These parking garages at Tysons Corner will remain free for now. Image by bankbryan licensed under Creative Commons.

Ever since the Silver Line opened, property owners in Tysons Corner have worried that Metro commuters would park on their private lots. Charging for parking could eliminate this concern but a debate over possible parking fees illustrates the tension surrounding the urbanization of Tysons.

Recently, someone who claims to be a retail manager at the mall revealed on local message board Fairfax Underground (warning: un-moderated) that paid parking is starting in January. The reason? There are too many commuters taking the spaces.

However, representatives from Tysons Corner Center insist that paid parking isn't coming. "There is no validity to this online rumor," says Bob Maurer, senior marketing manager for the mall. "Tysons Corner Center doesn’t intend to initiate paid parking in January."

For decades, the car has been the dominant form of transportation in Tysons Corner. The massive Fairfax County "edge city" is surrounded by major highways (Route 267, I-495, and I-66) as well as commuter arteries (Routes 7 & 123), so it makes sense that driving has been the preferred option for so long. But when four Metro stations opened in Tysons in 2014, none of them had any dedicated parking, except for a small lot near the McLean station that's a placeholder for future development.

Tysons Corner Center owner Macerich was worried then about commuters using its 12,000 parking spaces for Metro, as their garages are within walking distance to the Tysons Corner station. They installed gates at the garage entrances and a new, high-tech parking system to manage space availability. Lights over each space indicate whether it's available (green), occupied (red), or open to drivers with disabilities (blue). 

I have found this very useful the times I have gone to the mall. But it's also a way to deter commuters. The gates are only open during mall hours and employees are given cards to enter the garages during other times. Macerich can also monitor how long visitors are staying based on entry and exit times.

People living in urban areas are accustomed to paying to park. In suburbia? Not so much. But there is other paid parking in Tysons. I encountered it at 1775 Tysons Boulevard when attending an event there. The surface lot at the Walmart near the Spring Hill Metro station started charging for parking a few years ago. However, it is still rare.

For me, it will still be cheaper to drive to Tysons from my home in Herndon for an evening or afternoon out. I would pay tolls ($2 roundtrip) and, possibly, for three hours of parking ($5). The amount is less than taking Metro from Wiehle Avenue ($4.50 to park + non-rush $5.20 roundtrip). In the future, I could use Capital Bikeshare to access the future Innovation Station on the Silver Line to get to Tysons, but that is three years away. 

But some drivers won't take paid parking lying down. Look at the uprising against Boston Properties when they instituted paid parking at Reston Town Center at the beginning of the year. The company has since made parking free on weekends and made their payment system easier to use. If paid parking ever comes to Tysons Corner Center, Macerich will hopefully learn from that experience.

Kristy Cartier grew up in Vienna near Wolftrap and now resides in Herndon. She is on the board of Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park and has a master in agricultural economics. Kristy may market vehicle telematics, but she wants to see more walkable areas in Fairfax County.