By the end of its first week in service, the Silver Line was already attracting an average of 16,000 riders to its five new stations every weekday. We decided to track down a few of them to find out where they’re going — and how it’s going.
Erika White, 26:
After finishing up her Saturday shift on Aug. 2, the Sunglass Hut sales associate smoked a cigarette in her car before embarking on that evening’s adventures. She needed something to calm her nerves: She was about to take her first-ever trip on Metro.
Since moving from Hampton, Va., to Fairfax County in March, White had been driving into D.C. to see friends. Several parking tickets later, she figured it was time for a new tactic.
Like many Tysons Corner Center employees, she wasn’t really sure who rides Metro:
“They’ve warned us that we’ll have all kinds of characters from all over,” White said. Her mom’s reservations, informed by a certain deadly scene in “House of Cards,” didn’t help. But White promised to stand at least 10 feet away from the platform edge.
Her first impression of the Tysons station: “This is nice.” She was less pleased by the farecard machines — until an employee swooped in to explain the process and handed her a map.
“I can go everywhere now,” she marveled, scanning the names of the stops. “U Street, Silver Spring, Dupont Circle, Smithsonian. I’ve been dying to go to museums.”
The sight of cops on the platform eased her concerns about safety, although she did question the number of shoppers who’d left the mall with their arms full of bags. “They’d be so easy to just grab,” she said.
When she boarded the train, she didn’t touch anything she didn’t have to — “I left my hand sanitizer in the car,” she explained.
The ride was uneventful up until Metro Center. To get to Gallery Place, she had to face her fear of a transfer. Despite two wrong turns, White found her way to the Red Line platform.
As she told her mom that morning, “I went to college and got a degree. I think I can figure out how to get on a train and get home.” And now White plans to do just that at least twice a week.
Russell Woolard, 51:
At the McLean station, a big blue banner screams from above the escalators: “Welcome, Silver Line Riders!” The message is courtesy the Mitre Corporation, whose main campus sits just up the hill. And it’s where Woolard works in the communications office. The best Silver Line news for him is that Mitre, to leverage its new public transit cred, now operates a free shuttle between the station and three of its buildings.
Because it’s as far as 1.5 miles from where he works to other Mitre offices, Woolard used to drive into work from Leesburg, Va., when he was scheduled to attend meetings or events. On days he didn’t need his car, he happily avoided the hellish Tysons traffic by driving to a park and ride lot near home, then taking two buses.
The Mitre shuttle means can now use public transportation nearly every day. His new daily routine: park and ride to bus to Silver Line. The trip still takes about an hour and 15 minutes. There’s just one downside: The cost has gone from $6 a day to $10.30.
“That’s something I’ll have to budget for, but I figure I’ll make up for that by not using the car so much,” Woolard said. “I haven’t filled up my gas tank since July 17. I could get used to that.”
Chad Shryock, 33:
On the Monday morning after the opening of the Silver Line, the software engineer could not have been experiencing a better commute. He’d waltzed onto a Silver Line train at McPherson Square and enjoyed his 30-minute ride to the Spring Hill station. There was barely a wait for the 423, a new bus that whisked Shryock to Gannett headquarters in just a few minutes.
It was a huge improvement over the longer trip he’d slogged through for the past three years — Metroing from McPherson to West Falls Church, then taking a bus to Gannett — with one exception: The 423 dropped off Shryock on the opposite side of Jones Bridge Drive, and there’s no crosswalk. He and his co-workers had to dash across the street.
Shryock tried out a second option on the way home: Instead of taking a bus, he hoofed it 20 minutes to the Tysons station.
“I’m used to walking in D.C.,” Shryock said. What is he not used to? Sidewalks that suddenly end and busy roads without pedestrian signals. He ran across two more intersections to make it to the Metro.
Shryock was nonetheless cheery about the trip. He’d made it to the office in about an hour, shaving between 15 and 30 minutes off of his former commute time.
With the time he’s saving, Shryock has decided he’ll spend a few more minutes in bed. He’ll need the rest after all that sprinting.
Lucinda Shannon, 44:
As soon as Shannon realized her house was just two miles from the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station, she decided to become a bike commuter. She could pedal to the Metro, and then ride downtown to her job with Easter Seals. Her first step was obvious: Buy a bike.
But how would she lug her stuff? Or ride with traffic? Or figure out what to wear?
Enter Kelley Westenhoff, chair of Reston’s Pedestrian & Bicycling Advisory Committee. Her group developed 10 route maps for residents looking to get from their neighborhoods to the new station. Committee members even offered to create individualized plans, meet people at their homes and lead them on a commute.
Shannon serves on the Reston Board of Directors and is the liaison to this committee, so she was quick to sign up. That’s why Westenhoff arrived at her door at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 4, ready to run through a pre-trip checklist. The high-visibility vest that Shannon wore over her dress was good. The too-squishy back tire on her bike was bad. But once Shannon pumped some air into it, the duo took off down a nearby trail that connects with Soapstone Drive.
This was the majority of the ride and the bit Shannon dreaded the most, because it’s uphill and requires riding alongside cars. Westenhoff assured her that there are bike lanes the whole way.
There was even better news at the intersection with Sunrise Valley Drive: Westenhoff showed off a shortcut using a series of parking lots to reach the south side of the station. Even this early the morning, there was barely enough space at the uncovered bike racks to lock up Shannon’s cruiser. (Maybe she should consider a membership to the secure bike room, Westenhoff said.)
As Shannon rode the escalator into the busy station, she glowed with excitement — and perspiration. She could imagine this ride becoming a habit, she said. “And I don’t need to go to the gym any more,” she added.
Westenhoff was ready with a reality check: “It’s all downhill on the way back.”
Wiehle-Reston East boasts Fairfax County’s first enclosed, secure bike parking facility. A key fob gives members access 24/7 to more than 200 spaces and two fix-it stations equipped with air pumps and tools. Annual membership costs $60, plus a $15 one-time fee.
John Robinson, 29:
The arrival of the Silver Line has really shaken things up at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner. The hotel is inundated with bookings from groups looking for Metro-accessible accommodations. It’s saving vast amounts of money by ending its shuttle to the Dunn Loring Metro. In honor of the development of the area, it’s even changed its name: You can now call it simply “the Sheraton Tysons.”
Just about the only thing that’s stayed the same? Employee commutes. Much of the staff lives beyond the reach of the Metro system, and almost all of them are continuing to take advantage of the hotel’s free parking.
So Robinson is something of an oddity. Instead of getting behind the wheel two weeks ago, he experimented by walking to East Falls Church, then taking Metro to the new Spring Hill station, a block and a half from the Sheraton.
The operations analyst was sold after one trip. It takes him 30 minutes door-to-door — not much longer than his speediest car commutes. The price is comparable when he factors in tolls, gas and mileage. Plus, he’s more productive. “I’m able to get emails answered on the way in,” he said.
Robinson used to leave more than an hour early to make it to graduate school in Arlington at night. Now he can get there in about 40 minutes. He also envisions jaunts to the mall at lunchtime, something he’d never consider in his car.
The highlight so far was on a recent ride home, when he looked down from the Metro to see that traffic on Route 7 was completely backed up. “It was nice to sit on the train cruising right past that,” he said.
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