Posts about Fairfax
Despite years of planning to transform Tysons Corner from a car-oriented edge city into a walkable downtown, some Northern Virginia residents are surprised to learn that Tysons' 4 Metro stations will not be surrounded by parking lots.
The confusion seems to stem from a mix-up about what Metro stations in Tysons Corner are supposed to accomplish. Are they places for DC-bound commuters to board, or are they the destination stations for people working in Tysons? There will surely be some of both, but most users will be the latter, and they're who the line must be designed to best serve.
If stations are surrounded by parking that will reduce the number of buildings within walking distance of Metro. Not only that, it would also make the walk less interesting and more dangerous, since walking through a busy parking lot is hardly a pleasant experience. That in turn would reduce the number of people who could use Metro to commute to Tysons. That would undermine the entire project.
The main purpose of the Silver Line project is to transform Tysons Corner. Tysons is a behemoth, with about the same amount of office space as downtown Baltimore. It can't grow or continue to prosper as a car-oriented place. Nor would it make sense to invest almost $7 billion in a new Metrorail line if it were not going to support a more urban Tysons, or serve easy commuting into Tysons.
Consider other walkable downtown areas, like downtown DC or Rosslyn. Would it make sense if Gallery Place Metro station were surrounded by parking instead of buildings? Of course it would not. Tysons will one day be the same. It may not look like that yet, but it never will if its best land is used for parking lots.
Yes, it's true there should be enough parking along the Dulles Corridor for commuters into DC to use the system. That's why there are large parking lots at the Wiehle Avenue and West Falls Church stations. There's no need for drivers to enter congested Tysons Corner to find parking, when more highway-oriented stations exist specifically for that purpose.
Alternatively, those few drivers who do want to park in Tysons will surely be able to do the same thing they do in Ballston, DC, Bethesda, or anywhere else: Pay to park in a nearby garage, and walk a couple of blocks. As more new buildings are built near Metro stations, there will be more available private garages to pick from.
There may be some small number of people currently living in Tysons who refuse to walk to stations, and will have to drive out of Tysons to find parking. That's unfortunate, but accommodating them with parking lots at urban stations would make those stations less convenient for the larger number of walkers, and future walkers.
Temporary parking isn't a panacea
Some suggest that since it may be a few years before all the land near Metro stations is developed, it could be used as interim parking on a temporary basis. In fact, that's exactly the plan at the McLean station, where 700 parking spaces will be available at first.
That could be a workable idea in a few places, especially at McLean, which is the easternmost of Tysons' 4 stations. But it's less practical than some may assume, because most of the land surrounding these stations isn't currently empty.
For example, Greensboro station is surrounded by strip malls. They will eventually be redeveloped into high-rises, but in the meantime the property owners make more money with retail there than they would with just parking.
In places where Fairfax County or WMATA can strike deals with landowners to let Metro riders use existing parking lots, that's fine. But it does not make sense to tear down functional money-making buildings and replace them with temporary parking lots. Especially when there are better parking options elsewhere for drivers hoping to park and ride.
The bottom line is that Tysons Metro stations were planned correctly. Some interim measures are OK if they're practical, but surrounding Tysons Metro stations with parking would undermine the entire reason for running the Silver Line through Tysons in the first place.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Talk about upcoming elections in DC and Maryland, planning in Arlington, and find out how Vienna, Austria got its affordable housing at events around the region this week.
Transit reporters talk politics: How will Smart Growth issues affect the 2014 elections in DC and Maryland? Tonight (Tuesday), the Action Committee for Transit will host a panel discussion on transit and the election with the Washington Post's Robert Thomson, also known as "Dr. Gridlock," Ari Ashe from WTOP, and Josh Kurtz from the blog Center Maryland. Kyjta Weir, former Washington Examiner reporter and currently at the Center for Public Integrity, will moderate.
This free meeting will be from 7:30-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. For more information, visit ACT's website.
After the jump: Events in Arlington, Fairfax, Hyattsville, and of course, our next happy hour in Penn Quarter.
Hear Leinberger talk about Arlington: Arlington County's planning department kicks off its new speaker series tomorrow (Wednesday) with author and researcher Christopher Leinberger, who will give a talk called "The Urbanization of the Suburbs: Why Arlington is the National Model and Where Do We Go Next." This free event will include a Q&A session with the speaker as well as a networking reception.
The talk is Wednesday, November 13 from 6-7 pm at the Artisphere, located at 1101 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn. To RSVP or for more information, visit the county's website.
Spend Virginia's transportation money: Virginia's newly-passed transportation funding bill means new money for projects in Fairfax County. How should the county spend it? Fairfax County is holding its final two meetings this week to learn what residents want and find the best ways to get them moving.
The first is tonight, November 12 from 6:30-8:30 pm at the County Government Center at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax. The second is tomorrow, November 13 from 6:30-8:30pm at Forest Edge Elementary School, located at 1501 Becontree Lane in Reston. For more information, visit the Fairfax County website.
Learn about Bus Rapid Transit on Route 29: Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are holding an open house to talk about one of Montgomery County's proposed Bus Rapid Transit lines, on Route 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville.
Speakers include Planning Board commissioner Casey Anderson, county planner Larry Cole, Chuck Lattuca from the Department of Transportation, and transit advocate Mark Winston. The meeting is from 6-9 pm at the White Oak Community Recreation Center, located at 1700 April Lane in Silver Spring.
Testify on DC's zoning rewrite: DC's Zoning Commission is considering the first update to the city's zoning code since 1958 in a series of public hearings over the next two weeks. There are three: hearings this week: Tuesday will cover car and bicycle parking, Wednesday mixed-use zones, and Thursday downtown, PDR (industrial), and special zones.
The hearings are at the Office of Zoning, 441 4th Street NW at Judiciary Square. Each hearing starts at 6 pm and continues until all the witnesses are heard or the Zoning Commission decides to recess.
Tuesday's parking and bike parking hearing is now full, but you can still sign up for the overflow hearing the next Tuesday, 11/19.
...and in Montgomery County: Montgomery planners have also rewritten their zoning code to modernize antiquated, redundant zoning regulations and create new tools to help achieve goals in community plans. The County Council will hold public hearings on its zoning code update tonight and Thursday at 7:30 pm at the Council Office Building, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. It's too late to sign up for tonight, but you can register to testify on Thursday by calling 240-777-7803 until 5 pm on Wednesday.
...and Prince George's County, too (sort of): The County Council is holding a public hearing tonight on Plan Prince George's 2035, a vision for how the county should grow in the future. The hearing starts at 7pm at the County Administration Building, 14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive in Upper Marlboro. To sign up to testify, you can register online.
Join us for happy hour: GGW's regular happy hour series rolls into Penn Quarter this month. Join contributors and readers for drinks and discussion next Thursday, November 21 from 6 to 9pm at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, located at 639 Indiana Avenue NW, across from the Archives Metro station.
Let's talk affordable housing: Join the Housing Opportunities Commission, Montgomery Housing Partnership, and Coalition for Smarter Growth for a talk about Vienna, Austria's city-run housing program. Wolfgang Förster, Vienna's Chief of Housing Research, will discuss how to create more affordable housing in the DC region. This talk is today from 2 to 3:30pm at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, located at 5701 Marinelli Road in White Flint.
Let's talk buses on Rhode Island Avenue: Do you ride the G8, 81, 82, 83, 84, 86, or T18 on Rhode Island Avenue? If so, join Metro for one of two public meetings on proposed service changes to these routes. The first is tonight from 6 to 7:30pm at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, located at Rhode Island Avenue & 7th Street NW in Shaw, followed by another one tomorrow from 6 to 7:30pm at Hyattsville City Hall, located at 4310 Gallatin Street in Hyattsville.
And even more: WMATA will hold a webinar on its Regional Transit System Plan tomorrow from 12 to 1pm; the University of the District of Columbia is hosting a conference on sustainability about Hamburg, Germany on Thursday and Friday.
Over the next few weeks, talk about transit in the 2014 election, learn about Bus Rapid Transit in eastern Montgomery County, and figure out how to spend Virginia's transportation money at meetings around the region.
Transit reporters talk politics: How will Smart Growth issues affect the 2014 elections in DC and Maryland? The Action Committee for Transit will host a panel discussion on transit and the election with the Washington Post's Robert Thomson, also known as "Dr. Gridlock," Ari Ashe from WTOP, and Josh Kurtz from the blog Center Maryland. Kyjta Weir, former Examiner reporter and current reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, will moderate.
This free meeting will be Tuesday, November 12 from 7:30 to 9pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. For more information, visit ACT's website.
Learn about BRT on Route 29: Do you live, work, or travel along Route 29 in Montgomery County, also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike? Join CSG, Communities for Transit, and other local organizations hosting an educational event about Bus Rapid Transit for residents and business owners along 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville. Speakers will include Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson, county planner Larry Cole, and Chuck Lattuca, BRT system manager at the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
With 17,000 projected riders by 2040, a BRT line along 29 is an important part of Montgomery's rapid transit network. The event will take place on Wednesday, November 13 from 6 to 9pm at the White Oak Community Recreation Center, 1700 April Lane in Silver Spring. Click here to RSVP or for more information.
Spend Virginia's transportation money: Virginia's newly-passed transportation funding bill means new money for projects in Fairfax County. How should the county spend it? County officials are holding a series of dialogues to learn what residents want and find the best ways to get them moving.
There will be four meetings over the next few weeks at various locations throughout the county. The next one is this Monday, November 4th from 6:30 to 8:30pm at the Falls Church High School auditorium, 7521 Jaguar Trail in Falls Church, followed by meetings in Fairfax and Reston. For more information, visit the county's website.
Envision better biking in Fairfax: Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling will hold its second-annual Bicycle Summit tomorrow with keynote speaker Jeff Olson, author of The Third Mode: Towards a Green Society. Citizens, community leaders, bike advocates, and transportation professionals will discuss ways to make Tysons and other parts of Fairfax County more bicycle-friendly.
The event will be from 9am to 3:30pm. The registration fee is $25 and includes lunch and other refreshments. To register, visit the event website.
Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner will hold a town hall meeting tomorrow night to discuss issues affecting District 1, which includes Bethesda, Potomac, White Flint, and Poolesville. Berliner has been a strong supporter of the county's Bus Rapid Transit proposal, which the council is currently studying, making this a great opportunity to give him your thoughts on the plan.
Reston's Lake Anne Village Center could soon expand with a larger main street and more housing.
Reston Town Center is one of the most well-known suburban downtowns in the DC region, but it's not the only town center in Reston. In addition to the big one, Reston has several smaller village centers spread around the surrounding neighborhoods.
The largest of those is Lake Anne Village Center, which has a pleasant waterfront and a 15-story apartment tower that was Reston's tallest building for decades. Before the big town center came along, Lake Anne was the heart of Reston.
Now it's set for a revival. Developers working with Fairfax County propose to expand the village center, with a larger main street, nearly 1,000 new housing units, and a second high rise.
Lake Anne revitalization plan, with proposed new buildings in red. Image from Republic Land Development.
While it makes great sense to add infill to Reston's village centers, especially Lake Anne, it is too bad this plan is still so car oriented. The main street extension is nice, but the circle-shaped residential area to the north is unnecessarily suburban. If the purpose of dense mixed-use areas is to promote walkability, why not actually make them walkable?
In a location like Reston, it's true that most residents will have cars. That's fine. But why so many landscaped setbacks? Why are the parking lots between the buildings rather than behind them? And why is all the car traffic funneled onto a single street with only one connection to the arterial highway, instead of having a grid?
The topography of the site looks challenging, and there may be pedestrian paths that aren't immediately obvious in the plan. Still, Fairfax should consider these questions as this development moves through the approval process.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
A consortium of Virginia schools will soon start testing vehicles in Fairfax County that can talk to each other and their surroundings. But what will "connected vehicles" (CV) really mean for transportation and urbanism?
Researchers have attached tracking equipment to light poles and other roadside infrastructure in and around Merrifield, including stretches of I-66, Lee Highway, and Route 50. The roadside equipment will communicate with devices about the size of an E-ZPass installed in 12 "connected vehicles," including a bus, semi-truck, cars, and motorcycles.
The devices collect data such as acceleration, braking, and curve handling. Researchers hope that the new system will dramatically reduce highway crashes, increase fuel efficiency, and improve air quality.
"The intersection can say 'there is snow happening right here,'" explains Gabrielle Laskey of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Conversely, if a connected car were to experience a loss of traction, it would relay that information to the roadside devices so authorities would know the precise location of hazardous conditions.
The research will focus on ways to improve both safety and mobility. "If we can detect initial braking, we can slow vehicles down and message the driver, saying something like 'Slow traffic ahead. Reduce speed to 45 mph' or 'Left lane closed ahead; merge right,'" said VDOT Spokesperson Cathy McGhee.
Study will involve area drivers and "regular" cars
The CV technology will go further than the Active Traffic Management System of overhead dynamic signs VDOT will soon install on I-66. The CV system "can give information directly to the driver and provide an additional level of information," said McGhee.
Although the CV roadside equipment is already in place in Merrifield, the connected vehicles are undergoing final road testing on the Virginia test track in Blacksburg. In January, those vehicles plus another 50 operated by VDOT will roll out on Merrifield highways.
In the spring, researchers will seek out drivers of an additional 200 "regular" vehicles through ads on Craigslist and in the Washington Post. Their cars will receive communication devices similar to test vehicles' which will notify drivers verbally or by tone through a GPS-sized display. Drivers who volunteer for the program will not need specialized driving skills. "We want to use naďve participants and make these devices as useful and available as a cell phone," says Laskey.
Over the next couple of years, a consortium of research institutions consisting of Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and Morgan State University will conduct 19 separate CV research studies, about half of which will have components in the Merrifield test bed, at a projected cost of $14 million.
One study looks at road signs that can switch from "yield" to "stop," depending on conditions. Another examines how to dim or shut off roadway lighting when it is not needed. And a study in Baltimore involves the use of smart phones and looks at safety and congestion issues related to public transit, transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
The new CV technology can also work in conjunction with some current safety systems which use video to "see" non-connected items, such as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then alert the connected vehicle. The system helps connected vehicles operate on the roadways before a fully connected or automated roadway system exists.
How will CV influence our transportation network?
CV technology could change the way we use and design our streets. Since connected vehicles will alert drivers to imminent collisions, CV technology is expected to drop the crash rate at least by 50 percent, according Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which is coordinating the public-private venture.
Connected vehicles will be able to safely travel much closer together than cars can today, vastly improving the efficiency of existing highway infrastructure. At the CV system's public debut on June 6, Governor McDonnell noted that the technology "could do as much to help alleviate congestion as the building or widening of new highways."
Researchers say CV technology could be in widespread use within five years, which Virginia and Maryland should keep in mind as they decide how to spend billions in new transportation funding. Cars traveling closer together will require less space, so road widenings might not be necessary. On already wide streets, the extra space could be used for bike lanes, sidewalks, or landscaping. Building smaller streets not only costs less, but it frees up room for buildings and open space, making communities more compact and preserving land.
If you'd like to learn more about connected vehicles, USDOT is holding a public meeting in Arlington from September 24 to 26. The agenda includes information about the CV safety program and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Strategic Plan for 2015 to 2019.
Metro is considering significant changes to several Metrobus routes across the region, including the express buses they run to Dulles and BWI airports. The agency may even end bus service to Dulles altogether.
The 5A express runs from L'Enfant Plaza to Dulles Airport, making two stops along the way. It was originally created to get workers from DC to jobs near the airport. But with the opening of the Silver Line early next year, there may be less demand for that service.
The B30 runs from Greenbelt Metro to BWI Airport, making no intermediate stops. Metro is proposing to run the bus more frequently and to add a stop along the way at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, where the Maryland Live! casino has just opened. Before making any changes, WMATA will survey riders and take public comments on the altered routes, which could start running next year.
Dulles service could get shorter
Metrobus 5A currently runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. The trip from L'Enfant Plaza to Dulles takes just under an hour. The bus starts at L'Enfant Plaza and makes stops at Rosslyn and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride on its way to Dulles. Though it was originally designed as a route to get workers to the airport, the 5A is fairly popular with airport travelers.
Airport travelers have a different option, the Washington Flyer, which runs non-stop between Dulles and West Falls Church. The Flyer leaves every 30 minutes, and trips to West Falls Church take about 25 minutes.
Within the next few years, Metro's new Silver Line will reach Dulles. But for now, the new line will only run as far as Wiehle Avenue, still 7 miles short of the airport, when it opens early next year.
Once the first phase of the Silver Line opens, the Washington Flyer will start running buses only as far as Wiehle Avenue, discontinuing service to West Falls Church. Additionally, once the Silver Line opens, Fairfax Connector will reroute the 981 so that it runs between Wiehle Avenue (instead of Tysons-Westpark) and Dulles. That route will continue to run via Reston Town Center and Herndon-Monroe Park & RIde, and will depart every 20 minutes.
For the moment, WMATA has not decided what to do about the 5A. They are considering several options.
One option is to discontinue all service on the 5A. With the new Silver Line and shuttle services from Fairfax Connector and Washington Flyer, the 5A won't be as important. Cutting the service will save the region money, which makes a lot of sense with the new options coming online.
Another option is to simply run the 5A between Wiehle Avenue and Dulles Airport. That duplicates the 981 and Washington Flyer services, but it would maintain the Metrobus brand as an option for getting to Dulles. A third option is to run the 5A only during times when a connection to Metrorail is not possible, like when the system is closed.
The final option is to keep the existing service. There may be some merit to this approach, since an express from Dulles Airport to Downtown Washington would likely be faster than the multiple-stop rail service. But it is somewhat incongruous with the rest of the system, where suburban buses typically feed into the rail system. The B30, for example, only runs to Greenbelt Station, not all the way downtown.
New local stops on BWI service
The Metrobus B30 runs nonstop from Greenbelt station to BWI Airport. This bus service has proven to be very popular, and some trips on the route can be very crowded. Currently, the bus runs every 40 minutes throughout the day.
Metro wants to shorten headways to 30 minutes during some periods, which should help alleviate crowding. The agency also wants to add a stop at Arundel Mills Mall, requiring a short detour from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which the B30 uses to get to the airport. In addition to the large collection of retailers, Arundel Mills is now home to one of Maryland's new casinos, Maryland Live!
There's no other Metrobus service in this area. Since the B30 gets so close, Metro hopes to tap into the demand for more service here. A stop at Arundel Mills would also provide connections to other transit providers which serve the mall, including MTA local and commuter bus service, Howard Transit, and Central Maryland Regional Transit. But the diversion would add about 10 minutes to the trip time between Greenbelt and BWI.
One other possible change is making the B30 more of a local service. Metro's proposed restructuring of the 87/88/89 line will eliminate bus service along Powder Mill Road in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Since the B30 uses this road to get to the B-W Parkway, Metro may allow it to serve stops along this corridor.
These stops are very lightly used, so it probably won't add much time to trips. However, one effect of making local stops along Powder Mill is that the B30 won't be as flexible. If there's a crash on the Parkway, today supervisors can send the bus up I-95 instead. That won't be an option if this change happens.
Are "airport fares" fair for riders?
A few years ago, Metro introduced a new "airport fare" of $6 charged to riders on the 5A and B30. Compared to the $10 fare on the Washington Flyer, the 5A's $6 fare is a steal. The 5A will take you all the way downtown, whereas your $10 fare on the Flyer still leaves you with a $4.20 (rush hour) Metro fare to get to L'Enfant Plaza.
The B30, on the other hand, has always been less of a deal. The $6 fare only gets you to Greenbelt. From there, it's still $4.00 (rush hour) just to get to Gallery Place (less the transfer discount). Riders instead choosing to take the MARC train can get to Union Station for $6, though it does require taking a free shuttle from the terminal to the train station.
If the 5A is discontinued, riders will be on the hook for about $5.75 in Metro fare (the maximum fare) in addition to the $1.10 fare for Fairfax Connector (less the 50¢ transfer discount). That's a slight increase, but is still relatively cheap, given the distance Dulles is from the core.
With the B30 changes, though, the airport fare may make less sense. Passengers boarding along Powder Mill Road in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center today pay a fare of $1.60 to board a local Metrobus. If the B30 becomes their only bus service, their one-way fare will increase by 275%.
And riders bound for Arundel Mills or Maryland Live will also be stuck paying the airport fare, even though they aren't headed for the airport. On the other hand, though, the B30 is one of Metro's more far-flung routes, so a higher fare may be justified.
Adding a B30 stop at Arundel Mills seems like a good idea. It will give riders more regional transit connections and open up a major retail and entertainment area to transit users. Eliminating the 5A also makes a lot of sense, although it will likely be very controversial. In place of the 5A, Fairfax Connector is setting up a more frequent service to get riders to Dulles, which will mean shorter waits and less crowded buses.
The changes proposed for these routes will probably be positive for most riders. Soon, it will be easier to get to Dulles and BWI, and Arundel Mills will be much more accessible to Washingtonians.
The Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Northern Virginia is a major bike commuter route, but it's not always easy to reach from surrounding neighborhoods. Two newly-upgraded paths in Vienna will improve access and safety for local residents, but wayfinding remains an issue.
Two weeks ago, the Town of Vienna paved a path connecting the W&OD Trail to Tapawingo Road SE, taking bicyclists to the Vienna Metro station, and another link to Electric Avenue, part of a bicycle route to Tysons Corner and Gallows Road. I first noticed the improved paths while bicycling home from the Vienna Metro station to Ballston along my normal route.
Previously, the connection to Tapawingo Road was a dirt and gravel path. Due to a set of stairs and uneven terrain, I often had to dismount and walk my bicycle through this section. The town smoothed this portion out, letting me ride onto the W&OD Trail uninterrupted.
These upgrades represent a commitment to bicycle commuting and alternative transportation in Vienna. However, they left out an important element for commuters: wayfinding signs. There are no signs on the W&OD alerting people that there is a connection to Tapawingo Road, that there is a bicycle route, or that the route leads to a Metro station. Similarly, there is no signage that indicates the connection to Electric Avenue.
This isn't acceptable for drivers, and it shouldn't be for bicyclists either. Can anyone imagine an important intersection of two streets not being marked with street name signs?
This issue isn't limited to these two spots in Vienna. All along the W&OD Trail, there are connectors to neighborhood streets, but no signs to mark them, even when they serve as routes to Metro stations. These signs are a necessary element of the transportation system, and by making it easier to commute by bicycle, are well worth the cost. Good signage allows any user, whether familiar with the route or not, to be able to use the trail and get to their destination easily and safely. Hopefully, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which owns the trail, will add signage in the near future.
These two small improvements will make the commute for all cyclists easier and safer, but there's still more to do. Have you noticed any improvements elsewhere along your bicycle commute? Are there places in need of improvements?
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