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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crediting Low-Traffic Developments: Adjusting Site-Level Vehicle Trip Generation Using URBEMIS, Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, August 2005

The authors of this report describe the URBEMIS model as a useful tool in correcting some of the shortcomings of the ITE Trip Generation model in assessing the environmental impact of development.  This comes from the introduction:

The Institute for Traffic Engineers’ (ITE’s) Trip Generation report and the companion Trip Generation Handbook are the most definitive available sources for estimating the automobile traffic that different land uses will generate. Now in its seventh edition, Trip Generation provides a wealth of data on the average number of vehicle trips generated at different times of day by hundreds of land uses, from office buildings to funeral parlors.
Trip Generation is an invaluable reference for traffic studies and environmental assessments, as it is by far the most comprehensive source of empirical data on the traffic impacts of different land uses. However, the information is most useful for auto-oriented, stand-alone suburban sites, from where the vast majority of data were collected. For downtowns or areas with good public transportation, ITE advises that traffic engineers should collect local data, or adjust the ITE average trip generation rate to account for reduced auto use.
All too often, however, ITE’s warnings are ignored and standard trip generation rates are applied in inappropriate locations – with serious impacts on the character and financial feasibility of urban development. Part of the reason is that, until now, there has been no standardized tool to allow these adjustments to trip generation rates to be made. . . .
. . . The URBEMIS mitigation component is a simple yet powerful tool; it employs standard traffic engineering methodologies, but provides the opportunity to adjust ITE average rates to quantify the impact of a development’s location, physical characteristics and any demand management programs. In this way, it provides an opportunity to fairly evaluate developments that minimize their transportation impact, for example, through locating close to transit or providing high densities and a mix of uses. . . .
 The most amazing feature of the URBEMIS mitigation model is the very high mitigation effect it gives to residential development.  Overall, URBEMIS indicates a 55% mitigation in ITE environmental (& traffic) effects from residential development.  It also shows in the following table how high-density residential has the greatest impact in reducing environmental effects of development.

Fairfax County uses the ITE Trip Generation Report as its basic tool for calculating traffic, but it too has adjustments.  It is not clear that it mitigates the impact on traffic & environmental effects that intense residential development generates.  We need to be sure that it does.

Here's the full report:

Crediting Low-Traffic Developments, Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Assoc., August 2005

Notes from the RTF Steering Committee Meeting, September 28, 2011

                                       28 Sept 2011
                                       R. Rogers

     Summary: Discussion focused on the open space section of the “checklist.” The Department of Planning & Zoning (DPZ) presented its proposal for a residential test, which drew a cool reaction from development community and mixed support from others.  DPZ said it realized the high residential figures—-higher than the 2020 proposal--were unrealistic.

     Attendance: Good—the “big nine” present. Several TF members including RCA’s John Bowman were also in attendance.

     Admin: During discussion of the recent Herndon meeting on the Herndon station, Greg Riegle noted that the Town Council seems intent on finalizing its plan by year end.

Open Space and Urban Design

     Discussion focused on the Steering Committee (SC) “checklist’ on these issues (see 21 Sept SC mtg on FC website for text). Heidi Merkel, DPZ, said she did not think the TF report should lay out specific percentages for open space.  Instead, it should emphasize the type of open space that is wanted leaving some flexibility for implementation.  John Carter agreed that the Tyson plan approach of designating specific open space was not desirable but urged a hybrid approach designating some big public areas and encouraging smaller spaces.  Goudie urged that developers be expected to devote “up to” 20% for open space.  Most seemed to agree that all developers should have an obligation to support open space even it not on their properties.

     Kohann Williams urged that attention be paid to the issue of maintaining privately held public open space, citing maintenance problems at Lake Anne.  She also urged a “memorial garden” (John Carter is apparently on a committee to discuss this).

     The discussion touched on the problems of utilizing open space not within the TOD area for recreation such as ball fields.  Bill Penniman also mentioned making more effective use of open space outside the TOD areas such as RA properties and Lake Fairfax Park.  I suggested that this issue should be taken up as part of Phase II.

Alternative Test Scenario

     Heidi M put forth an alternative transportation test scenario that would call for more residential.  The DPZ proposal, which she specifically said DPZ did not endorse, calls for 4 sq ft of residential to each 1 sq ft of additional commercial. The gross sq. footage would be 13.8 non-residential and 55 mil of residential. Because the proposal is so unrealistic, she said DPZ was not proposing that it be submitted for testing by the FC departments like schools and parks.

     Heidi noted latter in the discussion that the Reston 2020 proposal did not call for as much residential as this and, in fact, was closer to the GMU numbers.

     There was considerable discussion about what this might mean in terms of people.  Depending on the square footage assigned to residents and workers the projections ranged from 8 residents for each two new workers to “a little bit more labor force than jobs.”

     The development community was either cool or opposed to the test scenario. Otteni, for example said that to get this much residential you would have to give developers some financial incentive and that the proposal did not try to assess the broader impact of more residents. Looney wondered why we would “waste” one of out test scenarios on this.  Goudie again asserted that too much residential would ruin TC as a regional hub.  (Comment:  Why does Mr. Goudie continue to insist that Reston Town Center is a “regional hub”?  That is supposed to be the role of Tysons in its new plan. TMaynard)

     John Carter, John Boyd, Paul Thomas and Joe Stowers to one degree or another spoke in favor of testing this  as a “data point”. Bill Penniman raised the possibility of a more balanced test as well, using less residential.

     Heidi M said based on the discussion she will revise the proposal and submit it for discussion at the next SC meeting.


     The last SC meeting focused on transportation.  Heidi M said are no specific notes available. The discussion will be used by the staff as a guideline in drafting the TF report. (Comment:  I was informally told that the development community steadily watered down the Vision Com points in the “checklist.”)

     Re North Town Center:  I raised the rather low figure in the 9/7 DPZ map for “7%” institutional in North Town Center.  Heidi said “institutional” includes civic facilities such as the police station, library, municipal building, housing office and INOVA Access center.  She agreed that 7% sound very low and will go back to check this (NTC is now 50% county owned).

     Next: The next SC mtg will probably be 11 Oct at 7PM at Lake Anne (check details).

Capital One's Tysons redevelopment needs more housing, Nikolai Fedak, Greater Greater Washington

Nikolai Fedak writes in the Greater Greater Washington blog about Capital One's plan to put 14 new buildings where two now stand near the "Tysons East" Metrorail station.  That station lies east (inside) the beltway and is generally bound by it, the toll road, and Rt. 123, although Mitre and others have large properties on the other side of Rt. 123.  It is not at the heart of the Tysons re-development area and has limited roadway access to the surrounding highways, yet the now-approved Capital One plan will see roughly five million square feet of development. 

Capital One Campus, 2025? Photo from Fairfax County.

The key point in Mr. Fedak's post is that there is an insufficient residential component in the planned development to prevent a major increase in traffic, and more residential space should be included. 

While Capital One's ambitious plan should be applauded for conforming to the proposed guidelines for Tysons Corner as an urban center, the proposal's lack of a strong residential component is a key factor mitigating the project's potential to be a major positive influence. In its statement of justification, Capital One notes that its "proposed mix of uses mirrors [the Tysons Corner Comprehensive Plan's] recommendations of office uses up to 65% with a minimum residential component of 20%," stating that its own plan contains 25% residential and 65% office.
There's no way around the fact that more office space is coming to Tysons, but only the significant addition of residential space there will make a dent in the traffic that cripples the area. Instead of being forced to give up office space for residential, Capital One should be allowed and encouraged to develop as much residential as possible on top of its existing plans, as long as the new housing units come with very limited additional parking space.

The lesson he offers for Tysons East is applicable to Reston, and especially Reston Town Center, where the current plan proposal calls for roughly the same two-to-one non-residential to residential development scheme over the next 20 years.  As we have stated before, this mix of uses will generate a massive increase in traffic congestion and all the negative consequences it carries--more pollution, higher transportation infrastructure costs, etc.  The time to prevent that from occurring is now, not after a new plan, zoning ordinance, and site proposal have been offered.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Notes from the RTF Meeting, September 13, 2011

                                         R. Rogers
                                      22 Sept 11

Reston 2020 Highlights from 9/13 RMPTF Meeting

     The 2020 highlights were a discussion of an alternative scenario for the transportation test and a vote on what to submit for examination.

     Heidi Merkel outlined the results of the earlier Steering Committee meetings on what would be submitted for a transportation test and for comments by county agencies. See the3 county website for the latest version

An Additional Residential Test

     Heidi noted that consideration was being given to a test of a higher residential limit per the comments made by Tammi Petrine at the previous TF meeting.  She said DPZ had found the money to do such a test of an increased residential component.  However, a key issue was whether this assumed only residential development over an extended period of time instead of more commercial development as well.  She asked “is this remotely realistic” and said that it was “hard” to justify that scenario.  This was still being discussed in DPZ.

     Robert Goudie commented that one could not create ”the kind” of residential in Town Center that 2020 wants and keep TC as a major regional center.  Peter Otteni also raised concern and said that “we needed to talk about the second scenario.”

     (Comment: During the discussion no statistics were presented about what exactly an increased residential test would involve and why it would preclude additional commercial development.  No one challenged the Goudie view that more residential would destroy TC as a regional hub.)

     (Comment:  The residential-focused scenario provided by Reston 2020 and documented in “Reston TOD Planning:  More Balance, Less Density Needed,” would have allowed a 49% increase in all non-residential development, including a 44% increase in office space, over the next 20 years (see Appendix A, p. 23). The DPZ scenario would allow non-residential development in the TOD areas to increase by 96%--nearly double—in the same timeframe.  If Ms. Merkel suggested that Reston 2020 was proposing little or no commercial development in Reston’s TOD areas, she was wrong or, worse, disingenuous. TDMaynard)   

A Vote

     Gerry Volloy raised whether the “‘test” proposal would be submitted to the TF for a vote. (Comment: He did not seem to imply that either of the substantive proposals should be voted on, just that the TF should not be completely relegated to obscurity but have some sort of role).  After hesitation on the part of the Chair and some discussion on whether a vote was really needed, Mike Cooper of Brandywine REIT made a motion that “it” be placed before the TF for a vote.  During a confused discussion, John Carter and Fred Costello in low key made the point that the residential alternative should also be considered.  Cooper said his motion assumes one proposal would be tested.

     There was a unanimous vote to submit “the proposal” for a test.

     (Comment: This vote was as irregular as the previous TF vote on “principles.”  No effort was made to determine who was eligible to vote, and the “motion” was not read out.  What the motion exactly said is unclear to this observer and whether it will be invoked at some latter point as precluding a test of the residential alternative is unclear.)

     At the end of the meeting Heidi made that statement that money were available for a third test. She did not clarify what DPZ had in mind re this.

Next TF Meeting

     Heidi said there would be a kickoff meeting on Wed 16 Nov of Phase 2, which will examine Reston’s village centers and residential areas.  This meeting would discuss objectives, time frame and approach.  At that time the composition the TF will be set out. (Comment: If that process sounds confusing it is because it is!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Commentary: Accenture’s Departure: Harbinger of Future Reston TOD Office Markets? Terry Maynard, September 20, 2011

I was surprised by the recently announced departure of Accenture’s headquarters from Reston Town Center, but maybe I shouldn’t have been.  Accenture is among the world’s leading management consultant firms in the high technology “knowledge” industry.  More than most firms, it focuses on future trends and best practices in cost-effective and productive management in technology companies. 

As its decision to leave Reston Town Center suggests, Accenture apparently practices what it preaches.

One of the trends that Accenture’s headquarters was noted for in Reston was not assigning office space to its new employees.  As Jeff Clabaugh reports in the Washington Business Journal (WBJ), “Accenture has been ‘office hoteling’ for the last several years, meaning workers don’t have assigned office space anymore.  Instead, employees, many of whom spend much of their time off-site with clients or working from home, share space in Reston, using a reservation-based system for use of office space.”  These employees remain connected to Accenture through their laptop computer and access to Accenture’s private network.  In my view, this practice had at least two positive effects from Accenture’s perspective:  It keeps Accenture’s employees in close contact with the company’s clients, and it reduces the amount of space Accenture needed to lease for its headquarters—and, therefore, business expenses.   With computing and networking technology improving steadily, I doubt there are many down sides to this space management strategy. 

As it turns out, Accenture has been downsizing its Reston headquarters staff anyway, according to WBJ, and with its move to Arlington’s Ballston Metrorail station area, cutting its rental space roughly in half from nearly 200,000SF to 100,000SF.  “’Because of the virtual nature of our office environment, we no longer need the amount of space we have in Reston,’ said Accenture spokesperson Kate Shenk,” reports WBJ.  

It may also be true that Accenture is positioning itself for leaner times as the federal government tries to cut its spending, especially in defense-related spending—a mainstay of the Washington area office market and Accenture’s local client base.   Besides the downsizing, the move gives Accenture immediate access to Metrorail for its employees enabling them to commute to Accenture’s headquarters and visit Accenture’s clients easily and inexpensively.   And I can’t help but believe that, in the end, Accenture will pay no more rent per square foot—and possibly less—than it is now paying in Town Center in these exceptionally competitive times for commercial leasing.

The key question:  Is this is an anomaly or an indication of a long-term office market trend? 

I would submit that Accenture’s move is a harbinger of the high-technology office market of at least the first-half of the 21st Century—and that’s what we have and will continue to have in the Dulles “technology corridor.”   Its key features will likely be:
  • Major increases in the use of the “virtual office” concept to cut costs.
  • Fast, easy, and reliable access anytime to key business clients, partners, and others
  • Recognition of the changing demographics and related living preferences of employees.
These trends reflect acknowledgement at the corporate level of what has been occurring incrementally in the nation’s workforce for over a decade. 

While Accenture speaks in terms of a virtual office for its employees, the corporate virtual office is the logical extension of an ongoing trend to make greater use of independent contractors who work from their homes or elsewhere when needed.   Again, there are cost reductions for the corporation in most circumstances while giving it access to the right expertise at the right time without apparent long-term employment commitments.  And it gives the expert independent contractor greater flexibility to do what s/he wants and the time and place of his/her choosing without corporate bureaucratic hassles, often while earning more than as an employee, even with greater job uncertainty. 

A legitimate counterpoint to this argument is the highly classified nature of much of the high-technology work that occurs around Washington that, by regulation and even common sense, must take place in tightly secured facilities.  Things get stolen from homes, and laptops are lost on subways and buses.  Still, steps are being made—albeit glacially—to allow a greater range of classified work to be conducted from home, as I have personally experienced.  And the greater use of securely encrypted laptop computers and phones, secure networks, and high-level home physical security systems will facilitate this trend in the future.   And those who must go to an office to work usually go to government-owned facilities of the nation’s security departments and agencies—their client’s spaces— not to commercial office space, even space with upgraded security.  Still, it is unlikely that the most highly classified defense and intelligence work will be allowed to be conducted outside a secure facility for decades. 

Getting up close and personal with a company’s clients has become a mantra for the high-technology service industry, and business results have demonstrated the validity of the mantra.  If a company wants to win the next big contract, it has to be intimately familiar with its prospective client’s needs and recognized not only as a company that provides exceptional products and services for reasonable prices, but one with which the client has a close—almost personal—trusting relationship.  Part of being close to your client is, well, literally being close to your client’s decision makers with a physical presence as well as regular digital contact.  So why should companies rent space in the outer Washington suburbs—even ones with a technology bent, decent transportation, and smart people—when they can be closer and have the same technology, transportation, and personnel environment, such as in Ballston?  Even if a company’s defense clientele has been BRAC-eted, most companies are probably closer to Ft. Belvoir from a time perspective in Arlington than in the Dulles Corridor (except possibly at Tysons)—and Metrorail won’t help.

Finally, the nature of households and their dwelling preferences are changing.  Increasingly, families and households are smaller—1, 2, or 3 people—with an acceptance if not a preference for higher density housing such as high-rise condos and apartments.   The key demand of people living in these environments is that they have easy walking access to all their key household needs—markets, restaurants, pharmacies, other shopping, cultural and recreational facilities, and open space—and they have reliable, clean, safe, frequent public transportation to the places they need to go beyond their immediate walkable area.   These are the essential characteristics of a transit-oriented development (TOD) area.  

These characteristics stand in contrast to the 3, 4, 5, and more person households and families that have grown ever farther out in the suburbs since WWII who will drive substantial distances to meet their needs.   While the argument has been made that those now satisfied with their high-density living will soon seek a lower density suburban lifestyle, recent demographic trends simply do not support that view.  Census data shows that households are becoming smaller than they were a decade or more ago at just about every decennial age bracket—and there is no substantial evidence that trend will reverse itself.   And for those who do wish to move from a high-density to a lower density residential climate, the stock of suburban low-density homes appears large enough that few new suburban homes will be needed anytime soon.   If there becomes a shortage homes, it will more likely occur in high-density TOD residential neighborhoods over the next decade or two at least. 

So what?

If the above is generally accurate, it suggests that the Dulles Corridor will need more residential development and less commercial office space development than it is currently planning.  The new Tysons Comprehensive Plan calls for 2/3 of developed space to be commercial office space and the balance—less hotels, retail, and other small categories—to be residential, a 2:1 office: residential space ratio.  And most of that residential space will be beyond the ½ mile perimeter from Tysons four Metrorail stations, and likely to discourage use of Metrorail.  Already the Tysons committee is wrestling with the massive infrastructure investment—especially transportation—that such an arrangement will create.  The Reston Task Force TOD area committees have come out with similar recommendations that would allow a more than doubling of the current density (gross square footage of development) in Reston’s TOD areas in less than 20 years and a 60:40 or 3:2 office:residential space ratio in Reston’s TOD areas, not much different than Tysons. 

Other issues aside (environmental impacts, traffic congestion, infrastructure costs, etc.), this planned mix of uses appears unrealistic if the business and residential trends outlined above are accurate.  The good news is that these plans do not mandate what will be built—the market will do that within the density constraints.  Still, once the new Comprehensive Plan becomes a County Zoning Ordinance as is the custom, the developers have a “by right” authority to build whatever is agreed to in the Plan, and that cannot be reduced in this “Dillon Rule” state.  Even now, JBG is arguing in Tysons that it intends to build an office complex under the old plan for Tysons rather than a mixed-use development as called for in the new one.  In general, by constraining residential development, key areas of the Dulles Corridor—including Reston--may miss important residential development market opportunities and could see investment in unoccupied and unprofitable office buildings. 

A secondary consequence of the current planning schemes for Tysons and Reston TOD areas is the impact on the nature of the supporting retail in each area.  As Reston Patch reports, Accenture’s departure from Reston Town Center will be on the area’s hotels and restaurants.   Indeed, hotels have their own county planning/zoning category and, thinking ahead a couple of decades, allocating density for too many hotel rooms to support a business environment that  will likely not exist reduces the efficacy of the plan and possibly means residents will not have access to retail services, etc., that they need.  While Reston Chamber of Commerce CEO “Mark Ingrao says Accenture’s departure from Reston in 2012 will have a minimal impact on the business community,” a continuing reduction in Reston Town Center office staffing or even departures to more desirable locations will definitely affect the nature and health of Reston’s business community.   

The core lesson from the Accenture headquarters departure experience appears to be that we need to re-think the mix of uses (and maybe the high densities) currently planned or being considered for the Dulles Corridor.  If Accenture is a harbinger of things to come,
  • We will need to see greater growth in residential space and less growth office space than currently envisioned at both Tysons and Reston and maybe points farther west. 
  • Moreover, we will have to re-think the needs of the many new residents in these areas, including the nature of the local retail shopping experience (relatively fewer business-oriented restaurants, more pharmacies and supermarkets, for example), their access to cultural and recreational facilities, and (especially in Reston) the availability of public open space—largely parks and natural areas—to sustain and enhance the quality of life experience in this premier planned community. 
In short, we must learn from the experiences of others and adapt our planning to the future as it is more likely to be rather than the one we are familiar with and, in some corners, hold dear.  Only in this way will Fairfax County be able to make the Dulles Corridor the economic powerhouse its leaders envision and its developers, employees, and residents will find worth investing in.