Effective public transportation systems not only move people, but also generate commercial development and neighborhood reinvigoration.
Arlington County realized this when it supported Metro’s Orange Line going through the center of the county, resulting in significant commercial growth that sustains a low tax rate, many redeveloped commercial zones and the creation, preservation and rebirth of communities. Falls Church, on the other hand is not “on” the rail line and as a result has much less business activity, underdeveloped commercial areas and a higher tax rate.
We now have the greatest opportunity since Metrorail was built, to realize the benefits of a significant new public transportation investment. That is the Route 7 light rail proposal that would go through the City of Falls Church and connect it with Tysons Corner and Seven Corners. The future of our community may rest on our success in making this proposal a reality.
A light rail system will bring many advantages to Falls Church. Of course, the economics and business development potential alone strongly support it. But recent advances in technology mean it would create a new, attractive, environmentally positive and right-sized transportation option for Falls Church diners, shoppers, visitors, workers and residents. Anyone who has recently traveled to the cities throughout the world with modern light rail systems will understand how the current generation of this evolving technology provides for small, nimble vehicles that mix well with pedestrians and cars, and that run between stations that are part of the existing sidewalks.
And, the much dreaded overhead wires will be a thing of the past, as advancing technology renders them obsolete.
A light rail system will bring many advantages to Falls Church. Of course, the economics and business development potential alone strongly support it.
For well over a generation, the City of Falls Church has struggled with the desire to balance our tax base by expanding commercial development to realize the potential of our location.
The recent exceptions are notable, including BJs, the Pearson Square office building, and the Flower Building, but as a rule our Little City is a magnet for people who want to live here, but less so for those who want to work here or shop here, or more particularly those who would invest millions in the redevelopment of our commercial property, which amazingly is valued lower than our residential land.
Across our political spectrum, there is broad agreement on strategic goals, especially maintaining our world-class public schools and our municipal services, but unresolved debate over means and tactics to reduce the burden on residential taxpayers. The result of our largely single-minded focus on education and quality of residential life across several decades has been a steady increase in residential property values past $2 billion, without moving the needle at all in the direction of a sustainable increase in the relative value of our commercial properties.
The experience of places that have implemented streetcars is that the yield of tax dollars generated by increased property values and increased economic activity far exceeds the public investment.
The fundamental truth is that successful development of vibrant public spaces requires people, and streetcars offer a win-win proposition by increasing foot traffic, reducing vehicle traffic, and generating revenue by growing property values and increasing trade.
David Snyder is the Vice Mayor of the City of Falls Church and he is the City’s representative on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.