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Smart Growth

Sprawlsville Steps Back From the Edge

3:12 PM EST on December 12, 2008

Tysons_7.jpgA section of Tysons Corner slated for infill development. Image: Fairfax County/PB PlaceMaking [PDF]

Last week the Federal Transit Administration finally approved the Silver Line, a long-awaited addition to the capital region's transit system that will extend to suburbs in northern Virginia. There are still a few hoops to jump through to secure the necessary funding, but it looks like some relief is in sight for the area's crushing congestion.

Four of the line's stations are planned for Tysons Corner, a collection of malls and offices so unwalkable that traffic clogs streets when employees break for lunch. Only 17,000 people live there, but it provides 167,000 parking spaces for the hordes of commuters and shoppers who drive in on a daily basis. In this excellent NPR segment (listening to the audio is well worth the time), Robert Siegel looks at how Fairfax County officials are attempting to transform Tysons Corner into a more urban setting:

...a central part of the plan is to build residential housing, andplan for 100,000 people. But that means more than build apartmenthouses -- Tysons is also utterly inhospitable to pedestrians.

ClarkTyler, who chairs the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force, says there arenine lanes of traffic near Tysons Corner Center, but the street lightsgive pedestrians only 40 seconds to cross them. Sidewalks mysteriouslyend.

So, what will the new Tysons be like? 

"Hopefully it will have sidewalks that aren't hyphenated," Tylersays. "It will have a grid of streets, shorter blocks, it will have acirculation system, so the other thing that would be radical is whatthey call LEED certified -- or green buildings that are energy efficient -- and all the rest because that's what we've recommended."

Busesto get you from the rail stations to these stores -- right now, thatsounds like science fiction. It also sounds like a city.

Siegel's guide, Chris Leinberger of the Brookings Institution, sees Tysons Corner as a watershed of sorts, a model that other sprawling edge cities might follow. As the story makes clear, however, there are still plenty of misconceptions to dispel about density and smart growth:

Mayor Jane Seemans of the neighboring town of Vienna has some concerns about the Tysons plan. Will it increase her town's traffic, which is already congested? Will Vienna's schools and parks become overcrowded? "It's the impact that it will have on our quality of life in Vienna... We just want to make sure that we have a voice in the continuing development."

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