Tysons, VA

Happy Friday! Here are the latest stories about the Tysons area that the Tysons Reporter team has been reading:

Remembering a McLean Teacher — “Rita Olson, beloved music and science teacher at The Country Day School, has passed away. After a courageous battle with cancer for the past six months, Rita passed away peacefully early Saturday morning.” [Patch]

Business Leaders Say School Matters — “Business and nonprofit leaders gathered for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Economic Outlook event last week had one thing on their mind: keeping the region’s workforce growing for the area’s expanding businesses. To do so, they said, two things will be necessary — regional collaboration and high-quality education.” [Inside NoVa]

Tysons Restaurant Lands “Most Romantic” List — “A handful of Northern Virginia and D.C. restaurants are on the OpenTable ‘100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America for 2020’ list” including Eddie V’s at 7900 Tysons One Place. [Patch]

Online Grocer Leases HQ Space in Tysons II — “Ocado Solutions is opening a new headquarters office in Tysons, Virginia, in a deal announced just weeks after the company disclosed plans to open one of its first robot-powered fulfillment centers in suburban Washington, D.C.” [Costar]

How Can Tysons Become Walkable? — “Tysons is evolving from suburb to city, but try to walk around and it still feels disjointed, with very long walks from one block to the next. Filling in these spaces is a growing network of non-street paths, including elevated walkways and mall promenades.” [Greater Greater Washington]

https://twitter.com/TheBoroTysons/status/1225120175185371136?s=20

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Easy Walking Trails Near Tysons

Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in McLean. Reach the office at 703-790-9090.

My kids spent most of the weekend outside enjoying our early spring — thanks Punxsutawney Phil!

I grew up in Upstate New York, so I’m no stranger to cold winter weather, but I will admit I don’t mind these mild January/February days! We live in an area that’s covered in secret wonders to explore, whether by yourself, with your dogs, or with you family.

There are some great options to get outside, walk off that Superbowl Hangover, keep up with your New Years resolutions and keep everyone sane from feeling cooped up inside.

Here are some of my favorite walking trails near Tysons:

  1. The obvious, The W&OD Trail — You can jump on at so many junction points around town and make a day of it. Walk, run, bike etc to a nearby restaurant (like Caboose or Church Street Pizza), or head to the Community Center in Vienna, Spacebar in Falls Church or take it to Arlington and go explore the new Ballston Quarter.
  2. Roosevelt Island — Located just off the GW Parkway in Arlington, we did this walk on New Years Day with my kids. It’s quiet, an easy walk, and a dose of some history to remember. If you like to skip rocks, the trail is surrounded by the Potomac River, so easy ways to walk down to the water and throw rocks, enjoy a beautiful view of Georgetown, and let the kids or dogs run.
  3. Meadowlark Connector Trail — A small portion that diverges from the W&OD and leads you directly to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
  4. Great Falls — Either the Virginia or Maryland side will offer a wonderful walk/hike and beautiful views. We love to pack some sandwiches and walk from one end to the other and find a big rock to sit on in the sun and enjoy the sounds of the falls. It’s really a beautiful thing to see and such an escape from our daily D.C. life, commute and chaos!
  5. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve — Located in McLean just off Georgetown Pike, it also has some beautiful water views and cliff views of the Potomac River. We did this hike on New Years Day 2019 and I think we saw a total of 1 other person in 2 hours. It was such a nice quiet way to spend a few hours. Parking can be tricky if you don’t know where you’re going, so plan ahead.

Did I miss your favorite hidden spot? Share it with me below!

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New walkways are coming to McLean this year.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said in a newsletter that work on a rectangular rapid flash beacon at Chain Bridge Road and Wasp Lane is expected to be finished in March.

Then, a walkway will get constructed on the south side of Dolley Madison Blvd from the intersection of Great Falls Street and Lewinsville Road to the McLean Metro station. That work is slated to get done in April.

Other walkway projects expected to finish in April include, according to the newsletter:

  • East side of Georgetown Pike — south of Colonial Farm Road and on the east side of Route 123 and Potomac School Road
  • North side of Kirby Road from Birch Road to Corliss Court

Finally, a walkway coming to the south side of Chesterbrook Road, spanning from Chesterford Way to Maddux Lane, is set to get completed in August.

Map via Fairfax County

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Funding for new sidewalk projects in the Town of Vienna is coming from the estate of a late councilmember.

The town announced today (Tuesday) that Maud Robinson, a former councilmember and wife of late Mayor Charlie Robinson, left a “bulk” of her estate to the town to build sidewalks over a five-year period.

“She gave the bulk of her estate to the town because she and Charlie were absolutely devoted to the Town of Vienna,” Laurie Genevro Cole, the executor of the estate and trustee of the trust, said in the press release. “Vienna is their legacy.”

The funding is to go toward adding 3.3. miles of additional sidewalks “in areas where they aren’t already planned or likely to be funded through grants or new construction,” the press release says.

“The majority of Robinson’s estate, which has not yet been settled but will total more than $7 million, will endow the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust, which will fund the sidewalk projects,” according to the press release.

Charlie Robinson died in 2000, and Maud Robinson died last year.

Currently, the town is working to find streets with gutters and curbs that could use new sidewalks. The Vienna Town Council is set to consider the first batch of potential sidewalks at its meeting on Jan. 27.

More from the press release:

Before [the] Town Council makes a decision as to which projects to move forward with, residents on selected streets will be contacted by the Town and given an opportunity to provide feedback…

Public Works Director Michael Gallagher notes that it could take up to two years from identification of a street to walking on sidewalks. The Town will use contractors for this work.

“This is a wonderful gift to the Town of Vienna,” says Mayor Laurie DiRocco. “These sidewalks – and others – help connect places, but, more importantly, they connect the community. Maud and Charlie were all in for the Town of Vienna. We’re grateful that this is how Maud, out of her deep sense of public service and commitment to the Town, chose to pass on her legacy to the Vienna community.”

In addition to the trust established to fund sidewalks, Robinson left $50,000 to the Town for beautification purposes. Cole says that these funds will be used to plant trees and other similar projects.

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The W&OD Railroad Regional Park may get parallel walking and bicycle trails in the City of Falls Church.

The city’s Planning Commission held a work session on the proposed plans last night (Monday).

The dual-path would run between N. West and Little Falls streets, according to the city documents.

“The project would include replacing the existing 10-foot wide shared-use trail with an 11-foot wide bicycle trail and an 8-foot-wide pedestrian trail separated by a 2-foot-wide stamped asphalt buffer,” the documents say.

The city is also working on updating four W&OD crossings:

  • N. Spring Street
  • N. Oak Street
  • Great Falls Street
  • Little Falls Street

Staff said at the meeting last night that the new paths and crossings would improve safety.

Stormwater management still needs to be coordinated between the city’s Department of Public Works and Nova Parks, staff said.

The proposed plan appears to match the city’s vision for the W&OD. The city’s W&OD Master Plan calls for separated walking and biking trails, along with improved intersection crossings, new plazas and restored lighting, according to the city.

Meanwhile, the city’s Comprehensive Plan desires either trail widening or adding a parallel pedestrian path, the documents say.

While the commissioners voiced support for the plan, Chair Russell Wodiska said that he wants to give residents a chance to comment on the proposal. Locals can expect a public hearing to happen in the near future.

Images via Falls Church

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(Updated 10/25/19) The City of Falls Church is a 10-minute drive from rapidly expanding Tysons, but members of the Falls Church City Council want to maintain the feeling of a small community while still capitalizing on innovation and growth.

The City of Falls Church operates as an independent entity under the Falls Church City Council while Tysons still has no official governing body of its own, outside that of Fairfax County.

Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said that Falls Church wants to stay unique and its small population and efficient city council allows the city to stay “agile.”

“We are by no means trying to keep up with anybody,” he said.

Tysons Reporter talked to the councilmembers, seeking their input about the future of Falls Church.

“Always Been a Cut-Through”

Several councilmembers said the city is already seeing increased traffic thanks to Tysons’ urban sprawl.

The increase in traffic was brought on by the tolls on I-66 and the increasing popularity of apps like Google Maps, Litkenhous said.

Litkenhous worked in commercial development for 10 years before becoming a councilmember.

Councilmembers were originally told by the Virginia Department of Transportation that the addition of freeways tolls around the area would not impact traffic flow, he said, but people started driving through the city to avoid the tolls.

Now, the city is faced with concerns about pedestrian and bicycle safety that come with more traffic. Litkenhous cited several incidences concerning the safety of residents, especially kids.

There have been a few pedestrian deaths in the last few months in the Falls Church area, which are spurring discussions with officials.

But, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly noted that it is important to remember that “Falls Church has always been a cut-through” and a “crossroad” in the Northern Virginia area.

“Mini Tysons”

In August, the city broke ground on a new project that focuses on improving pedestrian access and traffic flow near the upcoming George Mason High School.

The $15 million infrastructure investment will make the area safer and open up accessibility to the future mixed-use retail space, Cindy Mester, the Falls Church Assistant City Manager, said.

The mixed-use retail space is being developed by the same people who built the Wharf in D.C., Mester said, adding there will be a grocery store, a senior living facility, an arts center, restaurants and retail shops in the development.

Mester referred to the upcoming space as Falls Church’s own “Mini Tysons.”

Enticing Techies

When it comes to the evolution within the city’s limits, Litkenhous supports the idea of Falls Church evolving as a tech hub.

“Here in Falls Church, we’ve had a chance to capitalize on the indirect spinoff [of Tysons],” Litkenhous said.

With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous, further encouraging students to pursue STEM-related fields.

With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous.

Though Litkenhous said he would love to have some of these companies move into Falls Church, he realizes offices are limited and added that a co-working space within city limits would be a solution. “We can’t work in a vacuum here and we recognize that,” he said. 

A Stroll in a New Direction 

Unlike Tysons through, Litkenhous said Falls Church focuses on small businesses and walkability within city limits. “We’ve got Tysons beat on walkability by a mile.” 

Last year, the City Council started the “Live Local Campaign,” sparked by Litkenhous, which encourages people to eat, play and spend money within the city’s limits.

Councilmember Phil Duncan said he keeps tabs on local businesses moving into the city and tries to support them by attending grand openings.

“I think there’s a good mix of big names and more local, family-run businesses,” he said, adding that some businesses that would have previously passed up Falls Church might realize that it is a new market.

“This whole area will become a great American city,” Duncan said.

Coming up in November, the city will host its second “Live Local Campaign” to encourage people to spend money within the community by eating at local restaurants and shopping for holiday gifts from small companies.

Both Litkenhous and Connelly said they want people to follow in their example and take advantage of all the dining and shopping options within the area.

Ultimately, Mester said she thinks the people in Falls Church help to make it special and unique.

“We have a caring and wonderful workforce,” she said. 

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Dominion Energy Backs Electric School Bus Push — “Dominion Energy announced an initiative to bring electric school buses en masse to school districts around Virginia. The effort comes amid a Fairfax County group’s call for its school district to transition to all electric buses.” [Patch]

McLean Program Encouraging Green Thumbs — “The McLean Trees Foundation’s Neighborhood Tree Program returns for its sixth year… For $50, the foundation will help McLean homeowners select a tree and then deliver it, help to plant it and offer instructions on caring for it.” [Inside NoVa]

Transforming Tysons Into a Walkable City — “According to its comprehensive plan, Tysons is aiming to become ‘a true urban downtown for Fairfax County’ by 2050. But the question on a lot of people’s minds is how they will get there, and how they will get around within the four-square-mile area.” [Greater Greater Washington]

New Track at McLean School — “Fairfax County officials, school staff and students on Aug. 22 dedicated a new track on the grounds of Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean… The soft-surface track is 1,550 feet long, or just more than one-quarter mile, and will be used by Franklin Sherman Elementary students and community members.” [Inside NoVa]

Foust Shares His Favorite Local Spots — Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust shared some of his top picks of things to do and places to go around McLean in a guest article. [Connection Newspapers]

Therapy Dog Comes to Vienna School — “The student services department at Thoreau Middle welcomes therapy dog Jackson Granados as part of their clinical team. Jackson will be at Thoreau part-time with school social worker Joy Granados visiting select classrooms and students and traveling the hallways at arrival and dismissal times.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

New HQ in Tysons Building — “Strategic consulting firm Dean & Company has signed a 36,205-square-foot lease at 1600 Tysons Boulevard, with plans to move its corporate headquarters [there]… The company currently operates out of 8065 Leesburg Pike in Vienna.” [Commercial Observer]

Silver Line Work Affecting Tysons — “Beginning later this month, pedestrians and drivers will encounter daily lane and partial sidewalk closures along eastbound and westbound Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and northbound and southbound Route 123 (Dolley Madison/Chain Bridge Road), along the Silver Line Phase 1 alignment in the Tysons area.” [Inside NoVa]

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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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Last week, Tysons Reporter examined the importance of sidewalk design as Tysons expands its pedestrian infrastructure network.

But no matter how well-designed a sidewalk might be, what matters most is that it’s in the right place.

There are three guidelines that Tysons can follow to make its pedestrian infrastructure more complete.  The first is simply to find where people are already walking. The second is to connect sidewalks to public transit. The third is to provide cut-throughs in large blocks, connecting up the network.

Find the demand

An old architecture-school anecdote mentions a designer who was hired to lay out paths across a new college campus.

For the first months of the year, she left the entire campus unpaved, and students walked across the grass to their classes.  

After the first snowfall, she took pictures of the quad from the bell tower, and then laid out the paths wherever she saw footprints in the snow.

In just the same way, dead grass and bootprints in Tysons reveals pedestrian activity. These are called “desire paths.”

They’re useful for transportation planners because they can prove, no speculation needed, that there really is demand for a sidewalk in a particular place. Even Tysons Plaza, connecting the mall to the Metro station, shows desire paths.

Desire paths can easily be paved over by the owner of the land, whether that is Fairfax County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, or a private interest. According to VDOT’s Project Cost Estimating System, a sidewalk costs only $25.15 per linear foot to install in Northern Virginia — it’s hard to think of a more affordable investment in transportation.

You can find desire paths all over Tysons at the ground level, especially near transit stations — which leads us to the next guideline.

Follow the transit

Public transportation and walkability have a symbiotic relationship. Unlike cars, buses and trains rarely drop passengers off right at their destination, meaning that they generally have to walk the final fraction of a mile. But in Tysons, that final stroll can be made circuitous, dangerous or uncomfortable by poor or disconnected pedestrian infrastructure.

As Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, puts it: “while walkability benefits from good transit, good transit relies absolutely on walkability.” Since its opening in 2014, Silver Line ridership has been less than half of what was anticipated — perhaps because of Tysons’ slower-than-expected transformation into the kind of walkable area promised by ongoing development.

Pedestrian infrastructure is just as important to buses as it is to trains, particularly when a large number of bus stops in Tysons — like one pictured above — are located at neither crosswalks nor sidewalks. Crosswalks, including those in the middle of blocks, are essential to safety; according to VDOT, 51 percent of pedestrian injury crashes occurred at mid-block crossing locations and 86 percent of pedestrian fatal crashes occurred at locations without a marked crosswalk.

Mid-block crossings aren’t new to Fairfax, and they’re approved by VDOT and encouraged by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Connect the network

There are two main things that can get in the way of someone walking in Tysons, and they both tend to be larger here than in America’s older cities: streets and buildings.

The single block containing Tysons Corner Center measures almost half a mile, equivalent to about half a dozen blocks of downtown D.C. To walk around Tysons’ ‘superblocks’ is a long journey, but if paths are carved through them, these paths multiply the number of five- or ten-minute trips available to pedestrians.

Similarly, bridges and crosswalks also function as multipliers by connecting sidewalk networks. When a pedestrian bridge connected the Towers Crescent office building to Tysons Corner Center, it not only meant that 3,000 employees could walk to a variety of food options for their lunch hour, taking their cars off the road, it connected them to an expanding network of comfortable pedestrian infrastructure reaching beyond the Metro station.

A successful project

When sidewalks opened last month along Leesburg Pike under the Chain Bridge Road overpass, the project was successful because it observed all three of these guidelines.

First, there was demand. As one reader, Ryan, observed in the comments section, “Commuters were walking in the street for a few years, before we had this new sidewalk.”

Second, it was near transit, adjacent to the Greensboro Metro station.

Third, it provided a link between two previously-disconnected sidewalks, meaning that it didn’t only add pedestrian potential but multiplied it.

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More and more sidewalks are coming to Tysons, but not all of them are created equal.

Sidewalks have been getting a lot of attention lately, They’re credited with the power to revitalize the economy and save lives, but sidewalks, like all infrastructure, need planning, engineering and investment — and some are implemented better than others.

Modern designers understand the subtleties of how to make a sidewalk safe and comfortable, while exciting new materials offer new technological possibilities and economists are coming to better understand the investment potential of sidewalks.

The best tools in any arsenal are multitaskers, and sidewalks aren’t just for moving. Just like we use streets for both driving and parking, we use sidewalks both for walking to a destination and also for standing still once we arrive.

In dense residential areas, like The Boro or The Mile, sidewalks can provide an outdoor common space, like a shared living room, for those living in small apartments. Sidewalks are also a good investment — they contribute thousands of dollars to property values. Good sidewalk design can even make a street safer for drivers.

Anatomy of a Sidewalk

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has a lot to say about how to engineer sidewalk space. In its design guide, it carves sidewalks up into three parallel zones – and while all three are for people, only one is actually about walking.

The frontage zone meets the facades of buildings and functions as an extension of them. It is usually home to cafe seating, benches, signs, staircases and entry ramps, and in residential areas individuals’ front gardens.

It can provide small nooks where you can stand under an awning and fire off a text message, or a place for eager customers to wait in line at the hip new cupcake shop. The frontage zone, while public, feels most closely associated with the building it touches.

The through zone is where pedestrians actually travel. It’s a clear lane for foot traffic, extending straight across multiple blocks, free of obstructions and wide enough for wheelchair users or groups of walkers to pass one another. It is often distinguished from the other two zones by a slightly different paving material. In order for pedestrians to move quickly, comfortably and efficiently, the through zone must be wide (at least five feet and up to 12) and unobstructed.

The furniture zone, also called the curb zone, is both the access to and the barrier from the street.

Traditionally, it is home to trees, light posts, traffic signs, utility boxes, newspaper stands and bus stops. In the 21st century, it gives us access to our wealth of new mobility options: car rental kiosks, Capital Bikeshare stations, pick-up zones for Uber or Lyft. This is where shared scooters ought to be parked.

Like the frontage zone, it can have benches or picnic tables, but this space feels entirely public, whereas benches in the frontage zone seem to belong to the adjacent building. The objects, furniture, and especially trees in this zone protect pedestrians from car traffic but the bus stops, taxi stands and bikeshare stations let them enter it on their terms. Like the wall of your house with its doors and windows, it protects you from the elements while also forming a point of access.

All sidewalks have these three zones, although they might blur together or be very narrow. Designing a good sidewalk, though, means understanding the role of each. Many sidewalks in Tysons, for lack in investment, don’t have the essential elements that fully flesh out the frontage and furniture zones. These sidewalks, simple concrete paths through grass, are incomplete.

Sidewalk Engineering

Concrete is classic, but new materials offer exciting possibilities for the sidewalks of the future. New kinds of sidewalks could double as automatic storm drains, use recycled materials, or generate electricity — and the D.C. area is on the cutting edge.

Engineers in many cities around the world have started experimenting with using recycled rubber as a paving material for the last two decades. Results have been mixed, with maintenance costs higher than expected in some places, but the rubber has a threefold advantage. DC has been a national leader with this technology, meaning Tysons has a lot of local expertise to reference.

First, by reusing waste rubber, the material is ecologically friendly.

Second, this rubber paving is usually slightly porous — meaning it absorbs some water during a heavy rainfall, helping deal with the thorny problem of stormwater management and preventing puddles from accumulating.

Third, as trees on sidewalks grow, their roots can push up and out, dislodging cement blocks and making the through zone inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. Rubber paving, because of its flexibility, can actually accommodate shifts in root structures without cracking.

Another new type of sidewalk has only made its way out of the laboratory a few years ago. In 2013, the George Washington University campus in next-door Loudoun County unveiled the world’s first walkable solar-powered pavement. This “Solar Walk,” part of the public campus sidewalk, uses solar panels embedded beneath a reinforced material to generate electricity that can not only light the sidewalk up at night but also send some power back to nearby Innovation Hall.

However, these flashy technologies have their critics, and it may be that traditional bricks offer greater value and some of the same benefits as the rubber material.

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