I drove by the Wiehle Avenue Metro station on the Toll Road last weekend, and I’m impressed by how far it’s come. It almost looks as though it could open for business today. The station serves as a reminder that the Silver Line is coming, and is on track to debut before the year is out. It’s hard to believe that Metro is almost here in Reston. I know I’m excited!
As you’re driving near the station, though, you might wonder if we’re ready for the influx of traffic it will bring. The streets around the Wiehle station are already congested during rush hour, and with Wiehle slated to be the end of the line for several years, we can expect a lot more cars driving into Reston to park and ride. We know there’s going to be a parking garage there, and they’re constructing some bus access points from the Toll Road, but what else is being done? Are we really ready for Metro? If not, with the opening scheduled less than a year away, what can we do to get ready?
RCA’s Dick Rogers had these same questions. Rather than just wondering, he decided to find out. He did the research, interviewed key players, and put together a report, “Wiehle Metro Station Access: Congestion Ahead.” It’s the most focused attempt I’ve seen yet to study the transportation issues that the Silver Line will bring to Reston.
Dick’s report reveals that not enough has been done to allow Silver Line users to access the station easily, whether by foot, by car, or by bus. The report details problems that are likely to arise: clogged streets around the station, buses bogged down in traffic, and challenging access to the station from the south side in particular. Fortunately, Dick doesn’t just point out the problems; he also suggests solutions.
The biggest key to relieving congestion around the station is encouraging people to access the station by bus. More bus passengers means fewer cars on Reston’s roads. In order to achieve this, however, we’ll need to make bus travel as attractive as possible. If the routes or the frequency of buses are too incovenient, or if the buses are mired in traffic, or they’re not much cheaper than driving, it will be hard to convince people to get out of their cars.
Unfortunately, not much has been done so far to make the bus a more attractive option. The planning of Reston’s revised bus service seems to have taken a back seat to Tysons, and the routes and schedules are still in the planning stages. (To the degree that it has been thought out, the plan largely involves taking the existing Fairfax Connector routes and terminating them at Wiehle, rather than West Falls Church.) There are no designated bus lanes, which means that buses and autos will be stuck in the same traffic jams. And there’s no program to encourage the use of buses or carpools, rather than single-occupancy vehicles.
Dick’s report offers suggestions to make bus travel more attractive for Silver Line riders. The report recommends routing buses up Reston Parkway and using the Toll Road to access the station. To speed the trip, the report suggests converting the Toll Road’s shoulders between Reston Parkway and Wiehle into bus-only lanes. Combining these two suggestions would allow speedier bus service that bypasses the troublesome intersections where Wiehle meets Sunset Hills and Sunrise Valley, offering a real incentive for people not to drive to the station area. The report also suggests providing free bus service to the station from the Herndon-Monroe garage and Reston South Park and Ride, which would further ease the crush around the station.
To discourage single-occupant vehicles from parking at the Wiehle garage, the report suggests offering discounted rates for carpools of three or more at the garage. If this incentive is combined with fast, frequent, and cheap or free bus service, we might have a real shot at getting people to forsake driving to the station.
In order to maximize use of the buses, the routes must be well-planned. And who better to advise on the best routes through Reston than Restonians? Dick’s report recommends that RCA and RA form a joint subcommittee to look at the proposed bus routes and suggest improvements. The subcommittee should include current bus riders, so that we’re getting comments from people with first-hand knowledge, who can say what works and what doesn’t.
A lot of folks getting off at the Wiehle station will probably be headed to Reston’s urban core, the Town Center. So we need to make sure that Wiehle and the Town Center are connected by fast, convenient bus service. Currently, the County is not planning for a designated Wiehle-Town Center shuttle. The report recommends that the Reston Town Center Association review the propose bus service and comment on whether it is adequate. If people want to take the Silver Line to visit the Town Center, but are then faced with either a difficult walk or infrequent bus service, they’ll stick with their cars – or head to Tysons instead.
One of the things that struck me when reading the report was that Dick had made connections that County officials haven’t. For instance, the County has apparently planned for pedestrians (at least) to access the Wiehle station from the south via the Commerce Park property (where the Melting Pot used to be). But when Dick spoke to the property owners, he discovered that not only do they not plan to allow access through their property, but the County hasn’t even discussed it with them! I hope that at the least, our report will get some of the stakeholders having much-needed discussions.
Perhaps some of these conversations would already have occurred if there were a single person coordinating the Wiehle station area development effort. Like Reston itself, this project has an “alphabet soup” of involved agencies and entities, including MWAA, WMATA, the Park Authority, VDOT, Fairfax County, and private developers and landowners. Dick’s final suggestion is for Supervisor Hudgins to select a station coordinator, who can direct the effort, bring all the involved parties together for joint efforts, and serve as a point of contact for citizen concerns and questions. Having a designated point person would make it a lot easier to focus the effort, and to implement some of Dick’s other recommendations.
Thanks to Dick for his tremendous research and analytical effort in putting this paper together. Because of his work, Restonians will be a lot more aware of what lies ahead once the Silver Line begins operation. The paper should be released next week, and I hope you’ll all give it a look. We all want Metro to be a success; if we can implement the ideas in the report, we can keep our community from being derailed.