It is now clear that governance practitioners, land speculators, design-build investors and their agents have moved the status of mobility and access in the northern part of Virginia to the brink of chaos. When Bacon’s Rebellion and the Metro section of WaPo agree, it is time for profound concern. See today’s story “Fairfax Frets Over Tysons as Dulles Rail Evolves.”

Nineteenth century technology, ballooning costs driven by public and private actors trying to load the train with pork and a total lack of regional or subregional plans that balance human settlement patterns with mobility systems spell disaster.

There is still a chance to snatch mobility from the jaws of gridlock. Here is a slightly revised sketch plan for system changes that would provide mobility and access for the National Capital Subregion. It is based on a plan S/PI outlined for a client several years ago:

1. Extend METRO from West Falls Church to Tysons Corner. Pay a substantial part of the cost from long term leases on the air rights for station-area development at three stations over VA Route 123 and VA Route 7. (See “Blueprint for a Better Region: Putting Development in the Right Places.”)

2. Build a 21st century PRT system from Dulles Airport to the Anacostia waterfront with service to Reston (three stations with station-area development on platforms with leased air-rights over the DAAR) Tysons (tie to METRO Orange Line) Massachusetts Ave Corridor, Georgetown, North of M Street Crosstown (tie to METRO Red and Green lines) Union Station(tie to METRO Red Line, AMTRAK, VRE and MARC), Capitol Hill (tie to METRO Orange and Blue Lines) and South Capital Corridor to Anacostia (tie to METRO Green Line).

3. Build out the changes called for in “It Is Time to Fundamentally Rethink METRO” on the Bacon’s Rebellion website.

The alternatives look very bleak as depicted in both Bacon’s Rebellion and WaPo. The very worst prospect for the future of mobility and access is the Python Plan by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. See “Reality-Based Regionalism” at


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13 responses to “THERE IS STILL A CHANCE”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    You had better plan on making it a 22’nd century PRT system, since such a thing exists nowhere, yet. In the meantime, you need to figure on it beeing in addition to and not instead of our current systems. On that basis it is going to be a lot harder to justify, assuming it is workable at all.

    as far as air rights are concerned, go ahead and open an auction. After the bidders consider the costs of building a 45 acres of pie in the sky, you will be able to count the bids on zero fingers.

  2. Charles Avatar

    In 2004, Warner proposed a billion-dollar tax increase to start solving the transportation problem. By the time the Senate was through with his plan, we had a 1.4 billion tax increase that did NOTHING for transportation.

    If you starve people long enough, they will eat dirt. I believe this deal with the authority is the dirt the people of northern virginia are willing to eat because at least it’s something on their plate.

    But while it might fill their belly, it isn’t going to be very good in the long run.

    But I wonder about air rights — isn’t that what we get throughout the city when we put the rail lines underground? It it’s such a great idea, why are we so happy when we can build the rails above ground?

    Is it simply because we are trying to build CHEAP, rather than really contemplating the long-term consequences? But if so, doesn’t that suggest that for the near term at least the air rights aren’t worth the effort?

    I do agree that we don’t seem to have considered the options available, and instead have sold out for the easy “solution” that looks like no solution at all.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    As I understand it, air rights work like this. You have a plan to build a condo tower. Your ability to sell those condos depends in a large sense on the view you can offer of Central Park. There is another, lower, building between you and the park. In order to guarantee your position, you offer to buy his “air rights”, tha t being the air over his land and building. Having sold those air rights, he free to enjoy his property, but but prohibited from expanding it upward.

    Since the Authority owns the air rights over the highway, they could theoretically sell them to a developer who wanted to create new land over the highway and build on it.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath. Air rights aren’t worth much unless someone wants them.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The dialogue about regionalism – what it is, wheat it’s not, and the how of implementing some version of it are illuminating especially with regard to transportation planning.

    For instance, much is made of the fact that there are apparently multiple entities that claim representation of NoVA transportation issues but little mention of MWCOG nor the TPB.

    The TPB is, in fact, “the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the region, and plays an important role as the regional forum for transportation planning. The TPB prepares plans and programs that the federal government must approve in order for federal-aid transportation funds to flow to the Washington region.”

    note also: “The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the region”

    My understanding is that not a single transportation project can be built without the TPB approval and these days approval requires the TBP to do 3 things.

    1. – VOTE to approve – it’s membership encompasses not only all of the NoVA jurisdictions but DC and Md’s own geographic equivalent of NoVa.

    2. – Any proposal MUST not degrade legal-designated air quality thresholds.

    (This why HOT lanes and HOV are “approveable” while other kinds of roads are not.

    3. – Every proposal MUST have a firm and defined funding source because it can be approved.

    I would also point out that TPB is an active player if not a driver, in land-use issues.

    For instance, it was the entity that ordered a consult study of the impact that BRAC changes would have on the region’s transportation network.

    What’s my point?

    Well.. reading this BLOG, one gets the impression that there are many, many players beyond TPB involved including the Governor – and that part is true but it’s almost as if the TPB is a Rodney Dangerfield afterthought.

    Let me refer folks back to the Mission State of the TPB …
    specifically the part that says

    “Federally Mandated”
    and the other part…

    “must approve (projects) in order for federal-aid transportation funds to flow to the Washington region.

    Here’s my point. Ultimately, DC and MD will have a vote on the Metro Project .. just as NoVA had a vote on the ICC in Md.

    So.. the point is.. there already exists a legally empowered group with full voting membership from NoVA to address Regional Issues beyond the NoVa “subregion”.

    I’ve having a hard time understand why this fact is either not recognized … or.. it is recognized by the TPB is apparently not considered a legitimate participant in the Metro West deal – even though, ultimately, it is the TPB that will vote whether or not any Metro West proposal is accepted in to the region’s transportation plan.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Good point, Larry. There are those that may not like the plans we have, but they were made according to the rules we have. Fairfax has a comprehensive plan that outlines the density for every area in the county, etc.

    But Metro West is a development project which willuse existing transpotation systems. Why doe TPB get involved in that? Are we already linking transportation and land use?

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – The role of the TPB is subtle but very real – and not well understood in my opinion.

    It does not weigh in on land-use, settlement patterns, and density issues directly – unless, as a consequence of land-use decisions result in the need for more conventional-type roads that will adversely affect air quality.

    Because of the DC area non-attainment status – the only projects that are “approveable” are HOT/HOV lanes and transit.

    So, the Metro West project does meet their mandated mission in that it will likely will not result in further deterioration of the region’s air quality – AND – if it can be built with a funding plan that does not require additional federal funding then it also meets that requirement.

    Finally, TPB will probably be happy with Metro West as long as it uses congestion-pricing HOT lane Tolls because.. revenues from the tolls aside.. what is important to the TPB is that there be a mechanism to insure that traffic does not INCREASE and the mechanism for achieving that is to increase TOLLs high enough to the point where commuters will make changes.

    Commuters will essentially be forced (by the higher and higher tolls) to find alternatives – either use metro or other forms of transit… or find a job/home combination that are closer together.. or better able to take advantage of transportation infrastructure to get to/from job/home.

    The same deal will apply to HOT lanes on I-66 and I-95 to Fredericksburg.

    And.. I’d point out.. that this outcome is NOT influenced by WHO will operate the Dulles TOLL Road because the fundamental precept of using congestion-pricing TOLLing is fundamental to EVERY proposal no matter whether it is the Airport Authority or a PPTA applicant.

    So.. the Fed rules for air quality and MPOs has a LOT to do with what proposals are, in fact, viable from the get go.

    TPB doesn’t care about the density argument.. only that whatever transportation proposals that result from higher density will, in fact either be congestion pricing and/or transit or some combination .. but not new conventional roads – certainly not new interstate-grade roads.

    But there IS a BEAR in the CLOSET.

    And that is cleaner vehicles such as hybrids or plug-in hybrids or even what is known as “flex” cars which burn E-85.

    ALL of these will result in less emissions.. cleaner air… which …could add a major wrinkle to the way that the TPB currently deals with road proposals.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I’ve just re-read Ed’s essay, “It’s Time to Fundamentally Rethink Metro.” The piece is long, complex and a bit intimidating — because METRO is a complex issue that can’t be boiled down to sound bites. He makes a number of key points that bear reiterating during the current debate:

    (1) METRO is woefully underutilized. Outside the unidrectional crunch during rush hour, most trains leave empty most of the time.

    (2) Paradoxically, while METRO is mostly underutilized, it suffers from critical rush-hour bottlenecks that will make any expansion problematical.

    (3) The reason for this paradox is the mal-distribution of land use patterns around the METRO stations.

    (4) Making matters worse, there are critical design short-comings in many METRO stations.

    (5) If METRO continues the same path it’s on, Virginians are looking at continued and growing opertional subsidies for a broken system.

    But there is hope. Ed suggests taking a closer look at Advanced Rapid Transit (ART) built around “a small vehicle on a light, automated guideway that can be switched to bring passengers directly from origin to destination without intermediate stops.”

    It’s worth a read.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I sincerely hope that someone neutral, not associated with the project in any way, nor with any other agenda driven organization does a comprehensive before and after analysis of Metro West effects.

    I find it hard to believe that 2500 homes won’t add to our air pollution burden. That’s a lot of barbecues, if nothing else. Then again, without gardens or trees, those homes won’t do much to improve the air quality either. It is hard to get ventilation through an apartment or condo, so you use more managed air, and there are also elevators to run. All run with electricity, whichis hardly the most efficient way to go.

    All those kids will add to the bus load, and energy usage at school, etc. Even if 100% of those people use Metro for all of their work travel, there is still a lot more travel to do.

    I’ll buy the idea of smaller increases, but overall, I don’t forsee a lot of real difference: still you have to take what you can get. Marginal improvements, and all that.

    Until your posts I wasn’t aware of how important the non-attainment issues were. When we fnd that we can’t get where we need to be, we will go after the next increment, like small engines, which are already under attack.

    Most interesting is your statement that commuters will essentially be forced to comply. As long as we have a strong central job market, and a radial road system that might be true. But what happens if Metro West residents wind up working in Centreville, Fair Oaks, Manassas, or over on the newly expanded Dulles Corridor? I don’t see that transit is going to help in that case, unless we have more bus and jitney service.

    Hot lanes and Toll roads may simply have the effect of moving jobs out of the high expense zone sooner, just as BMW has moved out of London. Or Metro West might actually live up to all the promises that have been made.

    As far as congestion toll pricing is concerned, I think the tolls will be set to maximise revenue, not to promote changes which would actually decrease revenue and congestion. Maximising revenue is going to mean setting them as high as you can and still maintain maximum flow, same as the airlines do. You don’t want to actually discourage someone from taking that last seat.

    Like I say, I sincerely hope that someone neutral, not associated with the project in any way, nor with any other agenda driven organization does a comprehensive before and after analysis of Metro West effects.

    It is going to be interesting to watch.

    Who knows, if there is enough demand for E-85, I coulod switch to corn and maybe the farm would be back in the black. Until tractors took over, 75% of farm production was used to feed the draft animals that worked the farms. Maybe E-85 vehicles will become our new draft animals.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    1) Metro is woefully underutilized, and that issue is common to most transit systems. Even autos have a higher actual load factor than Metro. And because trains weigh so much, the weight load factor is even worse.

    2) Metro and VRE are already experiencing the same sort of bottlenecks that cause our roads to jam up: tracks converging in central areas, like the Manassas and Fredericksburg VRE lines. Peak hour capacity for transit is even more expensive to provide than for roads, because it only exacerbates the overall load factor problem: the more trains you can run during rush hour, the more you have running empty the other direction and sitting idle the rest of the day. It’s a lose-lose deal.

    3) As long as everyone is going to the same places, centralized job areas, it won’t matter what the land use around the Metro stations is. That is unless EMR is actually suggesting that some jobs be moved out of the city so there can be bi-directional use of the system. What this means is that in order to make transit that was supposed to serve the city work, we are now proposing to change the entire city so that transit can work, and as Larry points out we will essentially force people to use the system.

    What happened to free markets?

    4) The entire Metro system was not designed to meet transportation needs. It was designed to get the political and financial support required to make it happen, regardless of whether it made any sense. We are about to do it again with Dulles Rail, and make all the existing Metro problems even worse. And it is not just the stations that have shortcomings, it is the whole system.

    5) Virginians are looking at continued and growing subsidies for a system that most of them will never ride. There is no way out of it other than abandoning most of the system, and requiring that those that use whats left of it it pay their own full allocated location specific costs.

    6) A light vehicle that can bring passengers directly from origin to destination sounds a lot like a small, fuel efficient car. The only thing that is missing is the automated guidway. For that, we currently use what passes for human intelligence.

    In the case of Ed’s proposal, the other thing that is missing is an entire new guideway infrastructure and shared car system. Since it will have to be in addition to our present system, where is the savings?

    FAA has been working on fully automated air traffic control for decades, and it will be decades more before it is up and running. That problem is miniscule compared to fully automated, co-operative, packet switching, personal transit for millions of people.

    I think it was Virginia Centrist who summarized all this by saying simply “Metro sucks, big time.”

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    2500 new residences would theoretically generate 25,000 new auto trips a day… if no changes were involved to mitigate those trips (like transit or HOT lanes).

    2500 new residences .. might generate on the order of 1000 or so new kids… about one new school (but in practical terms spread out over elementary, middle and high).

    re: HOT Lanes. THE PLAN for I-95 commuters from outlying jurisdictions is to build HOT lanes that guarantee at least one lane that is not gridlocked (in other words, congested only to the point where flow is adversely affected.

    The method is to charge .. whatever it takes to achieve that goal and the price of the toll is really not connected to maximizing profit per se… it’s just a given that whatever price the TOLL has to be to insure a clear lane will, in fact, be ample profit.. and probably more.

    That’s why these lanes are expected to generate revenues over and above what is required for maintenance and profit.. essentially to generate additional revenues for other projects.

    But, of course, because of the non-attainment issue – those “other” projects will also have to be HOT lanes and/or transit.

    So.. yes… other long distance commuters won’t use Metro.. but road improvements WILL be HOT lanes and commuter rail will be receiving funds…VRE… to extend their reach.. beyond Fredericksburg to Caroline.. and West to Warrenton and even Culpeper.

    My claim is that it is THIS dynamic that will ultimately have a major influence on the land-use/density issue.

    Build anywhere you want.. dense or not.. but the transportation network will no longer be “free”.. literally “pay your money and make your choice”.

    I think it’s not only Kaine that has bought into this concept.. but much of the Senate.. and even the “no-tax” house.

    I predict that no matter what “compromise” is reached in the Va GA that the HOT Lane/ Transit plan as described above will, in fact, be part of that compromise.

    .. and I predict.. rather cynically that the average person has no clue about how this will eventually play out.. and will come as a very rude suprise to many.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    .. and I predict.. rather cynically that the average person has no clue about how this will eventually play out.. and will come as a very rude suprise to many.

    Here, at least, we agree. What so you suppose their response to their legislators will be when that rude surprise wakes them up?

    I’ll be surprised if this plan doesn’t work against some of our other stated desires, and there may be even more surprises than we cynics recognize.

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    If TOD at Metro West reduces auto use by 15%, then it is still going to add over 20,000 trips to an area that is already crowded. If they reduce auto traffic by 40% (right) then it is still over ten thousand new trips, plus presumably ten thousand new trips on Metro, which is also overcrowded.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    For a long time the assumption has been that offering more public transit service options would reduce traffic congestion. But despite the more than $300 billion in taxpayer money spent to expand the quantity and quality of public transit over the last four decades, its share of travel has declined. While the number of transit passenger-miles has risen slightly over this period, its share of urban travel has decreased.

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