The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Fairfax


In a week, Reston and Tysons will have Capital Bikeshare!

Capital Bikeshare is coming to Fairfax County. On October 21st, 15 stations will open in Reston and 14 will open in Tysons Corner. Between the two areas, there will be about 200 bikes.

Photo by James Schwartz on Flickr.

An announcement that these stations were coming came out last fall, and in January, Fairfax County finalized the necessary funding to move forward.

Installation has begun already with many stations installed already and waiting for bikes.

CaBi started in DC and Arlington in 2010 and has become a transportation success story across the country. The system has consistently grown since it's initial roll-out of around 50 stations in central Washington and Arlington. Fairfax joins Montgomery County and the city of Alexandria as local governments who have helped expand the system through the region.

Reston is a natural spot for bike sharing in Fairfax. The community is one of the more bike-friendly areas of the county, with an extensive network of paths. The anchor is the W&OD Trail, which by the Wiehle Metro Station and the popular (and growing) Reston Town Center.

A map of the stations coming to Reston. Click for a larger version. Map from Capital Bikeshare.

Tysons is the county's business hub (it's even got a rush hour at lunch time!), and CaBi's arrival will be another step in making the area less car-dependent and more like a bustling downtown with lots of transportation options. The hope is that CaBi can help bolster the county's pedestrian and bicycle improvements coming to the area.

A map of the stations coming to Tysons. Click for a larger version. Map from Capital Bikeshare.

Fairfax County officials plan on holding a ribbon cutting event for the system at both Reston and Tysons on October 21. They will dedicate the stations at Reston and then at Tysons a few hours later.

While these stations will be the farthest afield from the system's core, there are connections coming: Falls Church wants its first stations ready to go sometime in 2017, and the system has been steadily growing outward since its inception.

Who knows; maybe in a few years it will be possible to ride from one end of the W&OD trail to other and avoid the extra time charge by switching bikes along the length of the route.

Public Spaces

The difference between Maryland and Virginia in one photo

If you've ever flown out of National Airport, you might try to pick out the geographic landmarks you recognize: the Washington Monument, Rock Creek Park, or the Potomac River. Next time you're heading west, keep an eye on the river as it passes through Maryland and Virginia, and you'll notice one big difference between each state.

Virginia sprawl on the left, Maryland farms on the right. Photos by the author.

This is a photo I took Sunday morning when I flew to San Francisco. On the Virginia side, in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, there are all the typical signs of suburban sprawl: subdivisions, freeways, and shopping centers. On the Maryland side, in Montgomery County, there's...not very much.

That's because for over fifty years, Montgomery County has aggressively tried to protect its open space. In 1964, the county's General Plan said that growth should cluster along major highway and rail corridors leading from the District, and that the spaces in between should be preserved.

In 1980, the county made it official with the 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, which covers one-third of the county will remain farmland and nature forever. (Combine that with the county's 34,000-acre park system, and nearly half of the county is open space.)

That decision has lasting effects today. Montgomery County residents benefit from an abundance of open space for recreation, enjoying nature, and of course, keeping our air and water clean.

In order to preserve this open space, we have to accommodate growth elsewhere in the county, particularly in our town centers like Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Rockville. People who try to stop development in their close-in communities may not feel they benefit from open space 30 miles away. But the urban and suburban parts of our region benefit from the Ag Reserve too.

Allowing inside-the-Beltway communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring to grow lets us preserve open space.

Maryland has an abundance of green space thanks to dense urban development

By focusing growth and investment in existing communities, we get thriving downtowns that support local businesses and local culture, and less traffic as people who live closer in can drive less or not at all. We also spend less money building public infrastructure, like roads and utility lines, to far-flung areas, while generating tax revenue to support the infrastructure we do need. (And obviously, those places can and will have open space.)

This is the path Maryland, and Montgomery County, chose over 50 years ago. So far, it's working pretty well. And you don't have to get in a plane to see it.

Public Spaces

Add a piano to make your city square sing

Here's a fun way to add vitality to a public space: Outdoor pianos.

In 2009, Denver started adding public pianos along its busy mile-long downtown pedestrian mall. The pianos have become a popular and noticeable part of that city's public realm. 5 years later, they're still there, and people are still playing them.

Photo by voteprime on flickr.

Even if weather or careless use ruins them after one season, upright pianos aren't particularly expensive. It would be completely practical for DC to buy one or two per year and put them in squares or circles around the central city. Roll them out in spring, and pack them back up around Thanksgiving.

The Mosaic District in Fairfax caught onto this idea a few years ago, and it could totally work great in Farragut Square or along the Georgetown waterfront.

A potentially bigger holdup might be getting the National Park Service to allow it.

We first ran this post in 2014, but since the idea is still great, we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Thereís no place likeÖ the Ballston Metro station

I love the Ballston Metro station. And that makes sense, given that I'm an unabashed Metro fanatic and Ballston has been my home station since I moved to the region in 1997. It's a shining example of just how great a neighborhood can become when we build good transit and then use it to anchor retail, commerce, and housing.

Image by the author.

With 11,520 average daily boardings in 2015, Ballston-MU (the station's official name as of 1995) was ranked as the 17th-busiest of WMATA's 91 stations, and the fifth-busiest in Virginia (behind Pentagon, Rosslyn, Pentagon City, and Crystal City). Ballston's status as a major bus transfer station no doubt plays a factor in this high ridership: 13 Metrobus routes and seven Arlington Transit (ART) routes connect Ballston to the rest of the county, as well as to Alexandria, Fairfax, and even Georgetown and K Street via route 38B.

As detailed by Zachary Schrag in his seminal book The Great Society Subway, the portion of the Metro that now constitutes the Orange Line between Rosslyn and Ballston was originally supposed to run entirely in the median of I-66 (as it does from Ballston westward to Vienna), in order to speed commuters from Fairfax County into DC.

However, Arlington officials were able to convince Metro's planners to reroute the Orange Line about a half mile south of I-66, in a subway to be built beneath the declining commercial corridors along Wilson Boulevard and Fairfax Drive. By concentrating development around the new Metro stations in these areas, Arlington would be able to massively grow its population and job market in the coming decades without increasing automobile traffic.

Ballston in the 1970s, with station entrance circled in red. Note the bus bays located on the current site of Ballston Metro Center, as well as the still-existing IHOP. Photo courtesy Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development, with addition by the author.

As the western end of this new "Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor," Ballston was envisioned as the shopping and retail hub of the county. The station was to be located just a few blocks from Parkington Shopping Center (now the redeveloping Ballston Common Mall), and would eventually be connected to the mall by a series of skybridges. The entrance is also just a few blocks from Marymount University's "Blue Goose" building, which also recently underwent redevelopment.

The station was originally designated as "Glebe Road" in planning documents, but it was renamed to Ballston before it opened. Glebe Road is a major north-south arterial in Arlington that is served by numerous buses connecting to Ballston, and the station lies just east of Glebe's intersection with Fairfax Drive.

The Orange Line used to end at Ballston, even though that wasn't ideal

Ballston station opened on December 1, 1979, as the western terminus of the new Orange Line. The opening coincided with the completion of the Court House, Clarendon, and Virginia Square stations west of Rosslyn. From its opening until the western extension to Vienna opened in June 1986, Ballston was the western terminus of the Orange Line.

Interestingly, Ballston was one of the only terminal stations in the history of the Metro system to have side platforms. This would present several difficulties from an operational standpoint, as terminal stations are almost always built with island platforms so that trains can berth at either track, and customers do not have to wait on the mezzanine to see which platform their train will service.

(The Orange Line had technically commenced operations a year earlier when the extension to New Carrollton opened, but the extension to Ballston was the first time that it operated as a completely separate service from the Blue Line. See our evolution of Metrorail animation for an explanation of this discrepancy.)

Commuters at Ballston station shortly after it opened in 1979. Photo courtesy of DC Public Library, Star Collection.

When the station first opened, the Ballston area still mainly consisted of auto body shops and empty lots. The nearest major attraction, the 1950s-era Parkington Shopping Center, had fallen into decline and would not be renovated and reopened as Ballston Common until 1986.

Development from the 1980s onward

Ridership at Ballston declined steeply after the Orange Line was extended westward to Vienna in 1986, falling from 11,300 to 8,100 daily boardings over the course of a year. However, passenger volumes gradually increased over the coming decades as the area welcomed new development and an influx of residents, and the station was transformed into the focal point of a wonderfully walkable, transit-oriented neighborhood.

Photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Plans for the "Ballston Metro Center" complex were unveiled in 1985, and the project was completed in 1989. The building is directly adjacent to the Metro entrance (protected from the elements by one of Metro's first escalator canopies), and contains 300,000 square feet of office and retail space, as well as a Hilton hotel and 320 condominiums. New pedestrian bridges provided direct connections to Ballston Common Mall and the headquarters of the National Science Foundation.

Ballston Metro Center entrance from the station escalator. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Ballston was renamed to Ballston-MU in December 1995, to recognize the nearby Marymount University facilities on Fairfax Drive. Silver Line service to Ballston began on July 26, 2014, when that line began operating between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center.

Future plans for the station include a second entrance at North Fairfax Drive and Vermont Street, in order to better serve new development near the intersection of N. Fairfax and Glebe Road. The station will also see increased service from several ART bus routes under the recommendations put forward in Arlington's new Transit Development Plan, in order to foster connections between numerous local routes serving the County.

The Ballston neighborhood today. Photo by Brett VA on Flickr.

Today, Ballston station continues to drive development in the surrounding neighborhood, with almost a dozen transit-oriented development projects in the pipeline. It remains the busiest Metro station west of Rosslyn, and ridership should only continue to rise with the addition of new TOD and bolstered bus service. Ballston-MU shows the power that rapid transit can have when its transformative development potential is fully realized, and I'm proud to call it my home station.

Do you live or work near Ballston? How has Metro changed your neighborhood for the better?


A zoning change in Fairfax will allow more density

In Fairfax, the zoning code now allows buildings that are near Metro stations or that are part of certain commercial corridors to be denser than than before. The Board of Supervisor's decision to approve the change last week is emblematic of an effort to make sure that new housing and office space are paired with transportation options.

Tysons Corner is one of the densest places in Fairfax, but the county is prepping for demand in other places as well. Photo by Ryan Stavely on Flickr.

The thought behind Fairfax's changes is that putting more density in these locations will allow the county's population to grow without adding much more congestion because new development will put people close to existing and coming public transportation.

And the commercial corridors that aren't as close to a Metro station may become denser as a way to create more mixed use areas in Fairfax where people don't have to drive as much for basic errands. This will also make these places ripe for future transit projects or improvements as well.

The county plans to do this by increasing the limit of a new building's floor area ratio, or FAR. FAR is a typical tool in figuring out how dense a building can be rather than just designating a number of floors or lot coverage. Two buildings that look different could have the same FAR depending on how they're built.

This is not really what the county has in mind. Photo of Sao Paolo Brazil by Kalexander2010 on Flickr.

The higher the FAR, the bigger and denser any building is allowed to be. Fairfax's new zoning will allow FARs up to 5.0 in designated areas, which is more than the current maximums of FAR 2.0 or 3.0 in many of the areas slated for rezoning. That means if a building takes up 100% of a building lot, the building can be built to a maximum of five stories. If the building takes up half the lot the building can be ten stories. Either way, the building is at FAR 5.0.

Here's what opponents said

The zoning changes did meet opposition from people who said that a FAR of 5.0 would be too extreme a jump from what has been allowed. Even some very urban places, like Rosslyn, which is home to some of the region's tallest buildings, has an allowed FAR of less than 5.0.

Another issue is whether or not Fairfax is allowing developers to build without having to provide anything to mitigate some of the negative effects from their projects in neighborhoods pinpointed for the change.

On an episode of the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, before the Fairfax vote, Terry Maynard of the group Reston 20/20 argued that Fairfax was giving too much leeway to developers and not doing enough to protect existing communities from possible negative impacts of new development.

Another contention was that while greater density is okay or even ideal around the county's Metro stations, increasing density in places without rapid transit would just lead to more congestion, which would be harmful. Opponents of the increase argued that Fairfax should instead wait to develop areas after new public transportation investments have been made.

That's because while various comprehensive plans for the targeted neighborhoods contain recommendations for both density and mitigation, for neighbors the bill in front of the Board of Supervisors would only allow new density, leaving both the county and developers off the hook for providing the amenities and infrastructure promised in the comprehensive plan.

Plus for a county as large as Fairfax, many contend that such a general change ignores the differences in specific areas of the county.

Zoning fights in Fairfax aren't new

This wasn't exactly Fairfax's first rodeo when it comes to debating how dense an area should be.

Seven Corners ,at the extreme eastern edge of Fairfax County, has already been one major flashpoint in the fight over density and development in Fairfax. The neighborhoods in Seven Corners are already pretty dense, and the tangle of roadways that lends the area its name makes it a difficult place to get around no matter how you're traveling.

Plans to redevelop the area to build housing in existing commercial spaces and improve the road network (especially for pedestrians and cyclists) led to a major election challenge for Penny Gross, who represents the area on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. The plan moved forward and Gross won her reelection last fall, but opponents still haven't given up and are likely to keep pressing the issue, especially as redevelopment begins in earnest.

More of this is coming to Fairfax. Photo by Dan Reed.

Reston is another big one. The area between the original development founded by Robert E. Simon and the Reston Town Center is already pretty dense, but Fairfax is planning for more growth to take advantage of the opening and further construction of the Silver Line. Those against more density say the area is already overburdened and Restonians are being asked to shoulder too much of the county's projected growth while developers aren't paying enough for the impacts of their projects.

Reston already looks like this. More is coming. Photo by Payton Chung.

More broadly, this is about Fairfax's fundamental approach to planning

For some, the thought of new businesses and residences in places with a lot of existing congestion is reason to be nervous. Many also feel that Fairfax is changing too much, and is no longer the suburban retreat that they felt like they bought into.

But some of Fairfax's current congestion and development problems stem from a history of growth that missed chances to mitigate congestion by building walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development. Keeping density low and sprawled out has ensured that many people have to drive for almost any trip they take, which is a problem Fairfax is now trying to fix.

An obsession with keeping car traffic moving is partly to blame for the zoning rules that actually make sure people drive more rather than less. That's especially true when development is contingent on whether or not a road is wide enough to handle expected traffic, as we know that widening roads usually just incentivizing people to drive.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth emphasized that point on that same episode of the Kojo Show I mentioned above. When the debate over whether or not FAR 5.0 would mean too much density, he was careful to point out that the way a building is designed is far more important than the actual density which can be configured in many ways.

It's also worth noting that a 5.0 FAR is just the maximum. Ultimately, the market will figure out how big a particular project should be, and not every building will be built to the maximum unless demand for development in these areas takes a very big, unexpected upswing.

Cities and neighborhoods thrive when they're allowed to change. That's why we still allow new construction even in neighborhoods with strict historic preservation rules. And its necessary to house a growing population as well. Embracing that and working with that knowledge in mind is being proactive about the future rather than accepting the inevitable.


Let's stand by the Silver Line

Sharon Bulova chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

In light of the safety and maintenance issues that Metro is now addressing with SafeTrack, some members of the media have said that instead of building the Silver Line, WMATA should have fixed the rest of the system. As one of the leaders that helped make the Silver Line happen, I'd like to respond.

Photo by Dan Malouff.

Expansion and maintenance are not mutually exclusive when you do them both responsibly, and it is important to note that WMATA did not build or pay for the Silver Line extension. The Silver Line was financed outside of the WMATA budget, and funding to build the extension could not have been used instead for Metro maintenance.

Financing for construction of the Silver Line comes from multiple sources, including special tax districts in Fairfax County paid by commercial and industrial landowners along the Dulles corridor, motorists using the Dulles Toll Road, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the federal government, Loudoun County and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Silver Line took decades of planning and spanned numerous elected officials and leaders. The project almost died a few times, and the 2014 grand opening was a tremendous feat.
This extension of Metro has served as a major underpinning of economic growth and redevelopment in Tysons, spurring over 100 million square feet of new approved development within a half-mile of the new stations. In terms of growth in the commercial tax base, Tysons increased by a rate of 3.1% in FY 2016 and 10.8% in FY 2017.

By 2050, Fairfax County plans to attract 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs to Tysons. Riders using the Silver Line from Phase I (Tysons/Reston) and Phase II (Dulles Airport and beyond) will have access to a one-seat ride to downtown DC and a safe and convenient connection to the rest of the region. This increase in connectivity and access to Metro is why ensuring the safety and reliability of the systen is critical to our region's success.

Photo by Dan Malouff.

Past WMATA leaders failed to make safety the top priority and neglected to do major maintenance as well. That led to tragedy and, eventually, the SafeTrack maintenance plan we see today. SafeTrack is impacting all Metro riders this year, but the heavy dose of maintenance medicine will shore up the entire system.

Paul Wiedefeld is focused on getting Metro back on its feet and transforming WMATA's culture into one that is safety-first. I believe this generation will be known for repairing, revitalizing, reinvesting, and reinvigorating the infrastructure that past generations built. While SafeTrack is placing a temporary burden on commuters, it's necessary and in many cases is being completed ahead of schedule. I believe this bodes well for WMATA's future.

I will be working with my regional counterparts through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Greater Washington Board of Trade to identify dedicated funding for WMATA. We must prepare for the future and we must do so safely, responsibly, and consistently. Our regional economy depends on Metro's success.


At this park & ride, buses and bikes get the spotlight

Renovations to Fairfax's Stringfellow Road Park and Ride just finished up, and they're largely focused on buses and bicycles. This means the park and ride will function more like a multi-modal transit center than just a place for commuters to leave their cars.

New waiting area and bike racks. Photo by Adam Lind.

The park and ride is in Centreville, close to Fair Lakes and I-66. There is a special HOV-only exit that makes it popular with commuters who want to either join a slug line or catch the bus.

Image from Google Maps.

It will be easier to catch a bus

New buses will service the park and ride, while existing routes will run more often, seven days a week. At rush hour, buses will run between Stringfellow and the Vienna Metro every 10 minutes.

A Fairfax Connector store will have resources for riders, as well as a place to wait for the bus. Also, more bus service is likely to come in the future thanks to Transform 66. That project will build HOT lanes between Haymarket and Falls Church that will be used by a number of express buses, which may originate or stop at Stringfellow Road.

There's a great option for storing your bike

Bicycling also gets a big boost thanks to the arrival of the county's second secure bike room. This facility will be similar to the now-popular bike room at the Reston-Wiehle Metro station.

The bike room is a great option for cyclists: the fact that you need a membership pass makes it much less likely for your bike to be stolen, and the shelter keeps your bike out of the elements. Some parking is available for bike trailers or other over-sized bicycles as well.

Inside the secure bike room. Photo by Adam Lind.

Adam Lind, Fairfax County's bicycle program coordinator, said that Fairfax has plans to provide secure bike parking at any regular parking garage built or funded by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. This includes garages built at future Silver Line Metro stations. He also said that members will be able to use any garage in the county's growing network.

Lind expects that biking to the Stringfellow Park and Ride will become even more popular since Transform 66 will many making bike and pedestrian options in surrounding neighborhoods better. One example: plans to extend the Custis Trail.

While the big transit news in Fairfax usually deals with Tyson's Corner and the Silver Line the new amenities at Stringfellow Road show that improvement is happening all over the our region's most populous jurisdiction.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City