50 Shades of Autumn in Reston

50 Shades of Autumn in Reston
Autumn on Lake Thoreau

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Colin Mills: ResTown Hall Meeting on Baron Cameron Park, RestonNow, April 17, 2014

Colin Mills/File photoFrom the beginning, one of the Reston Citizens Association’s key missions has been keeping the citizens informed about what’s going on in the community and serving as the voice of the citizens on key issues.

In keeping with that mission, last week we had our first “ResTown Hall Meeting.”  Our goal was to inform and to listen to Restonians on a subject that is essential to Reston’s recreational future: the draft master plan for Baron Cameron Park developed by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Based on the attendance, it was clear that the community cares about the future of Baron Cameron. We had strong turnout in spite of cold and rainy weather and the NCAA men’s basketball championship taking place that night. Not only that, the attendees came from all parts of Reston, not just the neighborhoods closest to the park.

We opened with a presentation by RCA’s Terry Maynard.  Terry summarized the changes and upgrades proposed in the draft master plan.  He placed the plan in the context of Reston’s planned growth, explaining Baron Cameron’s location relative to the coming Metro stations (not very close) and the Lake Anne redevelopment (quite close). He also described the other park facilities in and near Reston.

From there, Terry focused on the plan elements that have generated the most discussion to date: the fields, the proposed recreation center option, the dog park, and the potential impact on traffic.  In each of these areas, he explained the key aspects of the draft plan and the concerns that have been raised.

Baron Cameron Park Plan with new dog park location and indoor rec center/Credit: FCPA On the field issue, Terry showed that the plan would actually provide fewer fields than are at the park currently, particularly if part of the land is devoted to a rec center, which is an option in the plan. The Park Authority plans to increase the capacity of the fields by adding artificial turf and lights. Terry showed that with fewer fields, total rectangular field capacity at Baron Cameron would only increase by 20 to 40 percent … and if the rec center is built, it might not increase at all.

Terry briefly discussed the rec center option. As currently envisioned, the Park Authority would supply the land, but would not build the facility (RCC is exploring building a rec center there).Terry expressed Reston 2020′s position that Town Center North would make more sense for a rec center, as that’s where the residents will be.

Terry noted that the draft plan roughly doubles the number of parking spaces and adds a new north entrance along Wiehle. He noted the pluses (reduces the problem of park users parking in surrounding neighborhoods, improved access to the park) and minuses (added congestion on Wiehle, access challenges for the neighborhood next door). He also noted that the new spaces might be tempting for commuters, who might park there and ride the bus to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

The dog park has become one of the most controversial aspects at Baron Cameron. Terry did a good job explaining both sides, both the dog owners who treasure it as a recreational and social venue and the neighbors who have complained about the noise it generates. He laid out possible options: keeping the dog park as is, moving it to the interior of the park (a plan option), or moving it to another location, such as Lake Fairfax Park.

After that, we broke into small groups for discussion.  My table contained a nice cross-section of the community.  Some of our folks lived across the street from the park; others lived on the other side of town. Some had been Restonians for decades; others were relative newcomers. Some had followed the process closely; others came primarily to learn.

Given the diversity of perspectives around the table, it’s no surprise that we had a lively discussion.  We had some good questions and some creative ideas.  When the other tables reported back to the larger group, it was clear that they’d also had great discussions. There was no invective, no shouting; just thoughtful citizens sharing their views and raising honest questions. It was exactly the kind of forum we hoped to create.

After the tables had shared their feedback, we gave every audience member a few sticky dots to identify the points that mattered most to them. When we totaled up the dots, it was clear what the community likes and doesn’t like about the plan.

The respondents liked the increased field capacity, the addition of trails and fitness stations, the retention of the existing gardens, and the planned multi-use courts. They didn’t like the amount of added parking, the potential added traffic on Wiehle, and the insufficient space dedicated to group social activities  They expressed strong opposition to a rec center at Baron Cameron.  And they mentioned some things to add, like bike storage, a circumferential trail, and a Memorial Garden.

If one concern predominated, it was that the plan tries to do too much in too little space. Unfortunately, we’re likely to hear this concern more often as Reston grows. We’re an active community; kids and adults alike are involved in running, biking, sports leagues, and other recreational activities. The demand for recreational amenities is going to rise — sharply — as Reston’s population increases.

But the available space for those amenities is likely to shrink.  Meeting increased demand for recreation in a limited space, and with limited financial resources, will be a major challenge for our leaders to meet in the coming years.  We’ll need to be smart in identifying our priorities, and creative in finding and implementing solutions.

What’s next? We’re compiling the feedback from the meeting into a community response, which we will submit to the Park Authority. We will highlight the most important issues that the community identified, along with recommendations based on them.  But we will also include all the feedback we received, to ensure that everyone’s voice is represented in our report.

I believe our inaugural ResTown Hall Meeting was a success. I look forward to this being the first of many such meetings. I hope to see you at the next one.  And whether you attended this one or not, I hope you’ll share your comments with the Park Authority at Parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov (deadline for public comments is April 27).  In order to make the best decisions for our community, the Park Authority needs to hear from our citizens.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

More problems for beleaguered Silver Line as head of long-delayed rail project resigns, WaPo, April 16, 2014

Just months before Metro’s new Silver Line is scheduled to open, the agency building the rail line received more troubling news Wednesday about the project, which already is late and over budget.
The head of the project is resigning, and the agency’s board acknowledged that attempts to fix a key component of the new line have failed. Officials said they will use a work-around until a nearly $2 million permanent fix can be completed.
    Wednesday’s news comes as the $5.6 billion extension to the Metro system already is seven months late and $150 million over its targeted cost. As of Wednesday, officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority still could not say when the project will be complete.
    The resignation of Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the rail project, underscores concerns among those already worried about the MWAA’s management of the project.
    Terry Maynard, a member of the Reston 2020 Committee, a neighborhood group that has been instrumental in pushing the project, said Nowakowski’s resignation exacerbates problems tied to the construction of the rail extension including the installation of radios that don’t meet code, leaky roofs at rail stations and technical problems with equipment and other issues.
    “There have been too many surprises,” Maynard said. He said many parts of the project, such as the completion of power stations — an earlier issue in building the line — “weren’t closely inspected” when they were done. These things “should have been ironed out along the way.” . . .
    I would like to take a moment to address my reported comments in this article, which are accurate but totally overlook their context.

    First, and most important, in the ten-minute or so phone interview I had with Dana Hedgpeth last evening, I said more than once (maybe 3-4 times) that I was sorry to see Pat Nowakowski leave as the Silver Line project manager.  First, I said, Phase 1 of the line will not be complete and it would be better if he saw the project through to its completion.  Second, I said his experience would provide important continuity for Phase 2 and a better opportunity to avoid the mistakes made in Phase 1.

    What I didn't say, but probably should have, is that I don't blame Nowakowski for leaving, especially in the recent efforts to politicize the Phase 1 completion process.  Threats of fines and lawsuits, demands that "substantial completion" be declared by yesterday's MWAA Board meeting, and so on, most of them coming from MWAA Board member and Dulles Corridor Committee Chairman Tom Davis, do nothing to complete the project in a way that provides any assurance to the public that the line will be safe and reliable when it is completed.  The last thing a project of this magnitude needs is knee-jerk political reaction to a difficult situation.  Davis' remarks, quoted widely in the press, were very non-constructive.

    Second, Ms. Hedgpeth asked me several times what I thought was wrong with the way MWAA has handled the management of this project, a clearly one-sided question.  My reply, which included the quotes above, always began with "It's very difficult to judge what went wrong with the project management from the outside..."  My general comment about what may have gone wrong was that (as the quotes suggest) that it did not appear that MWAA had followed up in making sure that elements of the project (such as the leaky roofs, etc) were done right as they were allegedly completed. 

    What I didn't say and probably should have is that neither apparently did Bechtel, the lead contractor, whose motivation may have been a bid to cut construction costs.  That put all the more pressure on MWAA to make sure each part of the project was checked thoroughly when it was completed.  Apparently, they trusted Bechtel to do its job.  An old saw says, "Trust, but verify."

    I'll be more careful next time--and should have been yesterday.  

    For the rest of the WaPo article, click here.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    Silver Line Not Open Yet, But MWAA Looking For $1.8 Million in Upgrades, RestonNow, April 15, 2014

    Karen Goff, RestonNow, writes about MWAA's plan to let a sole-source contract to improve the Automatic Train Control (ATC) system on the Silver Line, specifically the Horton Remote Terminal Units (RTUs).  The contract would be with Alstom, the company that has for years built ATC systems and modules that have failed.  Here are some highlights from the article:
    Metro’s Silver Line has not yet opened, but the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA) is already seeking a $1.8 million technology upgrade of the Automatic Train Control system. . .
    Alstom previously installed the Horton Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) as part of the design of the Automatic Train Control System. That system is used throughout the existing Metro system, MWAA says.
    But in testing the system for the Silver Line, the RTUs have proven faulty.
    “The Horton RTUs have proven unreliable in the Phase 1 application,” MWAA documents read. “Increased reliability can be achieved by incorporating the use of integral circuit boards in the Alstom Vital Processor Interlock (VPI) instead of using RTU equipment.”
    “This is a reliability issue, not a safety issue,” the documents read. “The technology upgrade will take one year to complete.” . . .
    Say WHAT?  Let's see what the NTSB accident report on the 2009 Metrorail Red Line accident says:


    The "track circuit modules" described here are the RTUs.  But let's look more specifically at what happened in the accident as described by the NTSB:

    In the absence of a detailed specific explanation by MWAA of why continually failing Alstom RTUs in the line's ATC system are NOT a safety issue, who do you believe--MWAA or the NTSB???  How much credibility does MWAA have on anything it says given its scheduling delays, etc?

    Restonians want--and deserve--a Silver Line that is BOTH RELIABLE AND SAFE.  At this point, it would appear that MWAA will be willing to sign off on one that is neither.