Tyson’s Corner: the “Last Mile” Problem

800px-2009-08-23_Tysons_Corner_skyline Tyson’s Corner, Virginia west of Washington DC is one of America’s classic “Edge City” commercial centers.  It looks like the result of a global design competition based on the question:  “How can we build an urban center of shopping and employment that will attract 100,000 people per day, concentrated in a 5 square mile area, while ensuring that almost all of them come by car?” 

You know the look.  Lots of big office buildings with big parking structures, served by car-oriented arterial streets that are neither safe nor pleasant to walk on, all focused around a freeway interchange.

Rapid transit is finally coming in 2013 via the WMATA Silver Line.  The Silver Line will have four stations in Tyson’s Corner, but still many destinations there will be too far to walk.  So Tyson’s will be an excellent case study of rapid transit’s “last mile problem.”  When retrofitting rapid transit into a car-oriented suburban area, access from the station to the activity destination is often the problem that drives potential riders away.

Fortunately, sharp minds at Greater Greater Washington are on the case.  They’ve done a series of posts looking at the Tyson’s problem, including:

If you haven’t encountered “PRT,” their last posts, and the abundant links in the posts and comments, will give you everything you need to form your own view.

11 Responses to Tyson’s Corner: the “Last Mile” Problem

  1. Tom West March 15, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    The “last mile” problem occurs at smaller scale as well. Where I live, there is a frequent bus service which takes me to a nice mall, and drops me off as close as is possible on the public road… but I then have to cross across a huge parking lot, with random buidings and roadways scattered acorss it and no walkways whatsoever. The designers (may they be banned from driving for ever) obviously never thoguht that anyone would access the mall in any way other than by car.
    Unless the transit stop is right outside the door, someone has to think about how peopel will get form the stop to their destination.

  2. EngineerScotty March 15, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    So, PRT is on-topic for this thread?
    Donning asbestos suit… :)

  3. M1EK March 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    The real answer here is that transit need not serve every square inch of Tyson’s Corner to be an overwhelming success.
    I’m just shocked at how many transit passengers, even smart ones, seem to be completely unaware of understanding how unattractive a train+shuttlebus is to people who currently drive. A train by itself will get many of them out of their cars. A stupid bus? The same bus they already had access to and decided not to take for many years? Not freakin’ likely.

  4. EngineerScotty March 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    Looking at the map (I’m not intimately familiar with the area), two areas look problematic:
    1) Sections south of VA7, especially the southernmost part, which require crossing a busy highway to reach.
    2) Sections in the northern part of the project, close to the Dulles freeway, which are well in excess of 2000′ or so from the metro line
    Obviously, the distance can’t easily be made shorter for walkers, but some pedestrian improvements are in order. Many of the streets through the area are four- and six-lane boulevards with few if any crossings–and where there are protected crossings, its at an intersection. Some pedestrian improvements would be beneficial.
    But the success of Tyson’s Corner will depend more on how many people come to LIVE there; right now, most people who venture there are coming to work or shop, but go elsewhere at night. And in the DC metro area, TC probably has steep competition as an urban residential area, given the large cosmopolitan burg to its east.
    But should it densify–there’s lots of vacant lots according to Google, and many other lots currently occupied by parking, so lots of opportunity–there’s lots of opportunity for transit. I suspect that not having all of Tyson’s Corner within 2000 feet of a Metro stop won’t be any worse than anywhere else Metro runs.
    Transit whose purpose is to get commuters “the last mile” from a rapid transit line to their office, probably won’t work. Transit which serves a wider community, on the other hand…

  5. samussas March 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    I think, one of the most sensible propositions was to install bicycle stations so people will arrive by train, took a bike to reach their destination and then go back to the staiton with it.
    But maybe, the most important thing is to allow the growth of a denser area around the stations. This should change more the way people move radically than the creation of different lines of circulators

  6. Alon Levy March 15, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    Does Metro even allow bicycles on the trains?

  7. Jarrett March 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

    @ Scotty. No, I’m not inviting a “PRT” conversation on this thread, but everyone’s welcome to join the one at the GGW posts linked to above!

  8. Alon Levy March 15, 2010 at 10:30 pm #

    That’s just mean, Jarrett.

  9. Ted King March 16, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    @ Scotty –
    If you don’t want asbestosis* you might want to try Nomex** coveralls with a Al/Mylar*** firefighting suit on top. I’m going to check to see if I have any Halon grenades among my emergency supplies.
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestosis
    ** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomex
    *** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mylar
    Halon :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halomethane#Fire_extinguishing

  10. Matt Johnson March 18, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    @Alon Levy:
    WMATA allows bikes on buses (limit 2 per bus, on the exterior rack) at all times.
    Bikes are prohibited on trains during rush hours and are allowed all other times weekdays (limit 2 par car) and all day weekends (limit 4 per car). Bikes are *not* allowed to use the center door on railcars at any time.
    Note: I am the author of the 2nd and 4th parts of the GGW series on Tysons.

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