There may be hope for Tysons Corner yet, and this can only be good for all the communities surrounding it. Kudos are in order for the “Smart Growth” people working overtime to sway public opinion in the direction of a pedestrian-friendly, diverse-use model with lots of green space, cultural amenities and tall buildings full of residents and offices. They’re convincing when they argue that it doesn’t really matter if the Metro rail goes above or below ground, at least from the standpoint of crafting Tysons Corner in the manner of an old-fashioned downtown with lots of people walking around, lots of parks and things to do. An over-ground rail, they’ve shown, need not doom the area to ugly concrete and barriers to integration. If done right, woven into the fabric of buildings, roads and open space, its stations can become vital centers of activity and beneath its path a unifying open space can thrive.
Critical to “smart growth” thinking is the notion that a multitude of activities should be done in close proximity, thereby reversing the trend of more miles driven in single-occupancy automobiles. If public transit, bicycles, Segues and hoofin’ it can effectively substitute for jumping into the SUV a dozen times a day for a variety of errands and trips, then all sorts of good things are derived. Foremost of importance to communities adjacent Tysons Corner, such as Falls Church, is the impact of such transitions on road traffic. That is to say, the amazing congestion on the major corridors passing in and through Tysons, such as Falls Church’s Route 7 (Broad Street) will be alleviated.
Every time a new development project is proposed for the City of Falls Church, someone complains that it will only worsen the already bad traffic on Route 7. But the data shows that any single project, no matter how seemingly large in Falls Church, will contribute not even a drop in the bucket to the overall volume of traffic on that corridor. The vast majority of that traffic is one way or the other connected to Tysons Corner which, after all, as a “downtown” already rivals many of the largest cities in the U.S. So, citizens of Falls Church have a lot at stake in the effort to re-design Tysons away from the need for the auto.
Of course, there is the obvious fact that, as rising gas prices remind us, there is a national security component to the need to limit the growth in auto use. Beyond that even, and beyond road traffic and air quality factors, is the opportunity that pushing for non-auto alternatives creates for opening up surface parking spaces, those ugly, hot, impervious and uncreative eyesores that seem so necessary in our current cultural transportation paradigm. With less demand for parking and more demand for putting a lot of options within a tighter distance, trading higher density (taller buildings) to pay for the undergrounding of parking, thereby opening surface parking space for parks and a variety of public uses, is an ideal solution.