Transforming Tysons Corner into a pedestrian-friendly urban environment is one of the region’s most important goals, but some of the
proposed development projects completely fail in urban design.
A multitude of development projects have already been proposed around the upcoming stations on the Silver Line to Tysons Corner, scheduled to open in 2013. Some developers’ proposals conform to Fairfax County’s new urban design guidelines for Tysons Corner, but others continue to think in more suburban terms.
The most prominent anti-urban proposal is an older one, by Lerner Enterprises, which is developing the area around the Tysons II shopping center. Lerner’s plan absolutely fails to create an urban neighborhood and instead amplifies the existing over-reliance on automobiles.
Lerner’s master plan, viewable in this attached image from Kohn Pedersen Fox, is completely inadequate if Tysons is to be made into an urban community. Unfortunately,
the county’s review process has not stopped projects such as this one, or forced them to adopt good design practices this development was approved years ago, before the current review processes were in place.
There are several key issues with the Lerner plan. The most prominent is the anti-urban street pattern, which relies on cul-de-sacs for street access to the buildings. Lerner’s neglect for Tysons’ proposed new street grid is a serious and major flaw. Their development proposal is a replication of the towers in the park movement that became obsolete many years ago.
The failure to include any new through streets is a major problem, as it hinders the improved accessibility that the Metro expansion is supposed to promote. Calming the crossing of Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) is not likely to be practical, and that elevated walkways will have to suffice there, but it’s not acceptable for Lerner to completely neglect any aspects of walkability in the interior of their multi-block development.
Lerner’s plan includes only minimal street front retail. For that matter, it includes very minimal street front anything, since the buildings don’t interact with any sort of grid. Meanwhile, the site plan shows at least two new additional massive parking lots.
With poor pedestrian access to large new buildings and continued reliance on the car, Lerner’s proposal threatens to overwhelm the area’s infrastructure and defeat the purpose of bringing Metro to Tysons.
Lerner’s plan should be modified to feature actual city blocks rather than cul-de-sacs and superblocks, and to bring every building up to the street front. Rather than leaving vast areas of land open on the fringes, Lerner should create a single consolidated urban park for their proposal.
Furthermore, Lerner should integrate the new Metro station more effectively with their proposal. In its current form, the station appears to lack an entrance from the sidewalk, feeding directly into a private office building. This would discourage pedestrian traffic to the rest of the neighborhood.
Also, it does not appear any thought was given to placing the tallest buildings closest to the Metro. The plan should be modified so there is easy public access to the Metro station, and so buildings closest to the station are scaled significantly larger than those further away.
Another problem is parking. Lerner’s plan includes several above ground garages, which destroy the pedestrian experience and encourage driving. Underground parking should be a primary feature of any new Tysons Corner developments, especially for projects so close to a Metro station.
To encourage these changes, particularly underground parking, Fairfax County might consider density or height bonuses in the most appropriate areas. The county’s tentative 400’ height limit in Tysons is arbitrary and does little to foster high quality redevelopment. There are no views to preserve in Tysons Corner, so there is no reason developers should be prevented from building tall towers. Indeed, tall, iconic buildings could help Tysons to be perceived as a true urban center.
Tysons Corner does not have to be a horrible place. If it is to improve, developers will have to get serious about changing the type of buildings they put there, and Fairfax County will have to be equally serious about following its impressive Transforming Tysons plan.
If Tysons is to change for the better, the Lerner proposal cannot be built in its current form. It is sorely deficient in embracing urbanity, and is the same type of development that has made traffic in Tysons so bad. With Fairfax County’s help, Lerner should learn from past mistakes and reorganize their site plan to be first and foremost urban and pedestrian friendly.
Update: Brian Worthy from Fairfax County pointed out that this plan was approved under Tysons’ previous land use plan, which permitted this type of design. It would be prescient of the county to try to convince Lerner to move toward a more urban solution, which could increase their profits as well as creating a development that better fits into the future of Tysons.