Posts about Loudoun
Loudoun County might decide to drop out of the Silver Line project. If they do, Loudoun will lose out the most, but Fairfax residents will also be hurt if Loudoun neighbors can just drive to Fairfax stations and park. Virginia shouldn't let Loudoun get something for nothing.
Some Loudoun County board members are suddenly very concerned with fiscal austerity after regional leaders have worked for 4 decades to get the line.
If Loudoun drops out of the system, the Silver Line will end at Dulles Airport, and the westernmost stations, Route 606 and Route 772, will be cut. Loudoun residents will miss out on accessibility to Metro and the associated economic development.
Tysons Engineer believes that Loudoun residents feel that they can essentially get something for nothing. If Loudoun withdraws, they won't have to contribute tax dollars, but they'll still be able to use the system by driving to Fairfax. It's not that simple.
What does losing Loudoun do to costs?
Tysons Engineer estimates that the cost to build the Silver Line's second phase could be cut by almost a billion dollars by eliminating the stations beyond Dulles. Since Loudoun was only contributing $270 million to the construction, the rest of the region will save money on building the line.
However, the other regional jurisdictions were also counting on $10 million annually from Loudoun to support operations of the system. Without that money, Fairfax might need to contribute more than it had been planning.
What about parking at Innovation Station?
The Dulles station, which will be at the end of the line without Loudoun, won't have any commuter parking. For commuters, the Innovation (Route 28) Station would serve as the end-of-line park and ride if Loudoun drops out.
The current proposal calls for installing 2,000 parking spaces at Innovation. But that number was chosen in light of another 6,050 spaces planned for the Route 606 and Route 772 stations. Because riders driving to the Silver Line from Loudoun County would have the option to park further west under the current plan, the spaces at Innovation were meant to serve drivers from a much smaller area.
There will certainly be pressure to increase the number of spaces at Route 28 due to the loss of the Loudoun spaces. And given Innovation's status as the system's most northwesterly park and ride, that's probably a sensible notion. With only 2,000 spaces, Innovation would have the least parking spaces of any end-of-line (the role it would be filling in this case) station in the system.
It's important to build transit-oriented development at as many of the region's Metro stations as possible. Innovation Station is no exception. But end-of-line stations also need to serve the large auto-dependent areas beyond the reach of Metro.
Don't let Loudoun get something for nothing
Regardless of whether Innovation gets 2,000 spaces or lots more, many of those spaces will end up going to drivers from Loudoun. Fairfax taxpayers shouldn't be too happy about giving Loudounites a free ride.
It's not just Innovation. If there aren't enough spaces there, Loudoun drivers will just stay on the Toll Road until stations farther down the line, where they'll still take spaces from Fairfax residents.
The best solution is probably to create a higher base rate for parking at the Silver Line stations west of Tysons Corner. Fairfax could then create a pass program for their residents, whereby they would get a discount at those stations.
Charging drivers much more to park there will help offset the impact of Loudoun drivers parking in Fairfax. Making this part of the plan in the event that Loudoun drops out, might persuade the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to stick with the system.
Innovation could better serve bus riders
If Loudoun does drop out, MWAA and WMATA should consider changes to the design of Innovation Station. The agencies building the Silver Line should further think about the station's role for transit.
The West Falls Church station serves as a major transfer point for bus riders from the Dulles corridor. Buses coming down the Airport Access Road from Tysons Corner and Reston can take exclusive ramps right into a bus loop at the Metro.
If the Silver Line doesn't go to Loudoun, there will likely be more demand for bus service from Loudoun to the Silver Line. Building ramps from the Dulles Greenway and a larger bus loop would make transit a more attractive option. Frequent and fast bus service could encourage Loudounites to take the bus to Metro instead of driving into Fairfax to park.
Loudoun would be best served by being a regional partner in the expansion of transit to and beyond Dulles. If their Board of Supervisors does decide to back out of the project, we can hope that they will work with Fairfax, WMATA, and MWAA to make sure that the truncated Silver Line will accommodate their needs. But they shouldn't labor under the false assumption that they'll be getting something for nothing.
Detailed map data offers tremendous potential to expand our understanding of the world in which we live. Unfortunately, most localities in the immediate area charge for this data, which should be publicly available to everyone.
DC's GIS data availability in particular has been described as "a treasure trove of interesting information." There are numerous data layers available to the public for free at the city's GIS Data Catalog.
But DC is the only jurisdiction in the region that offers so much data for free. The City of Alexandria and every county in the immediate DC area charge for the same type of GIS data. Some charge exorbitant rates.
I contacted each jurisdiction's GIS office in order to determine the price charged for three common map layers: building footprints, zoning, and elevation contours. The prices are shown in this chart:
Alexandria and Loudoun charge a nominal price for CDs containing their full data set, which offers all of the GIS data they make available to the public. Arlington is similar but more expensive, as they separate their contour data from the rest and charge more for the contours. Prince William splits their land area up into several small geographic squares called "tiles," and then charges by tile instead of countywide. Fairfax provides countywide data, but charges a higher rate.
Even Fairfax is affordable compared to jurisdictions in Maryland, though. By comparison, both Montgomery and Prince George's charge excessive rates. They both charge "by tile," like Prince William, but with several hundred tiles within each county, the cost of full coverage skyrockets significantly.
There are some exceptions. Both Fairfax and Montgomery offer downloads of limited data for free. In Montgomery's case the free data comes as Google Earth "kml" files. However, the bulk of their GIS data, including the three layers mentioned above, comes at a price.
A number of free or low-cost GIS programs are available for the general public. As GIS becomes a more mainstream way to gather information, good data availability will become even more paramount. Making it available to the public at a nominal cost or free of charge is a good opportunity for jurisdictions to be more open with their residents, and to foster understanding and innovation.
It costs each jurisdiction virtually nothing to give the data to additional users. Some localities have argued in the past that they need to charge to recoup the cost of generating the data. However, that ignores the massive public good that comes from making it possible for people to create maps on their own, even if those maps will just get posted online somewhere and never earn anyone a dime.
Some area jurisdictions, DC in particular, have recognized this. It would behoove the other jurisdictions to follow suit.
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.
Zombies are notoriously hard to get rid of. They keep coming back. The same is true of a 1950s concept for an outer beltway that has been revived by Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
In response, the Coalition for Smarter Growth has launched a petition campaign arguing that the outer beltway would waste scarce taxpayer resources, intrude upon Manassas National Battlefield, and induce more traffic congestion than it solves.
If we don't act now to call for different solutions, Secretary Connaughton will force the outer beltway through with minimal public involvement or analysis of alternatives, as he did recently for another questionable highway near Charlottesville.
A little history: The zombie outer beltway has had many names and a colorful past. In the late 1980s it was the Washington Bypass, a controversial and costly proposal for a complete outer loop highway through Maryland and Virginia. That proposal was eventually dropped.
In the late 1990s two individual segments of the original loop plan were pursued, the InterCounty Connector (ICC) in Maryland, and the Western Transportation Corridor (WTC) in Virginia. The proposed WTC would have run between I-95 in Stafford and Route 7 in Leesburg.
In 2001 highway proponents pushed for a new northern Potomac River bridge between Virginia and Montgomery County that would be part of a proposed road called the Techway. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) halted that effort after concluding the new bridge would harm communities on both sides of the river.
In 2002 voters in Northern Virginia rejected a proposal for a dedicated transportation sales tax in a public referendum, in part because the tax would have funded multiple segments of the outer beltway.
Finally, in 2005 and again in 2011, VDOT has proposed what they call the Tri-County Parkway, a new highway to run between I-66 in Prince William and Route 50 in Loudoun. Their preferred alignment for the Tri-County Parkway runs along the western boundary of Manassas National Battlefield. It is the same alignment studied in 1997 as the Western Transportation Corridor.
It is this highway that Secretary Connaughton has made a top priority, by designating it as a new Corridor of Statewide Significance. It is this highway that the Coalition for Smarter Growth opposes today.
Instead of building yet another wasteful highway that induces more traffic and more sprawl, VDOT should focus our tax dollars on more important transportation needs. They should also avoid harming the historic Manassas Battlefield, which would be impacted by the Tri-County Parkway.
The Coalition has performed an exhaustive study of the parkway / outer beltway, and found that the major traffic problems in its vicinity are on radial east-west commuter routes, not on north-south roads. The parkway won't relieve any congestion because it doesn't serve travel paths that are congested.
This table, based on information from VDOT traffic counts, compares traffic volumes on roads in the vicinity of the Tri-County Parkway. It clearly demonstrates that radial corridors have dramatically higher volumes than any north-south routes.
Only Route 28, which connects to the strong job centers on the east side of Dulles Airport, carries significant north-south traffic. Among north-south roads west of the airport and in the vicinity of the proposed Tri-County Parkway, Route 659 carries just 9,100 vehicles per day (VPD) from Prince William to Loudoun, and Route 15 carries just 15,000. In contrast, I-66 carries up to 63,000 VPD in Prince William, and Route 50 carries up to 40,000 VPD between Loudoun and Route 28.
In 2005 the Coalition for Smarter Growth commissioned a national traffic modeling expert, Norm Marshall of Smart Mobility, Inc., to analyze VDOT's Tri-County Parkway study. He demonstrated significant flaws in that study, finding that the new highway would induce new development and traffic, but not reduce congestion. Marshall recommended a more efficient set of solutions focusing on land use, conservation, transit, and demand management.
A more recent review of the Loudoun County Transportation plan by Lucy Gibson of Smart Mobility found that transportation engineers were overestimating north-south traffic compared to east-west traffic volumes.
Overall it is clear that the push for the new outer beltway is driven at least in part by those seeking to spark more development in western Prince William and Loudoun Counties, rather than focusing our scarce transportation funds on existing congestion problems. The Tri-County Parkway is an unnecessary and costly diversion from more rational transportation planning. We urge you to sign the petition against it.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name
- WMATA launches "Short Trip" rail pass on SmarTrip