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Metro extension giving Tysons a split personality

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010

A name can say a lot about a place. So the long-standing titles associated with the Metrorail extension from Vienna to Dulles International Airport say quite a bit about the area's struggle for an identity: Tysons Central 123. Tysons West. Tysons East. Route 28.

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"The old names were purely functional," said Walter L. Alcorn, a former environmental consultant who for two years led the planning for Tysons Corner. "Tysons is too big to have a single identity. . . . Names are needed to develop its communities."

Fairfax officials, landowners and developers are now debating the merits of names for eight future Metrorail stations - six stations in Tysons Corner and Reston and two stations in the Herndon area along the 23-mile extension. (Three other stations planned in Loudoun, including one at Dulles International Airport, are not included in the discussion).

As Tysons Corner embarks on a multibillion-dollar, decades-long transformation into a new urban downtown, the naming of the Metro stations gives planners a special opportunity to assign a vision and feel for what will be built there.

"One of the things I've been totally convinced of is something that the Indians said: 'Once you name something, you own it,' " said Joel Garreau, a former Washington Post reporter and editor who wrote the 1991 book "Edge City: Life on the New Frontier" and regularly speaks about urban planning and design.

As proposed, Tysons Central 123 would be Tysons Boulevard, the Galleria shopping destination with new high-rise apartment buildings. Tysons East would turn into Tysons-McLean, an area anchored by a large park, Scotts Run, and access to the affluent McLean community. Tysons West would become Tysons-Spring Hill Road, a walkable retail area that could become home to the arts and entertainment district.

"Everyone knows where Tysons Boulevard is," said Rick Stevens, who is overseeing the Dulles Metrorail Project for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation and whose staff came up with the proposed names. "Arlington has place names. We don't have those yet, and Tysons Corner is a very big area. The names of the places could change before they get built. . . . We did our best."

The names are scheduled to go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for consideration in January before being forwarded to Metro's board of directors..

Six decades of sprawl turned Tysons from a rural rest stop with little more than dairy farms and a general store into a sleek but unwieldly tangle of offices, hotels, shopping malls and parking lots. For years, one of the chief complaints about the commercial corridor has been its lack of identity, which has earned the label of an "edge city" - a wealthy suburb without the sense of community that defines suburban life.

But although the names are short, punchy and reflect where they are geographically, they do lack the pizazz of the names of, say, their Arlington County counterparts: Clarendon, Ballston, Courthouse, said Garreau. One idea: Name stations after historical Tysons monuments or residents, such as the Hazel Farm, after John T. Hazel Sr., once Arlington's only surgeon whose 110-acre subsistence farm became part of modern-day McLean.

"The local jurisdictions make their decisions and requests and then it comes to us, but the names originate with them," said Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman.

There are other considerations, too: The longer the name, the more potential for name sprawl - names that drag on for more than 20 characters. When Metrorail began operating in 1976, station names were kept to a maximum of two words. That policy has slipped, most notably along the Green Line. The "U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo" Station more than triples that.

The main criteria for station names are that they identify locations or centers of activity and that they be "distinctive" and "evoke imagery in the mind of the patron," according to Metro.

How the names stack up against those guidelines is unclear. Planners spent five years debating the merits of growth before deciding in late June on a grand urban center, the future downtown of Fairfax, that could be home to 200,000 jobs and 100,000 residents by 2050. Three-fourths of all development will be within a half-mile of the Metro stations.

Tysons Central, for example, might be confused with Tysons Boulevard, the shopping area, if it doesn't note that the station is centrally located, near Route 7, said Patricia Nicoson, president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, a nonprofit group that supports the rail expansion. And the word "Tysons" is featured in four station names.

"You can't be too inventive. You have to stick with locations to let folks know where they are," said Fairfax Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), who is also on Metro's board of directors. "But we need to talk about how far we want to go with them. What might be significant today might look different in the long-term future."



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