Greater Greater Washington

VRE infill station launches a new idea: transit-oriented sprawl

Virginia Railway Express officials broke ground yesterday on the Potomac Shores station, an infill commuter rail station in Prince William County that will be the centerpiece of a new town center.


Potomac Shores site plan. Image from SunCal.

Potomac Shores is a gigantic development along Prince William's Potomac riverfront, between Rippon and Quantico. It covers nearly 2,000 acres and will eventually have over 3,800 residential units.

The website boasts of "rugged beauty," an on-site 18-hole golf course, and miles of recreational trails. There's no doubt that Potomac Shores is sprawl.

But it's a new kind of sprawl. At its center, a new urbanist town center complete with a new commuter rail station.

Developer SunCal is building the station. When it opens in 2017, and if the town center has enough amenities, Potomac Shores could legitimately be a lot less car-dependent than the typical outer suburban subdivision.

That's great news, even if it's still true that Potomac Shores won't be as urban, diverse, or dense as DC.

New urbanism marries TOD

For decades now, new urbanist communities have used mixed-use and good design to make for better suburbs. Nobody would call Kentlands a true city, for example, but it's a marked improvement over most of west Gaithersburg. And since we'll never fit all the growth in the entire metropolitan region into DC, getting suburbs right is hugely important.

By building around a VRE station, Potomac Shores takes 20th Century new urbanism to the next level. It's not just a traditional neighborhood development; it's a transit-oriented development.

There are other transit-oriented new urbanist communities popping up around the region. But they're mostly in closer-in places like Montgomery County or Fairfax, and nobody has ever built a new VRE station as the centerpiece of one.

Potomac Shores is an experiment. It's obviously sprawl, but maybe it'll prove to be a more sustainable and livable kind of sprawl. Time will tell.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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I'm ok with it. It's not so much the VRE station but the other stuff that will determine how successful of a TOD it is. The parking and ways for people who'll live outside the town center to get to the station. Those elements will have just as big an impact as the actual train station will.

But those are things we already knew about TOD projects.

This is way better than most of what has happened in Prince William County.

by drumz on Aug 5, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

Could definitely get use to developers building infill stations. Very cool.

by h st ll on Aug 5, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

Looks okay. I hope they make provisions for additional tracks. VRE is only as good as the service it provides, which is minimal.

by Randall M. on Aug 5, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

Are they planning to have parking at the VRE station? According to VRE, both Rippon and Quantico parking lots are at about 76% capacity, so I'd guess there's not much of an argument for parking at Potomac Shores.

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

unless vre service dramatically improves, most of those residents will be commuting to dc or tysons by car.

by Mike on Aug 5, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

People forget that transit was the original agent of sprawl. Streetcar suburbs were of course ways to get people out of the city and into expansive communities at the edge. The original private railway companies, especially in LA, built streetcars and interurbans as ways to sell land.

Transit can be used to fight sprawl, of course, but it can also increase it. Park and rides are another great example. They allow people to live further out by reducing the time penalty of traffic congestion.

by JJJJ on Aug 5, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Reminds me a lot of the high end bedroom communities around NYC. Super suburban, car centric, and far from the city. But the breadwinner at least can commute to work like a human by reading the paper and catching up on emails on the train. The "best-of-both-worlds" thing appeals to lots of folks, especially when it comes down to schooling for the kiddies.

by 11luke on Aug 5, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

"getting the suburbs right is hugely important."

And getting the message to the suburban leaders and opinion makers that transit-oriented development and complete streets are best sustainable economic development and redevelopment strategies should be a key focus for the GGW community.

That and getting rid of "free" parking for (nondisabled) federal and congressional workers ...

by Greenbelt on Aug 5, 2014 12:00 pm • linkreport

@Randall M

I believe this development is at the Northern tip of a 12-mile project to add a third rail.

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

Interesting concept. Curious to see how it turns out. Its spread out, yes, but at least with an awareness of walkability and transit. In many ways it reminds me of so called "master planned" communities in Florida, like Tradition or Celebration.

http://www.traditionfl.com/

http://www.celebration.fl.us/

by Mr. Johnson on Aug 5, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

I don’t want to be too quick to judge, but I see a lot of swooping road geometries, roundabouts, grassy building setbacks and what appear to be large parking lots or garages in the “Town Center.” Hopefully what is shown in this illustration is only a preliminary concept.

by RTA on Aug 5, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport

eww!

The town center looks like a strip mall.

by Richard on Aug 5, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

How would folks compare developments such as this to the communities that will develop around Silver Line/Phase 2? T

This development appears to about the same distance to DC as the terminus of Phase 2.

by VRE vs. WMATA on Aug 5, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

VRE vs WMATA

except a very large percent of the people in the LoCo SL Ph2 TOD will be commuting to Tysons, or to Ballston, not to DC. The only stops with employment on the VRE closer to PWC than DC are Crystal City and Alexandria (King Street) neither of which have as many jobs as Tysons (though both, even CC, are more walkable than Tysons currently is.) So even aside from the higher frequency the SL will have compared to VRE (even after the extra tracks and the new Long Bridge) I would say the prospect for high transit share on the SL are a good bit higher than for this.

I still think its a good idea though. Lots of people are never going to pay the premium to be close in. This isn't even really on the edge of development south along I95 - there is plenty of development in Stafford, and some beyond. So this isn't only an infill station, its infill development as well. More or less.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 5, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Um - does it suck that the train station is going to completely cut the town off from the views of the water? Isn't this what a lot of northern/rust belt areas have been paying a lot of money to undo?

by RelayTheHero on Aug 5, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

"Reminds me a lot of the high end bedroom communities around NYC. Super suburban, car centric, and far from the city. But the breadwinner at least can commute to work like a human by reading the paper and catching up on emails on the train. The "best-of-both-worlds" thing appeals to lots of folks, especially when it comes down to schooling for the kiddies."
by 11luke on Aug 5, 2014 11:58 am

I can't recommend this enough. It is about getting suburbs right -- and this is how you do it. That's how it was done in the suburbs I gew up in north of NYC -- and it works. I disagree with the observation in the article above that this will be a less car-dependent community. Everyone there will still be using their cars to get around short distances. however, if the town center develops it's own gravitational pull, it will keep the local residents local. They won't be using highways as much, or clogging up roads in other areas...as much. That should be the goal of suburban development -- bedroom communities that offer both mass transit to the center city and also a vibrant business district that provides many of the daily needs.

Being car-centric isn't a disaster, either. It's a problem now -- because 1) there's the carbon climate-changing pollution and 2) roads are too dang congested. Scientists and car companies are moving towards addressing the pollution issue. Communities like this offer ways to limit the congestion. Having said that, we still need to limit sprawl to protect farmland and wildlife habitat -- but infill developments are a pretty good way to do that. Over time, if they're planned correctly, they will become more densely populated, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing....especially for urbanists. White Plains was a sleepy bedroom community north of NYC -- more or less the center of suburban Westchester County. Over the last 20 years, it's become a considerable economic engine and very much a city of its own. That is the future.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Aug 5, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

"does it suck that the train station is going to completely cut the town off from the views of the water? "

I'd say what sucks more is the golf course, but I'd guess that will go away in time, replaced by a more sensible, more productive and environmentally sustainable use.

Trains and river views sounds romantic to me. All they need to do is improve the VRE service.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Aug 5, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

Besides, the tracks are already there, no? The station would affect views over a block or two.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Aug 5, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

We need developments like this to spur the improvement of VRE service. Ideally, you would improve service first and then build but if you wait for that, you'll likely be waiting for godot.

by Falls Church on Aug 5, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

Let's keep perspective here. It is Prince William County. Any comparisons to DC or inside-the-beltway neighborhoods is apples to bananas comparison.

At least some of the further out counties are willing to consider this type of development. They cannot go from their current land use to dc-urban land use overnight. We need to be realistic about how and what pace things change.

by JJ on Aug 5, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

This is definitely a step in the right direction. There are a surprising number of developments along I-95 that are trying to take a more urban tack like Embrey Mill in Stafford County.

But I do wonder how viable the town center will be, as it's two miles east of Route 1, which used to be the area's main street but is now pretty thrashed, and at least three miles east of I-95, where most of the commercial and retail development has since migrated. VRE can't support retail in the town center because the trains are so infrequent, it's so far from the main roads that you won't get a lot of drivers passing by either, and the development isn't big enough to support retail by itself.

I'm curious to see how the developer will try to address that.

by dan reed! on Aug 5, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

These are train tracks, not an elevated highway. The view shed disruption will be minimal.

by BTA on Aug 5, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

@dan reed!

Maybe they think the water front aspect of the town center will be a draw to bring people in from several miles away? But, of course, those people would be arriving by car and need somewhere to park.

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

Fischy however, if the town center develops it's own gravitational pull, it will keep the local residents local.
I agree with what you are saying, it isn't a bad model building around a rail station even if it has infrequent service. Just what I have seen of the town center is precious little and some concept drawings of what it could look like. I think you want some additional density there. Something to ensure that it has the pull you are describing. It will be hard, with the frieght line and being all the way to the east against the water.

RelayTheHero Um - does it suck that the train station is going to completely cut the town off from the views of the water? Isn't this what a lot of northern/rust belt areas have been paying a lot of money to undo?

I'm sure they took a look at the tracks and realized that there frequently aren't any trains there to impede the view.

by Richard on Aug 5, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

According to this article, I think the tracks and station will be at a lower elevation than the town center.

http://potomaclocal.com/2014/08/04/potomac-shores-vre-station-unlike-system/

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

Better map of the development here: http://potomacshores.com/i/siteMap.pdf

And, the top of the range homes are going to be priced started in the $710s on 1/3 acre lots and none of the homes will have river views (which seems like a waste of land since some of the golf course holes seem to have those views ... and to Fischy, the way it is laid out, the golf course is not going anywhere without disrupting those people that bought houses to look out on a golf course).

by Thad on Aug 5, 2014 2:07 pm • linkreport

Some 300 years ago, settlers of Virginia's coastal region earned newfound prosperity along the banks of the Potomac. They established magnificent manors that became the prototypes for the area's aristocratic dwellings. They enjoyed a relaxing and distinctly regional way of life. The Tidewater tradition was born.

Plantation life is the life for me!

But if that was what they were aiming for, they couldn't even spring for a center-entrance colonial?

by gimbels lover on Aug 5, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

Good points made by Fischy. This developers of this project understand the nightmare that commuting up the I-95 Corridor is and can be. Wanting to alleviate congestion through use of mass transit is pure common sense. I applaud the developer for at least recognizing that VRE is a viable option and constructing the station.

New York, Connecticut and New Jersey all have vibrant towns located quite a distance from New York City that are heavily dependant on shuttling people to their jobs though mass transit. MetroNorth, Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit trains are critical infrastructure to the region.

Imagine had these systems survived or been converted to support mass transit needs: the Washington and Old Dominion Railway, the Chesapeake Beach Railway, the Washington, Brandywine and Point Lookout Railroad, and the trolley/interurban lines that once ran all the way to distant points like Rockville, Laurel, Fairfax, Mount Vernon, and College Park.

by Greg on Aug 5, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

Not so keen on this. The town center is great, sure, but the rest of the thing is awful. Do those greenbelts add any value except as a place for kids to dump grocery carts and chip bags? Why can't the developer push all the large homes into neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the town center? I can't think of a single design goal that can't be met with a more compact layout, even keeping large lot sizes.

Will there be solid walking and biking infrastructure on those high-speed arterials heading to the town center? Will that be a natural shopping destination, or will nearby strip malls suck out most of the everyday shopping trips?

by David Edmondson on Aug 5, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

It's not clear to me whether there's any residential near the town center. Apartments or townhouses in that immediate area?

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

It's not great, it's not bad. I would think some parking would make sense since it's still quite suburban. Maybe a couple of free shuttles at least in the morning /afternoon (5-9am & 3-8pm)when the trains are running would obviate the need for too much parking in a cost efficient manner.

by BTA on Aug 5, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

@gimbels lover: you'll never guess what they're using for lamp posts!

by Mike on Aug 5, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

The amenities ...

Already home to the first publicly accessible 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and our elegant new 8,000-square-foot Clubhouse, Potomac Shores plans to welcome: Tidewater Resort—a grand riverview hotel and spa. A vibrant, pedestrian-oriented town center for shopping, dining and entertainment. The Shores Club—a private indoor/outdoor recreational and social experience for residents only. The Waterfront District featuring a planned 450-slip marina. The Canoe Club on the Potomac River. A dynamic corporate campus. Two future on-site public schools. A dozen sports fields and courts. Scenic community and neighborhood parks. Ten miles of trails. And more than 3,800 new homes in walkable neighborhoods. New fiber-to-the-home technology ensures our residents have state-of-the-art resources—literally at their fingertips.

So, where are the service workers (all of those caddies, lawn-care workers, cleaners, servers, etc.) going to live? Not in the homes that, at their cheapest, start in the $500s.

Also, one design question, does anyone know why the driveways don't go to the street? They stop at the sidewalk with grass between the sidewalk and the road (but there is a curb-cut). I noticed it in all of the photos of home with driveways, especially since they have large concrete flowerpots across the driveway entrances ... so, why even have the garages?

by Thad on Aug 5, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

Sorry, first part of my comment is a quote from their website ... the quote code didn't work ...

by Thad on Aug 5, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

@Thad

Those are just the model houses. Usually in a new development the sales office is in the garage and the builder will build a little parking lot nearby for customers, so the driveway isn't being used, hence the decoration. Also, since model houses are such a heavily curated experience, I doubt the builder would want just anybody to park in front of the house anyway.

When the model house is eventually sold, they'll open up the driveway and usually convert the sales office back to a garage. That doesn't always happen. I remember my parents and I looking at a former model house in Burtonsville whose garage was never converted back. I think the owners were using it as an office or something.

by dan reed! on Aug 5, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

Sadly, once complete, Potomac Shores' town center might be the 3rd best "urban" area at a VRE station behind Fredericksburg and Manassas. (I'm obviously excluding the close-in stations of Alexandria, Crystal City, L'Enfant, and Union Station.)

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

@dan reed! - Thanks for explanation! As you can see, I have no experience with these type of communities ... only lived in either really rural or urban areas before recently and now I bought in an old community. Just seemed like a really strange arrangement ...

by Thad on Aug 5, 2014 3:31 pm • linkreport

Re: Virginia colonial settlers, mansions, - wow, is it just me or is that some serious code for wanting whites only. I'm surprised they used that wording.

Gary Trudeau could have a field day with this!

by Jay Roberts on Aug 5, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

@ Fischy and others.

I love the idea of commuter rail and bedroom communities, but DC is not NY, doesn't the lack of new potential office space in DC make this plan problematic. The DC workforce feels so decentralized compared to NY. I have a hard time envisioning rail based bedroom communities when people regularly have to work in Rockville, Landover, or Reston.

by Administrator on Aug 5, 2014 3:34 pm • linkreport

@ Administrator and others - Having lived in CT, I think the bedroom communities to NYC model really only works when there is such a huge downtown as NYC that draws in so many people as to justify subway like conditions on commuter rail. If DC was as dense as NYC, then I could see this community making a lot of sense, provided that VRE ran every 20-30 minutes during rush hour, as well as almost around the clock 7 days a week. But, DC will never be like NYC, and in fact the region is being more bipolar day by day with the growing Tysons/Reston area, such that VRE service on the scale of Metro North or LIRR will never make sense.

by JDC on Aug 5, 2014 3:37 pm • linkreport

Having looked at the map provided by Thad (http://potomacshores.com/i/siteMap.pdf) this place looks very unwalkable. Maybe the perspective is just off and maybe there will be wonderful pedestrian facilities, but I cannot see a lot of people walking from areas A and C, where maybe half of the population will live, to the 'downtown' except on the nicest of days. And, look how far area 11 is from everything and everyone living in northern areas. The complete lack of a grid system and the golf course running through everything makes for a pretty but disconnected pedestrian experience.

by JDC on Aug 5, 2014 3:42 pm • linkreport

@JDC

The Fredericksburg line currently runs at 25 minute headways in the mornings with the exception of one 45-minute gap. Fredericksburg departures:

5:05 (express)
5:15
5:40
6:05
6:30
7:15
7:40

Within that one gap, there's an Amtrak train at 7:00 that makes a few of the VRE stops.

Afternoon has fewer VRE trains but a couple more Amtrak trains that fit into work schedules.

http://www.vre.org/service/schedule.htm

by jh on Aug 5, 2014 3:43 pm • linkreport

@Administrator
I love the idea of commuter rail and bedroom communities, but DC is not NY, doesn't the lack of new potential office space in DC make this plan problematic. The DC workforce feels so decentralized compared to NY. I have a hard time envisioning rail based bedroom communities when people regularly have to work in Rockville, Landover, or Reston.

The reason NYC has this more than DC is more a function of 1)More difficulty in driving in NYC (higher parking/driving costs and congestion) 2)A longer history of railroad commuting existence/use 3)Suburban places built around commuter railroad stations in the transit era.

The number of workers commuting into each place are not so different: 608,000 workers commute into New York City each day compared to 461,000 in DC.
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2013/05/most-important-population-statistic-hardly-ever-gets-talked-about/5747/

Houston has 577,000 workers who commute in and they are the only other place over 300,000.

by MLD on Aug 5, 2014 3:53 pm • linkreport

Jay Roberts- yeah, the "Southern" and the "Northern" neighborhoods could even have a fight!

by asffa on Aug 5, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

Building a new TOD on commuter rail as the center point of a suburban area is the same theme as the Watkins Mill Town Center at Metropolitan Grove MARC in Gaithersburg. It's prompting a whole new interchange off 270 because to get the retail and office component to work there is going to still need to be car access - but the hundreds of housing units that are not enough to fully support the commercial core, can still use it - as can the neighboring communities that currently drive north to Germantown or south to other parts of Gaithersburg. Any employment may also become a work destination for residents of WA or Frederick, and that seat can be re-sold by a resident of Watkins Mill. Maybe this can do the same, and be a mid-way point where people boarding in Fredericksburg may exit here, and new people may take their seat.

by Gull on Aug 5, 2014 4:00 pm • linkreport

I'd rather see VRE and MARC go more the direction of Caltrain - with suburban employment centers strung along at each of the stations - than LIRR, which isn't nearly as useful in that way. More San Mateo.

Adding a town center but building some pretty heinous sprawl just beyond it doesn't make for a better region; just a marginally less bad one.

by David Edmondson on Aug 5, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

Having looked at the map provided by Thad (http://potomacshores.com/i/siteMap.pdf) this place looks very unwalkable.

Depends on how far people will walk, I suppose. 11 to 7 looks like 1.25 to 1.5 miles and C to 7 is 1.75 to 2, when I looked at a real map. I'd consider 11 to 7 "not bad" and "C to 7" a bit of a hike. But I routinely walk that sort of distance without giving it much thought because I like walking.

by Another Nick on Aug 5, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

there are lots of examples of planned developments that combine conventional sprawl residential with vaguely neotraditional commercial. this is a historical pattern found along many commuter rail lines, and even in many planned towns like Riverside, Illinois. that said, 1/3 acre lots don't really fool anyone; a better layout could combine smaller lots with more preserved land and deeper stream buffers.

this development must've broken ground last year - I remember seeing a bus wrap on a commuter bus for it last fall.

by Payton Chung on Aug 5, 2014 4:59 pm • linkreport

FWIW, most of the suburban WMATA stations were developed with a "transit oriented sprawl" paradigm. That's the basis of Belmont's criticism of "polycentric" transit systems like WMATA.

It's just that land values are such that intensification makes more sense economically.

by Richard Layman on Aug 5, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

It's a shame that the Cherry Hill Peninsula is being developed. Have fun with the marine clay. Throw some more cars on Rt. 1 and 95

PWC, "nothing green can stay!!" PWC, "We don't need no stinking parks!!"

Sorry, it doesn't really add anything to the conversation. I just had to vent.

by TheCharlee on Aug 5, 2014 6:29 pm • linkreport

Another Nick I think this development is going to mostly appeal to those over 55, and though I know many older people that are quite healthy and active, I wouldn't count on most not finding that too far to walk.

by asffa on Aug 5, 2014 6:55 pm • linkreport

I agree with many of the negative comments. On the site plan I see a series of small enclaves strung along a collector road, strict separation of housing types and price points, long twisty cul-de-sacs, and minimal connectivity. The best they can hope for is a comprehensive network of bike paths. The town center seems to get some grid action going with 20 or so blocks, but without more renderings it's hard to know if it will add up to anything like an active main street -- or whether it will be the usual grassy office park and manicured strip mall. A tipoff is the 850 acre development has one "main entry." A well connected development of that size needs more than one or two street connections to the outside world.

From time to time I add to the Town Paper list of new urbanism projects. But I won't be adding Potomac Shores. It may supply a demand and sell well but overall it falls short of too many new urbanism principles.

by Laurence Aurbach on Aug 5, 2014 8:46 pm • linkreport

@asffa- The developers are directly appealing to that market with the idea of "single-level living" and one of their areas goes so far as to be referred to as having no age limit, aka you don't have to wait to 65 to move here.

by Thad on Aug 5, 2014 8:58 pm • linkreport

Thad - yes. And also, they're putting a huge fertilizer and pesticide polluter - a golf course - near a waterway to sell homes.

by asffa on Aug 5, 2014 9:10 pm • linkreport

This community will surely add to VRE ridership, which will justify higher VRE service levels, so it's good for everyone in the area.

The people spending half a million or more living here surely like its mix of TOD and traditional suburban features, so the community is good for them. One person's poorly designed suburban hellscape is another person's plantation paradise.

The question is to what extent will this community further clog up 95 and other major roads during peak times. Then, it's not so good for everyone else.

by Falls Church on Aug 5, 2014 9:11 pm • linkreport

Heaven forbid anybody criticize somebody for wanting to put a polluting plantation paradise near a waterfront

by asffa on Aug 5, 2014 9:22 pm • linkreport

So, where are the service workers (all of those caddies, lawn-care workers, cleaners, servers, etc.) going to live? Not in the homes that, at their cheapest, start in the $500s.

PWC still has a decent amount of working class affordable housing. The community of Triangle which is nearby is one such community. Stafford is within reasonable commuting distance as well.

Also, caddies are usually young rich kids who grew up playing golf.

by Falls Church on Aug 5, 2014 9:25 pm • linkreport

In conclusion - nobody living within walking distance of a brand new train station made just for them (perhaps on public money?) is going to use the thing more than a couple times.

by asffa on Aug 5, 2014 9:39 pm • linkreport

Actually I'm looking at some of the models this weekend. I currently take the VRE into work every day from Manassas. My girlfriend works at Quantico. So this location would be ideal for us. I can walk to the train station, have the same commute time I do now, and the girlfriend cuts her commute down to like 10-15 mins.

I also golf and have a jetski, plus ride bikes with the kids at least 2-3 days a week. In short, this community looks to have almost everything I could want or need.

And this is from somebody who until last year had a house in Capitol Hill and loved living there. It just wasn't going to work for my current situation. Everything is relative.

by Jason Mitchell on Aug 5, 2014 9:57 pm • linkreport

Falls Church - That was part of my point, all of those people will have to drive (or use transit, but not VRE) into this private community. They will not be a part of the community, only employees.

by Thad on Aug 5, 2014 9:57 pm • linkreport

Thad - and just how affordable is the vast majority of DC or Old Town or Clarendon even? The vast majority of urban development in the region excludes this people anyway. For those driving here, maybe that means they aren't driving further up 95 or rt 1 for the same low wage, thus helping to ease congestion.

by Jason Mitchell on Aug 5, 2014 10:22 pm • linkreport

Prince Williams omni ride is fairly extensive and serves existing VRE stations.

It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that a new route could be put in here. Or a route extended.

by drumz on Aug 5, 2014 10:27 pm • linkreport

@ Fischy, etc.

I lived on the MNR Hudson line south of 287 for a while. MNR is a bit of different beast than VRE. The communities on the lines there are older as well. I think it would be awesome to duplicate that in MD/VA, but I don't see it happening easily...

Specifically MNR owns the tracks as does LIRR I believe. VRE and MARC other than Penn are on CSX lines which limit the speed and frequency.

For transit to be for more than commuting I feel like the maximum headway you can really have is 2 an hour.

I can see why some people would not like low density transit development but the truth is a lot of folks want yards and don't want to live in high density (I can do either personally). One of my focuses in desiring good transit growth is really environmental footprint. This kind of growth could help in that regard.

I don't think Metro should be built further into the suburbs (for instance proposed link between Baltimore and DC via the Green line and Laural). It would be better to have a comprehensive commuter rail system. The only place I can really think of that has one is NYC. Though Boston looks better than DC's on paper (I haven't used it).

by Brian on Aug 5, 2014 10:29 pm • linkreport

Thad - I'd say that's true most everywhere. Most people commute to their jobs. Very few people have a job in their community. Not even in DC if you consider a place like Brookland to be a different community than say, the downtown CBD.

Out of all the people I've had do work at/on my house, far more were from places like Prince William than locations inside the beltway.

by Falls Church on Aug 5, 2014 10:49 pm • linkreport

Also, some of the comments make me wonder if people are familiar with PWC's demographics. It is a minority-majority community with more than half the population as non-white or Hispanic (it is 49% non-hispanic white).

by Falls Church on Aug 5, 2014 11:07 pm • linkreport

Reading the articles and comments here are not welcoming to the layperson due to constant use of terms like TOD, headway, etc. Auto linking to a glossary is possible, and desirable if GGW wants to become anything more than an echo chamber.

by Breastaraunt on Aug 6, 2014 8:02 am • linkreport

TOD - Transit Oriented Development

Headways - The distance between two transit vehicles (aka the time between this train and the next one). Lower or shorter headways means less time between vehicles.

by drumz on Aug 6, 2014 8:31 am • linkreport

There is a third possibility besides an echo chamber, and a new source for laypeople. Its possible to have a place where spirited debate and disagreement takes place (note well, in this thread GGW regular commenters are divided on whether this particular development is a good thing) that takes place among people who have a considerable degree of technical knowledge.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 6, 2014 8:52 am • linkreport

Generally speaking, when I come across a term I am unfamiliar with but would like to understand, I google it.

by BTA on Aug 6, 2014 9:01 am • linkreport

To add to the meta discussion, I've had lots of answers provided to me here. And after a while one generally picks up on this stuff anyway. Kind of like learning to read the matrix after a while (I refuse to make any sort of red pill/blue pill discussion here though).

by drumz on Aug 6, 2014 9:08 am • linkreport

The Potomac Shores station has been an element in the VRE System Plan for over 20 years. VRE provides great service to its riders as 88% of riders are highly satisfied and on-time performance averages around 95%. VRE plans to offer more trains, longer trains, and reverse commute trains in the future. This should help commuters traveling in each direction and keep thousands of cars off I-95. It’s not hard to figure why people would move to this TOD development, even if it is in the suburbs. It’s a stress-free commute not having to fight the congestion on I-95.

by Bryan Jungwirth (VRE) on Aug 6, 2014 9:30 am • linkreport

@Jason Mitchell - Actually, depending on the exact location, it can be affordable. The neighborhood where I live is served by Metro (Yellow Line) and has homes for sale for $249k (4 bed, 1 bath short sale) and $314k (4 bed, 1.5 bath in need of work), plus has recent sales ranging from $265k to $446 (depending on the condition of the home). One neighborhood over, 2b/2b brick duplexes can still be had for under $300k. On the other side of the Metro station, condos are just over $100k. Looking at recent sales, there are even recent sales for 3 bed condo units in south Old Town for around $300k. This is just the area that I am the most familiar with, but there is affordability in this region.

@Falls Church - I am not arguing about whether people commute, but what I am questioning is whether this TOD development is purposefully excluding low- and moderate-income residents from transit through their choice of housing options. Plus, your comments about the demographics of PWC contrasts dramatically with the images on the Potomac Shores website (the only identifiable minority in any image was a VRE conductor), and hints at the people they want to fill their community.

by Thad on Aug 6, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

@Brian: The MBTA commuter rail is extensive, but their service and headways are awful. I grew up in West Concord - home to its own station on the Fitchburg Line! - but would almost always drive to Alewife at the end of the Red Line rather than try to catch one of the sporadic trains. We're talking like, 1.5-3 hour gaps between trains, save for rush hour. And even then, between 5 and 9 AM, there's a grand total of five trains. (05:56, 06:43, 07:37, 07:58, 09:03). That's at rush hour! And then after that, there are six trains in the EIGHT hours before 5:30.

The MBTA is in sore need of electrification and vastly improved headways. Alon Levy has written a lot about improving Boston-area commuter rail, if you want to read more.

@Breastaurant: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=headways

by Low Headways on Aug 6, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

I like the idea of GGW glossary (or link to someone else's existing glossary).

But, it's easy for me to say that without volunteering to do the work. ;)

Thad -- I'd agree that a development where the lowest price housing starts at $500K will necessarily exclude low and moderate income people. That said, I don't know of any new construction at a transit station that provides townhouses or detached houses at a significantly lower price point in VA, DC, or MoCo. Even many condo projects near transit have price points that start out of the reach of moderate income folks.

by Falls Church on Aug 6, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

A good concept. The execution will be what makes the difference between a random development near a random commuter rail station and a model for suburban TOD. It's still sprawl if there are no meaningful connections or a mix of uses that supports those connections.

by CX on Aug 6, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

This looks a lot to me like an attempt to build 'East-Hampton-on-the-Potomac'.
Where are the people who work in the 'downtown' going to live? The housing seems targeted at the affluent only. And how are they going to get to work? If the answer is 'somewhere else' and 'by car', then I'm not impressed.

by renegade09 on Aug 6, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

@renegade09 - You seem to forget the train station being there. They could live in Sterling or Fredericksburg. Plus as another commenter pointed out, there's actually a fairly robust (by suburban standards at least) bus system in PWC.

by Jason Mitchell on Aug 6, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

And obviously I meant Stafford, not Sterling ;)

by Jason Mitchell on Aug 6, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

@Jason
A 'new urbanist town center' should be for everybody, not just rich folks, otherwise it just contributes to inequality, which is one of the biggest issues of today. Commuting by VRE would be tough for shift workers at the best of times, and it doesn't even run at weekends. As for the 'fairly robust' bus system, I think you mean 'fairly lousy'. I spy a gated community with a railway station, which is better than a gated community with no railway station, but hardly a model for future suburban development.

Maybe somebody can put me right, and point out the townhomes and multi-family in this development?

by renegade09 on Aug 6, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

I guess a glossary could be a good idea but, like others have mentioned, I generally will just Google something.

I somehow stumbled across this site and became interested because of my love for the DC area and learning about what's going on in the area. Through this, I started to gain an appreciation of urbanism and transportation issues. As I continued to read posts and comments, I slowly started to understand some of the lingo (but probably still have a ways to go).

It takes time to learn the lingo and then even longer to understand why some of these things might matter. So, I mostly come here to learn, ask questions, and throw in the occasional misinformed comment.

Breastaraunt, I'd suggest to just keep reading. The internet and context will usually lead you to some definitions. And, if all else fails, just ask in the comments section. For the most part, this seems like a good group to me who will treat you nicely.

by jh on Aug 6, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

People are lazy. It's no skin off my back if people see unfamiliar terms and decide to exit the discussion. But if you want to be more **welcoming** and expand the audience, it's a fairly simple feature to implement. But like some else above said, I'm not the one who will spend the effort, so easier for me to say it than do it.

Just some constructive criticism.

by Breastaraunt on Aug 6, 2014 6:12 pm • linkreport

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