For Fairfax County, Silver Line means more police, extra buses and “pop-up” shops

March 18, 2013

Looking at them now, surrounded by muddy gravel lots, towering cranes and swarms of hard-hatted construction workers, it’s hard to envision what the stations along Metro’s new Silver Line will become by the time they finally open late this year.

But imagining that day — Day One, as many planners and officials have taken to calling it — is exactly what Fairfax County is doing. All five of the stops along the 11-mile Metro extension are in Fairfax — four in the Tysons Corner area and one in Reston. Along with riders, the first phase of the Silver Line will bring with it all sorts of demands, from more police officers and bus routes to temporary “pop-up” development to make stations feel less desolate.

As opening day nears and Metro begins its final preparations, Fairfax County has a checklist of its own.

“It’ll be a great day when the Silver Line finally arrives,” said Michael Caplin, executive director of Tysons Partnership, a nonprofit association that represents Tysons businesses, landowners and the county. “But there’s a lot left to get done, too.”

Among the most pressing needs, officials said, is more police officers. In Fairfax’s proposed 2014 budget, released publicly last month, County Executive Edward Long included $1.4 million for nine new officers to boost staffing and patrols around the stations.

The first phase of the Silver Line should begin carrying passengers through Tysons Corner to Reston later this year.

“We’re not expecting a crime explosion,” said Ed Roessler, the county’s deputy police chief. “But realistically when you have an increase in people, you will see an increase in crime.”

Roessler said the department also anticipates more traffic-related calls.

For months, the county has been working on plans to rearrange its Fairfax Connector bus routes to serve the new Metro stations. County staff took a first draft to the public at the beginning of the year to gather input. A revised plan based on the feedback will be out in April.

Loudoun County Transit, Washington Flyer and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission are also each revising their service routes. The county is coordinating their efforts.

Along with Tysons Partnership and students at George Mason University, county officials also are working on ideas to make the stations and nearby blocks more hospitable on Day One.

The county has just begun implementing a 40-year plan to remake Tysons Corner from a sprawling, traffic-clogged sea of office buildings, parking lots and shopping malls into an urban downtown where more people live. The Metro stops are a central part of that plan, but until Tysons urbanizes, the areas around them won’t be especially pedestrian friendly.

The future Greensboro station, for example, located on Leesburg Pike, is in the middle of a six-lane highway. One side is flanked by a strip mall, and the other by a vacant lot, a mattress store and a shop that advertises “late night DVDs.” The McLean and Tysons Corner stops are in the middle of 10 lanes of traffic, surrounded mostly by corporate offices and parking lots.

Pending redevelopment plans will largely remake Tysons, but in the meantime, Fairfax is looking into pop-up businesses and other temporary infrastructure to orient riders, create a sense of place and help set the stage for what the county hopes Tysons will become — a vibrant, walkable destination.

A masters class of 13 students studying transportation policy and logistics at George Mason has taken on the subject for the county, their non-paying client. The class began researching pop-up infrastructure at the start of the semester in January. In May, they’ll deliver a report to the county outlining ideas, costs and feasibility.

Among the recommendations they’re pondering for vacant lots near stations: erect short-term businesses in temporary retail and restaurant space built out of shipping containers; host outdoor concerts, fairs and farmers markets; or bring in food trucks.

Caplin, of Tysons Partnership, said members of Fairfax’s arts community are considering pop-up art installations. “A lot of conversations are taking place about what could go into these spaces on a temporary basis,” he said. “But even temporary solutions will need permits.”

One thing that is certain to go in are more sidewalks and pedestrian trails, which the county’s transportation department is working on.

Something else the county is exploring, said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the board of supervisors, are temporary Metro parking lots near the Tysons stations.

Like most of the existing stations in Fairfax, the Reston stop, on Wiehle Avenue, is being built with plenty of commuter parking. But because the Tysons stations are envisioned as urban stops, like most in the District, no garages were included when permanent plans were written.

That will work in the long term, Bulova said, but in the meantime, accommodations must be made for people driving in to catch trains. The county has begun reaching out to businesses with parking lots near stations to ask whether they’d be willing to temporarily donate spots.

If it works, Bulova said, the county may also consider shuttles from the lots to stations.

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