Reston Panorama--Urban and Open Space

Reston Panorama--Urban and Open Space

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Silver Line has been bringing Metro’s performance numbers down, GreaterGreaterWashington.org, August 26, 2015

While the title is misleading, this is an excellent post by blogger Stephen Repetski on the deteriorating operating performance of Metrorail.  Here is Repetski's key reason for the deterioration:
In order to open the Silver Line last year, Metro has had to run more train cars longer, and the extra mileage put onto them has meant their breakdowns may affect your service more often.
That's probably true, but we believe the fact that three of the four lines with the greatest deterioration (SL, OR, BL) run through Rosslyn station on the two-track tunnel downtown is a, if not "the", key driver in this phenomenon.   As Repetsky notes, extremely cold weather last winter was also a contributor to performance deterioration--just exactly the time when potential users are seeking good rail transit service.

These graphics capture the major deterioration in performance, especially "did not operate" (DNO):


 


 

It is important to highlight that the deterioration in DNO performance and volatility in on-time performance shown above began in late 2013 or early 2014, many months before the Silver Line began operations and before extra rail cars were needed.  That speaks to extremely poor maintenance, not too much demand for cars.

In fact, if it were not for the Silver Line, total usage of the system would have declined over the last year.  And even among the limited number of SL stations open in Reston and Tysons, only Reston has exceeded usage forecasts for the first year.  We do not expect SL usage to increase until service improves and the new Phase 2 stations to Loudoun are added. 

One cannot also help but notice that, in 2011, WMATA lowered the target on-time performance from 95% to 90% (black line, top graph).  Lowering the bar is not the answer to providing reliable Metrorail service.   It is merely a justification for poorer service.

Most importantly, it shows a continuing systemic deterioration in Metrorail performance for more than 18 months.  And we still don't know the true causes and potential solutions for this increasingly dangerous situation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cloud of sequestration looms over D.C. region, Washington Post, August 23, 2015

Jonathan O'Connell, WaPo, wrote an excellent article this weekend on the Congressional federal budget axe that hangs over our region, including Fairfax County and Reston, in the name of "sequestration"--most of which will hit Defense Department spending, a major driver of local economic growth via federal employment and contracts for our county and community. 

Here are a couple of key passages from that article:
No state is more reliant on defense spending than Virginia, where it affects nearly 13 percent of the commonwealth’s economic output, tops nationwide, and provides the basis for 11 percent of jobs, third in the nation. . .
. . . office parks in Northern Virginia have emptied while defense contractors consolidated or closed locations, and developers of some new buildings have had trouble finding companies willing to sign deals.
According to the Defense Department research, things are likely to worsen over the next four years. From 2010 to 2012, Virginia experienced $9.8 billion in defense cuts, with the vast majority of losses in Northern Virginia. Direct defense spending in the state is projected to drop from $64 billion this year to under $62 billion in 2019.

Virginia’s elected leaders are sounding the alarm, with Senators Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Mark R. Warner (D) repeatedly calling for budget legislation to replace the sequester. . . .
Further sequestration is likely in the Republican-led Congress, although these Senators and Congressmen may also be looking at the 2016 election. 

Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bentana Woods e-mail to RA regarding redevelopment of Tall Oaks Village Center

From: Sherri Hebert
Date: Aug 16, 2015 11:25:09 AM
Subject: Fwd: Tall Oaks Village Center
To: Director Graves , Director Thomas , Director LaRosa , Director Bitzer , Ken Knueven , Lucinda Shannon , "Michael R. Sanio" , Ray Wedell , Cate Fulkerson

Dear Community Leaders,

As the president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association and a neighbor of the Tall Oaks Village Center, I’ve been to all of the community meetings regarding the redevelopment, and conducted two surveys of the Tall Oaks community.  Because of my involvement, I have been asked by many of my neighbors to summarize for you the Tall Oaks residents’ views regarding the redevelopment project for the Tall Oaks Village Center and to ask for your continued support and leadership.

As you are well aware, decisions made regarding Tall Oaks Village Center will have a long-term impact on all future development of village centers which will either preserve the life style of Restonians or turn Reston into the next Tysons. Having a healthy mix of commercial office, retail, housing and other amenities only in the RestonTransit Station areas will leave much to be desired for the founding neighborhoods of Reston and will not make Reston a sustainable transit oriented community.

The residents of Tall Oaks and the Reston community at large has, on multiple occasions, expressed their views and desires for the seven plus acres of prime real estate at the corner of North Shore Rd and Wiehle Ave. This mostly vacant lot is in walking distance of the Wiehle-Reston metro (albeit a lengthy walk) but not walkable to Lake Anne or any othercommunity services or retail establishments (with the exception of McDonalds or Taco Bell).

In April 2015, community residents responded loudly in both numbers of attendees and views expressed at theJefferson Apartment Group (JAG) presentations. The themes at both sessionswhere:
  • More community space
  • More enough retail and community services
  • More green/open space
  • Incorporating the Assisted Living Facility
  • Too much housing (are we creating anothercluster?)
  • Parking and traffic concerns (mixed uses will allow for parking to be used at different times of the day)
  • Several of the current business owners in Tall Oaks took issue with the premise that commercial establishment would not succeed.  Many of these businesses have been successfully operating in Tall Oaks for years, even during the downturn of the village center.
Concerned residents took action bystarting a petition to ask both Fairfax County and Reston Association to listen to the residents of Tall Oaks regarding this valuable land. Shortly after these community meetings, the cluster presidents of the Tall Oaks community reached out the JAG hoping to dialogue about the proposal and to create a partnership in the design. JAG did not respond until they were confronted during a presentation to the Reston Planning and Zoning committee (P&Z) in May. Even with the strong opposition to the JAG proposal, on May 18th, JAG presented the same plan to the P&Z. In that meeting, they stated that they had spoken to the business owners currently operating in Tall Oaks about their future intentions, but the fact is they had not. I actually spoke to the someof the owners that day, and they had not been contacted by JAG. I am bringing up this point, because JAG demonstrated to me, that they will misrepresent the truth for their gain. This is a dangerous game to play especially if decisions are made without facts.

The following evening, May 19th,JAG made the same presentation to the Reston Design Review Board (DRB) with the same misrepresentations of truth they gave the P&Z.  Both groups, based on the words of the developer (completely one-sided) gave a nod that JAG was  heading in the right direction. This was extremely frustrating for the residents in attendance.

The Bentana Woods Cluster Association, as a sample population, participated in a survey regarding the retail service needs of the village center. With a 49% response rate, the  desire for eating establishments was priority one. The survey results were provided to JAG, at a June 16th meeting and are attached for your review.

On June 22nd, Fairfax County hosted an interactive community meeting to again hear the views and opinions of residents. Again, the residents filled the room to capacity to express their concerns. The sheer number of attendees indicated the seriousness of the development project. JAG presented the same proposal that many had heard in April. The same issues were surfaced.

Concerned Citizens of Tall Oaks launched another survey to get reaction to two other fictitious options. The consensus was that neither option was good because they did not have enough community space, a plaza feel, parking, or retail. The options offered forced respondent to choose between additional green/open space and additional parking. Respondents, 54% to 29%, wanted the open space. The real value of the survey was in the comments where people expressed their concerns about losing the village center, traffic, and future of the community. The survey resultsare attached.

On August 6th, RestonAssociation’s Board of Directors issued a letter opposing the current redevelopment plans of JAG and the need to appreciate this land as valuable resource. Developing this land into a gem of Reston and a model for other village centers is critically important to Reston’s future. To create another housing cluster would set the wheels in motion to dissolve the uniqueness of Reston andits village centers, increase traffic and decrease the character of theneighborhood and lower the quality of life of the resident.  All of these factors would ultimately lead to a city without personality or distinction and lower property values. I am available to meet to discuss these issues or to give you greater insight to theresidents’ perspective.  I look forward to your feedback.

Regards,
Sherri Hebert
1607 Park Overlook Drive, Reston, 20190
703-501-7009
-----------------------------------------------------------------

Attachment #1:

Attachment #2:

Supervisor Hudgins responds to RA letter regarding Tall Oaks Village Center

In an August 15 letter responding to a letter from RA President Ellen Graves, Supervisor Hudgins notes the long passed vitality of the Tall Oaks Village Center (which is close to her home) and describes the process for the Jefferson Apartments Group's (JAG's) redevelopment of the village center.  At no point does she address the central point in RA's letter about the need to preserve open space.  Her only affirmative statement is that she is glad to see that RA embraces that idea that Tall Oaks should remain a village center.  This could be a step in the right direction although that remains far from clear.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Time for a "Metrorail Holiday"


As the Post reports today about the latest major safety flaw in Metro’s system:  The train that derailed last week was operating on track deemed to be “black code”—to be shut down immediately until repaired—last month.   This is only the latest in a string of major failures in recent years.  The effects have ranged from deadly accidents to near daily delays and station closures, reduced ridership, deteriorating finances, demoralized employees, and more.  Metrorail is in crisis.

It is time for a “Metrorail holiday.”  Just as FDR closed the nation’s banks for a week-long “bank holiday” in 1933 to put laws and programs in place to salvage the nation’s banks and their patrons, we need the same kind of action for our most critical regional transit system.   

We have the benefit of some time, although at some risk.  In that time, the US Department of Transportation should form a number of truly independent groups expert in every facet of rail mass transit activities.  Those groups should review Metro’s performance and prepare questions on the full range of potential issues from WMATA’s Board composition to escalator failures. 

Then comes the holiday.  During a week of normally low Metro usage—possibly after Christmas or next August summer break period at the latest—Metrorail should be shut down.  WMATA and local public transit agencies should anticipate this shutdown by temporarily bulking up bus and other transit options.  There will be disruptions, but everyone should have time to prepare.

During that holiday, every person involved with Metro should be interviewed, every network and piece of equipment from telephones to rail cars should be examined, every policy and process should be reviewed, and every inch of track should be inspected.    

Each expert group should prepare a systematic analysis and submit it with a series of findings and recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation.  DOT may need to prepare an overview of the results, set an overarching agenda, and provide other guidance to WMATA.  Future federal and other funding should be tied to WMATA addressing the recommendations satisfactorily.

Yes, it is that bad.  Yes, it will be disruptive.  Yes, a Metrorail holiday is absolutely necessary to make Metro a safe and reliable mass transit system.  Anything less will result in Metrorail’s continuing death spiral and growing danger to the public.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

TSA to shrink office space per employee to 173 GSF in move to Alexandria

The Washington Business Journal reported yesterday that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to move its headquarters from Pentagon City to a long vacant building in Alexandria beginning this year.  It goes on to state:
Under the agreement, the TSA will fully occupy the building by the spring of 2018 at a rental rate of $36 per square foot. That rate, per the GSA, is more than 25 percent below projected market rents. The agreement also provides the government with $50 million for tenant fit-out costs and other transition-related expenses. The utilization rate (square footage per employee) will be roughly 153 — 20 percent below the GSA's current rate.
We believe the "utilization rate" described here is what is known as "leasable space" or "RBA" in the commercial real estate market.  This is the space actually leased by a tenant.  It includes all the space occupied by employees plus a proportional share of common areas available in an office building.  So TSA has leased about 153 SF of space for each employee.  By our calculations, the actual space occupied by employees runs about 3/4s of leasable space.  That means, on average, each employee be about 116 SF.

For planning purposes, Fairfax County uses 300 gross square feet (GSF) per office employee.  Our calculation suggests that leasable space is about 88% of gross square footage.  This means that each TSA employee will occupy about 173 GSF in its new quarters, less than 58% of the County's planning value.  Other, generally private, leasees of office space have occupied even much smaller office space per worker on a GSF basis in our area in recent years as we have documented repeatedly on this blog (see index "office space"). 

Two key points arise from this analysis:
  • It is likely that in the next decade leasing of Washington area office space will run about half of what the County expects (and that doesn't count adverse market conditions) as businesses and the federal government stick more employees in less space.
  • More dangerously, over the longer term--3-4 decades--the number of office employees in key employment centers such as Tysons and Reston could be TWICE what the current County plans call for because of bad planning assumptions.  The infrastructure costs (primarily transportation) to support that level of employment will be huge and haven't been considered.
While we tire of repeating the same argument--that office space per employee is shrinking by at least half--we will continue to do so until Fairfax County at least understands and recognizes this phenomenon in its planning and zoning efforts.