The portion of Route 29 that runs through Arlington County has long been named the "Robert E. Lee Highway," apparently after the Confederate general. I say apparently because I never gave it a second thought. That's because I'm not originally from here and all the actual street signs just say "Lee Highway."
Lee is a really common name. It could have been Bruce Lee. Or Stan Lee.
But this is Virginia, and so we must decolonize our street names. (Personally I would have thought it a daily act of sweet revenge to be black and driving down Lee Highway to my six-figure job, but that's just me.)
What will they replace the name with? Sadly, not this.
The Lee Highway Alliance, a group of developers, land owners, and civic associations, whittled the original list of 186 names down to exactly what you'd expect of a committee trying to throw a bone to every relevant interest group there is (with the possible exception of the people who have to drive on it every day). They ended up with twenty names that are an exercise in box-checking.
The best box-checks are the names of local and historical civil rights leaders (getting back to my "sweet revenge" comment above). There's James E. Browne, the organizer of the Arlington lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s, and John M. Langston, the first black member of Congress from Virginia. There is also Edward T. Morton, Northern Virginia's first black physician, Maggie Walker, the first black woman to charter a bank in the U.S., Ella Baker, a civil rights leader, Leonard "Doc" Muse, the only pharmacist for a while that would serve black Americans (I've driven by that pharmacy many times), and Mildred and Richard Loving, plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case legalizing interracial marriage.
It goes downhill from there pretty quickly.
First, there is the "federal bureaucrat entry," the truly awful "Arcova," an acronym (of course!) created out of "ARlington COunty VA."
It may be ugly but at least it's soulless.
There is also "John Glenn" whose roots run long and deep in… Ohio. Yes, he lived here, but, no. Maybe there's a large Ohio diaspora here I'm not aware of, a street lined with restaurants selling cinnamon-flavored chili and houses festooned with oversized flags with Big "Os" on them.
Then there are the "we love the environment" entries. The first is "Dogwood." It's the state tree. I like dogwoods. I have one. Dogwood would be a nice name for an Idyllic country lane. Lee Highway is not an idyllic country lane. The explanation is that it would be representative of developing "a more biophilic community" which sounds more like something you'd want to cure than cultivate.
"Green Way" is an additional sop to the environmentalists, a suitably vacant name that you decorate like a Christmas cookie however you like, and they do: "renewable energy," "alternative forms of transportation," "climate change," ZZZZZZZzzzzz.
Then we get into the cringe category, the entries for the super-woke: "Justice," "Equity," "Unity," "Inclusive," "Community," and "Harmony."
Basically, a vocabulary list for your upcoming Critical Race Theory seminar.
These are really just painful, although there would be great potential for comedy in there being a "multi-vehicle pileup on Harmony," a "road closure on Inclusive," and an incidence of road rage on "Unity."
"Main Street" also made the cut. I don't know why. Mayberry envy?
We also have the thoroughly forgettable "Innovation" and the mandatory indigenous peoples entry, "Necostin," which to be honest, is actually kind of cool.
They have yet to select a designation for the roadway. It's "highway" now, but the problem the Lee Highway Alliance has is that they want to rebrand it as something more inviting and walkable.
I've been on Lee Highway many a time. I have no interest in walking anywhere on it other than to and from my car.
Locals can vote on their three favorites and I almost want to cast my ballot for the cringy ones.
What can I say? I'm curious if they'll add EZPass lanes to "Equity."