A public meeting has been scheduled for the Columbia Pike Multimodal Project. Come one, come all to review, evaluate and provide feedback on the County's plans for 3.5 miles of Columbia Pike from South Jefferson Street to South Joyce Street. Highlights include:
  • Wider sidewalks
  • Additional Left-hand turn lanes
  • Improved bus stops
  • Bike accommodations and facilities
  • Additional landscaping and greenery
  • Undergrounding of overhead utilities

The meeting will be held at the Walter Reed Community Centerat 2909 S 16th St on Monday, March 26th 2012 from
For additional information visit the Project Website or review my previous post on the project.

Last night was another meeting of the Columbia Pike Implementation Team, the small stakeholder team that has been giving feedback as the Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements Project works its way toward completion. For those who are just now hearing about this, here's the scoop.


The County is looking to rebuild Columbia Pike and in doing so, make it as much a "Complete Street" as possible - that is, a street that balances the needs of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Previously, there had been a group called the "Columbia Pike Street Space Task Force" which created a set of recommendations for what an ideal Columbia Pike would look like. This current project is working to implement as many of them as possible given the current constraints we have to work with (primarily, Right-of-Way constraints). The handouts from last night's meeting aren't on the website yet, but the design isn't hugely different from that shown at the last meeting if you want to follow along with that PDF.

Like most County projects, the study group consists of some planning consultants (in this case, Kimley-Horn) who do all the math, the mapping, the traffic data collection, etc and a small group of "stakeholders" who give feedback on their work. In this case, that group is the Columbia Pike Implementation Team - it has citizen representatives from the nearby Civic Associations, County transportation staff, local business and property owners, members of Arlington advisory commissions like the Planning Commission, etc. The thinking, I believe, is that you can get more work done efficiently with a smaller group of people. If you'd like to be part of that small group of people, you can sign up to be notified at the project's website. Once the study gets farther along, they will hold full-on Public Hearings which will be much more widely advertised (at last night's meeting they were asking for input on whether the first Public Hearing should be before or after the holidays).

The Basic Plan

The current near-term design calls for standardizing the Pike (as much as possible) to a 56' curb-to-curb width consisting of 1.5' of gutter on each side, an 11' outer travel lane on each side, a 10' inner travel lane on each side and a middle area that would either be a left turn lane (where appropriate) or a tree-filled median where turn lanes are unnecesary.

Behind the curb, the usable amount of space for sidewalks, landscaping, etc. varies widely and the final plans for what the "behind the curb" area should look like are still in flux - particularly what style of landscaping is most appropriate to the various areas - a continuous strip of grass / tree boxes / other?

On some portions of the Pike, the current Right-of-Way does not allow for the 56' cross-section, for instance the Four Mile Run bridge and the stretch of Columbia Pike near the Navy Annex. For the most part, the current plans stick within the existing Right-of-Way though it currently calls for some Right-of-Way acquisitions in a couple of select spots.

Benefits for Pedestrians

The plan as currently designed will result in wider sidewalks almost everywhere on the Pike, shorter crossing distances at most crosswalks, additional signalized crossings as a result of several proposed new traffic lights and pedestrian refuges at many crossings. The additional landscaping/trees should also help isolate pedestrians from traffic to some degree.

Benefits for Bicyclists

While the plan does not currently include any bike lanes, it is designed to tie-in with the Columbia Pike Bike Boulevards project and will include a 10' clear width shared-use sidewalk/sidepath on the north side of the Pike extending from the western terminus of the bike boulevards down to Jefferson Street and from the eastern terminus of the bike boulevards up to Joyce Street.

Benefits for Drivers

The current plan will add several left turn lanes that do not currently exist on the Pike, helping to alleviate the "Pike Slalom" where drivers often have to repeatedly switch out of the right lane avoid stopped buses and out of the left lane to avoid stopped left-turning vehicles. The plan also proposes several additional traffic signals to aid in those left turns, adds some additional on-street parking, re-aligns Four Mile Run Dr (minor) with Buchanan Street consolidating two Pike intersections into one and rehabilitates the road surface and substructure finally banishing the horrid rutting and pothole problems that plague many portions of the Pike.

Areas of Disagreement

There seem to be two main areas of feedback / disagreement so far in the process:

The first is in regard to bicycle facilities. While the bike boulevards and sidepath are generally an upgrade over the existing conditions, there has been discontent voiced from the cyclist community that dedicated bicycle facilities like a cycle track would go much further to eliminate bike/pedestrian conflicts. While not part of this project, the multimodal group is coordinating and (literally) "paving the way" for the Streetcar and the addition of the Streetcar tracks to the curb lane will eventually make biking directly on the Pike a non-starter due to the inherent incompatibility of streetcar tracks and bicycle tires. Whether the sidepath and bike boulevards are "enough" to properly support biking in the corridor is definitely one of the lingering questions and sources of contention with the current plan.

The second revolves around the tree-lined medians. In early versions of the plan there were many more of these and they restricted access into and out of many of the Pike driveways and a couple of side streets, but based on feedback from the team (primarily the President of the Penrose Civic Association) these have been pared back in the most recent version. There was some discussion last night about the tradeoffs that the medians represent. On the positive side, their existence serves to: 1. narrow the visual appearance of the road which encourages drivers to slow down closer to the speed limit, 2. contribute quite a bit to the environment - air quality, shade, water filtration, etc. and 3. blocking access to some of those left turns would help alleviate congestion on the Pike and prevent potential collisions in the so-called "chicken lanes" that currently exist on the Pike (those are the areas where the middle lane allows left turns from both eastbound and westbound traffic). On the negative side, restricting turn access for those driveways is a daily inconvenience for the residents of those apartment buildings and the customers of those businesses. So far, the opinions seem to be stacked on the side of those wishing to maintain driveway access at the expense of the medians.

Next Steps / How Can I Get Involved?

While last night's meeting materials aren't up yet on the project website yet, I expect them to be there soon; all of the previous meeting presentations are posted. Once they are up you can review them at your leisure and submit comments using the form on the project website. If you'd like to be informed of any future meetings, there is also a form on the website to sign-up for notifications. The design is not finished, it's not even at 50%. If you want to help shape the Pike for the next several decades, this is your chance. Want even wider sidewalks? Better bike facilities? Wider travel lanes? More medians? Fewer medians? Make your opinions heard!

Keep in mind that these plans are the near-term plans. As redevelopment occurs, additional right-of-way can be acquired to more fully "Complete the Street" providing additional facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

There are a few upcoming Community Meetings I'd like to highlight:

VDOT Presentation on the Columbia Pike / Washington Blvd Interchange

Tonight, Tuesday September 20th 7:30pm, Trinity Episcopal Church

The Penrose Neighborhood Association is having VDOT out to speak about the upcoming project to completely rebuild the bridge and interchange between Washington Blvd and Columbia Pike which will include a new bridge over Columbia Pike, along with intersection updates, additional turn lanes, merge lanes, ramp realignments, improved pedestrian and bike facilities and more.

Carlin Springs Bridge Project Meeting

Monday, September 26th 7:00pm, Barrett Elementary School

County staff will present several design concepts and solicit public input on the project to rebuild the Carlin Springs Bridge over George Mason Drive.

Rosslyn Circle Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements

Wednesday October 5th, 7:00pm, Arlington Temple United Methodist Church

This meeting is to solicit public feedback on the draft engineering plan for the project to rebuild the trails, roadways and sidewalks in the Rosslyn Circle area in order to enhance Rosslyn's access to the river and improve safety in the area.


Saturday was the heart of the Pike Neighborhoods Plan Charrette: the Community Hands-on Design Session. I was impressed by the number of folks willing to be up and around at 9am on a Saturday ready to do 5 1/2 hours of urban planning. As we arrived, we signed in and were split up to different tables by Civic Association. Each table was focused on a portion of the Pike that included their Civic Association. Since I'm a Penrose resident, I was at a table for the eastern end of the Pike - our area covered from approximately Glebe Rd to the Washington Blvd interchange. There were other tables focused on the middle of the Pike, the west end of the Pike and also 2 tables focused specifically on Foxcroft Heights as there appears to be some specific tension going on in that small neighborhood as a result of the changes coming to the Navy Annex and the Cemetery.

In our small groups, we went through three different exercises designed to get us thinking and to elicit feedback for the design team. The first was a large poster showing various different examples of mixed use buildings, mid-rise residential buildings and low-rise residential buildings. We were then given red and green stickers to put on the poster indicating which buildings particularly liked and which we particularly disliked and encourage to write on the posters why we felt that way.

For the 2nd exercise, we were given a map which had divided the Pike into zones. The first zone was the already existing commercial revitalization nodes that the Form Based Code defined. The second covered the multi-family residential areas closest to the Pike. The third covered those multi-family residential areas that were farther from the Pike, those that interface directly with the single family home areas. We were asked to examine those zones and draw any changes we thought were necessary as far as what areas were in each zone, and then to imagine what we thought those zones should look like as far as building height, style, etc and draw & write that on the map as well.

The final, and most fun exercise, gave us a map of our subsection of the Pike along with paper, scissors and magic markers and we were encouraged to draw and write all over it to illustrate our dream version of the Pike. What would we change? What would we preserve? My group went to town, by the time we were done there were additional street connections, wider sidewalks, additional bike trails connections, new parks, community gardens and rec centers, along with mixed income, mixed age housing, senior housing and more.

Finally each table picked a spokesmen and presented their ideas to the whole of the group. There were a lot of common themes and a lot of very interesting ideas presented. I look forward to seeing how all of our crazy ideas and dreams will be translated into rules and regulations by the design team.

Even if you missed the hands-on session, it is not too late to get your own crazy ideas and wild dreams for the Pike taken into consideration! The same set of consultants who ran us ragged on Saturday have setup shop in Siena Park and are holding open office hours on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday of this week from 10am to 6pm. They are also having an open house on Tuesday evening from 7pm-9pm to show their interim progress. Finally, they will present their progress-to-date back at the Sheraton on Wednesday evening from 7pm-9:30pm. Often on local mailing lists people ask "Who decided this? When did these decisions get made? Why are these the priorities?" The answers is right here, right now. The plans that are coming out of this charrette will shape the Pike for at least the next 30 years. Take some time and be heard!
For additional details, see the Pike Neighborhoods Plan website.


Tonight was the kick-off meeting for the Pike Neighborhoods Plan Charette. You may be wondering "What is the Pike Neighborhoods Plan?" or "What's a Charette?" or "What did I miss if I wasn't there?!" Read on to find out.

What is the Pike Neighborhoods Plan?

You may be familiar with the work being done to revitalize Columbia Pike, or you may not. There is a lot of history that provides important context: the Columbia Pike Initiative, the Columbia Pike Revitalization Plan, the Form Based Code, the Street Space Plan, the Multimodal Project, the Pike Transit Initiative. The opportunity before us all right now, however, is giving input on the Neighborhoods Plan. In the interest of getting to the end goal, here's the short, short version of Pike revitalization history.

The County and community have been working together since the late 90s to revitalize and reshape the Columbia Pike Corridor into a better place to live and have identified several goals we would like to achieve. Past initiatives have focused on goals such as improved transportation options, better pedestrian and bicycle accessibility, improved commercial design including street-engaged retail and careful transitions between building heights. The current initiative (the Columbia Pike Land Use & Housing Study) is addressing another goal of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Plan, maintaining an ethnically diverse and culturally rich community by retaining enough affordable housing for a diverse community to be able to remain here.

As property on the Pike has gotten more valuable and living on the Pike has become more attractive, it has become more and more financially attractive for apartment complex owners to renovate and then increase the rent in their complexes. A good example is the Whitmore at 4301 Columbia Pike. They evicted their existing residents, renovated their apartments and then re-leased at higher rents. If we as a community do nothing about this, the trend is likely to continue. There are 7,500 "affordable" housing units on Columbia Pike. Of those, only 1,000 are so-called "committed" units which are in some way obligated to stay affordable. The other 6,500 or so-called "market rate affordable", or units which are essentially affordable only because the landlord doesn't feel the market will bear a higher rent. With a loss of affordable housing comes a loss of diversity, one of the traits that many people love about the Pike communities, so a study was commissioned by the County on what could be done to retain those affordable housing units on the Pike. The Pike Neighborhood Plan will be the end result of that study, and that is what is being hammered out at this Charrette.

What is a "Charette"?

A Charette is what happens when you let business majors plan public meetings. Instead of 2 hours of boring lecture, you get five hours of break-out sessions, small group activities, collaboration and deliverables. Tonight was the kickoff meeting which set the stage of what we're trying to do as a community and what we need to be thinking about. Tomorrow (Saturday the 25th from 9am to 2pm) is the down-and-dirty business of detail work. Those who participate will be broken into small groups, given some guidelines on what questions need answering and let loose with giant sheets of paper and magic markers.

What happened at the Kick-off Meeting?

A whole lot of background material got spit out all at once, then individuals in the community were given a chance to talk a bit about what is on their minds going into this process. Here's my attempt at summarizing the background material; if you were there, please feel free to add any additional insights I may have missed in the comments.

As I noted above, the goal of the Neighborhood Plan is to retain affordable housing. The dangers facing the current affordable housing are twofold: as the land becomes more valuable and the Pike becomes a more attractive place to live, the economics make it more and more likely that the landowners will in some way redevelop the existing market-rate affordable units. Either renovating and raising rents, or conceivably converting the rental units to townhouses to sell. In order to create the best policy to retain these affordable units, it is essential to understand the market forces at play for these apartment complexes. Several consultants have been brought in and they have done a lot of analysis about what is economically feasible on the Pike. It is up to us as a community to use that information and analysis to determine the best possible policy to produce the kind of community that we want to live in.

The consultants selected a few representative complexes on the Pike and worked out number of possible redevelopment scenarios for them. They essentially said "In what ways might a landlord want to redevelop their apartment complex?" and worked out the economic realities of trying to do each of them. Since changing zoning laws (or providing an alternative to existing zoning like the Form Based Code) is one of the potential strategies being considered, they didn't limit themselves only to redevelopment scenarios that would be possible under the current zoning.

The most interesting and relevant findings include:

  • In order to be worth the investment, landowners will generally need to replace each existing unit with 3 new units.
  • In most cases, current zoning does not allow enough density to be worth redeveloping
  • The current rental rates born by the market in the Pike corridor are insufficient to support the construction of buildings over 5 stories
  • The kind of low-rise, high density development that best fits the current economics of the Pike lend themselves to large, regularly shaped (rectangular) lots

The potential toolbox for retaining affordable housing is some combination of the following in exchange for the inclusion of committed affordable units:

  • Providing low or no-interest construction loans.
  • Granting bonus density over what would normally be allowed
  • Granting tax breaks or payments in lieu of taxes
  • Paying for Green improvements to lower the developers operating costs
  • Providing historic tax credits to renovate historic apartment buildings

After the background presentation, attendees were given a chance to raise questions or offer comments. One person questioned how committed the county is to retaining affordable housing. Another questioned why we should try to retain affordable housing at all. The majority however, spoke in strong support of retaining the diverse cultural communities we have on the Pike, though there were clear divisions on the best way to do so.

With all of the information and analysis provided, it is up to us as a community to determine what strategies we're willing to use to retain our communities diversity. Do we want to pay landlords to include affordable units if they develop? Would we rather allow them to build higher density buildings in exchange for those units so we can stretch those dollars a bit farther? Would we rather pay for Green improvements for redeveloped apartment buildings so our communities get some environmental benefit in addition to the diversity benefit? If we're willing to grant bonus density, then how much? What should those building looks like? Where should they go? How should they interact with the streets around them? With the neighboring houses? These are the questions we need to settle at Saturday's Charrette. I encourage you to attend as much of the Charrette as you can - there are many opportunities, just check out the calendar.