Greater Greater Washington

Roads


Montgomery's most congested intersections aren't in its downtowns

Where do you think the most congested intersections are in Montgomery County? Maybe right by the Bethesda Metro? In downtown Silver Spring? University, Georgia, and Veirs Mill in Wheaton? Actually, no. A review of Montgomery County's 50 most congested intersections found only one inside one of the county's urban centers.


There are busy intersections in the more car-oriented neighborhoods around downtown Silver Spring, but not in the core. Map by the author.

County planners ranked the 50 busiest junctions for the Mobility Assessment Report, a regular review of Montgomery's transportation needs. Notably, the report found that the amount of driving in the county has stayed the same since 2002 even while 100,000 new people came in.

The busiest intersection is Rockville Pike at West Cedar Lane in Bethesda, next to NIH and Walter Reed, which had a critical lane volume of 1,957 cars during morning rush hour. In other words, that means that nearly 2,000 cars pass through a single lane of that intersection each morning. In second place is Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane in White Flint, which is slowly evolving into a new downtown.

Other than that, the top 50 didn't contain a single intersection in the downtowns of Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton, in Friendship Heights, or Rockville Town Center. For decades, Montgomery County has had a policy of directing growth to walkable, urban neighborhoods near transit stations with an aim of reducing car traffic.

RankIntersectionCommunityAM CLVPM CLV
1Rockville Pike at West Cedar Ln.Bethesda1,9571,612
2Rockville Pike at Nicholson Ln.White Flint1,2341,929
3Old Georgetown Rd. at Democracy Blvd.North Bethesda1,4231,923
4Darnestown Rd. at Riffle Ford Rd.North Potomac1,0611,898
5Shady Grove Rd. at Choke Cherry Ln.Rockville1,3631,853
6Connecticut Ave. at East-West Hwy.Chevy Chase1,6841,848
7Georgia Ave. at 16th St.Silver Spring1,1221,816
8Great Seneca Highway at Muddy Branch Rd.Gaithersburg1,4641,800
9Frederick Rd. at Montgomery Village Ave.Gaithersburg1,5361,795
10Rockville Pike at 1st St./Wootton Pkwy.Rockville1,7681,610
11East Gude Dr. at Crabbs Branch Rd.Derwood1,7421,211
12Veirs Mill Rd. at Twinbrook Pkwy.Rockville1,4261,721
131st St. at Baltimore Rd.Rockville1,4221,718
14Connecticut Ave. at Plyers Mill Rd.Kensington1,3491,710
15Shady Grove Rd. at Epsilon Dr./Tupelo Dr.Derwood1,7041,403
16University Blvd. at Piney Branch Rd.Silver Spring1,5791,703
17East Gude Dr. at Southlawn Ln.Rockville1,6921,450
18Randolph Rd. at Veirs Mill Rd.Wheaton1,6831,679
19Piney Branch Rd. at Philadelphia Ave.Takoma Park1,2281,680
20Columbia Pike at Fairland Rd.Fairland1,4161,678
21Connecticut Ave. at Jones Bridge Rd.Chevy Chase1,4901,672
22Montrose Rd. at Tower Oaks Blvd.Rockville1,6631,232
23Bradley Blvd. at Wilson Ln.Bethesda1,6601,603
24Falls Rd. at Maryland Ave./Potomac Valley Rd.Rockville1,3841,658
25Georgia Ave. at Norbeck Rd.Aspen Hill1,6561,592
26Frederick Rd. at Shady Grove Rd.Shady Grove1,6471,486
27Colesville Rd. at Dale Dr.Silver Spring1,6041,645
28Shady Grove Rd. at Midcounty Hwy.Derwood1,6441,323
29Clopper Rd. at Waring Station Rd.Germantown1,6361,589
30Montgomery Village Ave. at Stedwick Ln.Montgomery Village1,6331,170
31Connecticut Ave. at Bradley Ln.Chevy Chase1,4151,628
32Georgia Ave. at Forest Glen Rd.Silver Spring1,3181,626
33Colesville Rd. at Sligo Creek Pkwy.Silver Spring1,5081,624
34Georgia Ave. at Columbia Blvd./Seminary Ln.Silver Spring1,5201,624
35Veirs Mill Rd. at 1st St.Rockville1,6101,475
36Aspen Hill Rd. at Arctic Ave.Aspen Hill1,6091,467
37Norbeck Rd. at Muncaster Mill Rd.Aspen Hill1,6091,238
38Columbia Pike at Greencastle Rd.Fairland1,6071,575
39Old Georgetown Rd. at Tuckerman Ln.North Bethesda1,6041,261
40Great Seneca Highway at Quince Orchard Rd.Gaithersburg1,6021,547
41Randolph Rd. at Parklawn Dr.North Bethesda1,6011,165
42Democracy Blvd. at Falls Rd./South Glen Rd.Potomac1,5941,167
43River Rd. at Holton-Arms SchoolBethesda1,5911,358
44Norbeck Rd. at Bauer Dr.Aspen Hill1,5861,329
45Randolph Rd. at New Hampshire Ave.Colesville1,4401,580
46Layhill Rd. at Ednor Rd./Norwood Rd.Olney1,5791,425
47River Rd. at I-495Bethesda1,579957
48River Rd. at Willard Ln./Greenway Dr.Bethesda1,5791,530
49East-West Hwy. at Jones Mill Rd./Beach Dr.Chevy Chase1,0871,574
50Colesville Rd. at Franklin Ave.Silver Spring1,4131,571
Data from the Montgomery County Mobility Assessment Report. CLV = Critical Lane Volume. Click on a column header to sort.

As a result, while these areas do have higher-than-average rates of foot and bike traffic and high rates of transit use, they're not as congested as more suburban parts of the county. Just 16 of the top 50 intersections were inside the Beltway.

Not surprisingly, some of the busiest junctions are along major commuter routes like Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue, and Georgia Avenue. But many are on small, two-lane roads in suburban or rural communities like #4, Darnestown Road and Riffle Ford Road in North Potomac, or #46, Layhill Road, Ednor Road, and Norwood Road near Sandy Spring. These places are spread-out and far from transit, jobs, and other amenities, meaning residents have to drive a lot.


Layhill Road and Norwood Road. Image from Google Street View.

This report shows that if you build places on the assumption that people will drive everywhere, you'll get a lot of traffic, while if you give people options, you'll get less. Not everyone may want to live downtown, but those who choose to do so are keeping the roads clear for everyone else.

Public Spaces


Where are DC's streets the greenest?

Students at MIT recently created a map of greenery along DC streets by analyzing Google Street View images to approximate visible plant life for each street, using dots of varying sizes and opacities.


DC Street Greenery. Map from MIT.

The You Are Here project will create 100 different maps for 100 different cities. Students are hoping to inspire social change and help individuals better understand the surrounding urban environments.

Transit


Ask GGW: Who can push for more and better bus service?

Reader Michael Fekula wants to see new and more frequent Sunday bus service to his neighborhood, Westchester Park, between College Park and Greenbelt. He sent us a copy of a letter that he wrote to WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles:


Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

I live in the Westchester Park community which is located on Kenilworth Avenue east of Berwyn Heights and west of Greenbelt. We are served by one bus route: the R12, which runs Monday through Saturday.

The biggest problem is that there is no Sunday service. We have a large number of senior citizens and many others who go to church on Sunday but who cannot get there unless somebody gives them a ride.

There are others who work on weekends, plus, a large number of Univ. of Maryland students who have no way to get to campus on Sunday.

Even shopping nearby is problematic as the closest shopping center, Beltway Plaza, is going to be too long of a walk for older people.

The closest bus service to our location on Sunday is the route 81 bus which goes to the far side of Beltway Plazaa good 30 minute walk from Westchester Park. And it only runs once an hour on Sundays and service ends late afternoon. Not at all convenient.

Matt Johnson wrote about this issue in neighboring Greenbelt back in June. Matt even made a map that showed the stark difference between bus service during the week and on Sundays.

Matt points out that the obstacle to Sunday bus service (or increasing bus service in other ways) is probably not WMATA itself, but the state and local governments:

TRU-G (the transit advocacy group in Greenbelt) has been pushing for Sunday service for years now. WMATA is interested in providing the service, but there's a catch. WMATA doesn't get to decide where to expand service. The funding jurisdiction does. And in the case of Prince George's (and Montgomery) County, that's the Maryland Department of Transportation.

MDOT has to pony up the money, not WMATA. Until people exert enough pressure on the state government, that's not going to happen. In Greenbelt, we've been trying for several years, but there are lots of projects competing for money from the state, and Sunday bus service in Greenbelt hasn't yet made the cut.

Therefore, Michael Fekula and any other Maryland residents who want more bus service on Sundays might also want to start talking to lawmakers in Annapolis and officials at MDOT to ask the state to provide funds for better bus service.

Links


Breakfast links: Cross with care


Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.
College Park focuses on pedestrian safety: After 2 fatalities, UMD President Loh says pedestrian safety along Route 1 is a priority. Students are petitioning the city to build sidewalk barriers, but some residents don't consider that a solution. (@presidentloh, The Diamondback)

More transportation options for young people: Millennials want more transportation options and they're willing to move for it, according to a new survey. 80% of respondents want a city where they can get around without a car. (Streetsblog)

CityCenterDC only for the wealthy: Will CityCenterDC only bring in the 1 percent? With mostly luxury retail, the site will certainly maximize revenue, but it's doubtful that everyone will feel welcome. (City Paper)

Blame the canal: Is Georgetown's C&O Canal to blame for the lack of restaurants and retail south of M Street? The Georgetown BID hopes transforming the NPS-managed waterway will attract more businesses, and they're willing to pay. (City Paper)

DC issues bad parking tickets: Many Maryland and Virginia drivers recently received delinquency notices for parking tickets they never received. The tickets were wrongly issued and contain the correct license plate but wrong vehicle information. (WTOP)

Farmers' markets face red tape: While updating the vending code for food trucks last year, the DC Council also revised regulations for farmers' markets. They will now face health inspections and must register with the Department of Health. (City Paper)

Time changes Howard Theatre: You can now see how city sites - like the Howard Theatre change over time in Google Street View. See selected sites across the US change using images collected since 2007. (DCist)

Sell your house: Housing prices in the DC metro continue to soar, as the area has one of the lowest sale-to-inventory rates in the nation. Low equity and mortgage rates keep homeowners from selling, increasing competition among homebuyers. (WBJ)

And...: Oh, the things you'll see while riding Metro. (Post) ... WMATA introduced a Metro Sustainability Initiative to increase ridership and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (PlanItMetro) ... Berlin is timing some of its traffic lights for cyclists. (Gizmodo, Andrew N.)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Transit


How'd you do in week 2 of whichWMATA?

On Monday, we posted our second photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of 5 stations and we asked you to try to identify them. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 23 guesses on this post. One commenter, Justin, got all 5 correct. Excellent work, Justin! Another 4 commenters got 4 right.


Image 1: Silver Spring.

Over 75% of you got the first one right. This is an inbound Red Line train arriving at Silver Spring. You can see the Lenox Park residential tower in the upper left corner, which seemed to help several of you find the answer.


Image 2: Braddock Road.

The second image is a picture of Braddock Road, taken from a southbound Amtrak train. Only 5 of you got this one right, but most people made educated guesses based on the railroad tracks visible in the foreground. I thought this one would be easy, since Braddock Road and King Street are the only two stations with this roof design (3 people guessed King Street).

While WMATA does have a few unique stations, most fall into 8 basic designs. Knowing which design elements are present could help you get the right answer in the future. The devil (and the answer) is in the details.


Image 3: Gallery Place.

The third image is of the lower level of Gallery Place. Eight of you guessed correctly. Another six guessed either Metro Center or L'Enfant Plaza, which were also great guesses, since the three downtown transfer stations have a similar layout.

One commenter, Justin, gave his reasoning for picking Gallery Place over the other two:

It's underground transfer, which makes it Gallery Place, Metro Center, or L'Enfant Plaza. There's a red transfer dot, eliminating L'Enfant Plaza. There are four lines of text on the wall, and the second line is small. If it was Metro Center, the second line on the Virginia side would be longer for Silver Line, and there wouldn't be one on the Maryland side, since Silver/Blue both go to Largo.

Image 4: New Carrollton.

This picture is of the eastern entrance to New Carrollton. One distinct feature of this station is the extra-wide overhang on this side of the station. It's the result of a provision for a bypass track into the railyard here that was never installed. Six of you got this one.


Image 5: Greenbelt.

This one did prove to be the hardest: only four of you got it right. But I'm impressed. Everyone gave it a good go and made educated guesses.

This is a sign at Greenbelt in the pedestrian tunnel that links the faregates to the Lackawanna Street entrance and the MARC Camden Line platforms. At Greenbelt, the Camden Line platform for Baltimore (eastbound) is only accessible from this tunnel. The only other place where that happens is in Rockville (2 of you guessed Rockville).

At New Carrollton (3 guesses) both MARC tracks are on an island platform, so there's no need to distinguish between directions. Silver Spring (2 guesses) does have split tracks, but both are accessed from a bridge that is off WMATA property.

I think one thing that threw people off was the "westbound." But remember that MARC (and before it, the B&O) considers both the Camden and Brunswick lines to run east-west. Baltimore is railroad east of Washington and Brunswick is railroad west. If you pull up a Camden or Brunswick line schedule, you'll see they refer to trains as eastbound and westbound.

Next Monday, we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. If you want a sneak peek, you can follow me on Instagram. Thanks for playing!

History


Today's problems were visible decades ago, but zoning has blocked solutions ever since

No one could have foreseen that DC's zoning could push middle-class residents out of the District and force people to drive even to get milk, right? Actually, planners in 1970 warned of exactly of these dangers.

44 years ago, when Richard Nixon was president, the same consultants that noted outdated ideas at the root of DC's then-outdated zoning code foresaw other problems looming for the city.


Image from DDOT DC on Flickr.

The first Walter Washington admini­stration hired planning firm Barton-Aschman to examine the zoning code after the MLK assassination riots, urban renewal, the Metro, and freeway revolts. Planners greatly rethought their approaches after these seismic events.

Not all of Barton-Aschman's comments were negative, but they criticized the technocratic, autocentric attitude that underlay the 1958 zoning code. They found fault with the 1958 code's absolute separation of commercial and residential uses, which underlies the ban on corner stores.

They noted that the then-planned Metro system justified higher densities downtown and less reliance on automobiles. Finally, they anticipated that zoning restrictions made it hard to build enough housing for a growing city.

Barton-Aschman foresaw the problem with restricting housing supply

Studies for the 1958 code by its main author, a consultant named Harold Lewis, predicted that 870,000 people could live in DC under his zoning regimen. But that assumed large families and urban renewal instead of historic districts. The 1970 report says:

It is possible that zoning makes it difficult to develop new family-type housing units in the district, while also inhibiting the development of high-rise apartments which may be more attractive to single persons and families without children. ... If zoning helps deter population growth, is it contributing to an imbalanced society in the District?
They noted that these restrictions would push out the middle class, "leaving predominantly the rich and the poor of both races." They wrote that this is not a local fluke, but one that is recognizable nationwide:
The Douglas Commission has pointed out that existing codes and ordinances of major cities across the country deter the development of low-cost housing by private industry. Land is too expensive, parcels are to small, height and floor area ratios are too low, and density patterns are too restrictive to encourage modern, attractive, and livable low cost residential projects.
Aggressive downzoning, ostensibly to preserve urban character, exacerbated these problems during the 1980s. The report raised this concern, warning, "Local residents might stretch the zoning process to become exclusionary." The specter of explicit segregation was fresh in the public's memory, so they worried that the code might be abused to the same end.

Barton-Aschman realized that Metro changed everything

Barton-Aschman's 1970 report was blunt about how Metro would change the city:

Perhaps the metro system alone is a sufficiently important factor to justify a complete review of policies assumed in the 1956 Zoning Plan and reflected in the existing Zoning Regulations.
Lewis, meanwhile, saw his plan as an alternative to a mass transit system. At a public hearing on July 28th, 1956, he justified his plan:
Washington has, of course, a free choice as to which means of transportation it wishes to dominate the central city, ... no new transit system can possibly start operation for several years at the earliest, and it is therefore obvious that the [1958] zoning must be based on solid present trends and solid present fact.
Those trends? Declining transit ridership and the extensive network of highways that were soon to snake their way through Washington's neighborhoods.

In his published report, as well as the 20 public meetings held to discuss the plan, Lewis saw those highways as serving a second function, separating residential and commercial uses.

He saw the inner beltway as a great "dam" that would forever keep a shrunken downtown from bleeding into into residential neighborhoodsat least the ones that survived highway construction. Secondary arterials like Wisconsin Avenue in NW and Pennsylvania Avenue in SE would divide the city into residential cells, free of commerce.


Harold Lewis and NCPC imagined a Washington of nodes an neighborhoods.

Lewis tried to eradicate all corner stores

Lewis also saw corner stores as a blight, and proposed relocating all commercial activity to well-parked shopping centers, like the one in Spring Valley today. Residents could then drive down one of the major thoroughfares to the store.

Although Lewis had to introduce a Special Purpose (SP) mixed-use zone after the first round of comments, he still tried to force noncompliant uses like corner stores to close. The Zoning Advisory Commission decided that the enabling legislation didn't permit that. They agreed that separating uses was theoretically sound, but not politically feasible. Therefore, this attitude persists in the code's minutiae.


Recommended employment centers, from the Lewis report.

We don't know whether the authors at Barton-Aschmann would support the text of the proposed new zoning code as it was set down last September 9th. But we do know that they saw a lot wrong with the text we have now. We've known about those problems for decades; scouring the flawed assumptions and integrating the ad-hoc fixes is unavoidable to create a code for the 21st century.

Transit


Montgomery County added 100,000 residents since 2002, but driving didn't increase

Montgomery County has 100,000 more residents than 10 years ago, but the amount of driving in the county has actually stayed the same, says a new study on how people get around. Meanwhile, more people are walking and biking inside the Beltway, and bus ridership is growing well outside it.


Montgomery County's population has grown, but the amount of driving miles hasn't.
Graph from the Planning Department.

Drivers traveled about 7.3 million miles on state roads in the county in 2012. It's a slight decrease from 2011, but about the same as in 2002, when the county had just over 900,000 residents, compared to 1.005 million residents today. It's in line with both regional and national trends, and suggests that people didn't stop driving simply because of the Great Recession.

The results come from the Mobility Assessment Report, which the Planning Department conducts every few years to identify Montgomery County's biggest transportation needs. County planners measured pedestrian, bicycle, and car traffic throughout the area, in addition to looking at transit ridership.

Silver Spring has more foot traffic, Bethesda has more cyclists

Planners counted the number of pedestrians at 171 locations and the number of cyclists at 25 locations across the county, and plan to do more detailed studies in the future. Not surprisingly, the most walkers and bikers can be found in the county's urban centers, including Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Wheaton, as well as White Flint.


9,500 people use the intersection of Georgia and Colesville each day. All photos by the author unless noted.

The county's busiest pedestrian intersection is Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring, with 9,500 pedestrians each day. (By comparison, the intersection of 7th and H streets NW in the District sees 29,764 pedestrians daily.) All of the county's busiest intersections for cyclists were in Bethesda; number 1 is Woodmont Avenue and Montgomery Lane, with 163 bikes during the morning and evening rush hours.

More bus riders in the Upcounty

Montgomery's busiest Metro stations are inside the Beltway, including Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Friendship Heights, as well as Shady Grove, a major park-and-ride station. The most-used Metrobus routes are also closer in, like the C2/C4, which serves Langley Park, Wheaton, and Twinbrook and serves over 11,000 people each day, and the J line, which serves Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Surprisingly, the county's busiest Ride On routes are now in the Upcounty: the 55, which runs along Route 355 between Rockville and Germantown, and the 59, which serves Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Montgomery Village. These routes all carry between 3,000 and 4,000 riders each day; the 55 is one of the county's most frequent bus routes, running every 10 minutes during most of the day.


A Ride On bus in Germantown.

That said, transit use in the county has fluctuated in recent years. After decreasing during the recession, daily Metrorail ridership has remained stable since 2009 and fell slightly from 28,504 riders between July 2012 and July 2013 to 27,360 during the following year. About 57,000 people rode Metrobus each day over the past year, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous year.

Most transit riders in the county take Ride On, which carried 88,370 people between July 2012 and July 2013. While it's a slight increase from the year before, it's still 7,000 fewer riders than in 2008, when the county made significant service cuts that were never restored.

More people are using the ICC, but fewer than expected

Meanwhile, more people are using the Intercounty Connector, the highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel north of the Beltway that opened in 2012 and will finish construction this year. An average of 30,000 vehicles used the toll road each weekday in 2012, while traffic rates have increased about 3% each month.

But traffic on the ICC is still much lower than state officials' estimates, raising the question if it was worth the $2.4 billion cost. It does appear to have taken cars off of parallel roads, like Route 108, Route 198, and Norbeck Road, where traffic has fallen by up to 16.9% since the highway opened.

Some roads are always busy

Planners noted several roads that have consistently high congestion, like Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road, and Colesville Road. It's no coincidence that these are four of the corridors where both the county and the State of Maryland are studying the potential for Bus Rapid Transit.

There isn't a lot of room to widen these roads or build more interchanges, meaning we have to find new ways to add capacity. Trends suggest that Montgomery County residents are driving less and using transit more, at least when it's frequent and reliable. And as the county continues to grow, we'll have to provide more alternatives to driving if we want to offer a way out of traffic.

Links


Breakfast links: More travel


Photo by ehpien on Flickr.
More lanes around Dulles?: The Virginia DOT unveiled a plan to build more highway lanes on the west side of Dulles, to connect the proposed Bi-County Parkway to the airport. (WAMU)

24 hour bus service, anyone?: Metro is conducting a survey to determine if some bus lines should run 24 hours. Currently, some lines run until 3 am, and there is increasing demand for longer hours. (DCist)

Let cities decide on transportation: A former federal transportation official says that one way to save the US transportation program is to put more money in the hands of local communities rather than only giving money to states. (Atlantic Cities)

Assaults rise on area trails: Area trails are seeing more assaults as the weather changes. Police say that they often see a spike in these types of crimes with increased outdoor exercising in the spring. (Post)

How Clinton helped save DC: A 1997 bill helped pull the District out of its financial crisis, by having the federal government pay for the courts and assume pension debt it had itself created. Bill Clinton seriously considered also making DC a tax haven, though DC regained prosperity without it. (Post)

Markets, movies for Courthouse Square: Arlington residents want a public space at Courthouse Square to host markets and outdoor movies as well as social gatherings and relaxation, according to a survey. Many pushed to put any parking underground instead of on the surface. (ArlNow)

Can the Garden City be the future again?: Can good planning and design create residential suburbs that aren't sterile sprawl? Or are prewar dreams of suburbs doomed, no matter how good the plan? (The Architect's Newspaper, Neil)

And...: DC is the nation's fourth funniest city by comedy club density and number of funny tweeters. (DCist) ... A Georgetown preschool closed because the building owner couldn't get insurance. (WJLA) ... DC outbid Prince George's to woo CBS Radio. (WBJ)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Transit


MARC's chief engineer wants to allow bikes on some weekend trains

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is seriously looking at how to let passengers bring ordinary bicycles aboard MARC trains. A background briefing by top MARC officials last week left bicycle advocates with the distinct impression that they want to allow bikes on some weekend trains within the next year or so.


A cyclist boarding a train in Germany (not Maryland). Photo by Steven Vance on Flickr.

MTA officials have long said that the combination of high speeds and full trains prevented allowing bikes. At a meeting three years ago, advocates pressed the matter with Simon Taylor, the Assistant Administrator of MTA, and John Hovatter, Director of MARC and Maryland Commuter Bus Operations.

Taylor and Hovatter made it clear that there was no real prospect for bikes on trains anytime soon. But they also said that MARC was planning for weekend service, and that bikes "should" be allowed if that service started.

At the time, weekend trains seemed like a remote possibility. Now they are a reality, and MARC officials are evaluating options for allowing bikes aboard some weekend trains.

Why MARC does not allow bikes on trains

Taylor and Hovatter explained their reluctance to allow bikes on trains to several advocates at the 2011 meeting. Federal safety rules require bicycles to be securely tied down on trains running faster than 70 mph, lest they become projectiles in a crash, the officials said.

On the Penn Line, trains exceed 70 mph along most segments except in Baltimore. On some stretches, the trains exceed 110 mph when pulled by electric locomotives. MTA engineers have been unable to devise a way to quickly secure bikes without permanently removing 3 to 5 seats from the car for every pair of bikes. With full trains, that is not a tradeoff that MARC is willing to make.

The Camden and Brunswick Line trains are not so full, so removing a few seats in favor of bike racks might be reasonable for those trains. But MARC rotates all train sets (except for the electric locomotives) between the three lines, so modifying cars for those two CSX lines would make Penn Line trains even more crowded.

Could MARC allow bikes on the Camden and Brunswick lines with the existing train configuration? Given that WMATA allows bikes on off-peak Metrorail trains, it might seem safe to do so. But Taylor and Hovatter countered that the CSX track is much poorer, generating side-to-side jostling which can cause bikes to slip out of the hands of the owner and strike another passenger. The low platforms at almost every station are another obstacle.

None of these problems is insurmountable, but in MTA officials' minds, they seemed to all add up to make bikes more trouble than they are worth.

A possible breakthrough emerges

Last year's gas tax increase provided additional funds for transportation, making it possible to finally add weekend service. Last summer, I reminded Hovatter that he had said "bikes should be allowed" when weekend service starts, because the trains will not be crowded. I asked if he could provide us with an update of his thinking.

He responded:

I would suggest we wait a few months to see how it is working and how many passengers we will be hauling. We are only running 3 car train sets to start off. If the trains are packed, and we hope they are, I doubt we will be able to handle any bikes, except the folding ones that we allow right now. Check back with us when it starts.
I was not encouraged by that response, but other members of Maryland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC) were more optimistic. Greg Hinchliffe, who represents Baltimore on the committee, pressed MDOT's Michael Jackson to set up a meeting with MARC officials and MBPAC.

As soon as the meeting began, it was clear that something had changed. Rather than listen to cyclist pleas for better service, the MDOT officials decided to have Erich Kolig, MARC's Chief Mechanical Officer, start the meeting with a presentation that gently lampooned MARC's existing policy. With a perfect deadpan, Kolig showed the MARC website:

Here is our bicycle policy: "Due to safety concerns, MARC's bicycle policy allows for the transportation of folding bicycles only... However, folding bikes are no longer restricted to those carried in a case." You see, we do have a bicycle policy.
All the advocates, and Jackson, laughed loudly.

Kolig then explained that he thinks the weekend service and MARC's capital equipment upgrades provide an opportunity to start carrying bikes on some trains. While the trains have attracted more passengers than expected, they still carry fewer people than the weekday trains. His presentation included illustrations depicting how bikes can be safely stored aboard the trains. He had clearly thought through how to do it, and how to keep the cost low enough to make it economically feasible.

Kolig and Hovatter asked the advocates to not reveal any details of the proposal.

Hovatter seemed favorably disposed to the proposal, although he did not promise that MARC will actually implement it. The decision to go forward is a few steps above his pay grade. And some unanticipated problems may arise, since railroads are highly regulated and MARC owns neither the track nor the largest stations on the Penn Line.

Hopefully, the Maryland Department of Transportation will approve Kolig's recommendation and at least start a pilot project with bikes on weekend trains, as soon as practicable. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has offered to help MTA officials get cyclist feedback on any draft plan.

Cross-posted at WABA Quick Release.

Roads


Fairfax's answer to neighbors' transit plans: Light rail, streetcars, and BRT

Not to be outdone by its neighbors' aggressive plans for rail and BRT networks, Fairfax County has an impressive transit plan of its own.


Fairfax County's proposed high quality transit network. Image from Fairfax County.

DC has its streetcar and moveDC plans, Arlington and Alexandria have streetcars and BRT, and Montgomery has its expansive BRT network, plus of course the Purple Line.

Now Fairfax has a major countrywide transit plan too, called the High Quality Transit Network. Top priorities are to finish the Silver Line and the Bailey's Crossroads portion of the Columbia Pike streetcar, but that's not the end of Fairfax's plans.

County planners are also looking at several other corridors, including Route 1, Route 7 (both east and west of Tysons), I-66, Route 28, and Gallows Road/Dolly Madison Boulevard.

Both rail and BRT are possibilities for all those corridors. Some may end up light rail or streetcar, others bus. Route 1 and I-66 could even include Metrorail extensions.

In addition to all that, Fairfax County Parkway is slated for HOT lanes, which could make express buses a more practical option there.

As the DC region continues to grow, and demand for walkable, transit-accessible communities continues to increase, these types of plans are crucial. If our major arterial highways are going to become the mixed-use main streets of tomorrow, transit on them must significantly improve.

Fairfax is undeniably still spending a lot on bigger highways. Planners' inability to calm traffic on Routes 7 and 123 through Tysons, for example, indicates roads are still priority number one. But it takes a plan to change, and this is a strong step forward. So good on Fairfax for joining the club.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC