Fairfax County Public Schools to Start Vaccinations on Jan. 16 — “All FCPS employees will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of the Virginia Department of Health 1b group of other essential workers. All FCPS staff who wish to access the vaccine will have the opportunity to receive their first dose in the next three weeks.” [FCPS]
Metro Announces Inauguration-Related Service Changes — Metro will close 13 stations starting Friday (Jan. 15) through Jan. 21. Trains will operate according to a Saturday schedule, bypassing the closed stations, and 26 bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter that law enforcement authorities have put in place for the Inauguration on Jan. 20. [WMATA]
Airbnb Cancels Reservations in D.C. Area — “Today, in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week. Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations.” [Airbnb]
Tysons-based Alarm.com Debuts No-Touch Video Doorbell — The video doorbell uses “video analytics to ring itself whenever it sees someone standing on your mat. That design eliminates the need for anyone to physically press a button, and the built-in camera and microphone let you talk with them through your phone without opening the door.” [CNET]
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Metro will start collecting fares from bus riders again on Jan. 3 as part of its pandemic recovery plan, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced yesterday (Thursday).
The WMATA board of directors authorized a temporary suspension of Metrobus fare collections in March as part of a policy prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic that required riders to board buses through the rear doors in an effort to reduce contact between passengers and drivers.
With fare collections resuming, bus riders should return to entering the vehicles from the front, where the farebox and SmarTrip equipment are located.
WMATA says the change in policy is enabled by the more robust public health procedures that it has put in place now that there is a better understanding of how the novel coronavirus is transmitted.
“With everyone wearing masks, shields for operators on every bus, and enhanced daily cleanings, front-door boarding is safe, expands our capacity for more riders, and helps us resume some normalcy,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said. “We also need to collect fares from every rider to keep essential Metro transit employees working and continue to provide essential service.”
Metrobus costs $2 per trip, which is payable in cash or with a SmarTrip card. Metro also offers a seven-day bus pass for $15 that provides unlimited access to Metrobus and other local bus services, including the Fairfax Connector.
The plan to resume collecting bus fare comes as Metro threatens to make significant service cuts after plummeting ridership during the pandemic contributed to a projected deficit of nearly $500 million for Fiscal Year 2022.
The dilemma facing Metro is shared by other major transit systems around the country, leading local elected leaders and transportation officials to call for the inclusion of public transit funding in a federal coronavirus relief package currently under negotiation in Congress.
Without outside support, WMATA could close 19 stations, drastically reduce rail and bus service hours and routes, and eliminate 2,400 additional jobs. The impact of those cuts is expected to land hardest on low-income residents and other populations that depend on transit.
Metro’s proposed FY 2022 budget will be up for public comment early next year.
The Tysons Partnership has joined calls for federal legislators to give mass transit a financial boost as public transportation systems reel from dropping ridership levels and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charged with implementing the vision in Fairfax County’s Tysons Comprehensive Plan, the Partnership said yesterday (Tuesday) that its leaders sent a letter to members and stakeholders asking them to advocate for transit relief to their Congress members.
“There will be profound economic harm caused by transit service cuts in all urban centers that depend on transit to move people in [and] out of work, home, shopping and entertainment,” Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner said.
Local elected leaders and transportation officials have stepped up their appeals for Congress to include public transit in a coronavirus relief package since Metro unveiled a sobering budget plan that includes drastic service cuts to compensate for an anticipated deficit of nearly $500 million.
In addition to closing 19 stations, including ones at McLean and Greensboro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget would eliminate rail service on the weekends and reduce it to every half hour on weekdays. Bus service would also drop from 60 to 41 routes.
“If implemented, these transit cuts could be devastating to Tysons,” Glasner said. “Economic growth and development in Tysons may slow significantly as employers, retailers, employees and residents reconsider their respective commitments to a location in which the urban vision rests on the premise of access to transit.”
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and other transportation agencies in the region have been rallying in support of federal transit funding.
The NVTA included a call for additional federal COVID-19 funding for transit in its 2021 federal legislative program, stating that WMATA is critical to the federal workforce as well as first responders, healthcare workers, and other essential employees.
“At a time when we are looking to recover from the economic impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t make sense that our federal government would not prioritize transit systems that serve our federal capital and our national economic centers,” Glasner said.
According to the Tysons Partnership, Congress is currently negotiating a federal funding bill that allocates $15 billion to transit. The American Public Transportation Association says that public transportation around the country needs at least $32 billion in emergency funds to survive.
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
Toll revenues from the Interstate 66 Express Lanes to the tune of $1 million will fund a second entrance to the McLean Metrorail Station.
The plan is to knock down part of a wall in order to add doors and an entrance, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Special Projects Division Chief Martha Coello said.
“It really enhances the ability for people who live or work north of the station to easily access it,” she said. “Hopefully, that gives them greater incentive to use transit, rather than use their own vehicle.”
Fairfax County aims to start work “in the next year or so,” she said.
Using 66 Inside the Beltway toll revenue, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission awarded money to six “low-cost, low-risk” transit projects as part of its Commuter Choice program for the I-66 corridor, according to an announcement on Thursday (Dec. 10).
“We’re expanding the transportation network now using a conservative strategy focused on low-cost projects and longstanding assets to ensure access to convenient, safe and reliable choices whenever people are ready to commute,” NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice said in a statement.
Both the scope and timeline of the program are more conservative this year due to a drop in toll revenue caused by the novel coronavirus. Pre-pandemic, Commuter Choice anticipated getting $25 million in grant funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Instead, tolled trips dropped by nearly 50%.
The announcement called Fairfax County’s application the strongest out of the six projects, which will receive a total of $3.5 million. Other picks included renewing service for three “existing, high-performing express bus services” and converting parts of one lane of Lee Highway in Arlington into a bus and HOV-only lane.
Staff picked this batch of projects because it “minimizes the risk around the uncertainty of a return to pre-pandemic traffic volumes and makes the best use of the minimal available toll revenues,” NVTC says.
According to Commuter Choice, the program has enough money saved from previous years to continue existing projects and fund new projects.
Coello said the McLean Metro Station project “is a bit unusual” in that it was not formally part of a capital improvements plan, but rather, arose during a rezoning application from Capital One in 2012.
Working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a team from Capital One designed the entrance, she said. The county received the exact amount it applied for, but Capital One has pledged to contribute to overages.
Coello says Fairfax County has been waiting for the right time to develop the site. Back in 2012, the change was not urgent enough to justify spending the money.
“Having an opportunity like Commuter Choice, this was kind of a golden opportunity,” she said. “It was a case of the right place, right time, right pieces falling in place.”
Since the Commonwealth of Virginia and NVTC established the program in 2017, Commuter Choice has provided more than $60 million grant funding to 36 projects in Northern Virginia.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Metro Silver Line Phase 2 Delayed Again — “Metro executive vice president of capital delivery Laura Mason said Thursday based on the latest information from the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority – which is in charge of building Silver Line phase two – fall 2021 appears to be the best estimate for when service can start.” [ABC7-WJLA]
VHSL Issues New Face Mask Requirement for Student Athletes — “Starting tomorrow, winter athletes must wear a face mask at all times. This includes while they are engaged in physical activity. Because of safety concerns the only exceptions would be wrestling, gymnastics and swim & dive (when engaged in activity).” [McLean High School]
Fairfax County Suggests Pause on 495 NEXT — “Fairfax County supervisors approved two letters to the state transportation secretary Dec. 1 urging the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) not to finalize decisions on its 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project until Maryland officials make highway-capacity arrangements on their side of the Potomac River.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NOVA]
Comcast Expands Network in Tysons and Other Parts of Virginia — “Comcast Business today announced it has completed construction in Virginia – expanding the company’s advanced fiber-optic network to more than 2,800 additional businesses.” [Comcast Business/PR Newswire]
Updated on 12/2/2020 — The McLean Metro Station is one of 19 stations that would close if the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority adopts a new budget proposed for Fiscal Year 2022.
The stations being considered for closure were identified based on low ridership levels or their proximity to another Metro station. They were all shut down earlier this year as part of Metro’s efforts to conserve resources during the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WMATA said on Mar. 24 that the McLean Metro Station only recorded 148 Metrorail trips the previous day, making it among the least frequented stations in the system.
The Greensboro Metro Station is also on the list for potential closure, since it is within less than a mile of the Spring Hill and Tysons stations.
The potential station closures are among several drastic cuts on the table as WMATA attempts to fill a nealry $500 million deficit in its upcoming budget.
Scheduled for discussion during the WMATA Board of Directors’ finance committee meeting on Friday (Dec. 4), the proposal also suggests eliminating all weekend rail service, limiting weekday train service to every half hour, and slashing bus service from 60 to 41 routes.
Under the proposal, Metro would offer an “affordable bare-bones service network to sustain essential travel and support the region’s recovery.” Ridership would be reduced to around 45% of pre-pandemic levels, and the system would only operate from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays.
The proposal also calls for the elimination of 2,400 jobs in addition to workforce cuts already enacted this year.
“We’re facing, obviously, a historic budget crisis. It started in [Fiscal Year] ’21 and will continue in ’22,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.
Metro could possibly avoid this grim outlook if Congress passes another federal COVID-19 relief package that with funding for public transit. According to the American Public Transit Association, public transit needs $32 billion just to survive.
Metro was awarded $800 million from the CARES Act in May — funding that runs out early next year.
“The latest proposed cuts to WMATA employees and service is a crisis for our region and frankly, the country,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “…Congress needs to step in immediately to fund WMATA and the countless ripple effects these cuts will have.”
If WMATA adopts Wiedefeld’s proposed budget, the 19 stations that would be closed could reopen based on the financial health of Metro.
The opening of additional Silver Line stations into Loudoun County will not be affected by the budget slashes, according to the presentation.
Metro’s fiscal year begins in July. Public hearings and outreach campaigns are planned until March.
Angela Woolsey contributed reporting
Staff Photo by Jay Westcott
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors voted on Thursday (Nov. 19) to grant Fairfax County’s request to drop the “corner” from the name of the Tysons Corner Metro Station.
The board simultaneously approved a name change for the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station in Maryland. That station will now be called Hyattsville Crossing.
The name changes were approved despite the results of surveys of riders and members of the public that found most respondents “significantly preferred” the stations’ current names over the proposed replacements, according to a report by WMATA’s safety and operations committee.
“History with Metrorail Station naming informs us that our riders and the communities we serve develop attachments to rail station landmarks and resist change,” WMATA staff said in the report.
For the Tysons station, only 36% of the online public survey’s 5,508 respondents said they like “Tysons” as a station name, compared to the 45% who disagreed and the 67% who said they like the name “Tysons Corner.”
However, 62% of respondents agreed that the name “Tysons” is easy to remember, and 58% said it would not be easily confused with other station names. 48% said the name clearly conveys the station’s location, and 47% said it describes the location well, surpassing than the 35% and 36%, respectively, who disagreed with those statements.
While the affirmative percentages are higher in all categories for Tysons Corner than they are for Tysons, those results are evidently positive enough that WMATA staff believes objections to the name change will dissipate once community members become familiar with the new moniker.
“Six in 10 survey respondents found the name [“Tysons”] easy to recall and not confusing with other names,” the staff report says. “Should the Board wish to approve the jurisdiction’s request, it is likely that the new name will become synonymous with the surrounding community over time and customers will find it sufficient for wayfinding.”
All of the Metro directors who were present for the vote supported the name changes, except for District of Columbia First Vice Chair Stephanie Gidigbi, who cited concerns about the public feedback when opting to abstain from the vote.
WMATA announced on Oct. 27 that Fairfax County and Prince George’s County had submitted formal name change requests for the Tysons Corner and Prince George’s Plaza stations.
According to the safety and operations committee report, Metro is planning systemwide signage and rail map changes in preparation for the second phase of its Silver Line service, which is not likely to start service until next summer.
With a Dec. 31 deadline for signage changes to be finalized, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors requested that Metro rename its Tysons Corner station as part of the county’s ongoing efforts with the Tysons Partnership to rebrand the area around the Tysons Corner Center mall as Tysons.
The Board of Supervisors has also asked Metro to rename the West Falls Church-VT/UVA Metro Station to reflect that the University of Virginia no longer has facilities nearby as of April 2020.
Like Prince George’s County, Fairfax County has committed to funding the $332,000 needed to change signage at the affected stations, according to WMATA.
Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran
Metrorail and Metrobus users in Fairfax County may be seeing service changes next year.
Proposed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority staff to help close a $176.5 million-gap in the budget for this fiscal year, the changes span management actions to service changes to deferred capital projects. WMATA staff say the Silver Line expansion will not be impacted.
This deficit is mostly a result of an 80% reduction in revenue from ridership, WMATA Virginia Government Relations Officer Gregory Potts told the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition during a meeting on Nov. 12.
The Metro saw a 90% drop in ridership across the board, including Tysons, Potts said. The declines in train and bus usage began in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they persist today.
Nine months into the pandemic, Metrobus ridership is down by 60%, a slight recovery from the 80% drop seen earlier in the year. That change can be partly attributed to the number of essential workers who may not be able to afford a car but still need to get to their jobs, Potts said.
“It’s been pretty eye-opening to us how important the bus is to the region,” Potts said. “Sometimes rail gets all the attention, but the bus system is really important to a lot of individuals. It’s an equity issue for us.”
WMATA staff are recommending Board members vote to authorize management actions and save $30.5 million, to defer non-safety related capital projects and save $30 million, and to make service reductions amounting to $116 million in savings.
The cuts could have been worse. A first draft of the plan released in September had more changes and cuts, because the deficit was projected to be $212 million. The plan was revised after WMATA opened up the plan for public comment, pushed its CARES Act money further, and found additional savings in operating costs.
WMATA initially projected the $546 million it received from the CARES Act would only last through 2020, but the agency now says it will stretch until March 2021. It also saved $35.5 million that would have paid for overtime, fuel, utilities and other costs.
Despite public objection to some reductions in services, a few bus lines that have been suspended in Fairfax County will remain on hold under WMATA’s updated budget plan.
It is hard to pinpoint when transit rates could return, Potts said.
“If you’re talking about pre-COVID-19 rates or more generally, some talk of ‘normalcy,’ where there are people wearing masks but more people riding, for transit, there will be an impact for longer than we want to imagine right now,” Potts said.
Currently, WMATA cleans buses, trains, and high touch-points daily, and it disinfects on demand with an electrostatic fogger machine, he said. Staff are providing riders with masks. Bus riders board from the back and the operators are protected by plastic shields.
Earlier this year, the Metro board approved a six-month deferral of the fare changes that will last through November.
To eliminate contact with employees, WMATA launched a SmartTrip app for Apple in September that enables contactless mobile fare payment. An Android app will be available by the end of the year, according to Potts.
“That’s good for convenience and safety,” he said.
Despite initial concerns about people contracting the novel coronavirus while using public transit, some preliminary studies internationally have demonstrated that “transit has not been known to be a transmitter in the way that other facilities may be,” Potts said.
Another positive development is that platform renovations to improve safety and accessibility at the Metrorail stations in Vienna, Dunn Loring, East Falls Church, and West Falls Church were completed on time.
“We’ve finished 10 platforms in the last year and a half,” Potts said. “It’s really moving along well. With the pandemic, they could actually maintain their schedule.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott, slides via WMATA
Vienna Girl Makes Eagle Scout History — “A Vienna eighth-grade student has achieved something few girls have: she’s become one of the nation’s first and youngest female Eagle Scouts.” [WJLA]
Tysons Corner Metro Station Closed for Coronavirus Cleaning — “Video posted to social media shows cleaning crews in full biohazard suits spraying the Tysons Corner station about 4 p.m. Tuesday.” [NBC4]
Vienna Planning Commission Approves New Subdivision — “A proposed six-house subdivision in southwest Vienna received a unanimous recommendation to the Vienna Town Council Nov. 4 from the town’s Planning Commission.” [Inside Nova]
Staff photo by Jay Westcott