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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why hasn't Fairfax County provided the access infrastructure needed to take advantage of the Silver Line?

Last week, we documented in a post that Fairfax County has completed few of the the projects on its own checklist for creating the transportation infrastructure needed to make access to Reston's Wiehle Silver Line station reasonable.  This week, Tysons' leading commentator, Navid Roshan-Afshar, AKA "The Tysons Corner," makes the same point about Tysons.

Here is some of what he has to say:
For several years transportation officials, planners, and Fairfax County leaders have known that the Silver Line would be a reality, and that pedestrian improvements would be necessary to make sure people could safely use the transit line. After a nearly 9 month delay, County officials are now telling us there wasn’t enough time?
Residents and commuters aren’t asking for Tysons to magically be transformed into a walkable paradise, but to receive responses like this, when we get any at all, is a slap in our faces. Providing a crosswalk should not be a year long chore when people’s lives are risk. How many must run across 9 lanes of traffic without any signage, striping, or protection before Fairfax County will stop the status quo kowtowing to VDOT? Must someone die at the intersections in question, opening the county to millions in liability, before they will admit that what the state has been feeding them is worthless in terms of urban design?
. . . and so his post goes here. 

Everything he says about Tysons is also true in Reston--and there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for this pathetic County performance.  In Reston, the RMAG gave a large number of sound recommendations for improving access infrastructure in Spring 2008--six years ago.  The Silver Line has been under construction since Spring 2009--and its design absolutely locked down so the County knew what specifically to expect. 

Yet, here we are, with the Silver Line launched 9 months late and work on improving access to the station not even half done--certainly not the more challenging half, including the Soapstone extension.  This is a pathetic and unconscionable performance by our Board of Supervisors in transportation planning and implementation, especially by Supervisor Hudgins--a self-proclaimed public transit advocate--who represents residents and businesses of both Reston and parts of Tysons.  And it is forcing the County Transportation staff to make up stupid--and untrue--excuses for the delays to cover the gross incompetence of the Board of Supervisors.

In all likelihood, the urban development the County so desperately needs to salvage its financial situation will not occur unless the County makes the Silver Line easily and safely accessible to station area residents and businesses.  In the meantime, it is slowly, painfully shooting itself in the fiscal foot.  It is well past time for the Board to put our tax money where its mouth is on the wonders of rail in both Reston and Tysons.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reston leads the Silver Line way on the first commute.

UPDATE:  A separate Washington Post report indicates that ridership on the western end of the Orange Line--Vienna to West Falls Church stations--was down about 7,000 people in this morning's rush period reflecting a shift of Orange Line users to the Silver Line.  That means the $3 billion investment in Phase 1 of the Silver Line yielded fewer than 3,000 (32%) new passengers to Metrorail.  That does not seem to be a good start. 

As Martin Di Caro explains, Reston's Wiehle Station accounted for more than half of all the morning rush period boardings and alightings at the new Silver Line stations with over 5,700 commuters.

Silver Line Ridership Off To A Strong Start, Especially In Reston

By: Martin Di Caro

The Silver Line saw impressive ridership during its first morning rush hour as thousands of commuters arrived at the Wiehle-Reston East station in Virginia via car, bus and bicycle.
The new station in Reston, with its 2,300-space underground park-and-ride and dozens of bus bays, saw the most riders by far of the five new Silver Line stops in Northern Virginia. The other four are in Tysons Corner—and only one of those has parking. The temporary lot at the McLean station was mostly empty deep into the morning commute.
From 5 to 10 a.m., more than 9,700 commuters either boarded or exited a train at the five Silver Line stations. The most boardings were at Wiehle-Reston East, where 4,727 commuters took trains east during morning rush hour. More than 1,000 commuters exited there.
Here is the ridership for the four Tysons stations with station name followed by the number of boardings/exits as of 10 a.m:
  • McLean (568/442)
  • Tysons Corner (507/900)
  • Spring Hill (559/432)
  • Greensboro (185/332) . . . .
Click here for the rest of Di Caro's report. 

We don't know how many of the riders were actually Restonians, how many are new Metro riders (vice Orange Line converts or formerly bussed to West Falls Church/Orange Line), etc.  We hope that WMATA will soon systematically collect this data and make it available so Reston and County officials can make appropriate adjustments to bus transit and other supporting infrastructure needs.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Silver Line Heralds Longer, More Expensive Commutes For Some Fairfax Residents, WAMU 88.5, July 22, 2014

Martin Di Caro reports:

Metro rail riders were hit with a 3 percent fare increase on June 29. When the Silver Line embarks on its first weekday rush hour trips next Monday, some commuters will pay even more.
Thousands of commuters in the Herndon and Reston area in Fairfax County could experience a more expensive and longer commute when Metro’s first new rail line since 1991 opens for passengers. These commuters currently take Fairfax Connector buses from park and rides to the West Falls Church Metro station, then hop the Orange Line to complete their trips. . .
So a roundtrip, rush hour commute that costs $10.70 today will cost $14.30 next week for anyone who takes the Fairfax Connector to Metro rail from the park and rides in Reston and Herndon. . .
The more expensive commute could also take longer.
John Spencer, who also takes the bus from the Reston South Park and Ride, said his current commute takes 50 minutes.
His Fairfax Connector bus departs at 6:20 a.m., arrives at West Falls Church at 6:41, and then he usually boards an Orange Line train at 6:45. He arrives at the Smithsonian Metro station at 7:10 — barring any delays.
Starting next week, Spencer said the bus trip from the park and ride to the Silver Line station in Reston will take only 14 minutes, but the Silver Line trip to the Smithsonian station will take 44 minutes, for a total commute time of 59 minutes (if he waits only one minute on the platform for a train). If he misses the Silver Line connection, he would have to wait six more minutes for the next train. . .
Click here for the rest of his report and listen to Di Caro's radio report.

The County is not ready for commuter access to the Wiehle Metro Station.

We are now less than a week away from the much anticipated and long overdue opening of the Silver Line Phase 1 to Wiehle Avenue Station in Reston.   And yet, the County and state have completed barely half the projects required to make the station and Metrorail accessible, especially those for bicyclists and pedestrians.

First, let’s take a look at the key preparations that are in place:

  • The County has adjusted the Fairfax Connector bus routes in and around Reston to deliver passengers to the station in a largely zero-sum financial game.  (Initially, it proposed taking more money from Reston buses to apply to Tysons and McLean, but ultimately found some other funding, at least for the reduced-fare Tysons circulators.)  In Reston, there will be slightly more frequent rush hour feeder service and new mid-day routes, but there still are gaps in schedules and hours of service are limited.  There simply is not enough bus service to really encourage Metrorail usage. 
  • The County has completed about 500’ of sidewalk on the north side of Sunset Hills & west side of Wiehle to make pedestrian/bicycle access possible to the Metro station. 
  • Comstock has met its various road improvement obligations to upgrade intersections near the station (mostly at Wiehle and Sunset Hills) under its public-private partnership (PPP) deal with the County. 
  • Comstock has also completed the underground parking garage required by the PPP, including 2,300 spaces for public Metro parking and 1,000 spaces it controls for future tenants.  It is charging as low as $4.50 per day for one of its parking spaces (more if you want special services including guaranteed parking), thus undercutting the County’s $4.85/day charge for its parking spaces right next door.   (Note:  The County could have set its daily charge at any level.  It chose go to with the WMATA standard for Metro’s station garages.)

There are two key sources to look at for information on what has not been done and—in some cases—what will not get done until next decade.  The first of these is the April 15, 2008, Reston Metrorail Access Group (RMAG) report (yes, six years ago) that recommended proposed improvements—road, bus, bicycling, and pedestrian—to make the Wiehle station more accessible.  It has basically set the agenda for work that needed to be done by the time the Silver Line station was opened.  The second is the County’s tracking tool for the implementation of these improvements. 

The latest available County tracking document shows there are a total of 32 “spot” and “linear” projects, most of them recommended by RMAG, that are needed for proper access to the station.  What that document shows is that 12 of them are complete, six of those by Comstock under its PPP agreement.  The County document also shows that five other projects (all to be done by Comstock—identified as “Dulles Rail Project”—should have been done by May, and we suspect that they have been completed.   All told, that’s 17 out of 32 projects probably completed by the time Metrorail opens at the Wiehle station some nine months late.   We’re half way there!

So what’s missing six years after the RMAG report and nearly a year after the Silver Line was supposed to open?  

The most critical missing link, according to RMAG, and one that is not even on the County list is the so-called Soapstone Connector, the planned roadway/bridge/ped-bike route across the Dulles Corridor from Sunrise Valley Drive to Sunset Hills.  Nonetheless, at this time, the County has picked a route and a configuration for the Connector after conducting a feasibility study last year (five years after the RMAG report).  As of this spring, it has budgeted only enough money through the end of the decade to develop plans for the construction of this Connector. 

The Soapstone Connector project won’t be built until at least the next decade.   Its absence—likely for more than a decade—means that traffic going to/from the Wiehle Silver Line station from the south as well as all traffic in both directions trying to cross the Dulles Corridor or use the Dulles Toll Road from Wiehle MUST use Wiehle Avenue.   In short, it will likely take as long to build this single bridge (from feasibility study to opening, forget the 6-year old recommendation) as it will take to complete the entirety of the Silver Line—and workday traffic will be jammed the entire time.

So what is the status of the other Wiehle Station access improvements?

All of the tasks the County lists that have not been completed except one are the responsibility of the County (FCDOT).  Comstock has completed its obligations, the schedule indicates.  The lone state project (VDOT) not yet completed is crosswalks across Wiehle at Isaac Newton Square, which is scheduled for completion next month.  As for the County’s eleven uncompleted projects (out of a total of 14):

  • The earliest to be completed will be four scheduled to be done in 2016, including pedestrian intersection improvements on Town Center Parkway (in fact, a Phase 2 project) in April 2016, intersection and sidewalk improvements done by June 2016, and more pedestrian intersection improvements by October.
  • Two more similar projects are scheduled for completion in July 2017.
  • The remaining five projects, including a proposed grade-separate crossing for the W&OD trail across Wiehle, have not yet been scheduled.

What is clear from this brief look at the projects and their scheduling it the County has so far minimized its investment in improving access to the Wiehle Metrorail station while talking incessantly about how important the Silver Line will be to reducing area traffic.  

That won’t happen if people can’t get there.  Moreover, it will hinder developer interest in building the transit-oriented development (TOD) in the station areas that the County sees as a balm to its growing financial difficulties.  

We think it would be better if the County put its money where its mouth is.  But then, maybe its financial "mouth" is only in Tysons Corner.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fairfax Hunt Club ponders exit from Reston, residential redevelopment possible, Washington Business Journal, July 21, 2014

The Fairfax Hunt clubhouse in Reston sits on 8 acres to be redeveloped.
The historic Fairfax Hunt Club is eying an exit from its longtime Reston home.
Robert Hostler, president of Fairfax Hunt Inc., submitted a proposal to the Reston Master Plan special study to rezone the property at 1321 Lake Fairfax Drive for residential, or at least to allow for the possibility of future residential development. The land is currently zoned only for private recreation.
According to the online submission, “The Owner, Fairfax Hunt Inc., is considering relocating its operations and desires to have the option for this property to be converted to residential as are the surrounding properties.”
Hostler could not be reached for comment. . .
The Fairfax Hunt review will be included in the second phase (of the Reston Master Plan revision), as will a proposal to add 40 townhomes and three new low-rise multifamily buildings to the Colvin Woods community (formerly the Carter Lake apartments).
Click here for the rest of this article.

These two proposals were mentioned in DPZ's Friday RMP P2 e-mail update although it provided no details.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Reston 2020 Weekend Edition: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Wealth Gap (HBO), YouTube

Looking beyond Reston, John Oliver offers valuable and absolutely  hilarious insights to the issue of income inequality in the United States (14:09).

'Nuff said.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Reminder -- Wiehle Garage open house tomorrow"--A Different Take!

A Restonian (but not THE Restonian) and a regular transit commuter offered up this alternative public service announcement on tomorrow's ribbon cutting ceremony at Metrorail's Wiehle Station for the opening of Phase 1 of the Silver Line.  Read it--and wonder . . . .
Reminder -- Wiehle Garage open house tomorrow.   Ribbon cutting at 10:00, loitering until 3:00.  Come for the SLHS marching band, speeches and self-guided tours.  Preview the commuting experience.  Get information about the Master Plan review, Phase 2 (“There Goes the Neighborhood”).  Maybe review your retirement planning.
I suggest parking in the original Reston North outdoor park-and-ride lot (corner of Sunset Hills and Wiehle).  Cross busy Sunset Hills Road and Reston Station Boulevard.  Time the traffic lights and dodge turning cars. Ignore the enormous sidewalk scaffolding, construction crane and workmen overhead if you use Metro Center Drive.  Pretend you are in Bob Simon’s Manhattan.
Or park in the new Wiehle Garage.  Visualize yourself racing 3,300 other drivers down the three inbound traffic lanes (two if you're coming south on Wiehle) towards the station, hoping to find a spot before the garages fill on weekday mornings.  (As the Reston Station signs say, don’t get shut out!)  Practice dodging the 30+ Fairfax Connector buses per hour that will serve the underground bus bays during peak periods.
If you currently park at the Interim Lot (Sunset and Town Center Parkway), with nearly unlimited free parking (only hassle is the geese), try to envision yourself parking in the new multilevel garage (cost $4.85/day) .  Watch out for those pesky structural columns .  Count the exit lanes/gates, stop lights and difficult left turns as you leave.  Morning arrivals will be staggered, but how long will it take to pay and exit in the evening, even with that awesome Smartcard technology?
If you currently transfer from commuter bus to rail at West Falls Church, with covered walkways from bus stops to the platform, compare the Wiehle experience: the exposed plaza and long open-air bridges over the 12-lane highway (no windows, you’re kidding).  Imagine waiting in the Wiehle-Reston East platform wind tunnel during bad weather.  What are the odds you’ll have to stand on the train for 40-minutes? 
Finally, look for the commercial spaces, including the food services, promised for station opening last December.  Oh and where did they put the taxi cab line?   Remember, no hitchhiking!
Hope you enjoy the open house and new station.  See you on the Silver Line.  To paraphrase WMATA’s slogan, Get on board, you don’t have a choice!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Letter: Discarding good library books irresponsible, Kathy Kaplan, Fairfax Times July 14, 2014

Kathy is Chairman of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations' Library Committee and RCA's 2013 Citizen of the Year because of her excellent efforts to save our libraries.

Last November the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to cancel the Beta Plan for the county library system; however, Library Operations has continued to pursue the Beta Plan. At the Library Board of Trustees meeting July 9, 2014, Michael Cutrone, the Hunter Mill Representative to the Library Board, requested that current procedures for discarding low demand items be changed.
Low demand items are books that have not been checked out for 24 months. Low demand books are now transferred to Technical Operations, and large numbers in very good condition are being discarded. Michael Cutrone asked that until a new policy can be instituted that the discard of low demand books be stopped. The Director of Library Operations stated that it was his decision to make and he was opposed to changing current procedures.
Many neighboring library systems keep their books on the shelves for five years before they are considered for weeding. Even then, I am told by librarians in other library systems, they are very reluctant to let go of nonfiction works. Nonfiction is the heart of any library’s collection. Our children need nonfiction for their school papers. Information from the internet is often incorrect and incomplete.
We have lost thousands of nonfiction books in good condition since February 2014. specially vulnerable are large art books which are often only used in the library and not checked out because of their size and weight. Since the Library Board is reluctant to direct operational procedures is there anything library patrons can do to protect the collection and culturally significant books?
Yes, there is. Patrons can check out books. Once books are checked out, they are protected for two years. Two years from now we will have a new Library Director and hopefully the new one will value the library as a place of learning and literacy. You can check out 50 books. Check out art, poetry, philosophy, science, history, biography, ethnic cookbooks. And don’t forget the children’s nonfiction. It’s the only way we have now to protect our collection. Think of it as a civic and patriotic duty.
Help save our books.
Kathy Kaplan, Reston
So please help save our library books.  Check out some books--up to 50 at a time--and suspend their death sentence for at least another two years.   

Update:  Kathy's letter is also posted in this week's Reston Connection (still only available in PDF format), including photos of some little-used books that could be culled from the library's collection.  Here they are: