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Modern Mobility: Trail-Oriented Development

Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington has grown and thrived as a result of transit-oriented development, but is it time for a new TOD in Arlington: trail-oriented development?

In many places, including the DC area, developers are seeing trails as desirable places to be and creating buildings that embrace the trail as an amenity to be cherished, rather than turning their back on the trail as so many existing buildings do.

Many of these buildings are primarily residential. They provide easy, direct connections to the trail for their residents, as well as amenities like wider hallways for wheeling bikes directly back to your unit, bike repair areas, etc. Having more people living where they can safely, easily and enjoyable bike and walk is great for our climate goals.

A more interesting pattern, in my opinion, are when retail spaces embrace the trail. One example of this is Caboose Brewing out in Vienna. While it has a standard drive up and park your car entrance, it also has a direct entrance from the W&OD Trail with bike racks. As you can see from this photo, many folks take advantage of this option.

I saw an even more active and varied example of this recently on the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail. Nearly every business in this trail-adjacent strip mall had a usable back-entrance & there was a shared seating area along the trail adjacent to them. The coffee shop even had a little walk-up window where you could order from the trail side without setting foot inside the shop.

The seating area is pictured here along the trail, the retail shops are in the far right of the photo.

This area was clearly a gathering place for the community. It was busy every time I biked by over the weekend.

Where could we create these kinds of places in Arlington?

One possible option is the Arlington Boulevard Trail. The Days Inn site, at the corner of Pershing Drive is expected to redevelop in the near future and could be a fantastic spot to create this sort of trail/retail synergy. Currently the design guidance for the Days Inn site doesn’t call for such a thing, but that design guidance is open for comment now if you care to provide that sort of feedback to staff.

There are additional opportunities on the Arlington Boulevard Trail further east. While the development picture below kept the trail sandwiched between Fairfax Drive and Arlington Boulevard, the trail will likely need to cross Fairfax Drive somewhere before it reaches Rosslyn, putting the trail directly adjacent to the higher density buildings on the north side of Arlington Boulevard. This could be another opportunity for trail-oriented retail spaces.

Really, this is an opportunity to set a different character for the Arlington Boulevard Trail. Given its placement, it will never be the quiet leafy oasis that some of our other trails try to be. Instead, it could be the bustling community gathering trail with nodes of lively commercial activity.

While potential spots along the Custis, Bluemont Junction or W&OD are rare, they do exist. Any redevelopment in the Lyon Village Shopping Center could embrace the Custis in a big way and there are some commercial buildings in the vicinity of Pupatella in Bluemont that back up to the Bluemont Junction Trail offering some opportunities as-is.

Trails are good for business; they are a desired amenity that people want to live near, and people walking and biking tend to buy more locally. Having more activity adjacent to the trail creates more “eyes on the trail,” improving safety. Trail-oriented Development is an underutilized tool in the County’s planning toolbelt and we should use it more.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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