Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Loudoun


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.


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.


Get parking right and many more events

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.

Photo by elgringospain on Flickr.

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.

The Town of Vienna is having a Green Expo on Thursday, April 18, 6:30-9 pm to show off ways to make your own home and life more sustainable, while Loudoun is having a festival on Sunday, April 28th.

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 might offer open data for all regional transit

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.


Move to moveDC Saturday, and more on the calendar

Are you going to moveDC? This Saturday is the moveDC Idea Exchange, the big kickoff to DDOT's big effort to create a comprehensive transportation plan. Plus, there are 2 forums on the future of transportation in Montgomery County next week.

Photo by Read G on Flickr.

The Idea Exchange includes an open "transportation fair" all day, from 9:30 am to 3 pm at the MLK Library at 9th and G, NW. The booths, open all day, include family-friendly activities as well as more serious transportation discussion.

Mayor Vincent Gray, Councilmember Mary Cheh, and DDOT Director Terry Bellamy will talk at 10:30, and then there will be a panel with Anita Hairston of PolicyLink, author Chris Leinberger, and Slate's Matthew Yglesias at 11.

If you take Metro, be aware of track work on the Red and Orange Lines north/west of Grosvenor and Ballston and north/east of NoMA and Stadium-Armory. DDOT is also setting up more temporary bike racks to handle the extra bike parking demand. Finally, Anacostia Waterfront Initiative officials and consultant CH2M Hill have set up a 25-lane racetrack oval. No, not really that last one.

For Montgomery County residents, there are 2 great opportunities to talk about transportation's future next week (and in the same spot!) The Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting features WMATA planning head Shyam Kannan talking about the Metro "Momentum" strategic plan. That's Tuesday, February 12, 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.

Wednesday, The Coalition for Smarter Growth is holding a forum on the "next generation of transit." How can the county accommodate 200,000 new residents and 100,000 jobs in the next 20 years? It will take investments in Metro, the Purple Line, and bus rapid transit.

Geoff Anderson, head of Smart Growth America, and Councilmember Roger Berliner will speak about the future of Montgomery County, and there will be presentations on transit projects in the pipeline. The forum is Wednesday, February 13, 6-8 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, still One Veterans Plaza. RSVP here.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the Piedmont Environmental Council is holding a public meeting to talk about the McDonnell Administration's push for an Outer Beltway through Loudoun and Prince William. It's Monday, February 11, 6:30-9 pm at John Champe High School, 41535 Sacred Mountain Street, Aldie, VA.

Also, a film about plastic bags is screening Sunday in Hyattsville; John Muller is giving another tour of Frederick Douglass's Anacostia February 23; and the Anacostia Watershed Society is holding a "Green Roof Networking Happy Hour on Tuesday, February 26.


Itís time we stopped living with roads that are killing us

The day before Thanksgiving, Loudoun County elementary school principal Kathleen Hwang died. She was trying to cross a road in her Sterling neighborhood.

Los Angeles. Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr.

How should we react to such a tragedy? Certainly we should mourn the loss of a beloved member of the community. But can we also learn from this experience as part of an effort to stop it from happening again? ...

Where does the blame rest? The sad fact is that weour society as a wholecreated this problem. That's because we relentlessly build communities that aren't safe to walk in.

Read more in my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.



Loudoun principal meets deadly crash and double standard

Last Wednesday afternoon, Loudoun County school principal Kathleen Hwang was killed while walking near her Sterling home. Media and police reporting on this tragic death exemplifies the double standard used to assess blame when automobiles and pedestrians collide.

View from the crash site in the direction of the approaching car. Photos by the author.

Ms. Hwang was hit by a westbound Dodge Durango, which an 18-year-old male was driving. She was crossing White Water Drive between Longsford Way and Levee Way.

As in many such tragic crashes, local police were quick to point out that Ms. Hwang was not in a crosswalk, implying that she was at least partially at fault. Press reports, such as in the Washington Post, and Fox 5 repeated these statements.

Despite the way police and press reports make it sound, it doesn't appear Ms. Hwang was acting carelessly when she crossed where she did. If anything, the place where she crossed looks to be safer than the crosswalk.

Virginia law (§ 46.2-923) instructs pedestrians to cross "when possible" at marked crosswalks and intersections, just as it instructs drivers never to go even 1 mph faster than the speed limit. But it also says that pedestrians are not necessarily negligent when they cross mid-block.

Pedestrians are not allowed to cross mid-block if drivers will not be able to see them §46.2-926). However, that is not true here. Quite the contrary, drivers are better able to see pedestrians here than at the unsignalized intersection to the east, which has a marked crosswalk.

Approximate site of fatal collision. Image from Google Earth.

None of the news media bothered to ask why Ms. Hwang might have chosen not to use the nearby crosswalk. The reason is apparent when one visits the site. Beyond the crosswalk, White Water Drive curves to the left and dips behind a small hill. The midblock crossing would actually be safer, because drivers have a better view.

Driver's view 330 ft away from a pedestrian at the curb. Left: Pedestrian at crash site. Right: Pedestrian at crosswalk. Click on a photo to enlarge.

If, as the police suggest, Ms. Hwang was not able to see the approaching vehicle, what significance does the crosswalk have? The car would have been even harder to see from the crosswalk. There, she would be in greater danger of inadvertently stepping in front of an approaching vehicle.

Police and media disparage victim, ignore possible driver factors

The police say that the driver was not speeding. The stopping distance for a Dodge Durango moving at the 35-mph speed limit, allowing 2 seconds reaction time, is 142 feet. Visibility at the crash site is more than 330 feet, so an attentive driver moving at the speed limit had room to stop. Why did the police not address stopping distance, something far more relevant than the crosswalk location, in their public statement?

The police and the Post article also took the trouble to report that Ms. Hwang was wearing earphones. They did not describe her other attire. This detail has no relevance except as a hintquickly seized on in comment threadsthat she was at fault for not paying attention to the road.

There is no mention of whether the driver had a car radio on, and I don't recall the Post ever mentioning car radios in reporting on a crash. Music, in general, is equally distracting whether one is walking or driving, but a pedestrian, whose carelessness will not harm others, does not have the same obligations as someone in control of a ton of fast-moving steel. And in this case, it's much easier to imagine that an 18-year-old new driver might have been oblivious to his surroundings than a 60-year-old school principal.

Many small changes in the circumstances could have avoided this tragedy. Clearly, had Ms. Hwang not crossed at this time, it wouldn't have happened, and pedestrians always need to recognize that they are vulnerable crossing the street. It is safer not to have music interfering with one's ability to hear. But had the driver been traveling slower or noticed Ms. Hwang earlier, he might also have been able to avoid the crash.

What police and the media should never do is automatically assume that anyone crossing outside a crosswalk or wearing earphones is to blame. Pedestrians deserve the same opportunities as drivers to use the streets without being killed, and even to listen to music while they are doing it.


Then and now: Dulles sprawl

NASA's Earth Observatory site shows how sprawl in the Dulles Airport area has grown through a comparison of 2 satellite images, one from 1984 and one from 2011.

Drag the slider all the way to the left to see the changes around Dulles, the starkest difference between the two.

The NASA page notes:

Tysons Corner was built on farmland in the 1960s. Located 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Washington, Tysons Corner was conceived as an "edge city" on the outskirts of town. Designed for an automobile-rich society intent on shopping, its malls boasted something like 167,000 parking spaces. Now the urban area has grown far past it, and developed areas extend beyond the airport. ...

Around the time that developers built Tysons Corner, officials in Montgomery County also designed a community, but instead of cars and shopping malls, it was based on a concept known as "wedges and corridors." A plan adopted in 1964 aimed to concentrate commercial and residential development along transportation corridors, and leave the wedges between these corridors open with undeveloped land.

A 2002 report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University described Montgomery County's plan as "one of the most sophisticated systems of growth management in the United States." The different approach to growth management can be seen around Rockville, where urbanized areas did not expand so substantially between 1984 and 2011.

Thanks to Geoff Hatchard and Heather Goss for the tip.

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