Arlington County, Virginia

Arlington County, Virginia

Principle: Provide a variety of transportation choices.

Clarendon, Virginia (Credit:

Clarendon, Virginia (Credit:

In a nutshell: Since the 1970s, Arlington, VA, has concentrated most of its development around Metro corridors and stations, transforming a once auto-centric landscape into one of most walkable, transit-rich communities in the nation. As early as the 1960s, Arlington planned to accommodate future development in high-density, mixed-use transit corridors. Civic leaders successfully advocated for Metro’s Orange Line, the first of two Metro lines to serve Arlington, to travel underground, beneath an underused commercial corridor, and then they focused development within a ¼ mile of each of the five stops on the corridor, with the density of development diminishing closer to established single-family neighborhoods. Arlington has since repeated this approach with the Jefferson Davis corridor, served by Metro Yellow and Blue lines, and Columbia Pike, a major commercial corridor and bus route. The county provides incentives in the form of density bonuses to encourage the mix of uses, building form and design necessary to foster dynamic communities.

Why we like it: Few places illustrate the power of land use and design to foster walking, bicycling, and taking transit as powerfully as Arlington, Virginia, or the ability to densify while maintaining or improving quality of life. Today, thanks to a proactive plan to accommodate future growth around transit stations, with a mix of uses and designs that facilitate walkable access to countless destinations, Arlington County offers people the ability to live car-free. As a result, people flock to Arlington to live, work and play, and its property values and rent premiums are evidence of its desirability. A 2012 Brookings Institute study found that clusters of walkable urban places in the Washington, DC, region (including the Ballston rail corridor) command office, retail and residential rents 41, 47 and 31 percent higher, respectively, than standalone walkable urban places – and an even greater premium than non-walkable areas. In addition, residential values are 86 percent greater in clusters of walkable urban places than in standalone walkable urban places.

One only has to review Arlington’s economic development strategic plan to understand the importance of transit-oriented development to its economy: Arlington’s Framework for Prosperity specifically lists transit-oriented development as part of its important business infrastructure, and the provision of “high quality places that ensure an exceptional quality of life and offer amenities that are valued by residents, businesses and visitors” is a prominent goal.

Arlington’s land use strategy has already paid significant economic dividends: In 1970, the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor had 22,000 jobs. By 2009, that number had increased to 98,500. Similarly, the amount of office space increased from 5.5 to 21.7 million square feet, and the number of housing units grew from 7,000 to 28,643. Metro ridership has also increased over the years, and many of Arlington’s arterial streets actually experienced a decrease in automobile traffic, despite continued growth.


Walk this Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Urban Places in Metropolitan Washington, DC, Christopher B. Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo, The Brookings Institution, May 2012

40 Years of Transit-Oriented Development: Arlington County’s Experience with Transit-Oriented Development in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor, a presentation to the Reston Land Use Task Force by Robert Brosnan, May 5, 2010.

For more information:

Arlington County Planning and Development History

Framework for Prosperity


  • A list of awards Arlington County has won for transportation initiatives
  • The Columbia Pike Initiative won a CNU Charter Award for Best Corridor Plan (2014)
  • The Crystal City Sector Plan won a National Planning Achievement Award for Economic Planning & Development (2013)
  • The League of American Bicyclists named Arlington gold status as a Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) (2016)
  • The League of American Bicyclists named Arlington a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community (2015)
  • AARP named Arlington #1 among Best Cities for Staying Healthy for cities with populations of 100,000 to 500,000 (2015)
  • Bicycling Magazine named Arlington as one of the Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities in the nation (2014)
  • Redfin ranked Arlington #17 Most Bikeable Community in the country
  • The Columbia Pike Planning Initiative was named “Best In My Backyard ‘IMBY’” at the 2014 Governor’s Housing Conference
  • com named Arlington the #3 Best Place to Live in 2015
  • The American Planning Association named Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards among the Great Streets in America (2008)
  • EPA National Award for Smart Growth Achievement for the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor (2002)
  • The Americans for the Arts Public Art Network named Arlington a “Top 50” public art designation for its project Echo (2013)
  • Arlington won the Benjamin Banneker Award for Outstanding Social Commitment and Community Initiatives from the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Planning Association for the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan (2012)
  • The National Academy of Sciences hailed Arlington as the Best Transit-Oriented Development in the Nation (2009)
  • Arlington was named #3 “Greenest City” by NerdWallet (2015)