Tysons has seen some promising developments in its transportation network in recent years, but many obstacles remain to achieving Fairfax County’s vision of a truly accessible downtown, a market study released earlier this month suggests.
Commissioned by the Tysons Community Alliance, the 2023 Tysons Market Study characterizes the 2,100-acre urban center as “somewhat walkable” — meaning at least some errands can be accomplished on foot — based on its official average Walk Score of 57.
Calculated based on population density, the distance to amenities, block lengths and other factors, the walk score ticked up from the 54 that Tysons got in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The area is more walkable than Reston, which has a score of 40, but it falls short of more urban areas in the region, including Crystal City in Arlington (71) and downtown D.C. (98), according to the study.
The most walkable properties are in central Tysons, particularly around the Greensboro Metro station, which is also where multifamily housing has concentrated, TCA CEO Katie Cristol notes.
“That increase in the walk score is a real validation…of how environmentally sustainable, how much better in terms of quality of life the new residential development has been in Tysons,” Cristol said. “It is in the right places, it is in places that are walkable, so more Tysonians live [in places] walkable to Metro and other amenities and can easily reach the necessities of their lives on foot than could before.”
However, properties east of Route 123 — where most for-sale and single-family units are located — tend to be more car-dependent, per the study. Based on 2021 Census data, the percentage of car-free households in Tysons has jumped up to 5.1% — an over 50% increase from 2019 — but 47% of households still own two vehicles.
In addition, the TCA identified 4.6 miles of missing sidewalks, and most of the 24 miles of sidewalk that do exist are just 4 feet wide, which “is not ideal for a growing area seeking to promote walking,” the study says.
The improved Walk Score was also tempered by a lowered Bike Score, which dipped from 49 in 2020 to 43 this year. Categorized as “somewhat bikeable” with “minimal” infrastructure, Tysons trails Reston, which stayed flat at 54 over that time frame.
The study attributes the decline in part to less commuting, with more Tysons residents and non-resident employees working from home in Covid’s wake. But it also says gaps in bicycle infrastructure, a lack of protected bike lanes and busy arterial streets, including routes 123 and 7, “create barriers for safe biking.”
Bruce Wright, president of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, says the report’s conclusion that “Tysons is not very bike-friendly” matches his experience, though there have been some welcome improvements in recent years, such as the shared-use bridge over I-495.
“They’re mostly just striped paint next to fast-moving traffic,” he said of the existing bike lanes. “They are bike lanes and we support them, and more experienced riders will feel comfortable in those bike lanes, but we would prefer…that there was some kind of physical separation.”
Wright pointed to Old Courthouse Road to Gosnell Road, Gallows Road across Route 7 to International Drive, and Spring Hill and Tyco roads near the Spring Hill Metro station as “some of the major gaps” in the Tysons bicycle network.
Lamenting the limited amount of information on the TCA’s website about bicycling, beyond a link to a map of Capital Bikeshare stations, he expressed hope that the community improvement organization will work with developers, local employers and Fairfax County to encourage more people to travel by bicycle.
“There needs to be a combination of better facilities and encouraging more people to bike safely, working with employers and with employees,” Wright said.
Transportation demand management — strategies aimed at reducing solo vehicle usage — will be a key focus for the TCA, according to Cristol, who was hired this summer as the group’s first permanent CEO and is currently overseeing the development of a Tysons strategic plan.
In addition to facilitating research and discussions about those strategies, the TCA can help encourage people to get out of their cars by implementing signage, events, landscaping and other features to draw attention to transit, pedestrian and bicycle options and make them more attractive to use.
As an example, Cristol says many people don’t realize that they can walk from Tysons Corner Center to The Boro relatively quickly, because International Drive and Greensboro Drive “don’t necessarily feel like city streets that are welcoming and inviting to you.”
“The Boro itself has done fantastic placemaking. But how do we kind of continue that visual signal all the way down Greensboro Drive that says this is a walkable area?” she said. “That connectivity…it needs to be easy, it needs to be safe. It also needs to be appealing.”
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