Battleground Reston: Silver Line, bus riders, carpoolers compete for free spots

RESTON, Va. — While most people applauded the opening of the Silver Line during the July launch, a group of bus riders and carpoolers believes the new service is making their commutes harder.

“Before the Silver Line, it was never an issue to get a parking spot. And now I’m stressed every day wondering if I’m going to have a parking spot,” says Sarah Stein, who rides the Fairfax Connector 599 to her Pentagon job.

Mary Czernowski takes the 599 to the Pentagon as well.

“The parking lot is full and there are altercations between people. I’ve seen it a few times already,” Czernowski says.

The showdowns happen at the Reston North Park and Ride, where 338 free parking spots are just a short walking distance from the Wiehle-Reston East station.

Silver Line riders who don’t want to pay $4.85 to park at the 2,300-space garage at the Wiehle station will park at the Park and Ride, then cross over to the station.

The Virginia Department of Transportation says that before the Silver Line, the lot was usually between 70 percent to 80 percent full. Now, it’s full before 7 a.m.

Carpoolers also are complaining that it’s more difficult to slug or arrange other trips from the lot without knowing whether spots will be available.

Blame has landed on the Silver Line riders, in part. Some Pentagon bus riders want the Virginia Department of Transportation or Fairfax County to stop these drivers from parking and walking to Metro. Others just want a solution that allows for a predictable place to park without a guessing game every morning.

Fairfax County transportation officials believe it would be inappropriate to make such choices about who can park at Reston North.

“All Park and Rides in Fairfax County are open to all users on a first-come, first-serve basis. None of them are reserved for any one person or any one group,” says Fairfax County Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny.

His goal is to get people out of their cars and onto mass transit, high-occupancy vehicles for commuting. Biesiadny says he’s happy the Reston North lot takes 338 cars off the Dulles Toll Road and Interstate 66, regardless of whether those 338 are taking a bus, carpooling or riding the Silver Line.

As for the 599-line riders who are complaining, he offers other options.

“In some cases, lots fill up. When they do fill up, we do offer other options. People can take buses to the Park and Ride lot. People can carpool to the Park and Ride lot. People can also walk to the Park and Ride lot. So there are different ways to get there, and people just have to find the one that fits best for them,” Biesiadny says.

But those who cannot find spots at Reston North don’t want to change. They argue that multiple bus trips, carpooling, walking, even the Silver Line-Blue Line trip from Wiehle-Reston East to the Pentagon, is a step too far.

Several are considering just getting back into their cars and commuting alone on the highways to their office.

“I would probably resort to driving in because I have a fairly unpredictable schedule, so I couldn’t really commit to carpooling with anybody or slugging. Also, sometimes I stay late at work,” says Stein.

“I’ve never really been comfortable with slugging,” adds Tammy Woodruff. “And I’ve tried Metro for many years, including the Orange Line from West Falls Church, then transferring at Rosslyn. Metro is OK for some things, but it’s not dependable if you’re a commuter and you have to get to a specific place at a specific time.”

She also says she’d end up driving alone to the office.

Transportation officials don’t want that, but as the crunch for parking grows after Labor Day, these riders might have to make some tough choices.

Transit advocates hope a solution can be found.

“Adding the Silver Line is bringing in a lot of new travel patterns and new transit riders. Clearly that has an effect on existing users of many modes, and there are going to be things that harm a group of people, which hopefully Fairfax and Virginia can find ways to alleviate,” says David Alpert, founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington.

“Overall, more people are traveling by transit, and it might be that some people who were using transit already stop because of these changes. But hopefully it will be possible to help as many people commute by transit as possible,” he adds.

Several options could be on the table.

Bus riders and carpoolers are willing to consider other Park and Rides in Fairfax County. Carpoolers might be able to use the Reston South Park and Ride, which is about two miles south and has 412 parking spots.

Pentagon bus riders have floated the idea of using the Wiehle-Reston East bus bay itself as a new location for service.

Other ideas including shifting some Pentagon bus service from Reston North to the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride or the smaller Baron Cameron Park lot.

Biesiadny says transportation officials will monitor the situation after Labor Day and consider such options, should the lack of parking result in a drop in ridership on the Pentagon bus.

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