By Stewart Schwartz
Fairfax County is at a literal crossroads. Its disconnected suburban pattern of development is contributing to increasing traffic congestion, frustrating residents and potentially chasing off new companies and a younger generation, and even long-time residents. A new generation of workers and companies are looking for more urban, walkable communities.
Meanwhile, not enough new housing is being built close to jobs and transit, and not enough of it is affordable, particularly for younger people and those earning less than 60 percent of the area median income. Anecdotally we also encounter many empty nesters who can’t find a good place to downsize within Fairfax, prompting them to consider moving out of the area.
It’s not that Fairfax hasn’t taken steps to address its challenges. The county has planned and approved transit-oriented development in Tysons, Reston, Dunn Loring/Merrifield, and Vienna, with more hoped for along Richmond Highway, and in Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners and Springfield. It will soon approve an extra $5 million for its housing trust fund and is working on its housing strategies. The Embark Richmond Highway plan is to be connected by a bus rapid transit line running in dedicated lanes.
But we believe Fairfax must move more quickly toward a more sustainable, equitable and livable future if the county is to remain economically competitive, deal with its traffic congestion and housing affordability problems, and do its part to fight climate change. We are particularly frustrated by the continued focus on widening roads in a proven ineffective effort to address traffic congestion, even in areas where the county says it wants to create walkable, transit-oriented places. Examples include Route 7 and 123 in Tysons, Route 1, and Gallows and Route 29 in Merrifield. Simply put, you can’t build your way out of congestion.
The best approach is to create places that reduce the amount that each of us have to drive – as Arlington, Alexandria, and DC have done. In effect, learning the lessons from our history – from historic towns like Falls Church and Old Town Alexandria. Create a walking-friendly street network, bring jobs and homes and daily needs closer together. Add transit.
This is an election year and an opportunity to elect leaders — whether incumbents or newcomers — who will address Fairfax’s challenges. That’s why the Coalition for Smarter Growth and nine other partner groups recently released a platform that we are sharing with all candidates for County Board and the General Assembly from Fairfax. Here are its main points:
• Providing housing opportunities for people of all incomes, ages, and stages of life in every district in the county, investing in improving affordable housing and access to opportunity in communities where there are concentrations of poverty, and fostering greater racial and economic integration in single-family, low-poverty neighborhoods.
• Ensuring transit, walking, bicycling and other modes of active transportation are well-funded, safe, convenient and accessible for people of all ages, giving residents more choices and reducing traffic congestion.
• Creating vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income transit-oriented communities which provide a range of housing choices and employment opportunities, while reducing vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled.
• Fighting climate change by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, transportation and other sources.
• Restoring watersheds to ensure clean drinking water and healthier ecosystems.
• Expanding parks and trail networks.
• Ensuring access for all to affordable health care and healthy local food.
• Taking specific steps to realize its One Fairfaxcommitment to racial and social equity, community involvement, and the 17 goals laid out in the One Fairfax policy.
A sustainable, inclusive, healthy, competitive, and fiscally sustainable future for Fairfax requires a fundamental shift in land use, transportation, housing and energy policies toward walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income, and transit-oriented and green energy communities, and the full engagement of the community in achieving this future.
The groups who signed the platform are: Coalition for Smarter Growth, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, Audubon Naturalist Society, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, Friends of Accotink Creek, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Potomac Conservancy, Friends of Dyke Marsh, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, and a recent addition – Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action.
We don’t endorse or work for candidates because of our tax status, but we hope that Fairfax residents will speak to all candidates to see if they will commit to adopting smart growth, sustainable transportation, affordable housing and social equity policies, funding, and programs that will secure a brighter future for Fairfax County.
Stewart Schwartz is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth