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Posts about Loudoun

Government


DC population grows more than any other local county

The US Census' newest county-level population estimates show that between 2012 and 2013, the District of Columbia added more residents than any other metro area county.

Loudoun County grew slightly faster by percentage. But even according to that measure, DC is second.

County 2012
population
2013
population
Raw
growth
Percent
growth
District of Columbia 633,427 646,449 13,022 2.1
Loudoun (VA) 337,248 349,679 12,431 3.7
Fairfax (VA) 1,118,683 1,130,924 12,241 1.1
Montgomery (MD) 1,004,476 1,016,677 12,201 1.2
Prince George's (MD) 881,419 890,081 8,662 1.0
Prince William (VA) 430,100 438,580 8,480 2.0
Anne Arundel (MD) 550,175 555,743 5,568 1.0
Baltimore County (MD) 817,682 823,015 5,333 0.7
Howard (MD) 299,356 304,580 5,224 1.7
Arlington (VA) 221,275 224,906 3,631 1.6
Stafford (VA) 134,251 136,788 2,537 1.9
Charles (MD) 150,710 152,864 2,154 1.4
Alexandria (VA) 146,839 148,892 2,053 1.4
Frederick (MD) 239,520 241,409 1,889 0.8
Spotsylvania (VA) 125,772 127,348 1,576 1.3
Fauquier (VA) 66,526 67,207 681 1.0
Baltimore City (MD) 622,417 622,104 -313 -0.1

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


Virginia's unpaved roads bill acknowledges that it's not all about cars

Virginia legislators are considering a bill that would repair preserve nearly 300 miles of unpaved roads in western Loudoun County. While it may not seem relevant to the state's urban areas, it would make the state consider more than cars in assessing the needs of a street.


A gravel road in Loudoun. Photo by mdmarkus66 on Flickr.

HB 416, sponsored by Delegate Randy Minchew (R-Leesburg), requires the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to maintain Loudoun's unpaved road network, many of which date to before the Civil War. The roads are narrow and some feature old stone walls or are steeply banked. But some are still heavily used and have become badly rutted, frustrating residents who otherwise prefer unpaved roads.

If passed, it means VDOT would have to consider more than just the movement of cars when assessing the needs of these roads. Notably, the bill also asks that VDOT maintain the roads as is "whenever practicable," rather than paving, straightening, or widening the road.


Unpaved roads in Loudoun County.

In this case, the bill is aimed at keeping roads that already demand careful driving the way they are. But the unpaved road network also adds to the value of rural communities. People enjoy the aesthetics of the road and don't want to give that up in exchange for pavement and a slightly faster commute.

This supports Loudoun County's policy as well, since officials want most of development to go to the eastern half of the county closer to Dulles Airport, allowing the rest to remain rural. It also helps the county support its growing agritourism industry.

Recreational cyclists appreciate the gravel roads as well. "Gravel Grinders" are cycling enthusiasts who like riding on unpaved roads. Blogger DKEG has a self-made map of many of Loudoun's unpaved roads that any cyclist in the DC area could enjoy.

The proposed new standards are a tacit acknowledgement that people in rural and more car-dependent areas also appreciate calmer streets, and that wider or faster isn't always better. Communities can make drivers more mindful of their surroundings by narrowing or removing lanes, but in this case the roads are already narrow. It's great that Virginia and Loudoun County want to keep it that way.

Government


Virginia General Assembly rolls up its sleeves

Virginia's 2014 General Assembly is officially in session. As usual, there are plenty of proposed bills that could affect urban areas. Here are some of the key ones to follow.


Virginia flag image from Shutterstock.com.

Bills that look promising:

  • SB97, requiring car drivers to leave three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist.
  • HB761, allowing local governments to hire transit fare inspectors and to collect fines from fare violators. This will be necessary for any future streetcars that use a proof of payment fare structure.
  • HB626, changing the formula used to distribute transportation funds around the state, eliminating a provision that took $500 million off the top and allocated it to highways.
  • SB320, sponsored by Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington), allowing jurisdictions in Northern Virginia to implement plastic bag fees.
  • HB212, prohibiting drivers from holding pets while driving.
  • HB482, making failing to wear a seatbelt a primary offense, allowing police to stop and ticket people for that alone.
Bills that look troubling:
  • HB2, limiting transportation funding going to the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads construction districts to only projects that reduce highway congestion. Safety projects, maintenance projects, many transit and bike/ped projects, and just about everything else would be excluded.
  • HB40, HB41, HB425, HB635, and several others that all seek to reduce Northern Virginia's authority to build its own transportation projects, especially transit.
  • HB426, requiring VDOT to widen I-66 in Arlington.
  • HB281, restricting Northern Virginia from partnering with DC or Maryland on transportation projects, unless the costs are born exactly equally.
  • HB160, giving courts authority to reduce charges currently defined as "reckless driving" to merely "speeding."
  • HB792, requiring Northern Virginia communities to rewrite their zoning ordinances to restrict the number of housing units smaller than 500 square feet.
  • HB908, defining Uber as a "contract passenger carrier" rather than a taxicab, effectively removing any ability of localities to regulate it.
Other bills of interest:
  • HB870, providing a tax credit to companies that build their own infrastructure, including new roads.
  • SB505, a huge bill enacting a broad range of incentives for the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.
  • HB560, allowing VDOT to grant Right of Way (ROW) permits to certain types of private companies, instead of only to public utilities.
  • HB691, creating a "Prince William Metrorail Improvement District," to begin the process to extend Metro into Prince William County.
  • SB156, requiring that either toll rates for E-ZPass users and non-E-ZPass users be set the same, or requiring the operator of a toll road to pay the annual fee for all E-ZPass users living within 50 miles of a toll road. This bill comes from Senator John Miller of the Hampton Roads area, where they are debating controversial proposals to let private operators collect tolls in exchange for rebuilding tunnels. But if the law passes it would also include much of Northern Virginia.
  • SB1, from Adam Ebbin again, that would repeal a higher tax on hybrid-electric cars. The tax was originally imposed to make up for such cars contributing less to the gas tax. Ebbin questions whether taxing more efficient vehicles is the best way to solve that issue.
  • HB122, defining three-wheeled mini cars that kind of look like hardcore golf carts with bigger engines as "autocycles" and regulating them in various ways. It's not a coincidence that this bill comes from Edward T. Scott, delegate from the very district that's home to the first autocycle manufacturing plant in the US.
  • HB475, legalizing pedestrians stepping into the roadway to solicit charitable contributions.
  • HB255, requiring red light cameras to have yellow light phases lasting at least three seconds.
It's going to be an exciting year, with numerous bills to root both for and against. There are also a lot of bills about the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and how Virginia will allocate the money from last year's transportation funding deal. We'll talk about those next week.

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.

Roads


Bi-County Parkway sprawl would enrich key boosters

On the surface, the Bi-County Parkway/Outer Beltway controversy is about transportation. But it's not. It's about growth: where should it be in Virginia? The farms of Loudoun, Prince William, and Fauquier? Or along future Silver Line stations, and closer to the core? Some people stand to benefit from more outward growth, but not most residents of our region.


Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

The Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell confirms what many suspected, even though it sounded a bit like a conspiracy theory: People with large land holdings along the Bi-County Parkway route, who stand to benefit personally from building more houses there, are pouring substantial cash into lobbying efforts and campaign donations for the road.

O'Connell pulls back the curtain on the 2030 Group, an organization that appeared in 2010 with the stated goal of encouraging "regional cooperation." Cooperation is great, but 2030's version seems to mean getting all officials to cooperate on a certain, predetermined agenda of speeding up outward growth as well as infill.

The group's founder, Bob Buchanan, started the group largely because he owned 400 acres in Loudoun County but people didn't want to build there. O'Connell writes:

The family trade was home building when Buchanan returned from the Navy as a young man. He became a master of site development, the business of acquiring large tracts of land, securing the necessary zoning and transportation improvements, and readying lots for other developers to turn into subdivisions, office parks or shopping centers. ...

One of his largest deals, made a decade ago, was a 400-acre property at the intersection of Route 50, Route 606 and the Loudoun County Parkway. At that time, Loudoun housing market was seeing double-digit annual price increases. It was one of the most profitable places in the country to build new houses.

Buchanan Partners planned to turn the grassy, partially wooded site into Arcola Center, with 2 million square feet of commercial space, more than 1,000 homes and 800,000 square feet of retail around a main street anchored by a Target and other big chains.

After the housing bust, construction of exurban subdivisions froze, and the prospects for projects like Arcola dimmed. Land values and housing prices in Loudoun collapsed.

Buchanan also tells O'Connell that he's changing with the times, being more concerned about the environment, and building multi-family housing and mixed-use instead of just houses. And Arcola is mixed-use, with townhouses, offices, retail, hotels, and more.

If you're going to build in a greenfield site at the edge of the region, there is better design and worse design. But even the best greenfield town center without transit will generate more car trips compared to the same growth in the core or near Metro.

As the real estate maxim goes, "location, location, location." If the demand to live southwest of Dulles Airport is weak while prices around Metro are rising higher and higher, that tells you something.

For a developer who doesn't already own 400 acres southwest of Dulles, it tells you to try to build more housing at Metro stations and in the core. Buchanan, instead, concluded he should lobby the state to spend a billion or so to entice people to live around his 400 acres.

With development stagnant, Buchanan looked to local public officials for solutions but saw none forthcoming, he said. Frustrated, he enlisted like-minded partners to form the 2030 Group. ... In a three-year period, according to the group's tax forms, the 2030 Group spent more than $520,000 to finance research at George Mason University and the University of Maryland.
2030 hired PR firm Dewey Square Partners to promote its activities and fairly soon after released a list of transportation priorities. Longtime Virginia Outer Beltway advocate Bob Chase and Maryland outer highway advocate Rich Parsons interviewed a group of secret, unnamed "experts" to create a list that ironically matched Chase's and Parsons' existing preferences.
Buchanan said critics who worry about 2030's influence should be more concerned about how the region will handle expected growth, given its political divisions. Not building new roads, he argues, is not going to stop people from wanting to live and work in the Washington area; it will just add to the already acute traffic congestion.
"The development is coming because people are moving here and they want to live here," he said.
People are moving here. And while some want to live in all parts of the region and all housing types, the greatest demand is for new and existing walkable neighborhoods near transit.

If Buchanan really wants the region to invest where people are moving and where they want to live, he wouldn't push for an Outer Beltway segment that goes past his 400 acres; he and 2030 would push for, say, a light rail line from Tysons to Merrifield to Annandale to Alexandria, through many places already near transit, already with many roads, and where there's ample demand for new housing.

People want transit-oriented development. The region needs to build more. There isn't enough now. To have TOD, you need transit. Therefore, to build what people want, we need regional transportation dollars to go into that transit, not the Bi-County Parkway.

Roads


Watch 28 years of Virginia sprawl

Google's global 1984-2012 satellite timelapse shows remarkable growth in Northern Virginia. Take a look.


Image from Google.

The most striking change is vast land development in Loudoun County, but that's not the only visible growth. You can also see expansion of Tysons Corner (lower right), construction of the Dulles Greenway toll road, the airport's new western runway, and at the very end, construction of the Beltway HOT lanes.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?

For years, Loudoun County was one of the nation's fastest growing counties and an instructive example of the downsides of sprawl. Meanwhile, it's a nationally recognized center for horse breeding and for its wineries. How can the county manage ongoing growth without losing its rural areas?


The Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg. Photo by lokeswari on Flickr.

Running north-south from Point of Rocks to Aldie, US 15 bisects the county into developed and rural halves. Loudoun's eastern half is a rapidly developing area that made it the nation's wealthiest county and one of its fastest growing counties.

This area contains Dulles Airport, a large number of technology businesses, and increasing racial and socioeconomic diversity. Soon, Metro's Silver Line will extend to Loudoun County, taking workers to job centers like Reston and Tysons Corner.


New developments line Loudoun County Parkway in 2007. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

In Loudoun's western half, small towns and villages like Purcellville and Waterford dot the landscape among miles of rolling countryside. However, extreme development pressures put this land essential to the agricultural economy at risk.

How can the county continue to grow in a more sustainable manner and reverse existing planning mistakes? This two-part series will look at what Loudoun General Plan recommends for the county's Suburban Policy Area, or SPA, in the east and the Rural Policy Area, or RPA, in the west.

Both halves of Loudoun face unique challenges and risks, but they must play to their strengths. Each half has a specific role to play in the county, but they can complement one another. Despite tension between the two areas, Loudoun's success stems from being able to successfully plan and manage both suburban and rural places.

Where growth is happening


Brambleton, one of many new planned communities in Loudoun County's eastern half. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

The Suburban Policy Area (PDF) is predicted to absorb seventy five percent of all of Loudoun's growth in the near future. By 2020, the SPA will have a population density of about 2200 people per square mile, which is close to Fairfax's current county-wide density of around 2300 people per square mile.

Sprawl has blurred many of the borders between Loudoun neighborhoods. Shopping centers blend together and there's a distinct lack of a center in many of the communities. Recognizing this, the SPA plan recommends creating four distinct "towns" in the county's eastern half: Ashburn, Sterling, Potomac and Dulles.

The towns would be compact and have a mix of uses, allowing them to have distinct centers and a strong sense of community identity. Schools and community centers would go in places where they can be easily reached by foot or bicycle. A greenbelt would wrap around each town, providing physical separation between communities and creating a network of open space and trails. The county could use Transfers of Development Rights, or TDRs, to allow greater density at other sites to preserve the open spaces.

For decades, Loudoun has planned only for cars while ignoring all other transportation modes. It will be relatively easy to add "complete streets" to new developments, but it will take a lot of work to make current roads safer and more attractive for walking and biking, especially ones like Route 7 that are over 100 feet wide and have grade-separated interchanges.

Where is the transit?


Loudoun Station, a TOD being built next to a future Silver Line station. Photo from Comstock.

These are all good ideas, but in order to make them happen, Loudoun will have to find a way to deal with both existing and future traffic congestion. This must include more comprehensive intra-county transit.

The county's general plan devotes a lot of space to widening roads and adding interchanges. However, there's hardly any mention of any sort of public transportation, outside of vague references to future Silver Line stations and the desire to build transit-oriented developments around them.

Right now, Loudoun County Transit runs commuter buses from park and ride lots in the county to downtown DC or Metro stations elsewhere in Northern Virginia. Virginia Regional Transit operates shuttles between neighborhoods and shopping centers, but only every forty-five minutes. Transfers between lines are few and far between.

Now that the county is committed to building the Silver Line, it must create a true transit network that not only connects communities to Metro but to each other. This would relieve congestion on many of Loudoun's roads and head off the desire to continually widen arterial roads. Loudoun needs transit sooner rather than later to handle what's already here and for future infill development.

Make it denser and give Loudoun an identity

Many people would say that what Loudoun needs to do is stop growing. That wouldn't help the county improve its communities or its traffic.

The county is urbanizing rapidly and must be able to pay for the costs of new services that more citizens require. Loudoun already has higher property taxes than Fairfax or Arlington, and the improvements to the transportation network will need to rely on carefully planned growth to maximize the county's investment. In order for Loudoun to hold on to its agricultural heritage, it must ensure that its developed areas are planned with excellence.

In part two, we'll talk about the Rural Policy Area.

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