Newsletter
Silver Line Express proposal, via WMATA

Metro has some bad news for fans of a proposed “Silver Line Express” rail service.

A recent cost-benefit analysis by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) found the project had the lowest cost-effectiveness of the five options being considered to boost capacity and reliability on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.

The hypothetical “Silver Line Express” would run through a new tunnel and tracks starting at the West Falls Church Metro station out to a second Rosslyn station in Arlington. The new tunnel could support express service, local service, or some mix of the two, a WMATA report said.

But a WMATA report and discussion at a Metro Board of Directors meeting on Thursday (Sept. 9) indicated the Silver Line Express may never leave the hypothetical stage. The cost-benefit analysis most heavily favored a new Blue Line route down from Union Station down to National Harbor.

The Silver Line Express carries an estimated cost of $20-25 billion, about the same as a new Blue Line route, but the report indicated that the express line would generate fewer new weekday trips — 139,000 compared to 180,000 for the new Blue Line — and receive less in annual fare — $119.4 million versus $154.2 million.

“When you look at the performance, the new Blue Line to national harbor offers highest impacts and highest benefits while lower cost alternatives have fewer benefits,” Mac Phillips, a principal planner and senior transportation economist-analyst for WMATA, told the Metro Board.

A cost-effectiveness ranking of the projects found the Silver Line Express to be the least cost-effective proposal, and only sitting at “medium-high” in terms of benefits.

Other options to expand capacity and ridership proposed by the study, which launched in 2019, include realigning the Blue Line at the second Rosslyn station to Greenbelt in Maryland and separating the Orange and Silver lines at Clarendon to create a second Silver Line connection at the proposed new Rosslyn station.

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Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton and Mayor Linda Colbert test Bird e-scooters at the Town Green (courtesy Town of Vienna)

Vienna residents will soon be able to zip from one end of Maple Avenue to the other via electric scooter.

The e-scooter operator Bird will deliver 25 to 50 of the rentable devices beginning early next week as the first participant in a one-year pilot program approved in December 2019, the Town of Vienna announced on Wednesday (Sept. 8).

The scooters are now operational and got their first workout on the Town Green when Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and Town Manager Mercury Payton conducted a test run Wednesday morning.

“The operation is pretty straightforward, and it seems very user-friendly,” Colbert said.

Payton added that the scooters will provide “a low-cost and environmentally friendly” alternative for people to travel around the 4.4 square-mile town without jumping in their cars.

Vienna started developing a shared mobility device pilot program after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a law on March 22, 2019 that gave localities the authority to regulate the operations of companies that provide motorized scooters and skateboards for rent.

The law set a January 2020 deadline for localities to establish their regulations through a pilot program or ordinance.

According to a summary of Vienna’s program, the pilot was originally supposed to last from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, but the town didn’t get any interest from potential operators until Bird applied, convincing officials to extend the timeline, Vienna Transportation Engineer Andrew Jinks says.

The program will now last until September 2022, one year after Bird’s scooters go into service. The company will submit monthly reports to the town with data on trips, customer usage, and any issues, including crashes, injuries, and complaints.

“Our SMD pilot is for one year during which time we will gather information about use, safety and other
details to present to the Town Council,” Jinks said. “The Town Council will use the report to inform the direction of a permanent Town SMD ordinance.”

Under the pilot program’s terms, companies can introduce up to 150 scooters initially with a one-year, $5,000 permit. They can add up to 25 more devices each month if they log at least three daily trips per scooter on average during the previous month.

Bird was required to submit an initial plan for the service area in which their scooters will operate and the locations where they’ll be deployed. The devices must be parked in the public right-of-way where they won’t obstruct pedestrian walkways, disability access, or certain town operations, such as snow removal.

The operator must address any violation of the parking regulations within two hours of getting a report from the town or community members, according to the memorandum of agreement.

The e-scooters will be available for use on streets, sidewalks, and shared-use paths from 4 a.m. to midnight every day.

Regulated using GPS technology, the scooters can travel up to 15 miles per hour on side streets but are limited to eight miles an hour on Maple Avenue, Nutley Street, and in the vicinity of schools, parks, and recreation centers.

Bird’s arrival in Vienna will fill a gap in the Tysons area’s e-scooter network. The company started operating in Fairfax County in late July. The county also approved Superpedestrian’s LINK for its shared mobility device program.

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Electric scooters have arrived in Fairfax County.

The devices started appearing early last week after the county introduced the companies Bird and LINK as the first two vendors in its Shared Mobility Device program, which was established in 2019 after the Board of Supervisors approved regulations for motorized scooters and skateboards.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-scooters had overtaken docked bicycles as the most popular form of shared transportation in the U.S. They have been embraced by some as a quirky, more environmentally friendly alternative to cars, particularly for short “first mile/last mile” trips, though research suggests more work needs to be done to make them truly sustainable and accessible.

The recent explosion in dockless e-scooters around the country spurred states and localities to start regulating the devices, partly in response to complaints that they clutter up sidewalks and pose safety hazards for pedestrians, particularly people with disabilities.

In Fairfax County, vendors are limited to an initial fleet of 300 scooters with an option to expand to 600 vehicles depending on demand. The scooters must have a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour and can be prohibited on sidewalks by signage.

The county also requires vendors to pay a $5,000 bond to cover potential clean-up costs, and users that leave scooters in places that block car or foot traffic could be hit with a misdemeanor and fines.

Bird has deployed several e-scooters around Tysons, according to its app (via Bird)

Now that e-scooters are here, how likely are you to use one? Are you excited to have this travel option, or do they seem like more of an obstacle than a convenience?

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A driver and rider participating in NV Rides’ transportation program (courtesy NV Rides)

A program that connects elderly people in Northern Virginia with volunteer drivers needs a new manager.

NV Rides manager Jennifer Kanarek left her position in mid-July, Pozez Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Northern Virginia Executive Director Jeff Dannick said yesterday (Monday).

“We started this program a little over 7 years ago, and Jennifer was our first manager,” Dannick said, crediting Kanarek for helping build the program. “The community owes a great debt to Jennifer for her years of service.”

Housed at the Pozez JCC in Fairfax, NV Rides is a network of volunteer driver programs that formed in 2014 after a Fairfax County survey identified access to safe and reliable transportation as a top concern among the county’s older residents, a population that is expected to continue growing over the next two decades.

In its 2020 demographic report, the county projects that people 65 and older will constitute its largest age group by 2025, eventually making up 17.5% of the total population in 2040.

“I have learned so much over the last seven years and knowing the impact that the NV Rides program has had on vulnerable adults in our community is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” Kanarek said in a statement. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with our community partners, stakeholders, and my staff in building, developing, and growing this crucial program.”

Kanarek announced that she was stepping down from her position with NV Rides last week, saying on her LinkedIn page that the decision comes with “mixed emotions.”

“I am proud of all I and my partners have accomplished, and I have made the decision to pursue other opportunities,” she wrote.

NV Rides consists of 15 partner organizations, ranging from local Shepherd’s Centers and religious organizations to Reston Community Center’s RCC Rides service, which has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the NV Rides website, the network has provided close to 40,000 rides since it began.

“They’re not taxi drivers. They’re coming to help you get to your appointment. They’re coming to help you shop for groceries. So, it’s really a companionship piece,” Kanarek said in a July video about the program, noting that while many elderly people can use ride-hailing apps such as Lyft or Uber, there can be varying levels of trust with a paid stranger versus a volunteer.

According to Kanarek, NV Rides has looked to recruit younger drivers because the average driver has been around 67 years old, and they may not want to return when the pandemic subsides.

After seeing ridership decline when Virginia went under a stay-at-home order in the spring of 2020, Dannick says NV Rides has now returned to “around pre-COVID levels” for volunteer drivers.

In June, NV Rides partnered with the Reston-based Dulles Airport Transportation Association on an outreach effort to provide transportation to medical appointments for veterans in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties.

The Pozez JCC is currently advertising for a long-term successor to Kanarek. The job posting lists the position’s annual salary as $45,000 to $55,000.

Meanwhile, the program’s interim manager is Tom Eversole, a retired naval officer who serves on the NV Rides Advisory Council.

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Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit alternatives map (via Fairfax County Department of Transportation)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved a bus rapid transit (BRT) route through the heart of Tysons, despite some concerns that it might not be as “express” as hoped.

Fairfax County started studying options for BRT through Tysons three years ago as part of a regional push to establish a bus line between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria.

After reviewing several alternative routes, the board voted on Tuesday (July 27) to approve county staff’s recommendation for a route that will run from the Spring Hill Metro station up to International Drive and from there down to Route 7 past Tysons Galleria and Tysons Corner Center.

“The outreach on this plan was very well done, very thoughtful, and working with our transit associations,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “I think this has had robust input from our community…This is going to be best for businesses in Tysons and for our pedestrians and cyclists.”

One concern raised at the board meeting by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity is that the route won’t have pull-off spots that will allow for both express buses that run directly between major points without interruption and local buses that would make more frequent stops within Tysons.

“I think we’re really short changing ourselves not doing the local stops, where they pull off, so we can run express [buses] on it,” Herrity said. “I think long term, we’re going to be sorry for that.”

Herrity abstained from the final vote, saying he supported the project overall but had concerns about its structure.

Chairman Jeff McKay said the existing configuration represented a compromise between the need for better transit and respecting the right-of-way limitations in Tysons.

“Right of way is at a premium,” McKay said. “The impact to our businesses and impacts to our residents on the right-of-way needs of these projects is significant and significantly challenging.”

With the route approved, the Tysons BRT route will be incorporated into the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s broader Envision Route 7 study, which is currently in its fourth and final phase.

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Bird e-scooters now available for rent near Lake Barcroft (staff photo by David Taube)

Hundreds of electric scooters have started popping up around Fairfax County after the county announced last week that it had approved two vendors for its shared mobility device program.

Bird and Superpedestrian’s LINK can each have up to 300 scooters in the county, but depending on usage, that number could go up to a combined 1,200 scooters for the two companies. The devices are available for rent, costing $1 to unlock with rates depending on ride time.

Bird has discounts for low-income and older residents as well as veterans and other users, and the company already listed the devices on its app, including six scooters in West Falls Church as of mid-morning Tuesday (July 27). Other clusters are farther south and southeast in the county.

Superpedestrian says it plans to make its scooters available this fall.

“Like bicycles, e-scooters can be used on a highway, sidewalk, shared-use path, roadway, or crosswalk,” the county said in a news release.

The county required companies to limit scooters’ maximum speeds to 10 miles per hour, and they can’t be used on sidewalks or crosswalks with signage banning shared mobility devices. The county said Tuesday such signage hasn’t been placed so far.

The county says users should leave scooters parked in areas that don’t impede normal car or foot traffic. People who violate the county’s rules can face a misdemeanor and fine up to $50 for the first offense and up to $500 for each subsequent offense.

“When riding an e-scooter, use the sidewalk when possible,” county transportation spokesperson Anna Nissinen said in a statement. “Remember, if you’re riding on the sidewalk, you are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians! If there is no sidewalk or other off-street path to use, you may ride a scooter on the road if the speed limit is 25 mph or less.”

She also noted that e-scooter users should stay as far to the right as practicable and use the bike lane if there is one.

The Board of Supervisors approved the devices in November 2019. They were allowed to start Jan. 1, 2020, but no companies applied for permits until the spring of 2021.

During the approval process, supervisors placed rules on operations as it noted concerns about scooters possibly being abandoned.

To help address issues, the board is requiring $5,000 bonds from companies operating in the county. The money can be used if county staff have to remove and dispose of abandoned scooters.

“If you notice an e-scooter parked in an inappropriate place or left on private property, you can contact the device operator listed on the e-scooter and the operator must remove it,” the county said, noting that people can email [email protected] to report any issues.

Near Arlington National Cemetery, pedestrians and cyclists can at times see rideshare scooters abandoned along trails, scattered horizontally on the grass.

Bird spokesperson Courtney Black said in a statement that the company looks to educate riders with proper scooter etiquette, reminding them to not leave scooters in the public right-of-way, ensuring that sidewalks, driveways, and fire hydrants are accessible.

The company also allows members to use its Community Mode feature to report issues, which can involve things such as damaged or poorly parked scooters. Bird reviews the reports and sends someone to respond.

When asked about the county’s concerns with abandoned scooters, Superpedestrian says it has worked with cities across the U.S. with similar requirements where it operates.

“We’re proud that we’ve never been asked to leave a city or stop operation,” spokesperson Jamie Perkins said in a statement.

To address potential issues, the company has an in-house fleet team of local workers to manage operations in a timely way, using technology to make sure scooters are parked according to requirements and re-parked when needed to ensure availability and prevent them from stacking up in one place.

Superpedestrian is assessing how many scooters it will place in the area, working with Fairfax County as it scales up operations.

“We prioritize our service to areas with critical connections to public transit, areas with parking congestion and business demand, and also serve underserved areas,” Perkins wrote.

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Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Jeff McKay speaks during a press conference on Metro bus routes changing to Fairfax County Connector routes (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 10:05 a.m.) Bus routes taken offline during the pandemic are making a comeback.

Fairfax County officials gathered outside the West Falls Church Metro station yesterday (Tuesday) to herald the upcoming changes involving the Fairfax Connector, which will take over several Metrobus routes starting Saturday (July 10) and also adjust service on several key routes.

“As we come out of the pandemic, it’s never been more important to have robust bus service…to get people back on transit to remind them how convenient it is, how practical it is and how easy it is to use,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.

McKay noted that county officials chose the Metro station as the location for their press conference formally announcing the changes, because the new bus routes will help bring transit riders there. The five new Fairfax Connector routes are projected to serve around 69,000 residents.

Another Fairfax Connector service change also starting Saturday involves discontinuing route 422 (Boone Boulevard to Howard Avenue) due to low ridership and duplicate service provided by routes 401, 402, 462, and 467, the county said.

Approved by the county board in March, the changes will restore four existing routes that were run by Metrobus but had ceased operating due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county bus system will also take over a fifth route.

A Metrobus at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The county detailed the changes as follows:

  • 703: Pimmit Hills (former 3T route) will provide weekday and Saturday service, linking Pimmit Hills and Tysons to the McLean and West Falls Church Metrorail stations. The service operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours and every hour during weekday non-rush hours and Saturdays.
  • 715: East Falls Church – Langley (former 15K route) will have weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes to further link McLean, Salona Village, and Chesterbrook Gardens to the East Falls Church Metro station.
  • 803: Annandale Road (former 3A route) will deliver weekday and Saturday service, linking Lake Barcroft, Annandale, and North Springfield to the East Falls Church Metro station; it operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours, every 40 to 60 minutes during weekday non-rush hours, and every 45 minutes on weekends.
  • 834: Annandale-Pentagon (former 29C route) will extend to Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus Route and offer weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale and Lincolnia to the Pentagon Metro station; express service is $4.25.
  • 835: Annandale-Pentagon (former 29W route) will extend to part of Olley Lane and Braeburn Drive and have weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking the Northern Virginia Community College and Willow Woods communities to the Pentagon Metro station; express service is $4.25.
Fairfax County announced bus route changes at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Bus fees are $2 ($1 for seniors) and have unlimited transfers within two hours of boarding with a SmarTrip card. More information is available at fairfaxconnector.com, which also provides text and email alerts as well as customer service contact information.

“We are pleased to restore and enhance these services,” McKay said.

Other service changes involve routes 171 (Richmond Highway), 462 (Dunn Loring to Tysons), and 630 (Stringfellow Road — Centreville).

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust called this an exciting time for Fairfax Connector specifically and transit in general, pointing to next year’s anticipated, long-delayed launch of the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line.

Fairfax County Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust speaks during a press conference on Metro bus routes changing to Fairfax County Connector routes (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The moves also come as the county looks to move away from diesel buses by 2035, which the board noted last week is ahead of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s timeline to have electric buses by 2045.

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Fireworks (via Timothy Wolff/Unsplash)

The Fourth of July is coming up this weekend, and with Monday (July 5) as a designated federal holiday, many public facilities and services will be shaking up their schedules.

The Fairfax County Health Department announced today (Friday) that all of its COVID-19 vaccination clinics will be closed on Independence Day, but walk-in services will be available at the Fairfax County Government Center and the former Safeway at Mount Vernon Square in Alexandria on Saturday.

A vaccine site at Springfield Town Center will also be open for walk-ins on Monday.

Here are some other closures that county residents should keep in mind this holiday weekend:

Fairfax County Government

Fairfax County Courts

Town of Vienna

  • Town offices will be closed all day.
  • The Vienna Community Center will be closed.
  • The holiday will not affect waste collection. Residents scheduled for pick-up on Mondays can place their waste by the curb as normal, but no brush, bulk, or yard waste will be collected.

City of Falls Church

  • All city offices and services, including City Hall, the Mary Riley Styles Public Library, and the Falls Church Community Center, will be closed.

Public Schools

County Libraries, Recreation Centers, Parks

Public Transit

  • Fairfax Connector buses will operate on a Saturday service schedule on Monday. Check the Connector website for details on specific routes.
  • WMATA Metrorail service will operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday. Details on routes and closed stations can be found on the Metro website.
  • WMATA Metrobus will operate on a Saturday service schedule on Monday.

County Trash and Recycling

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) Fairfax County’s first venture into self-driving public transportation has encountered impatient drivers and other difficulties, but the autonomous shuttle in Merrifield could still serve as a roadmap for expansion and future projects.

Operating between the Mosaic District and Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station since October, the high-tech Relay service navigates through bustling areas and amongst shoppers, giving free rides and demonstrating the possibilities offered by autonomous vehicles.

Eta Nahapetian, a manager with the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, remembers watching “Star Trek” as a kid, along with flying cars in the animated TV show “The Jetsons.”

“Here we are, trying to make some of those childhood cartoons a reality,” she said on June 10 during a webinar about autonomous technology, “Creating an Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem in Virginia.”

Sarah Husain, a transportation planner with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said the technology has elicited high interest from the community for how it helps people with disabilities.

During the presentation, Husain also described some of the challenges that have emerged during the pilot project, which is a joint effort between the county and Dominion Energy.

She said drivers can get impatient and illegally pass it, so officials with the project worked on adding signage and enlisted the Fairfax County Police Department to help with the issue.

In response to complaints about vehicles passing the autonomous shuttle, the McLean District Station has assigned officers to conduct extra patrol and enforcement to address drivers “speeding or passing Relay,” the FCPD said.

“We’d like to ask for our community’s patience when driving behind the shuttle,” police said. “Relay should only be passed, with care, when a full lane is available.”

According to the county, “Do not pass” signage was installed alongside Eskridge Road and Merrilee Drive in March 2021. Stickers with the same message were also placed on the shuttle.

“We sought out these challenges with the pilot,” Husain said, noting several solutions that came forth, such as installing monitoring devices that detect if the shuttle needs more time to pass through an intersection.

The technology remains limited in some ways. For instance, if an idled vehicle, such as a parked car, is in the way, a shuttle attendant has to take over in manual mode to advance the shuttle.

The shuttle runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday from the Dunn Loring station to the Barnes & Noble in the Mosaic District. It’s designed to fill the “first/last mile” need in public transportation, connecting travelers to their ultimate destinations.

Fairfax County is seeking additional funding to continue Relay’s length of service and expand the routes that it serves. The pilot project is slated to end in August.

Dominion Energy, which supplied the shuttle, says an expansion of the pilot is among many options that it is considering for future uses of automated vehicle technology.

“Dominion Energy is considering other opportunities that may include an expansion of the current project,” Dominion Innovation Strategist Julie Manzari said. “The purpose of the pilot is to learn and gather information that will help us adjust or pivot to other concepts.”

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Metro service changes announced last week — including increased services, late night hours, and reduced fares — are being praised by many in the community.

On Thursday (June 10), the Metro Board approved a host of improvements with the intention of luring back riders after more than a year of reduced services and free-falling ridership.

The changes include more frequent service during both peak and non-peak times, extending operating hours until 1 a.m. on weekends, a flat $2 weekend rate, and free transfers between bus and rail.

The changes will take effect starting Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of the summer.

“These are all very positive changes,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told Reston Now. “The only thing that made these service improvements possible is the money from our federal partners. Because Congress stepped up and delivered, we’re able to make these service improvements and, frankly, do what needs to be done to help build back ridership.”

Metro received nearly $723 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, including $193 million from the American Rescue Plan enacted in March. These funds not only prevented severe cuts, but allowed Metro to increase services while cutting fares.

Local labor unions are also pleased with the changes, including ATU Local 689, which represents more than 10,000 regional transit workers and said it “strongly supports” the service increases.

“We know that public transit is a safe and effective way for riders to get where they need to go, but we have to do the work to rebuild rider confidence,” ATU Local 689 President Raymond Jackson wrote in an email to Reston Now. “The first step to this is making sure that passengers know there will always be a bus or train there for them when they need it. That requires full service. We’re proud that WMATA took this step.”

Alcorn says that, during the pandemic, cuts to service were a “significant hardship” for those who couldn’t work from home, like hospitality workers, who often need rail and bus service at different times than those in other industries.

“We realized that, in the middle of the pandemic, that there’s still a lot of folks that depend on transit to get to work and to do what they need to do to get around,” Alcorn said.

John Boardman is executive secretary and treasurer for Local 25, a union that represents about 7,000 people who work in hotels, casinos, and restaurants in the D.C. metro region. He says expanding services is inherently beneficial to their members.

“Our jobs are not 9 to 5 jobs. They start early in the morning and can go late into night,” Boardman said. “More transportation and longer hours helps our workforce. Reliable transportation is one of the issues that affects people’s ability to get back to work.”

Increased service and fare cuts will also greatly benefit those most vulnerable in the community, such as the clients the D.C. Reentry Action Network, a regional organization that assists people being released from prison.

“Any reduction in the cost of transportation would contribute greatly to reducing the already tremendous hurdles one faces when returning home,” founder Paula Thompson told The Washington Post.

Metro admits it could still take years for ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels. A graph presented at the transit agency’s June 10 board of directors meeting estimates that even by the end of 2024, ridership may still be off by as much as 25% from late 2019 levels.

But it’s hoped that these changes could at least spur gradual growth. Read More

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