For years, Fairfax County residents have watched as cranes and bulldozers have ripped up roads and disrupted commutes to make way for the dramatic aerial structures that will carry Metro’s newest rail line through Tysons Corner and into Reston.
Now that the Silver Line is about to open, many potential riders have one simple question: Where do we park?
The answer: You probably don’t.
Parking garages — and the large surface parking lots that have long dominated the Tysons landscape and suburban Metro stations elsewhere — don’t fit with the new vision of an area seeking to swap its congested, car-centric image for that of an urban, pedestrian-friendly enclave.
And so Fairfax officials did not include parking garages at the four Silver Line stations in Tysons.
That decision has been cheered by “smart growth” advocates, but some residents are concerned that their streets will become de facto Metro parking lots. And some potential Silver Line riders — accustomed to driving to Metro stations to board their trains — wonder how they’ll get to the new rail line if they can’t drive.
“The plan did not originally include parking because there were advocates that claimed that having parking garages would draw cars into Tysons,” Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) said. “In my opinion, those cars are coming anyway, and they’re going to be driving around looking for a place to park.”
The situation underscores the delicate balance that Fairfax officials must strike as they try to remake one of the Washington area’s most car-centric zones into a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly destination. They don’t want to bring more vehicular traffic into the area, but many of the improvements designed to make it bike- and pedestrian-friendly won’t be in place for several years. And persuading commuters accustomed to driving to a Metro station to hop on a bus or a train is likely to be a hard sell.
“The reason places like Bethesda are popular is because you can drive and park,” said John Lucas, who lives about a mile from Tysons. “Now we have to get in the car and drive past two or three stations to get to where we can park. It’s going to be impossible. There are not alternate forms of transportation that are reliable.”
The first phase of the $5.6 billion rail extension, expected to open for passenger service early next year, has four stops in Tysons: McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill. A fifth station, Wiehle Avenue, is in Reston, and that stop will have an underground parking garage with 2,300 spaces.
Surveys were done in 2011 as part of a study of how people get to and from Metro, and about 73 percent of respondents said they drove to a station. About 23 percent said they walked or took a bus.
Too many Metro commuters arriving in cars is one reason the county is investing millions of dollars to beef up bus routes. Fifteen Fairfax Connector routes are being created, and 28 are being redesigned with Silver Line service in mind. Three new routes will make loops around the Tysons area, connecting neighborhoods, shopping areas and office buildings with the stations. People who transfer from Metro to those circulating buses can ride them for free.
Foust, whose district includes McLean, is among those who have pushed for interim parking while work is underway to improve bus, bike and pedestrian access in Tysons.
“There are those who would prefer no parking at all,” Foust said. “We all would prefer to get rid of more cars on the highways, but, realistically, if people are going to utilize this $6 billion investment, we’re going to have to give them places to park.”
County officials identified 25 potential lots, garages or vacant parcels within a quarter-mile of each of the Tysons Metro stations that could be used for parking. But so far, only one property owner has stepped forward with an offer.
This summer, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved a deal with Cityline Partners to build a temporary parking lot with more than 700 spaces across from the McLean station, at Dolley Madison Boulevard and Scotts Crossing Road. The lot is scheduled to open when Silver Line service begins next year. But even among the most ardent boosters of the Tysons makeover, few believe that those spaces will be enough to accommodate the number of commuters likely to seek parking. Metro’s garage at Vienna, which has more than 5,000 spaces, and its garage at West Falls Church, which has about 2,000, routinely fill up before 8 a.m.
Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said officials are working to find more interim spaces. “I would say probably 700 [parking spaces] won’t be enough,” she said. “Maybe having double that, at least in the beginning, while Tysons is being developed” would work.
Metro officials said they are not concerned about the lack of dedicated parking. “The ridership forecasting models assumed the levels of parking that are being provided,” spokesman Dan Stessel said in an e-mail.
Sally Horn, president of the McLean Citizens Association, is among those who have pushed for parking near the new stations. She said many members of her group live just far enough away that driving to a station is their best option. Without parking, most would drive to work rather than take the Silver Line.
“We have consistently called for parking at the Metro stops,” she said.
Horn also discounts fears that parking will only bring more cars into the area. “We’re not going to have more congestion as a result of parking,” she said.
But others argue that for the reimagined Tysons to work, more parking can’t be part of the equation.
“If we want the biggest bang for our buck, it comes in reducing traffic congestion,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “We have to reduce the vehicle trips.”
Officials at Tysons Corner Center mall, near the Tysons Corner station, said that they will monitor the parking situation, using patrols and surveillance cameras, but that they have no plans to change enforcement, which includes towing violators who park at the mall.
“We’re just going to track it to ensure it’s not being abused by commuters,” said Bob Maurer, director of marketing for the mall, which has more than 12,000 parking spaces. “We hope that it won’t be.”
But Tysons residents, particularly those who live on the west side of Leesburg Pike, are concerned.
One of those residents, Laurie Brandt, said it’s “unacceptable” that planners didn’t include parking at the Tysons Metro stops. Brandt said she understands the vision of a more walkable, urban Tysons but wonders what it will mean for area neighborhoods.
“Though the planners guaranteed no incursion into the surrounding neighborhoods, it now appears they intended all along to usurp state roads as free parking lots,” she said.
Even in Reston, where the 2,300-space garage will provide space for commuters at Wiehle Avenue, residents are preparing for a possible onslaught of commuter parking. Residents of the Great Meadow neighborhood, on the south side of the Dulles Toll Road, have asked Fairfax officials to create a special neighborhood parking zone to keep commuters from parking on their streets.
County officials acknowledge that old habits are hard to break and that commuters may remain wedded to their cars.
“It’s going to take a while for people’s traveling and commuting patterns to change — for people to get used to getting into Tysons in ways other than taking their cars,” said Bulova, the Board of Supervisors chairman. “It’s going to be a fine balance for some time.”