Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Saturday, March 31, 2012

What We Could Do with Buses . . .

The following article by Will Doig in highlights how much good bus service could do for public transit in comparison to rail.  It is not an argument so much against rail as an argument that bus transit could do much more than it does. 

It’s time to love the bus

America needs to accept the fact that its most despised form of transport is also its hope for the future

The Guardian hailed it as “a stately vehicle” that conveys “a sense of privilege.” British car mag Autocar road-tested it and praised its “brilliant economy and an interior to die for.” It isn’t a Jag or a Rolls — it’s a London bus with a new set of curves, relaunched this week with the aim of lending municipal bus service a touch of class.
Whether more glamour will translate into more riders is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain: When it comes to improving mass transit, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on the humble city bus. The vital connective tissue of multi-modal transit systems, the bus could be an efficient — nay, elegant — solution to cities’ mobility woes if only we made it so.
And yet we rarely do. . . .
. . .  When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them. . . .
The article goes on to identify some of these "perks", including faster, more reliable, better designed, and more frequent buses, as well as better bus stops and terminals (including air conditioning!).  It notes Silicon Valley's Google offers bus service "equipped with Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, bicycle racks, and cellphone alerts that warn riders when they’ll be late."

Either click on the title above or click here for the full article.  Great if you're a bus buff!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Summary: Reston Task Force Meeting, March 27, 2012

                                     R. Rogers
                                        28 March 2012

Highlights: 27 March 2012 Reston Master Planning Task Force Meeting

Summary and Comment:  The meeting focused on parks and recreation needs in the RCIG area.  Based on the presentation by parks personnel and comments from the Task Force, much remains to be done.  In particular, the connection of this subject to Phase II of the planning effort was emphasized.

Parks Recreation and Culture
     Several people were involved in the presentation.
     Anna Betley from the FC Parks Authority (FCPA) Staff, the main presenter.
     Sandy Stallman, FCPA head of planning.
     Larry Butler, RA Recreation Director
     Leila Gordon, RCC
(The presentation was a coordinated effort of this group.)


     An important 11 point table of needs is on the county website and should be reviewed.  In addition, some useful maps show existing facilities, virtually none of which are in the TOD areas.

     The “needs assessment” appeared to be based on FCPA parks standards. (Comment: Some of the Task Force sub-groups, particularly the RTC sub-com, critically questioned the applicability or the standards to the Reston TOD areas.)

     Of note was a call for 54 acres of open space and small park facilities and approximately 60 acres of major play fields. (Comment: None of the sub-committees appear close to meeting the assessed needs and some task force groups have explicitly said that major fields should be outside the TOD areas.)

Major Facilities
     The assessment called for one indoor aquatics facility and an indoor tennis facility.  It also called for an indoor performance center.

     One TF member called for a major recreation facility that might incorporate some of the above, perhaps at a Village Center. John Carter also raised the issue of a how a major university center might fit into the picture.

     Peter Otteni of Boston Properties (BP) said that the 20 acre BP site adjacent to TC station might be considered for a major performance center, but pointedly commented that BP could not be expected to carry this load by itself. John Carter noted the Strathmore facility in MD cost $90 million. Leila Gordon said she was thinking of $50 million.


     The presentation stressed the need for North-South connectivity into adjacent RA facilities and the need for east-west connectivity, particularly on the south side (the WOD trail already provides some on the North side). The presentation map contained  a walkway along Sunrise Valley.  Paul Thomas said a connection along the Dulles Toll road might be more appropriate (his Wiehle subcom had called for using existing parking and landscaped areas along the toll road for such a link).

Phase II

       Bob Simon strongly criticized the presentation for focusing only on the RCIG and not the relationship to the surrounding PRC area.  He called the presentation an“academic analysis.” Comment: Other comments focused on potential Phase II issue such as the relationship of needs to Lake Fairfax Park and the role of RA (FCPA said again it sees obstacles to better park connectivity to Reston) and RA implied that underutilized RA aquatic facilities could play a role). It is difficult to see how the full needs assessment could be fulfilled without reference to the PRC and even adjacent areas to Reston.

Next Steps and Implementation

     The presenter said that the next steps would involve finalizing the list of needs, refining recommendations and the submission of a “memorandum”. Some TF members noted the linkage of park issues to the subject of implementation. The issue of governance was not discussed although Leila Gordon said she presumed the RCIG area would become part of RA. (Comment: There seemed to be a significant disconnect between the needs presentation and what has been developed by the sub-committees.  The presenter said the sub-com reports had been taken into account, but this was not immediately apparent. Whether this can be bridged by plan language remains to be seen.)

Cryptic Comments by the Presenters

  • Anna noted that Reston Town Center North offers a “particular opportunity” because so much of it is county land.

  • Larry Butler commented that future developments might depend on “where they draw the stable neighborhood lines” in Phase II.

Next TF Meetings

     Heidi Merkel said the next TF meeting on 17 April would focus on the real estate market trends and an update on revised George Mason figures.

     A meeting on 24 April will involve a presentation on the scope and metrics of the transportation study (not the results) and may include a public safety presentation.

Play space an issue in Tysons transformation, Washington Post, March 29, 2012

This article in yesterday's Washington Post couldn't be more apropos to the discussion going on now in the Reston Task Force.  Last Tuesday, a panel of county and RA officials laid out the parks, recreations, and public facilities driven by the planned development in the Phase I planning of development in around the Metrorail stations.  In all, these needs would require about 100 acres of land surface area in the three TOD areas combined.  While some of the smaller facilities can be placed on, in, or around high-rise buildings, the 52 acres of required parkland and two dozen playing fields can not.  (Note:  In general, the recommended space is inadequate as recommended by RCA, but at least we have a staff value on the open space required.)

At the same time, the Reston Task Force continues to refuse to consider these implementation implications of its proposed massive office and even residential development recommendations ("Scenario E" as its now called).  RCA has pointed out repeatedly--including at the last two meetings--that "Planning Without Implementation Is Empty."  With the exception of a couple of other residential representatives, the Task Force continues to ignore the matter. 

It would appear that we are headed for the same major mistake that was made during the Tysons planning effort.  This can largely be described as creating a fantasy development vision that later an implementation group must try to retrofit to reality.  The implementation-focused Planning Committee for Tysons Center, headed by Reston's Walter Alcorn, is having huge difficulties resolving space allocation and transportation financing issues related to the revised Comprehensive Plan approved by the County Board in 2010.   In recent weeks, it has canceled several scheduled meetings in which these thorny issues were to have been discussed.  In general, the developers there want all the space for their intense development schemes and not to pay for any of the required infrastructure, shoving that off on the taxpayer.  It is hard for me to imagine--much less explain--why the Reston Task Force insists on repeating this massive error, but neither the County staff nor the Task Force Chairman appear to wish to do otherwise.

And here is how the WaPo article begins:

As Fairfax County embarks on transforming Tysons Corner into a walkable community where people work, live and play, it’s the “play” that is causing some of the biggest concerns.

Developers are finding it hard to give up land for athletic fields, and area residents say they are concerned that the county is building a community whose residents will have to drive elsewhere for sports.

“Along with transportation, athletic fields have somehow risen up to be one of the most important issues. [It’s] not really what I had expected, but I think it is because they are so land intensive,” Andrea L. Dorlester, county senior park planner, said in an interview Thursday after a meeting of county officials, developers and community representatives. . . .
Click here for the rest of this article.

Wiehle legacy lives on in Reston, Fairfax Times, March 30, 2012

Three buildings remain from original town

Seventy-five years before Robert E. Simon purchased 6,750 acres of Northern Virginia countryside in 1961 for $13 million — and turned it into what is known today as Reston — another wealthy entrepreneur also attempted to build a self-named utopian community in the same area.
His name was Dr. Carl Adolph Max Wiehle.
Reston Museum photo Dr. Carl Adolph Max Wiehle is shown here circa 1892 with his wife and four children.
Today, the Wiehle name lives on most notably as an avenue and the name of a future Metro station expected to open in Reston next year. But according to historian Karen Washburn, only three original structures of Wiehle’s 19th-century planned community remain. . . .
Reston Museum photo
This photo looking up Old Reston Avenue from Sunset Hills Road shows the original Wiehle Town Hall, which can be seen in the distant center of the photo, under the streetlight. The railroad tracks are today the W&OD Trail.
Wiehle ca. 1950 and now, along Old Reston Avenue.

Click here for the rest of the story.  

And, for those of you who have been wondering why Reston was not created as a town, read to the very end of the article. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"The Mirage of Free-Market Roads," Timothy B. Lee, The Atlantic, March 28, 2012

 " tolls go up, they begin to look less like a user fee and more like a tax."

This article written by an author at a libertarian think tank, Cato Institute, and published in a liberal online journal, The Atlantic, highlights the issues in applying ideologies to real-life problems. 

In this case, the author focuses on public vs. private roadways.  We face a narrower,  if similar, issue in the decision to complete the building of rail to Dulles and beyond:  Raising tolls for Dulles Toll Road users to pay for Metrorail.  Obviously, when tolls pay for something other than the entity that is charging the toll, they are no longer a "user fee."  When they are forecast to skyrocket 8-10-fold, they certainly become a tax.  When the tax base is limited to a limited number of people (toll road users) who do not benefit from the purpose for the tax, it becomes abusive.  All this is compounded when the taxing authority, MWAA, has no constraints or oversight of its taxing/toll-setting authority.

Beyond the quotation above, here is Mr. Lee's confusion on the concept of private roads:
While I'm generally sympathetic to the idea of privately-managed roads, I've become convinced that the broader vision of "free-market roads" is a conceptual confusion. In the abstract, the idea of competing, privately-owned roads has a lot of appeal. But the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. Roads are deeply intertwined with governments. They always have been and as far as I can see they always will be. This means that they'll never be truly private in the sense that other private companies like restaurants or shoe factors (sic) can be.
. . . and this doesn't even address the issue of a tax on roads to pay for rail.

Click here to read the rest of this excellent think piece.

Eleven Principles for Creating Great Community Places, Project for Public Spaces

Effective public spaces are extremely difficult to accomplish, because their complexity is rarely understood. As William (Holly) Whyte said, “It’s hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”
PPS (The Project for Public Spaces) has identified 11 key elements in transforming public spaces into vibrant community places, whether they’re parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks or the myriad other outdoor and indoor spaces that have public uses in common. These elements are:
1.  The Community Is The Expert
. . .  Tapping this (community) information at the beginning of the process will help to create a sense of community ownership in the project that can be of great benefit to both the project sponsor and the community.
2.  Create a Place, Not a Design
 . . . To make an under-performing space into a vital “place,” physical elements must be introduced that would make people welcome and comfortable, such as seating and new landscaping, and also through “management” changes in the pedestrian circulation pattern and by developing more effective relationships between the surrounding retail and the activities going on in the public spaces. . . .
3.  Look for Partners
. . .  they are invaluable in providing support and getting a project off the ground. . . .
4.  You Can See a Lot Just By Observing
. . .  By looking at how people are using (or not using) public spaces and finding out what they like and don’t like about them, it is possible to assess what makes them work or not work. . . .
5.  Have a Vision
. . .  essential to a vision for any public space is an idea of what kinds of activities might be happening in the space, a view that the space should be comfortable and have a good image, and that it should be an important place where people want to be. . . .
6.  Start with the Petunias: Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper
. . .  The best spaces experiment with short term improvements that can be tested and refined over many years! . . .
7.  Triangulate
. . .  In a public space, the choice and arrangement of different elements in relation to each other can put the triangulation process in motion (or not). . . .
8.  They Always Say “It Can’t Be Done”
. . . Creating good public spaces is inevitably about encountering obstacles, because no one in either the public or private sectors has the job or responsibility to “create places.” . . .
9.  Form Supports Function
The input from the community and potential partners, the understanding of how other spaces function, the experimentation, and overcoming the obstacles and naysayers provides the concept for the space. . . .
10.  Money Is Not the Issue
. . . (Once the infrastructure is in place and the community and partners are involved), people will have so much enthusiasm for the project that the cost is viewed much more broadly and consequently as not significant when compared with the benefits.
11.  You Are Never Finished
. . .  Being open to the need for change and having the management flexibility to enact that change is what builds great public spaces and great cities and towns.
Most of these principles make tremendous sense for the future development of Reston in either the TOD areas or beyond.  Some, such as "money is not the issue," are not quite on track.  Just ask the Tysons planning committee whether money is an issue, for example.

For the rest of this article, click here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Loudoun chairman says unionized labor on Silver Line project is a likely deal breaker, Washington Post, March 28, 2012

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York told a group of business leaders Wednesday that if the agency managing the construction of Metrorail’s new Silver Line insists on giving preference to unionized labor, the county would probably vote to walk away from the $6 billion project midway through construction.
And that could jeopardize extending Metro from Reston to Dulles International Airport, Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton said. . . .
Click here for the rest of this story.  

York, Connaughton Again Warn MWAA Of PLA Concerns, Leesburg Today, March 28, 2012

What is Loudoun going to do about its role in paying for the construction of the Metro’s extension into the county? That was the question hovering above the luncheon hosted by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce today.
County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) joined Fairfax Chairman Sharon Bulova, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President Jack Potter to discuss the status of the rail project, and what its future looks like. While few of the comments offered were new, it became clear on what item the project might hinge: the project labor agreement. . . .
For the rest of this article, click here.  

York: Loudoun County would be making a ‘mistake’ by not funding Metrorail, Loudoun Times, March 28, 2012

by Trevor Baratko
While Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton may have neglected Wednesday to give his opinion on whether Phase Two of Rail to Dulles should proceed, Chairman Scott York made clear his stance during a Metrorail panel discussion hosted by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce.
“If Loudoun opts out, I think it will be a huge mistake,” said York, chair of Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors.
Connaughton and York (R-At Large), in addition to Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Jack Potter, CEO and president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), were the featured guests at Wednesday’s event, dubbed ‘The Silver Line: On Track to Loudoun,” held at the Reston Sheraton hotel. . . .
Click here to see the rest of the article. 

Rail on Track to Loudoun? Reston Patch, March 28, 2012

With project labor agreement and high cost to taxpayers and counties, Silver Line to Dulles International Airport has a chance of not happening.
By Karen Goff
Could Rail to Dulles really end up being Rail to Reston?
That possibility was discussed at "Silver Line: On Track to Loudoun," a panel discussion hosted by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton Reston on Wednesday.
With seven new members on the nine-member Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, many of the new board members have said they are undecided about whether to support the $2.7-billion Silver Line Phase 2, which will extend the rail from Reston's Wiehle Avenue to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County. . . .
County Board Chairmen Bulova and York on CoC panel.  

Click here to see the rest of this more downbeat article than I would have expected from these pro-rail speakers. 

Dulles Metro could bog down Va. budget plan, Washington Times, March 27, 2012

Project funding emerges as key sticking point

RICHMOND — Virginia’s two-year, $85 billion spending plan is finally in a conference committee, but funding for the Dulles Metrorail is emerging as a key sticking point that could drag out the already-extended session even further.
As expected, the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday rejected amendments the Senate approved Monday, which include $300 million in bonds to help control the rising costs of tolls on the Dulles Toll Road that are being used to pay for the second phase of the 23-mile extension of Metrorail to Washington Dulles International Airport. . . .
Click here for the rest of this major Times article, including quotes from Sen. Janet Howell, who sits on the Conference Committee between the two houses.

Sculptor to create new Reston landmark, Fairfax Times, March 28, 2012

Second major project of Initiative for Public Art -Reston

 Photo by Janet Rems
Paper model of large abstract sculpture by artist Mary Ann Mears planned for a site between Reston Parkway and the Hyatt Regency Reston Hotel in Reston Town Center.
 Click here for the rest of this article.

Letter: Find Alternative Rail Funds Now, Terry Maynard, Reston Patch, March 28, 2012

As your readers know well by now from reading Patch, the Reston Citizens Association and its Reston 2020 Committee want the Board of Supervisors to withhold approval of Phase 2 funding for the Silver Line until alternative funding sources can be found.  We want Metrorail to be completed to Dulles Airport and beyond as soon as possible, but not with the onerous terms for a small number of Fairfax residents, including many Restonians, that are now on the table.
As it stands now, Dulles Toll Road users will pay 75 percent of the estimated $3 billion construction cost of Phase 2 and 55 percent of the total $6 billion cost of the Silver Line.  Although that may not sound too bad considering all the people who use the toll road (about 300,000 trips daily by our estimate—and declining by a quarter over the decades due to exorbitant tolls), that percentage, in fact, translates into $17 billion in tolls through the 2050 horizon to pay off the Metrorail bonds as laid out by MWAA’s traffic and revenue forecaster.  A look at the forecaster’s 2009 customer survey points out the implications of those large numbers. 
On average, Dulles Toll Road users will pay more than $70,000 each in tolls over the forecast horizon.  If you are a long-term heavy user of the toll road—a daily commuter (73 percent of all trips according to survey data), say—your burden will be higher.  And Fairfax County accounts for about half of the toll road trips according to the forecaster’s survey.  That means about 70,000-90,000 Fairfax residents—much less than 10 percent of the County’s population—will end up paying about $8.5 billion over nearly four decades to use the toll road.
That money could be used to send kids to good colleges, to buy a more comfortable home, to replace that tired old commuter car, to spend on needed medical care for themselves or a loved one, or even to spend on some niceties.  It is all money that will not be going into the local economy or state or county tax streams.  Instead, it will be dumped into toll baskets, electronically or physically, to pay off the toll road revenue bonds issued by MWAA. 
Meanwhile, in Richmond, a legislative initiative is proceeding to contribute up to $450 million to help defray the cost of Phase 2 financing.  While the contribution would certainly be appreciated if it occurs, it would reduce the toll road users’ cost by just 2.6 percent if distributed piecemeal as proposed.  The Governor’s offer of $150 million to help defray financing expenses was intended to pay $50 million per year for three years beginning next year.  According to MWAA, that would delay the doubling of the current $2.25 full toll from 2013 to 2015, and it would still triple to $6.75 in 2018.
Yet it is unclear how the proposed $450 million would be spent if it is approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.  For example, if it were an upfront contribution to the construction costs—a “down payment”—it would have the greatest effect, cutting the Phase 2 debt (and toll costs) by about a fifth and overall debt by an eighth.  It becomes much less effective if it is dribbled out over several years, lessening toll increases for the duration only to see them balloon to multiples of the current level when the money runs out. 
And the Governor’s offer and General Assembly draft legislation appear to hang on MWAA not giving preferential treatment to builders who include Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) in their bids.  They see union-oriented PLAs as tilting the playing field unfairly in this non-union “right to work” state.  In an in-your-face response, the MWAA Board re-affirmed unanimously just last week that it intends to give bidders who use PLAs a ten percent score advantage in considering their bids.  So there may be no money coming from Richmond at all—and we may end up with a builder who is otherwise less qualified, and less cost-conscious, because of irrelevant “bonus points” awarded for a PLA contract. 
Meanwhile, at last week’s hearing on the matter, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors members bemoaned the exorbitant costs toll road users will confront under the current plan, yet they were the ones who agreed to this arrangement in the 2007 “funding partners” agreement without a public hearing and they are now the ones literally rushing to re-confirm their commitment. 
And all this burden is being lumped on the toll road user without ever—not when the agreement was made, not now that some details have been announced—having looked at the consequences for traffic diversion to already congested local roads, business and residential growth, and county revenue streams from property and sales taxes, among other potentially adverse outcomes as the cost of the Silver Line has grown. 
In stark contrast, the Loudoun Board has sought and received a fourth month to look at the potential consequences of continuing their planned commitment to Phase 2.  The Fairfax Board’s approach has been to avoid asking questions if they might not like the answers—and hurriedly approving this plan in one month before any potential consequences become evident.  The Board’s planned action is the very anti-thesis of “due diligence.”
Board members also said they need to keep trying to find alternative funding sources after they approve this irresponsible arrangement in their vote scheduled for the April 10 Board meeting, but any reasonably cognizant person knows that those efforts will evaporate or be pro forma at best after the Board has committed toll road users’ funds.
Moreover, any person with their wits about them also knows that alternative sources of funds will be even more difficult to find after County approval of this toll revenue financing scheme.  These potential sources know that the project already has the funds it needs, no matter how unfair, inequitable, and unwise the decision, and it’s not their responsibility to bail out the Fairfax County Board from its bad decision making.  The Board will have made this bed of financial broken glass, and toll road users will have to sleep in it for decades if alternative financing is not found before proceeding with Phase 2 of Metrorail.
For these reasons and others, RCA Reston 2020 continues to argue that the County Board should not re-affirm its commitment to the “funding partners” agreement until substantial alternative funding is in hand.
Our goal is that toll road users should pay 25 percent of the total cost as envisioned in the FEIS eight years ago—and still a hefty sum in light of construction cost escalations.  The balance could come from tolling the Dulles Access Road; it could come from leasing air rights over the Dulles corridor (especially around Reston Town Center); it could come from larger shares committed by each of the not-too-much “funding partners;” it could be further federal aid—grants or loans (TIFIA) with much lower interest rates; it could even be funds from WMATA for whom the Silver Line is being built; and other opportunities. 
It may take a combination of several of these approaches.  So far, however, no serious effort has been made on any of these fronts and, until those efforts are made and made successfully by our elected officials, Reston 2020 believes further work on Phase 2 should be suspended.  To do otherwise is to levy an abusive tax on a small number of Fairfax County residents who use the toll road, a tax that threatens to undermine the economic and other benefits the completion of the Silver Line may offer.  
We strongly encourage your readers to contact the offices of Chairman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins as well as the Board of Supervisors more broadly to express their concern about the Board’s planned course of action.  And do not hesitate to contact either of our local state legislators, Senator Janet Howell and Delegate Ken Plum, or our Congressional representatives, Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran, with your thoughts.  Fairfax County deserves better from its elected leaders.

Terry Maynard
Reston Citizens Association
Reston 2020 Committee