Posts about Loudoun
For years, leaders in Northern Virginia have been asking Richmond to let Northern Virginia raise its own money to spend on its own transportation priorities. They are finally getting the chance.
When the Virginia General Assembly passed a broad new transportation funding bill earlier this year, it included a section letting Northern Virginia raise and allocate hundreds of millions per year. Those new taxes began rolling in on July 1, with the beginning of Virginia fiscal year 2014.
On Wednesday night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) officially approved its first set of projects. The authority allocated about $210 million, split roughly evenly between transit and roads.
The largest projects include the Silver Line's Innovation Center Metro station, new VRE railcars, and widenings along Route 28.
NVTA also approved a bond validation lawsuit that will preemptively ask Virginia courts to rule on NVTA's legality. That process should take 6-9 months, and NVTA will have to wait until it's over to actually start spending money. Taking the issue to court now means NVTA won't have to spend years fending off other court challenges.
The project list is below. For more details, see the project description sheets on NVTA's website.
|Transit and multimodal projects|
|Innovation Center Metro station||$41||Fairfax Co.|
|VRE Lorton station 2nd platform||$7.9||Fairfax Co.|
|WMATA Orange Line traction power upgrades for 8-car trains||$5||Regional|
|Potomac Yard Metro station environmental study||$2||Alexandria|
|Crystal City multimodal center bus bays||$1.5||Arlington|
|VRE Gainesville extension planning||$1.5||Regional|
|VRE Alexandria station pedestrian tunnel & platform improvements||$1.3||Alexandria|
|Herndon Metro station access improvements (road, bus, bike/ped)||$1.1||Fairfax Co.|
|Leesburg park and ride||$1||Loudoun|
|Loudoun County Transit buses||$0.9||Loudoun|
|Route 7 Tysons-to-Alexandria transit alternatives analysis (phase 2)||$0.8||Regional|
|Falls Church pedestrian access to transit||$0.7||Falls Church|
|Duke Street transit signal priority||$0.7||Alexandria|
|PRTC bus||$0.6||Prince William|
|Alexandria bus shelters & real-time information||$0.5||Alexandria|
|Van Buren pedestrian bridge||$0.3||Falls Church|
|Falls Church bus shelters||$0.2||Falls Church|
|Rt 28 - Linton Hall to Fitzwater Dr||$28||Prince William|
|Rt 28 - Dulles to Rt 50||$20||Fairfax Co.|
|Belmont Ridge Road north of Dulles Greenway||$20||Loudoun|
|Columbia Pike multimodal improvements (roadway, sidewalk, utilities)||$12||Arlington|
|Rt 28 - McLearen to Dulles||$11.1||Fairfax Co.|
|Rt 28 - Loudoun "hot spots"||$6.4||Loudoun|
|Chain Bridge Road widening||$5||Fairfax City|
|Boundary Channel Dr interchange||$4.3||Arlington|
|Rt 1 - Featherstone Rd to Mary's Way||$3||Prince William|
|Edwards Ferry Rd interchange||$1||Loudoun|
|Herndon Parkway intersection with Van Buren St||$0.5||Fairfax Co.|
|Herndon Parkway intersection with Sterling Rd||$0.5||Fairfax Co.|
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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.
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. ...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.
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.
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.
Google's global 1984-2012 satellite timelapse shows remarkable growth in Northern Virginia. Take a look.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Spring is here (or maybe it's just an early summer), and that means there's lots to do both inside and outside! Next week is an exciting Coalition for Smarter Growth forum on parking with guest Jeff Tumlin, and CSG has many great walking tours through June.
You can learn about DC's civil war forts, celebrate Earth Day on April 20 itself or at fairs before or after, go to happy hours and hear speakers on public space.
And if you can't wait to do something, tonight is a public meeting on the Union Station-Georgetown streetcar segment. DDOT will brief the public on its analysis of "premium transit" (i.e. streetcar) through downtown to Georgetown. DDOT director Terry Bellamy has also promised to update people on wireless technologies which can preserve clear viewsheds.
The meeting is tonight, Thursday, April 11 (or last night for those reading the daily email), 6-8 pm at the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square, L'Enfant Map Room.
Learn about forts: BF Cooling and Gary Thompson, founders of an effort to preserve DC's civil war circle of forts, will give a talk about the forts and their history on Monday, April 15, 7-8:45 pm at the Tenley-Friendship Library.
Get parking right: Next Wednesday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) is hosting national parking expert Jeff Tumlin to talk about ways cities are fix parking policy to match supply and demand and build a system that works better for everyone. Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT planning head, will talk about how DC might use Tumlin's ideas.
The forum is April 17 at the Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW. There are refreshments at 6 and then the program from 6:30-8:30. RSVP here before it fills up!
Be green around Earth Day: Saturday, April 20 is Earth Day, and there are a lot of great events to celebrate and learn more about how to help the environment. The Anacostia Watershed Society is having a cleanup and celebration, first helping clean up the river at 20 sites from 9 am to noon, followed by a celebration at Bladensburg Waterfront Park.
Be happy in Arlington: CSG and the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization are cosponsoring a happy hour in Arlington on Monday, April 22 from 6:30-8:30 pm at William Jeffrey's Tavern, 2301 Columbia Pike. Ask questions about what's going on down the Pike or just meet people and have fun!
Improve the public realm: That same day, NCPC is hosting a speaker from London, Helen Marriage, to discuss ways that city is making its public spaces better. A panel afterward will talk about how some of the ideas could come to DC. That's also 6:30-8:30 pm on Monday, April 22 at NCPC, 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500 North.
The RAC is listening: The WMATA Riders' Advisory Council wants to hear from more riders, especially about how upcoming Silver Line service and changes to buses and trains will affect riders. To that end, they're holding listening sessions outside WMATA HQ, starting with one on April 24, 6:30 pm in the Charles Houston Rec Center, 901 Wythe Street in Alexandria near Braddock Road Metro.
Walk and tour: CSG's spring walking tour series kicks off April 27 with a tour of White Flint, followed by 14th Street, Fairfax's Route 1, Wheaton, and Fort Totten in May and June. Space is limited, so RSVP for your favorite tour now!
WMATA planners helped STLTransit create an animation of transit across the entire Washington region. That's possible because WMATA has a single data file with all regional agencies' schedules. They hope to make that file public; that would fuel even more tools that aid the entire region.
Click full screen and HD to see the most detail.
One of the obstacles for people who want to build trip planners, analyze what areas are accessible by transit, design visualizations, or create mobile apps is that our region has a great many transit agencies, each with their own separate data files.
Want to build a tool that integrates Metrobus, Fairfax Connector, and Ride On? You have to chase down a number of separate files from different agencies in a number of different places, and not all agencies offer open data at all.
The effect is that many tool builders, especially those outside the region, don't bother to include all of our regional systems. For example, the fun tool Mapnificent, which shows you everywhere you can reach in a set time from one point by transit, only includes WMATA, DC Circulator, and ART services. That means it just won't know about some places you can reach in Fairfax, Alexandria, Montgomery, or Prince George's.
Sites like this can show data for many cities all across the world without the site's author having to do a bunch of custom work in every city, because many transit agencies release their schedules in an open file format called the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). Software developer Matt Caywood has been maintaining a list of which local agencies offer GTFS files as well as open real-time data.
We've made some progress. Fairfax Connector, for example, recently started offering its own GTFS feed. But while DASH has one, you have to email them for it, and there's none for Prince George's The Bus.
The best way to foster more neat tools and apps would be to have a single GTFS file that includes all systems. As it turns out, there is such a beast. WMATA already has all of the schedules for all regional systems for its own trip planner. It even creates a single GTFS file now.
Michael Eichler wrote on PlanItMetro that they give this file to the regional Transportation Planning Board for its modeling, and offered it to STLTransit, who have been making animations showing all transit in a region across a single day.
This is one of many useful ways people could use the file. How about letting others get it? Eichler writes, "We are working to make this file publicly available."
Based on the STLTransit video, WMATA's file apparently includes 5 agencies that Caywood's list says have no public GTFS files: PG's TheBus, PRTC OmniLink and OmniRide, Fairfax CUE, Frederick TransIT, and Loudoun County Transit. It also covers Laurel Connect-a-Ride, Reston LINK, Howard Transit, the UM Shuttle, and Annapolis Transit, which aren't even on that list and which most software developers might not even think to look for even if they did have available files.
Last I heard, the obstacles to the file being public included WMATA getting permission from the regional transit agencies, and some trepidation by folks inside the agency about whether they should take on the extra work to do this or would get criticized if the file has any errors.
Let's hope they can make this file public as soon as possible. Since it already exists, it should be a no-brainer. If any regional agencies or folks at WMATA don't understand why this is good for transit, a look at this video should bring it into clear focus.
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