Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Falls Church

Development


With new mixed-use development, the "Little City" of Falls Church keeps growing up

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.


Rendering of 301 West Broad. Image from the City of Falls Church.

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.


View from West Broad Street. Photo from the City of Falls Church.

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.

Events


Events roundup: Urbanism, past and future

Learn about the history of urbanism nationwide, then give input on downtown Bethesda, the DC Circulator, Courthouse Square and more. See how the past influences the future in Shaw and East Falls Church. All this and more at events this week and beyond.


Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Two happy hours this month! Instead of having one Greater Greater Washington happy hour this month, we're cosponsoring happy hours around two interesting and informative events.

Tomorrow, come hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his new book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, with a happy hour afterward.

And next Wednesday, join us, CNUDC, YIPPS, and guests from the Montgomery County Planning Department to learn about the Bethesda Downtown Plan while enjoying a drink.

Ben Ross' talk starts at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, April 22 at APTA headquarters, 1666 K Street NW. After the talk, head over to The Meeting Place (1707 L Street NW) for the happy hour at 6:30.

The following week's Bethesda planning-and-drinking gathering is from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, April 30 at Tommy Joe's, 4717 Montgomery Lane, in Bethesda.

Discuss pedestrian safety: Join the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for a lecture and discussion on pedestrian safety. Hillary Poole, Alexandria's Complete Streets Coordinator, will talk about design concepts that make streets safe for walkers, bikers, and drivers. The discussion is 6:15-7:30 tonight, Monday, April 21, at the Nannie J. Lee Rec Center, 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria.

Tour Shaw and East Falls Church: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours resume with two great ones this month. On Saturday, April 26 from 10 am-noon, see how new development is bringing a renaissance to the historic Shaw neighborhood in DC. And on Saturday, look at ways the area around East Falls Church Metro could become more walkable and bikeable. Space is limited so RSVP today!

Envision Courthouse Square: Arlington County is considering plans for transforming Courthouse Square into a town square. The second community workshop is Wednesday, April 23 from 7-9 pm at the Key Elementary School, 2300 Key Boulevard in Arlington. Help develop an action plan for the area to help make it a vibrant public destination.

Circulator pop-up meetings: DDOT is looking for feedback from current and future riders of the DC Circulator to shape the system's Transit Development Plan update. They are holding a series of six pop-up meetings to discuss the current system as well as future routes. Here is the complete schedule:

  • NoMa: Tuesday, April 22, 3:30-6:30 pm at NoMa/Gallaudet Metro (M St. NE entrance)
  • Southwest: Thursday, April 24, 3:30-6:30 pm at Waterfront Metro
  • Capitol Hill: Saturday, April 26, 12-3 pm at Eastern Market Metro
  • 14th and U: Tuesday, April 29, 3:30-6:30 pm at Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center (2000 14th St NW)
  • Anacostia: Thursday, May 1, 3:30-6:30 pm at Anacostia Metro
  • Georgetown: Saturday, May 3, 12-3 pm at M St NW & Wisconsin Ave NW
Open houses for Montgomery zoning update: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses begin this Tuesday, April 22. Interested in asking questions or providing feedback? Planning staff attend to discuss the updates. The full open house schedule is below:

  • Rockville: Tuesday, April 22, 6-8 pm at Rockville Memorial Library
  • Wheaton: Thursday, April 24, 6-8 pm at Wheaton Regional Library
  • Silver Spring: Tuesday, April 29, 6-8 pm at Park and Planning Headquarters, Silver Spring
  • Burtonsville: Thursday, May 1, 6-8 pm at the Marilyn J. Praisner Library, Burtonsville
  • Germantown: Monday, May 5, 6-8 pm at Upcounty Regional Services Center, Germantown
  • Bethesda: Tuesday, May 6, 6-8 pm at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, Bethesda

Public Spaces


Topic of the week: Where we live

Our contributors all roughly share similar views on ways the city could be built and operate, yet we all chose to live in different places across the region. So we asked them, "where do you live, and why did you choose to live there?" Here are some highlights:


Logan Circle. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Andrew Bossi, Logan Circle: When I moved here from Laurel in 2010, I saved money on taxes, utilities, and transportationeasily making up for the increase in rent. I live by Logan Circle, a 10-15 minute stroll from every Metro Line, Chinatown, and the 9th, 14th, and U Street corridors, and there are buses that fill in the subway's gapsgetting me to Georgetown, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan. Still need to find a decent way to Capitol Hill... but I often just go by foot; even that is an easy walk.

My 50-minute commute to work consists half walking, half railand I love it. My commute is my exercise. In my spare time I find a delight to going on a stroll that takes me past major world landmarks, always with my camera in hand. Lastly, I'm surrounded by four grocery stores (so many of my friends aren't even near one) and enjoy a quiet neighborhood with a great view of the Washington Monument and National Cathedral from my roof. I just wish I could actually afford to own a place in my neighborhood.

Veronica Davis, Fairfax Village: In 2005, I was living with my dad in Potomac. I was perfectly happy being a freeloader, but the commute to L'Enfant Plaza was killing my time and my wallet. It was time to start looking for my own place. (The real reason I was motivated to move: my dad was selling the house). I wanted to live in a condo and I didn't want to drive for any portion of my work trip. The minute I saw Fairfax Village I knew this was the place for me. The selling points were:

  1. 1 seat bus ride to L'Enfant Plaza for $2.50 round trip (2005 bus fares)
  2. The crime was relatively low, which was important as a single woman in my mid-20s.
  3. Older neighbors who knew everyone and everything in the neighborhood gave my mom comfort that I'd have people checking in on me.
  4. A suburban feel without being in the suburbs. It's a quiet neighborhood with manicured lawns and plush trees.
  5. Skyland Town Center was "coming", promising new amenities less than a mile from my condo.

Mount Rainier. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Brent Bolin, Mt. Rainier: I moved here in 2002 and ended up in Maryland because I couldn't afford DC and the MD politics were a good fit. We looked in a lot of different places before we discovered Mount Rainier and fell in love with the sense of community and the overall vibe. A historic streetcar suburb right on the DC border, the city has great fabric and great architecture that promotes front porch culture and close ties with neighbors.

I live a block from Glut Co-op, a funky progressive food store that's the heart of our neighborhood and a good lens on the diverse, progressive, working class values that have defined the community. We have incredible bus service from our town center down Rhode Island Ave in addition to the West Hyattsville Metro station on the north side of town. We are very near the Anacostia Tributary Trail network to get out by bike or on foot to great park amenities.

Topher Mathews, Georgetown: I moved to Georgetown from Arlington in 2003 because my roommate and I found a ridiculously cheap two bedroom apartment overlooking Montrose Park on R St. The unique juxtaposition of the bucolic charm of the park with the dense neighborhood was enough for us to break our lease on a drab garden apartment in Courthouse. I've stayed and started a family here because I love the history, the dense walkability, the parks, and of course the close proximity of over 500 shops and restaurants.

I also love that I can quickly get to all the other great central DC neighborhoods with a short bus or bike ride. I look forward to raising my daughter in such a beautiful and multifaceted neighborhood, but with a mind towards emphasizing to her the need to foster the literal and figurative connections between Georgetown and the city it belongs to.


Falls Church. Photo by Thomas Cizauskas on Flickr.

Canaan Merchant, Falls Church: I live in downtown Falls Church. I moved there in August where I traded proximity to the metro in Arlington for a little more space in my apartment but without sacrificing overall walkability. Regardless, I'm well within a 1/2 mile of a hardware store, music shop, bowling alley, dry cleaner, barber, several restaurants, and even a major music venue.

Bus service is pretty frequent on routes 7 and 29 which allows me to function very well without a car of my own. And I can still walk to East Falls Church Metro if I need to. Falls Church is a great example of how being a suburb doesn't automatically mean one must have a car to get around and how good principles of urban development can work at several different levels of density.

Dan Reed, Silver Spring: When I finished graduate school in Philadelphia, I was unemployed and moved back in with my parents in Silver Spring. I knew that whenever I moved out, I wanted to have what I had in West Philly: a grocery store, coffeeshop, and bar within walking distance, the ability to get to work without driving, saving my time in the car for fun trips; and chill, friendly neighbors with a strong sense of community. And I wanted to live in Montgomery County, where I'd already gotten my hands dirty in blogging and activism for several years.

It wasn't easy, but I found it all one mile from downtown Silver Spring, and I plan to stick around, if only to give my DC friends an excuse to visit and learn that yes, there is life beyond Eastern Avenue, and better food too.

Aimee Custis, Dupont Circle: In the 6 years I've lived in the District, I've lived in 3 separate neighborhoods, but my current neighborhood, Dupont Circle, is my favorite. I love being in the middle of things in central DCgoing out for froyo or picking up a prescription at midnight on a weekday.

In Dupont I've always felt completely safe, even living alone as a 20-something single woman and walking home from a service industry job late at night. Also, it's surprisingly (to me) affordable and a great value for what I do pay. In my price range, with the amenities I want, I've been able to find lots of choices in Dupont, when I've been priced out elsewhere.

David Versel, Springfield: When I returned to the DC area 2011 after 10 years away, I was met with sticker shock when I tried to find a 3-4 bedroom home for my family near my job at the time in the Fort Belvoir area. We ended up renting a townhouse in Springfield; later, we bought a 47-year old fixer-upper and got to work.

As far as suburbs go, you could do a lot worse. I am a short drive from the Franconia-Springfield Metro, and can walk or bike to several Metrobus and Fairfax Connector lines. I have also found this area to be very diverse and interesting in terms of the people and the ethnic dining options, and my neighborhood is also one of those rare places where kids still play outside with only occasional glances from parents. And the schools really are great in Fairfax County.

All that said, I am still largely car-dependent, and no matter how I get to my current job in Arlington, it still takes an hour each way. When my youngest kid finishes high school, my wife and I will be returning to the city.

These are just a few of the responses we got. There were so many, we couldn't fit them all in one post, but we could fit them on a map.


Click for interactive map.

What about you? Where do you live and why?

Transit


Northern Virginia picks transportation projects to fund

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.


Almost $20 million will go to new VRE railcars. Image from BeyondDC.

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.

ProjectFunding (millions)Location
Transit and multimodal projects
Innovation Center Metro station$41  Fairfax Co.
VRE railcars$19.8Regional
VRE Lorton station 2nd platform$7.9Fairfax Co.
WMATA buses$7  Regional
WMATA Orange Line traction power upgrades for 8-car trains$5  Regional
DASH buses$3.3Alexandria
Potomac Yard Metro station environmental study$2  Alexandria
Crystal City multimodal center bus bays$1.5Arlington
VRE Gainesville extension planning$1.5Regional
VRE Alexandria station pedestrian tunnel & platform improvements$1.3Alexandria
Herndon Metro station access improvements (road, bus, bike/ped)$1.1Fairfax Co.
ART buses$1  Arlington
Leesburg park and ride$1  Loudoun
Loudoun County Transit buses$0.9Loudoun
Route 7 Tysons-to-Alexandria transit alternatives analysis (phase 2)$0.8Regional
Falls Church pedestrian access to transit$0.7Falls Church
Duke Street transit signal priority$0.7Alexandria
PRTC bus$0.6Prince William
Alexandria bus shelters & real-time information$0.5Alexandria
Van Buren pedestrian bridge$0.3Falls Church
Falls Church bus shelters$0.2Falls Church
Road projects
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$11.1Fairfax Co.
Rt 28 - Loudoun "hot spots"$6.4Loudoun
Chain Bridge Road widening$5  Fairfax City
Boundary Channel Dr interchange$4.3Arlington
Rt 1 - Featherstone Rd to Mary's Way$3  Prince William
Edwards Ferry Rd interchange$1  Loudoun
Herndon Parkway intersection with Van Buren St$0.5Fairfax Co.
Herndon Parkway intersection with Sterling Rd$0.5Fairfax Co.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Bright hopes, some obstacles for Northern Virginia streetcars

Streetcar supporters in Northern Virginia hope to see streetcar lines traversing many of Northern Virginia's cities and counties, linking housing to employment centers within and across jurisdictions, often retracing routes operated decades ago.


A modern streetcar. Photo from Arlington County.

To get streetcars across boundaries, however, the many local governments must coordinate their plans and deal with differences in their abilities to fund projects.

The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition's top priority this year is supporting Arlington's plans for the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar lines. It also will encourage other cities and counties to consider streetcar options.

Arlington has steadfastly supported a vision of smart growth around transit nodes and multimodal transportation options for a great many years. Thanks to this consistency, their work has paid off in positioning Arlington as a good place to live and work.

By selecting streetcar rather than some variety of enhanced bus service, Arlington is reinforcing its past planning efforts by providing investors and developers along the two corridors with the certainty that only a commitment to a fixed alignment can give.

Arlington and Fairfax counties worked together on plans for high-capacity transit along Columbia Pike for several years, and in July 2012 voted to select streetcar as the preferred option for Columbia Pike and apply for federal funding. Arlington also plans a streetcar line for Crystal City to connect with the Columbia Pike line.

The 5 mile long Columbia Pike line, as currently planned, will cross into Fairfax County, terminating at Skyline. The 2½ mile long Crystal City line, on the other hand, will terminate at Four Mile Run, the boundary between Arlington and Alexandria.


Proposed streetcar alignments in Arlington. Image from Arlington County.

Meanwhile, Alexandria has been studying transit for Route 1 and the Beauregard/Van Dorn transit corridors. NVSC wants to ensure no decisions would preclude using streetcars in those areas.

NVSC also will encourage Fairfax County to expand its streetcar lines beyond Skyline, going either toward Falls Church along Route 7, toward Northern Virginia Community College and the Mark Center east of Skyline, or along Route 1 south of Alexandria. Finally, ongoing studies in various jurisdictions could identify additional corridors suitable for streetcars.

Leaders emphasize need for transit, desire to coordinate

In November, the Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition hosted a public meeting where leaders from Arlington, Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Falls Church discussed, in a spirited but positive manner, regional cooperation in planning high-capacity transit.

They saw Northern Virginia's future as multimodal, with mixed uses around transit stations. Then-Arlington Board Chair Mary Hynes noted that Virginia commuters to DC must cross Arlington. Without its multi-modal strategy, she said, the county would "become a parking lot."

All of the officials emphasized that the jurisdictions want work together, and have coordinated in many ways. However, due to differences in funds available for transit and each jurisdiction's priorities, it has not always been possible to think regionally in spite of best intentions.

Arlington has been more successful at raising funds for transportation capital projects than its neighbors, partially due to its more balanced ratio of commercial to residential property and its commercial add-on tax for transportation.

Paul Smedberg, a member of the Alexandria City Council, spoke of the need for a streetcar connection to the BRAC-133 building at Mark Center. Fairfax Supervisor Penny Gross said that although extensions to the Columbia Pike line are desirable, it was important to get the first segment built rather than bogging down the whole process by considering alternatives.

Former Falls Church City Council member Dan Maller, standing in for Vice-Mayor David Snyder, noted that he was eager to work with Fairfax on a Route 7 extension to Falls Church. Somewhat reassuringly, Alexandrians learned that they would have continuous transit options to get from their city to Arlington without transferring at Four Mile Runalthough presently these are bus options rather than streetcar options.

As local and regional plans for high-capacity transit develop, decision-makers must think long-term and regionally. Not every transit route is suitable for streetcars, but where cities and counties want environmentally-sound, reliable, clean transportation that also contributes to local economic development, they should consider streetcar lines and ensure they can interoperate across jurisdictional boundaries now and in the future.

Transit


Streetcar backers ask NoVA officials to cooperate on transit

When the Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition formed in early 2010, we thought it would be pretty easy to bring Northern Virginia officials to our way of thinking: streetcars should be part of each jurisdiction's array of transit options to connect Northern Virginia people, homes, and jobs.


Photo by fairfaxcounty on Flickr.

Since then, there have been notable successes:

  • After completing a NEPA process, both Arlington and Fairfax Counties selected streetcars as the "Locally Preferred Alternative" for the Columbia Pike Line between Skyline and the north end of Crystal City.
  • Arlington adopted its Crystal City Sector Plan that includes provision for streetcar service through Crystal City to Four Mile Run, connecting to the Columbia Pike line.
  • After almost three years, funds Congressman Jim Moran earmarked to study transit options along Route 7 are finally close to release. The City of Falls Church will finally get a chance to consider streetcars (along with other transit options).
  • Fairfax County is a participant in several transit studies that may identify potential streetcar corridors.
  • The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition was able to pull together a TIGER II grant application coordinated by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and signed by the City of Alexandria and Arlington County. Unfortunately, the application did not win a TIGER grant.
And there have been some disappointments:
  • Northern Virginia Community College's bid to host a streetcar maintenance facility on their Alexandria campus was found to be infeasible by the Columbia Pike Transit study team, foreclosing the option of serving the campus and possibly the BRAC-133 building at Mark Center by streetcar.
  • Along the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor (Route 1), Alexandria selected Bus Rapid Transit as the preferred mode of transportation to connect to Arlington's Crystal City streetcar line, with the option of converting to streetcars later. NVSC is suggesting Alexandria continue the Arlington streetcar south of Four Mile Run at least to the planned Potomac Yard Metro Station.
  • The Alexandria Transportation Master Plan corridor studies have all selected bus or BRT as the preferred mode of transit.
As DC's streetcar system moves forward, and as we get closer to the Columbia Pike line's planned opening in 2017, there should be many opportunities for local officials to support studies of potential alignments for streetcars, connection of streetcar stations and terminus points with other transit facilities, and other options for high-capacity transit to connect activity centers in Northern Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition is hosting its Annual Meeting on November 14, 2012 from 7 to 9 pm at Skyline Technology Center, 5275 Leesburg Pike. The meeting is open to the public and free of charge. We have invited Mary Hynes, Chair of the Arlington County Board; Penny Gross, Supervisor, Mason District, Fairfax County; Paul Smedberg, Alexandria City Council; and David Snyder, Vice Mayor, Falls Church to discuss opportunities for cooperation among jurisdictions in planning for high capacity transit solutions to connect Northern Virginia.

What questions would you want to have asked of this panel? Please comment with some specific questions our moderators could ask.

Public Spaces


Residents want Seven Corners safer for walking and biking

Residents and business owners at Seven Corners want to make the area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, provide better transit or otherwise alleviate the traffic congestion, and preserve the diverse population and affordable housing.


The Eden Center, one part of the Seven Corners area. Photo by dewitahs on Flickr.

Those were common themes from more than 100 Seven Corners residents and business owners at a May 21 session organized by the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization (OCR).

The "visioning exercise," which called for participants to meet in small groups to list what they perceive as the area's strengths and challenges and their vision for the future, is the first step in a county process to develop a framework for guiding redevelopment.

Among the assets cited by residents were:

  • The diverse population of Seven Corners, including diversity of cultures, ages, and incomes
  • Plenty of affordable housing
  • The history of the area, including events from the Civil War and the first shopping center in Northern Virginia
  • The proximity to Washington, DC
  • A variety of shopping and dining options
  • Stable, established neighborhoods nearby
Challenges that need to be addressed:
  • Route 50 and Route 7 are major barriers and make it extremely difficult to walk through the area
  • Too much litter and too many illegal signs
  • There is no chamber of commerce or other organization of business owners
  • The schools are overcrowded and need renovation
  • The larger Seven Corners area is divided among different jurisdictionsArlington and the City of Falls Church, as well as Fairfax County

The map of Seven Corners illustrates the lack of connectivity. Photo by the author of a display board presented at the meeting.

Just about everybody cited the traffic congestion as a huge challenge. The ideas that emerged for addressing it included improving the synchronization of traffic lights, totally redesigning the Route 50/Route 7 intersection, and providing an express bus to DC.

Other ideas mentioned for improving Seven Corners, some of them long-term:

  • Improve the streetscapes
  • Provide more community gathering places, such as parks, outdoor cafes, and farmers' markets
  • Create a public/private partnership to spur revitalization
  • Add an escalator to connect the two levels of the Seven Corners Shopping Center
  • Provide streetcars to connect Seven Corners to the East Falls Church Metro station and other centers, such as Tysons and Alexandria
  • Get rid of the large parking lots and create a central plaza
  • Attract more young professionals, while also retaining a diverse mix of cultures, ages, and incomes
  • Add amenities, such as bike trails, parks, soccer fields, a movie theater, more trees, open space, and public art
  • Build mixed-use developments combining housing and retail

Binh Nguyen. Photo by the author.
Binh Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce for the Greater Washington, DC area, said many of the Eden Center business owners had been thinking of leaving the area due to the declining economy and civil rights issueseven though some 70,000 people come to that shopping center every weekend.

But the possibility of revitalizing Seven Corners is a hopeful sign. "We want to be a part of this great community," he said, adding that Vietnamese businesses are interested in contributing to the development of a new community center.

Alejandria Caballero of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services reported on the concerns of some of the apartment residents. They want more parks, more police patrols to make the streets safer for evening walks, more family-friendly restaurants, and a more accessible health clinic. They said the Willston Multicultural Center needs to be renovated and the pedestrian bridge over Route 50 needs to be cleaned up.


Iqbal Khaiy. Photo by the author.
The biggest problem is traffic congestion, said Iqbal Khaiy, who also mentioned the lack of walkability, the overcrowded schools, and the need to create "a sense of place." She said it's important to "retain the character and diversity of Seven Corners and give it a facelift."

Jeff Longo said that even though he lives and works in Seven Corners, he can't walk to work because it's impossible to cross the street. The benefits of the area include convenience, diversity, variety of restaurants, and proximity to Arlington and DC, but there is "too much concrete and not enough green."

Debbie Smith called for "smart development that doesn't strain natural resources." And several people mentioned the need to retain the unique character of Seven Corners and not copy Ballston or Tysons Corner.

The OCR will prepare a summary of the comments to share at the next workshop, which will be held June 18, 7 pm at the same location, 6245 Leesburg Pike.

Meanwhile, a major clean-up effort to get rid of the litter and illegal signs, is tentatively scheduled for June 23.

Cross-posted at Annandale VA.

Roads


Widening I-66 achieves little vs. cheaper alternatives

Virginians have debated widening I-66 for many years, but preliminary results of a VDOT study show that I-66 commuters could get the same benefits and save hundreds of millions by just converting existing lanes to HOT lanes instead. Drivers and transit riders alike would also benefit from turning the shoulder of US-50 into a dedicated bus lane.


Photo by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr.

VDOT is close to completing its "multimodal" study of the I-66 corridor inside the Beltway. The study team looked at a wide variety of options, from Metro to buses to adding lanes to Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies like better rider information and dynamic ridesharing.

The full study isn't out yet, but VDOT has released information on four "packages" of improvements they modeled:

  1. Make both lanes of I-66 free for buses and HOV-3 at all times, and toll single-passenger vehicles (SOV) and HOV-2 at all times.
  2. Add a 3rd lane to I-66. Make all 3 free for buses and HOV-3, tolled for SOV and HOV-2 at all times.
  3. Add a 3rd lane to I-66 to be HOV-2 in the reverse peak. In the peak direction (eastbound mornings, westbound evenings), keep all lanes HOV-3. Off-peak, leave all lanes open to anyone (as they are today).
  4. Make the shoulder of US-50 into a bus lane. Add express bus service to downtown DC from places along the I-66 and Dulles corridors.
All of these assume that Virginia has finished all of the projects in the existing Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). That includes the so-called "spot improvements" that widen I-66 in select places, and also converting I-66 to HOV-3.

Packages 1 and 2, the HOT lane options, both would help SOV and HOV-2 drivers and hurt HOV-3 drivers, compared to the default of having I-66 be HOV-3 only. But there's not a whole lot of difference between the two. According to the model, having the extra lane would slightly harm transit and speed drivers by about 2%, at a cost of $310-685 million.

Package 1 (convert existing lanes to HOT lanes):

Package 2 (add 3rd lane, convert all to HOT lanes):

Package 3 induces more driving but doesn't do much to change travel times for anyone. Package 4, the US-50 bus lanes, would improve travel times on transit by 7%, and drivers benefit by a very small amount. The presentation says that a number of people switch from rail to bus because the buses improve, which should also help with crowding on Metro.

Package 3 (add HOV lane):

Package 4 (bus lane on US-50):

The packages also factor in projects like better bicycle and pedestrian facilities, TDM programs, Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) like digital signs and ramp meters, added bus service and more.

These graphs are all a tiny bit confusing because VDOT assumed as the "baseline" that I-66 has changed from the current HOV-2 to HOV-3, and that they've already widened in some places with "spot improvements."

It would have been more helpful for laypeople if we could also compare each alternative to what would happen if VDOT didn't build the "spot improvements" and didn't change to HOV-3. In fact, an initial impetus for this study was to find out whether the spot improvements are a good idea in the first place, or whether other options would work better.

VDOT will release the study, including more details and its recommendations, in June. It seems unlikely that they would recommend widening I-66 given these results. A combination of options 1 and 4 seems like it could deliver real improvements to both drivers and transit riders without spending a lot of money on complex, unpopular, and minimally helpful highway widening projects.

Residents can provide comments to VDOT by emailing info@i66multimodalstudy.com.

Update: The original version of this post showed incorrect graphs for packages 2 and 3. The graphs have been corrected to match those from the VDOT presentation.

Politics


Can Falls Church ban parties endorsing local candidates?

Virginia state law prohibits ballots from listing partisan affiliation for local elections. The Falls Church City Council wants to go a step further, banning political parties from endorsing candidates in city races altogether. Can they do this, and with extremely limited public input?


Photo by yakfur on Flickr.

In the wake of two major shakeups to Falls Church city politics, the City Council is set to vote tonight on amendments to the city charter that were just drawn up at the council work session a week ago.

Under the amendments, candidates for the city who are nominated by political party primary or convention will not be listed at all on the ballot. Candidates can only be nominated by petition, the way non-party candidates get on the ballot today.

The amendments warn against not just the evils of partisan elections, but of partisan candidates.

Why the rush to change the charter? Under Virginia's Dillon's Rule system, the changes need Virginia General Assembly approval, so the city council wants to get the amendments into its legislative package in time for the next General Assembly session in January.

Unfortunately, it seems the City Council is putting that deadline ahead of opportunity for public input. This is an especially unfortunate move after voters just dealt the council a harsh rebuke in this month's election.

Voters rejected City Council efforts to keep city elections in May, passing a referendum to move city elections to November by a stunningly large 2-to-1 margin. Referendum opponents warned voters a move to November could make city elections more partisan, but voters ignored those arguments.

Then, just days later, the civic organization Citizens for a Better City (CBC) announced it would no longer endorse local political candidates. As the Falls Church News-Press editorialized, the changes left a sudden void:

So now, there is a flattened and broadened political landscape: no direction and twice the voters. One could call that a more "purely democratic" environment, but it may advisable to revisit Plato's "The Republic" for a poignant critique of the shortcomings, or, better, short livelihood, of "pure democracies."

The CBC may have thought it could dictate by its action a newly-leveled political environment, but its withdrawal will likely encourage other groups, or the formation of other groups, to fill the vacuum. No wish to mandate that future elections be non-partisan, for example, can prevent the exercise of First Amendment rights to the contrary.

A new dictate seems precisely what the city council is proposing. Rather than regrouping, reassessing, and gathering public input, leaders are rushing ahead under deadline pressure on proposed amendments that may or may not reflect the desires of current voters, never mind future ones.

What's more, it's not clear if any of the proposed amendments are either constitutional or enforceable. Can the City Council decide which groups of voters can or cannot publicly endorse political candidates? What if a party doesn't formally endorse, but does a mailing without a candidate's approval or knowledge? Would that candidate be thrown off the ballot anyway?

What about donations? Many city council and school board members have donated to political candidates. For example, Council Member Lawrence Webb, whose name is on the amendments, donated $100 to Democratic Delegate Charniele Herring's campaign in 2009. Under the amendments, would it be enough for Webb to swear off Democratic references on campaign literature? Or would he have to swear off all Democratic affiliations and donations for the duration of his term?

Just weeks after voters settled Falls Church's biggest electoral controversy, will the City Council open a new one? We may find out tonight.

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