Tysons’ Parking Quandary

Tysons Metro station on Rt. 123 under construction

Tysons Metro station on Rt. 123 under construction

by James A. Bacon

As the first phase of the Rail-to-Dulles Metro line nears opening day, potential riders are asking a basic question: How will they get to the Metro stations? Tysons, the location of four of the five new rail-transit stations, has not geared up to provide new parking. But the higher-density, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly development that the Metro is designed to serve has not yet been built.

As Lori Aratani observes in the Washington Post, parking garages and large surface parking lots don’t fit with the future envisioned for Tysons, and Fairfax County officials have not planned for new parking structures there. But the smart-growth, Arlington-like future that makes it possible for people to walk to the Metro may be years, or even decades, in coming.

Now people are worried how Tysons will handle the transition.

“The plan did not originally include parking because there were advocates that claimed that having parking garages would draw cars into Tysons,” Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) said. “In my opinion, those cars are coming anyway, and they’re going to be driving around looking for a place to park.”

Fairfax County officials hope that commuters will take to buses instead. Writes Aratani: “Fifteen Fairfax Connector routes are being created, and 28 are being redesigned with Silver Line service in mind. Three new routes will make loops around the Tysons area, connecting neighborhoods, shopping areas and office buildings with the stations. People who transfer from Metro to those circulating buses can ride them for free.”

A possible stop-gap solution is “interim” parking. County officials have identified 25 potential parking resources within a quarter-mile of the Tysons Metro stations. But so far only one property owner has stepped forward with an offer. Cityline Partners will build a temporary, 700-space lot across from the McLean station.

Given the Washington region’s sluggish, sequestration-doped economy and its moderating population growth, it’s not at all clear when major Tysons property owners will be ready to invest billions of dollars in the big makeover. Vacancies must drop and rents must rise before there is any hope of generating the financing for the mega-development projects that will transform the business district into a walkable urban form.

Why should we be concerned? If Silver Line ridership falls short of expectations, fare box revenue will fall short, too. If revenues fall short, there could be a problem paying off the bonds issued to construct Phase 1. I’m not clear whose ox then would be gored, but, no matter, it would not be a pretty sight. For the record, Metro officials say they aren’t worried by the lack of dedicated parking. A spokesman told the WaPo: “The ridership models assumed the levels of parking that are being provided.”

At this point in time, there seems to be no concrete reason to get alarmed. But the situation bears watching.