Hypothesis vs. theoretically-infused practice: where to locate a new FBI headquarters
Today's Post has a column, "Put the FBI headquarters in Prince George's," by Robert McCartney about how the proposed new FBI headquarters should be located in Prince George's County, specifically at the Greenbelt Metro.
Recently on GGW on a post on Greenbelt's sector plan ("Greenbelt sector plan defeats its own walkability goals") it happens that I made the point that Greenbelt has an opportunity to become a regional activity and office center because of its transit and highway connections, proximity to the University of Maryland, and other connections.
Even so, I'm not sure that Greenbelt would be the right place to locate the FBI, just because it is served by the subway and limited railroad commuter service and the Capital Beltway.
These discussions about where to locate federal agencies, especially with the example of BRAC, the military base relocation process, are mostly disconnected from serious consideration of transportation impact, glib pronouncements about Greenbelt notwithstanding.
It's true that most federal agencies in DC and certain locations in the nearby suburbs have a high rate of transit use, upwards of 80% in some cases.
Sure, part of the reason is because of the transit benefit for employees (all federal workers can get $125/mo. for transit. If they live close in, getting to work by transit is free.
But the other is because the agencies tend to be located in transit rich locations (the FBI headquarters now is served by all 5 subway lines, while the Greenbelt site is served by one or two lines at the most, depending on the time of day), and these transit lines can be reached relatively efficiently from a large part of the metropolitan area, without having to make a large number of transfers.
As far as the highway location, again, Greenbelt might not be the best location on the Capital Beltway in terms of serving the FBI, depending on where a majority of the workers live. If many of the workers live in Virginia, locations on the southern rather than the northern section of the Capital Beltway may make more sense.
The first step is a zip code analysis of the residential location of the workers. This should be used to determine which potential locations are the best fit between where the workers live and how well transit can serve them in getting to their workplace.
It could be that the Greenbelt Metro station is a great location in terms of yellow line service to Virginia. A "MARC station" as mentioned in the Post article is semi-meaningless, because the Camden line that serves this station is the least used of the lines, and unless many FBI workers live in Baltimore it wouldn't likely have a lot of inpact (although it would be interesting to connect VRE service to that line if Virginia is the predominate location for FBI employees).
But it might not. We don't know, and until we do, these kinds of articles aren't very helpful. (Although if the Post might have noticed that the BRAC movements post-2005 would have significant impact on the Fort Belvoir and Montgomery County Medical Center areas and that transit expansion to those areas as part of BRAC mitigation would have been very useful.)
(Greenbelt also isn't in the part of Prince George's County that McCartney says needs economic development because it is less affluent, but that's another issue.)
I'd love to see the Washington Post's intrepid computer-aided reporting operation do something as simple as a zip code analysis of the FBI's headquarter employees (employees assigned there now as well as those who would be located in an expanded headquarters) and use that kind of information in shaping the speculative environment on FBI's relocation.