It took almost 50 years for Metro's new Silver Line to turn from long-range planning idea into reality. The project entered the region's Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP) in 1999, marking the point at which funding was reasonably expected to be available for the project.
On July 26, the first phase of the Silver Line finally opened. It is already expanding travel options and helping to strengthen several of the region's major Activity Centers -- places where planners would like to see more of the region's future residential and job growth occur.
In its first week, the Silver Line carried nearly 220,000 people to or from one of its five new stations, according to data released by Metro earlier this month. Each weekday, about 16,000 people boarded trains at one of the five stations. Metro says that 6,000 or so of those were new riders, while the others had previously been regular Orange Line riders.
BeyondDC / Flickr
The Silver Line provides a major new travel option for many of the 100,000 or so people who commute to jobs in Tysons Corner and Reston, the main areas served by the five new stations. People who live in these places also have more options now for getting to dozens of major job centers in Arlington, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere in the region. And people looking to reach Tysons for shopping and entertainment purposes now have an alternative to hopping in a car to get there.
Expanding travel options is one of the key goals outlined in the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, approved in January by the Transportation Planning Board. "Having more transportation options to choose from makes it easier for people to find the travel mode that works best for them in meeting their daily needs," the plan says. In particular, the plan focuses on strategies to expand options other than driving, especially transit, walking, and bicycling, to help move more people more efficiently.
The Priorities Plan also highlights the need to strengthen Activity Centers. "Strengthening these areasâ€¦ and connecting them with good transportation options bolsters the economy, allows us to grow and use land more wisely, and creates numerous opportunities to move more people and goods more efficiently," the plan says.
The Silver Line has already begun to strengthen several Activity Centers by spurring new residential and commercial development in Tysons Corner and Reston. And more is planned. Fairfax County envisions growing the population of Tysons from about 20,000 today to 100,000 by 2050, and doubling the number of jobs in the area to around 200,000.
Supporting such growth will, in addition to the Silver Line, require enhanced local circulation to make it possible to reach more destinations, including transit stations, by modes other than driving. The Priorities Plan calls for major efforts to expand bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, provide more local bus services, and promote better street connectivity in Activity Centers to make travel by car less necessary.
These recommendations are echoed in Place Opportunity, a report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments identifying specific ways to strengthen Activity Centers throughout the region, including those in the Silver Line corridor. The report says that investing in infrastructure to improve the public realm and walkability will lay the foundation for Fairfax County's planned transformation of Tysons from an auto-oriented employment center to a walkable, mixed-use urban community.
For many years the TPB's work has been focused on such questions of local circulation and access to transit. Its popular Transportation/Land-Use Connections (TLC) Program, for example, aims to identify strategic improvements to enhance the safety and convenience of walking and bicycling, especially to and from transit stations. A 2012 TLC study looked specifically at improving mobility and connectivity near the four planned Metro stations in Tysons.
Metro's new Silver Line is already expanding travel options and helping to strengthen several of the region's key Activity Centers. A continued focus on enhancing walkability and improving other public amenities in Activity Centers near Silver Line stations is needed in order to maximize the benefit of this latest major infrastructure investment and to take advantage of the once-in-a-generation opportunities it presents.