Tysons Corner, VA

From now until May 15, local residents have an annual opportunity to influence the funding of transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

When tolls were put in place along I-66, the Commonwealth of Virginia decided that toll revenue would be used to fund public transportation and mobility infrastructure projects in the area.

Every year, policymakers decide which projects to fund. This year, they have about $20 million — a lot, but not enough to fund all the proposals. That means they need your help to make the decision about what gets cut and what gets funded.

Twenty different proposals are under consideration, several of which could affect the Tysons area.

Nine of the proposals have to do with improving commuter bus service from places like Fairfax Government Center to downtown D.C. Two of the proposals are for Capital Bikeshare implementation in Fairfax City and in Vienna. Other proposals are for trail improvements that will help people get to train stations, improve intersections, and encourage people to take advantage of slug lines.

See here for a list of all the proposed projects.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, responsible for the program, will be accepting public comments until May 15. There are several ways to express your thoughts.

You can email the Commission at [email protected] or leave a voicemail message at 703-239-4719. You can also fill out their online form.

To dive into greater depth, you can attend one of the two open house events that the Commission will host to discuss the program. The first will be from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23 at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School located at 7130 Leesburg Pike, Fall Church. The second will be from 6-7 p.m. on Thursday, May 2 in the lobby of the Navy League Building, 2300 Wilson Blvd, Arlington. Immediately after the second open house, the Commission will hold its monthly meeting, which includes a public hearing.

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After a pilot phase last fall, battery-powered e-bikes are now a permanent fixture of the Capital Bikeshare fleet in Tysons.

As of 12:30 p.m., there were two e-bikes in Tysons: one at Westpark and Jones Branch Drive, east of Tysons Galleria, and one at Greensboro and Pinnacle Drive east of the Galleria, near The Boro development.

The e-bikes can be tracked on the Capital Bikeshare’s map, with lightning bolt icons showing the presence of an e-bike.

The new bikes can go up to 18 mph and are designed to help with hills. The e-bikes are typically an additional $1 to ride, but the extra fare is being waived for all riders until April 15.

Tysons is now up to 13 stations, with new stations added just north of Tysons Galleria and at the McLean Metro station in the last few months.

Image via Capital Bikeshare

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is looking for some public input on new trail names for the bicycle and pedestrian path along I-66.

No Traily McTrailface, please — FCDOT is seeking a more pleasant, non-gimmicky monicker for the trail, which is currently in planning but set for construction later this year.

“The concern was that I-66 has a negative connotation because everyone hates I-66,” Chris Wells, bicycle and pedestrian program manager for FCDOT, said at an earlier meeting. “But everyone knows where I-66 is and where it’s located. We’re going to be doing sample names and present those at a future meeting.”

The trail — will run from Gallows Road in Vienna to Centreville — has more problems than just the name. Discussion of the I-66 trail at that meeting turned contentious as bicycle advocates prodded Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) staff over issues like separation of the trail from the road and snow removal.

For most of the length of the trail, the bicycle path will be at a separate elevation from the highway or running parallel on side streets.

For a few miles, particularly near Vienna, however, the trail will be running directly alongside the highway. VDOT officials at the meeting noted that it was “not ideal for a pleasant bike-riding experience,” but placing the trail on the other side of the sound barrier would have cut into the back yards of homes along the road.

Upcoming meetings are planned to review the proposed trail and offer an overview of the upcoming construction timeline. The two meetings are scheduled for:

  • Vienna: Tuesday, April 9, from 7-8:30 p.m. at Marshall Road Elementary School  (730 Marshall Rd SW)
  • Centreville: Saturday, April 27, from 1-11:30 a.m. at Centreville Elementary School (14330 Green Trails Blvd)

According to a Department of Transportation post for the meetings:

The meeting will also include an interactive exercise with attendees to explore possible names for the new trail.  Attendees will be asked to submit names and weigh in on a sampling of names that have been suggested. FCDOT will than narrow the list of names and host an online survey to vote on the trail names to be presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board for consideration and approval.

Image via VDOT

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Metro has an ongoing project to provide mobile phone and data service inside its train tunnels, but you wouldn’t know it in the tunnel between Tysons Corner Center Metro station and the Greensboro Metro station.

Tysons Reporter tested cell service multiple times in the tunnel and every time, service was lost. For transit riders, it can be a frustrating coverage gap on the mostly above-ground Silver Line through Tysons.

“This is not good for those on business and personal calls traveling around and through the Tysons area using the Metrorail,” one anonymous tipster wrote to Tysons Reporter. “If fixed, you could have 25 minutes of seamless cell coverage from Wiehle-Reston almost to Ballston.”

The call drops remain more than ten years after Metro signed a contract for cell carriers to wire tunnels to provide continuing coverage. A series of problems delayed the implementation of the plan, however.

The tunnel frustrations haven’t been enough yet to deter local ridership; Tysons stations have had increasing ridership despite declines in other parts of the region.

There is cell coverage elsewhere on the Silver Line, with connectivity available between the Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory Metro stations, for instance. Additional cell coverage is planned for several stretches of tunnels on the Red, Green and Yellow lines, with the current goal being wireless coverage system-wide by 2021.

But given the plan’s history of delays, riders might be better off just waiting until they’re on the other side of the tunnel to make that phone call.

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Dockless electronic scooters are coming to Fairfax County.

Lime scooters will soon be released on the streets of Vienna, Merrifield and Falls Church, according to a press release.

“We’re thrilled to expand our footprint in the DMV area and to begin serving Fairfax, providing accessible, affordable mobility options to riders across the city,” Sean Arroyo, Lime’s regional general manager, said in a press release. “We couldn’t be more excited to integrate ourselves into the community and to begin working with local leaders to help achieve their sustainability and accessibility goals.”

Users can use the Lime app to locate the nearest scooter, then scan the QR code on the handlebars or baseboard to use it. Users are encouraged to ride in bike lanes and wear helmets.

Scooters cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute to ride. Rides are finished in the app to be parked at a street curb or bike rack. Riders must be 18 years or older.

E-scooters are popular in major cities D.C., and are already ubiquitous in close-in suburbs like Arlington, but the hoards of abandoned scooters left haphazardly strewn across the streets has also drawn some criticism or even dramatic acts of vandalism.

In addition to Vienna, Falls Church and Merrifield, Lime says it is also bringing scooters to George Mason University and the City of Fairfax.

Photo via Facebook

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A new Fairfax Connector bus line is scheduled to start later this month, adding another set of connections from Tysons to Vienna and Dunn Loring.

The new bus line bridges the north-south gap between the Tysons Corner Metro station on the Silver Line and the Dunn Loring Metro station on the Orange Line.

Route 467 starts and ends in the same spots as Route 462, but takes a more circuitous route through Vienna, turning at the corner, running from Dunn Loring to the corner of Center Street and Maple Avenue before turning to travel along the western side of Maple Avenue up to Tysons.

Route 467 is scheduled to be active midday and evenings on weekdays and Saturday, starting Saturday, March 30.

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The crossing of Chain Bridge Road and Leesburg Pike — where Mr. Tyson’s fruit stand stood eighty years ago — could soon see some major changes.

Right now, that intersection is an elevated partial cloverleaf interchange, the way it’s been since at least 1980. But it could become a new kind of intersection and a new kind of public space.

A few years ago, Tad Borkowski of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation was assigned to study the possibility of widening Leesburg Pike (Route 7). He found that the existing interchange would prevent that from ever happening: the tunnel under Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) was too narrow to ever accommodate a wider passage, he told Tysons Reporter.

The interchange had another problem, too. It wasn’t in its natural environment. It had been constructed for a much more rural place — at the time, most of the area considered today to lie within Tysons’ eight districts was still forest.

Now, Tysons has urbanized. Routes 7 and 123, which were once freeways, have been bogged down in a series of traffic light intersections on all sides of the interchange. The traffic bottleneck is no longer that crossing; now, it’s the rest of Tysons.

That means that the traffic efficiency gained by a partial cloverleaf is pretty much lost anyway — it doesn’t do anyone any good to cruise through the interchange when they just hit a red light at International Drive right afterward.

Also, as Tysons urbanized, land became much more valuable. In the 1970s, that land was cheap to build ramps on. Now it has higher and better uses.

Burkowski’s office has started to look into improved set-ups for the intersection. Specifically, they’ve focused on two possibilities — a “two-quadrant” option and a “continuous flow intersection” (CFI) option. There are some technical differences between the two, but they both amount to the same basic idea. They both give drivers a way to take left turns without blocking oncoming traffic, which dramatically increases throughput. This YouTube video gives a quick, intuitive explanation.

Burkowski examined both possibilities for the intersection under simulated conditions for the year 2050, assuming a denser grid of surrounding streets (this dense, urban grid is a critical element of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan) and increased numbers of vehicles — but not considering the possible effects of autonomous vehicles.

Both options provided very similar traffic throughput results. Both options also provide opportunities for constructing a bus rapid transit line along Route 7 through the intersection, in keeping with ongoing plans.

The two-quadrant approach takes up a wider space — though still smaller than the existing interchange — but offers some advantages in pedestrian safety by allowing people to cross the intersection step-by-step.

As Tysons becomes more and more dense, pedestrian mobility is increasingly valuable. Burkowski, though, is confident: “We don’t want to mix pedestrians and cars at all.”

First, at speeds like those on these major arteries, the road simply is never a safe place for a human body. Second, including a pedestrian phase in the traffic signals would slow car throughput to unacceptable levels. Finally, third — there is an alternative.

The Fairfax DOT is considering the concept of building pedestrian space over the new intersection. Because there won’t be any vehicle ramps, cars will stay at ground level – letting pedestrians take the air above them.

This pedestrian space could be a lot more than just a bridge. Prioritizing connectivity, it could be a cap, reaching all across the intersection and converting it into park space – even into a kind of “central park” for Tysons. It could also be a series of bridges with an elevated central plaza, connecting not only to the four corners of the intersection but also directly to the Greensboro Metro station only 800 feet away.

The goals are ambitious. The Fairfax DOT’s first stated goal is to “create Tysons’ focal point,” bringing a sense of civic centrality to a place that has never quite had one.

The Tysons Urban Design Guidelines, though, have a different vision for these thoroughfares, which it envisions as boulevards, saying “above-grade skybridges or below-grade pedestrian tunnels are strongly discouraged as they detract from the vibrancy of the streetscape.”  Even with the elevated plaza concept, though, Fairfax DOT would prioritize “connect[ing] ground floor spaces with programmed open spaces.”

Borkowski ended a conversation with Tysons Reporter with the reminder: “This is all very high-level, and nothing has been designed yet.”

Many, many details have not yet been considered, and the possibilities in this article are still nothing more than that: possibilities. Still, the Fairfax DOT does intend to narrow down its options and to move forward in meetings with the Tysons Partnership and other stakeholders within a year.

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Traffic is not inevitable, and new development does not have to bring new cars.

Arlington County saw an astounding decline of 20 percent in average weekday traffic in just 15 years from 2000 to 2015. That same period saw a growth of nearly 20 percent in population. Certainly, many of Arlington’s new residents drove cars — but not all, and some of its long-time residents must have found new ways to get around.

There are several ways to fight congestion. Most people’s first thought is simply to widen the road. More road, more space for cars, less traffic — right?  The problem is that it won’t work for long.

For economists, mobility can be a commodity like any other. And when the government gives something away for free — in this case, it’s giving away the use of asphalt — of course people will clog the system. When something is available for free people will wait in line, paying with time instead of money. So, if highway engineers widen the roadway, it’s only a matter of years until more cars come along and the traffic is as bad as it ever was.

Another idea might be to slow down new development — but it would be difficult to persuade Fairfax County to forgo all the additional tax revenue.

Third, the county could turn to public transit. The Metro arrived in Tysons in 2014 and, while ridership is increasing, it still lingers below expectations. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but Metrorail was a major investment, and it will take decades of development and improvements to local bus service and sidewalks before it sees full results.

Wider roads, slowing development, and railways are 20th-century solutions. The 21st century brings a more subtle, smarter approach — an approach that professionals call “transportation demand management.”

Transportation demand management is not a single technique, but a set of approaches that nudge people out of their cars and towards buses, bikes, walking and working remotely. It’s practiced cooperatively by Fairfax County, the Tysons Partnership and private developers. It often relies heavily on data-driven, highly connected approaches rather than on large infrastructure investments.

One example of a transportation demand management program is the “Guaranteed Ride Home” offered by Fairfax County. This program offers commuters a free trip home up to four times every year. It’s intended for those who would consider a new kind of commute, but who the fear of unplanned overtime or family emergency keeps tethered to their cars.

What Developers Are Doing

For a clearer understanding of what individual developers are doing to cut congestion, Tysons Reporter spoke with Caroline Flax of The Meridian Group, the master developer of The Boro.

Flax described the “pedestrian experience” at The Boro, and the options that will be available to people on foot. By locating residences close to offices, retail, restaurants and Metro stations, Meridian hopes to “create a bite-sized pedestrian experience.”

“We will have a pedestrian-only promenade that connects to Boro Park, and for the other streets we have created wide sidewalks with activated outdoor seating that will create a really inviting pedestrian experience,” she said.

According to the EPA, concerned with carbon emissions from cars, “Research consistently shows that neighborhoods that mix land uses, make walking safe and convenient, and are near other development allow residents and workers to drive significantly less.”

“[Transportation demand management] is about promoting the other transit options available to residents, visitors, and tenants — aside from driving,” she said. Those options include bicycles, buses, and trains.

Caroline emphasized “making [The Boro] accessible in general” — including shared office/commercial parking to efficiently accommodate drivers, wide sidewalks for pedestrians, designated bike parking, Capital Bikeshare, and creating options for easy pick up and drop off by ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Flax said that she hopes visitors and tenants at The Boro embrace all modes of travel.

Meridian will strengthen its five-minute walking connection to the Metro by supplying new residents with complementary SmarTrip cards, helping them see how easily they can “hop on the Metro and get downtown, or elsewhere in Tysons, really quickly.”

Flax also emphasized the new streets that will help make traffic smoother by creating more options and connections from the main thoroughfares in Tysons: Route 7, Westpark Drive and Greensboro Drive.

Silver Hill Road, connecting from Greensboro Drive to Route 7, is expected to alleviate traffic on Westpark Drive. Another connection, called Broad Street, currently links drivers and pedestrians from Solutions Drive to another new street that connects to Route 7. Once the second phase of the project begins, Broad Street will connect Westpark Drive to Spring Hill Road.

Smaller blocks make a neighborhood more walkable.

Transportation demand management is a field still in its infancy, as planners and developers find new ways to work toward a more balanced transportation network. People across the country are searching for new tools, and Tysons, frequently dubbed “America’s Next Great City,” will have to work hard to be on the cutting edge.

With the Boro opening soon, Flax concluded by saying, “We’re really excited for everything to come alive… and to show everyone the pedestrian experience we will bring.”

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For years, the shared sidewalk on the south side of Lee Highway has ended abruptly with a ditch.

But a planned bike/pedestrian path on the highway just south of the Vienna Metro station could finally bridge that divide and make the sidewalks more walkable.

At a meeting tonight (Tuesday), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is scheduled to discuss plans to complete missing segments of a shared-use path on the southern side of Lee Highway between Vaden Drive and Nutley Street. The path aims to improve safety and accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians near the Fairlee neighborhood.

The $1.3 million project is being funded through the Transform I-66 Outside the Beltway project.

Design approval for the project is scheduled for this fall, with construction beginning summer 2021.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 at Fairhill Elementary School (3001 Chichester Lane) with a presentation starting at 7 p.m.

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GO Bus, a bus line that operates throughout the northeast, has added an additional stop in Tysons.

According to a press release, the new stop will be at the Tysons Corner Metro station.

From the press release:

For the D.C. and Virginia service to/from New York City, this new stop joins five other stops in the D.C./Virginia metro area, and is the 13th stop overall in the GO Buses network.  Other existing stops in the region include L’Enfant Plaza (C Street SW in D.C.), Eastern Market (Pennsylvania Avenue SE in D.C.), the Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station in Alexandria, the Fairfax/GMU Metro station in Vienna, and the Manassas commuter lot on Cushing Road in Manassas. The New York City stop is in Midtown Manhattan (30th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues).

While the press release boasts fares as low as $18, the lowest Tysons to New York City tickets available over the next month are $22.

This isn’t the first new affordable Tysons-New York line to open up. Last November, OurBus opened a new line to New York for around the same price.

Photo courtesy Go Bus

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