Image from the East Falls Church Plan.

The Arlington County Board will be voting tomorrow on whether to adopt the East Falls Church area plan. They should enthusiastically support this great proposal.

Today, too much of the environment around the East Falls Church Metro station is dominated by wide roads and fast traffic which makes walking and bicycling and access to the station difficult and unsafe. I-66 has divided the neighborhoods and the area lacks the neighborhood services and activity that are possible in a Metro station community.

This plan represents a modest level of development. This level of development —- 600,000 square feet — is essential for the community to gain a range of benefits including neighborhood retail services and redesign of the streets to be safer for all users, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit-users, drivers and people of all abilities. Additional development capacity may be needed to meet the county’s affordable housing goals, and could be provided without undermining the plan or detracting from the community.

Why is this plan so great?

  • It’s particularly friendly to pedestrians and cyclists by incorporating wider sidewalks, on-street parking and bike lanes, as well as narrower streets to reduce car speeds.
  • It includes a proposed platform extension with connection to a park and bicycle/pedestrian access to the Falls Church side of the station. Combined with the pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements to Washington Boulevard, Lee Highway and Sycamore Street, the two sides of the community will be knitted back together.
  • The overall design is appropriate, including the redevelopment of the Metro Station parcel with a mix of uses, and with heights that are appropriate and step back to the highest heights next to the highway. This approach will transform the Metro station parking lot into a vibrant community with residences, neighborhood retail services, and a public square.
  • The analysis of the transportation performance shows that this approach to development will not add measurably to future traffic and will in fact offer more non-auto options for local and regional travel.
  • The plan will contribute to the revitalization of the area around the Metro station by improving safety on surrounding roadways and adding neighborhood retail and a mix of housing.
  • The plan includes provisions for affordable housing, offering options for a diversity of households (but see our testimony (PDF) for additional recommendations).
  • It manages traffic well and offers balanced parking solutions to serve current and future residents and businesses.

In addition, the extensive process that has gone into the development of a sustainable, walkable vision for the future has incorporated input from a citizen task force that included representatives of neighborhood associations and other stakeholders, as well as additional analysis and refinement by county staff based on feedback from the community. Clearly, there is great support for this plan.

With the coming of the Silver Line to Tysons Corner and beyond we have the opportunity to expand our region’s network of transit-oriented communities and the transportation performance must be seen in this light. We know the plan isn’t perfect and have made suggestions to the County Board, including a recommendation that careful consideration be given to the design of the Metro station parcel to ensure that retail is located on the right frontages and that the public green is in the best place to ensure active use and its potential role as a center of the community. In addition, we’d like to see the addition of more affordable housing.

Nonetheless, we’ve reviewed dozens of mixed-use transit-station plans, and we see this as an excellent and appropriately scaled plan that offers a range of community benefits. The plan offers the opportunity to make the streets and access to Metro safer, to reduce medium and long-term traffic, provide convenient neighborhood services, and to enhance the desirability of surrounding neighborhoods.

If you are interested in showing support for the plan, you can testify tomorrow morning or email the County Board. Here’s how:

How to testify: The County Board meeting will be held tomorrow, Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 8:30 am in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd (Near Courthouse Metro station), 3rd Floor. You can find out about speaking procedures and download a speaker form on the Arlington County website.

While the Board meeting begins at 8:30 am, there are a number of consent items for the Board to work through. This means the East Falls Church Plan discussion (Agenda Item #33) would likely not come up before 9:30 am. If you live close by, you can monitor the hearing online or on Comcast Channel 74 to see how it’s progressing.

Provide feedback online: If you can’t make it out Saturday morning, you can still make a difference. Show your support for the East Falls Church Area Plan by emailing the County Board. It only takes a few minutes.

Stewart Schwartz is Executive Director and a founder of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which he built into the leading smart growth organization in the Washington, DC region, addressing the interconnected issues of land use, transportation, urban design, housing, and energy. A retired Navy Captain with 24 years of active and reserve service, he earned a BA and JD from the University of Virginia and an MA from Georgetown University.

Laura DeSantis is the Online Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Prior to joining CSG, Laura worked at Fleishman-Hillard Communications, where she worked on digital and social media strategy for clients. Laura is a 2009 graduate of Penn State University and holds bachelor’s degrees in Public Relations and History.