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Silver Line Celebrates Its First Birthday With Mediocre Ridership Numbers

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On the first anniversary of Metro's Silver Line, ridership is below expectations.
Sam Howells/WAMU
On the first anniversary of Metro's Silver Line, ridership is below expectations.

One year after opening with five station stops in Fairfax County, the Silver Line was feted at a news conference in Tysons Corner — home to four of the stations — on Monday.

A towering cake was cut to celebrate the Silver Line's first birthday. New high-rise office and residential buildings could be seen across the landscape. A traffic consultant reported fewer cars clogging Tysons' intersections. And elected officials, business leaders, and Metro's interim general manager took turns thanking one another for supporting a project that took decades to be realized.

But not all the news was worth cheering. Ridership is below expectations. The five new Silver Line stations averaged 17,088 riders per weekday in June, according to Metro figures — about 7,000 less than the official federal estimate. Commuters who are taking trains to Tysons still are finding crosswalks, sidewalks and bike lanes inadequate — a result of Tysons' original design as a sprawling suburban office park.

Tysons' lack of walkability was addressed by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in his remarks.

"Building a grid of streets, redeveloping this place to make it a lot more rational in terms of mixed-use development, and bringing in as many as 100,000 new residents is truly going to be transformative," Connolly said.

Tysons Corner has about 17,000 residents and 100,000 daily workers. The latter figure is expected to double over the next several decades based on Fairfax County's approved zoning changes and anticipated real estate development.

Ridership at the western terminus of the Silver Line at the Wiehle-Reston East parking garage is the strongest of the five new stations: 9,197 riders. By comparison, the Greensboro station, where new development is growing at a slower pace, sees only 1,185 riders per weekday.

The lack of pedestrian and bike infrastructure continues to be glaring. Upon exiting the Silver Line stations commuters are greeted by roads eight or 10 lanes wide, missing crosswalks and sidewalks and few bike lanes.

County officials say a number of ongoing and future projects will narrow roads and help pedestrians and bicyclists connect to the rail stations.

"We've actually made quite a bit of progress," said Tom Biesiadny, the director of Fairfax County's Department of Transportation. "In terms of the original projects that have been identified for Tysons, we've finished 12 of those projects so far. Five of them are under construction right now, and the remainder are either in land acquisition or in design. We will have six more of those projects done by January of 2016."

Biesiadny took a reporter's questions at the intersection of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive, one block from Metro's Tysons Corner station. The enormous intersection is missing two crosswalks; daring pedestrians must cross eight lanes of traffic on Tysons Boulevard, including a double right-hand turn lane. One of those turn lanes will be removed, Biesadny said.

"With VDOT's summer repaving project going on now, we are going to be adding bike lanes — about six miles here in Tysons — and we are going to be working on the intersection of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive," Biesadny said. "The main reason that there are not four-quadrant crosswalks is that over on the southeast corner there is a dual right turn lane, which is a little unusual to begin with. VDOT is going to stripe out one of those lanes so it becomes a single right-hand turn lane and that will allow us to put the crosswalks on all four [sides of the intersection]."

Last fall the Virginia Department of Transportation, in concert with county officials, studied whether removing the lane from Tysons Boulevard would negatively affect traffic.

"We felt that with the existing patterns in Tysons that we can eliminate one of the right-turn lanes," Biesadny said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in June 2010 approved a 40-year plan to transform Tysons Corner into a walkable urban center. Eventually major roads will be narrowed as a city street grid is developed incorporating transit, bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

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