How to use Silver Line in Fairfax County


A sign at the new McLean station shows distances to nearest stations east and west. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, has been working for several years to get travelers ready for July 26, the day five new Metrorail stations will open.

Tom Biesiadny
Tom Biesiadny (Fairfax County photo)

To get people to those stations on the west side of the Silver Line, the county’s Fairfax Connector bus system is making many changes that will affect long-standing travel patterns. It’s a grand-scale effort to modify the behavior of commuters.

Biesiadny was my guest for Monday’s online chat. We had a problem with the chat technology, so we couldn’t publish his responses to many of your questions. But Biesiadny persisted and answered the remaining questions overnight. Here’s the new part of the Q&A.

Q. We moved to Reston last fall and were delighted to learn you can catch a Fairfax Connector bus that whisks you from downtown Reston to West Falls Church Metro in minutes of air-conditioned comfort. This is made possible by the existence of two free surface parking lots, one on Town Center Drive in the heart of Reston, the other a VDOT lot on Sunset Hills Road near the Metro station.

So the question: We are told the Connector to West Falls Church will be eliminated. What is the fate of the two parking lots?

A. The park-and-ride lot at Town Center Parkway and Sunset Hills Road was intended to be temporary during construction of the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail station. It will close at 11:59 p.m. on July 25. The Virginia Department of Transportation lot at Sunset Hills Road and Wiehle Avenue will remain open, as will the other park-and-ride lots at Reston Parkway and Lawyers Road, and at Baron Cameron Park. The Herndon-Monroe Park-and-Ride Lot will also remain open. All of these lots will continue to be free.

Q. Will there be any options from Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride to ride a bus directly to the facility at West Falls Church, or does Metro plan to just let that well-planned depot go to waste? Other than saving the $4.75 in parking, taking a bus for that short of a distance seems like a waste of resources, and locating the bus stops directly on the exit ramp at Wiehle will likely cause backups that will spill onto the Toll Road every morning.

A. Taking the bus from the Herndon-Monroe Park-and-Ride to West Falls Church Metrorail station will no longer be an option. By turning all the bus service that currently serves West Falls Church back at Wiehle-Reston East, we can provide much more frequent bus service in the Reston-Herndon area, as well as more midday, late night and weekend bus service. The bus bays on the south side of the Wiehle-Reston East station should not create backups on the exit ramp, because they are in expanded area adjacent to the ramp.

Q. From Dr. Gridlock: As the Silver Line opening approaches and commuters start to focus more on station access, I get questions from readers some long-ago decisions about the Tysons stations. Why were they not designed with parking garages? And why are there no Kiss & Rides at the Tysons Corner and Greensboro stations?

A. In the future, Tysons is anticipated to be a much more urban area, less focused on cars. The county’s Comprehensive Plan for Tysons envisions a more walkway, bikeway, transit-friendly environment with significantly higher densities. (You don’t find park-and-ride lots in downtown Washington). In the short-term, there will be a private 700 space park-and-ride lot at the McLean station. At least two other property owners are interested in opening temporary park-and-ride lots this fall. There are kiss-and-ride lots at the Spring Hills and McLean stations, one on each side of Tysons. We are also significantly increasing bus service from neighborhoods around Tysons and will implement three new circulator routes in Tysons with the opening of the Silver Line. Each will run on 10 minute headways in the peak period and every 15 minutes the rest of the day. You can look at the schedules for these routes at www.fairfaxconnector.com. New bicycle and pedestrian connections have also been completed and more are being developed.

Q. I live in Crystal City and am wondering what shopping/dining/entertainment opportunities the Silver Line will open up for me. Which stop is closest to Tysons Corner Center? Which stop is closest to Tysons Galleria? Is there any shopping/dining/entertainment within walking distance of the other Tysons stops? Will there be any type of connection (shuttle maybe) between a Tysons stop and Wolf Trap? Is the Reston stop within walking distance of Reston Town Center and its restaurants?

A. The Tysons Corner Metrorail station is the closest stop to Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Galleria. Both are within walking distance of the station. There is also shopping and restaurants near the Greensboro and the Spring Hill stations, too. There is a movie theater in Tysons Corner Center. For the 2014 season, the Fairfax Connector Route 480 will continue to operate from the West Falls Church Metrorail Station to Wolf Trap before and after shows. This may change for the 2015 season.

The Wiehle-Reston East station is about 1.5 miles from Reston Town Center; however, the Fairfax Connector will offer bus service every 10 minutes between them on Routes 505, 981 and RIBS 2.

See related: Interactive Silver Line map

Q. Can you please discuss the decision for the Silver Line to run through the Rosslyn Tunnel, sacrificing capacity for Blue Line riders who board at Van Dorn Street or Franconia-Springfield. Why wasn’t the Silver Line made as a shuttle route that would terminate prior to the tunnel, requiring riders to transfer-yes, but still increasing capacity on the Blue and Orange lines? Also, why was the choice made for the Silver Line to be a Metro ride? Other cities with airports away from the core (New York, for example) use heavy rail that links with a subway system rather than extending their subway a long distance.

Given the design structure of a Metro car and the distance involved, I would think that a heavy rail (perhaps part of the VRE system) would make more sense than a subway option.

A. The decision to run the Silver Line through the Rosslyn tunnel has a lot to do with the way the original Metrorail system was constructed. There is no “pocket track” (similar to the center track at Reagan National Airport or the one that exists north of the Mount Vernon Square station that is used to turn Yellow Line trains) between East Falls Church and Rosslyn. While it is possible to turn trains on the active tracks at Rosslyn, it would be very-time consuming and would result in significant delays on all lines, if it were done during rush hour. Beginning in the late 1980s, there were several alternatives analyses that looked at which transit mode should be implemented in the Dulles corridor. The end result of those studies was Metrorail.

Q. If there’s rider interest, would Fairfax consider keeping some of the bus service between West Falls Church and Reston? Not everyone is going east and transferring at East Falls Church takes extra time.

A. At this time, we are not planning to continue bus service between West Falls Church and Reston. However, depending on the origin and destination of your trip, there may be other options. You may want to use the Trip Planner at www.wmata.com to see what your options are. After the Silver Line opens, we will be assessing all of our bus service in the corridor and may recommend changes, based on the results.

Q. I know it’s 90 degrees outside, so let’s talk about something cooling. As Fairfax County encourages more walkable neighborhoods and access to public transportation, getting around on foot continues to be a challenge during snow events. Has Fairfax County discussed mandating the clearing of sidewalks from snow within a reasonable time period? It’s standard policy in northern climes (urban and suburban), and I can’t figure out why it’s not in Fairfax.

A. In the past, this area didn’t receive much snow and what snow we did receive usually melted pretty quickly. During the past several years, the region has received several significant snowfalls that took days to melt. The idea of a sidewalk shoveling ordinance has been mentioned, but still needs significant discussion before anything would move forward.

Q. Is there actually a fear that the Silver Line will not be used by the amount of people as predicted? If so, why?

A. No. There is significant new growth coming to the Tysons and Reston areas, due to the arrival of Metrorail. We have heard from numerous sources that the new Metrorail stations improve the attractiveness for both areas to businesses interested in relocating to this region or expanding in this region, as well as people interested in living in these areas. While we don’t expect Silver Line trains to be packed on the first weekday, there is significant anticipation in the community. I believe that ridership will meet or exceed expectations.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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