Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Tysons Corner

Pedestrians


Pedestrian deaths tripled in Fairfax County. Bad road design didn't help.

Eleven people on foot died in crashes in Fairfax County in 2015. That continues a rising trend since 2012, when the number was just four. What's going on?

NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss talked to some people about what's going on. A leading hypothesis in the story is that more people are walking around. That seems likely, but one element is missing: how poorly Fairfax's roads are designed for walking.

A number of people in the story talk about newcomers. One driver says, "I definitely worry about people who aren't from here," who try to cross when they don't have the light or not at a crosswalk. The subtext sure sounded like, "... people aren't familiar with the way we haven't designed roads for pedestrians in Fairfax County."

Just look at this intersection where Tuss is standing, the corner of Gallows Road and Route 29. It's about 0.6 miles from the Dunn Loring Metro station. And it's huge.


Image from Tuss' report.

That Target is part of the Mosaic District, which was designed to be walkable and transit-oriented. The interior is beautiful, but to get there from Metro requires walking along a not-very-hospitable sidewalk on 6- to 8-lane wide Gallows, and then crossing this monstrosity, 9 lanes on both Gallows and 29.

VDOT widened both roads in 2011 in a project billed to "increase safety, reduce congestion and enhance bicycle and pedestrian access," but which prioritized car throughput over other considerations. (This recent article from Joe Cortright effectively summarizes the mindset that would let VDOT think this would "increase safety.")

At least there are sidewalks, though, and you can legally walk directly along the road. That's not always true elsewhere in the county, like at Tysons Corner. Some sides of many intersections there were never designed for people to cross on foot. Only a lot of people are, now that Metro goes there.


Tysons Corner. Photo by Ken Archer.

Lucy Caldwell of Fairfax Police told Tuss, "We have situations that have occurred near Metro [stations], where people sometimes don't want to take that extra few minutes, and they cross where they shouldn't be crossing." If someone has to walk a few minutes farther to cross a road, most of all near a Metro station, you haven't designed it right.

To its credit, Fairfax officials are trying to gradually fix these spots, but there's a long way to go.

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Transit


Rapid buses or light rail are coming to Leesburg Pike

Imagine faster, more reliable transit zipping along its own lane without cars down Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Alexandria, connecting thousands of people to jobs, schools, shopping and entertainment. Planners in Northern Virginia are taking a serious look at how to make that happen.


Image from Envision Route 7.

Also called Route 7, Leesburg Pike is a major state road that stretches from Winchester to Alexandria in Virginia. Retail stores and job centers are growing more common along the route, particularly where it hits Tysons Corner. That's brought more congestion, which makes the stretch of Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Alexandria an ideal place for new transit.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which plans and funds transit in the area, has launched Envision Route 7, a study that will look at potential new transit options.

Northern Virginia is expected to see a lot of population and job growth between now and 2040. Route 7, with its old commercial centers, is a place that can handle the growth. Places all along the route like Tysons, Falls Church, Seven Corners, Bailey's Crossroads and the West End of Alexandria are trying to attract more companies and jobs and also make commuting easier. At the same time, they are taking significant steps to improve walking, biking and become more transit-friendly. This new proposed transit service plays a vital role to accomplish these goals.

There are a few options for transit along Route 7

NVTC has proposed three new transit service options. They are:

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which is a faster bus with rail-like features like big stations. It operates on the street, either in the center median or along the curb, and sometimes in its own lane with no cars.

  • Light Rail Transit (LRT), which, like BRT, can operate on the street, either in the center median or along the curb. Most often, LRT has its own lane with no cars. One issue with LRT is that it needs a power source, usually from an overhead electric wire. Also, LRT can carry more people than BRT, but it's correspondingly more expensive.

  • Better bus service, which planners frequently refer to as "Enhanced Bus." That would simply mean additional buses that would replace Metro's 28A and 28x currently serving Route 7

Whatever option ultimately goes in will be a more modern, frequent, and faster way of traveling along Route 7 than what's currently there. Overall, the goal is for it to take a lot less time to get from Tysons Corner to Alexandria along Route 7 than it does now.

For example, the study is looking at the new transit service having daily and weekend service every 10-minutes at peak hours and every 15-minutes during the off-peak, and operating 18 to 22 hours per day. To increase transit's efficiency, there would be kiosks to pay for trips in advance and allow boarding from all-doors, not just the front one.

The actual route new transit takes is TBD

The route the new service will travel is not completely decided yet. In fact, new bus or rail may not travel exclusively along Route 7. There are three different options for the new transit's specific route, each depending on which service (specifically BRT or LRT).

This interactive map shows different potential paths. One of the following routes will be selected:

  • Tysons to the Van Dorn Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metro station. This would work for either BRT or LRT. This route would go from Tysons Corner down Route 7, turn in the City of Falls Church on Lee Highway toward the East Falls Church Metro station, and then continue on to Van Dorn Street station.

  • Tysons to King Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metro station (BRT only); The route would essentially be the same as above, except continue on Route 7 directly to the King Street Metro station.

  • Tysons to Van Dorn Street Metro station (BRT only), staying on Route 7 until Beauregard Street before heading to the Van Dorn Metro station. This route would bypass the East Falls Church Metro Station.

One of the routes could take the transit directly through the City of Falls Church along Route 7 (it's called Broad Street there) in the direction of Seven Corners. This is a residential street. Because Broad Street has only two lanes in each direction, it would be difficult to have transit in a car-free lane. Another uncertainty would be whether this community would ask for additional stops along this segment. Currently, no stops are proposed for this segment.

On the other side of Route 7, between Janneys Lane and King Street Metro Station, the road narrows again with only one lane in each direction, again making it difficult for transit to be in a car-free lane. Similarly, the community could ask for additional stops, which would slow down the travel time of transit.

For these reasons, it would not be surprising if the new transit service route traveled down Route 7, headed toward the East Falls Church Metro Station, returned to Route 7 in Seven Corners and then turn down Beauregard Street toward the Van Dorn Metro Station

What about transit stops and stations?

The number and location of stops also depend on which new service (again BRT or LRT) and route are chosen. The possibilities are:

  • 15 transit stops if BRT or LRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and Van Dorn Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metrorail station. Possible stops include Spring Hill Metro, Gallows Rd, Route 50, Beauregard Street, Mark Center, Duke Street, etc.

  • 13 transit stops if BRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and King Street Metro via East Falls Church Metrorail station. Possible stops include Spring Hill Metro, Gallows Rd, Route 50, Park Center and Quaker Lane

  • 14 transit stops if BRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and Van Dorn Street Metro station (but bypasses the East Falls Church Metro). The stops would be the same as the first one but without East Falls Church.

What's happening now?

The NVTC is making all this information and more available to the public. At this point, no decisions over the type of transit or the route or the stops are final. Everything is still under discussion. In fact, NVTC is holding forums this month to discuss everything about the project, including the transit service and the route. The last forum is on November 18.

But they will also have key ridership information and a better idea of the cost of the new transit service. That is a good thing. Not only should the transit service be good, reliable and robust, who will ride it and how much it costs are important factors in its success.


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Development


Businesses no longer want office parks, and that can mean more revenue for cities

Businesses are making moves toward neighborhoods that are accessible by transit and easy to walk around in. For cities, it's a smart financial move to view the change in preference as one that's here to stay.


Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

A recent story in the Washington Post covered a move by Merrill Lynch from a Montgomery County office park you can only get to by driving to the Metro-accessible Pike & Rose development on Rockville Pike. Though commercial lease terms are typically confidential, experts say Merrill Lynch chose to pay 40% higher rent for the new location, which is a five- to ten-minute walk to the White Flint Metro station.

This isn't an aberration. Just a few miles south of Merrill Lynch's office, Marriott is considering move its headquarters from a conventional office park in Bethesda to somewhere else in the region. The CEO told the Washington Post, "I think it's essential we be accessible to Metro and that limits the options."

This preference isn't just limited to two companies. A report in late 2013 found that 83% of the new office space under construction in the region is within a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk) of a Metro station. That is no coincidence.


Headquarters of Marriott International in a Bethesda office park. Image from Google Maps.

Local tax bases will shift

These trends are telling, and local leaders concerned about future budgets should take notice. Buildings like the one Merrill Lynch is moving into command higher rents and are more valuable to investors. And because cities and counties raise much of their revenue from real estate taxes levied ad valorem, meaning the tax is a percentage of the assessed value of the property, they mean more tax money.

Also, local governments often prefer office development to housing development since offices tend to pay more in local taxes than they use in services.

In Loudoun, for instance, the county claims that each new home costs the county $1.62 in added county services—schools, roads, sewers, etc.—for every extra dollar collected in taxes. Homebuilders say the cost is more like $1.20, but either way, each new house is a net cost to the county under its current tax structure. Communities with a healthy mix of commercial and residential development can provide excellent public services at manageable tax rates.

The moves of Merrill Lynch and Marriott as well as the Metro-proximity of new office space show the direction the office market is moving. If state and local governments want to attract and retain the offices of large Fortune 500 companies like Marriott and Merrill Lynch (a subsidiary of Bank of America), they need to plan for and support the types of mixed-use, walkable, transit-rich development companies seek and are willing to pay a premium for.

The future is already here

Fortunately, much of the infrastructure is already in place. The Washington region still has plenty of Metro stations that have not met their full development potential. Furthermore, the new development Metro spurs doesn't necessarily burden the existing infrastructure. In fact we found that car traffic in Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor declined while development boomed.

It's too early to tell whether leaders are fully aware of what it's going to take to attract commercial development. In good news, the Silver Line's expansion into Virginia has already sparked office construction in Tyson's Corner and the Wiehle-Reston East station, allowing the commonwealth and Fairfax County to expand and capture more economic activity.

Likewise, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan chose to continue the Purple Line, an investment that will improve mobility and will create more places in Maryland that attract taxpaying office tenants. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett successfully pressured the state to reconfigure Old Georgetown Road near White Flint as a narrower complete street, not the wide auto-sewer the state had suggested.

But the region has made its share of mistakes, too. The cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar with no credible plan for any transit improvements ensures that new economic development will largely bypass that section of Arlington.

Creating neighborhoods that give residents and workers practical options to walk, bike, ride transit, or drive will improve the quality of life and also helps the jurisdiction's bottom line. Leaders who want to continue providing high-quality public services to residents without raising tax rates need to attract commercial tenants who are willing to pay higher rents and thus generate more tax revenue.

Leaders have a choice with limited funds: they can use public money to build new arterial roads and fail to spur economic growth or they can invest in the harder, but rewarding, transformation of places like Tysons and White Flint into the nodes that spur the economic development patterns of the future.

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Roads


New road designs make Tysons more inviting for people on bike and foot

A street in Tysons just underwent some big changes, swapping driving lanes for bike lanes. The new design will make it easier to get around the area by bike and on foot.


Greensboro Drive's lane designs, before and after. Image from Fairfax County.

The stretch of Greensboro Drive from Spring Hill Road to Pinnacle Drive went on a road diet that cut its four lanes down to two. A center turn lane also went in, along with bike lanes in both directions.

The changes are the first of Fairfax's Proposed Street Design Update, which VDOT rolled out last March. Similar changes are coming to Tyco Road and Westbranch Drive.


The new Greensboro Drive. Photo by the author.

Greensboro road feeds an employment hub that's home to companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Cvent, and SAIC.

The new turn lane should lessen traffic backups since cars used to get stuck behind people waiting to turn left off of Greensboro. And the bike lanes should also make it easier to reach the new Silver Line Metro stations. Already, I've seen an increase of people walking to and from both the Greensboro and Spring Hill stations.


Greensboro Drive prior to the changes. Base image from Google Maps.

For the time being, Greensboro Drive between Pinnacle and International Drive, closer to the Tysons Galleria mall, is still four lanes wide. But it's good to see the beginnings of a thoughtful, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly design emerging in Fairfax County's redevelopment of Tysons.


One of Greensboro Drive's new bike lanes. Photo by the author.

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Roads


Fairfax is getting 22 new bike lanes in 2015

When Fairfax County repaves roads this summer as part of routine maintenance, it's going to add bike lanes and other features to some of them.

Here's the complete list of Fairfax streets that will get new bike facilities in 2015:


Image from VDOT.

Among all the roads due for repaving this summer, 22 will get bike lanes or sharrows. Some of the additions are coming as part of road diets.

Adding bike infrastructure to roads that are going to get a new coat of paint either way is a very cheap way to make Fairfax more bike-friendly. Of course, if this were the only way the county added new bike lanes, it'd take quite a while for them to show up on recently repaved roads.

The projects are spread throughout the county, but Tysons is getting some special attention as the county takes another step in its planned transformation of the area.

VDOT's website says residents will begin seeing the new paint—and lanes—in June.

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Transit


Transit to Wolf Trap will still run through West Falls Church

Despite speculation that the Silver Line might change how the Fairfax Connector runs to Wolf Trap, the service's Route 480 Wolf Trap Express will continue to run from West Falls Church this season. While some Silver Line stations are closer, it turns out West Falls Church still makes sense.


Photo from FCDOT.

According to Nicholas Perfili, the Fairfax Connector section chief, Wolf Trap and Fairfax County DOT officials did discuss the possibility of changing the service to run from a station on the Silver Line. Ultimately, they decided against it.

West Falls Church still has a lot to offer

The main reason for keeping the current routing is to make sure concert goers can stay at Wolf Trap for as long as possible. While the last train to DC leaves Spring Hill at 11:18 pm during the week, the last train from West Falls leaves at 11:32. Concerts can run late into the evening, and those extra few minutes can be the difference between having to leave before a show ends and catching the encore.

Perfili also pointed out that the route from West Falls Church to Wolf Trap offers a more reliable trip time because it has HOV-2 restrictions on the Dulles Connector Road and a bus-on-shoulder lane that lets buses bypass other traffic. Also, a bus from Spring Hill would be subject to Tysons congestion, which can be quite bad.


Photo from FCDOT.

While there's ample parking at West Falls Church, there isn't at any of the Tysons stations. A final thing West Falls Church has that the others don't: room for buses to park and wait if need be.

The Wolf Trap Express will undergo one change this year: it will now use West Falls Church's Bus Bay E, which is closer than Bay B, which it used to use. The move comes thanks to the Silver Line, which made it possible to cut the number of buses needing to run through West Falls Church.

That means that, albeit indirectly, the Silver Line is making trips to Wolf Trap shorter... if only by a few feet.

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Roads


Tysons will get its first bike lanes this summer

Some of Tysons' main streets are getting a makeover this summer, and that's going to make them more bike-friendly.


Map of the changes coming to Tysons, including how the bike network will connect with the Spring Hill, Greensboro, Tysons, and McLean Metro stations. Image from Fairfax County.

Along with getting new pavement, stretches of Tyco Road, Westbranch Drive, and Greensboro Drive are going on road diets. That means they'll get new paint jobs that take them from being four through lanes wide to having two through lanes, a center turn lane, and bike lanes on each side.


Before and after cross sections for roads in Tysons. Image from Fairfax County.

A road diet was successful on Lawyers Road in Reston, where Virginia Department of Transportation data say car crashes are down a whopping 70%. After five years, nearby residents, people driving cars, and people on bikes are happy with the arrangement.


Lawyers Road before and after its diet. Image from VDOT.

More than in Reston, Tysons needs to plan for people on foot. VDOT gets that, so the agency is lowering speed limits to 35 mph, which fits with Tysons' urban design standards.

Depending on their widths, some roads in Tysons will get sharrows while others will get climbing lanes. On Westbranch Drive, there will be a buffered bike lane like those in Arlington.

VDOT's Randy Dittberner said his agency may consider painting the bikeway bright green so it's more visible, but it won't happen at the start.

Dittberner also said that the new pavement markings are only going in places "where we are 100% sure it won't do anything to traffic conditions."

Fairfax County is taking comments until April 1st, and VDOT will begin its final planning stage after that.

Correction: The original version of this post said Westbranch Drive will have a protected bikeway rather than a buffered bike lane.

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Transit


These maps show when and where riders use the Silver Line

Ridership is strong at the Silver Line's Wiehle-Reston East and Tysons Corner stations, and over time there should be more riders at the other three stops. You can see this and other facts about Silver Line ridership
from a new data visualization on PlanItMetro.


Silver Line ridership visualization by WMATA.

PlanItMetro's interactive maps and graphs show when and where Silver Line riders are going to and coming from, and allow users to look at riders' entry and destination stations along with the day of the week and the time, in quarter-hour increments.

Last year, Metro posted graphs showing one week of September ridership, but this dataset represent ridership from all of October 2014, including weekdays, weekends, and holidays.

Wiehle-Reston East and Tysons Corner see far more riders than the other three, but the others could catch up as land around the stations develops.

Wiehle-Reston East gets the most passengers overall

Wiehle-Reston East currently handles the lion's share of passengers at new Silver Line stations, partly because it's a hub for transit riders whose bus routes take them there or who use the station's large park-and-ride garage. Wiehle-Reston East's ridership base is a lot like other stations at the end of Metro lines: the overwhelming majority of its riders are inbound commuters who enter on weekday mornings and exit on weekday evenings.

Interestingly, Wiehle is also the largest single commuting destination on the Silver Line. On the average weekday during the morning peak, about 1,000 passengers exit at Wiehle, compared to about 5,000 entries. Even though Tysons Corner is a jobs hub, only about 900 people exit at that station during the same period. At the four stations in the Tysons area, there are about 2,100 combined exits during this period.

The Wiehle number is impressive because more people exit at Wiehle Avenue during the morning peak than exit from any other terminal station. Wiehle's 1,046 average exits trumps the next-best terminal, Shady Grove (with 977 average exits).

Also interestingly, Wiehle's ratio of entries to exits is the smallest of all the terminal stations (meaning it's the most tilted toward exits). At Wiehle Avenue, for every exit, there are 4.9 entries. That compares to 6.1 entries for every exit at New Carrollton, 7.3 at Greenbelt, and 7.5 at Largo.

Some of this ridership is likely due to people connecting to buses bound for Reston, Herndon, and Dulles Airport. But there are some office buildings around the station as well.

Ridership at Wiehle will likely change once Phase Two is complete: many passengers who currently arrive on buses, or take them to destinations like Reston Town Center or Dulles, will instead start boarding the Silver Line farther down the line.

Tysons corners the market on work, evening trips

Tysons Corner's ridership pattern exhibits some unusual features.

Weekday rush-hour exits at Tysons Corner outnumber boardings at the station by three to one, which shows that like stations in downtown DC, Tysons Corner is near where a lot of people work. But unlike downtown DC, PlanItMetro has pointed out that a lot of people travel to Tysons Corner during off-peak and on holidays, probably to use surrounding shopping centers. In the evenings (after 7:00 pm), Tysons Corner is the busiest Silver Line station.

In terms of the ratio of entries to exits, Tysons Corner is a lot like a station on the edge of downtown. At Tysons Corner, there are 1.8 exits for every entry. Next door at Greensboro, the ratio is 1.7 exits for every entry. That compares to Dupont Circle, with a ratio of 1.9 and Rosslyn with a ratio of 1.5.

Tysons Corner and Greensboro are the only stations outside of the Beltway where exits outnumber entries during the morning peak period.

McLean, Greensboro, and Spring Hill, the Silver Line's three other three Tysons stations, see fewer riders than Wiehle or Tysons Corner. That could be because these three have not yet been enveloped by transit-oriented development. McLean, for example, draws a lot of local residents, many of whom ride a bicycle or walk to the station.

Even though Silver Line passengers go all across the region, most of them aren't transferring to other lines, or going to destinations in the eastern half of the metro area. Over 60% of passengers boarding at Silver Line stations on weekdays travel to stations served by the Silver Line between Wiehle and L'Enfant Plaza.

What else do you find interesting from the data visualization?

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