Where We Live: Columbia Pike

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Arlington County’

For those District residents who don’t own cars and don’t like MetroBus, the extent of the Washington region is limited.  Sure, you can get to a lot of major attractions via MetroRail, but you’re missing out on a lot too.  Take Columbia Pike for example– it has a vibrant, fun “main street” feel to it, but many Washingtonians haven’t been out there (except maybe to catch a movie at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse).  Even though there isn’t a Metro station nearby, this area is definitely worth a visit.

History: Columbia Pike has always been a major thoroughfare through Arlington County since it was chartered in 1801.  It was originally a streetcar suburb, with a streetcar stop at the intersection of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike and a direct bus connecting to the District.  But during the 1940s, the area became much more suburban and car-friendly, with lots of car dealerships and gas stations.  This pattern of development continued for the next fifty years.

The important thing to note here is that many of the neighborhoods in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor developed similarly, but they got Metro stations in the 1970s.  This led to a surge in land value, which then led to compact development and reinvestment right around those stations.  Columbia Pike didn’t get a Metro station, so there was no catalyst for urban development.  But the story isn’t over: a streetcar is coming to Columbia Pike in the next decade, which can finally bring the reinvestment that the area has been waiting for.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Arlington County’

Neighborhood Character: While it is considered one of Arlington’s ‘urban villages’, Columbia Pike isn’t a compact neighborhood built around a Metro station. It’s a corridor that stretches for miles, from the Pentagon down to Bailey’s Crossroads. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of development here though, as ART says, “This corridor is home to more than a quarter of Arlington’s population… Residents are well-served by more than 500 businesses and 1.6 million square feet of commercial space.”

The heart of the corridor is right near the Walter Reed Drive intersection, which is the historical center of the area.  The nearby residential neighborhoods, including Arlington Heights, Penrose, Arlington Village, and Douglas Park, are a short walk from the restaurants, offices, and shops along Columbia Pike.  Allison of YeahRightBlog, an area resident of two years, says, “It has a real neighborhoody vibe, so you don’t feel like you’re living in a big city, even though you have easy access to one.”

Transportation: There’s no Metro station here, but there is excellent bus service that connects with the Pentagon, Ballston, and various stops in DC. Several bus lines form the PikeRide, a bus network that connects the area. If you’re biking, you can hop on the W&OD trail or Four Mile Run right at Columbia Pike, and parts of the area are becoming very walkable.

And of course, it has to be mentioned that the area’s transportation will be greatly improved by the Columbia Pike Streetcar, which is in the preliminary engineering phase now. The streetcar is projected to connect the Pentagon with Bailey’s Crossroads along Columbia Pike, leading to improved transit access and generally revitalizing parts of the corridor.

The area provides great access to the rest of the region, too.  Allison says, “I love that it’s convenient to so many nearby places like Clarendon and Shirlington (and practical things like 395, Route 50) but that it also has cool places of its own so you don’t HAVE to go up to Clarendon to get a good meal.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Drafthouse marquee’
courtesy of ‘wfyurasko’

What to See: Sure, I can give you a list of places to check out, but wouldn’t you rather see Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman give you a guided tour of the area?  If you still want a list though, here it goes:

  • The Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse provides an awesome combination of movies, food, and drinks.  Allison says, “You can’t beat $1 movie night.  It’s also really fun to watch big sports events there on the big screen like the world cup and the superbowl.”
  • The Columbia Pike Farmers’ Market is a year-round market on Sundays from 9 AM to 1 PM at Pike Park.
  • Columbia Pike is full of great parks to hang out in: Penrose Park and Monroe Park are great for kids, Alcova Heights Park has great sports facilities, and Jennie Dean Park is 22 acres and has good picnicking facilities.
  • There’s lots of great food to try here.  The Lost Dog Cafe is a local favorite, with great pizzas and beer (and free delivery in the area if you can’t wait for a table).  Allison also says Bangkok 54 has great Thai food, and new Irish bar P. Brennan’s has it all: “The food is amazing, the staff is great, and they have an impressive drink selection.”

What’s Nearby: Columbia Pike is north of Shirlington, northwest of Crystal City, and south of Court House and Clarendon.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘christaki’

Why We Love Columbia Pike: It’s a neighborhood with great access to the region, tons of nearby parks, housing that is actually affordable, and good places to eat.  It has a mix of military families, families with young children, and young professionals.  And things are only looking up for Columbia Pike– with a new streetcar, the area will become a major regional destination, and it’ll feel a little less far away from the District. But you don’t have to wait until then, as there’s new development happening in the area now, and there are already great places to hang out.  So hop on the bus and take a trip out to Columbia Pike– it’s definitely worth a visit.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

15 thoughts on “Where We Live: Columbia Pike

  1. I would welcome a Pike streetcar line, as I would be able to use it. I’m just not holding my breath right now.

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  3. @Mike: there were 22 on DC, and there have only been 5 each on Maryland and Virginia. If you have suggestions for areas that have not yet been covered, but are within the area served by Metro, and which have both residential and commercial districts, and ideally some bloggers to profile, Shannon would probably appreciate the suggestions.

  4. Geez, you fogot to mention the Cash Depot, the used car lots, the vacant storefronts, the potholes, a street so narrow that a trash truck clipped a school bus and killed two kids, retail devoid of most type of stores that people actually use (so local residents have to leave the County to shop), the den of crime and inequity down by the 4-Mile run crossing, the gridlock where Columbia Pike enters Fairfax Country and the lack of parking and never mind the rats roaming the dumpsters behind the eateries — that all is just for starters. Oh, but don’t worry, a streetcar will change everything.

  5. Columbia Pike has some great Art Deco buildings – including the Halstead (first picture), which is a brand new building built in the same style.

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  7. Let’s Be Free: Lets be fair. Any area that was neglected as long as the pike was has issues. However it is in the middle of being fixed. As for negative morons like it would be better to just shut up. See if you can still hold the same negative view in say five years. I think the better question is do you live near the pike?

  8. The Halstead (left side, Picture 3) and Siena Park (picture 1) are the new Art Deco buildings that have brought a new life into the area.

    Bob and Edith’s is a MUST include, as anyone who has needed some energy after 3am will attest. It’s almost a rite of passage for moving to the area.

    That said, there are plenty of areas up and down the Pike that need to be cleaned up, including the CVS and the McDonalds/7-11 areas on the Inner Pike (inside of Glebe) and the aforementioned 4 Mile Run intersection on the Outer Pike. Regardless – things are continuing to improve – The Adams Square rebirth (end 2010) with Giant’s return will bring additional life – ala Pentagon Row, and the Trolley will bring the entire Pike together in a way that the “16″ line really hasn’t been able to accomplish.

  9. Great rundown of my neighborhood – it’s more walkable than people realize and I’m looking forward to see what else there is in store.

  10. We’ve lived on the Pike for 6 years now. Thanks for writing about our neighborhood! Our favorites that weren’t mentioned: Thai Square, Rappahanack, Kabobs Inn, Walter Reed Community Center. Also, it’s so easy to drive into the city — 10-15 minute, no traffic. Even during traffic, it’s easier to get into the city than if driving from North Arlington.