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Tysons Re-Design Called

 

More Public Input On Plans Sought At July Meetings

With the extension of a new Metro rail “Silver Line” from the East Falls Church station through Tysons Corner, and the construction of four new stations there, citizens and Fairfax County officials have an opportunity to re-design the layout of the 1,400 acre area to make it more diverse and user, including pedestrian, friendly.

“This one of the most exciting opportunities of its kind in the entire U.S.,” Arlington-based architect Michael Foster told a gathering of 100 citizens at a forum sponsored by the Coalition for Smarter Growth held at Falls Church’s George Mason High School Tuesday.

Foster noted that the current magnitude of Tysons’ office and retail development makes it already “the kind of center that could support a professional sports franchise,” but the conditions are now ripe to transform it from “an office park on steroids” to the kind of urban center where increased pedestrian activity, thousands of new residences and a wide range of services can all be subsumed by planned, attractive quality design.

“The focus on whether the rail line should be above or below ground is a distraction from the real issues attending this historic opportunity to impact overall regional design,” he said.

Above-ground rail need not be a deterrent to this, he went on, citing downtown Portland, Oregon, and plans for Columbia Pike in Arlington as cases where it becomes an “orienting tool” and integrated with buildings and roadways. “The train stations of tomorrow are streets and buildings,” he said.

The Tysons Land Use Task Force, a 36-member board established two years ago to begin the planning process, has, to date, been focused on gathering data, a spokesman told the meeting Tuesday. It will be looking for more public input at three public workshops in July before beginning to make some important decisions.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Tuesday’s heavily-attended forum and others his group has sponsored are aimed at creating a more informed public, better equipped to assess design proposals that come forward.

John Thomas, from the federal Environment Protection Agency’s Office of Policy Economies and Innovations, told the forum that a re-design of Tysons will necessarily involve “trade-offs” between the need to move traditional vehicle traffic and to improve “walkability” and accessibility through greater use of “grid” roadway design.

He cited statistics showing that when the vehicle speed limit is 20 miles per hour, the survival rate of vehicle-pedestrian accidents is 90 percent. But when the limit is 30 miles per hour, the survival rate dips to 55%, and when it is 40 miles per hour, it is only 15%.

Therefore, there has to be a trade-off, he said, between the movement and speed of traffic and pedestrian safety. He suggested “curb bump-outs” and “median space pedestrian refuges” as ways to do that.

Another key, he said, that also impacts the environment and national energy policy, has to do with design strategies to reduce the number of road trips taken per day through packaging a diversity of activities, accessibility and better urban design into small spaces.

“We need to think of what policies will increase transit use, walking and biking” instead of single-passenger vehicle use, he said. “We have to decide what the community benefits are that we’re trying to achieve. What do we have to do to make the errands of life walkable?”

He noted that in the event of an elevated rail through Tysons the area below it “could double as a greenway” to tie together the entire region.

Foster said a key is to “turn negative space,” like surface parking areas, “into opportunity space.” He said that density, as in tall buildings, is “not a bad thing because it connects people.”

But density by itself does not bring an area to life, he added. It has to be centered on people, their lives and culture. Taken together with smart use of urban design techniques, such as road grids, it works.

He stressed that eliminating inefficient surface parking areas is also key, saying that density is used to pay for putting parking underground. “Density is a commodity, but it has to be exchanged carefully for underground parking and green space,” he said.

The schedule of public workshops in July is as follows:

** Monday, July 16, Vienna Elementary School cafeteria, 128 Center Street South, Vienna, 7 p.m.

** Tuesday, July 17, Spring Hill Elementary School cafeteria, 8201 Lewinsville Rd., McLean, 7 p.m.

** Wednesday, July 18, Marshall High School cafeteria, 7731 Leesburg Pike, 7 p.m.