incorporated towns within its borders."

Thursday, October 24, 2013 in NPR

Satalite image of a bright green lake surrounded by brownish-green land

California’s Largest Natural Lake Turns Green With … Algae

A potentially toxic algal bloom has turned Clear Lake in Northern California bright green, fed by increased runoff from human activity.

June 4, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Three colorful, large beachfront homes, one khaki, one blue, and one yellow, with a small dune in front and flat sand in foreground.

Florida Homeowners 'Nope Out' of Beach Restoration Over Public Access

The U.S. Corps of Engineers and Redington Shores, Florida are at a standstill: The Corps won’t spend public money to restore private beaches, and homeowners are refusing to grant public access to the beaches behind their home in return for federal assistance.

June 7, 2024 - Grist

Multistory apartment building under construction.

New Tennessee Law Allows No-Cost Incentives for Affordable Housing

Local governments in the Volunteer State can now offer developers incentives like increased density, lower parking requirements, and priority permitting for affordable housing projects.

June 10, 2024 - Nooga Today

Walkway at San Gabriel River Park.

From Duck Farm to Parkland

The opening of the San Gabriel River Park expands access to green spaces for residents in the San Gabriel Valley, especially for Avocado Heights and other park-poor communities in the area.

5 hours ago - San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Oak tree with golden hour sun coming through its leaves on a hill in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California.

Southern California’s Oak Trees are Under Threat

Goldspotted oak borers (GSOB) are invasive pests that are harming and killing oak trees across San Diego, Riverside, Orange, and Los Angeles counties.

6 hours ago - Los Angeles Times

Close-up of natural gas stove burner with blue flames.

Berkeley Voters to Decide on Building Gas Tax

The city could tax large buildings that use gas in lieu of enacting a law that would have banned gas-powered buildings altogether.

7 hours ago - Smart Cities Dive

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.