Posts about Virginia
I-95 in Northern Virginia is already one of the nation's most congested corridors, and forecasts predict it will only get worse. A new study by the GMU Center for Regional Analysis lays out the difficult decisions area leaders face regarding the corridor's future land use, economy, and transportation network.
At present, the I-95 corridor in Fairfax and Prince William counties is mainly a low-density suburban area. Most residents work in DC, Arlington, or Alexandria, and existing transit such as the Blue Line and VRE only serve inside-the-Beltway locations. The area's lone major employment center is Fort Belvoir, which is spread out and has limited bus service.
Traffic volume and congestion along I-95 are already very high, and major road investments are not expected to reduce congestion. Furthermore, job growth in the region has been occurring in areas like Tysons Corner and the Dulles Corridor, which are hard to reach from the I-95 corridor, especially by transit.
Development plans along the corridor envision a series of dense urban nodes around transit in places like Springfield, Huntington, and Woodbridge. But the success of those areas depends on carefully planned, and expensive, transportation investments both within the corridor and to other areas.
The situation is already problematic
The 21-mile stretch of Interstate 95 that connects the Capital Beltway and Quantico is one of the busiest highways in the eastern United States. The most heavily traveled segment of the corridor, located just south of Old Keene Mill Road, carries an average of 231,000 vehicles per day. This count includes about 30,000 vehicles per day in the corridor's reversible express lanes and about 14,000 tractor-trailers.
Traffic volumes along the corridor tripled between 1975 and 2000, but have flattened out since then. That's due to the expansion of transit and, more recently, the rerouting of through traffic around the "Mixing Bowl" interchange in Springfield.
Transit ridership in the corridor has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, with the average number of daily boardings on the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) tripling and the number of boardings at the Franconia-Springfield Metro station increasing by 48 percent. The corridor also contains more than 15 express commuter bus routes that connect it to the Pentagon, downtown Washington, and Tysons Corner. In total, about 27,000 transit riders per day make use of these rail or bus options to travel to work each day.
Surveys by transit operators show that the majority of these riders work for the federal government and routinely commute by transit four or five days every week. These transit options are becoming increasingly congested: VRE reports that its trains operate at as much as 20 percent over capacity during peak times.
Increased traffic in the corridor has been a function of commuting patterns. Since 1990, the number of people who live in Fairfax or Prince William and work in DC, Arlington, or Alexandria has remained flat, while the number who work in other locations increased by more than 100,000 people.
Nearly all existing transit in the I-95 corridor serves employment hubs located inside the Beltway, so few options exist for these commuters. Traffic has also increased due to additional commuting activity from Stafford, Fredericksburg, and points south.
Lots of growth, little land
The areas of Fairfax and Prince William around I-95 are primarily residential: the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) reports that the corridor contained 566,000 residents and 187,000 jobs in 2010. Most corridor residents live in low-density, single-family areas, and there is little undeveloped land remaining in the area. MWCOG forecasts that the corridor will add another 126,000 residents and 85,000 jobs by 2030. Where will they go?
A look at the Comprehensive Plans for the two counties provides some clarity. Each county has designated a small number of areas located directly along I-95 and/or around transit stations for mixed-use development.
Fairfax anticipates high-intensity residential and commercial development around the Huntington and Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. Meanwhile, Prince William is planning intensive growth around the Woodbridge VRE station and a potential future VRE station at Potomac Shores, north of Quantico.
But the county also wants growth at the more auto-dependent Parkway Employment Center, north of Potomac Mills, and Neabsco Mills, south of Woodbridge along Route 1. Since VRE has no immediate plans to expand service on the Fredericksburg Line, additional growth in these areas would further strain the already-crowded system.
Investment in roads and highways isn't enough
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the midst of completing a slate of "megaprojects" in the corridor. Two of these are already in place: the widening of I-95 between Route 123 and the Fairfax County Parkway, and the completion of the last segment of the Fairfax County Parkway, encompassing a network of new roads, interchanges, and trails around the Fort Belvoir North Area.
VDOT reports that these new facilities have slightly reduced congestion in this segment of the corridor. But these investments have not reduced congestion in adjacent areas and may have even worsened it by allowing more vehicles to enter and exit the highway.
VDOT's most ambitious project in the corridor is a $1 billion expansion of the I-95 express lanes. This project will extend the express lanes nine miles into Stafford County, add a third lane north of Prince William Parkway, and connect the express lanes with the I-495 express lanes. It will also convert the express lanes from HOV to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes from Stafford County to Edsall Road, just inside the Beltway. The express lanes will remain as HOV-3 lanes along I-395 north of Edsall Road.
The express lanes project will unquestionably add highway capacity, but will it actually reduce congestion? A serious concern is that converting the existing HOV lanes to HOT lanes will very likely reduce carpooling activity, as people driving alone will be able to pay to use the express lanes. A reduction in carpooling translates to needing more vehicles to move the same number of people, contributing to additional congestion.
VDOT's own Environmental Assessment of the I-95 express lanes concluded that, while the project would improve the overall situation, several currently failing road segments would remain at failing levels. It further concluded that, after completion, the merge areas at the northern and southern ends of the HOT lanes would still operate at failing levels.
Clearly, even this billion-dollar project will not solve the traffic woes faced by I-95 corridor commuters. Additionally, this project is primarily aimed at moving commuters through the corridor, and does not address the need to better connect the emerging urban nodes in the two counties to each other or to the surrounding region.
So what can be done?
To their credit, both Fairfax and Prince William counties have committed to focusing future development around existing infrastructure. However, successfully clustering new development in this manner will create a complex set of challenges.
Improving transit connections to far-flung employment centers can reduce traffic. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
The counties will need to provide transit that serves private-sector workers, particularly those with irregular hours and/or in dispersed locations. They will also have to improve access to existing and planned transit hubs from nearby neighborhoods and employment centers.
It's also necessary to attract the high-paying office jobs that planned suburban employment nodes will need, and to provide housing that matches up with those jobs' earning potential to allow for shorter commutes.
Once those jobs are in place, Fairfax and Prince William need to create new incentives to encourage carpooling, and to add capacity to the I-95 corridor's already strained and crowded transit systems. The counties will also have to work regionally to help address transportation problems that originate elsewhere but affect the corridor.
Continued congestion of highways, roads, and transit in the I-95 corridor threatens its prosperity. Public and private sector leaders at both local and regional levels will need to understand and address the above issues in order to achieve their bold visions for future development.
Alexandria cyclists and city staff agree that King Street west of Old Town could use bike lanes. But after a public hearing November 25, the city's Traffic and Parking Board recommended not to build them in order to preserve 37 on-street parking spaces.
Bike lane proponents say it will improve safety and access to the King Street Metro station, while many nearby residents decry the loss of parking spaces that would have to be removed. Originally, city staff proposed eliminating 37 spaces, noting that only three spaces were used on average, and that all affected houses have off-street parking.
However, instead of evaluating a compromise proposal city staff presented that would only remove some 27 spaces and carefully considering public comments, board members were clearly dismissive of the plan and its supporters. James Durham, vice chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, called the hearing "a disgrace."
At the first public meeting on September 18, it was clear that almost everybody considers this street unsafe. Street parking goes unused because residents worry aggressive drivers will damage their parked cars.
After that meeting and an informal consultation with members of the traffic and parking board, city staff decided to work on a compromise proposal. Their reworked plan keeps 10 of the 37 spaces, while adding three spaces on adjacent streets.
At the November meeting, 38 people spoke in favor of the proposal, most of whom were local cyclists. Bike lane supporters included representatives of the city's Environmental Policy Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, who both submitted letters, as well as the chairman of the Transportation Commission. A teacher at T.C. Williams High School spoke on behalf of his students, and a member of the Coalition for Smarter Growth spoke on behalf of that organization, which includes two King Street residents.
Meanwhile, 18 individuals spoke out against adding bike lanes, citing safety concerns and doubting the effectiveness of the proposal. Others mentioned the need to keep the usually empty parking available for visitors.
During the hearing, members of the traffic and parking board displayed almost no interest in the public comments, asking few questions. But in a question directed at Jerry King, chairman of the bicycle and pedestrian committee, one member characterized bike lane supporters as wanting bike lanes or nothing. In fact, no one at the hearing took such a position.
When the leader of Tandem Tuesdays spoke of her weekly bike rides that pair cyclists with sight-impaired people on tandem bicycles, the traffic and parking board showed no interest in her community-building work or her safety concerns. Rather than ask Washington Area Bicyclist Association representative Gregory Billing about his organization's 3,500 participants and supporters in Alexandria, board members rudely asked if he was a city resident.
In the end, the traffic and parking board recommended that city staff implement pedestrian improvements but no bicycling improvements, retain all parking and come back later with a proposal that has "common ground" and "meat." But board members at no time acknowledged that the proposal was already a compromise.
The reality is that Alexandria is working to add transportation capacity by improving access to transit and by developing three new transit corridors. If successful, transit will enable many residents to bypass traffic and avoid the struggle of searching for parking on King Street and elsewhere.
Mayor Bill Euille, who was recently quoted in the press regarding Capital Bikeshare, said it best: "We don't want people driving their cars and parking, we want people to be using bicycles and walking."
However, achieving this vision is no easy task. At a time when City Hall is working to improve the public process through the What's Next Alexandria initiative, we need our boards to be relevant as well as responsive to residents and the vision of the city council. Based on the traffic and parking board's performance November 25, it's clear that board members are none of those things. Can our public decision-making process function when a few of the people leading that process do not act in good faith?
A version of this post appeared in the Alexandria Times.
To relieve congestion on the Orange and Blue lines and support future growth in the region's core, Metro is proposing a loop line between downtown DC and Arlington. They've just created a map of what the service might look like.
Detail of Metro's proposed downtown loop from PlanItMetro.
The loop is part of Metro's Regional Transit System Plan, which lays out a vision of how the transit system should expand over the next three decades to accommodate predicted regional growth. It incorporates previously studied ways to expand Metro in downtown DC, including new Blue and Yellow lines.
The loop line would go to areas that don't have Metro service, like Georgetown, while adding new connections to existing transfer points like Farragut Square and Union Station. It's unclear how Metro's service patterns would change to serve the loop. Right now, the map shows the Blue, Orange, Silver, and Yellow lines all running on the loop.
WMATA planners are also considering an express line on I-66.
Metro's also looking at a new express line along I-66 between Rosslyn and East Falls Church, which could give the Silver Line an alternate, faster path to downtown DC. This isn't a new idea, either.
What do you think of Metro's loop line?
Save up to splurge on holiday shopping with this upcoming plethora of free events around the region.
Panel and party for local producers: Join Smart Growth America, Think Local First DC, and Elevation DC for Production in the City, an event celebrating local manufacturers in DC. Get a local perspective on production during a panel discussion and shop the pop-up marketplace with over 20 local producers, including Gordy's Pickle Jar, Cherry Blossom Creative, and Capital City Mumbo Sauce.
This free event happens this Thursday, December 5 from 5:30 to 8:30pm at the Yards Boilermaker Shops, located at 300 Tingey Street SE, and you can register to attend here.
After the jump: Reserve your space now to discuss all things nerdy with the Lobby Project, add two more exciting urban events to your docket for this Thursday, and remember to join the GGW and GGE crew for two upcoming discussions.
Get nerdy in NoMa: This Tuesday's free event from the Lobby Project, "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: Better Cities," appears to already have "sold out." Make sure you register here for the next and equally-as-free event in the series, "Crafting Local Brews and Spirits," happening on Tuesday, December 17. Both events take place from 6 to 8pm at 1200 First Street NW.
Hear new thoughts on New Urbanism: Also on December 5, you have the option of heading to Arlington's RoundAbouts Speaker Series for Victor Dover's talk on New Thoughts on Streets and Cities. A charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, Dover's projects include the Columbia Pike revitalization plan and code, and Plan El Paso, which the Natural Resource Defense Council has hailed as "America's Best Smart Growth Plan."
Of course, it is free, in the Founders Hall Auditorium at George Mason University's Arlington campus, located at 3301 Fairfax Drive. The event goes from 6:00 to 8:00pm and you can RSVP here.
Meet transportation techies: Are you a techie looking to make innovative contributions in transportation? Join Mobility Lab for their Transportation Techies meetup: CaBi Hack Night. This debut event will highlight tools and apps built using open data from Capital Bikeshare and encourages attendees to share any programs they may have created using CaBi open data.
The event is this Thursday, December 5 from 7 to 10pm at 1501 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1100 in Rosslyn. You can RSVP here.
Greater Greater Events: And don't forget about our two upcoming events involving the GGW and GGE teams.
Warm up for whichever Thursday night activity you choose with David Alpert and a talk on blogging and civic engagement. To join, make your way to Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies Downtown Campus, located at 640 Massachusetts Avenue NW, this Thursday, December 5 from 4:30 to 5:30pm.
Next Monday, December 9, join Greater Greater Education for an Evening with Councilmember David Catania, where we'll discuss public education in the District of Columbia. The event runs from 6:30 to 8pm at the Hill Center at Old Naval Hospital, located at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. You can register here. Whether or not you can make it, please submit your questions for the panel in the comments box here.
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.
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.
Arlington may consider instituting a fee for developers who provide less than the "standard" amount of parking in office buildings. The money could be used to pay for improvements in the surrounding area, particularly ones that encourage using alternatives to driving.
At an Arlington Transportation Commission meeting last Monday, staff presented the results of the county's Commercial Parking Working Group, charged with finding a fair and transparent method for developers to compensate the community for the external costs of building less parking.
Their solution: a three-tier fee for developers that provide less than the "standard" amount of parking for an office building. The minimum parking requirement is about one space per 600 square feet for most projects, and less in Rosslyn, Crystal City and Pentagon City. Normally, developers only have to comply with standard site plan requirements, like working with the county to provide transportation demand management (TDM) services to the building's users.
Under the proposal, a developer that wanted to provide less than the standard amount would have to pay a fee. County planners would use the guidelines to decide the amount of the contribution when the developer submits their site plan for consideration. The guideline amounts would adjust periodically according to inflation. The money would be specifically earmarked for improvements in the building's immediate area or would pay for TDM services for the building's tenants.
The first two tiers are fairly inexpensive, ranging between $7,000 and $10,000 per space, since it's relatively easy to convince a small number of people to switch from cars to other transportation modes.
As developers build less parking, it may be harder to convince committed drivers to reconsider, and the county may have to construct or otherwise provide parking instead of less expensive commuter services. At the top tier, a developer would be required to pay $40,000 per space not built, which is equivalent to the average cost of providing a parking space underground.
This is a good solution for Arlington. We have a robust system of review for major projects, and the proposal lays out in concrete terms what developers can expect if they want to reduce the amount of parking in their projects.
Although the payment amounts are lower than I would like to see, they are linked to analysis concerning the costs of convincing people not to drive to work. I would rather have seen payments linked to the cost of construction for parking spaces, which could have more closely reflected the benefit to the builder for reducing the number of required spaces.
Hopefully, Arlington embraces a similar result for residential buildings. Apartment and condominium developers similarly ask to build fewer parking spaces, but there are not concrete guidelines for what community benefits we should expect in return.
This map shows US counties, colored according to the average number of cars owned per household.
Several broad trends are visible, most of them not surprising to anyone. But it is surprising that so many counties in Virginia stand out, with higher rates than otherwise comparable counties in nearby eastern states. What's different about the Old Dominion, versus West Virginia or North Carolina?
The map is from Tumblr blog Vizual Statistix, which has a lot of interesting data visualizations. It's worth a read.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Tonight (Thursday) is the next Greater Greater Washington happy hour! Also, mark your calendars for a Greater Greater Education forum with David Catania on the evening of December 9, and a late afternoon talk with me about growing civic engagement on December 5.
We've been rotating happy hours between DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and now it's DC's turn again. This month's happy hour is at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, 639 Indiana Ave. NW from 6-9 pm. It's right across 7th Street from Archives Metro, a short walk from Gallery Place or Federal Triangle, and also on the 30s, 50s, 70s, D, P, and X Metrobus lines. There's a CaBi station nearby at 6th and D.
You won't see me because I'll be spending my time putting a baby to bed, but Dan and the other editors and contributors are lots of fun!
After the jump: Stand up for King Street bike lanes Monday, and talk with David Catania about education on December 9 and me about civic engagement on December 5.
Defend bike lanes in Alexandria: The proposed King Street bike lanes in Alexandria have been coming under some intense and often crazy attacks. You can speak up for the lanes this Monday, November 25 at 7:30.
The Alexandria Spokeswomen, an organization working to make the city more bike-friendly for women, is having a happy hour just before the hearing at Daniel O'Connells Bar, 112 King Street, at 6. Have a few drinks and then head over to actually push for safer cycling infrastructure.
Talk about education with David Catania: Our sister blog Greater Greater Education is hosting DC Councilmember and Committee on Education chair David Catania for a forum on December 9. It's 6:30 pm at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Eastern Market Metro).
Natalie Wexler and Ken Archer will pose questions to Catania about education, and audience members can too. What would you like us to ask? Post your question suggestions in the comments.
Talk about the future
I'm giving a talk on Thursday, December 5 at 4:30 about "new dimensions of civic dialogue." It's part of a series of public talks by various people in planning organized by Georgetown's new Urban and Regional Planning program.
I'll talk a bit about how blogs (like Greater Greater Washington and others) have drawn more people into the process of civic engagement. However, I also want to spend some time exploring how we can broaden the conversation beyond just the demographic of our core audience. We need to be engaging with communities that have traditionally been neglected in the process, especially lower-income and minority neighborhoods.
The changes many of us push for, like adding housing opportunities and amenities like shops and restaurants, can and should benefit new and long-time residents of those communities as well. But we have to make sure they will, not just say so. We can't just draw supply-and-demand curves and say that more supply will filter and keep housing affordable; we have to craft policies that actually ensure people with lower incomes benefit not just in the vague future but now.
And we have to understand what people want for their own neighborhoods. Greater Greater Washington has always sought to highlight voices from all around the region about what they want for their communities, and I'd like to do more to find these voices from our traditionally underserved communities.
If you're interested in this issue, please come share your thoughts with me on December 5 at 4:30. You can RSVP here. That page says the talk is by Shyam Kannan of Metro, and my talk is on 12/12, but we switched, so I'm on 12/5 and Shyam is 12/12. (And go see Shyam's talk, too!)
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- DC sports spaces give short shrift to girls
- Sexist Metro ad asks "Can't we just talk about shoes?"
- Downtown & Georgia Avenue Walmarts open for business