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West Falls Church, Franconia Metro facility changes advance despite ‘big number’ opposing latter

Proposed transportation changes at the West Falls Church and Franconia-Springfield Metro stations will advance to the agency’s full board, even as some raised eyebrows at the amount of public opposition to its Franconia plan.

To accommodate an upcoming extension of Frontier Drive, Metro intends to reconfigure traffic patterns at the Franconia station by adding three new bus bays and a bus layover facility, eliminating a pick-up and drop-off area, and signalizing the Metro Access Road and Frontier Drive intersections.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority staff recommended proceeding with the plan but noted that about 42% of community members who commented on the proposal opposed it, primarily because of the pick-up/drop-off area removal.

“That is a big number to oppose something,” Matt Letourneau, the WMATA Board of Directors’ finance and capital committee chair, said at a meeting last Thursday (March 9).

Currently on a median between the station’s parking garage and bus bays, the pick-up area needs to be removed to meet “adequate traffic flow requirements and reduce vehicular and pedestrian conflicts,” staff said in a presentation to the committee.

As noted in the report, the station has a Kiss and Ride lot on the parking garage’s ground floor with “significant capacity,” as well as a surface lot available for picking up and dropping off riders.

Staff said the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Frontier Road Extension project should provide clearer signage explaining where the lots are and that they’re free to use.

“The pedestrian bridge that goes from the garage to the station, I think, in part is blocking the view to that Kiss and Ride,” WMATA Real Estate and Station Area Planning Director Steven Segerlin said. “So, one of the things we talked about to VDOT was having a large sign on the garage or on the pedestrian bridge [that says] Kiss and Ride or pick-up/drop-off ahead.”

West Falls Church plan heralds future of Metro development

At last week’s meeting, the committee also accepted a report recommending reductions to the West Falls Church station’s parking and bus facilities, paving the way for over 1 million square feet of mixed-use development.

A proposed redevelopment of the West Falls Church Metro station property (via Fairfax County)

While the Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred a decision on the project to tomorrow (Wednesday), Metro board members seemed optimistic about its potential to transform not just that area in Idylwood, but the transit agency’s overall approach to development around its stations.

“They’re not just plots of land. They are assets we own,” Board of Directors Chair Paul Smedberg said. “There’s always been talk about…how do we best utilize those assets, whether it be parking lots or working with the jurisdictions?”

According to Segerlin, the West Falls Church project is one of WMATA’s first to evaluate parking needs based on station utilization and area household growth trends instead of requiring every eliminated parking space to be replaced, a change implemented as part of a joint development policy update in 2018.

Some residents have objected to the project’s density and elimination of roughly 700 parking spots, but Fairfax County and Metro officials have championed transit-oriented development as necessary to create more vibrant, less car-reliant communities.

In conversations with local leaders, Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke said he has heard “loud and clear” that the authority should accelerate the strategic plan for development that it unveiled last year, calling for 20 more joint agreements to develop various stations by 2032.

“One of the things that we have to do is we have to make our sites pencil out, and if we’re going to tell people they have to do a one-to-one parking ratio change, these deals will never pencil out,” Clarke said. “…We want people to be as close as possible to our stations and build as many town centers, village centers.”

At the Morgan Blvd station in Prince George’s County, Maryland, it takes eight minutes to walk from one end of the parking lot to the other, he recalled from a recent visit.

“The reality is we need to have probably less parking there and more housing and mixed development. That’s what the state wants, that’s what we want,” he said.

Board member Michael Goldman cited North Bethesda as another underutilized station that has “laid fallow for 40 years.” He anticipates it’s one of several sites in Montgomery County — which figures heavily into the strategic plan — that will seek to take advantage of Metro’s updated policy on parking requirements.

“These are exciting. The West Falls Church project is a great way to utilize that station and breathe some life into it,” Letourneau said.

The West Falls Church and Franconia staff reports will both go to the full Metro Board of Directors for a vote on March 23.

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