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.

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7 responses to “Tysons’ Parking Quandary

  1. This is an interesting problem. Perhaps solutions, whether permanent or temporary, are impacted by Tyson’s failure to have a defined perimeter. This point was brought to my attention by Tyson’s Engineer (TE). He pointed out what I had not considered with regard to Tyson’s Corner. That its lack of a defined perimeter raised a host of chronic problems on a number of fronts and noted that the B/R corridor had dodged that bullet.

    I recall that Arlington’s perimeter issue solution arose out of the fact that its long established neighborhoods were quickly threatened by the county’s initial 1960’s Rosslyn debacle. The quick sprout of that new high rise city spread decay outward. It headed west into a ring of decay over low and mid-rise residential housing and commercial stock that had been healthy before. The rapid acquisition of these “under used” properties by land speculators caused this infection. Their goal was not to invest in the existing residential stock. Their goal was to hold these properties at absolutely minimum cost until their land location got caught up the tide of the anticipated outward commercial growth of “Rosslyn City”. Then, they’d rezone and sell the land for someone else to tear down and root out the existing residential neighborhoods in order to replace them with new highrise commercial rental properties.

    So very early on an expanding ring of deteriorating neighborhoods spread across swaths of Arlington County that otherwise would have continued to be fine properties, highly suitable for housing and commercial of all sorts, including housing for lower income folks. Given the fact that Arlington’s old downtown was already in rapid decay, this latest plague raised alarm.

    A determined and largely successful effort was made later during the 70’s and 80’s to cure this blight when Arlington went about redoing Rosslyn the right way along with Courthouse, Ballston, Virginia square and Clarendon.

    One benefit of any such perimeter is that it allows for the location of outer ring parking strategically placed to spread and dilute incoming traffic, while it also collects that traffic into garages or lots that feed otherwise auto commuters into a Metro system which then better works to the advantage of commuters who are enabled to better travel throughout the entire region.

    Of course this is a tricky game on a number of fronts. For example, local neighborhoods to often resist these solutions as “traffic magnets”.

    • Reed is right. One of the reasons that Reston works is because of the plentiful parking on the edges of the Town Center. The street access is pretty well laid out and congestion happens but is manageable. Once you get to your parking place you can walk to gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, offices, etc.

      I am not sure I see where the strategically located parking in the RB Corridor exists. I don’t get down there much anymore – because the parking is such a pain. Maybe the parking is there and I don’t see it.

      Tysons will be a mess without parking. It is still an office community. Meanwhile, I believe most of the commuters live in places without adequate Metro parking. Where are you going to park in West Falls Church to get on the Metro to Tysons?

      The smart growthers and transit oriented developers seem to have a blind spot when it comes to parking. People in car-centric areas aren’t going to take the bus to the Metro to work. They will drive to the Metro and then take the subway to work or drive to work.

      Some day Tysons will be sufficiently developed that it will be a live – work – play community like the RB Corridor. At that point perhaps some of the parking garages can be torn down and something else built in their stead. However, the first years of the “New Tysons” will be a lot like the last years of the “old Tysons”.

      • DJ says – “I am not sure I see where the strategically located parking in the RB Corridor exists.”

        Nor am I sure how much of this sort of strategic parking planning was fully considered in all its aspects in the B/R corridor either. It was however in case of my project. Perhaps our most difficult decision we doubled the parking underground. The obvious risk given extra cost incurred, we justified it in part on Metro.

        I do not know how these sorts of thinking and decisions played out elsewhere in Corridor. Perhaps in some cases it worked out naturally. The long spindle shape of the corridor could be used to advantage I suspect. But I’m here only thinking out loud. It’d be interesting to look at. Parking located, built, and used to full advantage, can be a powerful tool to dilute traffic if done right. Done wrong, you easily get the reverse.

        Of course, parking and Metro generally is a big subject all its own.

        Also hard perimeters raise the question of how do you expand a smart growth district once demand for it far outstrips supple. Then of course rents can go sky high, shutting out the young and old alike. At least here however, such a district served by a fine well calibrated mass transit mix (parking too) can help mightily to alleviate the issue, up to a point. Anyway, I suspect a good deal more thinking might be useful on subject.

  2. Not sure what the problem is. build the parking garages and charge what it costs to build and operate them.

    It’s delusional in a car-centric world to believe that people will not drive.

    but make it a proposition with a cost – why not?

    re: ” Some day Tysons will be sufficiently developed that it will be a live – work – play community like the RB Corridor. At that point perhaps some of the parking garages can be torn down and something else built in their stead. However, the first years of the “New Tysons” will be a lot like the last years of the “old Tysons”.”

    totally agree.

    this is a long term proposition. put the parking in… “wire” it so that people with smartphones can easily find available spots – and reserve them – for a price.

  3. Let’s put a few facts into the mix. At every community meeting held on the Silver Line and Tysons redevelopment, one of the most offered comments was “We want parking ramps at the four rail stations.” “How are we supposed to use rail if we cannot get to it?” The response of “use EFC or WFC” simply made people more angry. Keep in mind that a scientific pool conducted by John Foust in connection with his 2007 run for supervisor (he lost in 2003) said if the rail line is not undergrounded in Tysons, we don’t want rail to come through Tysons.” Foust shared the poll with me.

    Permanent parking ramps were not included a part of the adopted Comp Plan because of the urban nature of Tysons. (I agreed with that.) But Foust and others included a resolution (no. 14) that was adopted with the Comp Plan and is, therefore, part of the Comp Plan. Resolution 14 directs the staff to find interim parking that can be operated until it becomes inconsistent with the development. Just like the lots in Arlington that operated until the parcel was being developed.

    Foust has been actively searching for lots. His efforts were a major contributor to the lot discussed in the Post article. The car haters are all over Foust, even though he has been working hard for transit, bike paths and sidewalks. The lefties have some ideologues too. Kudos for John Foust.

  4. re: ” Foust has been actively searching for lots. ”

    sounds like it’s not an integral part of the plan.

    I was doing Arlington to Wolftrap Park via mass transit for giggles and grins.

    1 hr 58 minutes ….

    15 minutes by auto.

    could not find out how many parking spaces there are at WolfTrap but the parking is said to be “free”.

    I realize that some things are accessible by transit but other things are not and even people who live in places like Arlington – do have cars and do drive and the Park Service built a facility that they knew would require parking for cars.

  5. no “concrete” reason… teeheeheehee

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