Sequestration and Resilience in Washington Region

Ballston corridor in Arlington

Of the 3.1 million people employed in the Washington metropolitan area, 450,00 work for the federal government or military. No question, Washington stands to get hammered by sequestration and other budget cuts. But Mark Muro and Jessica Lee with the Brookings Institution argue in “Sequestration Shock: Smart D.C. Metro Will Figure It Out,” that the high education levels of the workforce make the region economically resilient.

Admittedly, government culture is antithetical to the entrepreneurial culture of the private sector. But, they write:

The region has changed a lot in the last decade, with the emergence of a new urban character comprising a huge part of that change. … Washington has gradually become a cool place for smart, well-educated young people to live. As it happens, that turns out to be a vital ingredient for spawning successful new companies, particularly in tech-heavy fields such as “big data,” social media, cloud technology, and app design. That’s why it’s a big deal that new energy and people are beginning to flow through the nascent innovation districts that are emerging on U Street NW, H Street NE, and along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. These relatively affordable yet hip neighborhoods are where the future is being figured out.

Big data? Big data? Do we know anyone involved with big data? Perhaps Don Rippert can add his perspective here.

Afterthought: Notice the areas not included in the authors’ appraisal of hip, nascent innovation districts: Tysons, Reston-Herndon, Dulles. Then ask yourself, where is Virginia investing its infrastructure dollars? Just asking…


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36 responses to “Sequestration and Resilience in Washington Region”

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    JAB “Afterthought: Notice the areas not included in the authors’ appraisal of hip, nascent innovation districts: Tysons, Reston-Herndon, Dulles. Ask yourself, where is Virginia investing its infrastructure dollars? Just asking…”

    Yes, this is far more than an afterthought. Contraction is likely where the new growth spurt is going over the next few decades in DC region.

    And, as Bob Bruhns suggests in light rail commentary, lots of money is most likely being wasted on false premises, ones that drove the last war, but are now obsolete and out of date. Thus vast sums will most likely be thrown away trying to anticipate and build for a future that will will not arrive.

    And planners and governments will be just as surprised, ineffective, and unprepared as the vast majority of them were at the dawn to the last new age. But, unlike the last go round, governments will be broke, having spent what little they had on the wrong things in the wrong places at the wrong times. Huge opportunities will be lost.

    Perhaps what’s driving this madness in part is the enormous fees being generated by the planning, approval, and procurement systems we’ve so mindlessly created. The Dulles light rail and Cville bypass controversies suggest this. So errors compound into self-fulfilling prophesies.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      There is only one thing special about the “suddenly” hip Rosslyn / Ballston corridor – Metro runs right through it. I listened to people like Bob Bruhns whine about the original Metro back in the 1970s. They were wrong then and he is wrong now.

      In fairness, his points about overpriced parking garages, etc are well taken. But the overall belief that infrastructure can’t ignite economic growth is just plain wrong.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        Don –

        Actually I suspect you and I are to close to agreement on all counts save Richmond. That’s getting hipper by the minute. just like Corridor did.

        Re Ballson/Rossyln Corridor.

        And I’m intimately familiar with the corridor having grown up along there and built a project steps away from an orange line metro stop during the 1980s. There were of course a number of drivers to that rebirth, metro being a primary one. Another being that Arlington County got their act together in spades after the earlier Rossyln debacle.

        But you need a lot more than infrastructure to make things work. Therein lies the true success of Arlington’s new downtown. Its why, for example, the Corridor has no more auto congestion now than it had in the very early 1980’s when the corridor was seedy, rundown, and often vacant, before the rebirth along the corridor west of Rosslyn.

        My general commentary on light rail outside the beltway to Dulles and beyond relates to what appears to be huge waste, general confusion, and misunderstanding of pace, timing, and extent of new development from Tysons west to Dulles and beyond. And indeed, huge confusion as to what the goals and objectives are. Yes, my view is based on very limited sources. Yes, I have not looked deeply into these matters recently. (Although I was chin deep from 1971-95) But what I see coming now is yet another never ending mess that may well do far more harm than good when “complete” or perhaps the better word is “never-complete”. Could be wrong, but somehow doubt it even with limited current info.

        Also I’m not anti rail or anti-infrastructure, just how folks appear to be going about it. And my opinion today on Tysons west is 180% degrees different from when I got into R/Ballston Corridor very early in that game. And, like you said, that R/Ballston Corridor was in far worst shape then than Tysons West is now, and that blighted business district had to overcome far fiercer competition to get to where its now arrived.

        DC is yet another case altogether. I’ll catch up on that a bit later.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Geez. This article would require a series of articles in response. I’ll just pick one point – hipness.

    Do you think the Rossyln-Ballston corridor was hip back in 1981 when I moved to Arlington after graduating from UVA? No, it was not hip. Not hip at all. Run down? Yes. Seedy? Yes? Hip? No.

    What happened? Arlington invested in infrastructure – known as the Metro Orange Line. It took 20 years but it did get to be hip.

    The same thing happened in DC. Nothing “bubbled up”. Chinatown was so dangerous that my friends carried guns there when we went into that area in the 1970s. Better to be arrested for illegal guns than die unarmed. Then came the convention center, the Verizon Center. None of this was accidental. Guess what? Twenty years later and it’s “suddenly” hip.

    This is why I have no faith in Richmond ever attaining its potential economically. The people who run that metropolitan area just don’t get it. They can’t force themselves to understand that progress doesn’t happen through low taxes. The Central African Republic has low taxes. How are things going there? San Francisco has high taxes. Have all the entrepreneurs and job creators left?

    At least in DC we’re trying. Making progress in a number of cases. And all the naysayers and whiners who were proven wrong by the original Metro and the building of the convention center and the Verizon Center can’t turn back history. Blighted areas are now hip because government and the private sector came together.

    1. How about the main thrust of the piece — that the Washington region is more resilient than many people give it credit for?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Probably, because it is better educated. But resiliency needs more than education. People have to want to stay. Venture capital has to be organized. Entrepreneurial management must be present. Young, highly skilled people must be present in quantity.

        Five ingredients.

        I call NoVa 2 – yes, 2 – no and 1 – to be seen.

        Better than Detroit but far from a guarantee of resiliency.

      2. I really don’t see much that is ‘smart’ about the people in the Northern Virginia region, young OR old. The Dulles Rail / Silver Line fiasco is a perfect case in point – all I see are elected idiots running around in circles, talking about how they don’t know how they are going to pay for this thing, and complaining about MWAA, but NEVER examining the line item prices, and NEVER examining the defective super-secret public-private partnership style design-build construction model behind all of that.

        And these imbeciles in Northern Virginia don’t learn – witness their complete disinterest in the briefly infamous, but now totally forgotten “Contractor A” that was reported, as recently as November 1, 2012 in a widely but scantily reported US DOT Inspector General’s scathing audit of MWAA, to have been charging 1.3 to 3.3 times as much as other contractors, while the geniuses at MWAA were not only giving it contracts, but were actually funneling contracts to it, for YEARS. And even after a Congressional hearing on that and other matters, several of the old Board and Officers remain. They were either silent about, or actually guilty of, things that were reported – and yet they remain, and some are never even mentioned. And nobody has called out the price estimators who apparently handed us double priced estimates that added almost $3 Billion to the principle, and who knows how much to the finance costs, of this project alone? Really, do people run their businesses this way, and expect to succeed?

        And now, two of the usual suspects (our elected ‘leaders’ Connolly and Moran) are scrambling to get us in even MORE trouble, with Metro extensions to Woodbridge, Centreville and Fort Belvoir. Using what for money? Tifia loans in the sky, I guess. What do they care? It’s not their problem. Maybe your great grandchildren can finish paying back the loans for three more double priced rail extensions. Or maybe not. Nobody cares.

        And another excellent example of the glaring non-smartness of the Northern Virginia region, is that nobody even wonders where all of the excess principle and finance charges are going, or who is getting that stunning windfall of money now, and who will get it during the 35 to 50 years (or more) of the loan paybacks. Heck, the people of this region don’t even even realize that they are already being taxed to send that money to its designated recipients. And they certainly don’t understand that the two big political parties are not fighting for control of this in order to stop that madness, but only in order to direct that money to their OWN chosen beneficiaries, for revolving-door rewards later.

        No, this happy bunch of Northern Virginia fools is going to dance right over the financial cliff. Any apparent resilience in Northern Virginia will be the result of the 90% to 95% of federal overspending that WASN’T cut, and the sad fact that the rest of Virginia and the rest of the USA really isn’t any smarter than this bunch of fools here in NoVA. This bunch isn’t going to fix anything, it will only make things worse.

        1. I “get it”.

          so do you feel the same way about roads – like the DTR, Greenway, ICC?

        2. Roads and transit are necessities. I object to improper ‘planning’, that is done only for the purpose of massively overpricing the work that is then done, in order to extract huge amounts of money from the People and direct it to buddies, and in order for our so-called ‘leaders’ to get silly awards today, and revolving-door rewards later.

        3. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          The waste and inefficiencies are truly astonishing. The system is broken.

          Take C’ville bypass. How much money was spent to arrive at fact the trucks wouldn’t save 130 seconds (or whatever) and why would you spend hundred of millions trying to save 130 seconds?

          Hasn’t somebody somewhere lost their perspective, if not their sanity?

          The only logical explanation is that the folks in charge don’t care. Or they are feeling too important, or too arrogant, or too complacent, or are too addicted to their own bad habits, or they are making too much money on such ridiculousness, to give a damn. Hell, its just other peoples money. Just those dupes who pay taxes and use roads.

  3. I’m with DJ on the infrastructure… Good, bad or Ugly – roads and METRO will attract businesses even if they are horrible on the finances.

    they truly are an investment – that eventually will bring business that otherwise would not come but instead go to places that have METRO type infrastructure.

    Just look at the FBI HQ issue. The scuttlebutt is that the FBI, even if they disavow it publicly is looking for a site near to or adjacent to METRO.

    The only real question is the one I asked in the other thread which is – given the subsidized nature of METRO – both for capital facilities and operations – how much is too much?

  4. Arlington had three advantages when it redeveloped. It had an existing grid of streets to disburse auto traffic quickly. It also redeveloped a narrow, but long corridor, which increases efficiencies and is less challenging than Tysons. Finally, the redevelopment did not involve major thoroughfares.

    The grid of streets in Tysons will be long in coming and quite expensive, but it’s critical to success. Tysons is just plain big and is more challenging than the strip of land between Rosslyn and Ballston. No one has ever had to tackle such a formidable challenge. Routes 7 and 123 are major through routes that carry huge volumes of traffic that must be accommodated. Maintaining traffic flow is critical and makes the redevelopment effort more challenging.

    One major advantage Tysons has is that decision-makers learned from mistakes elsewhere. Citizen activism pushed Fairfax County to do intensive and extensive traffic studies; to develop realistic lists of needed infrastructure tied to specific growth levels; and to adopt a financing plan that requires landowners to pay a significant portion of the costs of the public facilities that support the added density.

    Tysons will, indeed, add residential population over time. But I think it will be more skewed to empty nesters than young singles. Tysons is going to be a very expensive place to live and/or work.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      TMT –

      I agree with everything you’ve said. The county did not see the dimensions of that avalanche coming over open fields until overwhelmed. And it’s been playing catch up ever since.

      Bethesda, Md, a preexisting town like the Arlington corridor, saw the wave coming with the metro, got prepared, and rode the crest quite well. Like Rosslyn in the case of Arlington, the Rockville City demise was likely Montgomery county’s learning experience for doing Bethesda right. At the same time, Montgomery County missed Rockville Pike by a country mile planning wise.

      Lesson is I guess that timing, sequence of experience, and people make a big difference. By those standards, I should be dead wrong concerning my earlier Dulles Rail comments. I hope so.

      TMT – “Tysons is going to be a very expensive place to live and/or work.”

      I wonder how that compares to Arlington Corridor now? Or is it too early to know?

      1. JBG discussed its plans to construct housing around the Sheraton and soon-to-be Walmart. It projected a need to get rent around $2600 per month for an 800 square foot apartment. This is stick built, not an elevator building. I don’t know what the new high rise being built by Greystar will charge. It’s suppose to be quite a nice facility and its very close to the Spring Hill Station.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          TMT –

          This shows heart of Tyson’s current problem for its future. It enjoys very few amenities yet its worker residents must pay $2600 monthly rent for a 800 square foot apartment. Downtown Arlington offers far lower rents and far more amenities to workers its needs to thrive.

          The original cause of Tysons problem is too much office highrise and two regional malls built on surface parking on island ill served by interior road net, mass transit, and walkable affordable housing.

          Fairfax must bring this unfortunate reality back into balance. A key to it future – light rail must drive local housing solutions, not acerbate them. This will drive down traffic, lower rents, and flood area with the vibrant, skilled, and young worker residents its future needs.
          Tax revenues then will skyrocket. (recall earlier article on subject.)

          Generally this likely applies to Tysons / Dulles corridor as well.

          1. reed fawell III Avatar
            reed fawell III

            This strategy of driving walkable multi-family solutions with light rail and flexible zoning that mixes these uses in with existing office uses will also simultaneously turbo – charge the growth of Tyson’s amenities, such as walkable stores, and shops. And will do the same with other Fairfax locales. (see this websites fiscal fix article.)

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      TMT – Here’s another striking feature of the B/R corridor versus Tyson’s Corner. I had an office on Greensboro Road in Tysons during much of 80s and 90s. And one in B/R corridor in mid 80s. When one looks at Google maps of both areas today compared to then, two facts leap out, namely:

      1 – How vastly changed the B/R corridor is today from early and mid 1980s. How dense the area is developed today. How many highrises are packed closed together with so little surface parking. How traffic is so unchanged.

      2 – How little center Tyson’s corner has changed since the mid-1980s. Far fewer new buildings have been built that we expected and most of those same buildings are still today served by above ground surface parking. We expected those lots to disappear under new development. How the west end, particularly the north side has changed so little, the same car lots, the same storage facilities, and of course we expected light rail by late 90s.

      In an odd way Tysons Corner is grossly under-built. Poor planning choked off its huge potential. Tyson’s today does not have too much density. It has too little and wrong mix of density. But not it can’t easily grow because all of it was initially poorly planned. Much of Tysons great promise was wasted (or is hopefully yet to be realized). Unlike the new downtown of Arlington.

      TMT – this doesn’t contradict what you wrote above on March 13 at 3:40. But it suggests that the limitations mentioned could have accommodated far more successfully if folks hadn’t been caught ill prepared.

      1. From a purely business perspective, Tysons is quite successful. It provides lots of jobs and generates a significant tax revenue stream. But it is a traffic nightmare. It’s not an attractive place.

        It’s very car-centric, only because it’s virtually impossible to get around any other way. But we often forget Tysons has good bus service today. Lots of people come to, and go from, Tysons on the bus.

        I think putting high density at the four rail stations makes good sense, but will need to be accompanied by other changes. I think not allowing high density farther from the four stations is also a good idea. The 1/4 TOD area needs to be treated differently than other parts of Tysons. Parking at the TOD area buildings needs to be very expensive. People who work or live within 1/4 mile of a station should experience disincentives to drive to or from there. The TOD areas need to have good pedestrian and bike access. They need to be attractive (which, over time, will occur). They need to be well-lit and safe. The area needs fail-safe public utilities, with redundant facilities. The power shouldn’t go out in Tysons. Wireless calls should not be dropped. There should be ample bandwidth for everyone in Tysons. Tysons will be expensive so it needs to be the address of choice.

        Tysons also needs all the road and non-rail transit improvements set forth in Table 7 to the Comp Plan. It is critical for Fairfax County to oppose funding of regional transportation projects that don’t produce the same return as would Tysons projects. In other words, Fairfax County needs to kill the Outer Beltway.

        While it will have many nice amenities, Tysons will never have ambiance or character. But it can be attractive and efficient. It can be a place where many can live and work.

        While the landowners fought hard for high density (220 million square feet) and got lots of it within the TOD areas, they aren’t proposing massive buildings by non-Virginia standards. Both the CapOne and CityLine proposals would have average FARs of 3.8-3.9. I think market realities have controlled. These will be big buildings and a big change from the present. But it does show some level of restraint. But I’d rather see successful 18 storey buildings than unsuccessful 40 storey ones.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          Good comments. I’ll review comp. plan, and then get back to you.

        2. still trying to understand why Tysons is not and [never will ? ] be like Arlington… or will it – some day?

          do you have a view on that TMT?

          I note that Arlington sued FHWA/VDOT over the HOT lanes because they feared an influx of SOVs into Arlington .. and they have staunchly opposed other similar larger scale roads from intruding.

          Makes me wonder how they might have fared on that if their roads were like Fairfax and the rest of Va counties – i.e. maintained by the state.

        3. re: ” But it is a traffic nightmare. It’s not an attractive place.”

          some would say (perhaps DJ) that other places like Hong Kong, Singapore, etc are economically powerful but also not “attractive” and horribly congested.


          which makes me wonder – what the role of govt should be – or not be in making a place “nice” but less economically vibrant – as a result.

          I might have stepped too far on that idea… but not sure.

          1. Larry,

            I’m not suggesting Tysons will not be successful as a dense urban area. It will continue to be an extremely important place in Fairfax County and the Metro Area. While most of the proposals for rezoning are only Conceptual Development Plans, they do propose attractive buildings, which when combined, will present an attractive community. A redesigned Tysons will attract businesses and residents alike. Rail, other transit, many road improvements, better bike and pedestrian access, high-quality mixed use development, etc. will help make Tysons a better place than it is today.

            However, I don’t see Tysons having a charm as some other urban areas have. I think it will always be an “urban edge city.” Remember, you heard that term here first. It will be an urban island surrounded by suburban neighborhoods.

            Tysons will have many attractive amenities. But it will always suffer from terrible traffic. Even with TOD requirements that will soon seem impossibly burdensome to the landowners, the Beltway, the DTR, Routes 7 & 123, and other roads will be gridlocked every workday. The road system is projected to fail once Tysons hits 84 M square feet. Like Manhattan, Tysons will not be every one’s cup of tea. But like Manhattan, Tysons will be successful.

            At some point, there will need to be motor vehicle congestion pricing to get into and out from Tysons during peak periods. I think this would work best as a parking tax. Technology will need to record when vehicles enter and leave the core area and accounts billed accordingly. The fees could be billed to individuals, retail businesses or employers. Retail customers will be encouraged to arrive and leave outside peak periods. I think through traffic will continue to have a free ride.

  5. re: ” There were of course a number of drivers to that rebirth, metro being a primary one.”

    let’s try this on for size.

    how do the other areas around DC that don’t have METRO compare to the places that do?

    are there any similar “success” stories for non-METRO locales?

    Bonus Question – If METRO had been routed somewhere else than when it did go – would Arlington had developed the way it has – anyhow?

    My view is that METRO is, in fact, a ungodly subsidized system that the advocates of – do believe it is worth the subsidy – for the existing METRO – but not extending it… and that’s a puzzle to me.

    What if that argument was used originally for METRO – i.e. that the capital costs were outrageous and that the operational costs would never be fully recovered from farebox?

    I ask contrarian type questions – on purpose – to try to get a more objective perspective – less encumbered by advocacy and opposition.

    METRO is viewed apparently as worth every penny and more by the areas that now benefit from it – even though it does not have a positive cost-benefit ratio if we just look at farebox. I’ve pointed out, in fairness, that some might view METRO like they would public schools or law enforcement in that they do not consider such expenditures as “subsidies” but “investments”.

    I just think that when we take positions on these – that they should remain consistent and not vary according to a different value propositions than we use for other things.

    Is METRO an “investment” for the existing system? and I’ll leave that as the question.

  6. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    TMT –

    I’ve reviewed the Tyson comprehensive. plan. Many parts are laudable. But the plan is fatal flawed. After all these years, and all its planning failures, Fairfax County still does not get it. Or simply does not want to get it.

    The new plan puts far too much office in the TOD zones, and far too little multi-family high rise within those zones. This will simply continue to multiply the region’s horrendous traffic exponentially, drive up its rents, drive down its amenities, livability, and affordablity, and drive out the skilled young work force and residents that Tysons needs to remain a vibrant, and long term successful place the drives wealth and quality of life for all its citizens, not just its office corporations, and developers.

    In short, Fairfax County continues its old habits – using the Metro now in Tyson’s to continue down that failed road that does not solve problems, but only continues to compound them, demanding endlessly higher public expenditures while putting ever higher burdens and stresses on its citizens.

    The sad thing is that Tyson’s even now could be a great commercial success for the county, for the region, and for all the people who live there. But to do so it must put people walking and living 24/7 on its downtown urban streets. Only people walking those streets, living, buying, working, relaxing in those TOD zones will make for vibrant living thriving synergistic places. Places that throw off exponential wealth. Places that drive down public and private costs. Places that drive out massive dislocations and naturally reduce daily pathologies such as massive traffic jams that are otherwise produced by unaffordable, inefficient urban places that waste our lives.

    Instead, Fairfax continues its myopic single office use ways that over the decades and created heavily congested, highly inefficient and ever more expensive to maintain and sustain single-use office corridors. Thus by keeping uses separate the county compounds its problems even today.

    All the more remarkable is that Fairfax insists on this course despite the results of its old ways and the proven success of R/B Corridor just down the road. Instead Fairfax should ask itself some simple questions.

    With regard to Tyson’s Corner.

    Does not Tyson’s for now have enough office space in the TOD zones?

    Why not declare a moratorium on more office buildings in the TOD zones.

    Why not keep that moratorium in place until developers fill in the gaping holes (now surfaced with parked cars) between the existing office buildings in the TOD zones with high/mid rise residential and commercial uses.

    Why not use these new uses to put real life, real energy, real creativity, real excitement, into a real living breathing modern city for the young drivers of our future, and then watch Tyson’s corner take off for all citizens, before we add yet more massive spaces of office users into these TOD zones.

    And once this happens, will not then Tyson’s Corner take off like a rocket. Will not more and more companies and people want and be able to live, work and thrive there 24/7, reducing traffic everywhere else, and building massive new revenue flows for the city, county, and all citizens involved. Just as in Arlington where 11% of its land creates 50%+ of its wealth.

    Otherwise what’s the future hold. Well, can we can see it already? A new Wal-Mart Supermarket recently approved just off Route 7, which will be apparently near new stick-build walk up multi-family project that will rent 800 square feet apartment units for $2600 a month!

    Is this what Tyson’s comprehensive plan gets us? Low rise highly expensive stick built apartments next to a Walmart urban store that will turbo charge traffic on Tyson’s already highly congested main street. What am I missing here? Is this not a recipe for continuing decades of bad land planning?

  7. RFIII – Interesting comments. The plan that was adopted in June 2010 is much, much better than what was proposed. The new plan at least keeps density at the four stations instead of allowing it anywhere. It took years of hard work to reach that point.

    Fairfax County decided to push to increase residents from 17,000 to 100,000 over time and to almost double workers to 200,000. That’s a lot of office space, as you correctly note. And, as I’ve written before, the office will generate huge increases in traffic. The County encourages housing over office by capping the latter around 46 million square feet. Total development is capped at 84 msf. So there is a looser cap for residential than for office. Keep in mind that all development caps are net. So if I tear down a 500,000 sf building and construct a 750,000 sf building, only the additional 250,000 sf counts against the caps.

    As far as rezonings are concerned, much of what has been proposed is merely at the Conceptual Development Plan level, with only a few buildings at the Final Development Plan stage. Much of what has been proposed at the FDP level is housing. So we should see a growth in residents.

    The big questions are how attractive will Tysons be and to whom. I have no doubt an urbanizing Tysons will attract more residents. With Fairfax County’s requirement for 20% workforce and affordable housing, a significant portion will be lower and moderate income residents. That’s good. I suspect Tysons will attract a number of empty nesters who don’t want the house and yard, but want to remain here. (Why I don’t know. It’s ungodly crowded and expensive. But to each his own.) I’m sure many young people will live there too, but my gut tells me it will be fewer than many think.

    Personally, I don’t see the attraction of urban living or living in box next to more people. The happiest day of my life was when I got out of an apartment. Give me some personal space. But, again, to each his own.

    Tysons will be expensive and, for many years, still sterile. Where the density is, there will be only new and expensive buildings. There won’t be any corner bars. Tysons will have attractions and be efficient. I think it’s good to offer people more housing choices. Tysons will be part of those choices. Tysons will remain an important office center with much more housing options. The jury will be out for years.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      TMT –

      Well, your hard work has certainly been moving the ball in right direction.

      I did not pick up “the caps and nets” you mention. You say: “The County encourages housing over office by capping the latter around 46 million square feet. Total development is capped at 84 msf.”

      I take it that the office cap of 46 million square feet of office is limited to altogether new additional development over the pre-existing base. Do I interpret you right? If so, do you have that base office figure handy? And does the cap relate only to the TOD zones? Or is it Plan wide? What ever you know offhand would be helpful. I’ll dig out the rest.

      1. RF3 – just as catchy as RG3, IMO.

        I made a mistake. The cap on commercial space is 45 msf built or approved. I was off by one million. Built space that is razed and replaced doesn’t count. As I recall, there is approximately 33 msf plus in commercial space in Tysons today. (Total square footage is c. 46 msf.) Total Once this cap is hit, there needs to be further re-planning. I want nothing to do with it. The 45 msf was based on the George Mason forecast at the highest level of projected growth.

        At 84 msf built, all roads fail during the evening rush period. It may take until Friday to get home from work on Monday. 😉 Also, no further roads can be built. Therefore, every new auto trip to Tysons must be balanced by a new rail, bus, bike or walking trip. If enough people change their lifestyle and stop driving to and from Tysons, it can theoretically grow to more than 110 msf. I don’t see that happening.

        The increased traffic related to Tysons will be horrific. I presume some people will avoid living, working or locating businesses there because of traffic volumes. Some of the problems I see are: 1) the huge volumes of through traffic on Routes 7 & 123 (already mentioned); 2) the limited capacity of the Silver Line due to: a) the restricted capacity in the Potomac River Tunnel and b) the fact the Silver Line is a spur. Many workers in Tysons have no choice but to drive. That’s one reason more bus service is important to Tysons.

        All in all, I think Tysons will be more successful than not. But the journey will be difficult. It will require much hard work. Hopefully, Fairfax County has learned that all stakeholders need a voice and a vote. This will help drive consensus, which is necessary to make Tysons work.

  8. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Another odd twist to this saga is that the Capital Beltway was not built with Federal monies to be Fairfax County’s main street. It was built to route interstate traffic around Washington DC. But Fairfax County, in effect, all but expropriated the road for its own personal use. Now, this new comprehensive plan with its massive new office development will double down on the original taking of the beltway by Fairfax County. Indeed, it will insure Fairfax traffic congests the beltway’s through the 21st century.

    In addition, the idea that a new and strictly limited access outer beltway cannot be built in order to divert more funds into feeding Fairfax’s bad habit only compounds the county’s earlier theft of the first Beltway.

    1. Agree completely on the “Outer Beltway.” It’s plain and simple corporate welfare designed to facilitate the development of many large parcels in western Prince William and central Loudoun Counties. There is no evidence it would alleviate traffic congestion or spur growth at Dulles Airport. I often disagree with the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, but their data on the Outer Beltway is spot on.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        “… Piedmont Environmental Council and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, but their data on the Outer Beltway is spot on.”

        Thanks, TMT, what cite takes me to this?

        1. Last Monday evening, I attended a meeting on the Outer Beltway at the Chantilly Regional Library. It was sponsored in part by PEC and the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The material referenced was presented by speakers. I’m not sure whether they have posted it online yet. Both entities have webpages on the Outer Beltway.

  9. @TMT – two questions for you

    1. – what was the rationale for the specific caps? numbers out of a hat or something more than that?

    2. – related to 1 – are there numbers for this in other places, like Arlington and/or are there some kind of standards that planners now work off of?

    Not that I put great faith in planners on all matters like this to start with as it was not that long ago that they insisted that residential and commercial and other users all be separated and/or separated and then “re-discovered” “New Urbanism”.

    Also – if there were no govt restrictions on these types of things – say in Tysons, do you think the free market would develop differently? better?

    1. The starting point for caps are two factors: 1) Tysons needs much more residential construction to create the desired balance between office and residential; and 2) the traffic studies show that, at 84 msf, the entire transportation network crashes. The County used a study by George Mason University on projected growth to guide the County’s planning. The County believes that office/commercial growth beyond 45 msf will prevent Tysons from reaching the desired balance between commercial and residential. It makes more sense if you’ve lived Tysons for the last 7 or 8 years.

      I have no idea whether Arlington used any caps. I doubt the planning was as sophisticated as what occurred fro Tysons. Keep in mind, the Tysons Land Use Task Force didn’t really plan anything. It essentially said to landowners “How much density would you like?” That process resulted in a maximum development level of 220 msf. That was equal to 2/3 of all the commercial space in Manhattan or, if you prefer, 2/3 of all the space managed by the GSA. Knowing that Tysons breaks at 84 msf, the Task Force still demanded as much as 220 msf, justifying it on the basis that not all the allowed development would be built and that, if Tysons development could crush the transportation network, everyone would get out of their cars.

      Local citizens groups rebelled at this irresponsible proposal and successfully persuaded the BoS to send the issue to the Planning Commission to fix. Once the PC got control of the process, it opened up to public participation, which, in turn, force a compromise that was reasonable under the circumstances.

      I think mixed use development will be attractive to some people. I welcome the additional options. But the idea that most people want to live in apartments or condos in an urban area is just BS.

      I’ve learned over the years forcing those who benefit from transportation improvements necessary for increased density to pay for most, but certainly not all, of the costs for such improvements will weed out the worst and most uneconomic projects. If this requirement were universally true, one could rely more on the market to decide what is built and where.

      1. that nicely fills in some blanks. any idea how the compromise density compares with Arlington’s current density and comm/residential mix?

  10. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    TMT –

    Thanks for added information. I’m looking further into Comprehensive plan, and various documents and reports behind it. Once I’ve digested those, I’ll elaborate further on a some thoughts and ideas on Tysons. I’ll post them here even if this article has by then passed below radar screen.

    Tyson’s is test case, telling us on how Fairfax goes into future. It’s really all about how it builds a new successful city out of a terribly flawed one, or how it goes about making that flawed present that much worse for the future.

    In my view what’s happened to date makes that plain. So despite the good recent work on the plan, the hard, creative, grinding part has just begun. It’s full of risk. With plenty of room left for success. And also for abject failure. But this is the norm rather than the exception for this sort of thing.

  11. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    here are some thoughts to backfill some suggestions made above on how to fix Tyson’s based on lessons learned in Arlington:

    First, very early on, Arlington County came to understand, and found solutions to deal with, the fact that commercial development generates far more traffic than residential housing. In contrast, the development of Tyson’s Corner acerbated this basic problem. It built a suburban city.

    Think about it. One person typically occupies far more space at home than in his office. Plus a doctor sees far more daily visitors in his office than at home. So does a store clerk. So does the typical office worker. So does someone working in a convenience store, at a hairdresser’s, or flower shop.

    Suburban uses, dependent on the automobile, turbo charge these realities, traffic wise. Here, shopping centers, regional malls, and big box retail are the worst offenders. Their sales depend on auto visitors. So does their value, should the owner sell his asset because its traffic volume proves the drawing power of its stores. So suburban retail centers are designed to draw auto traffic, the more cars from the more far away locales the better.
    Potomac Mills is an example. Tysons Corner Mall is another mega example. (Ballston Common Mall is not as explained below)

    As a result, within suburban malls, shopping centers and big box outlets, a single parking space can “turn over” 65 times in a single day. One space makes possible 65 visits (each one by a different car that comes and goes) during business hours. In contrast, a parking space within a typical urban residential high-rise might generate only one turnover a day. Office buildings also substantially outpace residential. Distance between uses in suburbia drive this traffic.

    Herein lies some of the secrets Arlington County discovered early.

    1/ Density of development does not create traffic.
    2/ An imbalance of separated uses creates traffic, irrespective of density.
    3/ High density development of synergistic uses properly properly placed relative to one another, within an urban center, will drive traffic down. And it will keep reducing traffic until, and so long as the optimum mix of uses is achieved and maintained, and varieties of mass transit is steps away.
    4/ Mixed uses are best developed in tandem. Then your “city will find itself.” Then its best mix of uses, their variety, proportions, and nuance emerge in time to be captured. Thus, tandem development fuels best opportunity for market and financial success for all involved – whether office, retail, or residential tenant, owner, worker, or store clerk.

    Complexities are involved in building a successful urban center. But at base and speaking generally, Arlington learned that office space should never exceed nearby walk-able residential. That retail commercial should be built at same time as office and residential. That commercial space – office, retail, hotel – should best not exceed total nearby residential space.

    That the proper mix and match of uses can be used to drive traffic down as far as possible, by creating synergies that take visitors out of their cars, put them into mass transport, and/or on the streets walking instead. This in turn creates vibrant many faceted neighborhoods. This attracts ever more tenants, residents and shoppers. This throws off ever more revenues to pay for expanding public amenities and necessities. This becomes a spiral that feeds on itself, throwing off ever more benefits for all involved.

    Tyson’s Corner’s did the opposite. It tried to make a city living off an Interstate by building an suburban office park next to a suburban mega mall, and strip retail And so built itself into a dead end. Fairfax County knows what the solutions are. Now it should follow the Arlington example.

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