The much-anticipated first phase of the new Metro Silver Line, extending public transit service from Falls Church to Reston, enjoyed a grand opening with tons of dignitaries and a few small souvenirs on Saturday, and was flawless in its run through its first business commuter day Monday.
Falls Church’s Mayor David Tarter and City Council members Phil Duncan, Marybeth Connelly and Karen Oliver joined other dignitaries from the region, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, on board for the line’s maiden voyage Saturday.
Smooth as silk, the train took eight minutes from the East Falls Church Metro station to get to the new McLean station at the west end of Tysons Corner, then it was only a minute to the Tysons Corner stop proper, and a minute and a half to get to the Greensboro stop, and yet another 90 seconds to get to the Spring Hill stop at the north end of Tysons. Then it was a 10 minute ride to make it out to Reston for the Wiehle Road stop, the current end of the line so far.
Already under construction is the extension of the line to Dulles Airport, which is now the only large U.S. airport without access by public mass transit.
Last weekend’s kick-off of the Silver Line, which also runs east of Falls Church through D.C. to Largo, Maryland, came many years ahead of original plans.
The system was a huge beneficiary of the economic stimulus that President Obama launched when he first took office in 2009 with the economy mired in the Great Recession. Original plans had the system opening this first phase another 10 years off.
For the City of Falls Church, in addition to expanded transit options for its citizens, the main benefit of the line is that it has the potential to bring many thousands of new riders to Falls Church from points west. The vast populations that are and will fill in the region from Loudoun County to Tysons Corner that jump on the Silver Line will have the option of debarking at the East Falls Church Metro station right into the lap of Falls Church.
Good, aggressive marketing will be required to take advantage of that.
Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, who has been the City’s point man on regional transportation issues dating to the 1990s, said of this weekend’s momentous occasion, “Falls Church City officials have long supported public transportation options and the Silver Line, so we are pleased that it is open. For example, we have chaired and participated in regional transportation groups that planned and advocated for the Silver Line over many years. We expect it will bring more people to our immediate area. Our City’s challenge now is how to much better link the East Falls Church Metro station with our business, historic and cultural resources.”
While the focus for the City of Falls Church will be on the other station bearing its name, West Falls Church, because of the City’s new commercially-developable land it acquired earlier this year in the swap with Fairfax County for its water system, the benefits of the Silver Line stopping at East Falls Church requires only a good imagination and planning to be another bonanza for the City.
The East Falls Church station will also be a transfer station, increasing its importance on the Metro system. Both the Silver Line and the existing Orange Line will stop there, which means that more people than usual will be looking to change lines or otherwise capitalize on the options of that stop.
While Arlington County has cooked up some ideas and held some hearings on how to redevelop the property around East Falls Church, the approach has been slow at best. So far, the ideas have left the station with even less parking than it has now, and neighbors to the site have plenty of ideas of their own about what they will or will not favor there.
From the City of Falls Church’s standpoint, however, the matter is more a combination of marketing to and shuttling potential customers from the site about a half-mile to the State Theatre and the City’s many fine restaurants.
For as long as the East and West Falls Church stations have been operational – they came on line in 1988 when the Metro system extended the Orange Line from Ballston to Vienna – local City leaders have been talking about how some kind of auxiliary shuttle system could make it easier for both commuters and customers to come from the stations into the City’s center.
The opportunity provided by a federal grant to launch “George,” a hyper-local intra-city bus line in more than a decade ago, failed and was shut down because, many believe, too many neighborhood interests in Falls Church skewed its purpose making it useful to far too few people.
The cost of operating the system, compared to its ridership, meant that each ride cost more than a taxi ride, and no significant use as a shuttle from the Metro station to downtown accrued because the rides took too long, meandering through residential areas, to be efficient.
Most now agree that a shuttle now would circle between downtown and one or the other Metro stations, and operate late enough to service customers availing themselves of the City’s nightlife, such as it is.
But don’t get some locals started on how the two “Falls Church” Metro stations wound up being outside the City, to begin with.
The original plan was to run the Orange Line right down the W&OD Trail, which means right through the center of Falls Church. The plan was to have a stop right where the W&OD Trail crosses W. Broad Street.
That would have enabled the City to develop the area around that stop much as Arlington has developed around all of its sites, and the tax revenues that would issue from that would have been potentially mind-boggling.
But those who preferred the City remain a sleepy village, and were wealthy enough not to care about taxes, were out in force creating ugly scenarios about how the Metro line would bring inner city crime from D.C. right into the lap of Falls Church.
It was the success of that scare campaign that led to redrawing the route of the Orange Line with stations as far removed from the City as they are today.
The Silver Line’s initiation last weekend marks the first extension of the Metro system in this area since the Orange Line was extended from Ballston to Vienna, with two Falls Church stops in between, in 1988.