Posts about Leesburg
A Loudoun man created a small pedal-powered car with battery backup, according to an article in the Washington Post. Is this "car" a way to adapt bicycling for the masses in a low-density suburban area, or will it run into the same road rage attitudes cyclists have encountered?
The two-seat car, by Leesburg resident and mechanical engineering student Nick Turner, has pedals at both seats to drive the car under most circumstances, while batteries provide some electric assistance going up hills. Its top speed is 23 mph.
Other residents who encounter it seem enamored: they smile, honk (apparently in a positive way), and even line up to get rides.
Reporter Susan Svrluga says Turner "loves cars" but started to feel guilty about his carbon footprint from driving so much. Some people respond to this impulse by starting to bicycle. That's not far from what Turner did: ultimately, his car really is primarily a 2-seat car-shaped bicycle. With battery assistance.
Does being car-shaped and having batteries make it more appealing than a bicycle? In downtown DC, being car-shaped would just make this bicycle hard to park, but in a place like Loudoun, it could bridge the gap between cyclists and drivers. It's great that a number of people in Loudoun and other very spread-out suburbs bicycle everywhere. But it's not easy for the average person there to start riding regularly.
For urban dwellers in dense communities, driving already has substantial hassles, especially parking, and there's a lot to reach from just a short bike ride. As I noted in my Washington Post op-ed, Capital Bikeshare got me biking a lot more. That was easy because I can reach a great many destinations with a one-mile bike ride.
If I lived in Olney or Chantilly, there'd be some, but far fewer. Running everyday errands requires traversing longer distances. Roads are engineered to be even less friendly to biking, and almost every store requires navigating a parking lot where people aren't expecting a cyclist.
Maybe a vehicle that's in between the car and the bike would give someone who drives everywhere an alternative that's not as intimidating. Hills aren't quite so difficult, but the driver gets used to pedaling and improves physical fitness. It's larger and therefore more visible to other drivers.
Being larger, though, it's also harder to pass. If these vehicles became more than the very occasional curiosity, will they change drivers' view of the roadway, or will they just become yet another source of angry conflict?
Newspapers are already replete with angry letters to the editor about cyclists riding on roads like Macarthur Boulevard that force drivers to wait instead of achieving any desired speed. Then there's the occasional column by someone who admits to wanting to actually assault cyclists because they get in the way.
It's easy to imagine the same conflict between drivers of motor vehicles and users of these pedal-powered cars. Drivers get irate if 2 cyclists are riding abreast; this car is always at least as wide as 2 cyclists. It can go faster than a bike, but still far slower than a motor vehicle.
If enough people drive both an SUV and a bike-car, maybe everyone on the road will just develop an appreciation for each other's point of view. First, though, bike-cars would have to go through a period of being a niche product for early adopters. Then we'll see if Loudoun residents continue to find them entertaining and fascinating, or if they turn into a nuisance, a point of conflict, and a punching bag for politicians who can't envision any kind of freedom other than driving a really large, high-horsepower car.
It's a commonly accepted axiom among many of the contributors of this blog that freeway tolls help drivers internalize the cost of their housing and transportation decisions. Could Virginia use tolls as a substitute for a statutory growth boundary?
Tolls are one item in the cost-shifting bucket sometimes available to governments to affect demand, along with "vehicle-miles traveled" fees and gas taxes. In typical fashion, however, these all have a relatively linear impact on driving distances. That is, for every extra
X miles travelled, the driver must pay
$Y more. When a prospective home buyer seeks a new house, then, choosing a cheaper property "just one exit more down" affects his cost calculation only subtly.
Given the small marginal cost difference in driving just one more exit, even in the presence of tolls, some progressive governments have experimented with other options to control growth at a hard-and-fast boundary. Perhaps the most famous example is Portland's Urban Growth Boundary. Other approaches include cutting off urban services (like sewer connections) beyond a certain point or using transferable development rights (TDRs) with large multipliers to drive growth away from agricultural areas. The ability for jurisdictions to implement these approaches, however, varies state by state.
Compared to many states, Virginia localities are more restricted in their ability to control growth past a boundary. For instance, Fairfax County was prohibited (partially on a technicality) by the Supreme Court of Virginia in 1959 from downzoning the western two-thirds of the County to larger two-acre lots in order to lessen growth there and encourage it in a denser form in the areas closer to Falls Church, Arlington, and Alexandria. (See Board of Supervisors v. Carper, 200 Va. 653.) One of the fears suggested by the Court over the years has been that restricting large areas from development would serve to increase prices county- or region-wide, unconstitutionally excluding low-income Virginians from finding homes. In recent decades, similar growth-controlling policies by other counties have been attempted with varying degrees of success, but the localities find themselves in court over the regulations virtually every time.
Moreover, attempts such as Fairfax's struck-down 1959 large-lot ordinance often act as blunt tools. Though a region may be interested in controlling sprawling growth emanating from a megacity at its center, such large-lot development policies might have the effect of making housing expensive and car-dependent for the towns on the periphery that are not currently in the direct orbit of the megacity.
It was with this in mind that I recently found the privately owned Dulles "Greenway" toll highway a fascinating case in growth control. Its toll structure works like this: traveling westbound (away from Washington), users pay a toll solely upon entry; traveling eastbound, users pay a toll solely upon exit. At the Greenway's easternmost terminus (near Dulles Airport at the start of the similarly named but state-owned Dulles Toll Road), the toll is nearly $5, while the first few exits at the western end are free before slowly going up in price as one travels eastbound.
The result is that this road is effectively linearly priced for travelers starting their journey in Leesburg (at the western terminus) but fixed-price for travelers starting their journey near Dulles. This makes using the Greenway an expensive proposition for any driver in this latter group not utilizing the entire length of the facility.
Suddenly, a Tysons commuter who chooses a home off of Old Ox Road or the Loudoun County Parkway doesn't suffer just a subtly more expensive commute than one who opts for a similar house in Herndon, a mere 3 miles away: it results in upwards of $2,000 a year in added commuting expenses. On the other hand, residents of the Leesburg area who commute only within their town's region without driving as far as Dulles don't bear the brunt of the eastern end of the road's more expensive toll.
My research has left me without an answer as to whether the tolling structure was designed with this purpose in mind (and because it's a private road that has more ability to self-set its rates, I doubt it), but if it was, I'm impressed.
As policymakers over the next decades increasingly embrace road tolling, such a system might just be the best way to curb sprawl without needlessly angering communities that can be reasonably independent of a central metropolis.
Although Loudoun County has been operating an express bus service for a number of years to Arlington and Washington from major population centers in the County, there has been no service to what is quite possibly the most popular commuter destination from within the County's borders: Tysons Corner.
Luckily, this changes on June 21st when the Loudoun–Tysons Express service inaugurates.
By car: 60–90 minutes each way and $17/day: Every morning, the four eastbound lanes of the Route 267 Dulles Toll Road are slammed with traffic from the Airport to east of Reston, and most days see at least several sections of stop-and-go traffic. The leftmost of the four lanes is restricted to HOV-2 only, so it witnesses a somewhat more freeflowing throughput.
A peak-trip drive from Leesburg to Tysons on Route 267 usually takes about 60–90 minutes each way and $11.50 in tolls roundtrip ($8 on the Greenway and $3.50 on the Toll Road), not yet mentioning wear-and-tear or the $5/day in gas these trips generally impose.
There is a toll-free (or toll-reduced) alternative in taking Route 7 at least part of the way, but this can add in excess of 30 minutes to the commute.
By the new bus: 40–60 minutes each way and $6/day: The Dulles Toll Road is unique among its peer freeways in that it includes a dedicated roadway in its center limited to the exclusive use of cars and cabs on airport business as well as authorized express buses to any destination. As a result of its travel rules, traffic on this restricted "Access Road" rarely stops flowing freely. The new Tysons Express bus service will use these lanes.
Because of the busway-like facility, the new service will provide a commute from park-and-rides near Leesburg and Ashburn to Tysons for a cost of $6 roundtrip and a bus time of 40–60 minutes, depending on the specific start–end trip.
The buses are going to be luxury coaches, complete with restrooms, reclining chairs, and free Wi-Fi.
Next steps: I have a nagging suspicion that if this is marketed properly at all (perhaps with a sign or two in the median of the Toll Road), these buses are going to be wildly popular and crowded, and that Loudoun and VDOT are going to have to find a way to add more. Similar Tysons Express Service was launched from Woodbridge last fall, and I'll admit don't have any idea how well that service has been running.
However, compared to the Woodbridge line, the Leesburg-and-Ashburn-to-Tysons route is such an obvious trip with such an onerous and expensive current commute that it's hard to suspect it won't rock success. The new express bus not only saves a peak commuter $11/day ($55/week or $2750/year) but also up to an hour a day stuck in traffic (and with free Wi-Fi to boot!)
Given the significant cost and time savings, I think there's got to be more demand for Leesburg/Ashburn-to-Tysons bus service than 385 people a day. Time will tell, but I predict an announcement this fall that Loudoun and/or VDOT will be working to double the number of buses on these routes to handle the demand.
This bus is a no-brainer. Why did it take a planned reconfiguration of Tysons just to get the players together to propose this?
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