Transit oriented duh-velopment: Northern Virginia edition
When I went to college, there was an article one day in the Michigan Daily about the new VP of Development (fundraising) and he said "students become alumni in four years; I don't think they think about that."
As a student activist, my retort was "neither does the university, otherwise they'd treat students better."
That story may not seem relevant to this entry but it is.
Over the past couple weeks there have been some articles about how Virginia legislators want to leverage the land value of new subway stations there. See "Development above the new Fairfax Metro stations: Should preparation begin now?" and more recently "In Arlington, state wants to develop and build over I-66" from the Washington Post. (Note that the Rosslyn locations mentioned in the second piece are much more likely to be able to be developed within 10 years or so, unlike the stations in Fairfax, and eventually Loudoun.)
1. The basic point is that if you want to leverage transit proximity to the best extent possible, you need to design your transit system's footprint and station locations in a manner which makes proximity to transit extremely valuable.
Instead, decisions about routing and not to tunnel in Tysons Corner were more about saving money. But these decisions constrained the ability to do successful "transit oriented development" at station sites.
With regard to the distant subway stations in Fairfax County (and eventually Loudoun County) for the most part they aren't located that well, something I mentioned in a blog post in 2006, "Why are people so damn good about asking the wrong question?" And where they should be underground, like in Tysons Corner, they aren't.
In the cited blog entry, the issue was why don't people living near Vienna Metro Station use it. The answer is complicated. The station isn't sited in a manner that encourages use, it's a disconnected pod. That's typical of stations sited on freeways. See the past blog entry "Dangerous minds."
Right: one of the Columbia Heights station entrances abuts condos. The other condos and retail, and both are across the street from DC/USA and accessible to many thousands of dwelling units within one-half mile. (Note that WMATA should have sold the air rights over this part of the station, but didn't.)
So the value in living or working by the station is reduced, compared to other kinds of agglomeration benefits present in other locations, where transit access is better integrated into community fabric, such as in Downtown DC or along the Wilson Boulevard corridor in Arlington County, Virginia, or a station like Columbia Heights.
Typically, freeway based railroad and transit services don't perform all that well in terms of ridership and economic development, although there is no question that it is easier to obtain right of way, which was the case for I-66 in Fairfax County for stations like Vienna, and is the case for the Dulles Toll Road (Rte. 267), which is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, and the Dulles Greenway Toll Road, which is privately owned, and extends beyond the airport. (Virginia for ideological reasons, is into toll roads.)
The problem with the Toll Road routing for the subway is that it puts stations some distance away from key activity centers.
2. Plus in order to move development along proximate to transit stations it helps for there to be a limited amount of build out capacity in the general area. That is definitely not the case in Greater Tysons/Reston and Loudoun County.
There are millions and millions and millions of square feet of development capacity and as it is there isn't enough demand for it. See "Fairfax still wants a real center at Vienna MetroWest" from GGW and "Montgomery office market posts small gain: Rest of D.C. region suffers" from the Gazette. The Gazette article is based on releases from Cassidy Turley, a commercial space brokerage and research firm (Northern Virginia Outlook, Suburban Maryland Outlook).
It's expensive to build mixed use. It's harder to finance. It's expensive to build tall as well. And building over transit stations is even more complicated and costly. Plus, it's expensive in time (and money) to create joint-development deals between public and private entities.
All these issues conspire to make it a long time before it becomes worthwhile to pursue development deals at the more complicated locations such as the Metro Stations, with the exception of Rosslyn, where there is already significant development, the freeway is located below grade, and the indicated locations are next to the existing conurbation.
That being said, even in good locations it takes a long time, because it is more expensive, involves sign off from the US DOT, etc
3. There is one instance where such a project is proceeding in DC. See "I-395 air rights now Capitol Crossing" from the Washington Business Journal. This project has been on the drawing board since 1988.
And eventually, because of demand and proximity to the US Capitol, it is likely that the Southeast-Southwest Freeway will be decked in the places where the freeway is below grade.