Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Tysons Corner

Transit


Could transit over the American Legion Bridge work?

For years, there's been talk of improving transit connections across the Potomac River between Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There might be a solution in Montgomery County's newly-approved rapid transit plan, and it could be a big deal for the redevelopment of White Flint and Tysons Corner.


How the North Bethesda Transitway could help connect Montgomery and Fairfax counties. Click to see an interactive map.

As the sole connection between Montgomery and Fairfax, not to mention a key link on the Capital Beltway, the American Legion Bridge is often very congested, carrying over 230,000 vehicles each day. 30% of those vehicles come from outside the DC area, but commuters still make about 32,000 trips between Montgomery and Fairfax counties during morning rush hour, and 25,000 trips in the evening. Up to 92% of those trips are drivers alone in their cars.

Officials on both sides of the river have explored transit as a way to reduce commuter traffic, which could improve travel conditions for everyone. In 1998, WMATA introduced a "Smartmover" Metrobus express route over the bridge, but discontinued it five years later due to low ridership. But as places on either side of the bridge grow, like White Flint and Tysons Corner, there might be a new market for transit. That is, if it's fast, frequent, and most importantly, reliable.

Low ridership, high costs killed Smartmover

The Smartmover struggled to attract riders for a few reasons. Buses ran infrequently and mainly during rush hour, so they could only serve commuters who worked regular, 9-to-5-type jobs. Buses didn't get their own lane on local streets or the Beltway, so they often got stuck in traffic, removing one incentive for drivers to switch over.

Except for downtown Bethesda, the Smartmover's stops at Lakeforest Mall, Montgomery Mall, and Tysons Corner were all really spread-out, auto-oriented shopping malls or office parks. This meant riders had to switch to a shuttle or take a long walk to their final destination, giving them another reason to drive instead. And shopping malls aren't where office workers are headed during rush hour.

The service was also very expensive to run. Its destinations are far apart, and in between are low-density, very affluent places like McLean and Potomac that don't produce a lot of transit riders. Though transit relies on public subsidies, Metro still needs some paying customers from other parts of the route to justify running a bus between them.

White Flint and Tysons Corner plans key to making transit work

Since then, a few things have changed that could make transit between Montgomery and Fairfax more successful. One is that both counties are planning to transform the office parks and shopping malls of White Flint and Tysons Corner into denser, more walkable places, allowing more people to live and work within easy reach of transit, thereby encouraging its use.

Together, the two communities might be able to support transit service over the American Legion Bridge. And transit might also justify denser development around Montgomery Mall, creating a third destination that can generate ridership.


The American Legion Bridge today. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County and the state of Virginia are doing things that could give transit its own lane, at least for part of the route. For 20 years, Montgomery County has set aside right-of-way for the North Bethesda Transitway, which would connect Montgomery Mall to the Grosvenor Metro station via Fernwood Road, Rock Spring Drive, Old Georgetown Road, and Tuckerman Lane.

While working on the now-approved Bus Rapid Transit plan, county planners suggested changing the route to follow Old Georgetown Road all the way to White Flint, which is a bigger office and shopping destination than Grosvenor. Planners have also proposed extending the North Bethesda Transitway to Northern Virginia via the Beltway. The transitway "could become part of a significant transit link between Tysons Corner and White Flint," they note. At Montgomery Mall, buses could follow a yet-unbuilt ramp from Fernwood Road to the I-270 Spur and continue onto the Beltway to Tysons Corner, where they could connect to the Silver Line, which will open next year.

It's unclear what would happen after that. Earlier this year, elected officials in Montgomery and Fairfax had a rare meeting to discuss ways to improve connections between the two counties. One possibility could be extending Virginia's 495 Express toll lanes from Tysons Corner north to I-270, which like in Fairfax would be open to buses.

Of course, that would be extremely expensive, politically fraught, and environmentally destructive. Like most of the plan, it has no funding, and Montgomery County will have to do more detailed studies and design work before anything happens.

Could buses run on the Beltway's shoulders?

A faster, cheaper alternative may be to simply run buses on the shoulder. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has studied whether buses could run on the shoulders of the Beltway, which already happens on Columbia Pike near Burtonsville and the Dulles Toll Road near Falls Church. On some roads, the shoulders will need reinforcing to carry the weight of buses, but it's something that could happen relatively soon.

Across the Potomac, Virginia is already preparing to open the Beltway shoulders to all traffic for about 2 miles south of the American Legion Bridge. The state will rebuild and reinforce the shoulders, meaning it may be able to run transit there one day. But once drivers get used to having the extra lane, it'll be a challenge to convince them it should be used for buses instead.

Successful transit needs more than commuters

Traffic on the American Legion Bridge is bad, but only so much of it is commuter traffic. Most of the people who work in Montgomery and Fairfax counties commute from Maryland and Virginia, respectively, meaning they don't use the bridge. According to the 2011 American Community Survey, 47% of the people who worked in Montgomery County lived there too, compared to 40.6% in Fairfax. Less than 4% of Montgomery and Fairfax workers came from the other county.

Some people on the American Legion Bridge are headed to places far outside the DC area, and transit can't serve them. But there are others who might be headed to shop at Tysons Corner or dinner on Rockville Pike. Transit might serve a purpose for them, but only if it's available.

To not repeat the Smartmover's mistakes, area officials will have to make future transit service competitive with driving. Speed is one factor, and the dedicated lanes will help that. But the length and frequency of service is another. That means buses throughout the day and night, not just at rush hour. And it means service frequent enough that people won't have to rely on a timetable. Only then will people feel like they can use transit not just for work, but for all of their daily trips.

That could be the hardest part of making transit over the American Legion Bridge work. It will be expensive to run, which requires higher ridership, which in turn requires more service that's expensive to run. White Flint and Tysons Corner may become dense, transit-friendly places, but it's unclear for now where there will be enough demand to justify transit between them.

Crossposted on Friends of White Flint.

Parking


It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations

Despite years of planning to transform Tysons Corner from a car-oriented edge city into a walkable downtown, some Northern Virginia residents are surprised to learn that Tysons' 4 Metro stations will not be surrounded by parking lots.


Development planned at the Spring Hill Metro station. Image from Fairfax County.

The confusion seems to stem from a mix-up about what Metro stations in Tysons Corner are supposed to accomplish. Are they places for DC-bound commuters to board, or are they the destination stations for people working in Tysons? There will surely be some of both, but most users will be the latter, and they're who the line must be designed to best serve.

If stations are surrounded by parking that will reduce the number of buildings within walking distance of Metro. Not only that, it would also make the walk less interesting and more dangerous, since walking through a busy parking lot is hardly a pleasant experience. That in turn would reduce the number of people who could use Metro to commute to Tysons. That would undermine the entire project.

The main purpose of the Silver Line project is to transform Tysons Corner. Tysons is a behemoth, with about the same amount of office space as downtown Baltimore. It can't grow or continue to prosper as a car-oriented place. Nor would it make sense to invest almost $7 billion in a new Metrorail line if it were not going to support a more urban Tysons, or serve easy commuting into Tysons.

Consider other walkable downtown areas, like downtown DC or Rosslyn. Would it make sense if Gallery Place Metro station were surrounded by parking instead of buildings? Of course it would not. Tysons will one day be the same. It may not look like that yet, but it never will if its best land is used for parking lots.

Yes, it's true there should be enough parking along the Dulles Corridor for commuters into DC to use the system. That's why there are large parking lots at the Wiehle Avenue and West Falls Church stations. There's no need for drivers to enter congested Tysons Corner to find parking, when more highway-oriented stations exist specifically for that purpose.

Alternatively, those few drivers who do want to park in Tysons will surely be able to do the same thing they do in Ballston, DC, Bethesda, or anywhere else: Pay to park in a nearby garage, and walk a couple of blocks. As more new buildings are built near Metro stations, there will be more available private garages to pick from.

There may be some small number of people currently living in Tysons who refuse to walk to stations, and will have to drive out of Tysons to find parking. That's unfortunate, but accommodating them with parking lots at urban stations would make those stations less convenient for the larger number of walkers, and future walkers.

Temporary parking isn't a panacea

Some suggest that since it may be a few years before all the land near Metro stations is developed, it could be used as interim parking on a temporary basis. In fact, that's exactly the plan at the McLean station, where 700 parking spaces will be available at first.

That could be a workable idea in a few places, especially at McLean, which is the easternmost of Tysons' 4 stations. But it's less practical than some may assume, because most of the land surrounding these stations isn't currently empty.

For example, Greensboro station is surrounded by strip malls. They will eventually be redeveloped into high-rises, but in the meantime the property owners make more money with retail there than they would with just parking.

In places where Fairfax County or WMATA can strike deals with landowners to let Metro riders use existing parking lots, that's fine. But it does not make sense to tear down functional money-making buildings and replace them with temporary parking lots. Especially when there are better parking options elsewhere for drivers hoping to park and ride.

The bottom line is that Tysons Metro stations were planned correctly. Some interim measures are OK if they're practical, but surrounding Tysons Metro stations with parking would undermine the entire reason for running the Silver Line through Tysons in the first place.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: DC's history and future

This week, learn about DC history and historical food, go for a walk around Tysons to learn about the Silver Line's impact, learn why power lines and parking spaces matter to affordable housing, and support Montgomery County's proposed BRT system.


MDAllstar on City-Data.com

Mayor Williams talks about gentrification: One of the most consequential figures in Washington's revitalization over the past dozen years has been former Mayor Anthony Williams, current Executive Director of the Federal City Council. Williams will "discuss changes in Washington's urban landscape and the history of gentrification in D.C. neighborhoods" at the Historical Society of Washington's annual meeting. That's tonight at the old Carnegie Library, 801 K Street NW at 6pm. For more information or to RSVP, visit the society's website.

After the jump, speak out at public hearings for Metrobus and learn about historic restaurants in DC.

Learn about DC history: In the early 1970s a collection of academics started a conference to share the latest research on Washington's national and local history, network with each other, and overall advocate for a greater appreciation of the city's history. This year marks the 40th Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies, with presentations on a diverse range of topics including alley life, Home Rule, the War of 1812, archaeology, and the latest in mapping technology.

The conference kicks off Thursday evening, November 14th with an opening lecture at George Washington University from Kate Masur, Associate Professor of History at Northwestern University, author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. Two dozen sessions then run Friday, November 15th and Saturday, November 16th at the Carnegie Library with a series of walking and bus tours offered Sunday, November 17th.

And edible history, too: John DeFerrari, GGW contributor and proprietor of the popular blog Streets of Washington, follows up his first book this fall with Historic Restaurants of Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats. The book is the first of its kind, a comprehensive survey of the city's restaurants from the early days of its first taverns to the rich flowering of ethic restaurants that came in the late 20th century.

DeFerrari will talk about his new work at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library's Washingtoniana Division on Tuesday, September 24th at 7:00 pm. The event is free, but don't come hungry!

Improved Metrobus service? This week WMATA is holding public hearings to allow the community to weigh in on potential changes to several Metrobus routes. GGW contributor Matt Johnson's written about some of the proposed changes for buses serving Dulles and BWI and between National Harbor and Alexandria. All routes being reviewed are open for discussion at any of the public hearings.

The open houses will begin at 6pm, with the public hearings starting at 6:30pm at various locations throughout the region. Visit Metro's planning blog to find out which routes are being reviewed and the location closest to you.

View Tysons from the ground up: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour of Tysons and learn more about the impact the Silver Line is already having on development and urban form. The tour will also include a discussion on how to preserve streams, manage stormwater, and explore the future of bicycling and walking in the areas.

The tour is Saturday, September 21 from 10am to 12pm and will start near the future Spring Hill Metro station, located near the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Spring Hill Road. Visit the Coalition for Smarter Growth for more information and to RSVP.

Better affordable housing: Join the Arlington County Housing Division (CPHD) and the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs for a discussion on Affordable Housing on September 19th from 6:45pm to 9pm at George Mason University. The discussion will feature a panel that discusses the impacts of various elements on affordable housing. The panelists include Dr. Michael Manville from Cornell University and local developer Mark Silverwood. To RSVP for the event click here.

Sit down for BRT: Next week on September 24th and 26th, there will be two public hearings on the County's 82-mile proposed Bus Rapid Transit system. Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and other transit advocates to show your support for the plan by attending the public hearings before the County Council. For more details, visit the CSG webpage.

As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at events@ggwash.org.

Transit


Events roundup: talking, walking, and bicycling

This week, find out about WMATA's plans for late-night bus service, DC's becoming the bicycling capital of the US, improving multiple Metrobus routes, and later, go for a walk around Tysons to learn about the Silver Line's impact.


Photo by Kevin Harber on Flickr.

Could Metrobus run all night?: Tonight, the Action Committee for Transit hosts Jim Hamre, head of bus planning for WMATA, who'll talk about plans to increase late-night bus service. That meeting will be at 7:30pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring. For more information, visit their website.

After the jump: Learn about potential changes to your Metrobus route and upcoming Coalition for Smarter Growth walk in Tysons being held next week. And if you have any events for future roundups, email us at events@ggwash.org.

Talk about bikes in Arlington: Dr. Ralph Buehler, professor and author of City Cycling, will talk about ways to promote biking with Shane Farthing of WABA, Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman, and our own Jaime Fearer. The event will be on Thursday, September 12 at 6:30pm at the Virginia Tech Research Center, 900 N. Glebe Road in Arlington. The event is full and there is a wait list, but if you would like more information or to join the wait list click here.

Improved Metrobus service?: All next week, WMATA is holding public hearings to allow the community to weigh in on potential changes to several Metrobus routes. All routes being reviewed are open for discussion at any of the public hearings. The hearings will take place Monday, September 16 through Thursday, September 29.

The open houses will begin at 6pm, with the public hearings starting at 6:30pm at various locations throughout the region. Visit Metro's planning blog to find out which routes are being reviewed and the location closest to you.

View Tysons from the ground up: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour of Tysons and learn more about the impact the Silver Line is already having on development and urban form. The tour will also include a discussion on how to preserve streams, manage stormwater, and explore the future of bicycling and walking in the areas.

The tour is Saturday, September 21 from 10am to 12pm and will start near the future Spring Hill Metro station, located near the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Spring Hill Road. Visit the Coalition for Smarter Growth for more information and to RSVP.

Speak out on the future of Southwest: The DC Office of Planning is working on a new vision for the Southwest neighborhood. Offer your two cents at a public meeting tomorrow night from 6:30pm to 9pm at Arena Stage, 1101 6th Street SW. For more information, visit their website.

Development


Freddie Mac downsizing is an opportunity for Tysons

While much of Tysons Corner is slated to become a new urban center, parts of the area will remain disconnected office parks for the foreseeable future. By planning for future demand and leveraging rising property values, Fairfax County can encourage more investment in the area and provide new public amenities, like improved transit.


Freddie Mac's campus in Tysons. Photo by the author.

Last week, President Obama announced that the federal government may try to reduce its support for mortgage company Freddie Mac, headquartered in Tysons Corner. If Freddie Mac eventually downsized or consolidated its operations, they might sell their 37.8-acre campus on Jones Branch Drive, far from Tysons' core or the Silver Line.

This may not happen for years, if not decades. By then, it may not be as desirable a location, especially when the Silver Line opens and Tysons begins the transition to a more urban, walkable place. But a land sale could be an opportunity to bring one of its largest office parks in line with the larger vision.

Freddie Mac's campus contains just 800,000 square feet of Class A office space. When built in 2002, it had a very desirable location: direct access to the Dulles Toll Road and adjacent to the Westpark transit center, served by 6 Fairfax Connector routes. It's also close to the new Jones Branch Drive exit on the new 495 Express lanes.


Map of Tysons with Freddie Mac and Jones Branch Drive from the Tysons Comprehensive Plan Amendment and edited by the author.

By 2025, much of the land around the four future Tysons metro stations will be substantially developed. The street grid will still be discontinuous, and each of the station areas may act as a discreet hub, similar to Reston Town Center. But the area will have enough density to justify its own internal transit needs, perhaps even exceeding the capacity of bus service.

Meanwhile, the office parks of North Tysons, where Freddie Mac is located, may have filled in with some residential development. But it still won't have direct access to transit, nor is it covered by the design guidelines of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan, which guides the redevelopment of Tysons. Freddie Mac's property will be very valuable, but the current zoning and allowable density prevents major redevelopment from occurring.

In order to take advantage of this site's potential, two things need to happen. First, Fairfax County should rezone the property for higher density and mixed-use development to fit with the larger vision for Tysons Corner. Second, the county should start planning for high-quality transit service to North Tysons that can not only support future redevelopment, but be financed by it as well.


Street section of light rail on Jones Bridge Drive. Image from the Tysons Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

The Tysons Comprehensive Plan refers to a light rail circulator that would serve parts of Tysons Corner that are far from the Silver Line. The estimated cost of a 2.5-mile light rail line along Jones Bridge Drive between the future McLean and Spring Hill Metro stations (via a future bridge over Scotts Run) is about $60 million.

This assumes that Jones Bridge's existing right-of-way could accommodate a new rail line. Let's take a worst-case scenario and say the county would need an additional $40 million in right-of-way. For approximately 200,000 square feet of land, that comes out to a very conservative $8.8 million per acre.

With a floor-area ratio (FAR) of 3.0, Freddie Mac's 37.8 acres could easily support 5 million square feet of development. (To compare, the property's current FAR is about .5, and the maximum FAR allowed in downtown DC is 10.) If the county rezoned the property, they could also levy a special tax as was done for rezoned properties associated with the Silver Line, or to cover school and public safety improvements.

At the current assessed price per square foot, a fully built-out development on this property would have assessed value of $2.1 billion, generating $23.1 million in taxes to Fairfax County and $2.1 million in special taxes each year. The county could initiate a bond using the special tax as backing that could pay for all capital costs associated with the light rail.

Is this all pie in the sky? Of course, as is the case with all long-term planning, everything over the course of 20 or 30 years is an assumption based on reasonable estimates created from a past history. If Tysons' critics are right, it may struggle to get development activity going, and vacancy rates could be high enough to undermine the marketability of such a land transfer. If that were the case, the above scenario would not be necessary.

So far, that's not the case. Land sales in Tysons have garnered a lot of private interest, especially for large corporate campuses. If those trends continue, Freddie Mac could sell their property to a developer in the future, and the county as well as taxpayers could really benefit. It would also be a step towards creating a new type of infrastructure in Tysons, giving more options to commuters, workers, shoppers, and residents.

What the sprawl history of Tysons has taught us is that if you don't plan for the future, you are destined to end up with a disconnected mess. Instead of leaving the Freddie Mac property to deteriorate or hoping for a new corporate tenant, Fairfax County needs to plan their next steps and leverage future changes to the benefit of Tysons and the county.

Transit


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.

Roads


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.

Roads


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.

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