National Walk to Work Day: Open South Gate to Arlington Cemetery to Pedestrians

The first Friday in April is National Walk to Work Day, which in 2012 is April 6th.  It’s a clever idea for an often over-looked means of transportation: feet.  Much of smart growth is focused on accommodating bike riders, transit users and creating “walkable communities.”  Unfortunately, what’s sometimes lost in this is the idea that it’s healthy, safe and fun to walk where you are going even when it’s not just around the corner.  For most Pike commuters, walking is not going to become the everyday to-and-from means of getting to work.  But Arlington and other local entities can do more to facilitate walking as a means of transportation.

In honor of this countywide ode to pedestrians, here is a modest idea for Pike-area commuters to DC: open up the rear (South) gate to Arlington Cemetery to pedestrians.  (Others have advocated better bike access to the cemetery, and it’s a controversial idea; this idea is only for walkers.)  Opening this gate would allow Pike commuters a new means to get from Arlington to the Memorial bridge that is safer and more pleasant than the narrow, busy path that runs along Route 27.

Why Not Open the Gate?

Behind the Air Force Memorial (or the Sheraton, if that’s an easier landmark) likes the tiny, isolated community of Foxcroft Heights. It’s bound by the Pike, the Navy Annex, Washington Boulevard, and Fort Myer.

In Foxcroft Heights, South Orme St terminates at the Main Gate to Henderson Hall in Fort Myer. Just to the east of that gate, on the (aptly named) Southgate Road lies a large iron gate atop a paved entrance to Arlington Cemetery.  (In the map above, you can see the road just above where Oak Street meets Southgate Rd.)

The gate is locked except when Cemetery workers need to use it.  And while most of the cemetery is surrounded by fences, next to this gate lies a short, waist-high, stone wall that can easily be “scooted” over.  Of course, the cemetery has real reason to be concerned about keeping out vandals,  so opening access here would need to be timed consistent with its opening hours.  But Arlington Cemetery is a peaceful, beautiful, somber place that is already popular with “power” walkers.  (Signs on the gates ban jogging, which makes for an understandable, if arbitrary distinction.)  There is no reason that pedestrian commuters should be denied access to the grounds from this alternative entrance.

A (poor quality) photo of the gate from Southgate Rd.

Another benefit to opening the South Gate is to allow tourists visiting the Air Force Memorial or the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial better access to Arlington Cemetery.  The Air Force Memorial is just shy of a mile from the Pentagon Metro station, and the Pentagon Memorial is on the way.  A walk from either of those memorials to the South Gate entrance would allow an ambitious tourist a convenient route to continue their day trip into Arlington Cemetery.

Note that the Cemetery plans to expand onto Southgate at some point.  (The lack of clear plans for the area seem evident from that story.)  So while opening the gate isn’t a permanent solution, that doesn’t seem reason not to do it.

Making visitors hop or scoot this short wall (assuming it’s even legal) is both silly and unnecessary.  Instead, the gate can be left open (wide enough only for pedestrians) during the cemetery’s opening hours, held open by a chain.  A new sign can be added on the gate reminding users that bikes are prohibited in that part of the cemetery.  It’s a winner for pedestrians, healthier living, the cemetery and tourists.

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