Pentagon City. Image by the author.

Pentagon City in south Arlington has experienced a lot of development in the past few years, and there’s more growth coming. That means new challenges when it comes to being a place where walking is safe and easy.

Pentagon City has an unusual mix of density and car-oriented infrastructure. Even before its growth in recent years, the neighborhood—bordered on two sides by the 395 and Route 1—had 10-plus story residential buildings along six-lane boulevards, large surface parking lots, and town center-style developments.

At the center is the Pentagon City Metro station, flanked by two malls, which until recently had little street facing retail. Pentagon City has long had limited pedestrian appeal, but it is primed for pedestrian growth.

Today, there's a lot more reason to walk around Pentagon City

Some major changes have come to the area over the past few years.  Several large mixed-use buildings have opened, especially in the blocks east of the Metro between Eads Street and Fern Street. A series of 20+ story buildings have brought thousands of residential units and extensive street-level retail, including a Whole Foods. 

In 2016 the Fashion Centre mall completed a year-long refurbishment project that included a new addition and façade on South Hayes Street, with street-facing retail and restaurants. In a few short years, Pentagon City has seen a significant increase in residential units and more reasons for those residents, and workers, to ply the streets. 

Unfortunately, walking there is inconvenient and dangerous

With all of these rapid changes, the way infrastructure is managed in Pentagon City hasn’t kept pace. For example, crossing South Hayes Street from the Fashion Centre mall toward the new Whole Foods requires traversing six lanes of traffic and a center median. Currently pedestrians get 20 seconds to make this cross, which is tough for all but the speediest walkers. After the walk sign turns solid orange, cars get another 5-10 seconds to cross the intersection. 

South Hayes Street, looking east, in the direction of the new Whole Foods. Image by Google Maps.

On the southeast corner of the same intersection, the first phase of the Pentagon Centre redevelopment is underway, with a compact construction site abutting 12th Street.

Image by Jonathan Neeley using Google Maps.

Starting a month ago, the construction site spilled out into the parking lane on 12th Street and the sidewalk along that section was closed. Pedestrians walking from the Metro to Whole Foods or the residences two blocks to the east have to choose between taking a longer route on the opposite side of the street or walking in the traffic lane. Many people are choosing the latter. 

Crossing timings and sidewalk closures reflect the tension in Pentagon City between an increasingly-pedestrian dense neighborhood and a car-oriented approach to managing how people get around.

Adjusting the light timings or preserving pedestrian access along construction sites—even if that means losing an additional lane of parking—would provide for a more complete neighborhood.

It's definitely not all bad

I don't want to imply that private infrastructure is the only thing tilting Pentagon City in the direction of being pedestrian-friendly; there are great things about the public infrastructure there, too.

A few years back, the county revamped South Hayes Street around the Metro, adding bike lanes and mid-block crossing for pedestrians. 

South Hayes Street, complete with bike lanes and mid-block crossings. Image by the author.

While these investments support pedestrian movement, they also highlight the interconnection between infrastructure (crossings and sidewalks) and infrastructure management (crossing timing and sidewalk closures). 

Pentagon City is on the right track with its smart growth approach. But on top of buildings and concrete, the development happening here should operate in a way that works for people on foot.

Nick Burger moved to Washington, DC in 2008 and has been an ANC commissioner (6B06) since 2015. He focuses on housing and urban development issues through the ANC and chairs 6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee. He volunteers most weekends with Habitat for Humanity DC. Nick lives in Capitol Hill with his wife and two children.