Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Friday, September 10, 2010

Transportation--A Vision Committee Section Draft, Joe Stowers, September 1, 2010

September 1, 2010
Joe Stowers

1. Overview – A composite of existing plans and RMPSSTF

2. Vision – To support Simon’s goals

3. Goals and Priorities – John Bowman

4. Principal Recommendations

• Terri Phillips’ composite map
• County’s evaluation process
• Priorities for 2013
-- Soapstone crossing
-- Locations for foundations for crossings
• Priorities for 2016-17
• 4:1 residential/commercial GFA ratio
• Parking transition at Wiehle and Herndon-Monroe
• County evaluation process

5. Specific Recommendations

• Priorities
• Air Rights
• Connectivity
• Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements
• Bus Service
• Traffic Signal Optimization


Draft of a Section of the Vision Subcommittee Report
Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force
Joe Stowers, Terri Phillips, and John Bowman
(Bullets with an asterisk (*) after them are candidates for deletion from final draft)

This is a compilation of draft materials from the three Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force station area subcommittees, the Reston 2020 Transportation Work Group, the 2008 RMAG consultant’s report prepared by VHB, the RMAG final recommendations in a July 14, 2008, letter to Supervisor Hudgins, the 2009 Fairfax County Transit Development Plan, and other selected papers prepared for the RMPSS Task Force.
This draft reflects the current perspective of the Vision subcommittee.

Transportation in Reston, and particularly in the station areas, should be first and foremost a key part of the infrastructure that supports the quality of life as articulated in Robert Simon’s goals. This is in contrast to a common view that transportation is a utilitarian means to provide and support mobility.

Goals and Priorities:
From the perspective of the RMPSS Task Force, transportation should be addressed from three primary functional perspectives: (1) arterial through-traffic including traffic with a rail station destination, (2) traffic having business, retail, or other commercial Reston destinations, and (3) other intra-Reston local access movements. Planning emphasis should be focused on the transportation modes most appropriate for each of these functional uses.
The planning priority for space in the congested station areas for each of these uses should be (1) rail, (2) pedestrian, (3) bicycle, (4) bus, and lastly (5) private auto and other vehicles.
Planning for through arterial traffic which has no origin or destination in Reston should have the lowest priority. Planning for all movements in the station areas should be focused on public transit systems, i.e. rail and bus.
Planning for movements in the station areas for business, retail, or other commercial destinations should have the following priorities: pedestrian, bicycle, bus, and private auto.
Planning for other intra-Reston local access should focus primarily on residents to easily move to and between village centers, town center, other destinations in the station areas, and other parts of Reston.
Existing Dulles Toll Road crossings should be enhanced to provide for smoother vehicle flow as well as expanded bicycle and pedestrian capacity. New additional Dulles Toll Road crossings should be designed to facilitate local intra-Reston movement -- there should be an emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle, and bus DTR crossings.
In all instances safety for all modes should be a top priority.
Ease of Wayfinding should be an important part of station area planning for all types of movements including graphics in the rail station and bus transfer facilities, as well as directional signing near all major intersections to village centers, town centers, and other important places..

Principal Recommendations:
• Exhibit 1 on the following page is a composite map of the 3 station areas showing in somewhat simplified form the draft recommendations of the 3 station area committees, RMAG, and selected other recommendations prepared for the RMPSS Task Force. The map shows grids of local streets, off-road bike routes, new crossings of the Dulles highway including possible locations for air rights development, which of course could provide additional crossings of the Dulles highway. This map has been simplified to achieve some degree of consistency and thus provide a draft of what might become an important input to the County's planned transportation impact evaluation of possible future development opportunities.
• The County staff is planning to evaluate the impact of possible future development in the station areas. Its ability to effectively perform this evaluation taking into account the recommendations illustrated in Exhibit 1, as well as in evaluating the impact of other recommendations coming from the 3 station area subcommittees and the Task Force, such as targets for balance of residential and commercial uses in each station area, depends on the analytical methods used. It is our belief that the ability to achieve this objective depends on whether the County decides to implement our recommendations on how the transportation impact evaluation process should be performed. This recommendation is outlined in the last bullet in this section, and elaborated on in the last bullet in this draft report.
• Short-term priorities should emphasize the key improvements that need to be completed before rail service begins at Wiehle Avenue station in 2013, including all Reston on Foot station area pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and very importantly, the Soapstone Drive extension, as recommended in the RMAG (see Exhibit 2) and 2020 reports as described below under “Specific Transportation Recommendations.”
• Priorities for improvements to be completed by the beginning of Phase 2 rail operations should be as included in the RMAG report (see Exhibit 2), the final letter recommendations of the RMAG (listed under “Specific Transportation Recommendations”), and most of those in the 2020 report.
• In order to facilitate all recommended crossings of the Dulles highway, specific locations for footings of these structures should be made by Fairfax County to the Airports Authority as early as possible, but no later than the Fall of 2010.
• In order to make possible air rights development at any time in the future, Fairfax County should make recommendations to the Airports Authority for the specific locations desired at both the Town Center and Herndon-Monroe station areas, as early as possible, but no later than the Fall of 2010.
• The alignment of Soapstone Drive extension should be as shown in the RMAG report, as shown in Exhibit 2. *
• The RMPSS Task Force should recommend that the Comprehensive Plan include a target for each of the Reston station areas of all new development of a ratio of 4:1 for residential to commercial gross square feet in order to minimize, and ideally reduce, motor vehicle traffic on the arterials and collectors serving these areas.
• Fairfax County should perform a legal analysis as soon as possible of the extent of the binding commitment of the Record of Decision (ROD) to approximately double the number of parking spaces at the Herndon-Monroe station, recognizing that that ROD was formalized prior to the Federal Transit Administration’s decision to separate the Dulles rail project into two phases and later to enter into a Full Funding Grant agreement for only the first phase extension of Metrorail to Wiehle Avenue. Phase 2 of Dulles rail has received only very limited Federal funding for support of borrowing costs as part of the Stimulus funding. *
• Parking at both Wiehle Avenue and Herndon-Monroe should be transitioned from highly subsidized rail-access parking to parking required to support affordable housing and other components of TOD as soon as practicable after the beginning of operations in these stations. The primary means of achieving this goal is through substantially increasing daily parking fees, perhaps as high as the 2020 report recommends for Wiehle Avenue station – a minimum of $12 per day. Eventually all of the subsidized rail parking should be eliminated as TOD progresses as planned, perhaps by completely eliminating subsidies for rail access parking (which would result in charging close to $20 per day at the Wiehle Avenue station).
• Fairfax County should enter into an agreement with Cambridge Systematics, the firm that performed state-of-the-art transportation analysis for the development of the Tysons Plan, as soon as possible to train County DOT staff in the use and application in Reston of the post-processing TOD planning model used in the Tysons Plan development process.

Specific Transportation Recommendations:

The first priority in terms of timing is completion of recommendations in the station area by the start of rail operations in 2013.
The most important of these, and the most difficult to achieve, is the Soapstone extension across the Dulles highway to the station area. This improvement will provide greater traffic relief than any other improvement beyond those immediate station access improvements required to be built as required by the ROD, such as new turning lanes and other improvements around the Wiehle Avenue-Sunset Hills Road intersection.
Other top priorities include:
-- Additional improvements to the W&OD crossing of Wiehle Avenue that have been developed as a step toward implementation of the Reston on Foot recommendation for this location.
-- Sidewalks along Sunset Hills Road.
-- Bike lanes along Sunset Hills Road, Sunrise Valley Drive, and Wiehle Avenue.
-- Safe crossings of Sunset Hill Road at Isaac Newton Square,
• The second priority in terms of timing should be to complete all recommended station access improvements in the Town Center and Herndon-Monroe station areas by the time rail operations start in 2016 or 2017.
Among the most important of these are:
-- Air rights foundations in both station areas.
-- Conversion of the existing bus-only ramp over the Dulles highway for west-bound traffic into a multi-purpose, two-way route into Herndon, through the cooperation of the Town of Herndon and two property owners on either side of where a new touch-down ramp will be needed.
-- The two recommended access points to the Herndon-Monroe station from Monroe Street and Fairfax County Parkway.
-- The recommended new pedestrian and bicycle access routes to the Town Center station.
-- Construction of new footings for the recommended pedestrian-bicycle crossings of the Dulles highway on the east side of Reston Parkway.
• Priorities for space in the congested station areas should be as recommended in the RMAG report: (1) pedestrians, (2) bicyclists, (3) buses, and lastly (4) private autos and other vehicles.
• Resolution of the legal issue of the binding nature of the ROD’s commitment to approximately double the amount of heavily subsidized parking at Herndon–Monroe should be completed as soon as possible, but no later than this fall. *
• A plan for the transition of parking for subsidized rail parking at Wiehle Avenue and Herndon-Monroe stations to parking to support new affordable housing and other TOD uses should be developed and adopted as soon as feasible. The first steps in implementing these two transitions should be prepared in detail immediately after adoption of the transition plan.

Air Rights:
• The RMPSS Task Force should immediately investigate and resolve specific locations for the foundations for future air rights development at both the Town Center and Herndon-Monroe stations. This should include approximate lengths of these future air rights developments as well as the locations. This should be completed by early this fall to provide timely guidance to Fairfax County in formally requesting that the Airports Authority implement the construction of these foundations as part of construction of Phase 2 of Dulles rail.
• Reston is now on the verge of having sufficient community support to get a public commitment design and build these foundations now. An expression of strong support from the RMPSS Task Force is likely to be necessary to obtain that support. *
• At least two additional things need to be done:
-- Sufficient engineering design work should be done now to convince both the community, potentially interested developers, and concerned officials that there is a practical, safe, and economically feasible way to build future air rights development above the highway and rail system without great interference with highway and rail operations.
-- Sufficient study of all major legal and administrative impediments to building air rights development should be done as soon as possible to assure both the community, potentially interested developers, and concerned officials that there is a feasible path for a good developer to acquire, at a reasonable price, a long-term air rights lease that will facilitate development without great additional cost compared with the approval process of development on private property.

• Special incentives may be needed in some of the station areas to attract what is being called “First Movers” by the Wiehle Avenue subcommittee. One example that has been discussed in a completely different context in the Town Center subcommittee is the desire by Boston Properties and the other subcommittee members is making new crossings (complete streets?) of the W&OD (probably grade separated) at both Explorer Street and Library Street (now only a pedestrian-bicycle bridge). Another example might be a westward extension of what Comstock is calling “Reston Station Boulevard,” and another is a possible new point of access from Fairfax County Parkway to the west across the Sprint property.
• A critical part of Exhibit 2 is achieving continuous east-west connectivity on the south side of the Dulles highway from Centreville Road to Monroe Street (with an eve side of the Dulles highway from Centreville Road to Monroe Street (with an eventual grade-separated crossing) to the Herndon-Monroe station to Fairfax County Parkway, and on the north side of the Dulles highway from Oracle through Plaza America to the Wiehle Avenue station and Wiehle Avenue. These continuous connections are intended to provide rather slow speed access to and from all properties to the nearest stations, rather than to provide for movements of much more than a half mile which might encourage higher speeds. Design standards need to be developed to achieve “complete streets” of this character. *
• A final product of the RMPSS Task Force this fall should be a carefully prepared list of all the grade-separated crossings recommended to be planned for in each station area. This is important to assist the County and all interested stakeholders and community organizations in guiding plans on a parcel-by-parcel basis to facilitate eventual construction of these crossings. In many cases such early planning can lead to the achievement of these crossings at more moderate cost than stand-alone grade separations, and be of critical importance in providing access to new TOD, such as is now being done in planning for an elevated crossing of Sunset Hills Road from the Town Center station to the Boston Properties site.
• The Town Center circulator proposal of the Town Center subcommittee should be developed into a plan with alignments on specific streets including critical connectivity improvements. A critical question to be addressed is: Should this proposal be (a) in the shape of a circle or oval, or (b) a simple linear north-south shuttle from the Town Center rail station into Town Center North, or (c) two or more linear shuttles?
• Design standards should be developed by Fairfax County for the “complete streets” recommendations of the RMPSSTF station area subcommittees. These standards should include design guidelines for various types of streets including those with retail emphasis as well as streets that are planned to accommodate local bus service, bike lanes, and urban public open spaces.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements:
• More detailed analysis and design work should be performed by Fairfax County for high priority pedestrian and bicycle improvements in the RMAG and Reston on Foot reports, particularly for those projects where space is at a premium and costs of widening are high, such as along Wiehle Avenue, Sunset Hills Road, and Sunrise Valley Drive. *
• The analysis and design work recommended above should include careful attention to the issues of (a) joint use of space by pedestrians and bicyclists in high volume areas, (b) joint use of space by bicycles and motor vehicles, and (c) on-road bike lanes. *
• Much more attention should be paid by Fairfax County to the benefits and costs of “real” traffic calming such as is commonly done in Europe, Canada, and in a few parts of the U.S. A critical part of this, which should be done by the County, is the use of highly specialized design features such as the use of rougher re-surfacing calibrated to slow vehicles down to specific speed ranges, either at critical intersections or for continuous sectors of streets. Europeans consider this so important for safety and enjoyment of streets that they are willing to invest in costly solutions such as cobblestone surfaces. One much less expensive solution which should be more acceptable in this area is the use of stamped concrete, which can be designed to slow vehicles to any desired range of speed.
• We recommend that a demonstration of the application of stamped concrete resurfacing be performed for New Dominion Parkway at all intersections between Reston Parkway and Fairfax County Parkway (excluding those two major intersections). The traffic calming measures for this section of New Dominion that have been recommended so far – a road diet and the addition of a traffic signal at Explorer Street -- will not slow traffic down to a safe and comfortable speed for pedestrians (about 25 mph), but stamped concrete surfaces can easily be designed to do so. Consideration might also be given to continuing such re-surfacing at slightly higher design speeds for one or more blocks of New Dominion between intersections.

Bus Service:
• The RMAG consultant developed and presented to the community in 2008 detailed recommendations for restructuring of bus services in the Reston-Herndon area to provide feeder services for the two primary Reston stations – Wiehle and Town Center. These recommendations were developed in close coordination with Fairfax County DOT staff and were revised as appropriate after community review. In general these services were designed to connect with every other train in the peak period.
• Based to a great extent on refinement of the RMAG recommendations, the County's 2009 Transit Development Plan (TDP) includes recommendations for changes in routes and schedules throughout the County including routes serving the Reston - Herndon area. A table in Chapter 12 of that TDP final report lists each route change recommendation and provides estimates of the change in annual operating costs on a route-by-route basis. Another table in that chapter places 1st priority on restructuring of these services for the introduction of Silver Line services. The total increase in ridership for the Reston services is forecast to be 133,672 per day, and the total for Herndon is forecast to be 146,812 per day. The summary evaluation of these recommended changes is that the cost is estimated to be -$7.09 for the Reston system (i.e., a savings of over $7 per new rider due mostly to eliminating bus services that will be replaced by rail). The cost is estimated to be $2.66 per new rider for changes in the Herndon system. Detailed data on a route-by-route basis for these recommendations and their evaluations are contained in an appendix, which unfortunately is not available on the County web site.
• In general, we believe RMAG and the County have done an excellent job of developing and evaluating these recommendations for restructuring of services to best provide feeder service on the most cost-effective basis. However, we believe it is desirable for each Task Force member who is directly impacted or has a serious interest in these recommended changes to review these recommendations in more detail. To facilitate this, we recommend that the Task Force ask the County to hold a meeting soon to allow people to ask questions about the entire process and report on the status of implementing these recommendations. This would also provide an opportunity for members of the 2020 transportation group to discuss their recommendations, which involve much more extensive increases in service and presumably much greater increases in operating costs. The 2020 recommendations are probably less cost-effective changes because they are not designed to directly connect with train schedules as the County recommendations do.
• The RMAG report recommendations include the addition of bus-only lanes on the Soapstone Drive extension to the Wiehle Avenue station and along Sunset Hills Road between Wiehle Avenue and Old Reston Avenue. We recommend that Fairfax County be asked to evaluate these recommendations in light of the fact that bus operations on these lanes would be limited to a small number of buses using these lanes, and would only be doing so for a brief period every 14 minutes (meeting every other train) in the peak period and less frequently at other times. Perhaps alternatives such as prohibiting all other vehicles from using the “bus-only” lanes, using overhead lane control signals operating in accord with real-time operations of the buses. *

Traffic Signal Optimization: *
• Several years ago VDOT spent several million dollars developing and installing a system for “optimizing” all traffic signals in Fairfax County. Most of the expenditures involved (a) installing thousands of sensors in pavements to measure traffic flows in each lane on signal approaches, (b) hard-wire these sensors to a central computer control system, and (c) having a consultant develop fixed-timing signal controls that would “optimize” traffic flows on all sections of signalized routes for a set of several time periods during the week: weekday peak and off-peak periods, and Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. *
• The shortcomings of this effort are: (a) such an “optimization” system is based only on minimizing average delay times, which vary widely from day-to-day, for long sections of signalized routes; (b) the system of signal timing in general remains fixed for years until another consultant is hired to update the “optimized” signal controls for each section of signalized route. (this probably does not occur at all during periods of scarce funding such as we have now experienced for several years); and (c) perhaps most importantly, this type of fixed optimization does not respond to real-time variations in traffic flow (except to a limited extent for turn-lane signals). *
• Since software for real-time traffic signal controls has been evolving over several years going back to before the period during which VDOT developed this Countywide signal control system, and since most of that investment has been greatly under-utilized over the last several years, we recommend that Fairfax County join with VDOT in evaluating this problem and investigate options for utilizing this investment more cost-effectively by using the best of available proven software designed for real-time changes in traffic flow. *

• As recommended in the last bullet above under “Principal Recommendations” Fairfax County should enter into an agreement with Cambridge Systematics, the firm that performed state-of-the-art transportation analysis for the development of the Tysons Plan, as soon as possible to train County DOT staff in the use and application in Reston of the post-processing TOD planning model used in the Tysons Plan development process. Fairfax County staff currently plans to perform an evaluation of possible future development in the Reston station areas under the current Comprehensive Plan language. This evaluation work should include an application of Cambridge Systematics’ post-processing model under the guidance of that firm’s staff. Then a similar process should be used in evaluating the recommendations of the RMPSS Task Force, followed by an interactive application of that model in an effort to refine and enhance the Task Force’s recommendations.

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