Tysons Corner, VA

Updated 5/22/2019 — A new plan could widen the Beltway in McLean, but nearby residents say the plan won’t do anything to fix the bottleneck of traffic.

At a meeting in Cooper Middle School (977 Balls Hill Road) yesterday (May 20), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) presented plans to add new toll lanes from the Dulles Toll Road to the American Legion Bridge to help alleviate a severe bottleneck in the region.

The plans for the toll roads have been in the works since last June, but the need for a solution to Beltway congestion was highlighted in March when a tanker crash paralyzed regional traffic.

VDOT’s plans call for the expansion of express lanes to the bridge and connections with the Dulles Toll Road. A connection to the George Washington Parkway is being considered, but options are included to not have the express lanes connect to the parkway.

VDOT officials said the three bridges in McLean that pass over the Beltway would be replaced and would include new pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

But for over an hour, McLean residents expressed outrage at the expansion of the Beltway and a perception that the decision had already been made behind closed doors. Residents who felt empowered by a recent rejection of a proposal to limit access to Georgetown Pike from McLean — a proposal that new state legislation means could come back — asked why this expansion was being treated as a done deal.

“[That] was a transportation solution for a neighborhood problem,” Susan Shaw, megaprojects director for VDOT, said at the meeting. “This project is a regional transportation project. We will consider input from communities, but we will also be considering transportation improvements for the region. If we only let direct impact communities decide — we would never provide any regional project.

One of the biggest criticisms — raised by State Senate candidate Nicole Merlene running against Barbara Favola — was that the success of the project seemed dependent on the expansion of the bridge and connection to toll roads on the Maryland side, projects that are still in early stages.

Shaw said that no traffic analysis was ready yet to show the impact of the toll lanes without improvements on the Maryland side, but she said that would be considered before final approval.

“We don’t have that traffic analysis yet, but I would expect there to be a bottleneck without increased capacity on the bridge,” said Shaw. “I think the question is, ‘Are there other improvements that we would see on this project? If there’s a period of time where Virginia is in on this project and Maryland is not, are there transportation benefits?’ That will be included in the assessment.”

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The City of Falls Church is looking to reduce its residential parking and ramp up its multi-modal transportation options.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board (TPB) approved $680,000 in assistance for 13 projects, including one to support a residential parking standards update underway in Falls Church.

Details on the update are scarce, but according to the TPB:

This project will update multi-family residential parking requirements for new development in the area. An outcome of this project will include revisions to the city’s Traffic Impact Analyses tables, which are used to estimate potential traffic impacts of proposed land uses and assign parking requirements. The project will also support a potential revision to the city’s zoning ordinance. The updated standards would be intended for use in all future multi-family residential projects and useful to other jurisdictions in the region.

The look at residential parking follows a commercial parking requirements update approved in 2016.

The residential parking standards update would be one part of a broader effort to promote non-car transportation through the city. The FY2019 budget included $25,000 to restore a commuter incentive program.

Photo via Facebook.

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After 32,000 student trips, the free Metrobus pilot program at Justice High School in Falls Church could be expanding to Marshall High School in Tysons.

Students across the county can use the Fairfax Connector and City of Fairfax CUE bus for free, and students account for 1.4 million trips on those buses in less than 4 years, but the passes have not been usable on the Metro system.

Over the last eight months, 35 percent of students at Justice High School have gotten a Metrobus-enabled student bus pass. Students at the school account for 3,500-4,000 trips per month.

Nearly half of the ridership among Justice High School students was on Metrobus Route 28A, which runs along Route 7 from King Street in Alexandria to Tysons.

Of students surveyed as part of the pilot, 70 percent had never ridden a Metrobus to or from school and 52 percent said they would not ride unless it was free. The majority of students said they also wanted to see more routes, extended hours and Metrorail service added.

The top three uses for the pass were traveling home or to activity centers — Tysons specifically — or to an after-school job.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday (May 14), faculty and students from Justice High School told the committee about their experiences with the program as the committee considered an expansion of the pilot.

A similar pilot program is planned for either Marshall High School, Falls Church High School or Annandale High School in the 2020-2021 school year.

“Students take the bus to the mall and the movies, but they also go to work with it,” Justice High School Principal Maria Eck said. “I met with a student on a totally different topic, but he told me he got a better job because of the bus pass. Now he can find a job he can get transportation to, and he’s going up to Tysons to help his family.”

Staff recommended renewing the agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to continue the pilot at Justice High School next year.

“When I first heard about it, I couldn’t believe it,” Carlos Pineda-Lopez, a student at Justice High School, said. “Now, I’m not paying $40 a week for Metro. It’s been amazing. For a family that makes $30,000 with both parents combined, that adds up. Sometimes I couldn’t go to practice or work and that would hurt my family. This bus pass increased my mobility and range of jobs. Now, I can go anywhere in Virginia. That’s how the pass has helped me. It’s helped as a next step towards adulthood.”

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The Capital Bikeshare network soon could reach out to even more spots in the Tysons area.

At a Fairfax County Board Transportation Committee meeting today (Tuesday), staff went through plans to add new bike share stations throughout Tysons, Vienna and Merrifield, with potential to add them to McLean.

Currently, 30 Capital Bikeshare stations are located in Fairfax County, with 16 in Reston, 13 in Tysons, and one at the West Falls Church Metro station. The most recent Capital Bikeshare station in Tysons was installed in December at the McLean Metro station. On Friday (May 17) a new station is scheduled to activate at Hilton Headquarters (7930 Jones Branch Drive) on the other side of the Jones Branch Connector.

There are 17 proposed locations for new Capital Bikeshare docks in the Tysons area to be launched next year — including docks along the Route 7 corridor between Tysons and Falls Church and the Gallows Road corridor between Tysons and Merrifield.

In Merrifield, three new stations are planned to activate on May 22 at:

  • Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station (2700 Gallows Road)
  • Halstead Square Dunn Loring Metro Apartments (2729 Merrilee Drive)
  • The Mosaic District (Merrifield Cinema Drive)

Six new stations are planned to launch in the area next spring.

A collaborative study for bike share expansion in Vienna was completed in March, and staff said the study recommended expanding the system throughout Vienna and considering a dockless bike share feature sometime in the future.

Along that route, Fairfax County recommends additional stations at:

  • Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station (2700 Gallows Road)
  • Vienna Metro station (9550 Saintsbury Drive)
  • Gallows Road corridor
  • Nottoway Park (9537 Courthouse Road)
  • Circle Towers (9335 Lee Highway)

The Capital Bikeshare expansion in the study area is planned to be funded from the I-66 Commuter Choice program.

In the Town of Vienna, new bike share locations are proposed at:

  • Town Green (144 Maple Avenue E.)
  • Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry Street S.E.)
  • Maple Avenue Shopping Center (180 Maple Avenue W.)
  • Navy Federal Credit Union (820 Follins Lane)
  • 444 Maple Avenue W. (currently a redevelopment project)

Yesterday (Monday), Capital Bikeshare also expanded into Falls Church with 11 stations.

There are few details, but the staff report indicates that future expansion could add the Capital Bikeshare to other areas like McLean.

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The candidates running to become the next chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will debate each other on climate change, affordable housing, transportation and land use tonight (May 13).

Four Democrats and one Republican are vying for Sharon Bulova’s seat.

Republican Joe Galdo, a former Defense Department technology intelligence analyst who ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate, is the most recent addition. The Democratic candidates include Reston developer Timothy Chapman, Fairfax County School Board Member At-Large Ryan McElveen, Lee District Supervisor Jeffrey McKay and Georgetown Law Professor Alicia Edith Plerhoples.

Sharon Bulova announced her retirement decision back in December, adding to a growing list of supervisors who also decided not to seek re-election. In addition to the chairman, the seats for the Hunter Mill, Providence, Braddock and Lee districts are open to newcomers.

The Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions partnered with the Fairfax Healthy Communities Coalition for the debate ahead of the June 11 primaries. The upcoming election for the county’s Board of Supervisors will take place on Nov. 5.

The debate will be televised at 8 p.m. on Fairfax Public Access Channel 10’s Inside Scoop.

Photo via Facebook

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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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If Tysons is going to become a destination, it’s going to need an Eiffel Tower — and slower, more pedestrian-friendly streets.

On the “Connect with County Leaders” podcast run by the Fairfax County Government, Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn talked about the increasing importance of establishing a “destination” feeling with urban design to draw in a younger crowd.

“Millennials are deciding where they want to live before they get the job, then they move there and get the job,” Flynn said. “That’s the sign of a robust economy. So what can Fairfax do to say ‘we attracted that person?’ We don’t have an Eiffel Tower or a Chrysler building, but I think Tysons is the start of that.”

On its quest to become America’s next great city, Flynn said the area will have to be notable for something — presumably other than the historic Toilet Bowl building. Flynn referenced the example of San Francisco, noting that icons like the Golden Gate Bridge come to mind before any other details about the city.

But the other side of the coin to draw businesses and residents to Tysons, Flynn said, will be making the streets more walkable.

“We’re hearing that people want to walk more,” Flynn said. “They don’t want to be as car-dependent.”

But sometimes, Flynn noted, good pedestrian design can come at the cost of car-focused improvements, like more turn lanes. While Fairfax County has traditionally been built on its highways, Flynn said Tysons is going to need to continue switching to a more urban style street grid — specifically referencing Old Town Alexandria as a model for pedestrian-friendly design.

“Every time you add an extra right turn lane, someone is paying for that,” Flynn said. “Someone has to maintain that… and you just made a wider intersection for a pedestrian or cyclist, so maybe they don’t cross that street… Pedestrians know where they’re wanted, and that’s where they want to stay. So we need to slow down traffic and get more people out of their cars.”

For Tysons, Flynn said people should expect narrower lanes and slower traffic than they’d find in other parts of the county. Slower traffic, Flynn said, will not only add to pedestrian friendliness but will make retailers more likely to set up shop nearby.

“People are really drawn to a sense of place, that’s why Mosaic has been such a big hit and Tysons is becoming that way,” Flynn said. “People want to be at a place that feels good you have lots of choices of what to do.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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Northern Virginia boasts the state’s first modular roundabout — a new traffic management technology that could become part of everyday life in Tysons.

Drivers venturing out to Annandale might have noticed something unusual at the intersection of Ravensworth Road and Jayhawk Street. This avian-named crossing is home to Virginia’s first-ever modular mini-roundabout, a new type of intersection design that could see much more widespread use across the region, including in Tysons.

Before last May, the intersection had only had stop signs on Jayhawk. But traffic was increasing, and cars turning from Jayhawk onto Ravensworth were having to struggle to turn enter the road safely. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) decided they needed to do something to keep cars moving.

“The primary purpose of the roundabout was to allow side streets to have safer access onto the main road,” explained Terry Yates, Assistant Transportation and Land Use Director for VDOT in Arlington and Fairfax Counties. The goal was achieved: the time that cars spend waiting to turn onto the main road has dropped by almost 90%.

They could have installed traffic lights, which would probably have cost around $600,000. Or they could have installed a conventional concrete mini-roundabout, probably around $300,000. The concrete mini-roundabout would have both been safer for pedestrians and minimized the effect that pedestrians have on vehicle traffic compared to a full-scale roundabout or a traffic signal. Dr. Wei Zhang, researcher for the Federal Highway Administration, noted that the roundabout design (whether modular or concrete) “cuts down the exposed crossing distance for pedestrians by 75%.”

For a long time, those were the only choices. But the new modular mini-roundabout is unique because it is made out of a special plastic rather than concrete. That gives it a number of enormous advantages.

First, it brings down the cost — tremendously. This design cost only $137,000 of VDOT money, although it would have been a little more expensive without materials donated by the Federal Highway Administration.

Second, installation is easy. Setting up the intersection took only two weeks, slightly less than a comparable non-modular project in Vienna. There were no impacts on utility lines or right-of-ways, and only minor impacts to the pavement.

Third, it’s eco-friendly. The plastic material is made from recycled milk jugs, reducing not only costs but also pollution. That environmental friendliness doesn’t come at any kind of cost to effectiveness: the material in question is durable and strong enough that it’s used industrially for railroad cross-ties.

The design is still experimental. In fact, the first such modular mini-roundabouts anywhere in the country were only built about two years ago in Georgia. As such, VDOT is keeping a close eye on the project. Yates explained: “We are monitoring it about every 4 months. We discuss its performance with Fairfax County Police, Fairfax County DOT, Fairfax County Government and internal VDOT sections.”

The solution isn’t perfect: VDOT has yet to develop a snow-removal procedure, and some drivers complain that the design is difficult to see at night.

Although the roundabout was built to be easily removed, Yates clarified that it “may not be temporary.” If the design continues to function as effectively as it has for the past ten months, there’s no reason it shouldn’t stay as it is — and no reason why it might not be emulated elsewhere, especially in Tysons.

In Tysons, VDOT owns and maintains most roads, meaning they could easily replicate this success. Dr. Zhang has said that “transportation departments may be able to consider similar modular roundabouts as an option where safety and congestion improvements are needed quickly.”

With Tysons slated to grow to 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs in the next thirty years, this cheap, safe, effective intersection design could be coming to local streets in the near future.

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Monday Morning Notes

HQ2 Worries for Fairfax Companies — “Amazon.com Inc.’s move to open a second headquarters in Arlington may prove to be a mixed-bag for Fairfax County. While many HQ2 employees are expected to live in the county, there’s a real chance that Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) will take tech talent from companies based in Fairfax.” [Washington Business Journal]

Does Tysons Need New North-South Transit? — “The Silver Line is good for east-west, but Tysons needs something north-south too. [Twitter]

Silver Line Station Progress — “Work crews in yellow vests and hard hats continue to dot the stations, track, pavilions, pedestrian bridges and tracks along the Phase 2 alignment, but over the next few months, more and more of those workers will be heading to interior work stations to run utility lines, install equipment and test all of the facilities.” [VivaTysons]

Apartment Fire in Falls Church — A fire broke out in the kitchen of an apartment at 450 N. Washington Street in Falls Church on Friday afternoon. [Twitter]

Falls Church PD Seek Info in Dog Bite Case — “City of Falls Church Police and Animal Control are looking for a dog that bit a man on the leg on Wednesday, March 27, around 2:15 p.m. near the Cherry Hill Park tennis courts.” [City of Falls Church]

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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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