While many Washington-area commuters are adjusting to the termination of their bus routes and transfering to the subway, the residents of McLean Hamlet are locked in a heated intercine flight over whether to keep an already approved bus route in their neighborhood.
The two-mile extension of the 3-M route into the subdivision of $100,000 homes was scheduled to begin last Monday. It was delayed by strong citizen opposition, much to the dismay of some of their neighbors who favored bus service and had requested it several years ago.
The extension, which would run from the present 3-M termination point on Old Dominion Drive, was approved without opposition by the Metro board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at two public hearings last November.
Two weeks ago, Metro officials said about a dozen bus stop signs were installed along Lewinsville Road and Falstaff Road, the two streets involved in the route extension. The bus was to have run nine times during the morning and evening rush hours. More than 100 homes on both streets would have been served by the route extension.
Pete Keay, who works at the Federal Energy Administration and lives on Lewinsville Road, said, "When I noticed Metrobus signs going up I was elated. I don't enjoy driving in (to Washington) so I was delighted there was a bus. We're spending a lot in tax money so I planned to catch the bus" to Rosslyn and take the subway to the Federal Triangle.
"A few days later, I noticed one sign had disappeared and last Friday I noticed all the signs were down," Keay said. When he called Metro last Saturday he said he was told that the route had been canceled because of citizen opposition in his neighborhood.
"Then I remembered that there had been signs up for a protest meeting July 27 but I didn't go since I had nothing to protest," Keay said.
Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl was at that meeting of the McLean Hamlet Citizens Association and it was attended by nearly 200 people. Pfanstiehl characterized the meeting as "a classic example of Gee, we'd like to have Metrobus but not on our street."
Pfanstiechl recalled the impassioned testimony of several residents. "One man stood up and said he thought it was great, that he'd be on the bus. Then a woman got up and said she'd be lying in front of the bus. Then another woman got up and said she'd drag the bus over the first woman."
Virginia Holmes, who lives on Falstaft Road, said she felt denied of her right to "informed consent" about the bus routes. "It was posted in a legal notice but how many people read those? Before we knew it bus stops were plunked on our front lawn," she said.
"I definitely feel a bus stop would lower property values, I didn't move out here and buy a $100,000 home to live on a bus route," said Holmes, who noted that other opponents mentioned noise, pollution and fear for the safety of their children. "Also, our street will become one big parking lot for people from Reston, Sterling and Herndon" who would then ride the bus, she said.
Keay disagreed with that assertion, "Reston has better bus service than we have. They'd go to Tysons (Corner) and catch an express bus."
Fairfax County Supervisor John P. Shacochis (R-Dranesville), who represents McLean, said he was unable to attend the July 27 meeting because he was at a Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) meeting. His secretary attended and read his statement detailing various options. One of those was to delay service pending a public hearing in September.
When that motion passed overwhelmingly, Shacochis said he asked the NVTC to pass a resolution requesting that Metro not start service. Such a conflict over the relative merits of a bus route "is one of the problems we face in McLean, Shacochis said.
Metro, after receiving the NVTC recommendation, decided not to start service. "The action was unusual," one official said, "but generally speaking we don't do anything without the approval of the local jurisdiction."
Shacochis noted that on Monday while some waited for a bus in vain, "One bus did show up by mistake - the driver had been on vacation - and that created another uprising. My phone was busy all morning."
Keay complained that bus riders were not notified of Metro's decision to postpone service. Pfanstiehl said, "We did what we could to publicize it but we said to the citizen's association, 'Get the word out among your own people.'"
The bus stop signs are down now. Some residents admitted that a few signs were vandalized by residents before Metro removed the rest.
"There's a lot of emotion involved," said one Metro's official, Keay charged. "It seems to me that if they had run anything through a ghetto neighborhood nobody would have listened to any protest. I think it's a bunch of fat cats getting their way."
"They've got to settle it first on the local level," Pfanstiehl concluded. "At this point it's neighbor against neighbor arguing it out."