How About Some “Land Use” Performance Measures?

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has released its $46.6 billion transportation plan, TransAction 2030 (See the April preliminary report), and the Coalition for Smarter Growth is quick with a response.

Executive Director Stewart Schwartz praised the Authority for “developing the first set of evaluation measures and for prioritizing projects based upon those measures,” but expressed concern that the plan kept “sprawl-inducing outer beltways on the map” that would have the effect of fueling development speculation, which in turn would create even more transportation challenges.

Schwartz reiterated the familiar position that transportation cannot be considered in isolation from land use, and suggested that the following land-use measures should guide transportation investment:

  • Providing significantly more residential housing in a redesigned, and more pedestrian-friendly Tysons Corner would offer the opportunity for many more people to live close to work, to walk and to take transit.
  • Designing suburban communities with enough local street connections so that not every trip has to travel on a single arterial road.
  • Designing suburban neighborhoods so that many daily needs, including schools, libraries, day care and stores, can be reached in less than a 15-minute walk or a very short car trip.
  • Focusing corporate offices within walking distance to transit stations to maximize the number of commuters that use the transit system to get to
  • Converting large areas of strip-shopping centers into a pedestrian-friendly main street with other local street connections would reduce driving on traffic-choked corridors.

Pithy Schwartz quote: “We must target limited transportation funds to support reduction in driving demand, in energy consumption, and in overall infrastructure needs.”

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19 responses to “How About Some “Land Use” Performance Measures?”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Stewart Schwartz’s comments on Tysons Corner are simply misleading. “Providing significantly more residential housing in a redesigned, and more pedestrian-friendly Tysons Corner would offer the opportunity for many more people to live close to work, to walk and to take transit.”

    This statement is designed to lead readers to think that Tysons Corner would offer a mix of housing for many people of all incomes. That is simply false. There will be very little housing provided for people with low and middle incomes at Tysons Corner. Indeed, the Lerner Companies announced a while ago that they would be building fewer, but more expensive housing units. It is very unlikely that the other developers and builders will do differently. The land is very expensive and very valuable. That provides an incentive to build higher-priced units. Similarly, construction costs increase rapidly as buildings increase in height above 3 or 4 stories. The builders are not going to put three-story garden apartments/condos at Tysons. It would make no sense. The Association of General Contractors recently reported that, while business inflation has cooled, prices for construction materials continue to increase considerably faster than the general inflation rate.

    All of these factors point to the construction of upper-bracket housing at Tysons. There are many people who work at Tysons who are very unlikely to be able to purchase housing nearby, even if they wanted to live in condos.

    This is not a shot at the developers or builders. Their actions seem economically rational. Rather, I respectfully challenge Mr. Schwartz and other supporters of density at Tysons to provide some evidence supporting the implication that Tysons Corner would provide a good mix of housing at different price levels. Otherwise, they should be advertising Tysons’ redevelopment as providing expensive housing for those preferring a urban-style community.

    One can make good arguments in favor of density, but the availability of affordable or even mixed housing is not one of them, at least not at Tysons. However, I stand ready to eat my words if there is evidence to the contrary.

  2. I concur with TMT’s comments, however, the remainder of Schwartz’ comments are specific enough to make at least some sense. coming from me, that is high praise for Schwartz, keep up the good work.

    Designing suburban streets with sufficient connections makes sense, and it does not have to mean pedantic or slavish devotion to a grid street network.

    But it’s not at all clear to me how you connect road planning with the remaining three issues. School officials like large central schools, even a place like warrenton would need a half dozen libraries to be with a fifteen minute walk of most residents, and maybe a dozen, Same with stores, you would need a lot more and smaller stores to accomplish this, with the reesult that you rlocal might not have what you want, and you would get in the car anyway.

    The more corporate offices you put near transit, the fewer housing units, so what this really says is that you need more transit stations.

    Converting strip malls to main streets often seems to have the result that parking moves behind the stores, which then become the front, and you wind up with two strip malls facing opposite directions. Front Royal main street is like this, somewhat.

    But these four are planning problems that are not necessarily related to road planning or the bulk of congestion problems which are not related to any of these. I don’t understand how transportation investment can be tied to these criteria.

    ???? How does this work? The transportation weenies say we are not spending any more money in your area until you have more libraries, schools and stores, and they are properly spaced?

    In retrospect, this sounds like schwartz is saying that we need more places, maybe he is catching on, after all.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “But expressed concern that the plan kept….sprawl-inducing outer beltways on the map.”

    Like it or not, the plan to build another outer beltway has been around for a while, it’s called The Eastern Bypass (or western if you are from VA).

    More info can be found here –

    “The Eastern Bypass is part of what regional planners in the 1960s proposed as a third or outer Beltway.

    The Eastern Bypass’ primary function is to divert north-south interstate traffic, heavy trucks in particular, moving up and down the East Coast off the Capital Beltway and Woodrow Wilson Bridge and away from and around the metropolitan core.

    Potential corridors, benefits and feasibility were last examined in the late 1980s in a joint Maryland-Virginia (Bellomo-McGee) Study. This Study examined six possible corridors ranging from 57 to 91 miles in length. It estimated travel demand of 60,000 vehicles per day by 2010 and costs between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion (in 1988 dollars) depending upon the corridor. In 1991, Maryland declared it was no longer committed to an Eastern Bypass and studied improvements of the Route 301 corridor ending at the Potomac River.

    The Northern Virginia 2030 Transportation Plan includes the Eastern Bypass and estimates its cost at $1.215 billion.”

    Another link can be found here,

    Like it or not, more concrete is needed to handle the increased capacity on the current system. The East/West Bypass sounds like a good way to go IMO – particularly if we allow a third party to build and maintain the road.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Does support of what Schwartz is advocating turn on the issue of better planning to actually DELIVER more affordable housing? Because, it would seem that such an outcome is clearly within the realm of government policies with respect to approval/denial of proposals.

    Also – what is the rational/viable alternative to what Schwartz is proposing?

    What would be a different viable path.

    With regard to outer beltways….. re:
    please note… that the guy who maintains this website is a very PRO-ROAD guy… who works for VDOT.

    I would agree with the idea behind a BYPASS but once you connect such a road to Wash Area roads.. it comes another regional commuter road… for folks who want to drive 100 miles a day.. solo in their SUVs….

    How do you build a bypass.. and keep it from being co-opted and ruined in terms of it’s original purpose.

    If you think about the BELTWAY …. Way Back.. when the interstate highways were first built.. the urban beltways
    WERE designed to help out-of-town folks get around the urban cores… but what happened?

    What happened is that every one of them including the Washington Beltway got co-opted for commuting … and so now… in many areas including other beltways… the ‘fix’ de-jure is ANOTHER “outer” beltway….

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I wanted to TOUT my own county – Spotsylvania on this issue:

    A unique partnership between Spotsylvania County and Spotsylvania County Infrastructure LLC, a firm led by Shirley Contracting Co. and English Construction – that will furnish preliminary engineering plans for eight secondary roads and a final design for one more.

    Improvements for all the roads were included in the November 2005 bond referendum, which covered $144 million and SCI “is expected to present several alternatives for each road.. that would reduce the amount of money we’d have to spend and still improve the traffic flow, SCI must also provide a “firm, fixed price on construction,”

    The thing to OBSERVE here.. is that the county is going through a LOT of trouble to deal with congestion – and now, THEY OWN the problem… so you can bet that subsequent land-use votes… are going to be driven by NOT destroying the effectiveness and utility of those road improvements that they paid so dearly for.

    Contrast this to this:

    Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the state, which builds and maintains nearly all of Virginia’s roads, should take the responsibility to find more money for Northern Virginia.

    “Local government is mad as a hornet about this bill,” Connolly said. “To have zero money from the state on the table is a non-starter. It is a state responsibility.”

    I’d submit to readers of this BLOG .. that Mr. Connolly’s attitude is THE reason why NoVa has such serious mobility problems. Essentially they want complete authority to approve land-use without any responsibility for the consequences of their actions on mobility and transportation.

    TMT and Anonymous may be right…. that TOD (as I submit highways) are about development “opportunities” not a better way to grow.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry –

    “How do you build a bypass.. and keep it from being co-opted and ruined in terms of it’s original purpose.”

    You keep commuters off the road by limiting the amount of exists that the road has. You probably put one exit a few miles from where the roas starts, and one a few miles from where it ends, and these are only for the long-distance driver who needs gas.

    To do it any other way would, like you point out, make it nothing more than a “regional commuter road”

  7. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    10:14 IMHO, a very good observation.

    Think New Jersey Turnpike, with modifications. Include gas stations and food in the medians. Alow trucks and long distance automobiles to use the road at incremental cost. In other words, the toll to drive the entire length of the road would be relatively low.

    Make exiting at intermediate stops prohibitively expensive — say $25 for an automobile.

    Give an anti-development group such as PEC some sort of legal interest in the bypass so that could challenge any attempts by landowners or developers to undo the bypass nature of the road. Make it campaign contribution proof.

    Finally, ten-to-one odds that, if this type of true bypass were proposed, those who today are lobbying for the Western Bypass would oppose it. Transportation in Virginia is largely about enabling development.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    A modified Jersey Turnpike is very conceivable for a Western Bypass.

    IMO, what makes the project “doable” is the fact that you can make it a public/private endeavor. The state(s) could turn the project over to the private sector and let the market determine the cost/value of using the route.

    Obviously, the bypass is going to run through several localities. If local zoning laws were matching in terms of density along a proposed route, I think you could satisfy a lot of the development community. Heck…why don’t they (developers) pool their resources and build the damn thing?

    Easier said then done, I know. But developers are already making a healthy profit building houses on 3-5 acre lots. Why not just zone all of the land along the route in 3-5 acre lots and let them have at it?

    The farmer who can’t make any money could get paid for his land, people moving the goods could move them faster will benefit, and developers can still make a nice living.

    -Anon. 10:14 AM

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Heck…why don’t they (developers) pool their resources and build the damn thing?”

    This MAY be a Eureka Moment. 🙂

    Think Public-Private Partnership. Think about the SAME folks who want to build/operate the road are the SAME folks who want to develop land adjacent to it.

    The law exists…solicitations ARE received by VDOT….

    Bill Howell.. in the GA wants VDOT to be MORE proactive about finding private interest…

    But I have to ask… if such an outcome would produce.. a BYPASS … ahem.. I don’t mean the word… but the intended functionality….

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Along the lines of land-developers and transportation co-proposals:

    Headline: “Tricord dreams big”

    Summit Crossing would include a new Interstate 95 interchange, a town-style subdivision, a 550-acre “federal-corporate campus” and a technology center and a VRE station.

    After years of planning, Tricord’s New Post community was dismissed last October by supervisors who worried it would contribute to sprawl (and encroach on a military base).

    So… how about some opinions?

    Is this new proposal a GOOD thing or a BAD thing?

    It walks and talks like what Smart Growth advocates … seem to advocate… (but I won’t put words in their mouth)

    The transportation facilities PROBABLY will be paid for by a CDA which “works” because once TRIDCORD acquires the land they will be the sole landowner and thus the required 51% landowner approval is a moot issue.

    So… you have a single developer proposing.. essentially – a master-plan land-use proposal… all inclusive.. right down to mixed-use, jobs, and transportation.

    What’s WRONG with this approach? … or, if approved, would this likely to become a best practices Model?

  11. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anon 9:16, I like the way you think. Let us not forget that the Dulles Greenway was built, in part, through the cooperation of the landowners who owned property along the route. It has been done. I would pause, however, at your idea of zoning 3 to 5-acre lots along the route. That is an inefficient development pattern, very expensive to serve with utilities, secondary roads and public services. No locality would be doing any favor for itself. I would make more sense to allow greater development density around the intersections of the new road.

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, Thanks for pointing out the Tricord development. I’ll put that on my list of projects that need investigating. Jim

  13. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    10:14 – More interesting and thoughtful comments. But it’s time to toss out the slippery slope trick.

    Your proposal seems to modify the bypyass idea — which I’ll define loosely as a limited access, toll road, where very little traffic is short distance — by permitting exists at a number of communities. IMHO, once you add those extra exits, you open the door for the bypass to lose its character. It become just one more highway and a means for more development. That’s clearly not wrong per se, but it’s not a bypass highway and looks to as just one more example of how Virginia uses scarce resources to build transportation facilities to facilitate development.

    If the Western Bypass does not remove long-haul traffic from the other transportation routes, why should the ordinary taxpayer cough up a single dime for it? This becomes just like my friend the Silver Line. Why should taxpayers cough up a single dime for something that has a main purpose of enabling development?

    If the true purpose of the Western Bypass is to facilitate development, let the landowners, developers, builders and contractors pay for it under the PPPA. The Silver Line too.

    Larry – re Tricord – I don’t know anything about it, but still wonder how would the project address all of the other infrastructure needs. Do current residents benefit if a big development builds an intersection, but overcrowds the schools, parks, libraries, etc. and forces up property taxes? That’s a question that I think should be answered?

    Anticipating Ray’s objection, I don’t know how much the new development should pay. But who benefits and who pays?

  14. I’ve said the Western Beltway ought to be an Eastern Blue Ridge Parkway. Runit right across the top of Bull Run Mountain, so there won’t be any temptation to add exits. Have an interchange at Route 7, 66, 28 and 95, and be done with it.

    Then of course, you have to talk Maryland into running their side through the agricultural reserve. The Western Bypass is a dead issue until Maryland changes it’s tune.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    TMT – I would not support a road that was a mirror image of the Dulles Toll Road. In other words, the fewer exits the road has the better. If the road is 90 miles in length I would put a max. of 3 exists along the road.

    IMO, the Dulles Toll Road will reach capacity in the very near future because of how many exists that already exist along the road. A Western Bypass will not remove all long-haul traffic from the Capitol Beltway, but it will remove a lot. The true purpose of a Western Bypass should be to move people/goods AROUND the capital beltway. If it was anything other than that, I would not support it.

    Ray – You are correct. If MD is not on board all of this is a moot point. But, if the road is a three-way partnership b/w a private entity and VA and MD I think some sort of revenue sharing scheme could be worked out to make everyone happy.

    Jim – My 3-5 acre lots were used because of the FIERCE opposition that would exist for building a road through what is a mostly rural area.

  16. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    10:14 Your proposal makes good sense, but I’d bet you that the Virginia business interests that are strongly supporting a Western Bypass would oppose your plan. Take a look at the old website: It has a map that shows big landholdings near all of these proposed roads. To the mind of these people, roads are to be built to enable them to develop land. It has little to do with transportation.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    If a “bypass” is built – even with only a few exits… that will connect to major primary roads – then the outcome is assured – land.. previously not developable because of poor road access – WILL be developed.

    Developers will offer proffers to upgrade the connecting roads to the “bypass” and it will end up like the beltway and I-95/I-395 is now with respect to out-of-town pass-through traffic.

    About the only way to prevent this is to put huge tolls on the interchanges that would discourage daily local commuting OR put development restrictions on the adjacent lands…. which I know will be viewed as unfair and illegal with respect to the folks who own that land.

  18. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Huge tolls – That’s what I originally suggested. “Make exiting at intermediate stops prohibitively expensive — say $25 for an automobile.” I think we agree on this one.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    TMT – we agree on a concept ..but one.. I have to admit I know of no place that uses it.

    There would be a tremendous outcry from all those people who live along the new road who would want to use it to ease their commute to NoVa.

    They’d show up at hearings in droves decrying the arbitrary and unfairness of such a toll and they’d put pressure on their elected officials to force VDOT and the state to back down.

    Even if they did not.. think about folks who make $50 to $100 per hour… $25 would be onerous but “doeable”.

    Probably more doeable would be the equivalent of the $25 done incrementally along the road at the electronic tolls and the $25 might actually get to $35 at “rush” hour.

    This is a new ground that never could have been done.. until the advent of high-speed electronic tolling so there will be no shortage of creative ways to TOLL folks in the future.

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