Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Archive for the ‘Tysons Corner’ Category

Getting across the street

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on November 10, 2009

Rte 7 ped

Route 7 near Seven Corners has many pedestrians, no sidewalks and no safe crossings

If you live in Fairfax and want to walk or bicycle to the 7-11, your job or to your child’s school, chances are you will have to cross a major road. To bicycle to our son’s elementary school, we have to cross both Route 236 and Route 50, plus a busy secondary road, Jermantown Road. During peak hours Route 236 and 50 have many turning vehicles and short walk cycles. The crosswalks are poorly lit, increasing the risk of collisions with pedestrians.

But these crosswalks are still a lot safer than on many other arterial roads in Fairfax County. Twenty two pedestrians were killed on Route 1 between 1995 and 2005, according to a 2008 report by the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Eleven pedestrians were killed on Route 7.  A lot of people live along these streets, and many of them don’t drive. Yet the streets lack sidewalks, lighting and safe crossings.

Virginia ranks last among states in spending on pedestrian and bicycle projects per capita, according to a report released yesterday by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. The report,  Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods), looks at pedestrian spending and safety, using a “pedestrian danger index” that computes the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the amount of walking the residents do on average. For safety, the Washington area ranks 32nd among the largest 52 metro areas  (with 52 being the least dangerous) — better than many Sunbelt areas that have been mostly built in the age of the automobile, but worse than Virginia Beach and many comparable metro regions.  A 2008 report by the Coalition for Smarter Growth ranked Fairfax as the most dangerous county in the region for pedestrians, based on the same pedestrian danger index.

Fairfax County  recognizes the problem and is investing millions of dollars in better pedestrian design on its most dangerous roads. Earlier this year the $8 million Patrick Henry pedestrian bridge opened on Route 50 near Falls Church. But this may not be the best design solution.  Steven Offutt’s great post on the bridge showed that most pedestrians still cross on the street. Ultimately, the street itself has to be made more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

Making these roads complete streets that are safe and convenient for all users will require a major overhaul of VDOT’s current approach. VDOT does have a policy requiring routine accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists as part of any major road construction and maintenance project. But sidewalks and bike lanes, however important, are only parts of complete streets. There are many tools such as bulb-outs, pedestrian refuge islands, express bus lanes and tighter curb radii that would correct the balance toward pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

There is no better place to use these tools than at Tysons Corner. If we don’t build complete streets on Routes 7 and 123, the success of transit-oriented development at Tysons will be limited. Will VDOT and other agencies involved in the redesign of these roads show more flexibility in making them pleasant and safe for walking and bicycling?


Posted in Bicycling, Central Fairfax, Fairfax Boulevard, Fairfax City, Transportation, Tysons Corner, VDOT, Walk to school, Walking | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Old Lee Highway: Fairfax’s Gold Coast?

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on November 5, 2009


The Sherwood Community Center will be a 4 minute bike ride from Old Town

George mason Sq3

The city is also planning to redevelop this patchwork of parking lots and older buildings into a public plaza

Just about a 10-minute walk from one another are two city projects that could help shift energies and activity from our malls to more genuine public spaces. George Mason Square in Old Town is bookended by two parking lots on North Street, with two old buildings and Kitty Pozer Garden in between. The city owns the parcel and will be seeking a development partner to reinvent this space as a public plaza with shops fronting Old Lee Highway. One enterprising citizen has started a Facebook group to organize support for a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly project.

Further down Old Lee, the Sherwood family has made a donation to the city that will allow it to build a community center in Van Dyck Park. Among other features, the community center will include bicycle racks with kid-friendly designs, including a potential bike-a-saurus rack.

George Mason Square could become a great “third place” where people could go to read the paper, talk to a friend, play chess, blow on their harmonica, or just watch the people go by. Kids could walk or bicycle to the Community Center and hang out with their friends without having to get driven around by their parents. It’s great that the city is focusing on creating attractive public spaces.

Just as important as the design of the spaces will be connecting these spaces so people can easily get to them on foot or by bicycle. Let’s say you’re shopping in George Mason Square and your kid wants to go the playground. Are you going to sit him or her in the backseat of the car and drive to Van Dyck Park, or take a 10-minute walk there, and maybe stop along the way at a redeveloped, pedestrian-friendly Courthouse Square? The latter would be a much more pleasant experience, and will create more business for the city. Or you could bicycle there, which would be much easier if the city striped bike lanes on Old Lee.

Posted in Fairfax City, Public spaces, Walking | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Fairfax City’s gem

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on October 12, 2009

Van Dyck ParkVan Dyck Park is Fairfax City’s best public space. On a nice weekend afternoon you will see kids of all ages, parents, grandparents, soccer players, picnickers playing on the playground, skateboarding, talking, playing hoops and soccer, and reading among other activities. The people enjoying the park reflect the city’s and the county’s diversity.

There are several reasons that the park works so well. It mixes a lot of recreational uses — including a playground, picnic canopy, skateboard park, tennis courts, basketball court, volleyball, and a soccer field. It is centrally located — close to downtown Fairfax, near two schools and along a walking and bike path.

Posted in Fairfax City, Public spaces | 1 Comment »

Boulevard, or auto sewer?

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on September 25, 2009

This is a boulevard?

This is a boulevard?

When you take the future Silver Line to Tysons Corner, chances are you’ll end up walking along either Leesburg Pike or Chain Bridge Road. All of the four planned Metro stations will be on either Leesburg or Chain Bridge. They will be the most important streets in a redeveloped Tysons Corner. For Tysons to become a real place, people on these streets will need to feel comfortable  bicycling, walking, sitting with a friend and drinking coffee, window-shopping and doing the many other things that support a vibrant urban environment.

Fairfax County’s draft comprehensive plan for Tysons Corner recognizes the importance of redesigning these pedestrian- and bicycle-unfriendly roads.  Complete streets principles are honored in theory. But the proposed design will not create a more  inviting environment for people who want to experience the pleasures and amenities of a city. Above is one of the proposed “Boulevard” cross-sections for Chain Bridge Road  and Leesburg Pike. There would be four car travel lanes in each direction and a median. A tree buffer is planned between the sidewalk and the road. The local service lanes that currently exist on Leesburg Pike would be eliminated. These currently serve slower-moving traffic and are good for bicycling. There are no bicycle lanes.

Arlington has more created complete streets to complement transit, such as here at Courthouse. Photo courtesy digitaldefection, http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitaldefection/

Arlington has created complete streets to complement transit, such as here at Courthouse. Photo courtesy digitaldefection, http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitaldefection/

The median will be literally overshadowed by above-ground Metro tracks. That will make it even harder to redesign Leesburg and Chain Bridge as complete streets. In fact, the major players in the rail project — including the Metro Washington Airports Authority, VDOT, Washington Metro and Fairfax County — seem resigned to the rail corridors becoming dark, impersonal and pedestrian-unfriendly places where the only safe crossings will be the station bridges. That’s certainly the impression given by the latest visual renderings.  SAIC, which is moving its national headquarters to Tysons, is planning to build its own bridge to get employees across Leesburg Pike.

Isn’t there a better way to balance concerns about traffic flow and accommodating the Metro rail with creating a more pleasant urban environment?   In Arlington, the major thoroughfares on the Rosslyn-Ballston transit corridor carry a lot of traffic but also include on-street parking and bike lanes. Let’s hope we can find a better design for these key streets in Tysons.

Posted in Bicycling, Transit-oriented development, Tysons Corner, VDOT | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Getting Tysons right

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on September 15, 2009

Will Tysons Corner become a real place, with a mix of homes and shops, restaurants and offices that people can walk to? The debate about density reported in today’s Washington Post is important. But it shouldn’t be the only issue.

As the Post’s Lisa Rein reports, Fairfax County planning staff are recommending densities for a redeveloped Tysons Corner that are lower than those recommended by the Tysons Land Use Task Force, a group of Tysons landowners and local civic leaders that created a vision document for Tysons Corner last year. There would be fewer people living and working right near the four planned Metro stations if the staff recommendations were implemented. That could discourage developers looking to build well designed, truly transit-oriented urban buildings and places. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington has very dense office and residential developments right next to the Metro stations, and density greatly tapers off the farther you get from the stations. The staff recommendations would have much lower maximum densities near the stations.

Planning staff say that you can create a walkable and livable place at the densities they recommend, with buildings set close to the street and a vibrant urban environment. Higher densities, they suggest, will require more transportation infrastructure to move so many people around — including extremely expensive large-scale highway and road improvements. The companies that own the land closest to the four Metro stations naturally want as much density as they can get, and want the higher densities envisioned by the Tysons Land Use Task Force.

To put things in perspective, the staff recommendations still would leave Tysons Corner with more office, retail and housing space than the planned full build-out of Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which is roughly the same size. The main questions should be, “How will this space be allocated?” and “How will the buildings and surrounding streets be designed?” Arlington’s success suggests that you can develop extremely densely on the land closest to the Metro stations without increasing traffic. Traffic in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has not increased, because so many more people are walking, bicycling, and using transit.

There may actually be no “magic formula” for the right density levels. But higher density near transit does not mean more traffic, if the buildings and streets are well designed. Will the major thoroughfares such as Route 7 and International Boulevard be designed so that they are easier to walk across and bicycle on? Will they be designed so that people actually want to walk there?

Posted in Transit-oriented development, Tysons Corner | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Inviting public spaces

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on September 10, 2009

Is this supposed to be a real public space -- or just eye candy for cars?

Is this supposed to be a real public space -- or just eye candy for cars?

Despite some artfully designed new residential developments, replete with moats, trails and gazebos, you don’t see many people walking or just enjoying the public spaces in Fairfax City. The plaza in Old Town does attract a fairly broad array of people — old, young, parents and little kids, businesspeople and lawyers, etc. But the public spaces near Farrcroft and Gateway Fairfax, well designed as they are, attract very few people. I’ve never seen anyone sitting on the benches along the trail that runs by Farrcroft. Nor have I ever seen anyone at the cupola pictured to the left, at Gateway Fairfax.

And maybe this, too, is by design. Are these supposed to be real public spaces — or just nice things to look at from your kitchen window, or out your windshield?

If the city were serious about creating more inviting public spaces, there would be benches and something to look at besides a pretty cupola at this space. A sculpture, perhaps. And there would be more places worth walking to. Students and residents might stop here on their way back from Bernie’s Delicatessen to eat their sandwiches. The staff of the nearby Inova branch or Sunrise Assisted Living Center might eat lunch or drink coffee here.

The presence of more people would have a civilizing effect on Chain Bridge Road as it changes from a 55-mph highway to what Fairfax hopes to become the “southern gateway” into the city. That, in turn, might spur a redesign of this section of the road so it is easier to cross and a more pleasant road to walk along. The nearby recently renovated Fairfax County Public Safety Center, while not perfect, is now a much more pleasant place to walk along. The city, with cooperation from state transportation officials, could build on this to make Chain Bridge Road a more inviting pedestrian corridor.

To its credit, the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for a mixture of homes, stores and businesses in the area along Chain Bridge Road. However, a development proposal would amend the plan to place only homes on nearby School Street. If the city wants to create real public spaces and get more feet on the street, it should stick to its plan.

The redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard will be the real test of the city’s commitment to vibrant public spaces. The first major parcel to be redeveloped will likely be the Fairfax Shopping Center on the Boulevard. The draft master plan envisions breaking this parcel up into a street grid that would connect with Eaton Place and extend University Drive, creating a local travel lane similar to what already exists further west on the Boulevard, widening the sidewalk and bringing storefronts up to the streets. The developers have indicated a much more automobile-oriented plan, including a grass berm that would divide the boulevard from the stores. This would just be more eye candy. If the city wants to create a place where people will want to actually stop, enjoy themselves and purchase things, they should hew more closely to the draft master plan.

Posted in Planning, Public spaces, Walking | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

To know where we’re going, learn how we got here

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on July 17, 2009

For a relative newcomer to Northern Virginia, Paul E. Ceruzzi’s Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner (MIT Press, 2008) is a treasure trove of information about the partnerships between the federal government, research and development institutions and technology firms that produced the explosive growth of Fairfax County. If you want to learn about how Tysons developed the way it did, and the major players and their sensibilities shaping this development, this is a great read, seasoned with a lot of colorful anecdotes.

Ceruzzi details the convergence of supportive land use policies, serendipitous transportation decisions, the Pentagon’s growing need for scientific analytical expertise and the evolution of a quasi-private sector catering to this need. In the 1950s special entities known as Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) emerged that developed top scientific and analytical talent and could pay this talent private sector salaries — establishing a new research and development sector apart from the universities. Many of the FFRDCs, such as the Mitre Corporation, evolved into the companies that dominate the Tysons business community. Meanwhile, federal planners under Eisenhower chose to site the region’s airport in Chantilly, and also acquired land for an access road that would link the airport with the capital. Tysons’ convenient location relative to the airport, and its proximity to the Pentagon, helped make it the hub for the research and development community.

Ceruzzi provides a highly informative account of the decisions around the Dulles project that paved the way for Northern Virginia’s growth — in particular, the extension of a huge sewer pipe under the Potomac to the Blue Plains treatment plant that provided massive capacity for new growth. He also covers the development of the Beltway in detail, in particular the tortured right-of-ways that planners had to carve to wind the road around politically powerful constituencies in Maryland. Ceruzzi talked to a lot of developers and business leaders in the area, and he has some great insights about the self-consciously bland architecture of Tysons’ office buildings and the odd but productive alliance of the Tysons defense-related research establishment and the more entrepreneurial IT industry that emerged in the Dulles corridor in the ’80s and ’90s — an alliance that took off after 9/11.

Not surprisingly, the book betrays a bias toward technological solutions to the problems that have resulted from Tysons’ dysfunctional land use. Ceruzzi, the Curator of the National Air and Space Museum, is by no means uncritical toward the Tysons business community, but he does largely buy into the mythology peddled by business groups such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance that Northern Virginia’s traffic mess is a result of the region’s failure to build more roads — particularly an Outer Beltway linking Tysons with Maryland’s biotechnology centers. His argument attempting to link the concentration of Northern Virginia’s creative and technical talent to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail is intriguing but not very coherent. (A bicycle advocate is left to draw his or her own conclusions from Ceruzzi’s suggestive thesis — is the trail the “water cooler” for all these techno-geniuses who would otherwise be husbanding their expertise in patents?) And the solutions he offers for taming Tysons traffic are highly oriented toward futuristic technological fixes such as Personal Rapid Transit, while he discounts the possibility of improving the area’s land use.

Ceruzzi doesn’t really offer a master thesis of why growth and talent concentrated in Tysons. But the study does assemble and synthesize a lot of local history that an outsider to the Northern Virginia business community could not easily find anywhere else.

Posted in Books, Tysons Corner | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Tysons plan under review: Send your comments

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on July 10, 2009

Will the Tysons plan tame Rtes. 123 (pictured here at Scotts Crossing), Leesburg Pike and International Boulevard?

Will the Tysons plan tame Rtes. 123 (pictured here at Scotts Crossing), Leesburg Pike and International Boulevard?

The Comprehensive Plan for the redevelopment of Tysons Corner is being refined and public comments are due next Friday, July 17. One key to successful redevelopment will be taming Route 123 and Route 7 so that pedestrians and bicyclists can navigate them safely. All four planned Tysons Metrorail stations are located on either 123 or 7 (the picture shows the site of the Tysons West station), but currently both roads are highly forbidding to pedestrians and bicyclists. Yet the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans for Route 7 have minimal pedestrian facilities — a 6-foot sidewalk — and would make bicycling even worse than on the old Route 7 by eliminating the service roads and providing no suitable replacement for local traffic or for bicyclists.

The “Straw Man” Comprehensive Plan has street design guidelines for the secondary streets and includes plans for an internal street grid, which will be critical steps forward to making Tysons more walkable and bicycle-friendly. But the elephant in the room are Routes 7 and 123, and the plan needs to address this. VDOT’s designs  are overwhelmingly focused on moving more automobiles. Yet it will be hard to achieve truly transit-oriented development unless these two streets are designed to encourage street-level activity. Do you really want to shop or meet your friends at a place where you get off the station and have to sweat just to cross the street?

The Comprehensive Plan language that is adopted will strongly guide future rezonings, so it’s imperative to get needed language inserted now.

Posted in Bicycling, Transit, Transit-oriented development, Transportation, Tysons Corner, VDOT, Walking | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »