One of the hottest issues in Reston right now is the Wiehle Metro station and its impact on traffic on our streets. As you know, RCA has been out front on this issue. We prepared a paper highlighting the challenges we face in ensuring access to the station and made recommendations to help the situation. Our most important recommendations concerned the bus service. Getting people to the Wiehle station by bus is key to reducing congestion around the station and maximizing our investment in the Silver Line.
RCA is proud to speak up for the community, but we also want to give our citizens a chance to speak for themselves. With that in mind, we arranged a community forum on Monday night, at which Fairfax County Department of Transportation staffers presented their plans for Fairfax Connector bus service in Reston once the station opens, and heard the community’s comments on how the plan could be made better. For those of you who couldn’t make it, I’ll tell you what happened.
FCDOT has already held two community meetings in Reston to talk about the bus service. But I heard concerns from some at those meetings that too little time was spent discussing the plans for Reston, so we asked for a Reston-focused presentation. Community interest in the subject remains high; about 40 people showed up to our meeting to listen and to be heard.
Supervisor Hudgins was one of those in attendance, and she began the meeting with a few remarks. She thanked the transit staff for their work and for holding numerous meetings. Then she thanked RCA for our report on the Wiehle access issues, and mentioned that her office was preparing a formal response, which I look forward to receiving. She then provided a brief history of changes to Reston’s Master Plan to prepare for the coming of Metro, beginning over a decade ago.
She said there is a clear need to make the station areas more walkable, and acknowledged that the needed improvements are “not all in place.” She stressed that there will be challenges during the 5 years that Reston is at the end of the Silver Line. Her goal is to get as many heading to the Wiehle Station out of their cars as possible. She said that Reston welcomes transit and always has – our community started that way, continues that way today, and Supervisor Hudgins wants it that way in the future.
Her acknowledgement of the challenges seems to be a shift from her prior statements that traffic won’t be any worse after the station opens than it is now. RCA welcomes the evolution in her thinking. And I appreciate that she came to our “house” to discuss our report and acknowledge the work yet to be done.
We then turned the presentation over to the County staff, who provided an overview of the service changes, with a special focus on what’s coming to Reston. Senior planner Paul Mounier, who led the presentation, noted that he enjoys coming to Reston, because we’re always interested in more bus service, whereas some other communities aren’t sure they want it at all.
The route changes should be familiar to those who have attended prior presentations: Most of Reston’s routes will be similar to what we already have, only the routes that currently go to West Falls Church will terminate at Wiehle instead. There will be frequent service between Reston Town Center and the station; they are aiming for 10-minute headways during peak periods. The new routes will provide service to Franklin Farms and Dulles Discovery, which had previously been unserved. There will be a new circulator bus running along Sunrise Valley and Sunset Hills designed to ferry people along the Toll Road corridor to the station. For a more detailed view of the proposed changes, you can check out the County’s website.
The floor was then opened up for comments, and our citizens had plenty to say. One citizen noted that the proposed local service through Reston (Route 551, 553, and 557) cuts off too early in the evening, which makes it hard for commuters who might have to work late. The transit folks said they heard the concern and would address it. Other riders protested the proposed canceling of the 595 and 597, which currently connect Reston to the Pentagon and Crystal City. The staff explained that those routes are expensive to maintain, and the Metro now will connect Reston with those areas. However, they said they’d continue to consider it.
Several comments reflected RCA’s recommendations in our Wiehle station report. Several commenters noted the issues regarding access to the station from the south, and asked if the buses could drop people near the south-side escalators. The County staff said they wish they could, but there are no drop-off spots to the south now except for the bus bays coming off the Toll Road. Another commenter asked how the buses will maintain the promised headways if they’re sitting in gridlock around the station. Paul Mounier noted that they were building extra recovery time into each route – 20 to 25% more than normal – so that the buses can encounter congestion and still meet their schedules.
The County staff also mentioned some neat technological advances that could help commuters. They are testing an intelligent transportation system, which would allow the extension of green lights at an intersection when a bus is approaching. (This is similar to the technology used by emergency vehicles, although the buses won’t be able to turn red lights green.) FCDOT is also hoping to work with Google Maps or other apps to provide route and schedule information to your smartphone. The data is in place, the staff says; they need to work out some agreements.
All in all, it was a great session, and a great opportunity for Restonians to learn what’s coming and to make suggestions for improvement. RCA isn’t done yet, either; our Reston 20/20 Committee is preparing a report with specific suggestions on the bus service, which should be public in the next couple of weeks. The Silver Line and access to the station present complex challenges, and it’s important to get them right. RCA is on the case, and we’re going to keep working for our citizens and make sure that we reach the right solutions for Reston.
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For the many of you who would like to attend RCA’s Citizen of the Year ceremony honoring our 2012 winner, Cate Fulkerson, mark your calendars! The ceremony is set for Thursday, March 7th at 7:30 PM at the Community Room at RCC Hunters Woods. Hope to see you there!