Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fairfax misses a chance. Again.

It's official. No tunnel for Metro through Tysons.

I should start off by saying that it's not all Fairfax County's fault. Many of their current leaders have learned from their past mistakes with Metro and development, and were ready to do the right thing this go round. And I hate to slam Gov. Kaine for this one, because I think it's not totally his fault, although I would have liked to see him stand up to Tom Davis and tell him there's no way they're going to pull the federal funding. I think the blame for this shouldn't fall totally on Kaine in this regard. Part of it should definitely go to Tom Davis who made it clear that he never was willing to do whatever was neccessary to do transit "right" in Tysons.

You're talking about a place that is one of the largest employment centers in the entire country. There's 1/3 as much office space in Tysons as there is in the entire District! I have a hard time believing that if Gov. Kaine stood up for the tunnel, that he wouldn't have won that game of chicken.

The ironic thing about this latest failed opportunity to do transit to Dulles and Tysons right, is that many of the Fairfax supervisors and planners had learned from the past legacy of awful transit planning in Fairfax and were pushing for the tunnel because they knew how much of a difference it would make.

In the past, comparing Fairfax to Arlington or parts of Montgomery county (Bethesda) is a case study in harnessing the power of transit to channel growth and successful economic development with well-planned transit. In the book I just read, The Great Society Subway, Zachary Schrag has a chapter that uses Fairfax as an illustration of Metro done poorly in the suburbs.

I think a lot of today's Fairfax leaders remember these lessons. It's evident in this quote from the Post story:

"This will prove to be the wrong decision for the wrong reasons," said Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who is also on the Metro board. "Ten years from now, I regret my son may pick up a planning text where Fairfax's long-awaited rail extension is highlighted as a failed attempt at service and economic development. It can't only be about the here and now."
What's the point of doing something halfway, even if it is cheaper? These lines are expected to be there for 100 years or more, and there's no sense in thinking only about getting it done as cheaply as possible if it sacrifices potential to make a great place.

I'd like to see more comments like the one I read in The Great Society Subway from Cleatus Barnett, a Montgomery County representative: "We were building these lines for eternity. You're not going to pick them up and move them if you put them in the wrong place. They are there forever. And don't tell me anything about the cost. If it costs more, it costs more, but that's what we're going to do."

So, while perhaps a majority of Fairfax leaders saw the wisdom of finally doing transit "right", karma can be a b---h. They had no less than three opportunities to take the Vienna line to Tysons instead back in the 60's and 70's. Instead, they put it out to Vienna, placed it in the middle of the interstate, and allowed next to no dense transit-oriented development around the stations.

And meanwhile, Rosslyn and Ballston are great places, friendly to cars AND people, while the area around the Vienna stop, is a magnificent, uh.....parking lot.

It's a shame that Fairfax learned their lesson just a bit too late, especially because all of us will have to deal with the consequences for years and years.

Tysons is a miserable place now, but now they've ensured that their future will be filled with years of miserable traffic, un-walkable streets, lack of distinctive character, and the unmistakable geography of no-place.

Tysons' best opportunity to position themselves to survive when gas is no longer cheap and people are tired of living entirely in a car just passsed them by. And it will continue to pass them by each day on the expensive elevated tracks running right through the middle of Chain Bridge Road and Leesburg Pike.