The future of Tysons as a transit-oriented urban district looks bright, but local leaders worry it could be marred by declines in Metro ridership.
During the State of Tysons event that the Tysons Partnership held last Thursday (Dec. 10), local elected officials, business leaders, consultants, and journalists outlined the present conditions and future of the city, touching on both the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tysons’ 40-year comprehensive plan.
While 2020 will be remembered for being upended by a once-in-a-century pandemic, for Tysons, it also represents a “decade of accomplishment” since Fairfax County adopted a comprehensive plan that “envisioned and guides transformation of our suburban-edge city to an urban destination,” event emcee Sol Glasner said.
In the past, Tysons was “characterized by regional retail anchors, ringed by acres of low rise office parks, themselves encircled by acres of surface car parking, encased in ribbons of asphalt,” he said.
But participants agreed that Tysons has made strides to becoming a transit-oriented urban district with more mixed-use housing and retail development, and more young families choosing to live in the city.
“We really are making progress. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “This is a 40-year plan, and we’re 10 years in. We need to stay committed to these goals and applying resources and ideas to help achieve them.”
The primary concern for the State of Tysons speakers and panelists was the future of transit.
Pre-pandemic, the four Tysons Metro stops were clocking the highest-ever Metro ridership rates, according to Palchik.
With low ridership persisting, WMATA cuts looming, and little chance of federal aid in sight, the future looks grim, City Monitor editor Sommer Mathis said.
“If the service cuts that WMATA is proposing come to pass, Tysons is going to have to be more than agile,” she said. “It’s a huge potential blow to the ability of folks who were pleased to get to Tysons easily via Metro. We’re starting to track a death spiral for public transportation in a number of cities.”
Ridership declines due to COVID-19 could become semi-permanent when prices increase to make up for lost revenue, she said, adding that it will be difficult to get federal aid if the makeup of the U.S. Senate doesn’t change.
“Transit is under siege,” Palchik said. “It’s under fire. It’s going to take support from federal partners to make sure we make it through this challenging time and save transportation.”
Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn said Tysons needs to be agile, checking in on the 40-year plan every few years. She stated that it is important to celebrate successes and identify areas to improve, such as transit, walkability, and equity.
Other focus areas in the coming months will be when companies start returning to their offices after the pandemic, responding to changes to the retail sector, and rebuilding the hospitality sector — particularly for restaurants.
Matthis said that some predictions of the future of remote work are overblown, but Tysons will need to respond to an increased demand for flexible office and meeting spaces as more firms are rethinking the traditional office space.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott