As an engineer, the opening of the Silver Line (whenever that is) will be a vast improvement to the transportation system in Fairfax, Virginia giving commuters in the Dulles Corridor and I-66 corridor much needed relief by providing an alternative and removing vehicles from roads. However, our leaders are starting to see the problem many people tried to point out at the Silver Line’s conception, the monolithic concrete overhead system continues a material pattern that only exacerbates the current asphalt and concrete jungle that is Routes 7 and 123.
Sharon Bulova was quoted as saying “When I first saw the Silver Line infrastructure go in, my heart sank and I thought: ‘Ack. Why didn’t we do something with the concrete to make it more attractive?’” As I noted in a post on walkability in February, aesthetics are an important element but first and foremost to walkability is function and safety.
When we have highway ramps tying into these roads, acceleration and deceleration lanes where vehicles turn blind corners on approach to future crosswalks, it won’t matter how much you paint up or develop the corridors, people won’t feel safe using them. So I re-emphasize the need to break from VDOT design standards in these cases and provide proper designs for all users at these key points.
A road diet, perhaps with the goal of providing a protected bike lane would be useful also, but politically speaking this is a harder sell.
Once those prerequisites above are met, then one can start looking at ways to remediate the visual impact from thousands of tons of concrete dangling overhead.
It’s been a while since our first post on retrofits that could be done to make the Silver Line in Tysons more urban and attractive in nature. With major construction now complete it’s easier to see where infilling with retail, allowance for greater heights to diminish the scale of the piers, and landscape and pavement placement which obscures columns.
The goal should be to avoid expensive materials, utilize typical streetscape furnishings and trees, which are relatively inexpensive. If coupled with private development, pop-up space, or more permanent construction beneath the metro line the cost to the County could be removed all together, especially considering the widening of walkways along Route 123 is already part of the plans for Tysons.
To decrease the massing and singular material of the system, a decorative set of banners could be hung (similar to what was done on Fort Meyer Dr. in Arlington). This could be done at essentially no cost and possibly by either an artist or local business donation. Lighting is another solution that can create aesthetic benefit, especially at night. Consider what the Brooklyn Bridge might look like at night if not for the iconic string of lights that define its skyline.
Ultimately, the best decoration and aesthetic improvement that can happen to the Silver Line is people. People walking, taking the train, stopping to grab a newspaper at a pop up are going to fill the humanless vacuum.
Providing public plazas, seating, and lunch spots helps fill that space and act as a draw in and of itself. Providing public events retail options, ones for small businesses or food trucks looking for more temporary, but settled, space gives people a reason to walk.
Most importantly, Fairfax County must address the poor road design that has led us down the path of suburban office parks in our urban revitalization areas. We can not keep the status quo when it comes to double stacked turn lanes that turn 6 lane roads into 10-lane stroads. We can’t rely on a 35mph speed limit sign that no one obeys because of the pseudo highway conditions and on-ramps. Fairfax County has to get real about fixing those issues before remediation of aesthetics will mean anything.