Before the novel coronavirus, Metrorail ridership in Tysons increased significantly year-over-year. Because they are integral to the reality of the more than 120,000 employees and the five Fortune 500 companies calling Tysons home, Metro service in Tysons is an essential utility service, not an amenity.
The pivotal importance of Metro to Tysons makes the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s abrupt announcement of the summer closure of the Silver Line especially problematic. We share Metro’s desire to accelerate necessary repair work. We also understand that health and safety of transit workers and riders are paramount. But closure decisions create real harm that must be balanced against their potential benefits. Most important, economic, policy and social impact trade-offs require input from transit consumers and stakeholders before decisions are made. The closure comes at precisely the time that Tysons employers will be asked to boost economic recovery efforts benefiting the region and the commonwealth.
Development in Tysons in the past decade was catalyzed through a spirit of transparency, communication and partnership that brought together stakeholders from Fairfax County, organizations such as the Tysons Partnership and business and civic leaders. Nowhere was this more evident than in the cooperation between public and private sectors that ultimately yielded delivery of the Silver Line. Fairfax County has pledged nearly $1 billion toward the Silver Line expansion. A considerable portion of the Silver Line’s construction was funded by private-sector contributions through commercial and industrial tax districts. Metro underpins and symbolizes growth in Tysons. Yet WMATA announced the upcoming closure without advance notice and without consulting the very stakeholders whose collaborative power has enabled the Tysons transformation.
The closure picture is made even murkier by the lack of a definitive reopen date. The ambiguity reflected in WMATA’s announcement creates uncertainty for businesses that will be seeking to restore some level of their operations. The closure will also have a disproportionately negative effect on workers who lack mobility options. They will be disconnected from economic opportunity when they most need it.
Even Metro’s expressed commitment to alternative shuttle-bus service presents its own puzzlements and frustrations. Paradoxically, the two stations with the fastest-growing ridership — McLean and Greensboro — are not slated for shuttle service during the Silver Line shutdown. Metro’s plan for the system as a whole is to provide service levels that will allow ridership to grow safely while allowing for social distancing. It ought to include shuttle service to these two stations during the summer.
Still in the early stages of reinvention as an urban destination, Tysons offers opportunities for innovation and agility — even, or perhaps especially, under the presently challenging circumstances. Metro chief executive Paul J. Wiedefeld suggested that enforcement by local jurisdictions of exclusive bus lanes would allow Metro “to cycle buses more efficiently, expanding capacity that would allow passengers to maintain social distancing.” We agree. Let’s take advantage of adversity and use this as a time to pilot in Tysons a program of dedicated bus lanes. In the short term, they will help ensure reliable, speedy and frequent transit for people displaced by the Metro closures — even after private vehicular traffic ramps up with a reopening economy. If successful, the pilot can be expanded to add a useful option within the frame of a multimodal urbanism.
Looking ahead, we need to consider how we help transit riders to return after the pandemic, closures and service reductions. Should transit be free for a month when the Silver and Orange lines reopen? How can Tysons stakeholders join forces with WMATA to restore and ultimately increase transit ridership?
Tysons is the geographic home to a remarkable concentration of innovation and economic resources that help power Fairfax County and the region. Transit is foundational to the success of the urban experiment that is shaping the future in Tysons for decades to come. We’re pleased that WMATA has begun to meet weekly with a task group of Tysons stakeholders convened specifically to improve coordination between Metro and Tysons employers, employees and residents. Tysons and the entire region will benefit if decisions about transit incorporate and reflect a process resting on transparency, collaboration and partnership.