Mockup of what the project could look like. Image by CC2DCA. Image used with permission.

Resident of Crystal City or not, you may have heard about the ambitious CC2DCA pedestrian bridge project which could link the area’s main commercial axis, Crystal Drive, to Ronald Reagan National Airport and Mount Vernon trail. Since we last wrote about it, the feasibility study has been completed and Arlington County is starting to prepare its County Improvement Plan budget which could include funding for the project.

However, not everyone is thrilled that plans are going forward.

Mockup of what the project could look like. Image by CC2DCA.

Here’s what the connection will do

The lofty CC2DCA more directly connects the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) with Union Station and other areas south of Crystal City in northern Virginia. The bridge will reach near the Crystal City Metro station and bring riders close to a future MARC and VRE train interoperation.

The renderings show lots of greenery, but the project is in the early stages. While the renderings show the BID’s vision of what it could be, the corridor might be a bridge, a tunnel, or anything in between. The BID seem to be leaning towards a more appealing bridge option. There is no set budget yet, but the feasibility study indicates that the next step is an environmental study.

Mockup of what the project could look like. Image by CC2DCA.

Supporters of the project hope it will reduce the need for parking at National Airport, which is struggling with lack of space, and indirectly lessen strain on the environment. If there are fewer cars coming into the airport for drop-off, pick-up, and parking, there will be less congestion, air pollution, and need for more parking space. This could reduce the heat island effect created by vast swaths of asphalt without enough open and vegetated space.

The project also connects Crystal City’s streets with other important activity hubs in the area, serving as an airport connection as well as a space to congregate that’s located near a variety of modes of transportation, hotels, housing, and jobs. Robert Mandle of the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) labels it an “economic development amenity.”

Not everyone is happy about the project

The project has so far been polarizing — most people seem to either love it or hate it.

Those in the “hate it” category have criticized spending taxpayer money on something with very little direct return on investment. However, return on investment is not measured by a conventional cost-return estimate, but rather the cost of the bridge being rewarded by enough revitalization of the area. Others argued that it could only be used by nearby residents because no one would want to get off one stop before the airport and walk the rest of the way just so they can use the bridge.

These are the existing routes. Image by CC2DCA.

Some Facebook commenters argued that even people in the area would rather take a ride-hail to the airport. That’s certainly true for many travelers, but we shouldn’t forget factors like traffic and tardy Ubers. For neighborhood residents, the bridge has a similar travel time with no obstacles and will provide an option for people who prefer to walk. City planners’ goal is to have a number of efficient mobility options, since this promotes socio-economic development.

Because of its location over a highway and on pre-developed land, the project is facing some challenges including visual obstruction, noise, and possible light contamination from the site. Some residents seem to see the connection as an alien element invading their space, rather than a bonus or an improvement.

Here’s why the bridge could be a good thing

It is no secret that walking around Crystal City is not the most pleasant experience. Streets are wide and uncomfortable, and people walking are surrounded by speeding cars, high walls with no fenestrations, and loads of leftover space. The Crystal City Sector Plan is an ongoing attempt to change that, and the CC2DCA bridge could help achieve this goal of creating a more welcoming urban landscape.

Another big area of concern is that the bridge will somehow encroach on the George Washington Memorial Parkway below it, which many commuters cross every day. However, the National Park Service’s legislative mission is to protect space for drivers. The Crystal City board is already having a discussion on how to blend the proposed crossing with the parkway experience, maybe even enhance it.

The same goes for air property. The airport authority has a security enhancement project that will likely prevent non-ticketed people who just want to say goodbye to their loved ones from being allowed in the national hall. Part of CC2DC will likely host family hellos and goodbyes.

Mockup of what the project could look like. Image by CC2DCA.

When a city is planned, roads are laid out and development follows. Why? Because people must be able to access shops, houses, parks, and everything else in order to use them. Now we have entered a sustainability-oriented era, and our survival is based on limiting car use. Mobility is about having choices, and that’s what’s being evaluated here. Transportation infrastructure is already there, and a pedestrian connection will give travelers another option.

Many fears about the project seem to be stemming from a concern for drivers’ experience. However, it’s time to think about people walking and biking, and reoriente our society towards them. This is only uncomfortable at the moment because of how deeply-rooted car culture is.

The BID is now looking at short-term improvements recommended in its feasibility study. If it addresses these challenges well in the design and engineering phase, the bridge could one day be an important element that helps bring Crystal City to life by integrating public transportation and infrastructure as it transforms into a more sustainable and people-friendly area.

Rita Abou Samra wants to live in an equitable and sustainable world where all seven billion people are happy. When she is not hopelessly and tirelessly devising plans to make that happen, she is a polyglot urban planner from Beirut. Rita is also a fan of food, fitness, learning, and her dog, Chewy.