Uber-ization: a Painless Path to Density

Peter Faris, CEO of Szabo Faris LLC Transportation Solutions, stands in front of one of his vehicles while holding a smart phone with an app that orders up his sedan service February 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. Faris, an independent driver who works with Uber, a technology firm which has created a mobile app which allows consumers to use their device to request a nearby taxi or limousine. Uber is among a number of apps which are being deployed in cities in the United States and worldwide. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

by James A. Bacon

Almost every square foot of Fairfax County that can be developed has been developed. If the county is to grow, there’s no place to grow but up. The county board of supervisors bowed to that inevitability yesterday, voting unanimously to change zoning rules that will allow greater density in 22 areas of the county, including Reston, Seven Corners and the Richmond Highway corridor.

Under the new rules, the maximum Floor-to-Area ratio rises from 2.0 to 5.0 (with an exception carved out for downtown McLean of 3.0), according to the Washington Post. That is a truly urban level of density, consistent with mid-rise buildings of five to ten floors. The vision of county planners is that buildings will have ground-level retail and underground parking — essentially creating what urbanist Chrisopher Leinberger calls WalkUPs, or walkable urban places.

Not surprisingly, residents of nearby single-family subdivisions are concerned about the impact of new development upon the character of their neighborhoods, and especially upon traffic congestion. Cramming more people into the same space served by the same overloaded roads seems to be a formula for worse congestion on a scale that the county cannot build its way out of. In a county designed around auto-mobility, greater density promises nothing but headaches — if nothing else changes.

But things are changing.

The first thing that’s changing is how neighborhoods are organized and constructed. Under the old suburban sprawl paradigm, houses were built in cul de sac subdivisions, which were separated from malls and shopping centers, which were separated from offices, which were separated from schools, churches and government buildings. People had to drive their cars to get anywhere. They literally had no choice.

Under the smart-growth paradigm (or whatever you describe Fairfax County planners’ vision for growth), much of the parking will go underground, which will allow buildings to be much closer, and land uses will be mixed, all of which will enable people to take care of many daily needs by walking to their destination. Instead of using their cars to take ten trips on average, the people living in these densified areas will use them to take, say, only eight or nine trips. Although this feature will offset all of the localized impact of greater density, it will offset some of it.

The second thing that will change is that greater density improves the economics of mass transit. Buses are not a realistic transportation option for low-density suburbs. Admittedly, whether they become a viable option in mid-rise suburbs is an open question. That all depends upon how efficiently municipal bus systems operate, and how much local governments can afford to spend in ongoing subsidies. I’m not a big fan of money-losing bus systems, and I wouldn’t blame Fairfax residents if they weren’t either.

But greater density also improves the economics of private transportation services. Which brings us to the third thing that’s changing: the Uber-ification of transportation. By Uber-ification I mean the ability to order a ride from Point A to Point B with a smart phone at less cost (usually) than to hail a (usually unavailable) taxi. Uber has already begun offering ride-sharing options that allow two or more passengers to share the cost of a trip. Inevitably, dynamic ride-sharing will spread to vans and buses, opening up a range of transportation options at a variety of price points. The Uber revolution will not suit everyone, but it will suit a lot of people, and the ride sharing that precipitates from the new services will take thousands of cars off Fairfax County roads.

Fairfax planners and politicians may be stuck in a mass transit mindset — the conviction that buses, trolley and rail (with a little bit of bicycling thrown in) are the only options for moving large volumes of people in a dense urban environment. I don’t know the Fairfax political scene well enough to know if that’s the case or not. But I would invite citizens to channel their fears and frustrations in a positive direction. If density is coming, call upon Fairfax officials to Uberize — create a regulatory environment that makes it easy for ride-sharing companies to do business. If competition and innovation are allowed to flourish, density need not create congestion.

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22 responses to “Uber-ization: a Painless Path to Density

  1. I agree that Uberization will be a big help.

    Unfortunately, there is still a big push by planners and governments for trolley and rail.
    Rail and trolley are pushed because of “free” federal $ that are thrown at such projects.

    Buses have huge advantages, including flexibility (if a bus line doesn’t work, move it to another location). You can’t do that with trains or trolleys. Unfortunately, buses do not have “snob appeal” so those in power go for trains or trolleys.

    Trains work well in only a few locations (like New York City) but lose huge $ in most places. The DC Metro was wonderful but is falling apart because basically no maintenance has been done for years. The fares do not come close to cover operating costs so there is no money for maintenance. Don’t even talk about pensions. But….. because there are federal funds to build new trains, it keeps getting expanded so that future losses and maintenance issues will be even greater.

    Trolleys are the worst. They are expensive toys which allow crony companies to get rich building a project that will never come close to moving many people or covering its operating expenses. DC recently built a one mile long trolley to nowhere for mega millions. It was so well designed that if a parked car door is opened, the trolley will take it off. Brilliant.

    So Uber and its competitors are essential to make that high density development work.

  2. in terms of the “failure” of METRO , let me point out that over 60,000 bridges nationwide also are “failing” and on that list – Memorial Bridge in Washington.

    Should we also blame that on “unsustainable” govt transportation policies or what?

    how come METRO or buses or public transit in general is an example of everything wrong with govt and mass transit and those thousands of bridges like Memorial bridge – not?

    • “Should we also blame [the failure of 60,000 bridges] on “unsustainable” govt transportation policies or what?”

      Absolutely. A state government’s number one transportation responsibility should be properly maintaining the infrastructure it has already built before going out and building new infrastructure. Building up unfunded maintenance backlogs is a fiscal crime.

  3. so… is the FAR thing an example of govt doing something it should not be doing and instead the private sector should be doing ?

    Is FAR – the specification of floor area ratio – something the Govt is once again involving itself in that actually distorts the private sector and causes economic harm to what otherwise – the free market would better allocate resources ?

    serious question.

    what justifies the govt setting FAR in the first place?

    why not let the private sector build what the market wants and not let the govt screw it up?

  4. The problem remains the same. Land use is governed locally while transportation is largely governed at the state level. The local yokels like their developer-based campaign funds and other goodies while the Imperial Clown Show Republicans want to hold power in rural areas by siphoning money out of the urban crescent (NoVa especially) and funneling into rural Va. So the townhouses get built while the roads don’t.

    I read with interest today the results of the US Supreme Court decisions. 11 states criminalized refusal to take a breath or blood test after being stopped for suspicion of drunk driving. Needless to say, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond was one of the 11 so willing to throw the US Constitution out the window. Not so fast say the Supremes – you can demand a breath test but you need a warrant for blood. Sotomayor and Ginsburg felt that both breath and blood tests should require a warrant. Thomas felt neither should require a warrant. In the topsy turvy world of American politics in 2016 the liberal judges support personal liberty while the most conservative judge likes unchecked government power.

    • let me point out that in Va – Cities and Towns – and two counties – Alexandria and Henrico – do control their own roads and Fairfax County has that option also. Fairfax actually has the option of exercising far more local control and power if they so choose… They could even change their Charter to go to a difference style of governance and even to allow citizen-initiated referenda as Virginia Beach has – (to their own chagrin as voters have collected enough signatures to force a referenda on their light rail).

      People also hold the ability to change their leaders in Fairfax – if they don’t like the current path.

      • In Virginia, cites have charters, counties do not. At least, that’s my understanding. Virginia Beach is a county masquerading as a city. In fairness, I applaud Virginia Beach for giving the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond the partial slip with that maneuver.

        Fairfax County has considered converting to city status. It could then have a charter. It would also get more money from Richmond for roads simply by changing its status to a city. Fairfax would become the 10th largest city in the United States.

        As always, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond stands in the way. First of all, in its incompetence and sloth, the Clown Show may have made formation of new cities in Virginia illegal until 2018 ….

        “What’s more, said Ted McCormack, director of governmental affairs at the Virginia Association of Counties, there is a little-known provision in Virginia law that would appear to put a moratorium on approving any new city charters until 2018. The measure, enacted in 1987, was intended to slow the rapid encroachment of suburban development by cities through annexation. McCormack added, however, that the legislature could simply override the provision.”

        Your political masters at work LarrytheG – bungling and botching pretty much everything they try to do.

        Any city charter that Fairfax County would write would have to be blessed by … wait for it … The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

        Finally, the road funding formula favors cities. Despite the fact that many Virginia counties have higher population densities than Virginia cities the imbeciles in the Imperial Clown Show think this is really bright and shiny idea. So, if Fairfax County became a city it would get more road money, right? Probably not. The already half-assed road funding formulae are at the mercy of … wait for it … The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

        ‘Even if the legislature granted the county a strong new city charter, there could be problems. Supporters believe that if Fairfax County became a city, it would qualify for a larger pot of transportation funds in the formula the legislature uses to divvy up the money for cities and various regions. But skeptics worry that if Fairfax did change to a city form of government, the General Assembly, faced with a city twice as large as any other in Virginia, would just change the roads formula.”


        • Indeed, Fairfax County thought seriously about becoming a city. But the fear of responsibility for its own streets was sufficient to cause the supervisors to abandon the idea. Similarly, the BoS did not want to take over streets while remaining a county. I’ve been told by FC DOT people that, even if there were no jiggering of the state transportation money from Richmond, Fairfax County believes it would need to raise property taxes by at least two cents to be able to meet the expectations of residents. In other words, the County believes residents would expect higher performance from the County than it expects from VDOT.

  5. Dear LarryG: you ask, “what justifies the govt setting FAR in the first place? why not let the private sector build what the market wants and not let the govt screw it up?”

    I offer as Exhibit A: the Route 29 corridor of Albemarle County. Or B: Route 3 west of Fredericksburg.

    The government can be far more comprehensive in its planning than a single private developer. But FAR locks in past planning decisions, past transportation patterns, past expectations. Uber was not among them, so Uber was locked out. If government is going to get involved in land use it must frequently re-examine and update its planning requirements, and in that regard Fairfax is the exception, not the rule.

    Still, I wonder if the Uber miracle itself isn’t going to prove to be just another example of techno-utopianism. We already discussed that a few days ago in regard to “A Once-in-a-Century Opportunity to Get Transportation Right.”

    • I’m all for uber (and airbnb) but I’m not convinced uber will change – the WAY development proceeds.

      I don’t even think Uber will be cheaper than regular cabs if their pricing mechanism floats according to demand.

      So, for instance, a peak hour – Uber ain’t going to be cheap.

      it’s don’t really change the trips-per-day regime with housing either.

      and my little brain cannot comprehend how or what any planner would do different in things like FAR with or without the role of Uber.

  6. The action by Fairfax County shows the wisdom of the Dillon Rule and ultimate corruption of local government. The County developed a Transit Oriented Development policy that rejected adding high levels of density at any location not served by heavy rail. It also argued for the Silver Line against Bus Rapid Transit that there are many people who will ride rail but not buses. Yet, the new policy flies in the face of both of these “pronouncements from local government.” Is that good government?

    And a 3.0 to a 5.0 FAR is high density. Most of the approved rezonings at Tysons, including Cap One’s massive projects, are well below a 5.0. And any Tysons landowner outside the immediate 1/4 mile TOD ring and certainly beyond a 1/2 mile ring cannot build to a 3.0 FAR. Yet, building to a 3.0 to a 5.0 FAR “far from any rail” is permissible outside Tysons. Why is it rail is necessary in Tysons, but not elsewhere? (In all fairness, the new rules allow for high density at rail stations outside Tysons. That makes sense, and I support the concept.)

    Also, in setting up the re-planning of Tysons the BoS promised that, by adding high density around the rail stations at Tysons, the County would protect suburban communities from urbanization. And the BoS voted for density in suburban areas in the face of this promise. How is that not a lie to county residents?

    How about car traffic? County and VDOT studies show SOV traffic will continue to be the main mode of travel into, and out of, Tysons. That’s even with four rail stations, massive increases in non-rail transit, major improvements in bike/ped, high quality mixed use development, and extremely aggressive TDM obligations for landowners/developers. And, of course, Routes 7 and 123, the DTR and the Beltway will fail daily once development reaches 84 MSF. Stated in another way, once Tysons hits 84 MSF, every new SOV trip to Tysons must be canceled by a new SOV trip. So if DR starts driving to Tysons, I have to stop driving to my office in Tysons.

    So what is going to happen to traffic in areas not served by rail when they are developed to densities comparable to Tysons? Uber ain’t gonna fix it!!!! High density development will make Fairfax County traffic worse.

    And there is simple Fairness. The Tysons landowners, including condo owners, are now paying an additional real estate tax as part of a transportation district imposed on Tysons. There competitors in other parts of the County will not be required to pay extra taxes for transportation. How is that fair?

    The BoS sold out county residents . It adopted giveaway rules that violate existing county policies; a specific promise to county residents; run contrary to the premises underlying Tysons; screw Tysons landowners; trash traffic studies; and generally screw everyone but developers and believers in mandatory urbanism.

    • I don’t think Dillion will save Fairfax any more than Uber will!

      A fair question might be how would any area – urbanize – differently than the way Fairfax is choosing?

      All the conflicts cited by TMT would seem to be the same in just about any area in the country where urbanization would occur.

      The existing residents are never going to be on board with it nor the effect of it on their pre-urban suburban lifestyle.


      Traffic in most urbanized areas is a mess. The response to it -in most urban areas is to not use SOV in those areas unless you’re willing to pay the price in delay and parking fees… others find non-SOV options.

      Most cities that grow – also don’t get dense – just around rail… either, right?

      I’m not arguing that TMT is wrong or that Fairfax is right – only that this type of thing is not unique to Fairfax and my question is – is there a better way for this to happen or is it going to be not acceptable to existing residents no matter how it happens – and the only option acceptable to residents is for it to not happen?

      what say you TMT?

      Actually I’d be curious to hear Reed’s take on it also.. others?

      Of course I also ask – if this is the role of govt – to do this – to choose to do this – by selective up-zoning or should they let the private sector make proposals for high-density where the private sector thinks the market wants it?

      to a certain extent – existing residents are never going to be okay with most kinds of changes like this anyhow, right?

      • Larry, good questions. But I still bet no one in Fairfax County could rebut my argument and answer my questions.

        Other factors include the desire of developers to avoid the high costs of Tysons. Tough $%^&. It’s the urban area. If you can’t afford the ticket, stay home.

        Similar to this is the statement. I want to live in an expensive condo, but not in Tysons. It’s too urban. I want to live in McLean. Tough $%^&. While some MF housing is in McLean and some more will be built, the urban area is Tysons. If you want an urban lifestyle, move to Tysons.

        The County also wants revitalization of older areas and thinks only high density will cause this. But at what price to residents? Traffic will get worse. And taxes won’t go down due to new buildings. Tysons’ valuations were up hundreds and hundreds of millions this year. And the BoS voted for a 4.6% or so increase in real estate taxes – something that even Democrats have called unsustainable.

        Also, Fairfax County officials tell residents that the big problem with our real estate taxes is that there isn’t enough commercial growth and residents rarely pay real estate taxes high enough to cover the services commonly used by residents. So the County’s answer is more residents. How many will pay real estate taxes sufficient to cover the services consumed? And if the answer is not a majority, why shouldn’t we develop Tysons and call the county built out?

        Too bad we don’t have a recall in the constitution.

        • Yes a 5 FAR (floor area ratio) is dense indeed, sure proof of an intention to build a city, one of mass and density. FAR is extremely important concept in city building and land value “creation” by fiat, law, or regulation. It regulates how many square feet of floor area one can build within a plot of land. Thus it is the driver creating land value, assuming the requisite demand by occupants to fill the space. Thus too FAR shows clearly what the County Board here intends developers to do in Fairfax.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            TMT’s statement that Fairfax County permits 3.0 to 5.0 FAR in and around suburban area’s without rail or metro while continuing primary reliance on roads staggers the imagination. Particularly so in light of Fairfax Counties chronic traffic gridlock.

            These new non metro densities if they were to be built in Fairfax would far exceed the densities in Arlington’s Ballston/Rosslyn Corridor, which is our best example of Metro served Smart Growth to date.

            For example:

            The overall intensity of existing development in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is 1.31 FAR. The Rosslyn Metro station area (236 acres) has the highest intensity with an average intensity at about 1.78 FAR. Clarendon station area (171 acres) is lowest intensity at 0.60 FAR. The corridor is zoned with a wide variety of land use and intensity, going from residential use (1 to 10 dwelling units per acre to high intensity office and residential mixed-use that range up to 4.8 FAR.

            The incredible ambition to build Fairfax County into a City with its dysfunctional and built out road net goes a long way to explain the County’s determination to a impose a highly coercive Dynamic Toll regime on its citizens and all its neighbors. This toll regime plan is not an example of healthy urban planning. Its an example of the government’s imposition of a police state on its citizens and neighbors, a coercive regime of tolls that are built sorely to serve the private business interests and convenience of a wealthy few.

    • The rationale here is simple – the more congestion the better. Heavy congestion results in higher tolls that will finance more roads and tolls for more and more growth while running out the middle class and their families so as to reduce cost for schools and public services, leaving the good roads open for those who can afford them, the very same people who are screwing everyone else for their own advantages.

      This is business as usual in Fairfax – it gave us the post 2000 otherwise useless Dulles Airport expansion, The Dulles Toll Road, and the Silver line debacle, all of it intended primarily to make land speculators rich. It also narrowly missed getting those land speculators their world Class Air Cargo Depot and their city of warehouses and distribution Centers around Dulles, complete with a latticework of new highways, rail lines, and truck routes across the Virginia Piedmont, all of it financed by congestion that demanded high tolls from all citizens who had to drive to work to earn a living and feed their families.

      It is little more than government corruption on a vast scale fed by a small oligarchy of entrenched business interests.

  7. If we went around the country to major uber-urban areas (pardon the pun) – and took a look at HOW they got grey, expanded and got MORE ubanized – would it b any different from what Fairfax is now doing?

    Is Fairfax doing something wrong – or is this just the way this happens?

  8. re: ” HOW they got grey, expanded and got MORE ubanized ”

    HOW they GREW, expanded and got MORE ubanized


  9. Can Fairfax greatly increase its density without first fixing its gargantuan traffic gridlock problems? Related questions arise. Are Fairfax County’s problems systemic and intractable? Thus will they drive dynamic tolls sky-high? Will this force commuting workers and family members who are living their daily lives there off the roads, while it increases the convenience of those who can afford the tolls, whether they be subsidized commercial traffic, high wage drivers subsidized by their business employer, business customers offered special treatment, or those who supply local business, commercial trucks and the like? Will the unintended consequences of these dynamic tolls kill the patient instead of cure the traffic problem?

    These questions need be asked whether the proposed solution is dynamic tolls, or a variety of other suggestions such as Uber on steroids, a revolution of self-driving cars, a system of massive new rails, trolleys, buses, HOV lanes, and/or a moratorium on growth and density absent our fixing of the traffic congestion first. Or will we need a massive conversion from suburban density with separated uses into new cities of high density mixed uses? Or will it be some combination of all of the above?

    Why are these important question?

    Over the last forty years all efforts to fix Northern Virginia’s growing transportation gridlock has failed. Instead of solutions we now have annual increases in traffic gridlock despite the abrupt decline in growth and continuing prosperity within Northern Virginia over the last decade.

    So the facts tells us that the solutions our leaders have tried to date have only made the gridlock worse and harder to fix. Indeed those solutions imposed to date not only have made traffic gridlock far worse, these past failed solutions seem to suggest that the motives behind them is a relentless drive to increase density that aggregates wealth for an ever smaller segment of the population at the expense of most everyone else. The latest proposal for dynamic tolls combined with new plans for projects such as Exxon site in the heart of Northern Virginia’s gridlocked I-66 and its intersections reinforce this suspicion.

    But now this chronic track record of broken promises also appears to threaten to shut down the region altogether after it has choked off much of Northern Virginia’s prosperity over the past decade while leaders still propose a radically new toll regime on those least able to bear it so they can build yet more density and traffic generating activities in one Northern Virginia’s most gridlocked places. All of this despite the fact that the gridlock there is already strangling transportation in the entire region.

    Given all this, shouldn’t we step back? Shouldn’t we look at the big picture? Find the root causes of Northern Virginia’s traffic gridlock. How else can we fashion a long term holistic sets of solutions with the best chance of success for the least cost and pain. Solutions that fix the root causes of Northern Virginia’s transportation and land use problems once and for all?

    Another words, how can we fix a problem without knowing its root causes? How can we build solutions that attack those causes and remove them, or enable us to best deal with and adjust to those root causes, for the advantage of all citizens, whether people trying to go about their daily lives to earn a living with the best quality of life in Northern Virginia for themselves, their family, and their community? And whether those citizens be local or regional commuters, or long distance interstate travelers who also count on and pay for and have long paid for these increasingly dysfunctional roads in Northern Virginia.

    So in that spirit, the central question is:

    What are the root causes of Northern Virginia’s traffic and transportation woes. Most particularly why is it that the polities of Fairfax County account for so much impact on lives of so many other citizens throughout the region?

    One answer is:

    Northern Virginia’s geography, culture, history, and governance have worked in tandem over the past 400 years to build to gross dysfunction into its transportation grid. This dysfunction today is growing rapidly. It is at a point that it not only threatens the prosperity and livelihood of most of its citizens, it may well shut down the entire region, forcing draconian remedies on those least able to bear them. In short the works of man have now contrived with nature to limit the mobility of ever more Northern Virginians until now the vast majority are locked in box from which their daily escape becomes ever more expensive, inconvenient, and time consuming, while their chances of escape becomes increasingly dependent on the whims of their own Government, a ruling class who it seems are not only are contriving ways to themselves escape the shackles imposed on their fellow citizens, but to profit from misery and confinement of their fellow citizens.

    Hence I suggest that Northern Virginia’s ruling class did not in the past and is not now building a passive transportation grid that is overwhelmed by outside forces. But are building one that gets ever more onerous on their fellow citizens as it tries to squeeze ever more density and traffic into a grid that cannot carry it. All in an attempt by local leaders to increase the wealth and convenience of a few despite the fact that it punishes most everyone else. Hence these leader have and are today building a box that attracts traffic from distant places into Northern Virginia and one that daily sucks traffic in and out through local bottlenecks that not only halts that traffic there but also generates ever more local traffic, building gridlock that backs up from miles in all directions. And now far too often is shutting down transit within entire regions of the Washington Metropolitan area.

    So, for example, daily now we see:

    1/ Stop and go traffic and that often gridlocks from the 14th Street Bridge into DC for 60+ miles down Interstate I-95 to points south of Fredericksburg, Virginia. At worst, it can take travelers five hours to travel these 60 miles of Interstate highway that’s often 12+ lanes wide.

    2/ Meanwhile, a traveler frequently encounters gridlock from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac at Alexandria Virginia that closes down the entire Capital Beltway within Northern Virginia, a distance of some 30 miles to its sister bridge crossing back over into Maryland. And once there back across the river into the Maryland that same traveler often confronts yet another 30 to 60 miles of gridlock in two directions north.

    How was all of this gross inefficiency built? One explanation: Limitations imposed on efficient traffic flows by geography and accidents of history are now are turbo-charged by local obstacles very recently built by man.

    This unfortunate geography includes the Potomac River, the Blue Ridge Mountains and Occoquan Watershed. Here is how that works. A loop in the Potomac River encloses the northern half the box that Northern Virginia now finds itself in. The Occoquan Watershed doubles down on this river loop problem. On the Virginia side, it seals off most of the lower SE side of this loop, making it hard to bridge the river there into Maryland. On the far NW side of the Loop, the Potomac’s deep gorge also makes bridging the river there difficult. This isolates the N. Va. Piedmont from the Maryland shore. So bridges cross the Potomac for roughly 50 miles outside both of the Capital Beltway Bridges, both upriver and down, whether up river from the Beltway’s American Legion Bridge Point of Rocks Md. to; or down river from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Dahlgren, Virginia.

    This great loop of the Potomac thus hems in Northern Virginia on both its river flanks outside the DC Beltway. All traffic headed north into DC is funneled into the center of the river’s loop between these two Beltway Bridges. But four of those five bridges there are tightly packed within two miles of shoreline. Here eight man made obstacles further constrict the traffic flow. Going upriver these obstacles include:

    1/ the City of Alexandria, 2/ National Airport, 3/ Crystal City, 4/ The Pentagon; 5/ Arlington National Cemetery, 6/ Fort Meyer Army Base, 7/ Two National War Memorials, and 8/ the City of Rosslyn.

    In addition, Seminary Ridge rises abruptly behind these two miles of Virginia shoreline. This too interrupts traffic flows. So does the Potomac’s deep gorge north of Rosslyn that severely limits access across Chain bridge four miles up river. And, as if that were not enough, the two Capital Beltway Bridges that flank these 5 interior bridges are also crippled daily. Here again, a combination of geography, poor road planning and design, and horrible land use planning by local government’s on both sides of the river conspire to jam up traffic is all directions. The problems here include:

    1. On Maryland side three major highways (including two interstates) converge at north end of American Legion Bridge into Virginia. This backs up Maryland side traffic a much as 30 to 60 miles on two interstates.

    2. On Virginia side the George Washington Parkway ends abruptly at south end of bridge. This backs up traffic for miles past Tysons Corner where Dulles Toll Road, Route 7, and I-66 also converge into gridlock fed by the foolish land use planning at Tysons Corner, along the Dulles Toll Road, and Dulles Airport, all of which generate huge volumes of traffic while severely acerbating the constraints imposed by the area’s geography and topography.

    These confluences stacked up within a few miles of one another also shuts down the American Legion Bridge to interstate traffic. The contrary traffic flows stuffed into these short distances impose massive stoppages here that often jam up the Capital Beltway along its entire length within Virginia, all as magnified by the gargantuan Mixing Bowl clogged with interstate traffic that uses I-95 and I-495 as the primary North South Artery carrying Interstate traffic through the Middle Atlantic States from Maine to Florida.

    Hence, the Capital Beltway, originally designed to divert interstate traffic around Washington DC, is now largely hijacked by local commuter traffic. No longer solutions, these hijacked bridges are now monumental problems.

    So, for example, the Capital Beltways two bridges over the Potomac often jam traffic up in all directions, whether coming or going from Fredericksburg, Virginia on the south or Frederick, Maryland on the north, and most everything in between these distant points. This congestion, now punctuated with gridlock, is particularly virulent in Northern Virginia.


    Because many of these monumental backups in ALL directions that start at the seven dysfunctional bridges on or within the Beltway are compounded by the lack of efficient “Spoke Roads” traversing Northern Virginia into and out of DC. Only I-95 is a properly designed Highway transiting Northern Virginia. This is why it is so often severely overloaded with traffic. The other Spoke Roads in Northern Virginia serving the same purpose fail so often they force traffic onto I-95. Then it fails, forcing traffic back and forth, locking down overwhelmed roads everywhere throughout the region.

    Here again the reasons are many, complex and cumulative. For example:

    1/ The Occoquan Watershed limits high volume north-south road access between the Potomac River and I-66 to I-95. This stifles access to large portions of Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford Counties. It also seals off much of Northern Virginia from the Maryland shore as well as from points south in Virginia as earlier discussed.

    2/ On the NW side of the Northern Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains similarly constricts traffic into narrow corridors such as 1-66 and Route 29 leading to the Capital Beltway and DC from Point of Rocks Md. to Sperryville Va. and points south. This includes a growing number of outer Northern Virginia counties – Loudon, Fauquier, Rappahannock and Madison – whose historic Civil War lands also isolate the closer in Fairfax, Prince William and Culpeper Counties on Northern Virginia’s west side.

    These natural and historic barriers that limit fully functional Interstate access into Northern Virginia to I-95 force massive amounts of interstate travelers (coming off Shenandoah Valley’s I-82) and regional commuter traffic onto a tangle of lesser roads such as I-66, Route 7’s Leesburg Pike, and Dulles Toll Road, that then in rapid succession cripple one another, denying access through most all of Northern Virginia. And now in Northern Virginia we have reached the point of regional collapse.

    How did Northern Virginia even further compound its historic traffic problems into gridlock of historic proportions?

    To be continued.

    • Before, going on to Part 2, here are two corrections to part 1.

      The last sentence of paragraph that starts with “This unfortunate geography includes the Potomac River …” should read: “NO bridges cross the Potomac for roughly 50 miles outside both of the Capital Beltway Bridges, both upriver and down, whether up river from the Beltway’s American Legion Bridge Point of Rocks Md. to; or down river from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Dahlgren, Virginia.”

      The parenthetical phase in the 2nd to last paragraph should read: “(coming off Shenandoah Valley’s I-81)” instead of referring to I-82.

  10. My 4 nieces and nephews quit their health care and Back Office jobs recently. They pooled their money and bought 3 new Toyota SUVs. Now they are Uber drivers. In Manila, PI. They make more money doing Uber than they ever did in regular jobs. Imagine that! In a huge city with tons of traffic, buses, taxis, LRT and jeepneys, the third world economy can afford the luxury of Uber. Yet here we are, apparently down in the fourth world, trying to justify own our urban living ‘extravagance’.
    Pretty bad when Manila is moving ahead of DC.

  11. I recall taxis rides through the crowded streets of Old Deli, how those narrow vibrant streets were so alive and vibrant, so different from a “ride” trapped in I-95’s endless gridlock.

    UBER would be fabulous in Old Deli. But likely it does not help at all on I-95. Likely that gridlock is playing havoc with UBER’s business model. Likely its new dynamic charge policy is instituted to protect drivers who are bold or foolish enough to try to earn a decent living charging decent rates during rush hour on Northern Va’s Interstates.

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