Monday, May 13, 2019

Reston VA: An (old) new town with new (old) transportation opportunities and problems

A recent story by Michael Freedman-Schnapp on the Greater Greater Washington blog (here) points out some of the social, housing, and transportation issues that the classic “new town” of Reston, Virginia is dealing with.
As you probably know, Reston has been an urban planning icon since it was founded in 1964.  It is (as the Reston website (here) says) “the largest planned community in Virginia and one of the most renowned planned communities in the nation” with its development based on the values of “open space, recreational facilities, social heterogeneity and aesthetic beauty.”
Freedman-Schnapp points out the weakness of Reston’s transportation network: The town’s master plan and vision are “completely silent on a vision of how a well-designed transportation system can further the preservation of the environment — a notable blind spot of an otherwise eco-friendly ethic. In its place, the county has provided a transportation system that makes it very difficult, if not outright dangerous, to be a pedestrian in Reston.”  His recommendations focus on better pedestrian links around the new Reston Metro stations.
And about those stations: the biggest transportation news in Reston is that the Metro has come to town!  The Silver Line reached its current, temporary terminus at Wiehle—Reston East in 2014.  Two new Reston stations – Reston Town Center and Herndon – are scheduled to open in 2020.  The Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization has published a very thoughtful and comprehensive paper, “Guidelines for Development: Reston Transit Station Areas” (available here), which sets out a plan for getting the best land use/transportation connection out of these stations.  Wiehle—Reston East and Herndon are somewhat limited by their suburban habitats.  Reston Town Center is the big opportunity.  Unfortunately, the station is not actually in the town center.  In an ideal world, the station would be underground, with entrances on Market Street, perhaps at the Reston Town Square Park, stimulating the kind of urban development found in Arlington.  But in the real world, the station is half a mile a way on an aerial platform in the median of the Dulles Toll Road.  This is what you get when you put transit in these outer suburban settings.  Nevertheless, the county planners (in coordination with local officials) have done a good job in planning new connective links and transit oriented development that will “extend and complement” the Town Center.
 I had three takeaways from my own visit to Reston a few months ago:
1.     Reston Town Center is a real downtown, with a lot going on and a lot of potential.  It is definitely “transit ready development!”
2.     The town is (as Freedman-Schnapp notes) very auto-centric.  You may be able to walk to your local village center for a few goods and services, but if you don’t have a car you’re largely stuck.
3.     The Lake Anne village center is definitely cool (I agree with Freedman-Schnapp here).  My own photo of this location is below.
Neither the Freedman-Schnapp piece nor the county planning study touch on how to get people from the neighborhoods to the Metro stations or the Town Center.  To make Reston really sustainable, it seems to me one would want to have some sort of transit shuttle service connecting the “village centers” to the Metro stations, the Town Center, and possibly to one another.  Local transit can be expensive, but this one might provide a good application for automated transit (OLLI anyone?).