Posts about Virginia
For years, Loudoun County was one of the nation's fastest growing counties and an instructive example of the downsides of sprawl. Meanwhile, it's a nationally recognized center for horse breeding and for its wineries. How can the county manage ongoing growth without losing its rural areas?
Running north-south from Point of Rocks to Aldie, US 15 bisects the county into developed and rural halves. Loudoun's eastern half is a rapidly developing area that made it the nation's wealthiest county and one of its fastest growing counties.
This area contains Dulles Airport, a large number of technology businesses, and increasing racial and socioeconomic diversity. Soon, Metro's Silver Line will extend to Loudoun County, taking workers to job centers like Reston and Tysons Corner.
In Loudoun's western half, small towns and villages like Purcellville and Waterford dot the landscape among miles of rolling countryside. However, extreme development pressures put this land essential to the agricultural economy at risk.
How can the county continue to grow in a more sustainable manner and reverse existing planning mistakes? This two-part series will look at what Loudoun General Plan recommends for the county's Suburban Policy Area, or SPA, in the east and the Rural Policy Area, or RPA, in the west.
Both halves of Loudoun face unique challenges and risks, but they must play to their strengths. Each half has a specific role to play in the county, but they can complement one another. Despite tension between the two areas, Loudoun's success stems from being able to successfully plan and manage both suburban and rural places.
Where growth is happening
Brambleton, one of many new planned communities in Loudoun County's eastern half. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.
The Suburban Policy Area (PDF) is predicted to absorb seventy five percent of all of Loudoun's growth in the near future. By 2020, the SPA will have a population density of about 2200 people per square mile, which is close to Fairfax's current county-wide density of around 2300 people per square mile.
Sprawl has blurred many of the borders between Loudoun neighborhoods. Shopping centers blend together and there's a distinct lack of a center in many of the communities. Recognizing this, the SPA plan recommends creating four distinct "towns" in the county's eastern half: Ashburn, Sterling, Potomac and Dulles.
The towns would be compact and have a mix of uses, allowing them to have distinct centers and a strong sense of community identity. Schools and community centers would go in places where they can be easily reached by foot or bicycle. A greenbelt would wrap around each town, providing physical separation between communities and creating a network of open space and trails. The county could use Transfers of Development Rights, or TDRs, to allow greater density at other sites to preserve the open spaces.
For decades, Loudoun has planned only for cars while ignoring all other transportation modes. It will be relatively easy to add "complete streets" to new developments, but it will take a lot of work to make current roads safer and more attractive for walking and biking, especially ones like Route 7 that are over 100 feet wide and have grade-separated interchanges.
Where is the transit?
These are all good ideas, but in order to make them happen, Loudoun will have to find a way to deal with both existing and future traffic congestion. This must include more comprehensive intra-county transit.
The county's general plan devotes a lot of space to widening roads and adding interchanges. However, there's hardly any mention of any sort of public transportation, outside of vague references to future Silver Line stations and the desire to build transit-oriented developments around them.
Right now, Loudoun County Transit runs commuter buses from park and ride lots in the county to downtown DC or Metro stations elsewhere in Northern Virginia. Virginia Regional Transit operates shuttles between neighborhoods and shopping centers, but only every forty-five minutes. Transfers between lines are few and far between.
Now that the county is committed to building the Silver Line, it must create a true transit network that not only connects communities to Metro but to each other. This would relieve congestion on many of Loudoun's roads and head off the desire to continually widen arterial roads. Loudoun needs transit sooner rather than later to handle what's already here and for future infill development.
Make it denser and give Loudoun an identity
Many people would say that what Loudoun needs to do is stop growing. That wouldn't help the county improve its communities or its traffic.
The county is urbanizing rapidly and must be able to pay for the costs of new services that more citizens require. Loudoun already has higher property taxes than Fairfax or Arlington, and the improvements to the transportation network will need to rely on carefully planned growth to maximize the county's investment. In order for Loudoun to hold on to its agricultural heritage, it must ensure that its developed areas are planned with excellence.
In part two, we'll talk about the Rural Policy Area.
WMATA has chosen a brand for its upcoming Crystal City Potomac Yard BRT line: Metro Way, featuring a flashy new blue paint scheme.
The BRT line will run south from Pentagon City through Crystal City and then into Alexandria. It will have dedicated lanes, with large rail-like stations. The line will run every 6 minutes during rush hour and every 12-15 minutes at other times.
In a few years it will be upgraded to a streetcar line. But in the meantime, it's the DC region's first bona fide BRT.
WMATA selected the Metro Way brand and livery following a survey this past March that considered several options. The blue livery, although clearly unique, reflects the blue Metro uses for its MetroExtra express buses.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
May is a great month to bike to school or work (and so is every other month!) Tomorrow is the national Bike to School Day, Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17, and Greenbelt is having a vintage New Deal-themed bike ride later this month.
Also, there are public meetings to learn about and weigh in on some of the most important questions shaping our communities, like what the Purple Line will look like and how tall buildings should be in DC, a more walkable Route 1 in Fairfax, and Montgomery's Bus Rapid Transit plans, and more.
Here's what's coming up on the Greater Greater Washington calendar:
Purple Line open houses: The Maryland MTA is holding 5 open houses to inform residents about the Purple Line, now looking a lot more likely to actually become a reality. They're tonight (Tuesday) in Silver Spring, Thursday 5/9 in Riverdale, Saturday 5/11 in Langley Park, Tuesday 5/14 in Bethesda, and Wednesday 5/15 at Woodridge Elementary School in Hyattsville. Each is 5-8 pm, except the Saturday one which is 11-2.
Bike to school: If you have children in school and don't bike to school regularly, tomorrow is a great time to try. 17 DC schools are participating, and for the dozen on those which are on Capitol Hill, families can congregate in Lincoln Park for an event featuring Ray LaHood, then form bike trains to the schools. Sandra Moscoso has more on Greater Greater Education.
Walk Route 1: CSG's next walking tour looks at Route 1 in Fairfax, the oft-forgotten highway where big box sprawl has the potential to become eco-friendly, walkable communities. Volunteers will help groups take the bus from Huntington Metro for those arriving by transit. RSVP before it's full!
Height "master plan" meetings: The National Capital Planning Commission and DC Office of Planning are working together on a study that might recommend changes to the federal height limit, or might not. Regardless, the issue is sure to be completely noncontroversial, since as we know nobody ever wants to argue about the height limit. (Kidding.) The first public involvement is next week, with a meeting Monday, May 13, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Petworth Library, and then Saturday, May 18, 10:30-12:30 at the MLK Library by Gallery Place Metro.
Learn about, push for BRT: There's a big hearing on Montgomery County's BRT plans on Thursday, May 16, 6-9 pm in Silver Spring. Can you testify? Also, Montgomery transportation planner Larry Cole will talk about BRT as well as MARC expansion at ACT's monthly meeting Tuesday, May 14, 7:30 pm in Silver Spring.
What's up with Pennsylvania and Potomac? The second public meeting on the intersection at Potomac Avenue Metro is Thursday, May 16, 6:30-8:30 pm at Payne Elementary. Have DDOT and its consultants listened made the early designs even better to walk and bike, or have they gotten worse? We'll find out!
Bike to work: Just a little over a week after Bike to School Day (but much farther down our chronological calendar) is Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17. Pledge to ride, stop by one of the pit stops around the region, join one of the commuter convoys along popular routes, and support almost all of the event sponsors.
Talk Smart Growth with David Grosso: Ward 3 Vision, the smart growth resident group in upper Northwest DC, is having a meet and greet on Tuesday, May 21, 6:30 pm at Guapo's by the Tenleytown Metro. At-large councilmember David Grosso will be there to hear from you about your vision for a more walkable and vibrant Ward 3 and all of DC.
Roosevelt Ride: Ride around Greenbelt, the New Deal planned community, in your best New Deal-era attire, followed by a picnic. You can also get a free tour of the Greenbelt Museum, which shows how families lived in what was built as working-class housing in 1937. That's Sunday, May 26; the ride starts at 11, the picnic after, and the tours at 1.
Have an event we should consider including on the ? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a URL to a webpage that has the information about your event as well, so that we can link directly to your event.
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.
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.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The District is building a streetcar system while also studying the potential for express bus lanes in key areas. Montgomery County is looking at building a bus rapid transit (BRT) network. Arlington and Fairfax are planning a streetcar on Columbia Pike, while a BRT line is under construction in the Crystal City-Potomac Yard area.
It's easy to get confused about the differences between these various transit projects. Moreover, it's easy for opponents of certain projects to use this confusion to misdirect residents when comparing different types of transit projects.
Two weeks ago, for instance, Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey wrote in an op-ed that she opposes a streetcar on Columbia Pike and instead favors what she calls "modern bus transit." Unfortunately, nowhere did she define this term, which isn't a real name for a type of transit. Personally, I favor "Star Trek"-style transporters on Columbia Pike, which would be far faster than any car, bus or train, but those are just as nonexistent.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
Alexandria's City Council will soon decide whether to expand Capital Bikeshare in the city. Opponents claim that bikeshare is a waste of money that should be spent on other things, but ridership and revenue are exceeding expectations.
On May 6, the council will vote to fund an 8-station expansion, doubling the local CaBi fleet, and add CaBi operating funds to the city budget. However, some say that Alexandria is not getting a good deal. City Council members say privately that these residents have fixated on CaBi as the place to cut the budget in favor of their own causes.
The person leading this charge is Kathryn Papp, who has a history of opposing bicycles in Old Town. Papp argued last year that "adding bikes increases congestion" by slowing down cars. Now, she is presenting straw-man arguments against CaBi expansion.
"Every other city uses dedicated sponsors to cover operating costs, but not Alexandria," she states in a letter to the Alexandria Gazette-Packet on April 12, citing New York's Citibank-sponsored Citibike, which is still under construction. Papp notes that Alexandria also no longer receives federal grants to pay for bikeshare and will instead use $50,000 in development impact fees and $70,000 in revenue from real estate taxes.
In another letter to the Alexandria Times, Papp questions whether the city should pay for a service operated by Alta, a private company, in partnership with Alexandria, Arlington and DC. She claims that a financial dispute between Bixi, Alta's equipment maker, and the city of Montreal and a lawsuit from Bixi's software vendor makes Alta unfit to work with. Instead, she proposes that Alexandria use CaBi funds to reverse a proposed cut in library hours.
Conflating the problems of Bixi with Alta, the private company that operates CaBi, ignores the real question of whether it's actually working for Alexandria.
Alexandria is getting the same deal as Arlington, DC, and other cities with bikeshare systems. Like Denver's B-Cycle and Boston's Hubway, CaBi is a public-private partnership in which the city owns the equipment and contracts out operations to a for-profit company.
As with Minneapolis' Nice Ride system, CaBi lists a number of major sponsors on its website, though Nice Ride covers its operating costs with user fees and sponsored stations. Capital Bikeshare could partner with a corporate sponsor, but it's a regional system, and all of the jurisdictions involved should make that decision together.
Despite what Papp says, Capital Bikeshare also saves money. Capital costs of the proposed eight-station expansion are about that of a single DASH bus. Operating costs per ride are well under a dollar for CaBi, versus over a dollar for Metrorail and over two dollars for DASH. System-wide, CaBi moves about 8,000 people per day, almost as many as the 11,000 that DASH moves.
Papp complains that CaBi will get some financial support from local taxes, but Alexandria recently chose to dedicate 2.2¢ of its real estate tax rate to a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), including 3 designated transit corridors and supporting infrastructure for biking and walking. Given that 2 of the 4 busiest Alexandria CaBi stations serve nearby Metro stations, CaBi clearly fits in with the program's stated goals.
Besides, Alexandria can't simply move the funds to support libraries. TIP money must be spent on transportation, and since it's a new program, raiding TIP funds for libraries would only weaken it as a funding source. Just as CaBi is a transportation service that should be evaluated in the context of Alexandria's transportation program, libraries are a social service that should be evaluated in the context of Alexandria's other social services.
Capital Bikeshare has proven its worth to Alexandria, but a few detractors want to discredit this valuable service. The City Council should listen to the facts and support bikeshare funding. They will be voting on the budget next Monday; you can contact them here and voice your support.
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