The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of December 18, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0: Yellow Line to Belvoir and A Healthier EnvironmentThis is my fourth article about the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Analysis Study and why I believe a Yellow Line Metro subway extension to Fort Belvoir is the best choice. My first article was an overview. Number two explained how a Yellow Line extension would improve our schools. The third examined reducing traffic congestion. This article is explores how extending the Yellow Line would be a boost to our environment.
Moving people by rail uses less energy than moving them by gas-powered vehicles. Thousands fewer pounds of steel are required and rail travel minimizes wind resistance and energy consumption. Also, putting thousands of people on a train is more efficient than putting fewer people in smaller light rail trains or buses. It reduces our community’s carbon footprint. That’s the easy part.Northern Virginia has some of the worst congestion and highest per capita automobile ownership rates in the U.S., driven by sprawl and relatively high incomes. However, statistics show that people who live inside the Beltway have fewer cars, drive less and use public transit more.
Less-vehicle-dependent, walkable communities are smart for other reasons. Parking, especially free parking, inflicts enormous costs on society. County regulations require developers to use huge amounts of land for parking which largely remains empty most of the time. One study estimates that 37% of parking lots, even in high-density residential areas, remain empty overnight. Dedicating thousands of acres for impervious parking lots is not efficient, generates polluted storm water runoff and reduces property tax revenues.Studies also show that walkable communities based on transit have healthier citizens. People who walk get more exercise, weigh less and tend to have lower healthcare costs.
Most important, Metro’s history in Northern Virginia has proven that, like the movie, “A Field of Dreams,” if you build it, they will come. Everywhere Metro lines have been deployed, beneficial redevelopment has followed. Commercial rents for our neighbors in Eisenhower Valley were $5 more per square foot than in Tyson’s Corner in 2010, because close-in, Metro-accessible properties are in high demand.Extending the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir would bring significant, more environmentally-friendly redevelopment to the U.S. 1 Corridor which also would modernize our stormwater infrastructure.
Mount Vernon has the most outdated stormwater infrastructure in Northern Virginia. When I was a child, Paul Spring Creek was a vibrant stream, home to turtles, crawfish, minnows and bugs. Today, Paul Spring and Little Hunting Creek is a stormwater-ravaged, unpaved storm drain. With every rain, stormwater volumes push everything alive into the Potomac River, along with trash and pounds of eroded sediment. Hybla Valley is essentially a large concrete and asphalt funnel to the Potomac River with few stormwater controls.One study showed that 62 percent of the county’s streams sampled are in poor to very poor condition. Little Hunting Creek, Quander Brook and other Potomac tributaries violate state and federal pollution requirements because of e-coli, PCBs and other pollutants. Redevelopment with modern infrastructure can help bring our streams and the Potomac into compliance. The Potomac is a drinking water source and food source for five million people.
Adding more buses to U.S. 1 or putting a light rail line on a 45-mph highway will not bring the kind of redevelopment that will maximize the benefits that our community has because of our proximity to Washington, D.C. and a large military job center directly to our south.It is important for citizens to contribute to the discussion about improving transit on U.S. 1. We have reached a critical point -- preliminary recommendations will be decided in the next three months. Please let your voice be heard. One opportunity will be our public hearing in March and at the January 13 hearing of the county’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council. Visit http://bit.ly/eqac2013 for more information.
Most importantly, you need to let your leaders know – myself, Senators Puller and Ebbin, and Supervisors Hyland, McKay, and Bulova, and Congressman Moran. The time for speaking out is now.Please let me know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.