36 Minutes on Wiehle Avenue
The touted benefits of Metro's new Silver Line largely center around the new swath of Virginians who will now have access to the nation's capital through public transit. But what people are forgetting is that D.C. residents will now also have greater access to the much developed but largely unexplored suburbs of Virginia.
The last stop of the first phase of the Silver Line, which is set to open Saturday, features the rather unfamiliar name of Wiehle (pronounced "wheelie" by locals): Wiehle-Reston East. The name itself makes sense considering the Metro stop is located on Wiehle Avenue, but the avenue is foreign to many D.C. residents. A brief history of Wiehle Avenue: In 1881, Carl Adolph Max Wiehle, a German physician living in the United States, retired at 35 and moved his family to Washington, where he soon discovered the Virginia countryside. Northern Virginia’s recovery from the Civil War was slow, and land was cheap, according to the Fairfax Times.
Wiehle and Gen. William McKee Dunn partnered and purchased 6,450 acres of land in Fairfax along the railroad for $4 an acre. Dunn developed his land into what is now Dunn Loring. Wiehle, however, only sold 12 of his planned 800 residential lots and never got to see his full suburban utopia vision before he died in 1901. In 1961, Robert E. Simon purchased the land for $13 million and transformed it into what is known as Reston.
Today, Wiehle’s legacy lives on through this heavily trafficked avenue that runs through Reston, and now, half the name of the Metro stop. With a Metro stop right on it, Wiehle Avenue will surely be the next “it” spot for D.C. residents looking to meander across Virginia’s concrete and sprawling countryside. I spent a whirlwind 36 minutes on Wiehle Avenue visiting all the hotspots and can now share where to go next time you take the Silver Line to the end of Phase 1.
Extreme Sports, 4:30 p.m.
Wiehle Avenue boasts six lanes of traffic surrounded by construction cranes, parking lots, and boxy stucco buildings. While crossing the street in D.C. is a leisurely actively where pedestrians get as many as 60 seconds to cross, on Wiehle Avenue it’s an adventure sport. It seems pedestrians must push the crosswalk button if they ever want to walk and then must pay attention to when they get the green light: Once the walk sign turns on, pedestrians have just about 20 seconds to get across the wide street. All the while, cars will still be trying to make a left turn onto Wiehle Avenue, paying little attention to the sparse pedestrians. Oh, and there are no bike lanes on Wiehle Avenue.
Happy Hour, 4:35 p.m.
The food options on Wiehle Avenue are all conveniently located in one enclave (i.e. parking lot) across from the quaint Fairfax County fire station. There’s a McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, each with their own drive-through window. Upon first glance, it’s easy to mistake the Pizza Hut and Taco Bell for a combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell, but they each have their own airy restaurants, and the Taco Bell is just pushed back and not visible from Wiehle Avenue. I’d recommend dining at Taco Bell because, geographically, it’s the hidden gem of the three. And from 2 to 5 p.m. at Taco Bell, it’s Happy Hour, which gets you a drink, slushy, and loaded griller for $1 each. I ordered two drinks, a soft taco, cheesy gordita crunch, quesadilla, and nacho cheese Doritos Locos taco all for $10—a price that can’t be found at any D.C. taco food truck.
Parks and Recreation, 4:50 p.m.
After all those tacos, you’ll likely want to take a walk. Washington & Old Dominion Park—known as the skinniest park in Virginia at 100 feet wide—runs right through Wiehle Avenue. It’s a 45-mile paved trail surrounded by trees and definitely worth walking through for a few minutes. But don’t get too deep into exploration: It all looks the same after a while, and a sign at the entrance instructs park goers on how to identify ticks. Enter at your own risk.
Live Entertainment, 5:00 p.m.
While on Wiehle Avenue, make sure to listen to the sound of suburban youth culture. Every couple dozen cars on the busy avenue will yield one vehicle, manned by a youth, with its windows down and indiscernible rap music emitting from its speakers. These sounds are widely considered to be the anthem of Wiehle Avenue.
Science, 5:06 p.m.
The last stop on this Wiehle Avenue adventure is the mysterious Isaac Newton Square, which is identified as such by a large brick sign with gold lettering surrounded by manicured landscaping. But step behind the sign, and there is no square or ode to Isaac Newton, just a massive parking lot with scattered office buildings throughout. Take a walk around and see if you can figure out why this square is named after Newton. (Google yields no immediate answers.) And if you're so inclined, signs on some of the buildings indicate there is still some office space for lease.
Photo by Perry Stein