Access to new Metro line still a big question

Correction: A previous version of this articel incorrectly said that the four new Metrorail stations in Tysons Corner are located in the medians of Routes 7 and 123. However, only the two stations on Route 7, Tysons West and Tysons Central 7, are located in a median. They both have pedestrian bridges leading to the north and south sides of the road. The Tysons East station is located on the northwest side of Route 123 at Scotts Crossing Road. The Tysons Central 123 station is at the southwest corner of Route 123 and Tysons Boulevard. Both stations feature pedestrian bridges that cross Route 123. The article also implied that Metrorail does not currently have urban aboveground stations. The transit system has several such stations.

March 27, 2011

For Tysons Corner area residents, construction of a new Metrorail line is more visible than ever. They see concrete piers and bridges looming above the Capital Beltway, and they wonder: how will we get to the Metro stations?

When the four stations open in 2013, none will have parking and only the Tysons East and Tysons West stations will have kiss-and-ride drop-offs. Some of the 100,000 people who work in Tysons will ride Metro there, and developers are seeking to add bridges, new doors and plazas connecting stations to their businesses.

But it will take time before the shopping and employment center redevelops into a mixed-use downtown with a mass of residents who can walk to the stations from home. For now, residents of nearby neighborhoods are accustomed to driving, and there are few firm plans for how people will actually access the stations.

The Tysons stops are aboveground, located on Route 123 and Route 7. The Route 7 stations would be located in the median, but all of the stations would feature pedestrian bridges connecting them with the community.  

Fairfax County’s challenge lies in  identifying the many ways in which McLean, Vienna and Falls Church residents will access the stations on foot, by bicycle and via transit. The goal is “as many options as possible that are alternatives to driving,” said Leonard Wolfenstein, a Fairfax transportation planner.

The county is asking the public to take an online survey about proposals such as neighborhood bus routes and crosswalks. Fairfax held four public meetings in the past week.

“We want people through this process to give us their priorities,” said county resident Merrily Pierce, a member of a county-formed advisory group of developers, residents and Fairfax officials that studied station access.

A public meeting in McLean Tuesday, the first on the topic, was attended by about 75 people who viewed several maps and then split into focus groups to outline their concerns and needs when it comes to getting to and into the stops.

Some residents pointed out that access should have been integrated into the Metro station planning long ago.

“I think this meeting is about five years too late,” said Andrew Gutowski, a real estate developer who is president of his McLean neighborhood homeowners association.

“It’s the lack of planning for a continuous and seamless network of alternate transportation,” he said.

Gutowski said his neighborhood has tried unsuccessfully to get the county to build a sidewalk connecting it to downtown McLean, making him dubious about plans for linkage to Tysons.

Fairfax is asking for input on pedestrian improvements within a one- mile radius of Tysons. But officials admit that creating connections inside the core may be a more feasible first step. The auto-centric employment hub is notorious for its hyphenated sidewalks and trails, a result of decades of piecemeal development. But under the county’s new building rules, property owners are required to team up when redeveloping, helping to create a street grid and connections between buildings.

The county has outlined a bicycle path network and is asking the public if those routes are near their jobs or homes.

And it has proposed busing for neighborhoods within a three-mile radius. The bus service is a combination of new Fairfax Connector lines and modified Metrobus routes.

Several residents at the McLean meeting said in order to make the rail stations useful, they wanted frequent and reliable bus service to the stations in addition to sidewalks, safer crosswalks and bike trails.

Some questioned proposed bus routes. One, for example, would begin in McLean and end in Tysons, but instead of turning around in Tysons, it would run without passengers on the Beltway back to McLean.

Maya Huber, a member of the McLean Planning Committee, called that a “formula for congestion.”

The input process is expected to end in May with a completed study on station access released in July. The recommended improvements would require final approval from the county Board of Supervisors.

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