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Lessons of Arlington's Urban Development Needn't Be Just History

Many Metro stations are too far apart to emulate Arlington. But Arlington's strategy could be replicated if additional Metro stations were built where new growth or redevelopment is desired, or where development is underserved by transit.

For example, Wisconsin Avenue and Rockville Pike constitute a busy transportation corridor stretching for miles from Friendship Heights through Bethesda and Rockville. Metro's Red Line runs along this corridor, yet Bethesda's large, highly urbanized center is served by only one station; it should be served by two or three.

Envision Rockville Pike transformed from an incoherent string of auto-dependent, suburban shopping centers to a dense, attractive urban corridor friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. It now has three Metro stations; it would need at least twice as many to catalyze and support desired redevelopment.

Intense redevelopment of the pike, capitalizing on existing infrastructure, would be desirable for compelling reasons: to reduce travel inefficiency and congestion associated with suburban sprawl, to mitigate escalating economic and environmental costs of gasoline consumption, to reap the benefits of resource conservation and diminished carbon emissions and, with more opportunities for walking and bicycling instead of driving, to improve health.

Why does visionary planning seem to be a thing of the past? Can America no longer afford to undertake farsighted initiatives such as creating the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s or Metro in the 1960s?

We can afford such investments but are no longer willing to make them.

If current attitudes concerning taxation and spending policies persist, we will never make essential public investments. What America needs is an attitude transplant, which may happen only when gasoline costs $10 per gallon and the planet's polar ice disappears. Perhaps then we will remember and embrace the decades-old lesson that Arlington teaches.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.


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