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Tysons highlighted as global example for smart growth

An overflow crowd of well over 150 jammed a small meeting room at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board to hear a two-hour discussion the planned transformation of Tysons Corner into what, on its own, is expected to be the United States' seventh largest downtown in 2030, eclipsing Seattle and Houston.

A Tysons Corner street in 2030. Image from Fairfax County.

All the speakers focused on what sets Tysons apart from other American "edge cities." While similar auto-oriented suburban jobs centers in other parts of the country are being redeveloped in a more urban fashion, Tysons is the only one to be centered on a heavy-rail transit connection to the rest of its metropolitan region.

Tysons Corner, which in the 1950s consisted of a general store at the corner of Virginia routes 7 and 123 (then only 4-lane roads), has expanded to hosting 170,000 jobs—and 160,000 parking spaces, mostly in surface lots. It is now the economic engine of Northern Virginia, if not the entire state.

While a significant number of those who work there live close by, its design make walking and biking very unpleasant and often dangerous. Located almost exactly halfway between downtown Washington and Dulles Airport, the area around Tysons often sees the worst traffic in the metro area.

The planned, and now under construction, extension of the Metrorail system through Tysons provided the impetus for re-planning the area. The Master Plan that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved in 2010 is the result of five years worth of work: hundreds of meetings with close scrutiny and ample public involvement.

Its implementation will cost $1.698 billion over 20 years, not including the $4 billion invested in the Silver Line itself and the new High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on the Beltway and I-66.

The new Tysons, in addition to very dense evenly mixed-use development near the three Metro stations, will feature an urban circulator, which could take the form of a streetcar or a rapid bus line. An expanded network of on-road bike lanes and off-road bicycle & pedestrian paths, as well as bike parking minimums, will help increase non-auto modes' share of daily commuters from just three percent today to 36 percent in 2030.

Automobile traffic will still increase, though, so more road capacity will be needed. Parking, however, will go from a current minimum of 2.6 spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space, to a maximum of 1.6 spaces per thousand square feet within a half-mile radius of each Metro station. The use of smart parking meters will provide an even further deterrent to parking problems.

The planning process generated some tension and controversy, as well as some factually erroneous statements made in the press. The McLean Citizens' Association, a federation of neighborhood groups representing Tysons' surrounding residential areas, was a cooperative partner throughout the process and endorsed the final plan.

The Association wants to see paid parking become mandatory in Tysons, and increased bus service and ride-sharing incentives in the area. Association President Robert Jackson says residents are likely to fight road expansion and private property condemnation, despite that the current state of traffic diverts cut-through drivers onto residential streets.

Ronald Kirby, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, shared a relevant story from his own life. In the late 1960s, he worked in an office building on Connecticut Avenue near Farragut Square, where he enjoyed the urban environment and being able to walk to a variety of restaurants for lunch. His company moved to a new Tysons Corner office in the early 1970s.

Tysons today (Annandale VA blog)
Kirby's commute then was easy: the Beltway's speed limit was 65 mph and there was very little traffic. Though he could see the Tysons Galleria from his office window, he had to drive there to grab lunch because walking was a harrowing experience. The building he worked in was declared functionally obsolete in 1990 and the site has since twice been redeveloped—while the building he worked in on Connecticut Avenue still stands, and its environs have hardly changed.

Kirby touted the funding structure that made the Silver Line possible: half from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the other half from Dulles Toll Road toll revenues. He hopes developers can contribute to the financing of the Tysons Metro stations as they did to building the New York Avenue station (NoMa developers proposed its construction and paid a third of its costs).

"Tysons' future is urban; deal with it," said Dr. Robert Cervero, city and regional planning professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has had extensive involvement in the redesign. He noted that placemaking (transforming Tysons into an attractive place to live) remains a large challenge, but maintained that the good thing about its vast amounts of surface parking is that they serve as "land banking," making strategic infill easier.

Inclusionary planning, offering a compelling vision, and using conceptual images to give people a street-level view of the future mini city were key to the plans' broad acceptance, Cervero said. He noted also that bringing more residents into Tysons would do more to reduce traffic in and out than just improving transit and bicycle options.

Tysons Corner is poised to become North America's only example of a former sprawling edge city becoming a fully-fledged downtown in its own right. Making it successful—a task to which developers, nearby residents and government leaders are committed—will be a key step on the way to making our fast-growing region more livable and sustainable.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DCís NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own. 


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"Automobile traffic will still increase, though, so more road capacity will be needed." I would challenge this projection. If parking is no longer free and there is ample access to and within the area by transit, automobile traffic should decrease. Since Tysons is "poised to be North America's only example of a former sprawling edge city becoming a fully fledged downtown in its own right", then how can such a projection be considered a sure thing?

by Lou dc on Jan 29, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

@Lou, Actually I see the recognition of increased parking needs as an acknowledgement that the model for the future may not be the 'edge cities' of today ... but neither is it the old urban cities of yesterday. The ideal are cities which balance the use of various modes of transport including personal transportation means such as automobiles.

by Lance on Jan 29, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

I wonder if, on the opposite end of DC, New Carrollton will ever grow to a similar size. There's nothing like the retail of Tyson's but there is ample transportation to and from the site (arguably easier to access downtown DC from at rush hours), as well as hundreds of thousands of square feet of planned office and residential space. Maybe in 10 years, PG could use Tyson's as a growth example for what to, and not to do.

by S on Jan 29, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

For those that may be interested in seeing my latest collection of construction progress picture of the N Route Silver line, here they are:

Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Construction Photos 01-15-2011 VA-267 from VA I-66 to Dolley Madison Boulevard VA-123
Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Construction Photos 01-15-2011 VA-267 from Leesburg Pike VA-7 to Weihle Avenue
Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Construction Photos 01-15-2011 VA-123 Dolley Madison Boulevard
Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Construction Photos 01-15-2011 VA-7 Leesburg Pike

To browse the picture from the thumbnail gallery:
Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project 01-15-2011

by Sand Box John on Jan 29, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

@Sand Box John:

These are great photos, thank you for providing them. You should consider posting them on this forum:


Do you have the links for any of these presentations at TRB?

by Ben on Jan 29, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

@ Sand Box John: Fantastic pics.

Do we have a civil engineer here that can explain what these giant yellow and white gantries actually do?

by Jasper on Jan 29, 2011 5:35 pm • linkreport

"three metro stations"? I thought there were four.

Larger than downtown Seattle by 2030? Seriously?? Downtown Seattle is already pretty damn big, and also supposed to grow a LOT between now and then. The renderings of Tysons, in contrast, look like a large Silver Spring or Bethesda. Big, yes--but not THAT big.

by Mark on Jan 29, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport


I am not engineer but I can explain in simple terms how they work.

First off one must understand the principles post-tension construction. Concrete derive virtually all of its tension stringent from steel reinforcement.

The magic of post-tension construction is, one take multiple reinforcing concrete pieces and cement them together and pull steel wires through them and secure them under tension at both ends to make a single reinforcing concrete structure.

The lifting gantries lift the segments into positions and cements them together, After all of the segments of the span are cemented together bundles of steel wire are pulled through them and secured under tension at each end.

The photos linked below are from a photo gallery that was part of a USAToday article showing those wires being put under tension:

by Sand Box John on Jan 29, 2011 8:11 pm • linkreport


Closeup pictures of the segments and the holes the wires are pulled through:
Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project Construction Photos 10-23-2010

by Sand Box John on Jan 29, 2011 8:23 pm • linkreport

@ Sand Box John: Cool stuff man! Thanks for the explanation.

I wish the Post, WTOP and the media in general would run a few stories on the cool engineering behind building a project like this. If they did that on a frequent basis, engineering enrollment by Americans would go up.

by Jasper on Jan 29, 2011 8:31 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the pics. I took 2 Materials and Methods of Construction classes at NoVa a few years ago for fun, and the most interesting part for me was learning all about concrete construction. I had no idea about it before I took the class. It really is fascinating, especially because in this area especially, it is so ubiquitous.

by spookiness on Jan 29, 2011 8:56 pm • linkreport

@S arguably easier to access downtown DC from at rush hours

... except in the case of Tysons, almost no one there is trying access downtown DC ... it's the reverse. There's far more non-government employment there than there is in DC ... and I would wonder there isn't more employment there period than DC. And of course, if there isn't already, there's sure to be by 2030. That's what real smart growth is all about ... making the best use of all your resources.

by Lance on Jan 29, 2011 9:05 pm • linkreport

I'll believe it when I see it. Til then we'll assume the Law of Conservation of Sprawl applies to all suburban areas.

by oboe on Jan 29, 2011 9:09 pm • linkreport


Per the 2007 Economic Census, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, for the pay period including March 12, 2007, there were a total of 408,441 employees in DC and 87,298 employees in Tyson's Corner. Unfortunately the census does not break out government from non-government jobs, but even in the category of retail trade (NAICS 2-digit codes 44 and 45), which should be almost entirely non-government, DC had 19,117 employees and Tyson's Corner only 9,828.

See and

by rock_n_rent on Jan 29, 2011 11:04 pm • linkreport

If Tysons succeeds does it mean that the real future for "smart growth"/"new urbanism" lies in retrofitting car-developed areas rather than building out rail to spur development on its own?

That is, clearly highways spur development. Environmentally-unfriendly, choked with traffic, unsustainable development perhaps, but still development.

Then areas seem to reach a certain "carrying capacity," the amount of people/jobs/etc that can be supported with current car-based infrastructure. These built-up areas can then (and only then?) support reworking of the urban form to a more walk/bike-friendly environment.

So maybe Maryland should follow Virginia's lead on highways so that the land gets built out quicker so we can then retrofit areas faster.

(Just throwing this out there; I really don't have an axe to grind one way or the other. I mean, I like mass transit, but it just seems ironic that building a Tysons is the best way to get mass transit)

by EJ on Jan 29, 2011 11:48 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, spookiness:

You might be interested in knowing, this is not the first time post-tension construction has been used by contractors building elevated structure for WMATA. The first was the bridge over Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria on the J Route Blue line, followed by the elevated west of the West Hyattsville station on the E Route Green line. Prior to the construction N Route Silver line it was last use on the elevated an both ends of the Naylor Road Station and in both crossing of the Suitland Parkway between the Naylor Road and the Branch Avenue stations on the F Route Green line.

During the construction of the elevated on either end of the Naylor Road Station the Suitland Parkway was on my commuter route. Got to watch them being built. Took roughly two weeks to assemble a span. The truss they used was not nearly as elegant as the trusses being used in Tysons Corner.

All of the above elevateds can be seen at Google Street View.

The casting plant for the segment was located on what is now the west parking lot at the Branch Avenue station.

The casting plant for the segment used to build the elevated in Tysons Corner is located between the Dulles Airport employee parking and Sulley Road VA-28 south of Ox Road VA-606.

The casting plant a Dulles Airport can be seen at Google Maps.

by Sand Box John on Jan 30, 2011 12:58 am • linkreport

@Lance -

There is absolutely no way the level of employment that you're describing exists at Tyson's. Please either back up your claim with plausible numbers or retract it.

As a general note, Lance's trolling has, as far as I can tell, crossed a line recently. Now that he's firmly in the realm of "making @#$% up" in order to antagonize more worthwhile contributors, is it possible to get a ban? Having to wade through his BS is really starting to detract from the general readability of this blog.

by Joe on Jan 30, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

The story is very optimistic that Tyson's can be transformed.

At the moment, having attempted to be a pedestrian in the area, it's hard to be so optimistic. Vast areas are more unwalkable than ever before. Few intersections have any sort of allowance for pedestrians and those that do are miles apart. Many very large and recent buildings HAVE NO PEDESTRIAN ENTRANCE (aka "front door") and the only access is through a parking garage. It's great that heavy rail is being put through... but to believe that heavy rail can truly transform the area? Optimistic.

by B.O. on Jan 30, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

DC has more jobs and office space then all of Fairfax county so I don't know how Tysons will eclipse dc in the future considering dc will continue to add jobs and office space.

by mikem on Jan 30, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

I share B.O.'s concern. Routes 7 and 123 will remain as pedestrian-hostile highways, elevated ramps to the Beltway are being built (with no objection, as far as I know, from the people who fought to put the Metro underground), and the elimination of superblocks will be long in coming.

Another weakness of the plan (an unavoidable one, to be sure) is that new public facilities are dependent on private investment. But new private investment won't come if the existing buildings are empty. If tastes change too fast toward urbanism (if, for example, gas goes to $10), the vacancy rate will go up and then Tysons can't be made urban. It's a St. Augustine master plan - grant me chastity, but not yet.

If the new investment doesn't work out, the value of the Metro might turn out to be not in making Tysons flourish, but in keeping it alive. New development would be attracted to the areas that are already more urban (Orange Line in Arlington, Bethesda, Silver Spring) or to those where the makeover is easier and better financed (Crystal City, White Flint). Tysons would become a haven for low-rent office uses such as government outsourcing of routine functions, something like downtown Newark and downtown Brooklyn prior to their recent revivals.

by Ben Ross on Jan 30, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

@rock-and-rent, Sorry, I wasn't clear. I didn't mean 'Tysons' as defined in census track data, but 'Tysons' as in Tysons/Fairfax/Dulles Toll Road/Fair Lakes ... i.e., the western 'NoVa' area. DC is still by far the business center for government and lawyers, but all other business is now headquartered either in MD (if it's health/research/bio-oriented) or in that Tysons/Fairfax/Dulles Toll Road/Fair Lakes area. And that latter area, when it comes to non-governmental industry is far far more important than the core DC ... and employs accordingly. If you disagree, please give me the name of one Fortune 500 company actually doing business in DC (and I don't mean a figure-head 'main' office).

by Lance on Jan 30, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

[E]levated ramps to the Beltway are being built (with no objection, as far as I know, from the people who fought to put the Metro underground)

I think to some degree the ramps face a design constraint stemming from the fact that you're connecting existing roads there (even recognizing that the HOT lanes will be "new" capacity when finished). That is--there will be a new ramp linking the HOT lanes to VA-7. VA-7 passes over the Beltway. Building an underground ramp there is very impractical. There will be another new ramp linking the Westpark Bridge (the bridge over 123 between Tysons I and Westpark Boulevard) to the HOT lanes. Since one end connects to an existing bridge, that's a limitation. In both of those situations, existing development around the interchanges poses a further constraint on what can be done. The Metrorail line doesn't necessarily depend on linking up to existing roads. It's designed to augment or supplant existing modes of transportation. True, it follows existing roads because it's far more practical and less expensive to do it that way than it is to burrow under buildings; most other segments of the Metrorail (or, for that matter, other cities' subways) follow the same pattern, especially "cut-and-cover" segments. But it seems to me to be unrealistic to compare the idea of an underground subway line with the Beltway ramps (starting from the presumption that the ramps are to be built and that a transit line is to be built, such that the only question is where or how to build them; the presumption spares us the argument about whether the HOT project should be built).

Anyway, I think it's important that they find some way to augment the Metrorail line with some sort of localized transportation in Tysons. A streetcar or other light-rail system that could form a loop connecting to the Metro stations would be a very desirable idea, especially if it could be run in such a way that you would not be charged for changing from the Metrorail to the light rail. The reason I say this is that most of the office development is NOT along the Metro line, which will run along VA-7 and VA-123. Most of the office development is back along either Greensboro Drive (between VA-7 and Tysons II) or Westpark Drive (lower-density development between Tysons II and the Beltway). It's utterly impractical to suggest that your average commuter, other than the most highly-dedicated transitphile, will be willing to walk from the Metrorail to those areas (especially Westpark). Some employers, or office complexes, might run shuttle buses, which would surely help, but I have to think a fixed system with a schedule might be more effective.

(FWIW, to go off on a tangent, I think Old Town Alexandria might be another place where a streetcar loop of that sort might be useful in tying the King Street Metro stop closer to the heart of Old Town. Run the streetcar in a loop eastbound down Prince Street--which is one-way eastbound--to St. Asaph or Pitt, then north two blocks across King Street to Cameron Street and back out that--it's one-way westbound--and connect it back to the Metro.)

by Rich on Jan 30, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

@ rock_n_rent, Joe: Come on guys. Don't be so naive as to try and convince Lance with facts. Lance is the Stephen Colbert/ONN Fact Zone of GGW: Straight from the gut, and always within 30 seconds. Even if you do manage to find facts that prove him wrong, it's not the fact that prove him wrong, it's you misunderstanding his original statement.

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

@ Rich: This is actually the only good side of the HOT lanes that I can come up with. For 100 years, I-495 can not be widened anymore. Which means extra capacity will have to come from somewhere else. In 10 years, I guarantee you, there will be bristling from the FFX County Board, VDOT as well as Richmond about these darned HOT lanes, impeding growth. There will be lawsuits, but to no avail. The only solution then will be extra transit.

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

This is actually the only good side of the HOT lanes that I can come up with. For 100 years, I-495 can not be widened anymore.

This is getting somewhat off-topic here, but since it interests me, and since it's somewhat related to the issue of traffic heading TO the Tysons area, I'll comment on it. I think there's another benefit of the HOT project that is a lot less apparent (because construction is ongoing) and that may be the source of some grumbling among some folks reading this blog but that is still important: The HOT project includes the reconstruction of the very poorly-designed interchange of I-66 and the Beltway. That interchange's current design is the cause of a number of daily backups. The rebuild may not eliminate them completely, but it should contribute to the more efficient flow of traffic through that area.

The main reason is the elimination of left-hand exits and entrances from what I'll call the "free" Beltway lanes. There will still be left-hand exits and entrances between the Beltway HOT lanes and the I-66 left-lane HOV facility outside the Beltway, but that shouldn't be a problem because both supporters and opponents of the HOT project generally agree that the HOT lanes should carry notably less traffic than the "free" lanes (though their reasons for that position differ). Focusing on the "free" lanes, though--pretty much everybody agrees that left-hand exits and entrances are a bad idea. The I-66/Beltway interchange has several of them that contribute to backups:

(a) Left-hand exit from the Inner Loop (northbound towards Tysons) to westbound I-66. The exit is a relic from when I-66 ended at the Beltway prior to 1982; back when the Beltway was built, the negative aspects of left-hand exits and entrances were not yet fully understood. The ramp causes backups in part because people entering the Beltway from US-50 ignore the signs directing them to use the existing right-hand exit and instead bomb across all four lanes like kamikazes, causing other people to hit the brakes. It's also a dangerous ramp because of a mid-ramp curve to the right, which appeared back in the 1990s when the ramp was redesigned to enter I-66 from the right rather than the left (this as part of the left-lane HOV project so that non-HOVs wouldn't merge into the HOV lane).

(b) Left-hand merge from eastbound I-66 to the Inner Loop. This is also a relic from when I-66 ended at the Beltway. The ramp has been redesigned a few times but still merges on the left. Traffic slows to take the ramp, slows some more because another ramp from the left-lane HOV comes in on the left, then the combined traffic merges onto the Beltway at a speed slower than the speed of traffic. Further congestion then ensues because people heading for Tysons have two miles to work their way across to the more conventional right-hand exit for VA-7.

(c) Left-hand merge from westbound I-66 to the Outer Loop. This one gets the least traffic. The reason it's designed as it is is because when I-66 was constructed inside the Beltway, the ramp from the Outer Loop to westbound I-66 already existed, VDOT didn't want to relocate it, and the exit from westbound I-66 wouldn't fit unless that other ramp was relocated. The ramp enters the Beltway on a curve and has limited sightlines in the merge area; also, drivers using it who want to exit at US-50 have less than a mile to get all the way over to the right, in the process coming into conflict with traffic merging onto the Beltway in the right lane from westbound I-66.

The HOT project will eliminate all three of these issues:

(a) Left-hand exit from the Beltway will be eliminated. All traffic from the Inner Loop to I-66 will now use a single exit on the right and will then split either to the existing ramp to inbound I-66 or to a new lane leading to the existing loop-around ramp to westbound I-66. No more cutting across traffic to the left exit.

(b) Ramp from eastbound I-66 to the Inner Loop towards Tysons will now cross over the Beltway and merge from the right, inside of the exit noted above (that is, entering and exiting traffic will not cross). No more cutting across four lanes to exit at Tysons. Also, the merge lane will be extended through to Tysons to become an "Exit Only" lane at VA-7, such that people coming from I-66 and exiting at VA-7 won't have to merge.

(c) Ramp from westbound I-66 to the Outer Loop will cross over the Beltway and merge from the right; the existing ramp from the Outer Loop to westbound I-66 is being relocated and extended to make room.

While none of these will SOLVE the Beltway congestion going to and from Tysons in this area, they should all HELP to some degree by eliminating what was a badly-designed interchange that long ago needed reconstruction. Also, I know a lot of people here seem to hate motorized traffic or any sort of highway projects, but it seems to me that to the extent a chronic bottleneck can be improved, everyone benefits to the extent (a) traffic moves better and spends less time idling and getting 0 mpg; (b) people have less reason to bail out onto the local streets.

by Rich on Jan 30, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

Hey now, let's back off generalizations about Lance.

No matter what you believe on a particular issue, I don't find Lance to be a troll. He's one of the most frequent commenters here.

I'm very happy he's here. Without someone (preferably a recurring personality) standing up for an opposing view on these issues, debates have a tendency to flatten into a preaching-to-the-choir lovefest.

His existence here not only sometimes breaks us free of things we had taken for granted, but also helps us better distill our arguments when trying to introduce these concepts to people who have never considered them.

by Joey on Jan 30, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

Rich - The HOT lane project, by design, CANNOT eliminate congestion on the Beltway. If the free lanes are not congested, nobody will drive on the toll lanes. To avoid bankruptcy, the owners of the HOT lanes must deliberately set the tolls at a level that ensures that the free lanes are congested.

by Ben Ross on Jan 30, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport

Ben Ross, I think you completely missed the entire point of my post. I said that the reconstruction of the I-66/Beltway interchange will help mitigate (not eliminate) a major point of congestion on the Beltway through elimination of flawed interchange design. That reconstruction would not have happened without the HOT project because, even though VDOT had discussed doing it for years, (a) there were too many other projects competing for the money and (b) rebuilding that interchange so soon after rebuilding the Springfield Interchange would have been a political hot potato.

I'm not going to jump on the pro-HOT or anti-HOT bandwagon. I'll give them credit for trying something different. My brother-in-law lives near Miami and says that their HOT lane project has been pretty successful, but it's fair to note that it's nowhere on the scale of what's being attempted on the Beltway. But anyway, I think it's short-sighted to let one's bias against the concept of HOT lanes lead one to condemn everything to do with the project. I stand by my point that the reconstruction of that particular interchange is a notable benefit.

by Rich on Jan 30, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

The clusterfudge that is I-66 interchanging with I-495 could have been easily fixed without blowing billions on HOT. Just needed a fifth lane between a new right entrance from 66 to the inner loop through the Dulles Toll Road exit.

by NikolasM on Jan 30, 2011 6:26 pm • linkreport

@ Rich: While none of these will SOLVE the Beltway congestion going to and from Tysons in this area, they should all HELP to some degree by eliminating what was a badly-designed interchange that long ago needed reconstruction.

While you are right in some aspect, it will not last for 100 years.

It's an interesting contrast though in FFX. On the one hand, they're trying to fix Tysons, making urbanists really happy. On the other hand, they're pissing the same people off with the HOT lanes.

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2011 8:20 pm • linkreport


Fortune 500 company in DC: Fannie Mae (still #81 on 2010 Fortune 500; per Washington Post Top 200 Public Companies, it employs 4,800 of its 7,000 total employees in DC at its Wisconsin Ave campus).

As to the information technology and consulting companies in "greater Tysons Corner", don't fool yourself that they are all non-governmental. Sure, the employees may not be directly hired by the government, but most of those companies exist because of government contracts. Tysons Corner is not a hot bed of innovation (neither Google nor Facebook were invented here, nor any of the newest updates to Microsoft or Apple); instead, it exists because of the proximity of the federal government and certain pieces of DOD communications infrastructure, and its main product is IT integration and consulting services for federal agencies. See the seminal history on Tysons Corner's development, Paul E. Ceruzzi's _Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).

Similarly, the biotechnology cluster in Montgomery County exists because of spin-offs from research at NIH (a federal agency) in Bethesda. The biotechnology cluster, unlike Internet Alley in northern Virginia, did create one genius, Craig Ventner; he beat the feds at sequencing the human genome. But the J. Craig Ventner Institute is now split between Rockville and San Diego, as Ventner has come to rely more upon university research (which, in biology, is particularly strong at UC San Diego and its various spin-offs, just as Stanford, Harvard, and MIT are at the core of the truly innovative IT regions - the greater Washington area simply does not have research universities that are in the same league).

by rock_n_rent on Jan 31, 2011 12:52 am • linkreport

Count me as a doubter on Tysons.

A couple fact points: I can see why Lance would think Tysons has more jobs than DC -- the Fairfax promoters like to pump their numbers up a bit. And I'm pretty sure I read about 10 years ago that Tysons was already larger than downtown Seattle office space.

But what makes Tysons and Dulles nice for companies is CHEAP office space and free parking. Raise the costs for either, and you're wrecking a nice balance. Plus, the model for Tysons seems explicitly to be Ballston -- which is not a nice place to live, although a decent place to work.

And Ballston is a great example of being cool, or the failures thereof. It isn't cool, won't be. Doesn't have great restaurants/amenities, etc. Hell, half the people who work there still have to go to the food court for lunch.

Unless you are relying on the feds to soak up office space, which does not seem likely, I really don't know where all those new jobs are going to go. Something like every new job in Fairfax county will have to be in Tysons for the next 20 years to meet the figures. You've got one rail line going in and outside of Reston and Falls Church no natural suburbs.

by charlie on Jan 31, 2011 8:49 am • linkreport

@rock_n_rent, Yes, I know that most of our non-governmental companies in the area exist because they formed to support the federal government itself or those companies which support the federal government. I.e., The feds are the 'driver' in the local economy. The reason I separated the 2 in my post was to point out that only the federal government itself is still by and large situated within the District. The rest, who can more easily relocate have moved further out to take advantage of cheaper prices ... which in and of themselves are signals which a growing local economy sends to better and more efficiently make use of all available land resources ... I.e., Many of the 'hipsters' who have only recently moved to DC live a very 'niche' world smuggly thinking everything is in DC. Yes, I guess it is if you're a lawyer or a lobbyist or federal employee. But for most of us, this is already 'one Metro area', and there are reasons for this ... mainly being that while DC has the advantages of being able to walk everywhere in your neighborhood brings, the burbs have the advantage of being able to provide parking to employees (and customers) among other things. For the new hipster in DC to smugly think 'everywhere should be just like here' is to overlook the obvious ... i.e., not every business is in a position to pay the high rents of DC and supply their 'one metro area' employees parking (or subsidize their Metro passes) or inversely expect all their employees to be able to afford to live close enough to walk or bike to work. And that's not even taking into account the folks who neither can walk or bike to work ... or even want to.

The developers at Tysons are right on target in wanting to create a 21st century place which combines the best of an urban area and the best of a suburban area. We ourselves in DC have been going along that road since at least the latter half of the 20th century. By putting in parking minimums, restrictions on overbuilding on lots, strict enforcement of high limits, etc., we ourselves have correctly recognized that what we had could be better. And it's working. The very reason many of these smug new hipsters have been able to move into the city to begin with is that Washington has successfully been moving itself in the future. However these smug hipsters aren't unfortunately really 'smart' (like they like call themselves) but rather 'dumb' because they want to turn the clock back and re-create a crowded unlivable city out of the 19th century.

by Lance on Jan 31, 2011 8:56 am • linkreport


But what makes Tysons and Dulles nice for companies is CHEAP office space and free parking. Raise the costs for either, and you're wrecking a nice balance. Plus, the model for Tysons seems explicitly to be Ballston -- which is not a nice place to live, although a decent place to work.

The landowners in Tysons realize, of course, that this situation is unsustainable and untenable in the long run, particularly if they want to grow at all. More growth with just clog the roads even more, thus there needs to be an alternative.

It's not like urbanism is some magic place. Some places are better than others, but the fundamental reason to do it is because it works. Tysons is stuck in that nether-world that's too dense to make driveable suburbia work, but not dense enough to make walkable urbanism work. The only realistic solution is to add density and build up the walkability.

That's a hell of a challenge, to be sure. But it's quite clear that the advantages that Tyson's has today are not going to be their advantages tomorrow.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2011 9:02 am • linkreport

There is a significant mistake in this article. Transit use of all kinds is forecast to increase only to 17% by 2030. It's not 36%. The source is the traffic studies conducted by Fairfax County for submission to VDOT for the 527 traffic analysis process.

This result is less than Bethesda, Rosslyn-Ballston and the K Street corridor in D.C.

Accordingly, Tysons needs massive road improvements that will cost at least $1.5 billion. This includes further widening of the Beltway beyond the HOT lanes from Route 7 to I-66 and the widening of the Dulles Toll Road by as many as three-to-five lanes. That could result in a strip taking from Wolf Trap National Park and the invasion of as many as eight Resource Protection Areas.

Moreover, by the time the improvements are made, the Toll Road, the Beltway, 7 and 123 will reach failure levels for the PM rush.

by tmtfairfax on Jan 31, 2011 9:05 am • linkreport

@alexB; then LANDOWERS may realize that. Tenants have other ideas.

This is the Achilles plan of Tysons -- a massive plan taking public money to make a few landowers very rich.

by charlie on Jan 31, 2011 9:12 am • linkreport


You do realize, of course, that the landowners are in the business of attracting tenants, right?

Two things:

1. The landowners there will be paying a large portion of the costs to re-make Tysons. They've also chipped in for the Metro.

2. There's nothing wrong with making money. We have a capitalist society, and most of the highly revered urban places were created with the same sort of capitalist urban land economics. This isn't anything new, nor is it a bad thing. Indeed, this is how cities work.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2011 9:16 am • linkreport

@AlexB; last time I checked, most developers are in the business of getting loans -- and not risking their own money.

And what part of the $7 billion dollars are they kicking in for the Silver Line? Roads? Schools?

I'm all for greed -- just not when the rest of us are paying for it.

by charlie on Jan 31, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

Sandbox John -- love your pics.

by aaa on Jan 31, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport


You are welcome. All of the pictures I have taken sense things really got going along with some cometary can be found at the Home Page of John R Cambron. The pictures with captions can be found at Picasa Web cambronj 's Public Gallery Albums

Word has is that stick rail for track work construction has been staged in the lines right of way east of the Wiehle Avenue station.

by Sand Box John on Jan 31, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport


Fannie Mae is not a public company. It's owned by the Government.

I don't understand why people care so much about which companies are "headquartered" in the Greater Washington area. It's a big city! You don't need a "headquarters" here to have a large office.

Take, for example, the Big 4 accounting firms. They all have large offices here, in Tyson's actually. They're not "headquartered" here but they still contribute to employment, productivity, etc.

There are historical, financial, and tax reasons to keep headquarters in other places. Instead, you should focus on jobs and salaries, if you're measuring economic activity. (Or Gross State Product, or whatever). My point is, don't look at who has headquarters here and who doesn't.

by WRD on Jan 31, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

@tmtfairfax is right, the VDOT Section 527 report presents some pretty scary proposals to "fix" congestion outside of the Tysons rezoning especially in Vienna with a whole bunch of lane widenings and takings to improve level of service. Those proposals are particularly NOT context sensitive even if the Tyson plan is. So while my general train of thought is to agree with the general proposal -- their own work shows that the roads leading to the rezoned area are not up to the task of caring traffic even with the assumed transit trip share.

by Some Ideas on Jan 31, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

Re: "Tysons' future is urban; deal with it"

What a great quote. I wish NIMBY residents out here in Los Angeles would adopt a similar viewpoint of our city. Everytime a quality infill project is proposed, even if its right on top of a Metro station, people complain that its too dense. The exception of course is Downtown, which is why I live there :)

by Chris Loos on Jan 31, 2011 6:34 pm • linkreport

One of the things that, to me, makes a place truly urban and smart-growthy is not just mixed use but mixed income.

You can make Tysons a fabulous new "city" with a downtown and even rapid transit, but if people have to drive in from Woodbridge in order to work there because there is no affordable (meaning workforce not necessarily meaning subsidized and certainly not worried about luxury), there will still be some of the same problems of congestion, parking issues, and infiltration of hulking parking garages on every corner. No matter what you do to Tysons there will still be a lot of $10/hr jobs that will need to be filled.

I'm not pooh-poohing the project, mind you. But I am not sure I have seen anything about how people who work in this new city are going to live there... And frankly, being able to walk or take a short bus/metro/monorailcat to work is easily one of the greatest benefits of urban life. In addition, it keeps eyes on the street at all hours and encourages development to remember the pedestrian...

by Mothra on Feb 2, 2011 9:10 am • linkreport

Tyson's Corner still has a l--o--n--g way to go to be walkable.

by Walker on Feb 9, 2011 7:58 pm • linkreport

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