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Posts about Tysons Corner


Vienna-Tysons bus route meets neighborhood opposition

In anticipation of the Silver Line, Fairfax Connector is reorganizing its bus routes in and around Tysons Corner to get people to each of the 4 new stations. But of all the proposed changes, the most controversial has been a new bus route to Vienna.

Option 1, one of 4 alternatives for Route 432. All images from Fairfax Connector and edited by the author.

The proposed Route 432 would connect northern Vienna with the Spring Hill Metro Station and Tysons in a loop, filling a critical gap in the county's transit network. Many residents support better bus service in this area due to the highly congested nature of Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road/Maple Avenue), the main roads into Tysons.

But residents living on Old Courthouse Road and Creek Crossing Road have overtaken the discussion about one of the 4 proposed route options that would use those two streets. They say the buses will endanger pedestrians and parked vehicles.

A small group of 3 residents practically took over a public meeting last February where 100 people came to hear about the proposals. The residents interrupted the 2-hour question-and-answer section with comments that school buses had struck parked cars. They fear that more buses would turn their quiet neighborhood into a loud urban freeway.

Unfortunately, the opposition was so effective that the Board of Supervisors decided to table discussion on Route 432, even after approving Fairfax Connector's other proposed routes. They revisited the plan options during a board meeting this week and will make a final decision on whether it will move forward.

Option 2.

Option 3.

Option 4.

The Board of Supervisors could simply choose one of the other 4 options where there's less opposition, but they are all weaker solutions. They avoid residential neighborhoods that don't already have transit service and force more buses into congested roads, making them less viable as an option for commuters.

The great thing about the original design of the 432 was that it would have slight variations in the route depending on the AM and PM rush hours to avoid being stuck in traffic. In the morning it used Leesburg Pike westbound, in the afternoon Leesburg Pike eastbound, by changing the clockwise or counterclockwise travel path.

Due to opposition from a vocal minority, the other 3 options propose running the bus instead along Maple Avenue, Vienna's main street and its most congested. In other words, that bus is gonna get stuck in a lot of traffic depending on the time of the day and it will be located far away from the residents who need it most.

This will make the bus more inconsistent, unreliable, and ineffective in transporting people, especially in an area where a lack of accommodations means walking or biking aren't an option either.

Option 1 remains the most viable solution. It avoids the heavily congested Maple Avenue corridor during rush hours, it uses dedicated bus lanes on the toll road, and most importantly it is accessible to residents by being routed on Old Courthouse Road and Beulah. The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has targeted this corridor for sidewalk improvements, which should dispel concerns about pedestrian safety.

What opponents haven't said is that neighborhood safety is compromised far more by the increasing number of commuters using Old Courthouse Road as a cut through to avoid traffic. When the Silver Line opens, these conditions will only get worse without viable alternatives to reach the stations.

Hopefully, the Board of Supervisors will recognize that kowtowing to the opposition will make Route 432 a worse service by putting buses where they don't belong, and join many of the Vienna residents who want to see Option 1 approved.

A version of this post appeared on The Tysons Corner.


DC repurposes lanes, Virginia adds them

DC, Maryland, and Virginia have proposed their latest series of changes to a regional transportation plan. It's amusing to look at the list: DC's new projects are all about reconfiguring roadways to be less like highways, while Virginia's are all about adding or widening highways.

Image from the Transportation Planning Board.

This is part of an annual process where the states and DC update lists of what projects they want to do in coming years. The regional Transportation Planning Board has to ensure that the lists, which form the Constrained Long-Range Plan, fit with expected local and federal revenue, and juggles assumptions until staff can at least claim that all the new roads won't make our air quality too bad.

DC is adding 6 new projects, to construct bus lanes on I Street, make New Jersey Avenue 2-way, add a bike trail, and reduce the number of general travel lanes on 4 streets. Those projects will cost about $20.5 million altogether.

The DC changes also include the median on Pennsylvania Avenue east of the river and 2 cycle tracks which have already happened but weren't in the TPB's plan yet.

Meanwhile, Virginia wants to widen 5 highways, build new ones through Manassas Battlefield and around Dulles Airport, and add highway ramps around Tysons Corner, for a total cost of $750 million to $1.4 billion depending on what they choose for Dulles. All of that money is for car capacity; there are no transit, pedestrian, or bicycle projects being added to Virginia's list this year.

Maryland isn't changing much this round; it's just moving some money from the Corridor Cities Transitway to the Purple Line.

Here is the list of new projects for the District of Columbia (not counting ones DC is adding which are already complete):

  • I St. NW from 13th St. NW to Pennsylvania Ave. NW: Add peak period bus-only lanes
  • New Jersey Ave. NW from H St. NW to N St. NW: Reconstruct from 4 lanes one-way to 2 lanes in each direction
  • 17th St. NE/SE from Benning Rd. NE to Potomac Ave. NE: Reduce from 2 lanes to 1 lane southbound
  • C St. NE from 16th St. NE to Oklahoma Ave. NE: Remove 1 of 2 travel lanes in each direction to calm traffic
  • East Capitol St. from 40th St. to Southern Ave.: Implement pedestrian safety and traffic operations improvements and remove 1 of 3 travel lanes in each direction
  • South Capitol St. from Firth Sterling Ave. SE to Southern Ave. SE: Design and construct a paved bicycle and pedestrian trail and reduce the number of lanes from 5 to 4
Here's the list for Virginia:
  • Widen I-395, Shirley Memorial Highway, Southbound from Duke St. to Edsall Rd.
  • Capital Beltway HOT Lanes: The segment of HOT Lanes between south of the George Washington Pkwy and
    south of Old Dominion Dr. was planned to be 2 lanes wide. VDOT proposes to make this segment 4 lanes wide.
  • Capital Beltway Ramps at Dulles Airport Access Highway and Dulles Toll Road: Construct a new ramp connecting the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 to the inner lanes of westbound Dulles Airport Access Highway. Widen the ramp connecting eastbound Dulles Toll Road to the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 from 1 to 2 lanes.
  • Widen US 1, Jefferson Davis Highway from Lorton Rd. to Annapolis Way from 4 to 6 lanes.
  • Widen VA 7, Leesburg Pike from I-495 to I-66 from 4 to 6 lanes.
  • Construct 2-lane collector-distributor roads parallel to Dulles Toll Road between VA 684, Spring Hill Rd. and VA 828, Wiehle Ave.
  • Dulles Toll Road Ramps in Tysons: Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Boone Blvd. extension at Ashgrove Lane. Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Greensboro Dr. extension at Tyco Rd.
  • Dulles Greenway Ramp: Construct a new egress ramp from the Dulles Greenway to the planned Hawling Farm Blvd.
  • "Improved access" to Dulles Airport: [4 alternatives, a no-build and 3 that involve new 4-lane limited access highways or widening US-50 and VA-606.]
  • VA 28 Manassas Bypass: Study a proposed 4 to 6 lane bypass through Prince William and Fairfax Counties.
And Maryland:
  • Change in project cost of the Corridor Cities Transitway from $1.2 billion to $828 million
  • Change in project cost of the Purple Line from $1.79 billion to $2.245 billion
These changes don't necessarily reflect the mix of projects in the plan overall, just the changes this year. For example, DC is soon going to spend hundreds of millions on a new South Capitol Bridge which will be wider than the old one, while there are major transit and bicycle and pedestrian projects in the plan for various parts of Northern Virginia.

Still, this gives something of a glimpse into what's on the minds of transportation planners in each jurisdiction right now. DC is spending some small dollars to reconstruct roads to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and buses; Viginia is spending big dollars on new road capacity.


CEOs want faster commutes and walkable places

The Federal City Council, an association of business leaders, wants DC to ease driving in and out of the city. At the same time, it wants walkable, livable neighborhoods. But what about when these two conflict?

Photo by Rob Mac on Flickr.

The group took a survey of its members, mostly business CEOs and presidents and the like. 68% say that traffic congestion is a "significant" problem facing DC businesses (though, actually, I'm surprised 32% don't think it's a problem!) and 71% say car-driving commuters are "very important" in making decisions about where to locate businesses.

99% want a more modern signal system "to ease the flow of traffic," which usually means timing signals for commuters, though 89% also want to see "active neighborhoods that provide a variety of amenities and services for all residents within a 20 minute walk."

This is, essentially, the decision planners are wrestling with in the MoveDC citywide plan: should transportation policy favor driving in and out of the city, or work to make neighborhoods more livable? The problem is that, in many situations, the two forces are in diametric opposition.

On arterial roadways through DC, like Wisconsin, Connecticut, Georgia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania Avenues, immediate residents want a road with slower-moving traffic, shorter crossing distances, longer light cycles on cross streets, and maybe medians. Commuters want the exact opposite.

Which kind of places will Tysons, Bethesda, Silver Spring be?

It's easier to think about this in places that are on the tipping point between walkable urban place and suburban office park, like Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring, or Tysons Corner as Fairfax County envisions it. There's a strong consensus behind these being places where you can live and/or work; arrive by car, transit, bike, or foot; and while there, walk to enjoyable restaurants and shops, buy groceries, and so on.

But there's an obstacle to Silver Spring being even more of a walkable place where people both live and work: Colesville and Georgia. Both are very wide "traffic sewers" that take a long time to cross on foot, creating a barrier. Wisconsin and Old Georgetown do this, though a little less fiercely, in Bethesda.

Routes 123 and 7 will form massive barriers at Tysons, especially since the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is widening the already-huge Route 7 even more, and the signal timings will force people to cross in two separate phases. All of this is because their priority is to move cars most efficiently.

And traffic is bad in these places even today. As they grow, officials can focus on walkability and livability and not worry so much about worsening traffic, or they can keep commuters happy and sacrifice the goal of creating the next Dupont Circle or Columbia Heights or Clarendon. Traffic in Columbia Heights can be really frustrating, and it's a great place.

Congestion pricing, anyone?

There is, indeed, a solution to this conflict of congestion vs. walkability: congestion pricing. Keeping the roadways free of choking traffic only requires wider and wider roadways if you hold constant the assumption that everyone can use that road, anytime they want, completely free.

DC could charge each driver heading into downtown, and dedicate that revenue to expanding bus and rail options that give people an alternative to driving. Traffic could be lighter for people who do need to drive, and people who have an option not to drive will find their choices more appealing.

The biggest obstacle to this has always been that people perceive it as unfair. It's good for the business leaders who could easily pay the tolls, and even good for people like contractors for whom time is money. It's good for the poorer residents who don't have cars anyway, and who struggle with sub-par bus options.

But there are a lot of people in between who drive, don't want to pay any more for it, and would rather just deal with congestion (or lobby for wider roads or mythical magic timed signals). In the District, not only would the DC Council have to get past the politics, but Congress would likely interfere unless Maryland and Virginia representatives were supportive.

Barring that, DC, and Silver Spring, and Bethesda, and Tysons, and every other walkable or potentially walkable place will have to wrestle with whether to put placemaking first or high-speed driving. It's not a surprise that the CEOs of the Federal City Council want both, but until and unless they can help make congestion pricing happen, the survey still does not really help prioritize between the two.


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.


Tysons Corner skyscraper will be regionís tallest

A proposed skyscraper in Tysons Corner will be 435 feet tall, making it the tallest in the DC region, and first to breach the 400 foot threshold. The building is proposed as part of the SAIC redevelopment, adjacent to the Silver Line's Greensboro Metro station.

SAIC Westpark. Image by FXFOWLE, published online by The Tysons Corner.

Traditionally, the tallest skyscrapers in the region have been in Rosslyn. But Rosslyn is in the flight path to National Airport, so buildings there can't rise higher than 400 feet. A bevy of development projects in Rosslyn, Alexandria, Tysons, and North Bethesda are in the 300-400 foot range, but this is the first serious proposal to crack 400 feet.

Outside the DC region, Maryland's tallest building is 528 feet, and Virginia's is 508 feet. Richmond's is 449 feet.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Maryland, Virginia, fund these projects!

Maryland and Virginia will both enact major new transportation funding bills this year. Neither bill says exactly which projects will be funded, but here are the top 10 projects in Maryland and Virginia that most deserve to get some of the funds.

Tysons grid of streets, no. 2. Image from Fairfax County.

1. 8-car Metro trains: Metrorail is near capacity, especially in Virginia. More Metro railcars and the infrastructure they need (like power systems and yard space) would mean more 8-car trains on the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines.

2. Tysons grid of streets: Tysons Corner has more office space than downtown Baltimore and Richmond put together. Converting it to a functional urban place is a huge priority.

3. Purple Line: Bethesda, Silver Spring, Langley Park, College Park, New Carrollton. That's a serious string of transit-friendly pearls. The Purple Line will be one of America's best light rail lines on the day it opens.

4. Baltimore Red Line: Baltimore has a subway line and a light rail line, but they don't work together very well as a system. The Red Line will greatly improve the reach of Baltimore's rail system.

5. Silver Line Phase 2: The Silver Line extension from Reston to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County is one of the few projects that was earmarked in Virginia's bill, to the tune of $300 million.

6. Arlington streetcars: The Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars both have funding plans already, but could potentially be accelerated.

7. Route 7 transit. Leesburg Pike is the next Rosslyn-Ballston corridor waiting to happen. Virginia is just beginning to study either a light rail or BRT line along it.

8. Corridor Cities Transitway: Gaithersburg has been waiting decades for a quality transit line to build around. BRT will finally connect the many New Urbanist communities there, which are internally walkable but rely on cars for long-range connections.

Corridor Cities Transitway, no. 8. Image from Maryland MTA.

9. MARC enhancements: MARC is a decent commuter rail, but it could be so much more. Some day it could be more like New York's Metro North or Philadelphia's SEPTA regional rail, with hourly trains all day long, even on weekends.

10. Alexandria BRT network: This will make nearly all of Alexandria accessible via high-quality transit.

Honorable mentions: Montgomery County BRT network, Potomac Yard Metro station, Virginia Beach light rail, Southern Maryland light rail, and VRE platform extensions.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Like a big city, Tysons will be a transit hub

Tysons Corner has more office space than downtown Baltimore, Richmond, and Norfolk put together. It should be the center its own large transit network. The Silver Line and express buses on the Beltway HOT lanes are good first steps, but in the long run Tysons is going to need more routes, connecting it to more places.

In the long run, Tysons needs something more like this:

In recent years, planners in Virginia have begun to seriously consider a Tysons-centric rapid transit network. It doesn't have a name, and isn't officially separate from any of the other transportation planning going on in the region, but it shows up on long range regional plans like SuperNoVa and TransAction.

In addition to the Silver Line, HOT Lanes Buses, and Tysons' internal circulation network, officials are beginning to study light rail connections to Maryland, Falls Church, and Merrifield, and BRT on the Chain Bridge Road corridor.

It will be years before any of these additional routes are implemented, and they could look very different from this map once they finally are. Details don't exist yet, because at this point these are little more than ideas.

But to work as the urban place Fairfax County officials hope Tysons will become, this is the sort of regional infrastructure it's going to need.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Route 7 needs transit to get people to Tysons

In Fairfax County, some residents are worried about squandering a real opportunity to reduce traffic into Tysons. State officials want to expand Route 7 between Reston Avenue and the Dulles Toll Road, but can't consider transit because of the county's comprehensive plan.

Image from VDOT.

The Virginia Department of Transportation would like to widen Route 7 from 4 car lanes to 6 in a location literally at the western entry to the county's new downtown. 8 months ago, in a bold and uncustomary move, VDOT formed a project advisory group, including residents such as myself.

Since then, agency staff and consultants have presented lots of information about crashes, engineering issues and land use along the six-mile stretch. But having seen the details, we community members have concluded that the big picture needs to change.

It didn't take long to realize that this project is just one piece of a major corridor connecting burgeoning Loudoun county (and beyond) with Fairfax County's biggest jobs magnet. For that reason, no one can afford transportation business as usual.

To simply add more car lanes will only make it easier for traffic to inundate the heart of Tysons. We need a new paradigm to provide more options. That's why we'd like the entire length of Route 7 from Loudoun to Fairfax to offer high-quality mass transit. I'd favor something like Portland's MAX light rail.

But there's a roadblock. The current Fairfax County comprehensive plan doesn't allow for enhancing transit on Route 7. So, with comment time running out on this phase of the project, there's only one thing to do: tell VDOT to work with Fairfax County to change its comp plan so Route 7 is designated an "Enhanced Public Transportation Corridor," just as it is on the east side of Tysons.

Only by doing that can VDOT begin to consider transit options along the route. Ideally, the 2 new lanes should be dedicated from the outset to bus and HOV-3. They should connect to a system of commuter park-and-rides in church and retail parking lots, as well as on public land such as behind the new fire station at Beulah Road.

Time is of the essence. This summer, VDOT breaks ground on an adjacent Route 7 project at Georgetown Pike. In this case, they are widening the road from 4 car lanes to 6 for just one mile, but it will cost $37 million and have no provision for transit. We want to make sure the Reston Avenue project and the remainder of the corridor doesn't suffer the same costly, short-sighted fate.

Send comments on the Reston Avenue project by this Saturday to using "Route 7 Widening project" in the subject line.

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