Posts about Fairfax
Anyone who's seen the area around a variety of Metro stations knows that some are very walkable and some are not. Is there a scientific measure of that? Metro planners crunched the numbers to find out.
Metro rider surveys have shown that most people are willing to walk up to about a half mile to get to a Metro station. Research in other cities also has settled on the half-mile zone.
But the land within a half mile of a station is not the same all across the system. You can't walk in any direction; there are things in the way, whether buildings, rivers, or highways. Where there is a good grid of streets near the station, it's possible to reach a lot by walking up to half a mile. Elsewhere, most of that half-mile radius circle actually requires a longer walk.
Landover, for instance, is right next to a highway. There is only one road leading to the station's parking lot, and no connection over the highway to the nearest residential neighborhood. At Takoma, on the other hand, the street grid lets riders reach many commercial streets and neighborhoods with a half-mile walk.
Metro planners calculated the percentage of land within a half mile you can reach by walking a half mile. It's little surprise that the worst stations are mostly in Fairfax and Prince George's, two jurisdictions that did not try to locate their stations in walkable areas or, during Metro's first few decades, work very hard to plan transit-oriented development around them.
Which stations and jurisdictions fare best and worst?
The worst stations in DC appear to be Fort Totten, a station in the middle of a federal park, and Rhode Island Avenue, a station hemmed in by strip mall development and lacking a good street grid on most sides. (The pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the railroad tracks to the Metropolitan Branch Trail may improve that station's score once it opens.)
In Arlington, it's National Airport (no surprise there; you can't walk on most of an airport) and East Falls Church (but the county has a plan for that area). The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, most of DC (especially in the L'Enfant city) and Montgomery County (particularly inside the Beltway) fare well.
Alexandria is very mixed, with two stations hemmed in by the Beltway and in areas with weaker grids. Prince George's stations are generally more unwalkable than walkable, with College Park the biggest exception. In Fairfax, only Huntington gets anywhere close to a good score. It will be interesting to see how the Tysons stations rank once they open, now and in the future.
The planners also found that the walkability rank correlates very strongly with a station's morning peak ridership. This makes sense, because at the vast majority of stations, even when there is parking there is not that much compared to all the capacity of the trains that pass through. The stations which get a lot of use are those with many people living or working nearby.
There's more to walkability
It's important to note that this is one of several measures of walkability. This analysis computes the size of a station's "walk shed," or how far you can physically get by walking. That is a necessary first step to making a place walkable.
While the Metro planners excluded highways, this analysis still treats roads the same, even though some have no sidewalks, or are multi-lane high-speed roads that are intimidating and unsafe to walk on. But since most of the time good street grids go hand in hand with safer streets to walk on, that shouldn't affect the results much.
More significantly, when people talk about walkable neighborhoods, they are generally thinking beyond just the literal ability to walk. Walkability also includes whether there are amenities such as stores, parks, and more that you can reach by walking. The WalkScore tool computes these in its scores for an area.
Some Metro stations are in places which are physically walkable, but where there isn't much to walk to except for the houses immediately nearby. Glenmont or Forest Glen might be good examples. On the other end of the scale, Prince George's Plaza has a terrible walk shed, but there are lots of stores right near the station.
Regardless, this analysis says something important, and something that's most directly under government planners' control. If jurisdictions want their Metro stations to thrive, a critical first step is making sure people can get to them from the immediate area without having to drive and take up a scarce (and expensive) parking spot.
Last Friday, Fairfax officially approved a new headquarters tower for Capital One in Tysons Corner. At 470 feet tall the new building will be the tallest in the DC region after the Washington Monument.
If that news sounds familiar, it's because in May of 2013
Fairfax approved developers proposed a 435 foot tall building, then the tallest in the region yet. And when Alexandria approved a 396 foot tall tower, that also would've been the tallest. Meanwhile, Arlington's 384 foot tall 1812 North Moore tower recently finished construction, officially taking over the title of region's tallest skyscraper (for now).
There may not be an explicit competition, but the fact is undeniable: Northern Virginia's in a full-on skyscraper rivalry. And Tysons is pulling insurmountably ahead.
At 470 feet tall, this new Tysons building will be the first in the DC region to officially eclipse Richmond's tallest, the 449 foot tall Monroe Building. Baltimore and Virginia Beach each have towers above 500 feet, often considered to be the breaking point for a true skyscraper.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
According to a US Census report, the District of Columbia's daytime population, including commuters, swells to over 1,000,000. The difference between DC's day and night populations is second greatest in the US.
The report dates from 2010 so the numbers are surely a bit different today. With DC's (then) nighttime residential population of 584,400, its 1,046,036 daytime population represents a 79% increase. Among US counties, only New York County (Manhattan) has a larger percentage increase.
Arlington looks much the same. Its 26% increase in daytime population is 13th largest nationally. That's higher than San Francisco on the list.
At the other end of the spectrum, two DC suburbs top the list of places with decreased daytime population. Dale City and Centreville in Northern Virginia both drop by over 40%, making them America's ultimate bedroom communities.
Montgomery County's Germantown is Maryland's top entrant on that list; it clocks in at #20, with a decrease of 31%.
Part of the explanation for this is simply where boundaries are drawn. For example, even though Houston has a large downtown with many commuters, it doesn't appear on the increased daytime population list because the City of Houston annexed so many of its suburbs that more of its commuters still technically live within the city limits. Likewise, Houston's Harris County is gigantic and more or less envelopes the entire metropolis, so there's little difference at the county level either.
Geographically smaller jurisdictions in large metropolitan areas are disproportionately more likely to show up in this data. So it's not a great comparison of commuting patterns across different metropolitan regions. But it's nonetheless interesting to know.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Has anyone else wondered why WMATA/MWAA/DTP chose not to put in a Wolf Trap stop on the Silver Line? There's such a large gap between Spring Hill and Reston, one would think it might make sense for several reasons.
Indeed, the distance between the Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations is about 6 miles. That would make it the longest gap between stations once Phase 1 of the Silver Line opens. And being able to get off the Metro and take a short walk to see an event at Wolf Trap would be much more convenient compared to what exists today. But some of our other contributors had some great explanations as to why there is no station currently planned there:
Michael Perkins: It would be a total waste of money. An inline stop would cost somewhere between $100-200 million, maybe more, and there is essentially no development potential around the site. There's a national park and single-family homes.
No one is going to agree to rezone that area to allow anything like transit-oriented development, and the road access isn't appropriate for a commuter lot. Wolf Trap has several dozen events a year, but it's not enough by itself to drive much transit use.
Matt Johnson: Originally, the Silver Line plans included a provision for a future station at Wolf Trap, but in the deal struck (by Ray LaHood) to make it cost effective, the planned provision was deleted.
Tony Goodman: The agreement between Fairfax County and MWAA includes a "Concurrent Non-Project Activity" (or CPNA) to allow for a future possible station. These CNPAs are items that MWAA is providing that are outside the scope of the FTA project agreement.
Although currently there are no plans to build a Wolf Trap station, the current project includes accommodations necessary to allow the addition of a future passenger station, including a vertical tangency (flat spot).
What do you get when you plot onto a single map every known light rail, streetcar, and BRT plan in the DC region? One heck of a huge transit network, is what.
Every planned light rail, streetcar, and BRT line in the DC region. Click the map to open a zoom-able interactive version. Map by the author, using Google basemap.
This map combines the DC streetcar and MoveDC bus lane plan with the Arlington streetcar plan, the Alexandria transitway plan, Montgomery's BRT plan, and Fairfax's transit network plan, plus the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Long Bridge study, the Wilson Bridge transit corridor, and finally the Southern Maryland transit corridor.
Add the route mileage from all of them up and you get 267 miles of proposed awesomeness, not including the Silver Line or other possible Metrorail expansions.
To be sure, it will be decades before all of this is open to passengers, if ever.
The H Street Streetcar will be the first to open this year, god willing, with others like the Purple Line and Columbia Pike Streetcar hopefully coming before the end of the decade. But many of these are barely glimpses in planners' eyes, vague lines on maps, years or decades away from even serious engineering, much less actual operation.
For example, Maryland planners have been talking about light rail extending south into Charles County since at least the late 1990s, but it's no higher than 4th down on the state's priority list for new transit, after the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and Baltimore Red Line. Never mind how Montgomery's expansive BRT network fits in.
Meanwhile in Virginia, the Gallows Road route seems to be a brand new idea. There's yet to be even a feasibility study for it.
Even if governments in the DC region spend the next few decades building this network, there are sure to be changes between now and the day it's all in place. Metro's original planners didn't know Tysons would become the behemoth it is, and contemporary planners can't predict the future with 100% accuracy either.
Last year the Coalition for Smarter Growth published a report documenting every known route at that time, and already a lot has changed. More is sure to change over time.
Holes in the network
With a handful of exceptions these plans mostly come from individual jurisdictions. DC plans its streetcars, Montgomery County plans its BRT, and so on.
That kind of bottom-up planning is a great way to make sure land use and transit work together, but the downside is insular plans that leave gaps in the overall network.
Ideally there ought to be at least one connection between Fairfax and Montgomery, and Prince George's ought to be as dense with lines as its neighbors.
But still, 267 miles is an awfully impressive network. Now let's build it.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Enjoy the warm weather and learn about area history at events this month. Over the next two weeks, hear about how to plan great communities, help make Montgomery even greater, and hack on tools to help people understand DC laws.
Walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading three more Saturday walking tours over the next month: Twinbrook, on May 17; Pentagon City, on May 31; and H Street NE, on June 7. Come hear about the past and future of these changing neighborhoods while enjoying some spring sunshine.
After the jump: details about the walking tours, a hackathon, and talks about designing better communities.
On Saturday, June 7, visit the Twinbrook Metro station and see how a community is taking shape on an area that used to be an expanse of parking lots.
On Saturday, May 31, come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
And finally on Saturday, June 7, explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
Each of the CSG walking tours runs from 10 am to noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!
Hack on the DC Code: DC has become a pioneer in making its laws freely available to the public and open in computer-readable formats, thanks to strong support from the DC Council's General Counsel, David Zvenyach. The open data lets anyone write tools to browse and understand the laws of the District.
Coders started building such tools at a "hackathon" a year ago, and this Saturday, they're having another. From 10 am to 5 pm, people will talk about what the "DC Code Browser" can do better and start making it happen. The hackathon is at Mapbox Garage 1714 14th St NW.
Great spaces: What makes a great space? Listen to experts from the Urban Land Institute, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Arlington County Center for Urban Design and Research, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth talk about the benefits of "great spaces" at the 2014 State of Affordable Housing talk. It's Wednesday, May 14 from 4:30-7:30 pm at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th St South) in Arlington. Go here to RSVP.
Urbanism book talk: Urbanism and transit are hot button issues, but should they be? Ben Ross, a Greater Greater Washington contributor and author of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism will discuss why these ideas face opposition from suburban value systems in a book talk at the National Building Museum (401 F Street NW) on Monday, May 12, 12:30-1:30 pm. You can RSVP here.
Healthy community design summit: Live Healthy Fairfax is sponsoring the Healthy Community Design Summit, a forum where residents and professionals alike can discuss how economic, environmental, and public health play a role in good communities. Local businesses and industry professionals will present and then discuss topics like planning, urban design, architecture, and real estate. For more info and to RSVP, go here.
Zoning update open houses: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses conclude this week with two chances to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed changes. Planning staff will be in attendance to discuss the updates. The schedule of remaining open houses is below:
- May 5: UpCounty Regional Services Center, Germantown (6-8 pm)
- May 6: B-CC Regional Services Center, Bethesda (6-8 pm)
Two Virginia candidates want a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar. That is pointless and possibly destructive.
Two Virginia political candidates have called for a voter referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar. This is a bad idea.
Alan Howze, one of the two, is running for Arlington County Board in November's special election. He just lost in a relatively low-turnout special election against John Vihstadt, who made the streetcar one of his main issues. The other is Patrick Hope, one of ten candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring US Representative Jim Moran.
But a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar is unecessary both practially and legally. It wouldn't change the status of the project in any material way and would just add extra time and expense to a process that has already been clear and democratic.
Debate is over for the streetcar
There is not much left to discuss about the relative merits of a streetcar versus its alternatives. In July 2012, the county board chose the streetcar after a thorough analysis of alternatives. This concluded a process that began in the 1980's and started considering transit options in 2004.
After the announcement, those who insisted that bus-only options could generate the same return for less cost challenged the decision. In response, the county commissioned another study by an independent firm. The results echoed the previous analysis that the streetcar is the best option for Columbia Pike.
When the facts are this clear, a prolonged campaign on the merits of a streetcar will not reveal anything new about the project. However, there would be plenty of opportunity for misinformation to spread widely and affect voters on election day.
This tactic doesn't make sense for streetcar supporters
It's understandable for opponents of a project to seek to delay implementation. They don't want to see something built and hope that a delay will give them more time to persuade people of their arguments or add time and expense to a project that will make it look worse than it is. We have seen this in DC, where delays to the zoning update have just added more time to a process and just watered down the changes more and more.
But a referendum that would just lengthen the process and muddy the waters doesn't make sense coming from project proponents like Howze or Delegate Hope. At best, the referendum would confirm the project is popular but delay the actual project. At worst, it would give ammunition to opponents and introduce further delays as political fights continue.
A referendum would also let opponents divert the argument away from facts. By just saying, "Let the voters decide," they would deflect any heat about false facts or mistruths they have spread about other options for the corridor.
Results would be meaningless anyway
In Virginia, a referendum is required when a local government wants to sell bonds. But neither Arlington nor Fairfax county plans to fund the streetcar with bonds. An "advisory" referendum would not have any material effect on the project. Opponents could have petitioned for a binding referendum, but if they thought they had the numbers for such a petition, they would have done it long ago.
Moreover, to hold any non-bond-related referendum, the counties would need permission from the General Assembly in Richmond. That means another layer of government to wade through for a local project that won't use any significant state funds.
Northern Virginia already has enough problems getting the state to give it control over specific regional issues. It doesn't make sense to punt this issue back to Richmond for something they never had to be involved with in the first place.
Is it just politics?
Supporters, including Howze himself, already argue that even if unpopular now, the streetcar will ultimately prove popular, as Metro and Capital Bikeshare, and other county transportation decisions are today. It's good that these candidates feel confident enough in the project that they think it can stand up to a direct electoral challenge. But there's no need to do so, the project is good, and the process has been clear.
So why hold a referendum? Hope might be seeking to stand out in a crowded field and perhaps draw some votes from streetcar opponents while remaining a supporter of the streetcar.
Howze seems to be trying to have it both ways on the streetcar: continue to appeal to voters who support it, but also give opponents less reason to work against his election. Howze started out his nomination campaign equivocating on the streetcar, and only later came out as a strong supporter.
Meanwhile, Vihstadt was able to bring together blocs of voters, often who opposed a particular county project. They were more motivated to turn out, especially in a special election. Howze may have a greater advantage in November when many voters might already be at the polls and would pick a Democrat purely based on party identification, but he also seems to be trying to hedge his bets by running to the middle on issues.
Instead, Howze, already on the defensive after losing last month's special election, should find ways to attract more pro-streetcar voters in the regular election in November. That would provide far more security for the project than trying to bet on its popularity via a referendum that ultimately wouldn't matter.
The only way the City of Falls Church can grow is up. To expand its tax base, city leaders have been promoting mixed-use development and even blocking projects that aren't mixed-use. This trend is taking another step with a new building under construction at 301 West Broad Street.
Broad Street is Falls Church's major link to Tysons Corner, Seven Corners, and Alexandria. Within the city limits, the street features a mix of styles that reflect several eras in architectural history. There are low-slung commercial buildings, but 301 West Broad will add to a growing number of taller mixed-use buildings that are ramping up the density in Falls Church.
The building, by developer Rushmark, will be seven stories tall with 282 apartments. A Harris Teeter and another retail space will occupy the ground floor. The building is replacing a post office and a restaurant, Anthony's, which had been at the site since 1972. Both have relocated, the post office to another mixed-use building up the street.
The "Little City" embraces urbanism
Nicknamed "the Little City," Falls Church is only a bit larger than two square miles and is one of the smallest municipalities by area in the country. The city is so small that the city's middle and high schools were actually located in Fairfax County until last year.
To fund city services on par with its much larger neighbors, Falls Church is actively embracing mixed use construction. City leaders recognize that mixed-use buildings offer more economic value on smaller parcels than typical suburban construction. Mixed-use also provides more tax revenue than single-use construction, even when the total building size is smaller.
Falls Church is actively planning for growth where the best opportunities exist. Besides directly on Broad Street, there are relatively large commercial parcels along South Washington Street and land it gained in a land swap with Fairfax County in 2012.
The city enjoys advantages for building smart growth compared to its larger neighbors. Most streets follow a grid pattern, and the city's zip code, 22046, rates a Walk Score of 78 ("Very Walkable"). The W&OD Trail also runs through much of the city, and the Custis trailhead is close by.
While WMATA's two Falls Church metro stations aren't actually inside the city, residents aren't more than a few minute bus ride to either one and service is frequent.
The Route 7 Corridor Study is examining transit options for route 7 between Tysons Corner and Alexandria. This could bring a potential light rail or a streetcar line right in front of 301 West Broad and put higher quality-transit close to residents all over the city.
Obstacles and opposition remain
The city's small size and population makes it relatively easy for citizens to get involved in planning decisions, and there was a lot of input during the project's design. The city's Winter Hill neighborhood is adjacent to the project and many citizens weighed in, often with tentative support.
Some worried about the noise and trash in the back of the building from the grocery store's loading dock. Some said that at 65,000 square feet, the Harris Teeter was larger than appropriate for what was supposed to be a more "urban" grocery store.
Rushmark responded by totally enclosing the loading dock and noting that a similar store in a mixed use development in Tysons Corner was around the same size.
Other residents were generally concerned about schools, roads, and parking. They said these impacts would outweigh the tax revenue from the new development. Meanwhile, members of the city's planning commission reportedly worried that the building was too "urban" for the "suburban" city of Falls Church.
But Falls Church is in a unique position. It neighbors some of Northern Virginia's biggest commercial areas. Its small town image has competed with the region's growth for a long time. Still more changes to the "Little City" are coming, and the city may not stay so little for long.
Not to be outdone by its neighbors' aggressive plans for rail and BRT networks, Fairfax County has an impressive transit plan of its own.
Now Fairfax has a major countrywide transit plan too, called the High Quality Transit Network. Top priorities are to finish the Silver Line and the Bailey's Crossroads portion of the Columbia Pike streetcar, but that's not the end of Fairfax's plans.
Both rail and BRT are possibilities for all those corridors. Some may end up light rail or streetcar, others bus. Route 1 and I-66 could even include Metrorail extensions.
In addition to all that, Fairfax County Parkway is slated for HOT lanes, which could make express buses a more practical option there.
As the DC region continues to grow, and demand for walkable, transit-accessible communities continues to increase, these types of plans are crucial. If our major arterial highways are going to become the mixed-use main streets of tomorrow, transit on them must significantly improve.
Fairfax is undeniably still spending a lot on bigger highways. Planners' inability to calm traffic on Routes 7 and 123 through Tysons, for example, indicates roads are still priority number one. But it takes a plan to change, and this is a strong step forward. So good on Fairfax for joining the club.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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