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Posted at 2:13 PM ET, 06/22/2010

Today is the day we fix Tysons Corner

By Dan Malouff

The maddening thing about Tysons Corner is that it isn't dense enough.

Really.

There's a minimum density threshold that communities have to reach to make walking and transit viable alternatives to driving. Tysons isn't there yet. It has about one-fourth the density of downtown Washington but traffic is dramatically worse. Buildings in Tysons are too far apart, and land uses too separated. As a result, everybody drives.

But with some 100,000 workers trying to commute via Routes 7 and 123, the roads are jammed, and people are frustrated.

Tysons occupies a density no-man's land that doesn't work for anybody. Too dense to drive efficiently, not dense enough to walk or take transit. It's broken, and it has to be fixed.

There are two potential strategies that Fairfax County could follow.

Plan A: Fairfax County could try to make Tysons fit the old drive-everywhere model. To do so, it would have to adopt a plan for a dramatically smaller Tysons. It would have to use billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to condemn and buy out hundreds of properties, then demolish the buildings on them, reducing the square footage of development. Of course, all those buildings and all their jobs wouldn't go away; they'd merely relocate to other parts of the region. But they wouldn't be in Tysons Corner. Tysons Corner could be emptied of people and returned to nature. Doing so would utterly bankrupt Fairfax County (and, oh yeah, we'd have to return the money being used for the Silver Line, which would cease construction), but it could theoretically be done.

We'll call that the "Not in My Back Yard Plan."

Then there's Plan B, in which the strategy for getting Tysons out of its density no-man's land is to raise the density enough so that it can function like an actual city. Invest in new infrastructure and plan for a new downtown of walkable, transit-accessible buildings. Follow the successful model of neighboring jurisdictions and grow in a manner that makes not driving so easy people choose to stay out of their cars. And, oh yeah, by focusing as much development as possible in Tysons, the demand for development everywhere else in the region is diminished. Woodbridge and Reston don't find themselves entering their own density no-man's lands because growth that might go there goes to Tysons instead.

So Tysons gets better, and, at the same time, it saves the rest of Northern Virginia from ever-worsening congestion.

We'll call that one the "Attainable in the Real World Plan," or maybe the "Everybody Wins Plan." It's the plan that people who are serious about actually solving our problems (as opposed to merely shifting them to someone else) support. It's the plan that Fairfax County has been sensibly advancing, and which the County Board of Supervisors will hopefully approve tonight.

If approved, this Tysons Corner plan will be remembered by future generations as a moment when local leaders stepped up and made hard decisions that benefited everyone. If, on the other hand, the county allows the status quo of ineffectiveness and frustration to continue, we'll know whom to blame. And we'll still be stuck in traffic.

Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at BeyondDC.com. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Dan Malouff  | June 22, 2010; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Tysons Corner, Virginia, development, parks, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

Realistically, Tysons may never function well. Trying to retrofit an automobile-centered area has been done before, but not on this scale. Tysons is huge.
Furthermore, it will require people to commute from their homes elsewhere. Mass transit cannot replace the cars streaming there every day, in part because Tysons isn't a transit hub and probably never will be.

Posted by: krickey7 | June 22, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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