(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- County government offices will be closed on July 5.
Fairfax County Courts
- The Fairfax Circuit, General District, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District courts will be closed all day on July 5.
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.
- Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed in observance of Independence Day.
County Libraries, Recreation Centers, Parks
- All Fairfax County library branches will be closed.
- All Fairfax County RECenters will operate at their regular hours.
- Colvin Run Mill, Sully Historic Site, Hidden Oaks, Hidden Pond, E.C. Lawrence, and Huntley Meadows nature centers will be closed.
- The farm at Frying Pan Park and the indoor arena will be open, but the visitor center will be closed.
- The McLean Community Center will be closed on Sunday and Monday.
- 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
(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.”
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
Bus riders in McLean and Falls Church can expect an increase in service next month, as Fairfax Connector prepares to take over multiple Metrobus routes, including four that had ceased operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting on July 10, the Fairfax County bus system will assume control of five routes from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Some changes to existing Fairfax Connector routes, including two that connect the Tysons Corner and Dunn Loring Metro stations, will also take effect.
“Fairfax Connector will restore and provide enhanced service on these routes serving key areas in Fairfax County with connections to the McLean, East Falls Church, West Falls Church, and the Pentagon Metrorail Stations,” the Fairfax County Department of Transportation said in a news release yesterday (Wednesday).
FCDOT says the former Metrobus routes serve approximately 69,000 residents and provide access to more than 36,000 jobs in the county.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the new routes and the changes to existing routes on March 23.
Here are the routes that Fairfax Connector is taking over from WMATA, according to the county:
Route 703: Pimmit Hills – West Falls Church (replaces Metrobus Route 3T)
- Provides weekday and Saturday service, linking Pimmit Hills and Tysons to the McLean and West Falls Church Metrorail Stations.
- Operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours, and every 60 minutes during weekday non-rush hours and on Saturdays.
Route 715: East Falls Church – Dolly Madison (replaces Metrobus Route 15K)
- Provides weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes with improved connectivity linking McLean, Salona Village and Chesterbrook Gardens to the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.
Route 803: Annandale Road – East Falls Church (replaces Metrobus Route 3A)
- Provides weekday and Saturday service, linking Lake Barcroft, Annandale, and North Springfield to the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.
- Operates every 30 minutes during weekday rush hours; every 40 to 60 minutes during weekday non-rush hours; and every 45 minutes on weekends.
Route 834: Pentagon – Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus Route (replaces Metrobus Route 29C)
- Provides weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking the Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale and Lincolnia to the Pentagon Metrorail Station.
- Express service – $4.25.
Route 835: Braeburn Drive – Pentagon – Route 835 (replaces Metrobus Route 29W)
- Provides weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes linking the Northern Virginia Community College and Willow Woods communities to the Pentagon Metrorail Station.
- Express service – $4.25.
Service on all of those routes had been discontinued due to the pandemic, except for Metrobus Route 3A, which saw a reduced service levels.
Effective July 10, Fairfax Connector will also make a “minor operational adjustment” on Route 462 that it says will improve connectivity between the Tysons and Dunn Loring Metro stations, while increasing access along Maple Avenue in Vienna. Buses will run every 30 minutes during weekdays and weekends on that route.
In addition, Route 467, which also links the Tysons and Dunn Loring Metro stations, will start operating every 40 minutes throughout the week with the addition of Sunday service.
The route has been realigned to serve Maple Avenue, as well as Old Courthouse Road to Gallows Road, after a newly reconstructed Cedar Lane Bridge over I-66 opened to traffic in December.
Photo via Fairfax Connector/Facebook
Getting to and from Metro stations can be a harrowing experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and the Fairfax County Planning Commission and others want something to be done about it.
The planning commissioners have called on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to require Metro, the state and county transportation departments, and more to “work immediately” to make safety and accessibility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists to transit stations.
“This is a call for action by the public to improve pedestrian/bicycle access to metro stations as envisioned in the comprehensive plan,” Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said when introducing a motion during the commission’s meeting on May 19.
The measure calls for numerous changes, such as:
- Providing wide sidewalks at intersections within walking distance of transit stations,
- Making turns on roads tighter at intersections to slow traffic down,
- Providing a “double ramp” for people with disabilities instead of single ramp that’s currently in use directing pedestrians to the middle of intersections,
- Avoiding extra turning lanes at intersections with high volumes of pedestrians
- Providing closely spaced street trees between curb and sidewalk areas to protect pedestrians.
The motion passed, with 10 members voting for it and at-large member Timothy Sargeant, abstaining. Sargeant did not respond to a message seeking comment on why he voted that way.
“Failure to act will cause pedestrian access to continue to be ‘significantly challenged’ and ridership on the metro station to be reduced,” Carter said.
He introduced the motion during the commission’s discussion on whether to approve changes to the mixed-use Reston Gateway development being constructed near the upcoming Reston Town Center Metro station, but he noted that the issues seen there could apply to other locations as well.
Supervisor Walter Alcorn, whose Hunter Mill District includes the Reston Gateway project, agrees that the main crosswalk serving the Reston Town Center station is not pedestrian-friendly.
“The rail project used cookie-cutter designs,” he said, adding that a walkway over the road has been proposed but could be years away from coming to fruition.
When touring the area a couple weeks ago, Alcorn asked the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to identify short-term improvements to occur before the station opens, which isn’t expected to happen until early 2022.
“I want to make sure riders can readily get to the stations on day one and every day thereafter,” he said.
Pedestrian and bicyclist advocacy groups expressed support for the commission’s call for change.
Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright says some progress has been made to improve safety, but numerous deficiencies remain. The Greensboro station in Tysons, for example, not only lacks access from Gosnell Road and Westpark Drive, the roads are outright dangerous, he says.
Capital One Center Nears Next Opening — The Washington Business Journal toured Capital One Center as the mixed-use development prepares to open more facilities, including The Perch, a skypark set to open this summer, and Capital One Hall, the performing arts venue that will open in October. The complex will accommodate about 10,000 Capital One employees, but it’s also intended to appeal to local residents like The Boro or The Wharf in downtown D.C. [Washington Business Journal]
Fairfax County Introduces Transportation Debit Card — The new Transportation Options, Programs & Services (TOPS) initiative replaces the county’s existing taxi voucher programs. Serving older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income residents, TOPS provides a transportation debit card in lieu of paper vouchers and supports more transportation options, including rideshare, Metro, and public buses. [Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services]
Wolf Trap National Park Superintendent Leaves — Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts Superintendent George Liffert left the role he’d held since 2016 in May to take over Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, the National Park Service announced yesterday (Tuesday). Wolf Trap Deputy Superintendent Ken Bigley is now serving as acting superintendent until a permanent successor is selected. [NPS]
Madison HS Seniors Graduate — James Madison High School held an in-person graduation ceremony for its Class of 2021 at Jiffy Lube Live in Prince William County. Principal Greg Hood invoked the many musicians who have performed at the outdoor amphitheater in a speech to the new graduates, who were commended for their perseverance and motivation in an unusual year. [Madison HS/Twitter]
Falls Church City Wins Mayor’s Fitness Challenge — The City of Falls Church bested the Town of Vienna and Fairfax City in an eight-week competition to determine the “Most Fit Community.” Falls Church participants averaged 1,622.28 minutes of exercise, followed by Vienna with an average of 1,484 minutes and the City of Fairfax with an average of 1,289.25 minutes. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]
Fairfax County wants the public to weigh in on the projects that it plans to submit for funding as part of the Transportation Alternatives initiative, a federal program that gives grants to smaller community projects that expand non-motorized travel or enhance transportation infrastructure.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is reviewing four projects that it has proposed submitting for the federal grants: the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro Station bicycle connection, Safe Routes to School projects for Shrevewood and Bush Hill elementary schools, and the Mason Neck Trail.
The virtual meeting will occur at 6 p.m. on Thursday (May 27). County staff will give a presentation at the meeting and provide a Q&A session. Attendees can join online or call 1-844-621-3956 with access code 173 919 2128.
FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger said that, once projects are identified, the county often seeks multiple funding sources due to the competitive nature of grants.
The Shrevewood Elementary Safe Routes to Schools project has been the beneficiary of a Transportation Alternatives grant before. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors accepted $560,000 from the Virginia Department of Transportation in March to support the project, which will add crosswalks, curb ramps, and other improvements outside the school in Falls Church.
The Metro station bicycle project will add dedicated bicycle facilities to Virginia Center Boulevard and Country Creek Road from Nutley Street to Sutton Road, county staff said. It will also include a connection to the I-66 parallel trail being planned with the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project through protected bike lanes, narrowing an existing median and adding trail connections, according to the county.
The Transportation Alternatives initiative is overseen by the Federal Highway Administration. Projects through the program can assist students, people with disabilities, pedestrians, cyclists and others by adding sidewalks, lighting, and other safety-related infrastructure.
Photo by Michelle Goldchain
Fairfax Connector suspended fare collections last year as a temporary health measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the public bus system is considering longer-term adjustments to its fare policies with support from a new state grant program.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is one of 12 transit agencies in Virginia that have expressed interest in the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s new Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP), which will fund projects that increase connectivity in highly populated areas or remove barriers for low-income individuals by reducing or eliminating fares.
While fare collection resumed on Jan. 4, county leaders see reducing or subsidizing trip costs as one way to encourage more people to ride the Connector, which is the largest local bus system in Northern Virginia, transporting approximately 30,000 passengers on 91 routes in ordinary times.
“Access to transit is crucial in promoting equity county-wide and for many a barrier is cost,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay said. “Our Department of Transportation is committed to looking into how we can provide aid to those experiencing economic hardship.”
Created by the General Assembly during its 2020 session, TRIP was conceived before the novel coronavirus arrived in the U.S., but Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine told the Commonwealth Transportation Board during a May 18 workshop that the pandemic illustrated how vital public transportation is for essential workers, DCist reported.
“Fares turned out to be an obstacle. So we are really trying to use this as an opportunity,” Valentine said, according to DCist.
DRPT has split TRIP into two programs: one focused on regional connectivity, which could include everything from integrated fare collection systems to the creation of bus-only lanes on significant routes, and one focused on reducing the impact of fares on low-income users, which could involve eliminating fares, creating zero-fare zones, or providing subsidized or free passes.
Virginia has allocated a total of $129 million to the TRIP initiative through fiscal year 2027, including $88.4 million for the connectivity program and $39.6 million for the fare program, according to a presentation that DRPT delivered to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
Legislators limited the fare reduction program to 25% of the initiative’s annual funding, but the General Assembly gave the program an additional $10 million in the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget, raising its total to $12.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
DRPT released a draft policy last week outlining how TRIP will be implemented, including how projects will be evaluated for grant funds. The resolution is open for public input through June 18, and the CTB is scheduled to vote on it on June 23.
In its current state, the American Legion Bridge doesn’t work. Anyone who has driven across the bridge during rush hour knows the pain of being stuck in hours of back up as traffic bottlenecks, but a new study aims to relieve some congestion with proposed bus routes between Maryland and Virginia.
Conducted by the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the transit and transportation demand management study examined the existing traffic congestion on the bridge and finalizes recommendations for future bus routes with dedicated transit lanes in the I-495 corridor.
According to the study, traffic on the American Legion Bridge has continued to increase over the past two decades:
Between 2002 and 2017, the traffic volumes on the Bridge increased by 18 percent. Population and employment growth is projected to continue in the region, specifically in Tysons and the surrounding area, putting further strain on the existing infrastructure. The Traffic and Transportation Technical Report for the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension also found that trips travelling across the Bridge have a wide-range of origins and destinations, with many existing and projected future trips originating and ending in locations outside of Fairfax County and Montgomery County — the two jurisdictions connected by the Bridge.
And it’s likely to get worse. Based on projected population growth in areas like Tysons, the study says traffic on the bridge is expected to increase by 31% over the next two decades, with 1,833 additional trips per year, primarily from Maryland residents coming to attractions or workplaces in Virginia.
“The majority of existing trips are generated in Maryland, clustered along the MD 355 corridor, along with smaller clusters around Frederick and the US 29 corridor,” the study said. “In Virginia, trip generation is concentrated in the activity centers of Tysons, Dunn Loring, Alexandria, and Arlington.”
The study noted that aside from Metro, no existing transit options offer any inter-state connections, and the Metro routes circuitously travel through Rosslyn.
“Commuter bus routes running on managed lanes could be more efficient to commuters travelling between these key activity centers rather than a circuitous transit trip on Metrorail,” the study said. “In addition to local and commuter bus service, access to managed lanes can drastically improve travel times for carpool and vanpool users.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently endorsed plans to extend the I-495 Express Lanes to the American Legion Bridge, but the viability of the 495 NEXT project depends on Maryland widening its portion of the highway, a proposition that remains tentative at best.
If the planned dedicated transit lanes on the American Legion Bridge do come to fruition, the study looked at several potential bus routes that could run between Tysons and Maryland, including lines to Bethesda, Germantown, Silver Spring, Frederick and Gaithersburg.
The study found that the routes to Bethesda, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg all scored fairly highly when it came to factors like connections to low-income areas and potential ridership.
The study included a range of options based on different levels of investment in transit infrastructure.
The baseline transit expansion was for $2.2 million to $3.5 million in annual operating costs. This would offer a pair of routes that run from Spring Hill to Lakeforest Mall in Germantown and Bethesda.
A medium-cost expansion would run from Spring Hill up to Frederick and to Bethesda as well as Silver Spring, with another line connecting Frederick down to Rosslyn and L’Enfant Plaza. This package has estimated annual operating costs of $6.8 million to $11.6 million.
The highest investment package would include all the above, plus a line out to Reston Town Center and Dulles Airport and another to the Mosaic District. The annual operating cost would be between $11.4 million and $19.8 million.