Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

As the Silver Line arrives in Reston, Fairfax County is working on an update to the area’s master plan, looking at ways to accommodate new growth while encouraging transit use.

A planned community that began construction in the 1960’s, Reston‘s urban vision has evolved over each successive phase. The original concept was for a suburban community that retained some walkability and had a mix of housing types. Starting in the 1990’s, Reston Town Center sought to give the area a more urban character, if one with lots of parking, and became a de facto downtown for the area.

Fairfax County began working on a new master plan in 2009 as a way to plan for expected growth from the Silver Line, which will have two stops in Reston, at Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway. The plan represents a new phase for Reston that doesn’t assume that everyone will want to get around by car.

The plan would address Reston’s transportation challenges by making it easier to walk, bike, and use transit around the area’s two future Metro stations, while minimizing the need to drive. It also calls for “aggressive transportation demand management programs to reduce vehicle trips.”

Notably, the plan doesn’t call for more and bigger roads to accommodate this growth, though it does recommend widening a short section of Reston Parkway to 6 lanes. Instead, county planners want to connect streets with a grid to disperse traffic, reducing the need for big, wide roads and providing an opportunity to build complete streets from the ground up.

Extending Reston Town Center to the north and south

Part of Reston’s popularity is the easy access to the Dulles Toll Road, but the road also bisects the community. There are only a few crossings, and all of them are designed primarily for cars. The plan calls for 5 more crossings for all transportation modes, which could facilitate better movement between Reston’s two halves.

It could also let the urban fabric of Reston Town Center continue further south towards the Metro stations, which will sit in the median of the Dulles Toll Road, and across the highway to the other side. Today, the areas next to the Toll Road consist of a strip of spread-out office parks about a 1/2-mile wide, which serve as a buffer to the residential neighborhoods beyond.


How Reston Town Center could grow to the north and south. (The image is rotated; north is to the right.) Image from Fairfax County.


The plan proposes redeveloping these office parks into urban neighborhoods similar to Reston Town Center. But there isn’t a lot of room to build around the future Metro stations. In order for this to be successful, the county needs to zone for enough density and commit to good urban design so there are enough people and activity to encourage the use of alternatives to driving.

It may also be a challenge to convince multiple landowners and commercial tenants of office space to change their property to fit into this vision or give some up land for a new street. The CIA’s Open Source Center sits directly between Reston Town Center and the future Reston Parkway Metro station, and the agency may resist changes that would make that campus more open and closer to development.


INOVA’s proposal for redeveloping land north of Reston Town Center.


But while there is a space crunch between Reston Town Center and the Dulles Toll Road, there is a lot more room to grow to the north, as well as more committed landowners. This area consists of strip malls and a large, suburban-style medical center, which are ripe for redevelopment and sprawl repair. INOVA Hospital has expressed interest in redeveloping the medical facility as an extension of Reston Town Center and submitted this plan to Fairfax County.

This area is at least 3/4-mile from the nearest Metro station, but good development with a commitment to a complete streets policy could greatly extend the walkable range of the Metro station. There is also a call for a new urban park, community center, and library to help anchor this area and provide new open space for residents.

Parking maximums and the end of free parking

The report is pretty adamant that parking will be treated differently than it has before. There will be fewer subsidies that artificially lower the cost of parking, and the expectation is that most parking will be paid for by the users themselves. The plan also calls for the implementation of parking maximums in areas and a reduction or elimination of surface lots.

When it opens later this year, Wiehle Avenue will be the terminus of the Silver Line until Phase 2 is up and running. At that time, some of the parking being built now for transit riders could eventually be turned over to nearby developments, reducing the need to build new parking.

This plan is just the beginning

This is an ambitious plan, especially when you consider that the county is trying to do many of the same things in Tysons Corner as well. But Reston has the advantage of an existing, well-defined urban center and it has fewer traffic problems than in Tysons. This may make stakeholders more willing to devote resources to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit.

However, this plan is still a draft and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs to approve it. Once that happens, the real work of actually implementing the plan begins.

Funding concerns are always an issue, and there will be lots of discussion on what strategies are best. Another concern is about being able to coordinate with a wide variety of landowners; the report mentions this problem, but doesn’t offer potential solutions. But Reston already has a long history of working within established plans over the past 50 years, suggesting it will pull through.