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Breakfast links: Rails and trails


Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.
Tysons growing up: Since Silver Line construction began in 2008, over 1.5 million square feet of commercial space has been built within half a mile of the new Metro line. Another 6 million is planned by 2018, a more than 35% increase in 10 years. (Post)

Advocating for grade separation: Without public notice, Montgomery County eliminated a plan to provide a grade separated crossing as part of the Capital Crescent Trail. Cycling advocates objected and now the plan will receive additional engineering evaluation and public input before moving forward. (WAMU)

A case for rails-with-trails: Railroads are hesitant to approve walking and biking routes next to rail because of liability concerns. But such trails reduce trespassing, improve transit access, and are simple to build. (Streetsblog)

Bus status anxiety: How much is rail transit fueled by status anxiety about riding the bus? There's evidence that people associate buses with the poverty and crime of the ghetto. But millennials don't seem to care about status, as long as a route is reliable. (NextCity)

Streamlining trade: Prince George's applied to make the entire county a Foreign Trade Zone, a designation that would defer or eliminate duties and other customs procedures on products manufactured or assembled in the county. (WBJ)

Distracted driving: A new app projects images from your phone onto your windshield to prevent distracted driving. But does the app really limit distraction, or just make it easier to be distracted? (Streetsblog)

1980s gentrification: "Has your neighborhood become 'upscale'?" A quiz that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1985 shows that the public perception of gentrification has changed very little in the past three decades. (CityLab)

And...: A local cyclist injured in a hit-and-run accident writes an open-letter to the driver. (WTOP) ... Buskers can solicit tips near Metro, for now. (DCist) ... The Custis Trail bikeometer has counted 200,000 trips since April 1. (ArlNow)

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Kelli Lafferty works as a federal contractor on various projects in transportation planning and management. She loves all things cities, public transit, and rail. She lives in Navy Yard. 

Comments

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How is a unisex hair salon "upscale"? Usually those things are found in iffier neighborhoods from my experience. Love the reference to video rental shops and computer stores. Those don't exist much anymore, upscale location or not.

by JDC on Aug 19, 2014 9:03 am • linkreport

Wheres the 35% number coming from for the Silver boosting commercial market? Not saying its incorrect, but the numbers cited are. Tysons growing 7.5 million sqft, would not constitute a 35% increase.

Tysons has 47.29 million sqft. A 35% increase would be 16.55 million sqft.

That being said, there is much MUCH more than 7.5million sqft currently in the pipeline in Tysons. In the pipeline alone (not anything yet to be proposed) there is 43.68 million square feet of additional commercial/residential development planned.

That is a 100% increase but over an unknown timeline (likely within 20 years, but a lot of it, for instance at Tysons East will be in the next 10 years).

by Navid Roshan on Aug 19, 2014 9:04 am • linkreport

If we can build walking/cycle paths next to canals we can probably figure out how to do it along rail lines.

I only have my personal experience with my jump to bus riding. When routes were circuitous and I didn't have nextbus (because I didn't have a smartphone) then I didn't use the bus very much.

Now with nextbus, and a residence in a place where the bus pretty much goes in a straight line, I'm much more apt to ride the bus even if I have the car at my disposal.

Still, much of the handwringing about buses is overblown. Improve the routes and add fixed rail lines and everyone benefits even more.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 9:13 am • linkreport

jdc

In the old days men went to barber shops and women to women only hair salons. Unisex salons were sort of cutting edge. I mean in the early 70's they were. By 1985 not so much, but maybe it took some folks a while to catch up. I am not sure why you think they are mostly found in iffier neighborhoods. Where to do most high income people get their hair done now?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

A key factor affecting Tysons development is the Initial Development Limit of 45 msf for all commercial. With existing buildings, structures under construction and seriously proposed projects, the limit is already breached. Hence, the proposal to raise that limit. But what Tysons needs first is more housing to balance existing and under-construction commercial, even though the Comp Plan is front-loaded with commercial.

Raising the IDL would also likely affect the timing of non-rail transportation infrastructure and push up costs for landowners and residents of Tysons. That is another reason why the County was correct in deciding to link all proposed Comp Plan revisions together for a final vote.

by tmt on Aug 19, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

I have an aversion to taking the bus. I will walk 50 miles before I will get on one. I believe this is a result of having to take the DC Transit for many years in my youth and being beat up constantly by gangs of black kids as drivers watched and did nothing. Down with busses

by NE John on Aug 19, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

Apple Store
Bike Shop
Yoga studio
Hardware store that accepts donations from true fans
Organic market
Samosas!
Bike lanes
No bike lanes

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 9:26 am • linkreport

"In order to prevent distracted driving, we created this app that projects things for you to read in between your eyes and all the obstacles on the road!"

People need to figure out that electronic devices just shouldn't be used while driving. No texting, no cell phone conversations, it's all way too distracting.

by MLD on Aug 19, 2014 9:26 am • linkreport

Nextbus has been a huge change.

The the problem with buses is the routing. Run buses to where white people want to go and they will use them.

Far too many of our bus lines are too long and try to do too much.

Removing homeless people from the bus would help as well. Making sure the AC is working is pretty critical as well.

by charlie on Aug 19, 2014 9:26 am • linkreport

Re: Trails next to Rails

Not sure about the data that putting a trail next to rails decreases the number of people illegally crossing the rails or that it decreases the chances of people being struck and killed.

430 fatalities a year, over the entire rail network in the US(230,000 miles of track). That seems pretty low actually. Compare this with only 540 miles of Trails with Rails.

obviously railroads love anyone who wants to help add grade separation for roads, peds, or bikes around their rails. If the area is highly utilized, adding in clearly marked at grade crossings and crossing discouragement in other areas would probably also be welcomes.

But I dont see railroads wanting to entice lots of additional people near their lines, as, their presence does not help the railroad at all and the more people the greater their potential liability.

by Richard on Aug 19, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

I ride the bus quite often, without major complaints. It does irk me though, how unreliable (schedule-wise) they can be. Sometimes (especially after 7 pm) even NextBus is very unreliable. A bus you've been waiting on for 20 minutes suddenly disappears, etc.

Crowded buses are annoying, but no moreso than a crowded train.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

I wonder how many of the seriously proposed commercial projects in Tysons are going to attract anchor tenants, and how many builders would build spec without anchors. While Tysons has been the strongest office market in the region outside downtown DC, it still faces a weak regional office market (driven at least in part by changes in technology) as well as revived competition from Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City, and Reston. And maybe from the parts of downtown outside the CBD where vacancy rates are lower - IE NoMa and Navy Yard. So my guess is that those proposed projects will come on line slowly, and residential in Tysons will catch up, as the Comp Plan envisions.

When revisiting the transportation plan, it will be useful to look at items like Silver Line ridership, and the use of active transportation. I am heartened by high early ridership, and the signs of high bike usage for SL access, but thats a tiny sample of time - I look forward to a sense of how ridership increases when summer is over, and how bike usage holds up when we no longer have such ideal biking weather (ditto for the surge in walking)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

There’s the time aspect too. Value placed on time increases with income. Between circuitous routes, frequent stops, and infrequent busses, it takes forever to get anywhere via bus. The middle of Falls Church (@ Washington and Broad) to Tysons (@ the mall), for example, is a straight shot up route 7 using the 28A bus. It’s maybe 4 miles or so, but it takes 30-45 minutes via bus. It’s less time on the limited stop 28X bus, but those don’t come as often. In contrast, it’s only 10-15 minutes via rail. To me, that time savings it worth the extra dollar or so per trip, even though I live closer to a bus stop than the metro.

by Jason on Aug 19, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

@CBF and TMT

I follow the Tysons development on a daily basis (obviously). I disagree with a couple items. The plans arent at all commercially front loaded. There were a couple projects that were approved prior to the comp plan that were commercial (namely 1775 Lerner and Tysons Tower) but for the most part we are seeing a residential boom in Tysons.

Residential/Non-Office
Ascent, Avalon Park Crest, Ovation, Nouvelle Arbor Row, Garfield Residential, VITA residential, Greystars Building 2 at SpringHill, Hyatt Hotel.

This is vs Commercial
Tysons Tower, 1775 Tysons Boulevard, MITRE Bldg 4, soon to start Capital One HQ, LMI HQ bldg

Here is a key thing to note.

Tysons Tower is now 70% leased (was speculative), LMI HQ by MRP was built because LMI took up most of the building, and 1775 was speculative yet to announce leases... but the other 2 that went up that are actually post-comp plan offices, are for the owners (both MITRE and Capital One are building for themselves for expansion).

You are not going to see much speculative office in Tysons for the next 5 years, its going to be entirely dominated by residential and for client offices/non-office commercial.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 19, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

I ride the bus 8 or 9 times for every rail ride I take (hopefully this will change somewhat once the streetcar opens). I love the bus. It often times gets me within a few steps of where I need to go.

But it's different than riding rail. No hot exhaust in your face or clouding the air. Smoother ride, better acceleration from electric motors, and less acting out from the patrons. In almost all high ridership scenarios rail is better imo. We are a wealthy country, we can afford it.

by h st ll on Aug 19, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

You have met the streetcar patrons in DC, have you?

I ahve never gotten exhaust in my face, and CNG is pretty clean, too. Cleaner than coal fired electric plants, for sure.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

I've ridden various types of rail systems all over the world.

And I'm ok with the power being produced somewhere else, less populated. Of course the electric motors and power plants create and use energy much more efficiently than onsite internal combustion motors.

by h st ll on Aug 19, 2014 10:31 am • linkreport

That and if you get more people riding rail over riding the bus they're presumably not driving their car which is a huge source of air pollution and much harder to control than an individual power plant.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

I take the bus periodically but I don't take it more often because it shares lanes with cars and stops every two blocks. There are times where it is quicker to get across town on the metro. It is never the case that it is quicker with a bus.

by Abe on Aug 19, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

I didn't realize we don't need to worry about air pollution and green house gases, if the power plants are out of view. That's a tremendous relief to me.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

When I was growing up in Chicago, the bus system was simple. Each major street had a bus that ran from one end of the street to the other end of the street. There were a few exceptions, mostly buses that ran downtown where I didn't live anyway, but it was easy to figure out where you were going on Chicago's near-perfect grid and which buses would get you there.

In DC, the buses are not intuitive like that. I need to invest time in learning what the bus routes are, because otherwise I cannot tell where a bus will go simply by where the bus stop is. Each moment I'm looking at a bus map to memorize where routes go is a moment I'm not following my life's passion of discussing land use laws online, so it's not something I've spent a lot of time on.

by Hadur on Aug 19, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

1. GHG is not the only issue with emissions, there are local effects on air pollution - and those ARE mitigated when they take place in a rural area, versus is a dense city that is not in compliance with clean air act standards

2. CNG is in fact problematic in terms of climate change. The problem is gas leaks, since methane is a very potent GHG. NG may be better than coal at a power plant - since leaks can be controlled (how much is a matter of dispute) But when you have NG in a local bus fueling yard, and it has to be pumped onto a bus (or car, BTW) the leak problem is greater.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

I forgot what the point was here. Is it that CNG is bad, because buses use it? And coal electricity is good, because streetcars use it?

Buses without dedicated lanes are bad, but streetcars without dedicated lanes are good?

I'm sorry, sometimes I lose track of the narrative I am supposed to be following here.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

In the US, rich white people don't ride the bus.
And they still won't ride the bus if it's made for billions just for them.
- And BRT proponents - If by "millenial" one means "rich white people" rather than people 30 years and younger - Get honest - unless they work for Google and do it because they're hip, they aren't willing to ride the bus.
I don't say don't waste your money and time - more people won't ride the bus - no I say use said money and time - to improve bus service for those who ride the bus, by listening and responding to their needs for more buses on certain routes, improve bus reliability, add night owl service, and installing bus shelters. You want to please "millenials" then obviously - add wi-fi to bus routes, have accurate info for arrival times for the phone, and make sure they got a bench and shelter.

Most of the rich white people still won't ride buses even it's a brand new system costing billions taking it's own "dedicated" "repurposed" lane out of roads local and paid for in taxes by people who aren't mostly white and rich just for those few rich, white use and whose only stops (on "express" route) are to places where majority rich, white people are going to live, and won't even hardly run on weekends.
Not against BRT - just against classist, racist waste that doesn't improve bus service for current bus ridership.Where buses get so popular they can't hardly run any more - <6 minutes apart, but they still don't run that way most of the day, then put up the signs to make that lane for bus use only during those times. That's so hard, right?

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

I'm pretty sure your narrative is "hate streetcars, love buses". The rest is background noise.

by Mike on Aug 19, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

1. Any GHG comparison of street cars to buses, has to reflect not only the source of the electricity for the street car, but the issues with powering the buses - if its CNG, not as good as touted. To put it another way, if its electricity from a natural gas fired power plant, vs CNG powered buses, the electricty is almost certainly better.
But the bigger advantage of rail is that it gets more people out of cars - or so its believed by many.
2. All transit benefits in speed and reliablity from dedicated lanes. Both buses in dedicated lanes and street cars in regular lanes will have capacity advantages over buss in regular lanes, and will probably draw more people out of cars than buses in regular lanes. Buses in regular lanes are still an important way to provide transit in places with lower ridership, that cannot support streetcars OR dedicate lanes.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

@The Truth
I didn't realize we don't need to worry about air pollution and green house gases, if the power plants are out of view. That's a tremendous relief to me.
1. Rail vehicles are more efficient than buses from a GHG point of view - and CNG buses are only 5-15% better on GHG emissions than diesel buses:
http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/20120227-Diesel_vs_CNG_FINAL_MJBA.pdf
http://www.fta.dot.gov/documents/PublicTransportationsRoleInRespondingToClimateChange2010.pdf

2. The proportion of coal as a power source is going down:
http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1

by MLD on Aug 19, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

I forgot to include the implied rule that non-white people on buses are bad, and white people on streetcars are good.

Can I get confirmation on that point?

The euphemism was about the "acting out of clientele" on buses. So, is there going to be some sort of class restriction for the streetcars? Bring a copy of your W-2 or 1040? A doctor's note that states you are "one of the good ones" who can ride the streetcar?

If I get denied entry to the streetcar, will the special bus be nearby to accomodate me, or am I on my own?

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

Since when do I hate streetcars? I don't hate streetcars. I don't love buses nor hate them.

It's the random unmitigated joy for streetcars that catches me off guard, I guess.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

I've rented a lot of cars in the past couple years that have heads-up displays on the windshield. They're great. They contain info you would ordinarily have to take your eyes off the road to see. And of course heads-up displays have been the norm in airplanes for many years for safety reasons.

The problem comes in when the displays start being expanded to all sorts of other information you wouldn't ordinarily use anyway or entertainment. Heads up would be great for GPS but using it for Facebook, YouTube, Skype, Grindr or even email isn't a good idea. Unfortunately I'm sure that's where this is headed.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 19, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

When I was living in London, I actually preferred the buses to the Tube (which in retrospect is pretty astonishing). But I'm trying to figure out why they work so well there and what lessons that could hold.

They were very frequent. So frequent, in fact, that despite the fact that I didn't own a smartphone then or any kind of nextbus software, there was very little anxious waiting. They ran basically all the time (albeit sometimes with night bus replacement). They had a massive coverage area and some bus was always going where I was heading. They were less crowded (and less expensive) than the Underground. They were closer to my origin/destination. One had great views from the top deck (I suppose I should add that I never rode a bendy bus). The spider maps made it immediately clear which line would get me to my destination (again, sans smartphone).

Which of these can we apply to here?

by Low Headways on Aug 19, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

Not going to like, I am... kind of bothered by the weirdly classist comments about buses here. What's going on?

by FBJ on Aug 19, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

@TLD, people who parrot the coal powered idea behind electric vehicles are clearly getting talking points. To simplify it to that degree is pointless. Power source is so regional. For instance, anything electric in NOVA is extremely good, the power comes from mostly Nuclear. Anything electric in Roanoke... likely not as good, comes mostly from coal power plants. Electric in Arizona = awesome, a lot coming from renewables. Electric in Washington = great, hydro, same in NY.

To reduce all electric vehicle solutions to, its still coal powered is absurd. Namely, 1) actually by percentage electricity in the US is more non-coal powered than it is coal powered, and 2) that percentage is plummeting as many older coal plants are shutting down due to their age, and instead switching to either Natural Gas, biofuel (controversial in its own), or renewables.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 19, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

RE: Eliminating plans to study CCT grade separation

Is this the beginning of ICC like betrayals? Promise trail advocates the amenities they desire to gain their support then at the last second secretly remove them or, in the case of the ICC, declare they are environmentally unsound.

by jeffb on Aug 19, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

@asffa

"In the US, rich white people don't ride the bus."

Have you ever ridden any of the bus routes that go through Four Corners?

At rush hour, and even at off-peak times, there are several "rich white people" on every bus. When I get off the bus at Four Corners every evening after work, there were always several other white people dressed in professional attire who disembark with me.

There are hundreds of "rich white people" in Indian Springs, Woodmoor, South Four Corners, and Northwood who ride the bus with regularity. And guess what, there are "rich people" of several different ethnic backgrounds who ride the bus as well.

So stop spreading the ridiculous myth that the color of your skin and your income level determines whether you ride the bus or not.

by Sean on Aug 19, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

Sean okay, it's a myth. They don't need anything, they already use the bus.

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

People with higher incomes will place a higher monetary value on their time, and also on non time attributes of transport like comfort, reliability etc.

Ergo, for any given level of service parameters, more high income people (but not all) will make the higher service choice.

To the extent that street cars have intrinsically better service parameters (like ride comfort) than buses do, they will attract more higher income people than buses do. There may also be a cultural association effect that causes some higher income people to avoid buses. That may differ by race, but more likely differs by age and geographic origin.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

I don't doubt that some people who have never use a bus harbor irrational fears about buses.

But don't get me wrong. I'm all for perpetuating a belief that buses are the charter lines of desperate and crazy losers. It frees up seats.

by kob on Aug 19, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

Seriously, go ride the 16th street buses sometime. Or anything that goes through well-off parts of the city. Plenty of affluent people on the bus.

People with higher incomes will place a higher monetary value on their time

This is the biggest impediment to car owners using the bus in the suburbs - why take it if you already own a car and the car gets you there much faster? The price of parking is about the only answer.

by MLD on Aug 19, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

I found this interesting in the article
"Then there was the lawsuit against the same agency by groups representing bus riders. The suit succeeded in forcing the LACMTA to shift its spending priorities from expanding its rail network to improving bus service. "

There's this same tension with people wanting improvements to RideOn and MetroBus and the lobbies looking to cause many times more to be spent on their "gold standard" "RapidTransit" projects. Put the priorities to those who ride. It is sad it took a lawsuit in another town for efficient means that save money to even be considered.

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 1:13 pm • linkreport

@asffa

By "they" do you mean bus riders?

Actually, bus riders like me and my "rich white" neighbors do need something: improvements to existing bus service.

We'd like to see these improvements in the form of larger, faster buses which run more frequently and more reliably (no one likes an overcrowded bus).

We also want level boarding and off-board fare collection in order to speed things up at stops, and to make it easier for seniors and those with disabilities to ride the bus.

We hate it when our bus gets stuck in traffic, so we would ideally like to see some kind of dedicated right-of-way for the bus so it can bypass congestion.

Oops, I accidentally described BRT.

by Sean on Aug 19, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

"why take it if you already own a car and the car gets you there much faster? The price of parking is about the only answer."

Time wins every time.

Every. Single. Time.

Unless it cost like $50 an hour to park.

by Another Nick on Aug 19, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

MLD I have ridden the bus, but like those who wrote the ARTICLE referred above, also see that many resist using it because of their race/class issues.
But consider my having stated my viewpoint there is a race/class issue regarding bus use in the US, and now have dropped that rather than deal with a "not all white, rich people" argument. Other opinions noted.
and I'm still saying 16th street should have Rush Hour bus lanes.

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

Sean, if time is the big deal as Another Nick says, then look at Metroway BRT running 15 and 20 minutes between buses most of the time, and say no to that. And understand that while the buses aren't running reasonably for taking an entire lane, with <6 minutes apart, they're blocking the road for drivers and causing associated hazards for no good reason at all.
Agree about off-board collection/tickets, etc. it saves so many headaches

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

There will always need to be bus service that serves flag stops for local service, and I really don't see how to apply off-board fare collection to a basic flag stop. BRT, sure.

by FBJ on Aug 19, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

"Sean, if time is the big deal as Another Nick says, then look at Metroway BRT running 15 and 20 minutes between buses most of the time, and say no to that."

That value of time accounts for why fewer high income people ride buses, does not mean that the Metroway will not be useful. Parking prices are lower in downtown DC than $50 an hour, yet many middle to high income people ride them - including lots of white suburbanites in Va. Come over and visit the Pentagon bus bays at rush hour one day.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

"Time wins every time"

True, which is why for some people it makes more sense to take the bus and use their time on it for something productive/enjoyable, rather than drive and waste their time driving. Even if it takes longer on a bus.

Also, parking in a garage at a metro station isn't necessarily the most convenient way to get to a station compared to timing the bus right. Plus you pay about $5/day for parking. The problem is it's difficult to time the bus on the way back home.

That said, biking (when feasible for a particular circumstance) almost always beats busing.

by Falls Church on Aug 19, 2014 1:54 pm • linkreport

My anecdotal evidence from western Fairfax County...

"Rich white people" will ride the bus as a way to commute to Metro. Other than that, there's never a reason to step on a bus. Midday and evening bus service is way too infrequent and provides no benefit to "rich white people" who have cars. Weekend service is nonexistant in most parts and infrequent where it does exist.

My family has one car. I've used the midday bus a couple times. I've always been the only white guy of the few people who are riding. My area is mostly white and Korean and midday bus riders tend to be black, hispanic, or Indian/Asian. My observations of the people waiting at bus stops on weekends gives me the same impression as my limited midday experience.

If an experiment was done and money was spent to increase frequency and coverage of midday and weekend bus service in these spots in the suburbs, I'm not sure ridership would increase a whole lot. But it would be an interesting expirement.

by jh on Aug 19, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

""Rich white people" will ride the bus as a way to commute to Metro. Other than that, there's never a reason to step on a bus. ""

as stated above, the main motive for people who own cars to ride the bus is the cost of parking, and few places in this region without a metro stop have costly parking.

Other reasons for affluent riders to use the bus - they are car free or car lite despite being affluent - but that is rare in the middle and outer burbs. Or they coming home inebriated - also probably less commom among higher SES people in the outer suburbs.

Its also handy if you are taking your bike somewhere where you can't easily ride - but I guess most affluent cyclists have car bike racks.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 2:28 pm • linkreport

It is not being suggested that less affluent people are simply too dumb to take a faster and superior mode of travel, when available? They really just don't value their time as much, huh? Hmm, now that is some very convenient and convoluted logic to cover.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

I think I finally understand the irrational fervor for streetcars. It is being covertly asserted as a safe haven for the well-to-do. I can't believe I have missed the subtext before now.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

Let me guess, cash and Smarttrip will not be accepted. Credit cards only, and your grandfather had to be a streetcar rider (photo proof required). Minimum credit score of 800.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

I think I finally understand the irrational fervor for streetcars. It is being covertly asserted as a safe haven for the well-to-do. I can't believe I have missed the subtext before now.

Not quite, streetcars do bring more ridership. And some say that it's only because of what you just realized. Others think its more complicated.

The question then becomes do we prevent the construction of streetcars because we disapprove of certain citizens irrational fears? Some would say yes. Others think it's a net good for the city to have more people using public transportation despite individual motivations.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

"It is not being suggested that less affluent people are simply too dumb to take a faster and superior mode of travel, when available? They really just don't value their time as much, huh? Hmm, now that is some very convenient and convoluted logic to cover. "

No, its not about being dumb. If you have a lower income its rational to place a lower dollar value on your time. You have only so many dollars and you need to use them to pay for shelter, food, etc. Giving up $10 to save an hour of your time is probably not as good a deal for a low income person as it is for a high income person. Kind of like how getting a $20 an hour job is a great thing if you usually make $10 an hour, but its not worth it if you usually make $50 an hour.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

@ drumz

I would have said the same, but people are rationalizing why the clientle on streetcars _will_ be superior to buses. It's crazy.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

Did we learn the streetcars are going to be priced out of reach for lower income people? Cuz I haven't heard that line, yet. But, that would be a classic maneuver.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

"I think I finally understand the irrational fervor for streetcars."

The question is though, do you understand the rational support for street cars?

" It is being covertly asserted as a safe haven for the well-to-do. I can't believe I have missed the subtext before now.""

that would seem to be an unwise strategy, as there will certainly be plenty of poor people riding the new streetcars in this region - just as poor people ride metro (which is also attractive to the affluent) and they ride streetcars in Baltimore, Philly, Boston, etc. I assume they ride them in Portland, but I do not know.

Though I am not sure how "street cars will attract more higher income riders" led to "street cars will be a safe haven for the well-to-do"

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

I would have said the same, but people are rationalizing why the clientle on streetcars _will_ be superior to buses. It's crazy.

Yes it is, but it's something I hear more often from streetcar opponents than proponents.

But it's a tired platitude anyway once you actually consider the context of our local projects.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

"@ drumz
I would have said the same, but people are rationalizing why the clientle on streetcars _will_ be superior to buses. It's crazy."

One person said something about acting out. I am not sure what he meant, as I have seen "acting out" on metro, and would expect to see it from time to time on streetcars as well. Others have explained why street cars might draw more higher income people than buses do - which is NOT at all the same thing.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

Well, which is it? It's not worth the money for their time, or it attracts poor and rich equally? Some people are talking out of both sides of the mouth.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

What? People, as rough rule of thumb, value their time at about the same level as their wage. So rich people are MORE likely to choose modes that save them time, but poor people will still choose modes that save them time depending on what the tradeoffs are.

What any given mode will attract depends on the local conditions. Few middle and high income people will ride the bus in western ffx county, unless it goes express to a metro station. Lots of middle and higher income people will ride the local buses on 16th street in DC. Some middle income people ride the bus on Columbia Pike in Arlington, but most riders are lower income. When the street car comes to Columbia Pike, most riders will likely still be lower income, but probably a somewhat more middle and higher income folks will choose it who now do not take the bus.

What particular bus or street car line do you have in mind You really can't generalize this stuff.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

Well, which is it? It's not worth the money for their time, or it attracts poor and rich equally? Some people are talking out of both sides of the mouth.

There's not one party line about streetcars. Good, bad, or neutral.

There's several different people with several different opinions talking about streetcars and their effectivness. Obviously opinions will contradict each other.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

and as CBF and I have said in different ways, you'll need to get specific about either the DC or Columbia Pike Streetcar program in order to come up with a better consensus about the predicted effects on ridership.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 3:03 pm • linkreport

I look forward to the streetcars.

However, for the first time, I feel there is an undercurrent of elitism from SOME vocal supporters that may be a driving force for their construction. That is unfortunate. I hope those folks do not derail puplic sentiment like they have soured mine, today. I'll get over it in an hour or so, but other people might take the implication more seriously.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

"However, for the first time, I feel there is an undercurrent of elitism from SOME vocal supporters that may be a driving force for their construction."

If there is, its the notion that it will lead to rising rents in lower income areas like parts of Columbia Pike. Some consider that a reason to oppose the streetcar (like the Arlington Green Party) while some consider the lack of any impact on real estate a reason to oppose the street car (the Arlington GOP and some of their Dem allies on this issue.) Anyone who takes seriously the notion that street cars through poor areas will not have poor riders is someone who will take almost anything seriously.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

Yes, and politics and public transportation projects can make for strange bedfellows (again where we people who hate any and all govt spending teaming up with people who think that private business has too much sway against the street in Arlington).

That means proponents have to respond to criticism from several angles which could make things seem contradictory.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

Methinks. Me really thinks.

by The Truth™ on Aug 19, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

NR - I agree we are seeing considerable numbers of residential projects (apartments with some ground floor retail) under construction or proposed for construction soon. That is good.

However, the Comp Plan still contemplates that the bulk of the residential growth will come after the bulk of the commercial growth. That is why the IDL should be retained IMO. To work successfully, Tysons needs more residential growth and sooner. A number of community groups are advocating retention of the Commercial IDL to put more pressure for residential growth, instead of more commercial development.

One of the bigger disappointments is the inability of developers to bring condo projects to the market near the rail stations. As I mentioned before, several developers have told the McLean Citizens Association that they (the developers) cannot get financing for big buildings absent 50% sold capacity. So we will see more rentals and fewer condos, except for smaller projects further from the stations. But such appears to be the condition of the market.

by TMT on Aug 19, 2014 3:50 pm • linkreport

I find I have been riding the bus more and more in recent years. First, Smartrip made it easier to manage - no pockets of change. Second, as Metro weekend service had gotten worse and worse, I have found the bus to be faster than the train almost always, including some two-bus rides. This has been particularly useful when the train would require a transfer - which it does far too often when going cross-town. It also helps that the 14th St bus drops me at my office door.

by 17th Street on Aug 19, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

To reduce all electric vehicle solutions to, its still coal powered is absurd. Namely, 1) actually by percentage electricity in the US is more non-coal powered than it is coal powered, and 2) that percentage is plummeting as many older coal plants are shutting down due to their age, and instead switching to either Natural Gas, biofuel (controversial in its own), or renewables.

but by adding additional demand on the electric grid, you will have to get additional supply from some source. Nuclear, hyrdo, most renewables cannot increase supply. Marginally operating coal plants and natural gas can. So a new electric vehicle will be causing a coal or natural gas plant to run.

by Richard on Aug 19, 2014 4:57 pm • linkreport

I have been riding buses for years throughout the metro area.I have never had reason to be afraid.But I'm concerned about efforts to make buses more "inclusive".Many people who drive act out in a way that is not acceptable to people like me.They curse and threaten other drivers and attempt to cut in front of them,even if it's dangerous to do so.This frequently leads to violence(usually described as "an accident.")I have to go through these people's "hood" i.e.cross the street every day and it scares me.These people have the right to use the bus and we must try to be tolerant of them,but I'm afraid there will be problems.We bus riders will try to teach them basic civility if it's not part of their culture,but things may get a little ugly.
Another concern was pointed out by a previous poster.As fallschurch mentioned,bus riders get to spend their travel time reading,relaxing,etc. I hope all drivers realize that they don't get to do that.Their travel time is likely shorter than mine,but they are operating dangerous equipment and are guilty of reckless endangerment if they allow themselves to be distracted.

by Robert Lohmanp on Aug 19, 2014 6:30 pm • linkreport

I find it kind of funny that people don't think affluent and/or well off professionals would take the bus. As stated previously, the 16th St lines are a perfect example. It's not even close to compare the time it would take to walk to the metro (closest most often the green line) and hop on a train vs the bus. For almost everyone on 16th St, the bus wins every time. In fact it's usually not even close. From Columbia Road and 16th St for example it's only like 25 minutes to either foggy bottom area (S1) or to federal triangle (S2 or S4). It would take far longer if you took the train. Virtually the only time I ever take the train is if I'm going to nats stadium or if it's a snow emergency and buses aren't running.

by 16th Streeter on Aug 19, 2014 10:03 pm • linkreport

@TMT, what the comp plan envisioned, and whats actually happening is 2 separate things. They were foolish to think that commercial would lead for 10 years. Many supervisors have already said they are surprised about many of the market conditions (they probably should have listened to people who knew better).

Residential in this region will continue to be hot because the current generation is looking for affordable, metro accessible, and near jobs and that is the role Tysons will play. In terms of commercial, it will continue to grow at a reasonable rate, but nothing like the spike in growth that will happen in residential. The population in Tysons has already grown by some accounts as much as 17% since the comp plan was approved to approximately 20,000.

But we'll see. I'm not sure setting arbitrary limits is a good solution. There are unintended consequences. For instance, you set a limit, a project directly in front of the metro proposes a 20 story building. 15 years from now, office space is needed in that region, and they raise height limits, but now, that 20 story building is going to remain because its hard to tear down that size building... so you end up with a high density far away from metro because the prime space was not developed properly without limits.

If someone thinks they can make money on the same block as a metro station building super high. Let them. Its good for fair box recovery. Its good for tax revenue. Its good for pretty much everyone and as we have seen the doomsday predictions by VDOT about traffic hellscapes in Tysons have been total BS and still going (see how parkageddon never happened).

I agree about a couple things however, residential should absolutely be encouraged, I think height limits of residential should never exist so long as you are in Tysons proper, and perhaps the solution should be that heights on office should be limited, but additional density allowed for residential above office. I dont know. And I do wish the FHA would look at the problems they have created with condo markets, its absurd that condos are being artificially limited by bad government policy (another case of unintended consequences).

by Navid Roshan on Aug 19, 2014 10:03 pm • linkreport

NR - The existing Comp Plan has a 400 foot (40) story limit for buildings within the immediate station ring and "gateway buildings" can be higher. If a 20-story building is built there, it is because of market conditions. Developers aren't generally building 40 story buildings because the demand isn't there. This height limit was part of the bargain that was negotiated among the stakeholders. The only truly high building proposal that comes to mind is CapOne's gateway building. I expect there will be other 40 story structures over time.

The IDL for commercial buildings was set to encourage residential construction, since that is not subject to the IDL, but only to the overall 84 msf limit.

Since there is no limit at the stations, I don't understand your argument. The Comp Plan and rezoning process are not stopping landowners from building very tall structures.

I fully agree that the present focus on residential is good. It helps balance residents and commuters. The office slow-down comes in large part to the cutback in federal contracting - something not contemplated in June 2010.

The FHA has nothing to do with the inability of builders to get financing for big condo buildings. They have stated big banks and other institutions won't lend to construct any building that is not "half rented/sold" before construction begins. I heard two separate companies talk about this and neither mentioned the FHA. The feds are neutral in this one.

by tmt on Aug 20, 2014 8:32 am • linkreport

tmt, a 40 story building is much taller than 400'. I'm not sure why you quote back facts about the comp plan... you understand I run a website that literally discusses only Tysons development right?

The typical class A floor to floor is 13' to 14' for office, with a taller lobby. So a 400' building much more likely to be 33stories if office.

There is a limit of 400' at the stations, which relates back to the 33story maximum. We may come to regret that in 20 years when some of those projects want to build taller, and end up away from metro instead of at the stations. Market conditions is dictating sure, but the county should have no business setting any limit on the same block as a metro stop. None. If you want to build 1200' it should be allowed if the soils warrant, and if you follow the same psf requirements of any other development in terms of proffers, tax contribution, special facilities, SWM, etc.

The reason why big banks wont finance is BECAUSE of the FHA decisions on condos. You need to read up on this if you want to discuss.

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/new-fha-condo-rules-may-hinder-mortgages.aspx

David H Stevens, former HUD Assistant Sec, and CEO of the MBA has noted this previously as well. It is an unnecessary restriction on condos, which then leads to a smaller condo purchase pool, which then means that financing of condo projects becomes harder to do because of a smaller potential end pool. It absolutely is having an affect.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 20, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

In case you need further indication that in fact the financiers are being restrained in this respect, the reason they chose 50% presale is

"Owner occupancy requirement
The smallest change came in the owner-occupancy requirement. The FHA requires 51 percent of the units in a condo project to be occupied by the owners before it will insure a loan. That will be reduced to 50 percent, which will primarily will help small condo projects. For example, in a condominium with four units, two buyers will be able to get FHA-insured loans, instead of just one under the current rule."

by Navid Roshan on Aug 20, 2014 1:14 pm • linkreport

That original 51% was instituted in 2008 the reduction was more recent but still is hurting for larger projects.

Additionally,

"FHA also would not lend to a mixed use development with more than 25 percent commercial space, which crippled popular mixed-use, transition oriented developments in urban centers."

All things the FHA is imposing hurting condos specifically.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 20, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

@ JDC

"Love the reference to video rental shops and computer stores. Those don't exist much anymore, upscale location or not."

And "newstand" [sic] and "travel agency", too.

by Frank IBC on Aug 20, 2014 1:56 pm • linkreport

NR - you do have some interesting ideas (sincerely), but you were not part of the negotiations that resulted in the 2010 amendment to the Tysons Comp Plan. I was,as were many other people I know from developers, employers, and residents from in and around Tysons. You seem to resent that. I don't know why. The Comp Plan represents the consensus compromise positions that stakeholders agreed on back in early 2010. And it's not likely to change unless stakeholders agree to changes.

The 400 foot limit, with recognition of higher structures when they are "gateway" structures, was part of the bargain negotiated. Some wanted lower; some wanted higher. But 400 feet is the agreed upon limit. I've sat through presentations on almost every rezoning application for projects on the north side of Route 7. Never once have I heard a landowner or developer complain about the limit. CapOne explained it wants to construct a signature HQ and sought gateway status for that building. No one seems to object, but neither are they asking for similar buildings.

I doubt the county would approve a 1200 foot building. I don't think the supervisors would be comfortable with that height level and approval of such a big structure would necessarily take away otherwise available density from other landowners in Tysons. Again, please keep in mind that the Plan was not imposed, but is the result of complex negotiations led by Walter Alcorn. The Supervisors liked this because they knew they would be able to vote for the plan without strong fear of political repercussions. And the developers like the idea that community groups don't oppose projects consistent with the Plan. There is a strong incentive not to rock the boat, but to proceed under the existing plan.

I appreciate your follow-up remarks on the FHA. My limited response is that the two developers said the problem (50% sold or rented) was the same whether they were building residential or commercial. They said its much easier to handle residential on a rental basis, such that they weren't inclined to touch condos. It is possible the FHA regulations might be affecting the decision-making process, but no one said so. My experience is that the builders are quite candid when they make their presentations to the MCA Planning & Zoning Committee.

I thought there were loan limits on what can be lent and insured by the FHA in the $600-700 K range. Wouldn't that leave most of the Tysons condos (say $1 - 2 M and up) for conventional financing only. I've never heard any developer/builder talk about low-priced condos. Workforce housing rentals - yes, but not condos. Of course, 15 years from now that might be different. But bottom line, from what I've learned over several years meeting with Tysons developers and builders, there won't be many condos in Tysons for the reasonable future.

by TMT on Aug 20, 2014 2:00 pm • linkreport

TMT

small condo units under that price range might well be what the market would deliver, if FHA followed its older condo lending standards. Certainly with those standards making FHA loans for new condos very difficult, there is little incentive to build condos that small, since condos are going to require conventional financing anyway.

I think we are all aware that the 2010 plan was a product of compromise, and that it protected the BoS and the developers politically from major opposition by groups like MCA. That does not mean its not worthwhile for others to critique it, and AFAICT that is what Navid is doing. Such critiques can serve as valuable contributions to the dialog going forward and can add context to future discussions of modifications, which I am sure will happen before 2040.

BTW, you make reference to the imporance of keeping the existing limit on total commercial space. Who exactly is pushing to change that limit, and what are their arguments?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

OK there needs to be a cheat sheet for how to add colors, italics, pix, etc. to our comments :-)

by Dave G on Aug 20, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

CBR - I'm simply sharing what I learned about Tysons over several years of heavy involvement.

Tysons is, as most know, going to be a very expensive place. So I think condos will be quite expensive, as will everything else. Lower-priced housing is the 20% workforce housing. I don't think landowners can afford to do other lower-priced housing.

The land near the stations is very expensive, and the landowners had to make significant contributions and proffers to get their density and rezoning. And they did get a lot of density - unlimited FAR at the stations, subject to: 1) a 400 foot building limit; 2) an Initial Development Limit of 45 msf on commercial buildings; and an 84 msf cap on total development in Tysons. The 400 foot limit was the consensus position and was strongly supported by supervisors who didn't want even bigger buildings in Tysons, except for a limited number of gateway buildings. I don't see that changing, especially since landowners are not proposing buildings anywhere near the height limit. Stated alternatively, 400 feet gives the landowners all the flexibility that they seem to want and does not likely create backlash from the public. I think a compromise position with these results are good for all.

The 45 msf IDL was included at the behest of the County to limit commercial growth (that was generally expected to be front-loaded based on studies by Staff, GMU and consultants). With the IDL, the County expected a greater level of residential development, which, of course, is needed to make Tysons more balanced and less of a suburban office park. I believe many of the landowners would like to see this cap lifted. Other stakeholders support it because residential development is likely to generate less traffic than a similar amount of commercial. If the IDL changes, it will need consensus and may carry with it other conditions.

The 84 msf cap is critical because traffic studies show that the enhanced road, bike and sidewalk systems, the Silver Line and large increases in non-rail transit, Routes 7 & 123, the DTR and the Beltway consistently fail. Stated alternatively, once we hit 84 msf, each new SOV trip into Tysons needs to canceled by an non-SOV trip. The County has also said the Comp Plan needs to be reopened once such density is approved.

While a number of stakeholders have criticized the 84 msf cap, when push comes to shove, I think the County and the landowners will stop short of the failure point. The competitive position of Tysons as a place to do business and as a place to live falls apart with total gridlock.

Bottom line, I think both the 45 msf IDL for commercial and the 84 msf total cap are good for everyone.

I don't disagree that changes to the Comp Plan won't occur. But while there may be more players at the table, the original ones will still have their seats at the table. The Providence supervisor will still want agreement from the Providence District Council on changes. Ditto for the Dranesville District Supervisor and the MCA. Also, I think that some of the basic points of the existing Comp Plan and underlying agreement cannot change because they are so fundamental and changing them would most certainly create major problems. For example, there won't be high density outside the stations because of the impact on traffic.

Critiquing the Plan is fine, but the basic plan is not going to change for a very long time. Changing one aspect may well create major problems elsewhere. And those problems fall on the supervisors who don't want can't win situations. The Plan for Tysons is reasonable. IMO, we should see that it is followed and the results should be positive as defined by the Plan.

by tmt on Aug 20, 2014 3:22 pm • linkreport

"I believe many of the landowners would like to see this cap lifted."

Curious what the basis for that belief is. It really does not seem like the cap is particularly binding right now, and lifting it would be controversial. I don't see the benefit to them of pushing for that particular change now.

"The 84 msf cap is critical because traffic studies show that the enhanced road, bike and sidewalk systems, the Silver Line and large increases in non-rail transit, Routes 7 & 123, the DTR and the Beltway consistently fail. Stated alternatively, once we hit 84 msf, each new SOV trip into Tysons needs to canceled by an non-SOV trip."

I certainly hope that those traffic studies are update to account for new empirical data. Right now we only have a few weeks of SL ridership, but once we have a full year of SL ridership, more experience with the I495 express lanes, and experience with walking/biking changes as new developments come on line, it would be interesting to revisit those studies and see how auto trip share relative to built space is evolving.

"I don't disagree that changes to the Comp Plan won't occur. But while there may be more players at the table, the original ones will still have their seats at the table. "

I expect though that residential sorting will gradually impact the stances of those players. Everyone who has bought in McLean in the last 4 years should have known about the Comp Plan, as earlier buyers did not. Everyone who buys from here on out will do so with full knowledge of the Silver Line, and first stages of execution of the Comp Plan. Similarly the changee may impact who is quickest to sell.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

@TMT, I respect the people who were involved in the compromises and creation of the comp plan. Had I been more in tune to Tysons at that time (was living in Herndon at that time) I would have enjoyed being a part of it.

I think my basic point of view is, we have a plan, its a good one, but we need to recognize that sometimes binding people to a one solution answer creates unintended consequences and that the plan should be organic and reflect current realities. I concur, no one is pushing for the height limit right now, but had there been no height limit, there is no indication that people who have specifically stayed to 400' either. There are many projects, most of the marquee ones, going specifically to the 400' number... this to me indicates some what of a restriction, otherwise they wouldn't be maxing out.

In terms of condo pricing. I think you have a misrepresentation of pricing in Tysons. Yes there are $1million condos in Tysons. Specifically at park crest, specifically penthouses that are the size of many old single family homes or townhomes. My condo for instance was in the 300s, so to say that everything is going to be absurdly expensive is not correct. The reality is the psf's for tysons are reasonable and logical when comparing to comparable submarkets of Arlington and Reston. They are cheaper psf than Arlington, more expensive than Reston (goldielocks would be proud).

I am fine with the limits currently, but I fear that we are restricting ourselves from interest of more marquee projects that bring with them jobs, more housing, and tax revenue. The taller you go, the more the economy of scale can allow for more interesting variance in housing type and cost as the site and land acquisition costs are reduced per floor. I simply think 400' is a bit arbitrary. Why not 300', why not 500', why not 600'. It seems plucked from Arlington in that regard, just because it was a safe choice.

Again, respectfully, just an issue we disagree on similar to Table 7. My point of view is, lets be flexible without reducing the public return (so long as the same benefits if not more are provided as concession), I think your's is, we have an idea lets not add to it IIUC.

@Dave G - Its just css mark up -

You'll want to use the text list for what you are looking for:
http://www.simplehtmlguide.com/csscheatsheet.php

by Navid Roshan on Aug 20, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

If the facts change (let's say traffic volumes are significantly less than was was projected over a reasonable period of time), I would expect proposed modifications to the Comp Plan that might accommodate more growth or a delay of some transportation projects.

Also, I think the County and stakeholders would listen to a proposal for an exceptional building, but not five of them. There has not be a huge uproar over the CapOne HQ gateway.

But I think both the County and stakeholders would be very reluctant to make major changes before we see 8 - 10 years of development under the existing plan. Maybe more, if development comes at a slower pace. Tysons, of course, grows and slows. People will want some history before any major changes take place.

While everyone involved would have written some things differently, the Plan is actually reasonably good. For the first time in the history of land use regulation in Fairfax, the County actually tied growth and public facilities together. Changing one aspect, say reducing road construction or changing the distance for density (in either direction) unravels many other things. I have not seen any interest in unraveling a plan and agreement that took years to craft.

The plan is not impossible to change (more than a tweak here or there), but only after we've seen significant history to judge where changes might be appropriate. I cannot imagine the Planning Commission or the Supervisors wanting to open themselves to a political fight by jumping in earlier. Why would a supervisor want to provoke a fight with constituents? If he/she is seen as operating as a tool for Tysons landowners, there may well be a new supervisor. I just don't think the County will take a hard look at Tysons before 2020 or 2025.

by TMT on Aug 21, 2014 8:20 am • linkreport

@TMT,

We aren't that far from the 8 year time frame. We've seen an additional 1.5 million sqft of development since the comp plan was approved, and traffic has gotten better in Tysons. Just saying, lets not throw away 120 million dollars adding a pointless lane to 123 which bottlenecks 1/2 mile away into Vienna, and lets not widen Rt7 for 500 million dollars just yet.

Why not put it in the bank, and if traffic actually is bad, then build. We are so anxious to imagine the Armageddon (just like parking) that is to come, and yet in reality, it never is there.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 21, 2014 8:25 am • linkreport

IIUC the traffic study supporting the 2010 comp plan was done in 2009. That was five years ago. A new traffic study, and complete reevaluation of the connection between development levels and required road infrastructure, to be done in 2017, seems reasonable to me.

"Why would a supervisor want to provoke a fight with constituents? "

With property tax revenues failing to keep pace with school costs, as housing stock in the County ages and the county transforms demographically, the BoS will either have to continue to raise taxes or tighten the school budgets, either of which will provoke fights with constituents. To the extent that mods to the Tysons plan result in more tax revenue, one fight (over Tysons) merely substitutes for other fights (over schools, county services, and taxes)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 21, 2014 8:52 am • linkreport

CBF - you are correct, the traffic study for the 2010 Plan Amendment was finished in 2009. However, because the BoS approved approximately 30% more density than was studied in 2009 and submitted to VDOT for review, as per state law, Fairfax County conducted (still working on parts) three more studies - named Comprehensive Transportation Impact Analyses. These studies are cutting edge and consider not just the impact of one new building, but also the impacts of constructing all potential develop in the area studied and in the rest of Tysons. These studies enable the County and VDOT to have better projections of what is needed to serve a specific level of growth. The overall result - so far - is add and advance more necessary transportation resources. But by engaging in such detailed analysis, it is also possible to delay or substitute transportation projects. It's somewhat self-correcting. I hope this helps.

In terms of additional tax revenues, Tysons will certainly produce more. But how much? Enough to reduce the tax rate throughout the county? No supervisor is going to be foolish enough to say more growth at Tysons will reduce taxes like oil does in Alaska and North Dakota. And saying, with more growth, your taxes might not rise as much is not going to sell. Arguing for allowing more growth in Tysons now is simply not going to help any supervisor and could well cost one or more their seats. A supervisor in Dranesville, Providence or Hunter Mill who argued for even more growth in Tysons would be the immediate subject of vicious political attacks from Ds, Rs and Independents, as well as from community groups. It is a much stronger position to say, "Let's see what happens and take a new look in 2020 or 2025."

Outside groups (i.e., non-community organizations) such as the Coalition for Smart Growth and the Sierra Club, which are certainly reputable, had very little impact on the final result. Rather, individual HOAs and community associations did. Ken Lawrence made significant changes because of the activity of an HOA in Vienna just outside the Tysons boundaries. I can recall no change made based on the presentations of the Coalition for Smart Growth, for example.

If local supervisors were to push for more density or delaying road projects and thus, incite constituents and interest groups, who would jump up to support them? The landowners and developers are generally happy (they got a plan that gives significant increases in density and have general support from affected HOAs and community associations when they propose rezoning applications). Why would they want to break the peace? Reopening the Plan now creates many more losers than winners.

Why make "perfect" the enemy of "good," most especially when there is no consensus as to what is perfect? Doing this would simply split the consensus that enabled the Plan to be adopted and to be working.

by tmt on Aug 21, 2014 10:04 am • linkreport

Do you mean the Consolidated Transportation Impact Analysis? I see a reference on the County site to it being completed in 2012, but no link to the study, and little discussion of what was in it (mostly focused on the grid of streets)

"In terms of additional tax revenues, Tysons will certainly produce more. But how much? "

If we are asking that in context of modifications to the Comprehensive plan, that depends on what deal is reached to make those modifications, which depends on what the landowners are williing to put on the table.

"Arguing for allowing more growth in Tysons now is simply not going to help any supervisor"

Not if you seperate it from what the BoS could do with the money they might get from landowners in exchange. There are magisterial districts in the County (perhaps not the ones you listed) where schools are under great stress, and so are housing values. Either lower taxes than would otherwise occur, or improvements to schools, or to other stressed services, would be significant gains to those districts.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 21, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

@TMT, you always believe there is some magic to the traffic studies. You really need to listen to me on this. There isnt. The technology is not that ground breaking. The fact that they aren't doing a bunch of isolated intersection signal studies, and instead are doing a regional one is fine but theres one problem to that.

VDOT has traffic engineers, not sociology experts, not planning experts, not statistics experts, not pollsters, not a myriad of elements that are needed to do FORECAST modelling. After all, that is what they are conducting because this is not as simple as "every new space creates X cars".

They are making giant leaps and assumptions based on current trend data (in an autocentric city) about what future trend data will look like. Their experts are not the ones who should be making these sociological and pattern choices about the future, as we have seen historically DOTs are TERRIBLE at sociological predictions.

You continue to bring up models, and science, and how advanced and great the studies are. Engineers at the end of the day are not the ones who should be making PLANNING and statistical empirical data/trend studies. It completely throws off the numbers.

The difference between saying for instance 72% SOV as the assumed traffic per sf of X, versus 74% SOV as the assumed traffic per sf of X is the difference between complete failure and ideal flow conditions in urban settings. I don't think you realize how fine that line is, and the impact of the elements that have nothing to do with the modeling software make on the study. But you can continue to trust DOT folks word as gospel.

Picture unrelated.


I love throwing away 600 million dollars, and making my neighborhood less walkable as a taxpayer and resident. Its Great!

by Navid Roshan on Aug 21, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

I think you could put a walking/bike path near a rail line - pretty easily.

"People with higher incomes will place a higher monetary value on their time, and also on non time attributes of transport like comfort, reliability etc." - I think this is an unfortunate ingrained belief in transit planning. And I don't care if it's viewed as correct - what happens when people place this as central in their transit planning is harmful.

What occurs is city and transit planners place higher value at increasing service to those *who don't actually have to take the bus* to encourage them to ride, particular for their way to work, which are morning to evening hours.

People likely to be poorer and *have to take the bus* may have shorter day shifts, or evening shifts, or be college students, or retired, or disabled.

Notice how the bus service is designed to be worse for them. The frequency of buses shuts down markedly, or even doesn't run to suit them at all. And future plans like BRT involve really making things worse for them over in terms of routes and bus access.

IF somebody *needs* the bus, they aren't encouraged to use it. If they don't need it - they're not happy about how it's working, either - partly because if they improved the service for the "have nots" the "haves" would benefit the same, but oddly, some of the plans for the "haves", are designed to harm the "have nots", to supposedly give the "haves" better service.

A planner can likely improve service for more people on their way to work at an affluent job without forcing the rest to find alternative ways to travel or taking away all they have, or cutting their services to half that or worse to enable more for the other. But not if they spend billions on wasteful boondoggle projects.

by asffa on Aug 21, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

CBF - taking proffer money or in-kind contributions for schools outside the Tysons area is DOA. The Providence and Dranesville supervisors would not accept more density for school funds to be spent elsewhere in the county. Schools in the Vienna-Great Falls-McLean areas already have much larger class sizes than in in some other parts of the county and the difference is not explained by Title I money. There no consensus to get money for more growth at Tysons and send it outside the greater Tysons area.

I don't believe landowners who got unlimited density at the stations would feel any need to seek more. Spreading density beyond say 2.5 outside the half mile ring would be strongly opposed as inconsistent with the Plan. One of the main reasons consensus was reached was the decision to limit density to the immediate areas around the stations. Stu Mendelsohn's last-ditch effort to undo this failed.

The differing landowner interests (station and non-station) was the cause of the failure to agree upon a tax district within Tysons and caused the County to impose a service district.

So if the landowners at the stations are essentially content and the outlying landowners could not overcome opposition to density creep, who would fight for more density? And how could split landowners overcome the certain opposition from community groups to expanding density? I just don't see how anyone could assemble a coalition strong enough to add density to Tysons.

NR - I appreciate your view that, over time, behavior might change in a way that affects traffic. And I am well aware that a percentage change in traffic volume one way or the other can have a big impact on LOS.

Members of the Task Force argued that traffic studies and LOS was irrelevant to the re-development of Tysons. But the supervisors effectively rejected that argument when it gave Tysons to the Planning Commission. And one of the key reasons the deal on Tysons was reached was the agreement to link transportation to land use. Had the County done business as usual, the Comp Plan would not have had sufficient support to pass.

I strongly believe that, if traffic volumes projected are not reached, road projects will be delayed. But it is politically impossible to chuck Table 7 on the assumption behavior will change. Changed behavior that results in lower traffic volumes will likely delay certain projects on Table 7. But we could also see younger people start getting paid better; getting married or forming alternative household; having kids; and wanting more space than an urban apartment. That change in behavior might suggest other results.

I don't see the big problem letting things progress under the Comp Plan, making tweaks here and there as facts change, and then reevaluating the Plan in 10 to 15 years. It beats civil war.

by tmt on Aug 21, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

"CBF - taking proffer money or in-kind contributions for schools outside the Tysons area is DOA. The Providence and Dranesville supervisors would not accept more density for school funds to be spent elsewhere in the county. "

I have a difficulty time beleiving that if substantial funds were offered to the County in return for modest increases in density, and if that were accompanied by evidence that earlier traffic studies were in fact pessimistic, that that would lead to "civil war" or that a new compromise could not be reached. If it is indeed the case that no new compromise could be reached, than Fairfax County politics is less funtional than I thought, its magisterial district system more harmful than I thought, and its future less bright than I thought.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 21, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

CBF - why would people in Providence, Hunter Mill (Vienna portion) or Dranesville, who at the community outreach meetings opposed major increases in density (above say 84-90 Msf) accept more density and the traffic and overuse of other neighborhood facilities to send cash elsewhere in the county? There are already enough people in these areas who would love to break off from Fairfax County (which cannot happen by law) because they feel they don't get a fair share of tax dollars. Ever talk to a parent whose kids are in classes of 35 when they see classes of 15 in other parts of the county? Supporting another big transfer of school money to other parts of the county simply won't fly in the northern part of Fairfax County. Not when they think they are already screwed.

Recently, the Planning Commission has been rejecting proposals to send proffer money for parks to help the failing Lorton Arts center when the rezonings are in other parts of the county. Proffers are supposed to address the additional strain on public facilities caused by the rezoning. So a rezoning in Lee District ought to keep the proffer money in Lee District. Ditto for Providence and Dranesville.

And I'm still wondering who wants the additional density? Those at the stations don't need anymore. Those far from the stations won't get it because of opposition from some Planning Commissioners, Supervisors and community groups. The Planning Commission has made it clear no added density will be give for property near the circulators. That seems pretty telling to me.

I understand and respect the theoretical underpinning of your arguments. But I don't know which stakeholders would want to risk undoing the consensus that brought about the 2010 Plan amendment. I just don't see them arguing for more density based on theory - even if sound. If life is good (which it is for the big Tysons players), why not enjoy what they have and wait for 2020 to 2025 to revisit the Plan?

by tmt on Aug 21, 2014 3:08 pm • linkreport

I think the Tysons Comp Plan is not unlike the proposed meals tax. They both take a lot of community, business and political energy. And once these big items are addressed, no one really wants to expend the energy for some time.

The meals tax was voted down in the early to mid 90s. Until recently, no supervisor from either party really wanted to spend the energy and effort to relook at the tax referendum until recently. And then when the special task force was split on the merits of the tax, etc., Sharon Bulova wisely said the next BoS can look at the issue.

I think most people who were heavily involved with the Tysons Plan - from the county staff to landowners to community groups to planning commissioners to supervisors - simply are not ready to take on the major effort to revisit the Plan so soon. Our elected officials are not hearing cries to reopen the Plan, much less any consensus as to what should be changed. Does this make sense?

by tmt on Aug 21, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

"Ever talk to a parent whose kids are in classes of 35 when they see classes of 15 in other parts of the county? "

Ever read any RE or education blogs? Schools in the affluent northern parts of the County are a major draw there. People aren't rushing to put their kids into less affluent parts of the County that I am aware of. If there are high SES schools in the southern part of the County with unusually low class sizes, that is an inequity for FCPS to address. I would think the county is, and should be, more concerned with education in the lower SES areas. And with the desirability of housing in more marginal areas. As you state correctly, no part of the County can secede. Ergo, if and when some part of the County experiences severe decline, that will end up harming all parts of the County.

It may well be that the structure of County Govt, and the attitudes of Fairfax citizens, makes it difficult to address such issues. That is unfortunate for Fairfax County.

As for cries to reopen the plan, you yourself have claimed some landowners are interested in change. NR I believe is interested in altering some of the proposed road improvements. I suppose in the short term simply postponing them accomplishes the same thing - as long as they are postponed till after a date when major reevaluation is called for. If that date is 2020, so be it.

"Supporting another big transfer of school money to other parts of the county simply won't fly in the northern part of Fairfax County. Not when they think they are already screwed. "

People often think they are screwed when they are not. That does not necessarily drive outcomes.

"Recently, the Planning Commission has been rejecting proposals to send proffer money for parks to help the failing Lorton Arts center when the rezonings are in other parts of the county."

Thats terrible. Lorton Arts center is a unique facility, with the potential to impact the entire county. To the extent it does impact one area, its an area whose revitalization is and should be a County priority. Again this is just more evidence that the County's political culture is dysfunctional.

Where is Oboe?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 21, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

TMT, I don't disagree, no one is begging for more density now who is a player in Tysons. But with unrestricted density, you can't necessarily dismiss that outside developers might not suddenly see an economy of scale that could bring them in. With that economy of scale comes things like major contributions to schools, land trades, out right building of schools/fire stations/etc.

When you are talking about a project which could total 1.5 to 2 billion in total cost (multiple buildings), throwing in a $120 million middle school becomes a lot easier to do. For a $400 million project, its much less likely.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 21, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

In other words, its not the density I like (although heck I will admit I really like tall buildings and even better I like good urban form) its the things that come with the density like more tax revenue, less of a struggle to get concessions, better proffers.

In terms of negotiating, its always nice to be able to offer something for return of something else, without that ability Fairfax loses some of its leverage.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 21, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

Good luck Navid. You've got a tough row to hoe. I increasinly think that ArlCo and Alexandria,with their jurisdiction wide elections and weaker neighborhood orgs, have an advantage over FFX I had not previously considered.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 21, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

@CBF - theres always incorporation, theres actually bipartisan consensus on it... although its still only us fringe folks pushing for it for our various reasons. Unfortunately, that leads us to the state where its even tougher.

I think the Fairfax issues are in someways a generational difference and a proof in the pudding. Sometimes it takes seeing that the boogeyman didnt happen, to let a better design take hold. I was hopeful Mosaic was that proof in the pudding, but likely Tysons will need to show its own merit for smart growth as well.

That being said, a 100msf downtown with 100,000 people and 200,000 jobs is a lofty goal by itself, one which has already been blessed and is increasingly moving forward from idea to reality. Population has already grown 3000, companies are growing in Tysons like CapOne. I guess I am more optimistic, but wish some would open up to some flexibility to open up to greater possibilities. Not the end of the world, still plenty of good things happening here.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 21, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

Fairfax County has a sweetheart deal with developers on school proffers. Unlike most Virginia jurisdictions, Fairfax County has a formula that determines construction costs, but then subtracts half of them (on the ground that most kids don't have new classrooms). The formula ignores land costs, regulatory/administrative costs, and fixture costs. The policy statement adopted by the BoS says costs are to be evaluated and adjusted annually. This is ignored by both the School Board and the BoS. New development in Fairfax County puts a burden on taxpayers in the area of school capacity. I've testified on this problem to the BoS for years. They won't touch it. It is a taxpayer giveaway.

Fairfax County, while far from perfect, is much more functional than many of its neighbors. Community pressure leads to supervisors from both Parties who are more responsive to their constituents than elected officials in many other jurisdictions. For example, Jeff McKay is a bulldog on code enforcement. Why? Because it's one of the biggest problems for his constituents. And code compliance is much better in Lee District than in Mason, for example.

Former Supervisor Stu Mendelson established the McLean Planning Committee to control the Comp Plan for downtown McLean. It consists of equal representation from the McLean Chamber, landowners, residents and the McLean Citizens Association. This group has been continued and writes the Plan based on community consensus. The Great Falls Citizens Association, for example, reviews all land use cases in Great Falls. The Dranesville Supervisor will not permit them to go forward without review. The supervisors certainly make up their own minds on projects, but prefer plans that have consensus support. And developers like it when they present a land use request supported by the community in the form of a resolution.

The stronger the community influence, which includes both residents and businesses, the better the quality of life. And having a district supervisor allows citizens to hold someone accountable for decisions.

The Tysons Plan was developed and approved because the BoS stripped the Task Force from control over the planning and gave it to the Planning Commission. That body, in turn, brought in all stakeholders; listened to those who had more than slogans to pitch; and help drive consensus. So far, the adopted Plan seems to be working because all stakeholders have an interest in maintaining the consensus.

If one landowner tried to get approval for say a 100-story building, it is more likely than not, other stakeholders would oppose it as consensus for what was adopted could erode. It took Arlington 30 years plus to get where it is today. Let's give Tysons time too.

by tmt on Aug 22, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport

"Community pressure leads to supervisors from both Parties who are more responsive to their constituents than elected officials in many other jurisdictions."

That's the problem. They are responsive to local needs, and especially to the needs of homeowners, and especially the most affluent and determined homeowners. Rather than to the broader needs of the jurisdiction. I look at Alexandria and I doubt their new waterfront plans would have gone through had they had a system like that in Fairfax.

Fairfax, esp north FFX has a high quality life, largely due to its demographics, the fruit of many decisions of the past - the fact that Pentagon contractors located in Tysons with its highway interchange, the decision to locate Dulles airport on its edge which drew many non-DOD related employers in that direction, the location of N Fairfax in the "favored quarter", etc.

Today the County has an aging housing stock (despite teardowns in select areas) a changing demography esp in its schools, and intense competition from neighboring jurisdictions. While the Tysons office market remains strong, other office markets in the County are not particularly strong AFAICT. While FFX is undoubtedly in a stronger position than PG County or PW County, or perhaps even MoCo, it faces many profound challenges. I believe its likely to muddle through, in part because of the vision of Gerry Connolly in getting the Tysons process moving (as well as other visionary ideas) but I do not think the excess weight given to certain parochial interests by its political system will help it.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 22, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

"listened to those who had more than slogans to pitch;"

assuming you mean CSG, so far their POV on SL ridership, and on metro parking, is looking strong - but we shall see.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 22, 2014 9:41 am • linkreport

" guess I am more optimistic,"

Good for you Navid. Tysons has enough momentum, and enough good ideas in the plan (most of which came from the camp of the ideologues with slogans) that I suspect FFX county overall will muddle through.

I am more hopeful though about the prospects for the inner jurisdictions. The reinventions of Crystal City and Rosslyn, though less spoken of, have huge potential. Eventually the transformation of Columbia Pike. The completion of a new corridor along rte 1 in Alexandria which will connect Old Town with Crystal City. The Beauregard plan in west Alexandria, and other initiatives in that City.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 22, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

Re: Gerry Connolly. The best thing for Tysons was Gerry's election to Congress. I don't think he could have helped forge the consensus on Tysons that Sharon Bulova, Peter Murphy and Walter Alcorn did. After Gerry moved to the Hill, the process was opened considerably to all stakeholders and every affected party realized its concerns would be addressed and, thus, received a strong incentive to work towards compromise. Keep in mind, when he was Chairman of the BoS, Gerry had a financial stake in the result as an SAIC vice president. Once he became Congressman Connolly, he left that job and went to the Hill, that issue went away. Also, the BoS became much more collegial when Bulova became chair. Love him or hate him, Gerry is a lightening rod.

A key reason Tysons is starting to work according to the Plan is the consensus support given it in 2010. Had Gerry stayed where he was, the BoS would have had to adopt a Plan in the face of strong community opposition and, instead of supporting rezonings, virtually every proposal would have been opposed. Guerilla warfare would exist today. Would you rather be Georgelas with community support or without community support. I know what Aaron Georgelas would say.

CSG is certainly not without good ideas. But it was not at the table when the final negotiations were occurring. CSG is best at offering ideas that are then reviewed and negotiated by other stakeholders. I'm not anti-CSG per se. I've testified in support of some of its positions, as well as against them over the years.

IMO, the key issue challenging Tysons is traffic congestion. To the extent it is managed and spillover effects on nearby communities are minimized, there will be less political turmoil, which, in turn, will allow Tysons to grow or slow based on market conditions.

The Fairfax County Chamber made a pitch a number of years ago to weaken the district supervisor model. To the best of my recollection, not a single supervisor would touch it. Local representation is a critical part of good government. Not having a representative on the County board was one of the reasons I left Arlington many years ago. And again, since the magisterial districts are used county wide and are close to each other in population, no area of the county - irrespective of wealth - has any more or less say in the governance of the County. Gerry Hyland can cancel John Foust's vote and vice versa. Fairfax County's government structure is vastly superior to that of Arlington County.

by tmt on Aug 22, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

"Not having a representative on the County board was one of the reasons I left Arlington many years ago."

Which, given the values you have expressed repeatedly on this forum, makes sense. Others of us have different values. I like the Arlington approach, and believe it has had better results.

" And again, since the magisterial districts are used county wide and are close to each other in population, no area of the county - irrespective of wealth - has any more or less say in the governance of the County. Gerry Hyland can cancel John Foust's vote and vice versa."

Which is not meaningful as long as they defer to each other on issues regarding particular districts. Note well I see Tysons as a county wide issue - as the source of revenue to help the County as a whole over its growing challenges. That this future is so much held hostage to the over wrought traffic concerns of neighboring areas is problematic, IMO.

"Fairfax County's government structure is vastly superior to that of Arlington County."

We will have to agree to disagree.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 22, 2014 11:05 am • linkreport

CBF I do agree to disagree on Arlington v Fairfax. I understand your position. Neither you nor I are alone in how we believe.

To some degree (and rightfully so), Tysons is a countywide issue similar to BRAC. But it is also clear that Supervisor Linda Smyth's views on Tysons are more equal than others. Ditto for Hyland and McKay on BRAC. And rightfully so. I think the supervisors try to balance deference to the local supervisor against a need to look at how the issue at hand affects other areas of the county. An example is the county takeover of Lorton Art Center Bonds versus stopping park proffer money from leaving the local district to go to the Art Center. Similarly, code enforcement and policing policies ought to be the same countywide.

by tmt on Aug 22, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

I dont see railroads wanting to entice lots of additional people near their lines

In fact the railroad industry has people in L.A. who work with the film industry to discourage them from including scenes of people walking along the railroad tracks (like in the beginning of Some Kind of Wonderful).

Many railroad track pedestrian deaths are suicides, but they still count the same. The FRA has some form of penalty for railroads that have too many pedestrian deaths, but I can't recall what that is. It's must be pretty onerous because they try very hard to avoid it.

by David C on Aug 25, 2014 6:14 pm • linkreport

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