From its beginning, Falls Church has been characterized as a hub of transportation infrastructure, starting with the original church and a few houses “on the road to the falls.” In succeeding years, additional features have been added to this network, including the tollgate, paved Routes 7 and 28, railroads and electric railroads and, more recently, Metro, I-66, the W&OD Trail and Bikeshare.
Every transportation era has left its mark on the City, and each one produces challenges and opportunities as well as sometimes difficult-to-reconcile priorities. One recent example of such a conundrum is our current desire to make Falls Church more walkable and bikeable while ensuring that our businesses have sufficient parking because driving is often how their customers reach them, and that we effectively address the unwanted cut-through traffic now ever-present on our streets.
In recent years, funds for transportation have become more available, largely due to the state legislature allowing Northern Virginia to tax itself. For our City, these additional resources have meant the arrival of Bikeshare, the restoration of 3T Metrobus service, and key intersection improvements, including the $15 million Route 7/Haycock Road intersection transformation to better serve the public and the hoped for commercial development on the George Mason High School site. Still in the planning stage is the light rail project from Alexandria to Tysons Corner with stops in the City and at the East and West Falls Church Metro Stations.
With this funding in place, there are several additional opportunities for creative thinking. For example, might we support interest in using the 3T Metrobus route to pilot test new, safe technology? And can highway monies be used systematically to further improvements in mass transportation and lessen the need for single-occupancy vehicles?
Falls Church is represented on two critical transportation bodies — the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) — where there may be additional opportunities for the City. NVTC has greatly expanded its mission in recent years. In addition, legislation passed during the last Virginia General Assembly session that provides dedicated funding for Metro also gives NVTC more responsibility related to Metro’s oversight. Meanwhile, NVTA allocates the lion’s share of the billions of dollars, including regional transportation funds, and is responsible for long-term, multi-modal planning.
At West Falls Church, we have a particular challenge to coordinate Metro’s development plans, the aspirations of the universities at the Northern Virginia Graduate Center, and our own very significant project involving the new high school and significant economic development so that we ultimately achieve a win/win versus a win/lose outcome for this City and its potential partners.
Further, with the U.S. government increasingly retreating from air quality improvements, the transportation sector in our region will have to absorb more limitations to meet the current air quality standards we support.
Team Falls Church
Our City has fared fairly well in the new funding environment, due to an effective team of City Council, staff, and citizen activists. The work of this team has been critical to the generation of good ideas and their translation to specifics and advocacy with our representatives ensure their fulfillment. This teamwork is in addition to the “day jobs” of several people who maintain our City government and negotiate and approve a number of Falls Church’s major development projects.
We need more citizens serving on City boards and individually to help Team Falls Church identify transportation priorities and engage in the creative thinking from which we all benefit. We have already seen innovative concepts from the Environmental Sustainability Council and the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation, and deeply appreciate their efforts.
As the saying goes, “nothing good happens by accident.” That is true of the City’s engagement in, and success relative to, recent transportation developments. But the job is far from done. It takes all of us to successfully plan and implement transportation infrastructure that will serve us well today and into the future.
David F. Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council and the City’s representative on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.