By Kelley Coyner
Each day thousands travel on the nation’s oldest thoroughfare. That will increase as the number of jobs and residents along Route 7 grows by more than a third over the next 25 years. What form of transit – light rail, bus rapid transit or enhanced standard bus service – will best serve the people and businesses along the corridor? At a recent public meeting in Falls Church, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission shared information about the benefits and costs of these three types of transit, as well as the possible alignments, or routes, for each. The input we received there as well as comments from our upcoming meeting near Bailey’s Crossroads will help identify new transit service that will reduce travel time and move more people through the corridor.
Where Will New Transit Run?
Known as Broad Street in Falls Church, Route 7 connects the city with Tysons and Alexandria, the communities where proposed transit service will begin and end. New transit will primarily run along Route 7, but there are a few alignment options – including one in Falls Church – that would take the service onto other roads in part to connect new service with Metrorail. Linking new transit to the East Falls Church Metrorail Station would necessitate a short deviation from Broad Street. While transit service is slated to start at the Spring Hill Metrorail Station in Tysons, there are three possible end points in Alexandria – Mark Center or the King Street or Van Dorn Street Metrorail stations.
How Much Faster Will It Be?
Among the goals of Envision Route 7 is to provide a more reliable and faster trip for more people along the 14-mile corridor. Estimates show that bus rapid transit and light rail would cut travel time in half. Both types of transit make the bulk of their trips in a dedicated lane. Limited station stops, multiple doors for boarding and off-board fare collection also help expedite the trip. The differences lie in capacity and locomotion. Light rail vehicles carry 200 people, operate on steel tracks and rely on overhead electric wires for power. Bus rapid transit vehicles hold 120 people, run on traditional roads and use engine technology.
How Many More People Will Travel on Route 7?
The reduced travel time and improved reliability will increase the number of daily passengers travelling exclusively in the corridor by nearly 6,500 for bus rapid transit and 6,300 for light rail. Roughly a third of those new transit riders will be commuters. The other two-thirds will take transit to shop, go to school, attend medical appointments, and get to entertainment and recreation venues. When you add in trips that begin or end outside the corridor, the estimated number of new riders rises to 8,600 for bus and 9,600 for rail.
How Has the Corridor Evolved?
One of the nation’s oldest and most historic thoroughfares, Route 7 began as a buffalo trail connecting the Potomac River in present-day Old Town Alexandria to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Leesburg. It was called the Great Eastern Ridge Road by the Necostin Indians until they abandoned it in the late 1670s to traders, colonists and early postal carriers. Tolls were levied along the road beginning in 1785 to pay for maintenance. Route 7 was the site of President Lincoln’s 1861 review of 50,000 Union troops at the Falls Church Church. It also was part of the original plan for Metrorail. A station was to be constructed where Skyline sits today.
Yet another transformation of Route 7 is underway – development in Tysons is a harbinger of the growth to come – and that presents us with an opportunity to shape the corridor’s future. Should it remain largely as it is? Or, should it evolve into a multimodal transportation corridor – one that would include high-capacity transit?
What Do You Think About Transportation on Route 7?
I invite you to drop in to Glen Forest Elementary School (5829 Glen Forest Drive, Falls Church) in the ground floor cafeteria on Wed., November 18 from 7 – 9 p.m. The Envision Route 7 team will share information about new transportation options, projected ridership, and cost. Most importantly, we will answer your questions about how to best serve riders and businesses in the corridor.
Your suggestions, combined with our analysis and a review of funding options, will be the basis for a recommendation on the type of transit for the Route 7 corridor. If you cannot make the meetings, you can provide your feedback at the CrowdSource map on our website (www.EnvisionRoute7.com). You also can follow us on Twitter (@EnvisionRoute7) or friend us on Facebook (Envision Route 7). And, our phone line (877-RT7-STUDY) takes comments around the clock.
Kelley Coyner is the executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.