This post by RCA
President Colin Mills originally appeared in Reston Patch.
I hope you didn’t miss me too much; I didn’t post in this
space last week.  I had a very good
reason for not posting: I got married on September 21st, and I was
busy honeymooning when I would normally have been writing.  Happily, my time away was relaxing and
refreshing, and my new wife and I are very excited to start our life together.
I may have been off duty last week, but the RCA Board was in
session and working hard as always for the citizens of Reston.  The Board met on Monday the 23rd,
and they passed a couple of resolutions on planning and transportation matters.  This week, I’d like to talk about our resolution
concerning the Sunset Hills Park and Ride.
In case you’re not familiar, the Sunset Hills Park and Ride
is the long, narrow lot that runs between Sunset Hills Road and the W&OD
trail near Wiehle Avenue.  It’s been an
important and well-used commuter lot in Reston for decades.  And it’s located directly across the street
from the Comstock development at the Wiehle station, which is to open soon.
As you may have read
recently in Patch
, Comstock and Fairfax County are lobbying VDOT, which
operates the lot, to close it and turn it into a park.  This would eliminate what is likely to be the
only free parking option close to the station for commuters, driving people
into the paid parking at the Comstock development.
RCA thinks that’s a bad idea for Restonians, and we passed a
resolution saying so.  We believe that during
the 5 years that Wiehle is the end of the line, we’re going to need all the
parking we can get.  Wiehle is the only
Silver Line stop during the first phase that will have parking, so we’ll be drawing
commuters from all directions, looking to get on the train.  Closing a lot with 300-plus spaces,
especially a free lot, is exactly the wrong thing to be doing right now.
Let’s look at some of the claims put forth by proponents of
closing the lot, and why RCA thinks they don’t hold water.  First, the proponents claim that having
pedestrians cross Sunset Hills to get to the station represents a major safety
issue.  Oh, really?  Granted, Sunset Hills is a busy road, and it will
get even busier once the Wiehle station opens. 
But there are already two signal-controlled intersections between the
lot and the station (at Wiehle and at Metro Center Drive), and both of those
intersections have crosswalks with pedestrian signals.  You might need to add some barriers along the
lot to steer people toward the crosswalks, but the idea that there’s no way for
people to cross safely is absurd.
Also, both the Reston Metrorail Access Group and the Master
Plan Task Force have placed a priority on pedestrian access in the vicinity of
the stations.  If we can’t even get
people safely across the street to
the station, then we have a much bigger planning failure on our hands.
The proponents of closing the lot also point to the lot’s
proximity to the W&OD trail.  The
trail poses both a challenge and an opportunity: the trail’s location makes the
lot too narrow to be developed, but it also turns the lot into a natural
location for a park.  As RCA’s Terry
Maynard has noted, we’re definitely going
to need park space
in the station areas.
We think that turning the lot into a park makes sense –
eventually.  Once development starts
picking up and many new residents are added near the station, we agree that the
lot’s best use will be as a park.  But
right now?  With development just getting
started and cars coming from all sides looking for a spot?  Right now, we need those spaces.  That’s why our resolution supports turning
the lot into a park only after Phase
2 of the Silver Line is completed.
So if the safety issue is overstated and the need for
parkland is a more long-term concern than the need for parking spaces, what’s
the reason for closing the lot?  Well, because
the free lot will compete with the Comstock lot.  Now we’re getting down to it. 
It makes perfect sense for Comstock to want the lot closed.  The 2,300-space garage they built in
public-private partnership with the County has a fixed parking rate, but
Comstock is making 1,100
additional spaces
available, and they will apparently be able to charge
what the market will bear.  Having a free
lot across the street will likely drag down the rate Comstock could command.  So shutting down the lot makes sense for
them.  But not for Restonians.
Some of you might wonder how we at RCA square our stance on
the lot with our frequently-expressed concerns about traffic in the station
areas.  If the lot stays open, you might
reason, the additional spaces will just attract more cars to the area.  Isn’t that exactly what we don’t want?
The truth is that the cars are going to come whether we like
it or not.  Hopefully, some folks will
park farther out (at Herndon-Monroe, for instance) and take a bus to the
station.  But a lot of people are going
to drive, and if there aren’t convenient and affordable spaces for them to park
in, they’re going to try parking in our neighborhoods or wherever else they
can.  Moreover, we could actually use the
Sunset Hills lot to encourage fewer cars; for instance, we could make limit
parking in the lot to those who carpool.

The Sunset Hills Park and Ride is an essential piece of the
parking puzzle during the years that Wiehle is the end of the Silver Line.  Shutting down the lot just doesn’t make sense
for our community.  That’s why we felt it
was important to speak up.  RCA is doing
its part to help Reston deal with the challenges the Silver Line will bring.