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.
October 26, 2013, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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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."

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Published on Thursday, October 24, 2013 in NPR
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