Map credit: Fairfax County Department of Transportation
Planned Tysons street grid. Map credit: Fairfax County Department of Transportation

by James A. Bacon

Transforming Tysons in Fairfax County from an “edge city” into a walkable, mixed-use urban district may be the biggest, most ambitious suburban makeover ever attempted. Anywhere. In the history of the human race.

The obstacles are formidable. The area grew up in such a helter skelter manner, and the layout of streets, buildings and parking lots are so thoroughly auto-centric in design, that Tysons’ built environment will have to be rebuilt from stem to stern. The cost of creating a street grid and providing transportation connections in and out of the district will run into the billions of dollars. It’s not clear where the public dollars are coming from. And it’s not clear either, given Northern Virginia’s current overbuilt office environment, whether the private dollars will be forthcoming any time soon.

But Fairfax County and Virginia are plunging ahead with the decades-long effort. In a presentation to the Tysons Citizens Coalition two weeks ago, Tom Biesiadny, director of Fairfax County’s department of tranpsportation, gave a recap of where things stand. I did not attend the meeting, so I did not hear Biesiadny’s remarks, but a long-time friend of Bacon’s Rebellion who goes by the pen name of Too Many Taxes shared the presentation with me. While the numbers come from Biesiadny, the commentary that follows is mine.

Existing development consists of 48.6 million square feet of mostly commercial office space, with some retail and a smidgen of housing thrown in. Another 2.8 million square feet is under construction, with 45 million square approved or proposed. The street grid won’t be built until landowners begin re-developing their properties and completing their links in the grid.

Tysons is caught in a Catch 22. The real estate market is moving towards walkable urbanism, but Tysons has little walkable urbanism to offer. While developers can create small islands of mixed-use walkability, the fundamental character of the district won’t change until a critical mass has been attained. Until that critical mass is attained, Tysons will suffer a competitive disadvantage with downtown Washington, Arlington, Alexandria and other locations where the walkable, mixed-use fabric is already in place.

Planners are counting upon completion of the first phase of the Silver Line spur on the Washington metro to jump start the development. However, at present, Silver Line ridership averages around 16,000 boardings per day, according to Biesiadny. After nearly a year since the Silver Line opened, ridership falls far short of the 46,000  forecast made as recently as 2013 in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s marketing plan. (Update: I have been told that comparing 16,000 boardings to 46,000 total riders is comparing apples and oranges. Sixteen thousand boardings translates into 32,000 trips, or riders. Thus, ridership has fallen short of projections but not by as grievous a margin as implied.)

Other parts of the plan appear to be unfolding on schedule. Six major road projects are in the works. Farthest along is a Route 7 bridge over the Dulles Toll Road, for which a design-build contract has been approved. Funding has been approved for a widening of Route 7. Four other projects are in various phases of study and design.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County is working on Tysons’ bicycle and pedestrian connections. Twelve projects have been completed, nine are under design, nine are in the land-acquisition phase and five are under construction. A Virginia Department of Transportation repaving project will add eight miles of bike facilities this summer.

Also of note, the Tysons Partnership has developed a transportation demand management program that will provide services to property owners on a subscription basis. Services include trip reduction strategies, ride-matching assistance, telework support, transit incentives and monitoring of travel behaviors. So far, eight companies have signed up.

Bacon’s bottom line: My reading of this presentation is that Fairfax County is doing all the right things but the Tysons makeover still has a long, hard climb ahead of it. We may not see much visible progress until the Northern Virginia commercial real estate market rebounds strongly, vacancies fall and developers have an incentive to start building again. But I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not close to the situation and my interpretation could be all wrong.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. I tend to agree that the plan is pretty good but the question of when the money will be available is the right one. Having worked as a structural engineer on the construction on the Dulles AP in 1960 (Tysons was a gas station back then and there was no Reston) and later having been a professor of urban systems engineering I tend to think that the overall plan is pretty good. But the question is when will things happen…perhaps not in my lifetime.
    But when one looks at the major international capitols – Paris, London, Tokyo etc. the Washington DC area would seem destined to grow over time. And if there is a plan for that long term growth the better it will be. Paris, London and Tokyo all have more than ten percent of their country’s population in their greater metro areas while we are still at 2% in the DC area. As one urban planner once told me when it comes to international capitols the tide comes in and then goes out but eventually the deposits mount and population increases and becomes permanent.
    So in the long term NoVA will grow and grow but there will be periods of stagnation which is what we may be facing now.
    Just a thought or two for consideration.

  2. larryg Avatar

    okay – so a Devil’s Advocate question. Why is Tysons not the job of the unfettered free market sans the Govt – as is what is often promoted on BR for virtually everything else?

    Isn’t what Fairfax is doing not that different than Richmond’s miniseries or for that matter even the Tobacco Fund?

    Is there some sort of User’s Manual that says when the govt should be involved and when not?

    Hoping to also hear TE’s thoughts.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, not sure I understand the question.

      Tysons required an amended Comp Plan, zoning amendment changes, public facility deployment plans, and a 40-year funding plan. There is considerable public oversight, such as by groups like GTCC, which, by the way, was successful in shifting more than $400 million in transportation costs (over 40 years) from taxpayers to landowners in Tysons. There are also substantial proffers required from landowners in connection with their rezoning applications. New buildings will need to comply with all applicable regulations, e.g., workforce, but not affordable, housing; storm water management; disabled accessibility.

      Landowners with 1/4 mile of a rail station get unlimited FAR, subject to overall caps. Other landowners did not get much additional density at all, but can develop either by right or in accordance with the former Comp Plan. Promotion is being done by individual landowners and the Tysons Partnership with private moneys, with some support from the Economic Development Authority (with taxpayer money).

      The closest thing a landowner could do with respect to a totally unfettered market is to build by right, which no one wants to do.

      Given we started with a county that believed taxpayers should fund development — at least to some degree — there is not a lot of public financial support — it’s closer to what it should be.

      1. larryg Avatar

        TMT – is taxpayer money being used for Tysons?

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          Taxpayer money is being used to pay for the parts of road construction that is being used for general growth (i.e., through traffic). For example 37% of the vehicles passing through Tysons on 123 are on through trips. It would not be fair to ask the developers to pay for that. Similarly, Fairfax County has always used taxpayer money (federal, state and local) for transit. That has not changed.

          I suspect some taxpayer money will be used to build schools, as the county’s cash proffer formula is designed to subsidize development. Things like parks, fire stations, police stations, a community center, libraries, etc. are paid for with proffers from rezoning.

          It took about ten years of work by citizens groups, under the umbrella of GTCC, to get these major changes in funding policies.

          1. larryg Avatar

            If no taxpayer money was used – how would Tysons – as a private sector free market endeavor – work?

            why is it the job of govt to expend resources to make Tysons successful?

          2. Tysons Engineer Avatar
            Tysons Engineer

            @LarryG, it’s not the job of the govt to do that. Route 123 and Route 7 are not jammed up because of Tysons, they are jammed up because of the bad land use policies outside of Tysons which funnel people to one (or in this case a couple) corridors from where people live miles away.

            So to blame Tysons landowners for the bad land use decisions of say, Centreville, is no good. The numbers they are using for public funds share for Tysons are

            10-90 and 90-10

            For projects within Tysons, 10% of the funds come from standard County funds (which I might remind you that almost everywhere else in the county funds at 100%), and 90% from Tysons special funds. For projects outside of Tysons that might “lead” to Tysons, 90% of the funds come from standard County funds, and 10% come from Tysons funds.

            So at a minimum, Tysons is paying 10% more than most other parts of the county have to pay, if not a heck of a lot more when you consider that it will pay for 90% of its needs inside of the city. Beyond that, remember that Tysons constitutes a sizeable chunk of the tax base for Fairfax so some public funds being used to continue that trend also makes sense. Overall, Tysons is still a winner for the county in that it uses less funds than it gives back.


            Sidenote, there are a couple exceptions of course, see the 28 corridor, but that was for a single road project, not dozens of them.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I admire those working hard on this problem.

    Tyson’s Corner’s traffic monster reeks great harm, walling one region of DC off from another. Thus, for example, Tyson’s generated traffic is at the root of Dulles Airport’s failure, and keeps Maryland residents out of Fairfax.

    If these folks project by project can rebuild Tyson’s Corner towards and then into a traffic neutral city, they will do a great service for the entire DC region.

  4. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    There is a huge mistake in your article. The 45,000 estimate is for ALL of the Silver Line, including Ph2. The current ridership is not 33% of estimates, it is roughly between 65 and 70% of the estimates for Phase 1 (ie the part that is built).

    Secondly, we absolutely know where the funds for road transportation are coming from, there was literally two years of debate and tweaks, and compromise to where we got to. There is a special tax on all properties within Tysons. Additionally the vast majority of the grid of streets won’t come from public funds, but as you tangentially mentioned, it comes from the developers building them as part of their projects. For those road areas not directly fronting on a new property that is where the Tysons Special Tax will be applied via the slush, along with proffer funds that continue to be collected of course.

    One of the reasons why ridership continues to falter in Tysons (btw Wiehle station is well over it’s projection for year 1) is the complete LACK of attention to small micro-projects that would improve access to the stations. VDOT is the culprit here. On 4 instances, instead of providing pedestrian safety improvements in areas directly adjacent to the station they have required 6+ month studies to analyze what the removal of superfluous lanes (most of the cases are either double right turns or extra wide 12′ lanes), when anyone with a brain and 20 minutes to spare at 4pm could see there would be almost negligible impact easily offset by more accommodation for pedestrians.

    The areas doing the best in Tysons (SHOCKING NEWS!) are those that are currently the most walkable, ie McLean Station and Tysons Corner Metro Station. If all four of the stations were atleast to that minimal level of access the numbers would be much closer to 100% of the estimate. Greensboro Station and Spring Hill station remain terrible for access, and therefore are major ridership flops as of right now. Of course all of this is changing very quickly considering how much is actually being built in those vicinities.

    Either way, you might want to correct the article for the above 2 items.

    I concur with the basic points you make though. It is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and Tysons has made some progress but still is fighting to get to a critical mass where things like VDOT/FCDOT start buying in also, and to simply reach a level of land use density that starts to spur the internal dynamics that will eventually make it more healthy in its urbanity. Til then, it still struggles against its past identity and problems.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      TE, I’m confused about which 45,000 you are discussing. Development or ridership? Thanks.

      TB’s presentation was only on Tysons, though he did talk about Reston-WA. Ridership at that station is doing quite well as you suggest, with the parking heavily used. TB mentioned that a lot of riders appear to have shifted from the Orange Line to the Silver with parking lots at Vienna and WFC staying open longer. The County always expected much of the early ridership on the SL to be people who used to take the OL.

      Macerich has to be dancing in the streets. The TC station has become the number 2 weekend station after Smithsonian. Hopefully, sales tax revenues are up, one the few taxes Fairfax County gets to keep in part. As would be suspected, crime in and around the Mall is up significantly, mainly property crimes, but there also has been some assaults, based on a recent presentation by Fairfax County Police at an MCA board meeting. The McLean station also seems to be working well, most likely because of better access, as you note.

      You are most certainly correct on the funding for the grid of streets – 90% paid by developers and the new service district. 10% by general taxpayers. The reverse is true as to projects outside Tysons. 90% general taxpayers; 10% Tysons landowners. The reason residential taxpayers in Tysons got nicked was the inability of the developers/landowners to agree on a tax district, so they created a service district instead. No landowner consent is required. This is for the benefit of the other readers.

      As more residential buildings open, it will be interesting to watch the ped/bike & Silver Line statistics. As of the end of May, the Kettler apartment at the Tysons Corner station was 30% leased; 10% occupied. According to Kettler, rents range from $1750 for the smallest studio to more than $8000 for penthouses, excluding parking fees.

    2. T.E. Thanks for addressing that 46,000 figure. Your explanation still leaves me confused, though. Here’s an image of the slide:

      silver line ridership

      The slide lists traffic for the five existing stations, not for all ten. Am I still overlooking something?

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        Now I understand the error. You are using ridership which includes entries and exits, ie total rides. And then comparing it to riders.

        This is from September but the numbers are largely flat with only a 5-6% improvement since September based on the latest numbers I have seen

        You can see Wiehle is above 100% of the estimate.

        Now TMT is correct that much of that is people switching from OR to SV (which by the way removes several thousands of VMT from DTR, Hunter Mill, and Route 66 by doing so which helps congestion), but a significant portion is also new SV riders. And the projections also included that population in their numbers.

        Anyways, point being by the above table metric (rides) the SV numbers are not 15k but rather closer to 33k based on the last numbers I saw, approximately 17k are from Wiehle and the remaining 16k are spread in the Tysons stations with TC Station being the biggest performer and Greensboro the least.

        Go back to the original projections document, it should clearly say ridership with relation to that table, not riders. 45k riders are expect when Ph2 is completed as the projection.

        1. Thanks, T.E., Your explanation is confirmed by Tom Biesiadny, with whom I have been in email contact.

        2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          TE is correct. The figures are boardings, with most boardings involving a return trip. Unless you are taking a one-way trip, most people make two boardings each day. Important to remember.

  5. larryg Avatar

    still playing devil’s advocate.. there are lots of roads that are overloaded from bad land use policies.

    Why is Tysons prioritized?

    why would the private sector pick Tysons over somewhere else where public funds might be or not be available?

    Why does Tysons deserve public funding – 10% or not – more than other areas? Why does Tysons road issues merit fixing before other places?

    Would Tysons be viable as a private sector venture without the govt?

    My point is not to attack Tysons – but rather to try to understand why it should have the govt involved in it at all – and if so – why it merits that involvement over other areas?

    The question is not really specific to Tysons – but the concept of govt using taxpayer money and allocation of infrastructure resources to work with the private sector to favor some kinds of development over others?

    There’s a LOT of land between Tysons and the “edge” of DC.. it’s more like an island than an edge.

    1. Larry asks, “Why is Tysons prioritized?”

      The political clout of the landowners and business interests might have something to do with it.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, the final outcome on financing was the best deal that could be obtained. You need to realize that a handful of people probably spent an average of 6-8 hours per week over six-to-ten years working to ensure the interests of ordinary people were represented in both the Tysons Comp Plan and the associated financing plan. The activists were out-gunned and out-financed but made it up with sheer tenaciousness and digging deep into the weeds, contradicting allegations that could not be supported with facts. While neither the Comp Plan nor the financing plan are perfect, they are reasonable.

      Why was Tysons prioritized? Why was the Silver Line funded in part by Uncle Sam? Why are the DTR drivers paying for the bulk of Silver Line capital costs? See Jim’s answer.

  6. There has been a terrific public investment in redeveloping Tysons. For example, the original plan for the Silver Line was to have it come up the Dulles Toll Road median and the development would occur based on that line. However, to redevelop Tysons the Fairfax board decided to dog-leg the Silver Line through Tysons with several new stations etc. The additional cost was more than a billion dollars. But to redevelop Tysons they spent the extra billion dollars. Had they stuck with the 20 year old plan the rail line would have been completed by now and the debt would be a billion less.
    So the county has quite an investment in the line through Tysons to redevelop the out of date office and shopping center. In time it will be determined if this was a good economic decision.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      All the politicians in Fairfax County gave a great present to a few landowners at Tysons by seeking a route through Tysons. And they received an even bigger present from the Commonwealth Transportation Board that decided to fund the bulk of the Silver Line’s capital costs on the backs of the DTR drivers. Tysons may well become a great economic success and urban showcase, but never forget that it was enabled by screwing ordinary people who drive to and from work on the DTR.

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        You are conflating Ph1 and Ph2. To say the bulk of Ph1 costs were put on DTR drivers is not factually accurate, so why conflate the Tysons bypass (which would have been the most shortsighted BS any jurisdiction in the history of infrastructure ever performed) to what happened with Ph2?

        How stupid would the politicians have been to keep the SV on the Dulles Toll road, completely bypassing the 12th largest commercial district in the country, bigger than Arlington, generating 100,000 jobs as of today, let alone what it will be in 30 years. Seriously? That’s not even a no-brainer, one would have to be obstinate to declare that the right path.

        Tysons is BY FAR the biggest economic jobs core of Fairfax, and at a minimum as big of a business draw as Arlington, if not bigger (some metrics say yay while others say nay depending on if you include government offices). It is a huge part of the business core of Virginia, especially when it comes to high tech businesses and international pull for new firms. To bypass it would have been criminal. Those who thought it should don’t understand the role of Tysons in the local economy and likely work in DC and are upset because it’s not an express track for them personally door to door.

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          TE – I disagree. The largest share of Phase 1 costs were placed on the DTR drivers. What figures are you using?

          My point is not that Tysons will be unsuccessful. It’s successful today and will likely grow more successful over time. But the financing plan was and is unfair. The bulk of Phase 1 costs were placed on DTR drivers remains unfair. Much more value should have been captured from the Tysons landowners, especially once the County decided to run the line through Tysons, which, of course, allows the huge increases in density and profits.

          I don’t understand your point about Tysons drawing new and large tenants. The Tysons Partnership has indicated that most “new” business tenants have been existing tenants consolidating space, with the only major new tenant being Intelsat. The Intelsat capture is quite important, IMO.

          1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
            Tysons Engineer

            “TE – I disagree. The largest share of Phase 1 costs were placed on the DTR drivers. What figures are you using?”

            The one’s that exist in the real world.

            Feds = 900M
            Fairfax = 400M (Most of which comes from Tysons original special tax on C&I backing)
            Virginia = 251.7M
            DTR = 1.354B

            Therefore DTR, while being the biggest single source, is only a plural majority not “the bulk” as you stated before. It might be semantics but when you put it the way you did, it seems like only DTR users have been paying for this when that’s not true. And also it ignores the reality that, yes the tolls went up, but it’s not the end of the world like some painted it to be with the $17 commute BS that never became true. The toll increases have happened but they have been limited and only truly anti-SV folks still go back to the well of the $17 number by conflating the Greenway and the specter of some unknown major cost overrun (of the 25%+ variety) to say that it could still happen. Most people are paying on the order of $7 if they go the FULL distance (some don’t) of the toll road. Hardly the end of the world compared to the $4.50 it was before considering that indeed in life prices do go up also.

            Do I wish that we didn’t have to play idiotic robbing peter to pay paul with our infrastructure due to the politics of Norquistian budgetting? Sure, yes, but the only way this project would have happened was by doing this trade of the DTR to MWAA in the political reality of Virginia. We would have all been better off if instead VA kept the DTR, funded the 3B (Phase 1 and Phase 2) that otherwise comes from the DTR, and found special taxes + fed money for the rest. C’est la vie.

          2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            TE, I see and acknowledge your criticism of the phrase “bulk of the costs.” A more precise phrase would be the largest source of funding and the one that is not subject to any cap, such that it bore the risk of cost-overruns. To me, that’s the bulk of the costs, but I fully understand your criticism.

            I think we are in basic agreement that the State did not dig into its coffers to fund its share of the costs under the applicable formula, but, instead, allowed the DTR to be transferred to MWAA with the intent tolls be raised to cover any capital costs for the Silver Line Phase I not otherwise recovered. IMO, that is not fair. The State, through the CTB and/or General Assembly, should have put more state funds into the Silver Line, given the amount of tax dollars sent from Fairfax and Loudoun Counties to the Commonwealth. And/or the State should have imposed another tax or fee on those landowners gaining massive increases in value from the construction of the Silver Line. Or, in the case, it was not willing to do anything, simply pull out of the project.

            I think a strong economic and equitable argument can be made that a landowner who gains economically by rezoning enabled by the construction of significant new or supplemented public facilities that are necessary to support the rezoned use of land, should pay the costs for constructing new or supplemented public facilities.

            I fault our local elected officials for letting the Commonwealth off the hook. While we don’t have enough votes to control the GA, we certainly have enough votes to gum up the works. Yet, no elected official from either party or from any level of government challenged the CTB plan to transfer the DTR to MWAA. Shame on them.

  7. larryg Avatar

    so to confirm – Government should be involved in Tysons – and projects like it – and taxpayer money is “invested” so as to provide economic benefits that benefit all taxpayers.

    I get confused here in BR sometimes between the rants that oppose govt, subsidies, rent-seeking, crony capitalism , etc, etc. and the ones that rah rah Tysons…

    I give TE total credit. He is 100% consistent in his views. He believes in the role of govt in Tysons and I presume other similar endeavors but that leaves a few others here that rants and raves about the govt “subsidizing” and engaging in tawdry rent-seeking/crony capitalism skullduggery .. with some notable silences when it comes to New Urban stuff like Tysons.

    TMT seems to go back and forth… depending on the day…

    I would posit that if Tysons was somewhere else in Va, that Bacon would be going berserk, no?

    🙂 so a question to Jim. Do you support the govt involvement in Tysons?

  8. Tysons in its current incarnation is badly broken. It is losing its competitive edge and could become a ghost town in 20 years if nothing is done. Fairfax County has too much invested in the area to just let it go. To fix Tysons requires a massive investment in infrastructure. And infrastructure is what government does. In an ideal libertarian world, things might be different. But we live in this world.

    My main objection is the massive wealth transfer from Fairfax commuters to Tysons landowners to build Dulles Rail. But, as T.E. points out, that wealth transfer is much more significant for Phase 2 than Phase 1. Tysons landowners are helping defray the cost of Phase 1.

    Another concern is whether all of this will work out. Can Tysons transform itself, or was the urban design so screwed up that it’s too expensive to salvage? We’ll see. Regardless, only government can make it happen. The private sector is not equipped to undertake a task like this by itself.

  9. larryg Avatar

    ” Fairfax County has too much invested in the area to just let it go. To fix Tysons requires a massive investment in infrastructure. And infrastructure is what government does.
    Regardless, only government can make it happen. The private sector is not equipped to undertake a task like this by itself.”

    I might have to go chew on this a bit….seems totally contradictory to conventional conservative philosophy.

    But I do appreciate the frank response.

  10. larryg Avatar

    I think it actually takes MORE than just infrastructure to make ANY place like Tysons “work” , much less be classified as a success.

    TE makes some powerful points – ” Tysons is BY FAR the biggest economic jobs core of Fairfax, and …. It is a huge part of the business core of Virginia, especially when it comes to high tech businesses and international pull for new firms.”

    and then Jim, – ” Regardless, only government can make it happen. The private sector is not equipped to undertake a task like this by itself.”

    and yet – almost in the same blog breadth – we also hear commentary of the “failure” of “blue” cities like Detroit that have been “ruined” by those
    “leftists” who “believe” that govt is the “answer”.

    that’s a pretty big paradox.

    1. Sorry, Larry, you just went off the rails. Detroit crashed and burned because it was fiscally improvident. It racked up massive pension liabilities. Corruption was rampant. Public services sucked. Crime ran out of control. High taxes drove away business and the middle class, shrinking the tax base. Detroit government failed in its basic responsibilities.

      99% of conservatives understand that government is an essential institution in our society. Unlike liberals, who are comfortable expanding the scope and cost of government infinitely, we believe that government should focus on a few core missions and do them well. One of government’s core missions is planning and building transportation infrastructure. One can argue whether Fairfax County is doing a good job at planning transportation infrastructure but I don’t know anyone who thinks that anyone other than government can do the job.

      The paradox is entirely in your mind.

  11. larryg Avatar

    re: Detroit vs Fairfax

    what’s different in terms of governance and a belief in Government?

    Are both Detroit and Fairfax “blue”? Are they both “leftist”?

    what’s different – not in outcome – in governance, in “liberalism”,

    How is Fairfax – NOT Detroit? Dearborn?

  12. larryg Avatar

    In other words :

    Fairfax is lefty Blue government infused economic powerhouse
    Detroit is lefty Blue government infused economic basket-case.

    what’s the critical difference?

  13. Detroit was a boom town during the industrial revolution but global economics changed and we started buying our cars much cheaper as imports. But Detroit had made so many financial commitments that they, like the Greeks, they could not back down and hope to get reelected so they kept on spending and spending even as the deficit and debt piled up and up.
    That would never happen to the federal government much less the DC Mayor and Council. No way!
    And certainly not Virginia which does not live off federal largess at all…never has!

  14. larryg Avatar

    somehow though – the way the “blue” works in Fairfax is not the same way that “blue” works in Detroit.

    but in BR – we hear about how awful a failure the “blue in Detroit is but how wonderful the “blue” in Fairfax is and I’m genuinely confused as to how – at the same time “blue” govt is an abject failure in one and yet the thing that powers Fairfax and funds all of Red Virginia.

    Jim starts from the end point – i.e. Detroit is a failure – ergo because of Leftists policies…

    then for Fairfax – ” Tysons in its current incarnation is badly broken. It is losing its competitive edge and could become a ghost town in 20 years if nothing is done. Fairfax County has too much invested in the area to just let it go. To fix Tysons requires a massive investment in infrastructure. And infrastructure is what government does. In an ideal libertarian world, things might be different. But we live in this world.”

    but.. and this is my point – no such indictment of the failure of “leftist” policies….

    we need to help Jim with his narrative.. it’s a little loosey goosey at the moment.


  15. Larry, let’s leave the politics of Detroit out of it. A better comparison is closer to home. For decades, Charlottesville has been a poster-child for unplanned sprawl guided only by private-sector economics (minimal government guidance through zoning or transportation planning). What we got was Rt29 North in Albemarle — only poorly tamed by latter-day attempts to impose order on the chaos. I believe government’s greatest contribution in this arena should be to get out as far ahead of land use as anyone can see and plan the incentives to make desirable growth happen. Of course that’s going to reward the most farsighted investors in land that occupies strategic locations in that land use plan. Somebody who invested based on early guesstimates that proved unsupported will not be rewarded as much. That’s not wrong, that’s capitalism. Choosing new technology, new products, to invest in is the same kind of gamble. As for urban planning, it’s so complex today that i am amazed anything farsighted can come out of the legislative sausage-mill. It’s criminal to see those years of effort that went into the Columbia Pike streetcar tossed aside over a blip in public support for South Arlington’s future; thanks to all of you who made the plan for Tyson’s a reality, warts and all.

  16. larryg Avatar

    Acbar – it’s often interesting and useful to dialogue here in BR.. I learn..

    and it’s true there is a recurring theme here about Smarter Growth and Sprawl and their relationship to governance – which as far as I know has never been characterized as “leftist”…

    so to Cville and Rt 29 .. and Lynchburg and Rt 29 – … and …yes .. Fairfax and Rt 29.

    not policies associated with liberal or conservatives philosophies – I don’t think – but maybe others might …

    Rt 29 was part of the Original Federal Interstate Highway System . It was part of a bigger plan than cities in Va. It actually was designed by the Federal Govt to run from Pensacola Florida to Ellicott, Md and it was – very much a Govt plan – funded from tax dollars…

    It was actually designed to go THROUGH cities . Cities actually lobbied to have Rt 29 go through their city!

    At that time – in 1926 – there was no “Sprawl” and even the highway planners envisioned businesses using Rt 29 to convey goods and services as well as a way to travel from one place to another – and a way to live outside of town if one preferred that to living in town.

    So US 29 is one of hundreds of such numbered US highways that total over 150,000 miles.. with many, many, many Charlottesville type situations.

    Tysons Corner , however, is not one of those places. It’s the crossroads of two Va primary highways 123 and 7 but grew in similar ways to towns on US numbered highways.

    But there is no question that both the US highway system as well as the Va Primary system , were, are, and remain – a system of top down govt-directed, financed (subsidized?) infrastructure of which the private sector leverages for capitalistic purposes.

    We don’t call highways “leftist” governance – but they are inherently the same thing.. in terms centrally directed by govt planners with taxes collected and land condemned.

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer


      The interesting thing about smart growth (and the reason why politics make strange bedfellows with smart growth) is that it puts at conflict two primary conservative ideologies, when exaggerated to the absurd, which can not coexist.

      1) Government should not interfere with the free market
      2) Government budgets should be small and efficient

      Zoning laws are by definition an interference of the free market. Of course this is a simplified view as there are good zoning laws and bad zoning laws, but essentially you are telling the free market what, when, who, where, and how they can build whether by a form based (what most smart growth folks prefer in zoning) or by a traditional master planning land use method.

      Sprawl would be the result of either no/weak zoning regulations, or poorly thought zoning regulations which leads to poor growth. Sprawl is often viewed as pro conservative because it let’s smaller builders, with less cost, build things with very little payment to the government for some of infrastructure and other public commons they use. While higher density planned development (which is often slower and weeds out smaller builders) is seen as leftist as it is a regulation on what would otherwise be a freemarket.

      Then we look at the impact of #1 on #2. The more you allow sprawl to happen, ie no conscience about how the building of subdivision 1 relates to the shared commons like roads, wastewater treatment, parks, schools etc the more the public picks up the bill for those sprawl developments. Therefore public budgets end up having to accommodate the added costs of allowing for “cheap” development.

      So these are two principals that conservatives really struggle when it comes to land policy/transportation/school funding to avoid hypocrisy on. That’s why ideology in itself is so incorrect when it comes to land use, and we really need more pragmatic approaches. We want to both encourage good types of growth which reduce the public’s obligations towards making feasible a type of construction, while at the same time allowing some construction that is perhaps not as concentrated or “smart” in order to help with affordability of housing.

      It can’t be one or the other, which is why the left and right spectrum is just wrong for land use. It has to be both. We need to guide development appropriately to create good strong nodes, while at the same time not stifling less costly growth and appropriately assigning the cost impacts of project A to the public commons.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        I don’t think either “sprawl” nor “dense development” is either good nor bad per se. Assume a system where a developer is required by law to contribute a reasonable approximation of the costs of public facilities needed to serve the proposed development, whether by proffer, impact fee, special tax district, etc. In other words, there are no large-scale subsidies from taxpayers, whether the proposed development is located in a city, a suburb, an exurb, a rural area or however society defines places. You charge a new subdivision in Prince William County on the same proportionate basis that Tysons is being charged. I also expect all development to follow all applicable laws and regulations, subject to reasonable waiver as permitted by law. I fully agree with your, at least, implied, instance that taxpayer subsidies to greenfield development must be stopped. In this instance, isn’t they type of growth really a matter of preference or choice?

        I favor more choices. The additional and continuous construction in Manhattan brings more choice. The building of more dense housing in the District brings more choice. The building of a new subdivision brings more choice. The practice of tearing down old houses and building bigger new ones brings more choice. The redevelopment of Tysons brings more choice to people, which is good. But all development must take account of its impact on the existing community.

        I also agree with your statement that we should not allow excessive regulations or impose costs on development that is not reasonable and related to the development.

        Having said this, I submit the task before all of us is to push government decision makers, from the Governor to the General Assembly to the Chairman of the BoS to the Planning Commission to the staff to develop and implement development regulations and infrastructure cost recovery plans that are reasonable and that treat both existing and new residents fairly. Political ideology has not sensible place in land use regulation.

        I’ve spent a considerable amount of time opposing taxpayer giveaways, such as the Outer Beltway and the Fairfax County Staff’s original transportation funding plan, and I know quite a number of people with differing p0litical beliefs that have as well.

      2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        I agree with your general statement that one’s political orientation, whether liberal, conservative, or whatever, has no relevance whatsoever to good land use planning and/or the development that it guides.

        Such planning and its execution into successful development requires a number of disciplines wisely applied. Mostly it requires wise leadership.

        Leadership with a wise overarching vision. Leadership with the foresight and people skills to anticipate and overcome the major obstacles to that vision. Leadership that can sell or otherwise move that plan into political reality. Leadership that can assemble and motivate a wide variety of highly competent players who are critically needed to move that vision into a practical and workable grand plan. Leadership that can next assemble, build and inspire the people and institutional structures that are necessary to drive that plan forward through all of its many emerging complexities and surprises into a successful reality.

        I saw that happen in cases that worked extremely well and I saw what happened in cases that failed. In all the cases where it worked well, it was the primary result of the efforts of a few strong, virtuous (honest & public spirited) leaders who attracted highly competent helpers who got the jobs done despite much adversity and loss.

        Both the leaders and key helpers came from many different and often surprising and unexpected places. Public virtue in action with integrity and grit was key in every successful case.

  17. larryg Avatar

    TE – you sound like a unapologetic leftist! just kidding…

    I find your words – legitimate and honest.

    especially this:

    ” So these are two principals that conservatives really struggle when it comes to land policy/transportation/school funding to avoid hypocrisy on. That’s why ideology in itself is so incorrect when it comes to land use, and we really need more pragmatic approaches. We want to both encourage good types of growth which reduce the public’s obligations towards making feasible a type of construction, while at the same time allowing some construction that is perhaps not as concentrated or “smart” in order to help with affordability of housing.”

    Good luck on trying to get the right to embrace that concept! It would just totally screw up their Detroit Leftists trope.

    A few years back – the GA weighed in on exactly what you are talking about with UDAs … Urban development Areas – and down our way, the Agenda 21 types went ape-crap talking about central-planners and denying property owners their rights – and .. B.O. and bad breath.

    Our Northern Va transplants – that moved here to their single family detached homes on cul-de-sacs – they’re now ranting and raving about Smart Growth for new folks.. the don’t want them out where they live building more subdivisions like they live in.


  18. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    What is this about article below?

    I assume it’s an alternate proposal to the one Jim writes about. Is that right?

    In any case , a brief review of this Post article, and based on my limited current information, this Post proposal may be misinformed.

    The problem in Tysons is not, and never has been, density.

    Tyson’s gross imbalance of uses turbo charges gridlock, given the absence of unlimited road access in and around Tyson’s which Tyson did not, does not, and never will have, given its local, regional, and interstate geography, natural and otherwise.

    To fix this, Tyson’s now needs a new traffic eating mix of uses that throttle’s its users’ need for the automobile, and modified infrastructure that better and more efficiently moves its left over traffic.

  19. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer


    The 7 corners plan is a whole other region. They are doing a separate master plan 1) to correct the interchange there, and 2) to support mixed use at aging strip malls. It’s like a smaller version of Tysons but really that one is more about adding a lot of residential, not a lot of office and certainly not affecting the transpo/school/park network like Tysons is.

    As far as the Tysons problems, you hit the nail on the head. That is what the master plan already in place is doing, unfortunately it runs into stagnant thought at VDOT and commuters who see any new construction as always adding traffic, despite the intricacies of how and what the construction is. For instance residential development in an office zone has much less impact because of the way trips are generated (PM vs AM, timing of when people leave/return, and availability of direct adjacent transit).

    The huge problem here is Tysons is attempting to both placate commuters while at the same time trying to create an urbanity that promotes walkability. Placating commuters with endless road widenings is a direct conflict with creating urbanity that promotes walkability. So if done incorrectly, and not revised in mindset and culture, Tysons is destined to be more like Atlanta than it is like a DC.

    My belief is that these things are changing, I see it slowly trickling into the thoughts of FCDOT and VDOT, but it takes a lot of time and a lot (I mean a lot) of nagging and political will.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      TE –

      Thanks for jerking my head around on the location of Seven Corners, Va.

      Funny about that, I watched Seven Corners being built at the start. It would not surprise me if Seven Corners was not the first auto centric shopping center built in the nation, happening back in the fifties not far from my home in Arlington. The Post article’s reference to Fairfax County is what threw me off. But sure enough the map shows Fairfax County cuts in there deep across Seven Corners, rather that Arlington and Falls Church as I have apparently wrongly assumed for the past some 60+ years, the tricks of memory.

      The latest Tyson’s Corner initiative sound like a WW II urban warfare campaign digging out the bad guys a block at a time.

      Perhaps this ongoing Battle for Tyson Corner will be the template for future campaigns undoing the Sins of Our Fathers. If so, a book or manual at the least, and perhaps a novel too, needs to be written to preserve your “Learnings, Best Practices, and Leasons” for future campaigns. Surely there are plenty of Battles out there yet to be fought but surely worth the fight.

      On a related note, this website is a goldmine of “Learnings, Best Practices, and Lessons” on the Sins of Our Fathers from the past, urban, suburban and rural planning wise, of all the things done wrong, and thing done wonderfully right as well.

      The archives found here, its commentary on these subjects, including your own, are well worth the time and effort it takes one to retrieve, read, study and learn lessons from the past.

  20. larryg Avatar

    TE – do you have a view as to how Tysons became the seed for that geographic location?

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      I’m not sure I understand. You mean how Tysons was named? It was named after a farmer who originally owned the land, I think his name was William Tyson. Actually, hold Ghosts of DC got this.

      If you are asking why Tysons became what it became. A bunch of reasons and they happen in chronological order.

      Largely cities of the 20th century were begun on the same basis as cities of the 16th century and the 19th century just a different medium. 16th century = proximity to water for goods. 19th century = proximity to freight rail for goods. 20th Century = proximity to highways for goods.

      We are now seeing the second rise in Tysons post it’s suburban office park past due to the 21st century city building medium, high speed internet. Tysons and the Dulles corridor are one of the first backbones of the internet, following the DTR west you hit data center city which has been discussed on BR plenty of times.

      1. larryg Avatar

        thanks – but geographic.. why Tysons and not Seven Corners or other locations.. why did Tysons – geographically – evolve in that location?

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          It was the largest non-subdivided parcel with direct access to the new Beltway. It was easy for one person (Hazel/Lerner) to build what they had in mind and have it close to what was then the new infrastructure of desire. The rest of the inside of the beltway at that time had largely been subdivided down making it more difficult to create the type of concept that Tysons Corner Center and Tysons as a whole became. 7 Corners for instance had been developed well before the development for Tysons Corner Center in the 60s.

  21. And, TE, and Jim for that matter, why is it that VDOT is so out-to-lunch with unnecessary 6-month lane-removal studies imposing lengthy delays on construction etc. , given the resources and political support the Tysons planning folks have already brought to bear and presumably still can muster when misguided State bureaucracy gets in the way?

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      VDOT has local branch offices, but largely major changes in the use of their Road & Bridge Standards manual have to approved by Richmond. Large traffic studies also have to be approved by Richmond. So part of it is the pure bureaucracy.

      But the bigger problem is that VDOT has ALWAYS been a suburban and rural road manager. The biggest cities in Virginia are privately maintained (Richmond/Arlington and downtown Norfolk). So VDOT adopted suburban road and highway standards from California, which works fine for highways but terrible when you get into urban areas.

      As far as political support. There is none in support of Tysons itself. Tysons has only 20,000 residents. Fairfax has 1.1million. The state has 8 million+. So the politicians talk a good game about Tysons, but when push comes to shove they will always side with commuters over residents from a sheer voter count perspective.

      That’s why at the same time as giving lip service about Tysons needs to be more walkable, we are making the stroads of Route 7 and Route 123 even wider with another widening project planned for each.

      The proof has to be in the pudding, and that will mean we get bubbles of good growth (of similar scale to Reston Town Center) until which point there is a significant enough population that the votes are their to stop looking at Tysons from outside in, and start looking at it from inside out.

      1. larryg Avatar

        If all Cities and Towns in Va maintain their own roads to their own purposes and standards – why not Fairfax or is Tysons situated on major State and Federal roads that would still be the purview of the State and not Fairfax?

        also – why not create a Transportation Services tax district (or has that already been done)?

  22. larryg Avatar

    I caught that also: “… I see it slowly trickling into the thoughts of FCDOT and VDOT”

    what exactly is the dichotomy? If someone else wanted to do something LIKE Tysons – what would they need to get VDOT to do – different than they normally would?

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      Whew, where do I start. One the basic means in which transportation is analyzed by VDOT is incorrect for urban areas. The trip generation they use is prescriptive and lacks analysis of transit adjacency, empirical data from similar other areas, pedestrian access etc. More importantly the trip generation lacks the ability to understand mixed use. IE if you have a grocery store it generates X number of trips. Ok. But if you have a grocery store with a high rise apartment above it, those trips are different in nature. Additionally VDOT works on a total trips basis as opposed to VMT (how far a vehicle drives on a trip matters, it says how long they are using the public infrastructure).

      Now on a design basis, VDOT has all sorts of things wrong. Their basic road sections, they require 12′ lanes, even in residential areas which is plain old wrong. It creates a vocabulary in the design that makes people think the road speed is much higher than it actually is. Route 123 is a perfect example, 35mph posted but routinely (and I mean the entire traffic flow) goes 55mph+.

      Bulb outs. They help pedestrians, they create a logical geometry for parking on-street, but VDOT doesn’t allow it typically.

      Double turn lanes. VDOT uses these all over, and it’s because of item one, the trip generation, it tells them they should therefore they always do. In general VDOT over builds everything, where a stop sign would suffice, they put a stop light. Where 1 turn lane stacking would suffice, they build 2. All in an effort to shave seconds on commutes, but at the same time these overbuilds force people off of sidewalks and into cars.

      Their treatment of sidewalks in general. It’s in their right of way, but they could care less. They never maintain sidewalks, they always turn decrepit, and over grown. They put the skinniest possible sidewalks in, they never consider where the sidewalks lead from or to, and god forbid they put a cross walk and stop sign at major pedestrian intersections.

      In general, they are stuck in a suburban and rural mindset. The change that is happening is because of a new generation of engineers finally coming through at VDOT but it is going to be a long struggle.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        This is a wonderful post, very enlightening.

        You’re saying that VDOT makes its road engineering decisions strictly on the basis what it deems to be going on inside the asphalt road, without regard to what’s happening outside of that pavement such as the needs of the people, businesses, or neighborhoods that its roadway serves.

        Hence VDOT does its heart surgery without regard to the health, welfare, or consequences to the patient.

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          Correct, several times VDOT has noted they are not a land use organization. That falls to the jurisdictions. There are some projects that are meant to be economic in basis that come from for instance the CTB, but for the large part VDOT is told by jurisdictions what the land use will be, but there is no return function to determine whether VDOT’s design requirements will help or hurt those land use goals.

          It’s taken 5 years since the passing of the comp plan and FCDOT, Fairfax, and VDOT are still at ends on many of the simplest standards like curb bulbouts at pedestrian intersections, limiting the use of double turn lanes and 12′ roads, and renewing the means to which the DOT builds for future capacity.

          VDOT also analyzes most “improvements” in discreet or static measures. In other words, VDOT has prescriptive values they say X development is worth in terms of trips. They then plug that in to determine if an intersection needs another lane, a road needs to be widened, etc. Or, when determined corridor wide improvements, they are told to design to a future capacity, and that the only solutions can be made by VDOT. There is very limited intercommunication between VDOT and the almost defunct DRPT for instance. VDOT has never seen a transportation problem that couldn’t be solved by asphalt.

          The solutions coming from VDOT, because they are a road and bridge department (don’t let the name fool you) shockingly always come out to be build more roads and bridges. There’s never a feedback loop of, don’t allow that development to continue in this manner. There’s never a, we should shift the design funding from roads to transit. They, like any organization, are inherently interested in improving their own budgets and increasing their own workloads.

          GGWash get’s it right, as someone who has worked with VDOT on projects before.

          That pretty much sums it up.

          I could get really wonky about how VDOT’s models are based on peak flow instead of review traffic models on 15 minute intervals and addressing lower percentile events, you’ve likely heard all that before. It’s the classic design a parking lot for black friday type criteria.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            As you know, complex urban development is best done as a holistic exercise.

            Roads and sidewalks and buildings and public spaces, how they work together for cumulative benefit or pain, either knitting together neighborhoods for cumulative public and private benefit, or breaking neighborhoods apart into alien stand alone pieces of limited function or positive dis-function that radiates out into nearby communities, making a whole of a place, even entire regions, far less than its parts. This latter case of disfunction describes much of today’s northern Virginia.

            Based on your post, VDOT likely is the engine of much of this dysfunction, all of it achieved at stupendous cost that mounts daily. The harm will almost surely continue until VDOT is compelled to change its ways.

  23. Having lived in Herndon and as an engineer working on the construction of Dulles AP in 1960 I would say Tysons came to life because of the airport. The Dulles access road, route 7, route 123 and then the beltway all intersected in the general Tysons area. And the whole DC area exploded with massive defense expenditures by the national government along with the semi-privatization of much of the federal government which led to abandoning the earlier plans for the Metro area.
    At one time during the Ike days Dulles was a chosen site with the idea of keeping Washington as the official capitol but with an administrative capital beyond Dulles with the airport being in between. But with the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administration focus not on the subjject master planning for the Capitol was dumped in a rush to fight wars and spend money. So Tysons really benefited and now is on the path to be that administrative capitol envisioned in the 1950s.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      The Airport surely helped accelerate the process, most importantly its toll road right of way, but Tyson’s Corner would have happened anyway despite, and paradoxically because of, the constraints imposed on it.

      What are those constraints. Here is a short incomplete list.

      1/ The Pototmac River, and its single bridge across to Maryland,

      2/ George Washington Parkway, its being choked off, having little more than nowhere to go at its western terminus at the bridge,

      3/ the Dulles toll Road, its being choked off by gridlock or at best choked down down to two lanes headed north at I-66,

      4/ the dense complex of single family residential neighborhoods and their ill-designed spaghetti noodle pile of inadequate roads that surround Tysons Corner that so work to straggle the city rather that properly feed and drain it.

      5/ the dead end of so many roads at Dulles Airport’s 12,000 acres of barren ground that wall off neighborhoods and jam its traffic and their traffic back into a cul-de-sac surrounded by a bridge-less River, historic town, and Historic Landscape, on the northern Virginia’s north west quadrant,

      All of this mess, and more, works to straggle and isolate Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport while it also works daily to undermine an entire region.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        An item 6 should be added to the 5 items listed.

        6/ I-95 is the major north south interstate highway carrying auto and truck traffic from Florida to Maine and places in between on America’s east coast. This traffic runs through Northern Virginia. It runs 24/7 in both directions east and west going around DC’s Capital Beltway I-95. One circles DC on the west and the other circles on the east.

        Most all of this interstate traffic is confined to two bridges on the Capital Beltway crossing the Potomac River.

        The American Legion bridge on the west side collects not only local and regional traffic, but also Interstate traffic from I-95 and I-70 coming south from Maryland and funnels this traffic across the bridge to dump it onto Tyson’s Corner’s doorstep along with traffic coming west on the George Washington parkway, southwest down I-66, northwest around I-495, and north up Dulles Toll road and toll free Dulles Access Road.

        All this floods roads in and around Tysons Corner daily, shifting the traffics directions on these roads each morning and evening. Meanwhile, the bad mix of uses within Tyson’s Corner further distills this traffic monster, putting it on steroids every day all day. This Gridlock shutting down much of our region, is it any wonder?

  24. The toll road did change things. Dulles had about 2 million boarding per year in 1982 but ten years later after the toll road it jumped to more than 10 million on the way to 20 million which after the current pause will jump to 30 million.
    And when I first came to work on the airport construction in 1960 Tysons was a gas station and Falls Church was the only significant population center other than Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax City.
    The airport made all the difference in the world in the development of Fairfax North and West and Loudoun. Without the airport it would be a different world.
    We lived in a boarding house in Herndon and some Sundays we would get up early and go to Route 7 and head for the beach…no traffic at all those days. And as far as Tysons was concerned no one knew anything about it for it was a very rural setting with nothing there.
    Transportation intersections have been the basis of most dense global populations centers over the centuries.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yes, I recall going around the Beltway in 1963 on my way to start my first college at UVa when I first noticed “Tyson’s Corner.” The whole view shed was bizarre. One’s first trip around the Beltway gave one a totally different view of northern Virginia never seen before.

      Thus, for one of many examples, as seen from the Beltway, soon after crossing the brand new American Legion Bridge, a single tall building rose out of an open Virginia farmland field all by its lonesome, as if it were lost and growing out of some farmer’s field for no reason at all.

      The Beltway changed everything. But Dulles Airport (originally built in early 1960s for 6 million passengers annually), did not experience any passenger growth anywhere near 6 million until almost 25 years later. This was after the building of the toll road and more importantly United Airlines decision to move to Dulles and build and operate international and regional flights out a new thing called a mid-field concourse that served not only round trip O&D passengers but also connecting ones that flew people in to change planes in the concourse and then head out somewhere else.

      Without United Airlines, Dulles likely would have died long ago, and today that single airline and its regional cooperating partners keep the doors open at Dulles.

  25. larryg Avatar

    why – right where it is ???

    why not east or west or north or south of where it is?

    why did Reston not become Tysons or 7 corners or Falls Church, Dunn Loring?

    it’s sort of a dumb-sounding question but Tysons looks NOT LIKE an evolving expansion of a city core but rather a leapfrog… and somewhat random ….

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, but your thumb over your forefinger. That’s the most important reason Tysons became Tysons and is becoming Tysons. But now, the task is to help ensure it’s successful as urbanizing area and that the surrounding communities are protected from ill effects.

      As to the history, TE has done a good explanation.

  26. larryg Avatar

    thanks TE and …TMT – that’s part of it… a crossroads..

    but its a “created” place apart from the existing city core of DC.

    there are miles of non-city between Tysons and the City Of Washington.

    it’s 5 miles to DC and most of what is in between is low density residential.

    It’s not on Rt 29 or Rt 50 which were the original spokes radiating outward from the city.

    there are dozens of crossroads in Fairfax…

  27. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    One reason is McLean and Falls Church City. Both were established very powerful towns (and in the case of FC cities) that were able to dictate the type of growth outside of the control of Fairfax County. In the 60s Fairfax did try a small office development format in 7 corners, oriented around major roads of Route 50 and route 7, however those roads had major bottlenecks, and the orientation of them is what created 7 corners which has never worked.

    7corners was also tons of a smaller parcels, making it impossible for one developer to essentially set up one giant development.

    In the case of Tysons, it was very much one massive parcel then subdivided into 4 majorly still massive parcels developed by West Group, Lerner, etc. It came after the beltway, which made it easy to access via highways which in the 1960s were unclogged super access ways the likes the US had never seen before.

    The reason Tysons is not connected to DC was 1) Arlington already was via retrocession 2) McLean and FC separate it from DC and had strong opposition to commercial development 3) the onset of the beltway, DTR, and Route 66 took away the human scale of adjacency and in the 1960s and 70s essentially made Tysons adjacent to DC with regard to how long it would take to get between the two. Remember back then there wasn’t the huge population of people going from West Fairfax, Loudoun, or PWC through to DC or Arlington which would. Tysons was the outer lands and therefore it took very little time back then to travel between the two.

    There is no similar crossroads in Fairfax to Tysons where so many major roads create its boundaries. Fair Lakes comes close but really that is just Route 50 and Route 66. Reston comes close but really thats just Route 28 and DTR

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Another excellent point you make.

      In the early 1980s, Arlington, McLean, and Falls Church became even more effective at hindering access between Tysons Corner, Dulles Airport and DC. Paradoxically this occurred at the very time that the Dulles Toll Road and I-66 were built to facilitate access between Dulles, Tyson’s Corner and DC.

      The reasons were several.

      The politics that limited the I-66 right of way to 2 lanes in either direction throttled reliable driving times from DC to Tysons and beyond at the very time that such traffic demand was dramatically increasing. This resulted in a newly found locational advantage for Arlington that jump started its new downtown. For suddenly it was far closer to DC, National Airport, and Maryland via Chain Bridge than the stop and go gridlock getting to Tysons and the areas west of it.

      Secondly, these new highways (combined with Arlington, Falls Church and McLean) further reduced the multiplicity of access options between neighborhoods. Theretofore computers could more easily snake through residential areas to go “cross town” or transit inner suburbs to outer ones.

      These limited access highways severed neighborhoods. They also severed transit arteries that had carried commuters and residents within and between neighborhoods. Thus they isolated whole neighborhoods, building islands within swirls and eddies of traffic, fast moving or bumper to bumper.

      For, simultaneously, these limited access highways turbo charged traffic and funneled it down into highly concentrated streams of traffic with extremely limited means of access for getting on and off those highways, access that was often inconvenient and inefficient in getting travelers to where they wanted and needed to go.

      This yet again compounded the gridlock, not only on the highways themselves, but their limited access spilled that traffic dysfunction and gridlock out into the communities they passed through and were meant to serve. But the drivers had few options. So they got their days ruined whether they were commuting to work or taking their kids to day care or to the park, or whatever.

      All of this in turn hollowed out whole communities of suburban retail and residential, creating “no where places of desolation”, that yet again pushed people, businesses and traffic even father out.

      Welcome to the no where place. But other communities, the lucky ones of affluence typically, thrived. They were the ones with the prime locations and many options.

      In any case these factors along with Items 1 – 6 above created a perfect storm across large swaths of Northern Virginia.

  28. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Another way to look at this based on my memory Arlington that goes back to the very late 1640s and all of the decades that followed though the mid-1990.

    By and large Arlington’s downtown worked well until its decline began in the mid 1960’s. In part this decline was caused by the opening of the 495 beltway. It replaced Glebe Road as Northern Virginia’s Beltway. Thus it drained much of the business life out of Arlington’s downtown that then migrated west to the greener pastures of Fairfax County.

    Arlington’s decline was also acerbated by its ill advised planning and execution of its first attempt to revive Rosslyn after the Federal Government began moving Federal offices out of DC in the 1960s.

    Counter trends arose as traffic failures around the 495 Beltway became obvious to most everyone by the very early 1980s. These failures were ignited by the poor planning and execution of Tysons Corner. Fairfax put too much office and regional shopping mall uses, and too little high rise residential uses, into Tysons Cornerd. This dumped a traffic monster onto a hopeless inadequate road net constrained by geography and politics.

    This in turn sparked the commercial rebirth of the Balston-Rossyln Corridor in the mid-1980s. I saw this coming in 1980s. Thus I built with partners one of the 1st major redevelopment projects in Balston during that early period. We succeeded in substantial part due to the growing and increasingly dysfunction of Fairfax in and around Tysons Corner and all the dysfunction it spread out among its neighbors.

    Reston of course was built from the ground up out of Sunset Hills farm. It too, unfortunately, was built wrong from the start. That is why Reston failed financially almost from the start. And it is why Reston went through a series of owners and financial failures for nearly two decades.

    I was also on the scene of these Reston difficulties from 1970 on. Indeed my law firm partners had represented of land owners of Sunset Hills in their earlier sale of Sunset Hills to Simon. From that point on we were also involved in the subsequent unwinding and rewinding of various iterations of Reston, and collateral transactions that under-pinned Reston financially as well as on the land sales and development side, along with others.

    These failures are not intended to deprecate Simon. He was a great visionary who simply went too far too fast ahead of this time and who was unable to adjust of market realities, hence forced to liquidate to deeper pockets who thereafter struggled for many years to bring Reston in line with market tastes and realities.

    Many of these matter are discussed at length within the archives on this website. I’ll retrieve some of those articles and post theirf addresses here.

  29. Reed, when you refer readers to material on other URLs, make sure to include the time stamp so readers can find them easier.

Leave a Reply