News & Politics

National Landing’s Hopes for a Pedestrian-Friendly Route 1 Could Become a Test of Amazon’s Clout in Virginia

A BID campaign called "People Before Cars" seems designed to put pressure on the Virginia Department of Transportation.

A reimagining of Route 1 at South 18th Street, via the National Landing BID.

The National Landing BID launched a public-awareness campaign Tuesday about Route 1, the highway that cuts Crystal City off from Pentagon City in Arlington. The campaign is called “People Before Cars” and includes a familiar urbanist wish list: More bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and, perhaps most important, narrower lanes and slower driving speeds.

Such desires are so familiar in the Washington area in 2021—how many times have you seen similar renderings of happy urbanites working, shopping, and playing multi-modally?—that you may be wondering why they merit any mention as news. The answer is: Note the timing.

This afternoon, the Virginia Department of Transportation, or VDOT, plans to address the Arlington County Board about its still-developing plans for Route 1 between South 12th Street and South 23rd Street, which it has been studying since Amazon announced it would place its second headquarters in Crystal City. (The name “National Landing” refers to an ambient neighborhood that comprises parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard, all of which will get a taste of HQ2.)

National Landing stakeholders were disappointed in what VDOT presented to the County Board in March, says Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, the BID’s director. The BID wants an “urban boulevard” that doesn’t resemble the current concrete ribbon of Route 1 at all. Some of VDOT’s concepts included three travel lanes in each direction and, as Washington Business Journal reported at the time, “critics believe that vision betrays the community’s goal of a pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented neighborhood developing around Amazon.com Inc.’s new headquarters.”

Among those critics is JBG Smith Properties, Amazon’s partner in redeveloping National Landing. The BID’s press release for the People Before Cars campaign quotes JBG VP Jay Corbalis as saying “The improvement of Route 1 has been a huge priority for the collective community and was even featured in the historic negotiations that brought Amazon’s HQ2 to the area – further cementing its importance in the overall repositioning of National Landing.”

Translation: It’s probably not only the BID and the developer for whom an “urban boulevard” is important. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the BID’s campaign or what VDOT may present Tuesday afternoon, but shared a recent blog post by Amazon executive John Schoettler with Washingtonian. “The publicly accessible spaces throughout the site will prioritize walkways, landscaping, and retail over motor vehicles,” Schoettler writes in it. “I think resoundingly what we don’t want to see is a highway through the community,” Gabriel says.

This afternoon’s presentation will share an overview of VDOT’s feasibility study as well as the agency’s progress in developing concepts for a future Route 1 project, says Jennifer S. McCord, a VDOT spokesperson for Northern Virginia, but the agency doesn’t plan to make any recommendations yet. VDOT’s next public information session, she says, will be in June.

Correction: This post originally said VDOT’s next meeting with the Arlington County Board will be in June. In fact, that’s when the agency will hold its third public information session. 

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.