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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


Lawbreaking homeowner left Fairfax DOT with few options

The Fairfax Connector stop moved to accommodate one homeowner is making things worse for riders and rewarding the homeowner's illegal parking, Paul Mounier of Fairfax County DOT confirmed.


Image from Fairfax County.

Many commenters asked some good questions about the story on Tuesday. One top question was whether the homeowner's son was indeed parking legally or illegally. Mr. Mounier confirmed for me that, in fact, he was not parking legally.

Mr. Mounier said that the law currently prohibits parking within 30 feet of a bus stop, and in the area between the driveway and the bus stop, that leaves only 7 feet for a car, not enough for a regular actual car.

Furthermore, Fairfax law also prohibits parking within 10 feet of a driveway, including your own. Therefore, there were zero legal feet in which to park, but even if the 10' rule didn't exist, there wasn't enough room to park any car longer than 7'.

FCDOT felt they had to move the stop because buses hit the car twice. (From Carmelita San Jose's account, the first time was more of a near miss, but in any case, there were two incidents.) Unfortunately, the police could ticket the car, but weren't going to come by every day to check, meaning that the homeowner was likely still going to be parked there. And even if a car is parked illegally, the police told FCDOT, that doesn't cause the bus to hit the vehicle, meaning FCDOT is still responsible for collisions.

The bus hit the vehicle when trying to pull close to the curb to accommodate the blind passenger. In effect, even though the law reserves enough space for the bus, if someone's illegally blocking the space, there's very little FCDOT can do unless the police are willing to more strongly enforce the rules.

Mr. Mounier also consulted with the homeowner's association. Only 16 people provided comments, 10 in favor of moving the stop and 6 opposed. That doesn't sound like a consensus either way, and when there's disagreement, doing what's better for more bus riders should trump what's good for one homeowner.

Moving the stop, by the way, does hurt riders. Mr. Mounier confirmed what Ms. San Jose also told me, that most of the bus riders come from Pinecrest Road to the northwest, and now have to walk farther to this bus stop. About 10 riders use this particular bus stop daily, which is part of Fairfax Connector Route 553 that goes to West Falls Church Metro.

The residents who supported moving the stop, other than the homeowner, cited a perceived unsafe situation at the intersection, where children often cross. However, Mr. Mounier said that they interviewed a crossing guard there, who hadn't observed any issues. As with roundabouts, people often think an intersection with multiple modes interacting is "unsafe," but in many cases it's actually the reverse.

And one of the largest potential drivers of a safety problem, real or perceived, is the illegally parked car; by forcing the bus to stop farther from the curb, cars have to divert to the opposite lane of traffic to go around the bus, whereas the bus should be able to pull out of the travel lane entirely.

Mr. Mounier confirmed that no law prohibits the son from parking in front of someone else's house. Residents in such neighborhoods tend to get territorial about the frontage in front of their houses, even though legally it's all public space. That leads people to feel they have the right to park there, as in the case of this homeowner, or the right to prevent others from parking there.

After speaking with Mr. Mounier, it made sense why they moved the stop given their constraints: a homeowner parking illegally whom they couldn't effectively stop; a legal liability rule that still faults the bus for any collisions even with the illegally parked car; and residents who think it's unsafe whether or not it is. Unfortunately, when one homeowner is determined to get in the way of the buses, the riders lose out.

The homeowner had tried to get the stop moved before, but FCDOT said no; only after two incidents did they feel they had to act. It's too bad that a homeowner who wants to displace a bus stop can simply do so by parking illegally long enough to generate collisions or even create an unsafe situation where none existed. When DC tickets illegal parkers reporters may talk about how it's "picking your pocket," but that kind of enforcement just ensures the rights of riders don't get trampled.

Transit


Homeowner gets bus stop moved for parking space

Many residents of the Fox Mill Estates neighborhood in Herndon are disappointed with Fairfax County's decision to move a bus stop because a new homeowner doesn't want it in front of her house.


The stop (red) moved to the playground to the south. Image from Google Maps.

According to resident Carmelita San Jose, the current stop at Pinecrest Road and Viking Drive is safe and well lit, with stop signs to aid crossing and enough room for buses to pull out of traffic. Many residents of the neighborhood walk 10 or 15 minutes to reach the stop.

A mother and son moved into the house nearest the bus stop in 2008, and asked Fairfax to remove it. They initially agreed, but then backtracked after residents objected.

However, the son began parking his car on the street in late 2009, which made it difficult for buses to pull in close to the stop. One bus trying to pick up a blind passenger almost hit the car and was unable to leave until the homeowner moved the car; in October, a bus actually scraped against the car.

According to Ms. San Jose, Paul Mounier of FCDOT then posted a notice about the County's decision to move the stop to another location 500 feet away along Viking Drive. Ms. San Jose wrote to FCDOT and Supervisor Hudgins, saying this will inconvenience those who ride the bus, is not well-lit, and will require people to walk on narrow sidewalks along busy Viking Drive. That includes a blind man who uses a guide dog which would need retraining.

FCDOT says that most public comments favored moving the stop, and claims the new location is "both safe and accessible." They will also retrain the guide dog.

The homeowner and Ms. San Jose also disagree about whether the son's car had been parked illegally. The law prohibits parking within 30 feet of the bus stop. Ms. San Jose says her measurements show there is just about 30 feet available, meaning the son must be violating the zone, while the homeowner claims there are 47 feet available, which leaves more than enough room to park legally. Ms. San Jose asked the County to measure the distance, but they did not.

It's unclear why the son can't simply park somewhere else on the street. As a suburban area, there's plenty of street parking. In many suburbs, homeowners get cranky about people parking in front of their houses, even though the street belongs to all. The son can't park in the driveway so that the mother can get her car out in the morning; it's also unclear why they can't just switch cars, or switch the locations of the cars at night ahead of time. Is a tiny bit of convenience for them worth inconvenience for all bus riders?

It's disappointing that Fairfax planners seem to be prioritizing one homeowner's desire to monopolize public space over the general good. It's not the homeowner's curb, it's the County's, and the homeowner certainly knew about the bus stop when she bought the house.

If 30 feet isn't enough for a bus to pull to a curb, the stop should be wider. If the car is parking illegally, it should get a ticket. And if a homeowner doesn't like buses stopping in front of his or her house, County officials should listen, but ultimately do what's best for the greatest number. Perhaps they think that's what they're doing, but from the emails Ms. San Jose forwarded, there's no evidence of that. I've left a message for Mr. Mounier to find out if he has a better explanation.

Development


Designing for walkability in Fairfax and Loudoun

In a suburban context, developers tend to propose suburban designs for new development. Those designs separate buildings with large amounts of space, fill that space with empty lawns and plazas, and channel traffic to wide boulevards around the periphery of a site. These designs don't lend themselves to walkable environments with lively ground level activity.

If Northern Virginia wants its growing areas, like those along the Silver Line, to become walkable neighborhoods like Arlington, Bethesda and Silver Spring, we need to ensure that new development builds the connected street grid with small blocks common to all of those places, and even more common in older cities like DC and Old Town Alexandria. Unfortunately, many of the developments currently proposed or under construction miss this opportunity.

Last week, DCmud discussed the Towers Crescent development just south of the Tysons Corner Center mall. They have already built several office buildings on the site, and are interested in adding several residential buildings on the west edge. Residential buildings are a good idea, but unfortunately, they've designed them, along with the already-completed buildings, in a very un-urban form.

No streets stretch all the way across the site. There are pedestrian paths from one side to the other, but require people to take a circuitous route around the various and motley buildings, plazas and gardens. Nothing lines up. The mall and Marriott on either side are just as bad, but planners are trying hard to evolve Tysons into more of a walkable place. This design will hinder that evolution.

The plan reflects a "suburban sensibility", a term I first saw used in the context of the Newport development in Jersey City, right across the Hudson from Manhattan. Suburban office park developers design something for a denser, more urban place that looks like a suburban office park, but with all the buildings a little taller and a tad closer together.

Some projects are trying harder. The Connection recently profiled the Dulles World Center, a proposed "town center" style project adjacent to the Dulles Access Road at Route 28, just outside the airport property. The property is very close to the future Route 28 Silver Line station.

The developer is excited about creating a "mixed-use transit-oriented development" including residential, office, and hotels. Of course, some people don't like that idea, including Loudoun Supervisor Andrea McGimsey, who isn't pleased that the project could devote 25% of its space to residential units.

According to the Connection, the project includes "a pedestrian-friendly grid network of streets, a large central park, public plaza and ... LEED certification." The grid is more pedestrian-friendly than most, though the blocks still lean to the large side. Based on this site plan, there appear to be eleven internal intersections, or 89 per square mile. LEED-ND calls for 150 per square mile.

The project still follows the suburban "towers in the park" design, with tall buildings surrounded by a lot of open space. That's far more open space than people could actually use, meaning most of the lawns will function more as voids than parks. On the other hand, by putting the buildings along streets and more of the space in the center, they maximize the opportunities to activate the street with cafes, retail and more.

The more mixed-use TOD we can get around the Silver Line, the more riders it will have and the more we can recoup our investment in this transit line. Still, all development isn't created equal. Entirely suburban designs like Towers Crescent will hinder Tysons' progress toward a walkable place. Dulles World Center, meanwhile, jumps ahead of most of its surroundings, but would look like horrible superblocks in Arlington or DC. We can and should do even better.

Transit


Breakfast links: Getting around the Old Dominion


Photo by afsilva on Flickr.
Next stop Lynchburg: A Virginia board approved funding for two new daily trains, one from Lynchburg to DC via Charlottesville and Culpeper, and the other from Richmond to DC. The service could begin as early as October. (News Advance via Stephen)

Not so HOT: Arlington and NoVa leaders, including WMATA Board representative Chris Zimmerman, aren't so sure about widening I-95 with new HOT lanes. "Slugs", who solo drivers pick up at designated points to fill up their car and use the HOV lanes, worry the lanes could doom the successful practice. The private operator, in efforts to maximize revenue, could even slow traffic below its current HOV speeds. (Examiner, WTOP)

In other HOT news: Activists filed suit against the Beltway HOT lanes and their builder, Fluor-Transurban, the same company that would operate the proposed new lanes. And 32 percent of drivers on I-66 inside the Beltway, where all lanes are HOV, are violating the HOV restrictions. (Examiner, Post)

Lee Highway is next: Arlington planners want to start laying plans for the future of Lee Highway, which Joey looked at in December. The economic slowdown, officials say, should give some breathing room for planners to think about the long term. (Sun Gazette via Joey)

Potomac Yard Metro on track: Alexandria formally established a Potomac Yard Metrorail Station Feasibility Work Group to explore building an infill station in the Potomac Yards area. They'll discuss the station at a public meeting tomorrow, 7 pm at the Sister Cities Conference Room, City Hall Room 1101. Can anyone attend and report back with a guest post?

No more shared parking in Herndon: Herndon requires developers to provide parking but allows them to buy use of some of the public parking. The prices haven't gone up since at least 1996, and now there's no remaining shared parking available to buy. (Connection via Ben T)

Shooting in Anacostia Metro: An argument that began at Gallery Place-Chinatown resulted in the shooting of a teenager at 12:20 am Sunday. Metro officers were already in Anacostia station at the time and arrested a suspect. Metro maintains that shootings on the system remain a "very rare occurrence." (Post via Stephen)

Transit tax deduction increasing: The stimulus bill raised the cap on transit commuting tax deductions from $120 a month to $230 a month. It now matches the level car commuters can deduct for parking. However, argues The Transport Politic, few transit commuters spend more than $120 a month, and argues for lowering the parking deduction instead.

Washington Metropolitan Area Twitter Authority: Last week, DCist discovered new Twitter feeds giving status updates for each of the Metrorail lines. WMATA launched them around the Inauguration but hasn't publicized them, letting them spread by word-of-mouth (and now word-of-blog).

Development


TOD before transit on the Dulles corridor: Herndon's Arrowbrook

Herndon is getting a brand new "town center" development, called Arrowbrook Centre. While work on the actual town center hasn't started yet, a 6-acre wetlands park broke ground earlier this year. The first phase will include 422,000 square feet of office space, 160,000 square feet of specialty retail/restaurant space and 407 luxury apartment homes. Eventually the project, which is near the future Route 28 Silver Line Metro station, will encompass 2 million square of office, residential, and retail space.

Brown is residential, pink is office, blue is hotel, green is parkland, and red (or darker pink) is retail. Red diagonal marks are ground level retail.

Arrowbrook will occupy former farm fields at the intersection of Sunrise Valley Drive and Centreville Road, by an exit ramp off the Dulles Toll Road. But the area is nowhere near rural. In fact, this is the last undeveloped, non-park farm in the area. On a walk from either Metro station, riders will pass a sea of asphalt, from the ample parking surrounding three story office parks to the high-speed, four-lane Sunrise Valley Drive that is one of the area's main conduits.

While Arrowbrook uses a more connected street grid, the side where most Silver Line riders will approach Arrowbrook has poor connectivity today. However, the project has built a road around the backside that can be opened up to future development.

The park will feature an all weather soccer field, small amphitheater, jogging trails, and more. Normally building a new park so close to transit would be a bad idea, but because there is another wetlands park that truly will border on the Herndon Monroe Metro station, hopefully this park will someday serve as the replacement for the original one.

Development


Breakfast links: Development outside the beltway edition


Largo Town Center Metro. Photo by cmh0150 on Flickr.
MD cuts everything but the one project they should: Facing a shortfall in gas tax revenue due to people driving less, Maryland is cutting transportation projects across the board except for the ICC, which is "protected" under its financing agreement. With people trimming their driving, the ICC is exactly what Maryland no longer needs, while the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, which suffered cuts, become even more necessary. (Post)

PG's existing towns already have centers: Imagine, DC critiques Prince George's current pattern of building large, mostly-isolated "town centers" far from transit (as we discussed around Konterra). Metro stations and existing towns along MARC are the right places for development.

Respecting Reston's residents: Community groups in Reston are concerned about development plans the county is preparing to guide future development in Reston. This article in the Connection quotes what sound like some typical anti arguments about density and traffic, but also others who sensibly want to minimize traffic by making the Dulles (RCIG) corridor more mixed-use. (Ben T.)

Herndon admits bicyclists are people too: Outraged cyclists complained when a Herndon councilmember proposed banning bike parking downtown, intended to repel day laborers. In response, Herndon's mayor has created a pedestrian and bicycle committee and promised to improve bicycle conditions. (Via WashCycle)

Some buses only 50% on time: WMATA didn't even have the capability to measure its bus on-time performance until now, and it has discovered what we all already knew: Metrobuses aren't very reliable. Turns out they're only on time about 75% of the time on average, with some routes performing down around 50%. (Post)

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