Sprawlsville Steps Back From the Edge

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, and
plan for 100,000 people. But that means more than build apartment
houses — Tysons is also utterly inhospitable to pedestrians.

Clark
Tyler, who chairs the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force, says there are
nine lanes of traffic near Tysons Corner Center, but the street lights
give pedestrians only 40 seconds to cross them. Sidewalks mysteriously
end.

So, what will the new Tysons be like? 

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

Buses
to get you from the rail stations to these stores — right now, that
sounds 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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