The Walkability of Arlington, VA
My personal experience and opinions on Arlington, VA and its urban planning.
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Where is Arlington, VA?
Arlington is located in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC. Arlington is sometimes referred to as the “Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor” because of how neighborhoods are built out near each other due to the DC Metro running through it. The stops are Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Court House, and Rosslyn.
I lived in Ballston neighborhood on North Vermont Street (aside: read about how Arlington got its street names). This was really nice because I was a close walk to the Ballston Metro station and about a 30 minute trip to my work. You’re only about 15 minutes away from Foggy Bottom/DC and you can catch trains on the Silver and Orange line.
My General Experience
- Ballston had huge sidewalks that felt like they really wanted you to walk around.
- They also had the Ballston Quarter mall close by that wasn’t really a traditional mall. It didn’t have a lot of the big chain stores that you would normally think of in a mall. Additionally, the food court, called the Quarter Market, had a lot of pop-up or small food concepts which I thought was awesome.
- There wasn’t a lot of retail shopping in Ballston, you had to go to Clarendon for this, like Clarendon Crossing, but that was still in walking distance for me.
- I had to walk to a Post Office in Clarendon from Ballston because I couldn’t find a mailbox in my neighborhood, but I think this is just because I didn’t search too hard.
- The cross walk timings felt like they prioritized humans, although sometimes there were times that in a four-way intersection the walk light doesn’t come on because there’s a protected left turn light on. Usually there are no cars coming so you just have to learn how to ignore the walk lights and jaywalk.
I had a number of grocery stores within walking distance as well as places to get beer, wine, and liquor (you can buy beer and wine in grocery stores, but most go to a Virginia ABC store for hard liquor). Walking to get groceries is not efficient but since it is close you can go more often. This is a bit of a trade-off because you are screwed if you don’t have time that day to go to the store, but going more often with smaller trips allows you to experience more sales and buy things at a slower pace so that you can use up things you have before getting something else. Buying things like produce is best if you buy smaller amounts that are more fresh because the worst thing is having some wilted lettuce or slimy spinach.
Walking to get your groceries is a great way to get some activity into your day because you have the walking but also the usage of your upper body when you are carrying the groceries home. Walking to groceries pretty much necessitates having reusable bags because they are the only thing that has enough volume and strength to hold your groceries when compared to plastic or paper bags. There is obviously a limit to the number of things that you can buy because you have to carry them, but I think that a person could buy a whole week’s worth of groceries for one or two people in one trip (two bags, one per hand).
Restaurants and Bars
This is all anecdotal and I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but Arlington, Ballston in particular has a lot of mixed use developments like office buildings with stores on the bottom. This can be really nice, but some are empty because I imagine the rents are high so it makes it hard for smaller restaurants to succeed. In my year there I only saw one restaurant close, but I imagine that there were others that were struggling. Additionally, there were also a bunch of spaces that stayed vacant the entire year I was there.
I think there were a lot of popular fast/fast casual restaurant chains in the area like Chipotle, Sweetgreen, McDonald’s, etc, but there is still a good presence of local restaurants. So there is enough within walking distance, but the real gem is the ability to use public transport to go to other places to go out to eat. And since you used public transportation, you’re able to get a drink or two out at a restaurant or bar and still be able to get home because you can just take the train or bus back.
Green Space and Recreation
Ballston had trees planted by streets, but like other cities there wasn’t that much other plant life. However, that’s not to say that there wasn’t any green area. Near by is Bluemont Park and Quincy Park. Bluemont Park had a lot of various fields and even a disc golf course, while Quincy Park was mostly for baseball and had a basketball court and playground as well.
For other recreation there were always a lot of runners and bikers on the W&OD trail and the Custis Trail that were close by. There was also a local high school track that I’m not sure if you were technically allowed to use, but I know people that used it to train. There were a few gyms close by in the area but I was either walking or using my stationary bike/weights in my house so I didn’t need a gym membership.