Since the beginning, the area we now know as Falls Church has been a transportation corridor, including Braddock’s French and Indian War Expedition, a rolling road for tobacco shipments, troop movements during the Civil War, the railroad, street cars, Metro, bike path and, since the 1950s, domination by cars with recent efforts to reduce that dominance. So it is fitting that your elected officials and city staff spend a lot of time on transportation issues trying to provide multiple ways for our citizens to get around and others to get in and out of the city safely and reliably.
We realize that transportation is critical to our daily lives and for economic activity that supports the City. Transportation systems and infrastructure can serve to move us well, or poorly. And transportation systems can degrade or improve environmental quality and sustainability.
It is also clear that no one approach will address the complex transportation challenges and needs we face now and in the future. Here are just some of these transportation issues and our actions.
After years of decline, Metro’s operations are improving and the Metro Board and management are more responsive and accountable to the public. And surprisingly, there is a real possibility of D.C., Maryland and Virginia funding the $500 million per year needed to address the capital issues. Without this funding, Northern Virginia localities would either have to refuse to contribute more or face new budget allocations, in our case an additional 2.5 cents on our tax rate. Working directly and through regional boards, the City has been active in advocating for more regional and state funding. The two options on the table at the General Assembly — the conference bill and the governor’s amendments — would remove most of the additional burden from our budget and provide the $154 Virginia capital share. Regrettably, almost all of the money comes from Northern Virginia, so again the state dodges its collective responsibility to us while enjoying the taxes we pay to support the rest of the state. Due to the House passing over the governor’s amendments, the conference bill will likely be signed into law.
The Alexandria-Falls Church-Tyson’s Corner Route 7 light rail project continues to advance, although slowly. This will be a tremendously important new transit line in Northern Virginia. But it must also fit in to the City’s situation where a totally dedicated lane is not feasible.
Falls Church is also pursuing significant new funding for transportation improvements near the proposed development at the George Mason High School campus and the extension of Metro bus service to better link us to the Metro stations. Funding for these initiatives is now before regional bodies for consideration.
This week, a regional body on which we serve has approved funding to create a parallel walking path to the W&OD bike path, so as to address safety issues between the different users.
We are also active with regional environmental bodies to measure and protect environmental quality as it is affected by transportation. In our region, the transportation sector is critically important so we have supported actions to protect air quality rules applicable to transportation.
A number of roadway improvements are ongoing, including the Roosevelt Street work. We are also moving forward on the S. Maple Ave. transit hub. And neighborhood street calming projects are continuing. Bus shelters are being added and we are planning for bikeshare installations in the near future. Sidewalk and other strictly local work is also ongoing, with more to come. So, while we actively participate in all regional bodies for regional solutions to regional problems, we never forget the importance of strictly local improvements.
In addition to this present work, the City will need to grapple with future changes that are possible with major technology driven developments, such as the advent of autonomous vehicles. Under some scenarios, congestion will increase, while under others it will decrease. Under some scenarios, safety and reliability will improve while under other scenarios, the opposite will occur. So, we will need to coordinate with local jurisdictions, the private sector and our state and federal partners to manage, and not be managed by, the implementation of new technologies such as drones and driverless cars and new business models, such as Uber.
Several of our citizen groups are already working together on consideration of a self-driving shuttle. This is a good beginning to what will need to be a sustained community-wide effort.
One thing is clear, it will take strong and ongoing citizen, elected official and City staff commitment to produce the best future for us. Then, as now and before, transportation will be a key part of our daily lives, for good or ill. Accordingly, we are doing everything we can to make transportation effectively serve our needs of today and our needs and desires for the future.
David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.