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Metro's Coming. Is Reston Ready?

Phase 1 of the Silver Line opens in less than a year. Is Reston ready for the extra traffic? If not, what should we do? RCA is on the case.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Hubbard January 30, 2013 at 09:39 PM
The bus routes imagined by the County are as Colin describes -- truncated versions of the existing routes. The County is holding a series of public meetings to discuss the proposed routes. Two meetings are scheduled in Reston on February 7 and 11. The proposed service is nothing to write home about -- 15 minute intervals during the rush hour and what appear to be overly circuitous routes through Reston. (The County's persistent stinginess prompts it to prefer long slow routes to multiple, direct routes that intersect.) Perhaps the most glaring omission in the planned routes is more service to the south of Reston. A great deal of the traffic that currently clogs Reston Parkway comes from outside Reston. Unless the Count becomes more ambitious and imaginative with the bus service, Restonians who choose to take the bus will find themselves stalled in car traffic caused by our neighbors to the south and west who have no access to buses.
Connie Hartke January 31, 2013 at 02:09 AM
My husband has to head into D.C. every other year to take D.C mandatory real estate CE classes (D.C.doesn't allow these online like Virginia does). I was thinking just last week how nice it will be when next time (2015) I can drop him at the metro on the South side of the toll road to head off to his classes. Then I read Colin's post and especially: ". . . 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!" Is there a link to Dick Rogers' "Wiehle Metro Station Access: Congestion Ahead" document?
Colin Mills January 31, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Thanks for the comment, Connie! Dick's paper hasn't been released yet; this is sort of a preview of coming attractions. But it will be released early next week, and when it is, I'll post a link back here.
Colin Mills January 31, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Thanks for the comment, Jim. I hope that everyone who is curious or concerned about the bus routes will attend one of the scheduled meetings Jim mentioned, on February 7th and 11th. The County needs to hear from us. RCA will have a representative at the meetings, and we will present our recommendations there.
Bob January 31, 2013 at 02:59 PM
Reston is not ready for the congestion ahead resulting from the Wiehle Station opening. Glad to see RCA is on top of it. Reston Association needs to take a formal stand as well.
Dave January 31, 2013 at 03:29 PM
I fear that the metro expansion will be viewed as one of the worst mistakes a region has endured. Subways work well in densely populated areas where people can easily and safely walk to and from the station. In our case, most people will be driving to and from the station, on roads that are already over capacity. The added traffic on wiehle, for example, which already backs up to lake anne on some mornings, will be unbearable to drive with the added traffic from people cutting through from sterling & points further out west. Also, I have heard they are eliminating express bus service to the pentagon and crystal city, thereby making a commute that was once 25-35 minutes, probably closer to 60+ minutes, and involving riding like a sardine through 4 tysons stops and then arlington and having to change trains.
Lilguy January 31, 2013 at 03:56 PM
What is really not understandable, no, it's unconscionable, is that that the County had good recommendations from the RMAG citizens advisory group--recommendations the Board accepted--for improving car, bike, and pedestrian access to Wiehle Station FIVE YEARS AGO! Yet, it appears that very few of those recommendations (and only the least expensive) MAY be operational when Wiehle Station opens. * No Soapstone extension for at least three years (now in the feasibility stage) * Less bus service to Wiehle after the station opens than is currently available for commuters to the Orange Line and Pentago/Crystal City area. * Maybe no paved walkways to the south side access of the Wiehle station--call if "a pedestrian bridge to nowhere" * Continuing dangerous pedestrian crossings on Wiehle from Sunrise Valley to at least Sunset Hills. * And more (or, more accurately, "less") And yet the County wants to permit HUGE increases in traffic-clogging density around Wiehle and the other Metrorail stations WITHOUT even the minimal transportation infrastructure in place. It's a disgrace! The Board of Supervisors should be ashamed (if that's possible)!
Colin Mills January 31, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Thanks, Bob! We feel it's important to raise awareness stand up for our citizens on this important issue. We have presented preliminary drafts of our paper to RA; I hope they will join us in taking a stand on this.
Colin Mills January 31, 2013 at 04:58 PM
Dave, you are correct that the current plan is to eliminate the Pentagon and Crystal City bus service. That said, the plan remains in flux, so that could change. I'll keep you and everyone posted if I hear further developments.
Colin Mills January 31, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Thanks for the comment, Lilguy. I was a member of the RMAG, and I thought the report that came out of that effort was a good one. It's a shame that the County has been so slow to act on its recommendations. We'd be in much better shape for Metro's arrival if RMAG's ideas had been implemented.
Gene January 31, 2013 at 05:48 PM
Some of us have seen the handwriting on the wall and what it is doing to our community. As the saying goes the train has left the station and there is nothing to do but get out of the way before it runs over you. After several years of particpating in all sorts of attempts to convince the county and others about the impact of this on our lives and that things needed to be done reduce that impact, development money and additonal county revenue have won. I'm moving, I'll miss the Reston I've known for 25 years but then it's not going to be that Reston anymore anyway. - Gene
Bob January 31, 2013 at 09:37 PM
The revised commuter bus routes under consideration by the County to serve the new Silver Line station at Wiehle are, as indicated, primarily truncated versions of the existing routes to West Falls Church. In addition, the County plans no change to the Reston internal bus service (RIBS) during non-peak periods. Currently, all RIBS routes travel circuitous routes through Town Center. Currently, a trip may take close to an hour to reach the area of Wiehle station. For example: Using current RIBS 3 weekday off-peak service: • LeaveLake Anne on North Shore Drive at about 10:10 a.m. • Arrive Town Center Transit Station 10:27 a.m. • Leave Town Center Transit Station 10:39 a.m. • Arrive in the vicinity of Wiehle Station 11:00 a.m. ….. at least a 50 minute trip just to get to the Metro. A rediculous situation to encourage mass transit during the off-peak.
Charlie February 01, 2013 at 03:49 PM
. . .and that is why I will be walking or biking to the station.
Michael Sanio February 01, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Colin, thank you for "framing" the opportunity, and challenges for Reston and Restonians on the opening of the Weile Metro Station later this year. I look forward to the comments and specific suggestions on how we Restonians can be effectively engaged at all levels to ensure Reston is the community in which we want to live, work and play.
Colin Mills February 01, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Thanks for the comment, Mike. I'm sure we'll be furnishing copies of the report to RA once it's ready, and I'll make sure you get one.
Bruce Wright February 05, 2013 at 08:50 PM
Like Charlie, I'll be walking or biking to the station as well. It doesn't sound like Dick Rogers looked at biking at all, at least it wasn't mentioned in Colin's summary. With bike lanes on Lawyers Road and Soapstone Dr (which were recommended in the RMAG report) and a trail along Sunrise Valley Dr, bike access to the stations will be relatively easy. There is definitely a need for better access from the south through the private office part. I don't know Dick's source, but I would be very surprised if the county has not approached the land owners on the south side of the station to discuss ped/bike access. There will be a short connecting walkway near the south escalator to the parking lot. While the parking lot is on private property I doubt that pedestrians and cyclists trying to reach the station will be stopped from doing so. On the north side, the Comstock-built garage will have racks for over 200 bicycles, many of which will be in a secure, card-accessed room. The W&OD Trail is nearby and will provide good access. There does need to be much better ped/bike access along Wiehle Ave, and the Sunset Hills/Wiehle Ave intersection is one of the worst in the county for pedestrians and bicyclists and needs to be fixed. Bike sharing could provide a good way to travel between the Wiehle station, Town Center and other locations. Restonians really should not be driving to the station. It's a relatively short bike ride from almost anywhere in Reston.
Colin Mills February 05, 2013 at 10:12 PM
Thanks for the comment, Bruce. Dick's paper does mention bike access; I didn't have space to mention it in my summary. One of his recommendations, in fact, is for RA's Pedestrian & Bike Advisory Committee to review the plans for pedestrian and bike access, and note any improvement projects that should be prioritized to improve ped/bike access. Dick's report also mentions specific ideas to improve access for walkers and bikers. According to Dick's source at Vornado, they have not been approached about allowing any kind of access through their property. I can't say whether they would actively try to stop pedestrians and bicyclists from crossing their property, though. Thanks for the opportunity to address a missing piece of my summary!
Colin Mills February 05, 2013 at 10:13 PM
For those of you who've been waiting to see Dick's Paper, it's now been published! You can read it here: http://reston2020.blogspot.com/2013/02/rca-white-paper-wiehle-metro-station.html
Gene February 06, 2013 at 10:16 AM
"Restonians really should not be driving to the station. It's a relatively short bike ride from almost anywhere in Reston" That comment is a narrow view, we have an aging poplation, people who don't even ride bicycles, many who cannot walk to the station due to physical reasons, those who have to dress for work in attire that is not compatible with riding a bicycle, and totally ignores inclement weather. Access to that metro station should consider local residents and local vicinity such as Herndon first or at least on an equal basis as those commting from Loudon. As it is not enough has been done to provide accesss for local residents and surrounding areas.
HarleyGirl February 06, 2013 at 12:09 PM
Hmmm...a 50 min. bus ride from Lake Anne to Wiehle Ave. (or walking/riding a bike in a business suit) followed by a 60+ min. Metro ride (not including transfers at Roslynn)...sounds very enticing for someone who works at Navy Yard. A 60 min. car ride sounds much more reasonable!
Gene February 06, 2013 at 05:00 PM
I'm also wondering why more accomodation has not been made for scooters I bought my GF one of those for getting around Reston, she uses it all the time even though there is never any accomodations for parking, so she ends up taking a whole car spot to park her little Genuine Buddy Scooter. The is some accomodation for that at Town Center, for my motorcycles as well but no where else I'm aware of in Reston. IMHO Scooters are a gerat way to get around Reston and more should be done to encourage their use.

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