Posts about Fairfax
In a few months, Metro's new Silver Line will open, and will mean major changes to commuters in Fairfax County. Reader Nick G. wants to know how long trips on the Silver Line will take.
Right now, commuters to and from Reston and Herndon often rely on a set of commuter buses that run express down the Dulles Toll Road to West Falls Church station. After the Silver Line opens, most of these buses will feed riders into the Silver Line instead of running all the way to meet the Orange Line at I-66.
But the Silver Line takes the scenic route through Tysons Corner instead of staying on the freeway. The 4 stops in Tysons will serve many of the offices and shopping centers in the business district, but they will also add time for riders merely passing through. How much? It looks like just a few minutes.
One of Nick's questions is whether his trip from DC to Reston will get longer with the Silver Line. That will probably depend a lot on each individual commute, since people have different starting and ending points.
To get a sense of Nick's commute, I looked at a commute from Metro Center to Reston Town Center using the Orange Line and the 505 Fairfax Connector bus. It takes 21 minutes to get from Metro Center to West Falls Church. Once on the 505, it takes 15 minutes to get to the Sunset Hills Park and Ride, near the Wiehle Avenue station. That's a trip time of 36 minutes.
On the Silver Line, the ride from Metro Center to Wiehle Avenue is 40 minutes. That's a little bit longer. If Fairfax reallocates some of those buses no longer used for commuter service, transit riders might save time by having shorter transfer times at Wiehle Avenue or at the Tysons stations. Fairfax County DOT has posted their bus operating plans that will go into effect once the Silver Line opens.
The above graphic should help you figure out how your commute will compare.
The numbers in orange under each station's name give the travel time to East Falls Church. Rosslyn, Metro Center, and L'Enfant Plaza are also shown. To get the travel time from Tysons Corner to Rosslyn, you'll have to add the numbers. In that example, it will take 10 minutes to get from Tysons Corner to East Falls Church and another 12 minutes to get to Rosslyn (that's 22 minutes).
If your station isn't included, you can use Metro's trip planner to find the travel time between it and East Falls Church.
The blue numbers on the left side of the graphic show the travel time between each station. It will take 9 minutes for the train to travel between Wiehle Avenue and Spring Hill, for example.
Metro hasn't yet released a schedule for the line. So we can't get too detailed about how long a trip will last, or how long transfers will be. But the travel time data in the graphic should give you a sense of how long your ride on the Silver Line will take.
Edit: Note, these data are courtesy of Nick Perfili at Fairfax County DOT.
In anticipation of the Silver Line, Fairfax Connector is reorganizing its bus routes in and around Tysons Corner to get people to each of the 4 new stations. But of all the proposed changes, the most controversial has been a new bus route to Vienna.
Option 1, one of 4 alternatives for Route 432. All images from Fairfax Connector and edited by the author.
The proposed Route 432 would connect northern Vienna with the Spring Hill Metro Station and Tysons in a loop, filling a critical gap in the county's transit network. Many residents support better bus service in this area due to the highly congested nature of Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road/Maple Avenue), the main roads into Tysons.
But residents living on Old Courthouse Road and Creek Crossing Road have overtaken the discussion about one of the 4 proposed route options that would use those two streets. They say the buses will endanger pedestrians and parked vehicles.
A small group of 3 residents practically took over a public meeting last February where 100 people came to hear about the proposals. The residents interrupted the 2-hour question-and-answer section with comments that school buses had struck parked cars. They fear that more buses would turn their quiet neighborhood into a loud urban freeway.
Unfortunately, the opposition was so effective that the Board of Supervisors decided to table discussion on Route 432, even after approving Fairfax Connector's other proposed routes. They revisited the plan options during a board meeting this week and will make a final decision on whether it will move forward.
The Board of Supervisors could simply choose one of the other 4 options where there's less opposition, but they are all weaker solutions. They avoid residential neighborhoods that don't already have transit service and force more buses into congested roads, making them less viable as an option for commuters.
The great thing about the original design of the 432 was that it would have slight variations in the route depending on the AM and PM rush hours to avoid being stuck in traffic. In the morning it used Leesburg Pike westbound, in the afternoon Leesburg Pike eastbound, by changing the clockwise or counterclockwise travel path.
Due to opposition from a vocal minority, the other 3 options propose running the bus instead along Maple Avenue, Vienna's main street and its most congested. In other words, that bus is gonna get stuck in a lot of traffic depending on the time of the day and it will be located far away from the residents who need it most.
This will make the bus more inconsistent, unreliable, and ineffective in transporting people, especially in an area where a lack of accommodations means walking or biking aren't an option either.
Option 1 remains the most viable solution. It avoids the heavily congested Maple Avenue corridor during rush hours, it uses dedicated bus lanes on the toll road, and most importantly it is accessible to residents by being routed on Old Courthouse Road and Beulah. The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has targeted this corridor for sidewalk improvements, which should dispel concerns about pedestrian safety.
What opponents haven't said is that neighborhood safety is compromised far more by the increasing number of commuters using Old Courthouse Road as a cut through to avoid traffic. When the Silver Line opens, these conditions will only get worse without viable alternatives to reach the stations.
Hopefully, the Board of Supervisors will recognize that kowtowing to the opposition will make Route 432 a worse service by putting buses where they don't belong, and join many of the Vienna residents who want to see Option 1 approved.
A version of this post appeared on The Tysons Corner.
For years, leaders in Northern Virginia have been asking Richmond to let Northern Virginia raise its own money to spend on its own transportation priorities. They are finally getting the chance.
When the Virginia General Assembly passed a broad new transportation funding bill earlier this year, it included a section letting Northern Virginia raise and allocate hundreds of millions per year. Those new taxes began rolling in on July 1, with the beginning of Virginia fiscal year 2014.
On Wednesday night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) officially approved its first set of projects. The authority allocated about $210 million, split roughly evenly between transit and roads.
The largest projects include the Silver Line's Innovation Center Metro station, new VRE railcars, and widenings along Route 28.
NVTA also approved a bond validation lawsuit that will preemptively ask Virginia courts to rule on NVTA's legality. That process should take 6-9 months, and NVTA will have to wait until it's over to actually start spending money. Taking the issue to court now means NVTA won't have to spend years fending off other court challenges.
The project list is below. For more details, see the project description sheets on NVTA's website.
|Transit and multimodal projects|
|Innovation Center Metro station||$41||Fairfax Co.|
|VRE Lorton station 2nd platform||$7.9||Fairfax Co.|
|WMATA Orange Line traction power upgrades for 8-car trains||$5||Regional|
|Potomac Yard Metro station environmental study||$2||Alexandria|
|Crystal City multimodal center bus bays||$1.5||Arlington|
|VRE Gainesville extension planning||$1.5||Regional|
|VRE Alexandria station pedestrian tunnel & platform improvements||$1.3||Alexandria|
|Herndon Metro station access improvements (road, bus, bike/ped)||$1.1||Fairfax Co.|
|Leesburg park and ride||$1||Loudoun|
|Loudoun County Transit buses||$0.9||Loudoun|
|Route 7 Tysons-to-Alexandria transit alternatives analysis (phase 2)||$0.8||Regional|
|Falls Church pedestrian access to transit||$0.7||Falls Church|
|Duke Street transit signal priority||$0.7||Alexandria|
|PRTC bus||$0.6||Prince William|
|Alexandria bus shelters & real-time information||$0.5||Alexandria|
|Van Buren pedestrian bridge||$0.3||Falls Church|
|Falls Church bus shelters||$0.2||Falls Church|
|Rt 28 - Linton Hall to Fitzwater Dr||$28||Prince William|
|Rt 28 - Dulles to Rt 50||$20||Fairfax Co.|
|Belmont Ridge Road north of Dulles Greenway||$20||Loudoun|
|Columbia Pike multimodal improvements (roadway, sidewalk, utilities)||$12||Arlington|
|Rt 28 - McLearen to Dulles||$11.1||Fairfax Co.|
|Rt 28 - Loudoun "hot spots"||$6.4||Loudoun|
|Chain Bridge Road widening||$5||Fairfax City|
|Boundary Channel Dr interchange||$4.3||Arlington|
|Rt 1 - Featherstone Rd to Mary's Way||$3||Prince William|
|Edwards Ferry Rd interchange||$1||Loudoun|
|Herndon Parkway intersection with Van Buren St||$0.5||Fairfax Co.|
|Herndon Parkway intersection with Sterling Rd||$0.5||Fairfax Co.|
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The WMATA Board will consider a package of changes to Metrobus routes at its meeting tomorrow. There are many small changes to routes, but one that could affect a large number of residents is a proposal from DC and Fairfax County to cut the 5A bus to Dulles.
The bus may become unnecessary once the Silver Line's Phase 2 goes all the way to the airport. In the meantime, Fairfax County has established a bus from Tysons Corner, in addition to the Washington Flyer bus to
East West Falls Church.
There are a lot of other small bus route changes in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, especially east of the Anacostia and around Burke and East Falls Church. The NH1 National Harbor bus will get another reroute and will now go to King Street in Alexandria, while Prince George's County will add a The Bus route to Southern Avenue to accommodate National Harbor employees.
The 5A serves a variety of riders
The 5A connects L'Enfant Plaza, Rosslyn, and the airport with a $6 fare. It was able to operate very successfully with a mix of people going to the airport for air trips, employees at the airport, and commuters from Herndon and points west.
The bus started out in 2000 with a grant from DC to provide reverse commute service from the District to Tysons and the Dulles corridor. It originally had 2 variants: the 5A went from L'Enfant Plaza to Dulles Airport, and the 5B ended at the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride. In 2006, WMATA merged the two.
Once the grant expired, the various jurisdictions agreed to keep funding the 5A separate from the regular funding formula, which didn't really fit the 5A. Fairfax created its Tysons-Dulles bus, and officials in that county and at the District Department of Transportation are now considering whether the two jurisdictions can eliminate their funding for the 5A.
The 5A and Washington Flyer make an imperfect pair
Even at $6, the 5A is cheaper than the Washington Flyer and rail ($10 for the Flyer plus the rail fare). A report on airport bus service from the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council (RAC) notes that many people ride the 5A from the Herndon Park and Ride, likely using the bus as an alternative to more expensive commuter buses.
The RAC report says that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has never cooperated with WMATA much about the 5A:
The original 5A stop was located far from the terminal building and marked with a black and white sign that did not conform to WMATA signage standards, making it confusing to regular system riders. (MWAA originally argued that WMATA signage did not conform to the airport's color scheme.) The stop was eventuallyHaving two separate buses, each running at infrequent headways (30 minutes for the Flyer, 40-60 for the 5A) indeed seems inefficient. Perhaps better coordination between WMATA, area jurisdictions, and MWAA could allow a more frequent bus for the years until the Silver Line reaches Dulles Airport.
moved in closer to the arrivals area and standard WMATA signage was permitted.
WMATA officials note, however, that barriers to use of the 5A remain in place at Dulles: WMATA is still unable to post signs within the airport itself directing passengers to the 5A; official airport announcements in the arrivals area tell customers that the Washington Flyer and MWAA-sponsored taxis are the only forms of airport transportation endorsed and authorized by the airport authority; airport employees do not currently receive Smartbenefits from MWAA which could potentially be used on the 5A; and there is no place to purchase a Smartrip card within the terminal.
What can happen with the 5A?
Options besides cutting the 5A, WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre told the RAC last winter, include keeping it with a new stop at Wiehle, or turning it into a shuttle just between the airport and Wiehle (in other words, a WMATA version of the Washington Flyer).
According to the RAC report, the Flyer still loses money. It once traveled all the way to downtown DC, but private operators refused to bid on such an expensive service. The current contract will end next year. Rather than treating the Flyer as a concession contract, It seems it might be better to have WMATA or another area transit operator run the "Flyer" as a public bus (perhaps even numbered 5A).
Do you think DC and Fairfax should stop funding the 5A? What airport transit should exist once the Silver Line opens, but before it gets to the airport? What about after?
The WMATA Board's action tomorrow would just put these changes out for public hearings in September. The board would then vote on a final set of changes in the fall to take effect between December 2013 and June 2014.
Developers floated a plan last month to drastically downscale the town center at Vienna MetroWest, but Lynda Smyth, the county supervisor for the area, said she never approved such a change, nor would the Board of Supervisors likely ever do so. Developers say they're still committed to the full town center, but can't do it right away.
The downscaled proposal, with single-story buildings fronting onto parking lots. Image from Paraclete Realty.
Developers spoke with county supervisors and residents about the plans at a public meeting on June 18. According to resident Eric Bleeker, the room was packed, and many attendees came because they'd heard about the plan on Greater Greater Washington. Supervisor Smyth said she hadn't seen the new proposal until it was posted to Greater Greater Washington, and would almost surely not approve it.
According to Tim Alexander of development firm Clark Realty, the downscaled proposal is supposed to be temporary. Clark still wants to build the full town center, but can't find tenants for the originally proposed office buildings in the current economy. In the mean time, his company doesn't want to leave that land empty for what could be years.
"The negativity to the plan was immense," said Bleeker, who lives at MetroWest. "After a good verbal lashing from Supervisor Smyth, the Clark representative spoke of wanting to work with the county on alternative ideas, and threw out pop-up retail."
Unfortunately, Clark is between a rock and a hard place. Plan A, the full town center, is impossible in the short term due to the economy. Plan B, the downscaled version, is rightly unpopular. What could work for Plan C?
It would be short-sighted to simply build residential towers in the town center instead of offices. MetroWest would lose its planned mixed-use character. It would be harder to keep retail spaces full over the long term with neither daytime workers in walking distance nor a lot of car traffic passing by.
So temporary single-story buildings may be the only viable near-term option, even if "temporary" means years. But if that's the case, Clark should strive to build a bona fide main street, rather than a couple of retail pad sites, with half of them fronting onto parking lots.
Even if parking lots are necessary, the main strip of activity should be the pedestrian-oriented walkway down the middle of the site, leading to the Metro station. All stores should front directly onto the main street, and there shouldn't be any gaps in the street wall where a parking lot comes right up to the front.
If the full town center is years away then a temporary single-story retail town center may be an unfortunate reality, but even if so, Clark can do better.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The American Legion Memorial Bridge helped usher in an era of suburban growth for Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which combined have over 2 million residents and 1.1 million jobs. As both counties have grown, the bridge remains the only link between them, and one almost exclusively dependent on single-occupancy vehicles.
The George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) recently completed a study, Beyond the Legion Bridge, with recommendations on how to improve connections and offer more transportation options between Montgomery and Fairfax counties.
Today, there aren't any HOV or express lanes across the bridge, nor is there any direct transit service. Meanwhile, traffic on the bridge continues to grow as almost all travel demand between the counties flows across the bridge as motor vehicle traffic.
Why is traffic getting worse? CRA found that while the number of daily commuters between Montgomery and Fairfax has fallen over the past 20 years, the number of long-distance commuters going to or from outer suburban counties like Frederick, Loudoun or Prince William has increased, creating more traffic on the bridge. Meanwhile, 37% of trips over the Legion Bridge come from through-travelers or heavy trucks, adding to the burden placed on the bridge by commuters.
In 2009, Maryland and Virginia's departments of transportation studied a 14-mile segment of I-495 and I-270 between Tysons Corner and Gaithersburg. They looked at a variety of potential changes, including restriping the highway to create more lanes, creating reversible lanes, or widening the bridge altogether.
The study found that minor improvements would not have much impact and even massive projects with price tags as high as $2.65 billion would only have modest impacts on congestion. Clearly, no amount of money or engineering expertise applied to moving more vehicles over the bridge will solve the congestion problem.
Small fixes could create some breathing room
Given these challenges, what can leaders in Maryland and Virginia do? In the short term, I suggest three relatively simple strategies to mitigate the negative effects that traffic congestion has on the economy and quality of life.
- Reduce demand for trips during peak period: For starters, we need to reduce the number of vehicle trips during rush hour. In the short term, we can do this by encouraging carpooling, vanpooling, transit use, alternative work hours, and telecommuting. These strategies will help the growing number of commuters who essentially have no existing option but to use the Legion Bridge and its congested feeder routes. This requires a coordinated effort from both states.
- Provide alternatives for heavy trucks: Though heavy trucks make up just a small share of trips over the Legion Bridge, they have substantial impacts on its effectiveness. Since neither county has much of a manufacturing or warehousing base, most goods traveling on the bridge are either passing through or are going to retailers in each county. We should find potential alternate routes or bypasses for through trucks, while taking a look at how goods headed to each county get there.
- Limit unnecessary bridge traffic: Some commuters who live in Montgomery County use the bridge only to reach the George Washington Parkway on their way to the District or Arlington. Low-cost solutions such as transit incentives, commuter buses or vanpools could give them an alternative. Meanwhile, more could be done to discourage through-traffic from outside the region from using the Legion Bridge, especially during the afternoon rush hour.
While these interventions would relieve some pressure on the Legion Bridge, their benefits pale in comparison to those of a direct, high-capacity transit connection between Montgomery and Fairfax counties, specifically between Bethesda and Tysons Corner. They are already two of the largest employment and commerce hubs in the region, and plans for both areas direct future growth around their Metrorail stations.
Though they're only seven miles apart, it's hard to travel between them on transit. A Metrobus route ran from Bethesda to Tysons Corner from 1998 to 2003, but failed because there wasn't a dedicated lane to make it more reliable.
Even after the Silver Line opens, a Metro trip between Bethesda and Tysons will take about an hour via Metro Center. A direct transit link, whether heavy rail, light rail, or express bus, would provide a faster and more efficient connection.
Political and business leaders on both sides of the Potomac have shown a willingness to think big and make necessary investments in road and transit infrastructure. Both Montgomery and Fairfax counties are also working to reduce car trips by building transit lines, like the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and the Silver Line.
Where would a new line go? One option would be to extend the Purple Line from its planned terminus in downtown Bethesda to either the future McLean or Tysons Corner Silver Line stations or the existing Dunn Loring Metro station. This 8-mile route could have additional stops at commercial nodes along the way, like Kenwood and Sumner in Maryland, and Langley and McLean Village in Virginia.
The public already owns much of the necessary right-of-way for this route. In Maryland, the line could run along Little Falls Parkway and the Capital Crescent Trail, while in Virginia, it could use Route 123. However, there would have to be a new bridge over or tunnel under the Potomac River somewhere south of Little Falls Dam, which could be very expensive.
Another option could be to add a transitway along the Capital Beltway between Grosvenor and Tysons Corner. This could be an express bus route, which could predictably make the 12-mile trip in about 15 minutes, compared to over an hour under current rush hour conditions. Or it could be a heavy rail line, which would boost capacity, allow for additional stops, or even offer a one-seat ride between Shady Grove and Dulles Airport.
Other than the cost, this option's biggest shortcoming is that it doesn't make a direct connection between Bethesda and Tysons Corner. A third option would be to build both routes, though this would obviously be even more expensive.
What about the Techway?
Soon after the Legion Bridge opened, Maryland and Virginia began discussing another highway connection over the Potomac River. Called the Techway by supporters or the Zombie Outer Beltway by opponents, the project has had many fits and starts over the years.
At the moment, neither state has any serious plans to build it, though some officials and advocacy groups have kept the plan alive.
Even if a new crossing were built, history and academic research suggest that new highway infrastructure does not remove congestion from existing roads. Instead, new highways tend to stimulate additional residential and commercial development which, in turn, increases the overall volume of traffic in a given area. The highway still might get built one day, but if so, its presence would still not likely address the demand along the Legion Bridge corridor.
Looking ahead, Montgomery and Fairfax counties need better connectivity to protect the economy, public services, and quality of life that both counties have spent decades building. Achieving this goal will require both a unified vision from political and business leaders in both Maryland and Virginia, and a long-term commitment to investing in the necessary improvements.
Outside of Tysons Corner, Vienna MetroWest is Fairfax County's greatest experiment yet in transit-oriented development. But now it appears developers have scaled back, and may build car-oriented retail instead.
With construction of the residential sections underway, the town center seemed close to finally, finally happening. But now that it's time to actually start leasing spaces, the town center development plan looks a lot different.
Instead of dense, walkable midrises, the are single-story retail buildings surrounded by surface parking lots. Instead of an urban town center, it's a glorified strip mall.
What happened? One can speculate. A recession hit, competing developments at nearby Dunn Loring Metro opened first, and the market changed.
Developers do often build single-story retail as a "temporary" placeholder until they're ready for more intense uses. That was the idea behind the Kentlands town center in Gaithersburg, which is now redeveloping parcel by parcel. But "temporary" in this case can mean 20 years.
For people who bought homes at MetroWest based on the promise of a strong town center nearby, the potential of something better years in the future is little consolation.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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