Buses Seen As Access Solution

Buses Seen As Access Solution

Community weighs in on accessibility management plans for future metro stations.

When Reston residents sat down to discuss solutions to manage access to future metro stations in the Reston area, buses emerged as a preferred mode of bringing people to the stations.

"We want bus service that is fast and frequent," said Baba Freeman. She added that smaller buses might prove to be a solution for such a bus service. Kim Lieberman agreed, saying smaller, frequent, buses are desirable.

"The current bus system is too confusing," said Colin Mills. "We need to simplify it." Mills said that people in Reston must be able to walk safely from their homes or jobs to the bus shelters.

Patti Nicoson recommended that non-polluting buses, electric or hybrid, be considered for any future bus routes in Reston. Aside from a number of circular routes in the community, Nicoson said Reston Town Center should have direct bus service from the stations. Marie Huhtala recommended moving the bus terminal from Reston Town Center to the future Reston Parkway station, and adding parking at the station, which is contrary to the current plans. She added that any future circulator bus should be free. Kathryn Martin noted that other forms of transportation could enhance future bus routes. "Employer-sponsored vanpools are extremely effective," she said.

IDEAS AND COMMENTS from community members were shared at Reston Metrorail Access Group’s (RMAG) second public meeting, held on Tuesday night at Regency Hyatt. "You’re residents, you live here, you work here. We’re here tonight to get your input," said Nicoson, RMAG chair. The group, a 21-member task force, is appointed by the county to assist the consultants, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB), with the access management plan.

Frank Spielberg, program manager for VHB, said the consultants recognize that RMAG is a 21-member group representing a much larger community. "We recognize that RMAG is only a part of the community. Now we come to you, the broader community," said Spielberg. He added that VHB will be accepting the community input on accessibility issues through the month of August, via a county Web site.

Paul LeValley, a representative of Perspectives Group, the consultant charged with public outreach, said that RMAG reports constitute a work in progress. "They are not proposals," said LeValley. Instead they are work reports by RMAG and its subcommittees. Spielberg said the meeting was a chance for the community to hear the reports and comment on whether it agrees or disagrees with them.

"This needed to be a very inclusive process," said Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). "Whatever comes out of this recommendation has to be from the community."

Some community members, however, are taking exception to RMAG’s representation of their interests. A group of residents who live on or near Hunter Mill Road were disappointed that a 75-page Traffic Calming Study on the road, prepared early this year for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, is not mentioned in any RMAG documents so far. Bruce Bennett, a Vienna resident who is involved with the group’s work, said buses on Hunter Mill Road would not be preferred. They are an extension of transit, and are a precursor to more density, according to Bennett. "We cannot have density on Hunter Mill Road," he said.

Spielberg said VHB is well aware of the Traffic Calming Study and is considering it in its calculations. "We, at least, are not looking into additional density" on Hunter Mill Road, said Spielberg. He said Hunter Mill Road is considered in the RMAG study as an area that the future Wiehle Avenue station would influence. "We included Hunter Mill because Wiehle might encourage it," said Spielberg about additional density and bus routes in the area.

Bennett said VHB and county’s goals of moving people to the metro stations are not exclusive from the goals of the residents in the corridor. However, added Bennett, additional density on the road is considered often. "We come back to this issue every year for 15 years," he said.

RESTON RESIDENT Todd Harbour also took exception to RMAG’s representation of the community. A subcommittee report on traffic and roadways issues, which caught the eye of Bennett and other residents who live near Hunter Mill Road for incendiary language last week, caught Harbour’s eye for its funding suggestion for a feeder bus. According to the Traffic and Roadway Issues Report, funding should derive from multiple sources. Garages, including the ones in Reston Town Center, should charge parking fees. It further states: "All residents, retailers, and employers (through the property owners) within the Town Center and Dulles Corridor core areas should be assessed an on-going fee/tax district tax to contribute to the cost of the internal bus/shuttle system." Other possible funding sources include state agencies, authorities, proffers from developers and the county’s general fund. The Roadway and Issues Report finishes by stating, "If an equitable formula is established to share the capital and operating cost of the internal bus/shuttle system, and its associated support system, then the burden of any one funding entity would not be unreasonable or prohibitive."

"I’m taking great leverage in somebody representing me that way," said Harbour about the suggestion that Reston’s property owners could become a source of funding for internal bus routes. Huhtala said that charging fees in parking garages at Reston Town Center could ruin the financial viability of that center.

Mike Hammer said that a large portion of tolls collected at Dulles Toll Road could have gone to subsidize the buses. "Now it seems most of it is going to rail," said Hammer. Another resident, Barbara Gahagan, said the idea behind bringing metro to Reston was to take people off the road. She wanted to know whether the consultants had studied how much more traffic the metro stations would generate. "How many people will be walking all of the sudden," asked Gahagan.

"What we’ve been concentrating on is what’s in place today," said Spielberg, adding that he expects VHB to have much more forecast data collected in the next three months.

While RMAG meets monthly, and all of its meetings are open to the public. The next community meeting will take place in December. LeValley said that in the meantime the consultants would meet with smaller focus groups to see how to cater to their accessibility needs in terms of future stations.