The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

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Transit


I don't care what some people say: DC has great transportation options.

SafeTrack is pretty much Exhibit A when it comes to how frustrating the transportation options in the Washington region can sometimes be. But as my recent move to Orlando reminded me, problems like SafeTrack are somewhat of a luxury—you have to have a rail network to even have them. My message to the DC region: it's really not so bad!


X2 Bus. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

In the Orlando region, there's a fixed route bus system and new commuter rail line that provides reliable service for millions in Central Florida. And I just happen to live and work in a more transit-accessible area than I did in DC. But that is uncommon. Wait times between buses and trains are often an hour, and real-time traveler information isn't available throughout the entire system.

I recently spoke to some Greater Greater Washington contributors about my newfound appreciation for what DC does so well, asking if there's anything here that they're particularly thankful for. I really liked what Alex Baca had to say:

Metrobus arrives on time, consistently, and the frequency on the notable crosstown lines (90, X2, S buses, 50s) blows many, many other systems out of the water. I left DC for San Francisco and am now in Cleveland (car-free!). In both cities, it is a struggle to find a bus that arrives when it's scheduled. I know that the switch from NextBus has caused some consternation as far as real-time arrivals, but at least DC's buses arrive when their paper schedules say they will.

I was in New York recently and a friend warned me that "the buses aren't like DC here," so I would have to give myself a 15-minute window for my bus from Prospect Heights to Williamsburg, in case it was early or late. In Cleveland, the bus that stops outside of my apartment (a "high-frequency" line on a major route to downtown) is routinely four (four!) minutes early and only runs every 15 minutes—when I first moved here, I missed the bus several times and waited a whole headway for another, which, of course, was often late.

I left DC in 2014 but am back as often as I can be. I always, always take Metro from National or MARC from BWI, then Metro and Metrobus as needed. Often, I'm lucky to have a bike, but sometimes I don't. I don't want to undercut WMATA's problems with Metro, but even as a hot mess it's a better system than most other cities in America have to offer, and I will say that I was utterly miserable biking for both transportation and recreation in San Francisco, a city that is ostensibly one of the country's most bike-friendly. BART's role as a commuter system is even starker than Metro's. I rarely used it to get around the city in the way that I used Metro, just to get to the airport and the East Bay.

DC's transportation is comparatively incredible across the board. This is a great thing. It's also a depressing indicator of the state of transportation in the US.

In a word, Alex is right.

The Washington region has tons of options, from bikeshare to trails. Wait times between buses aren't bad when you compare them to other cities, and we've got apps that give us real time information. We've also got good wayfinding.


Capital Bikeshare in action. Photo by fromcaliw/love.

Capital Bikeshare adds to its 370 stations monthly, it seems. In just a few years, the system could have nearly 500 stations.


The Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by TrailVoice.

Bike commuting is easier with the region's extensive trail network, linking downtown to the suburbs. When Metro closed for a day in March, the MBT experienced a 65% increase in cyclists. That's a testament to how easy it is to bike in the area.


Wayfinding. Photo by Dylan Passmore.

Across the District, blue signs point you towards neighborhoods, Metro stations, and other points of interest. A person new or unfamiliar to an area can find their way to the Smithsonian museums or the zoo pretty easily.

Tell us your thoughts: what have you seen or experienced while traveling or living elsewhere that made you particularly thankful for the region's transportation network?

Public Spaces


Arlington has a great new park, and it was easy to build

What if you turned parking space in your neighborhood into the area's newest park? Staff members from a handful of Arlington County agencies recently did just that, creating a new "pop-up plaza" near Courthouse Plaza. It only took paint, plantings, outdoor furniture, and two days of work.

Though the County may have borrowed this idea from New York City, it has recently shown an ability to get innovative in transforming public spaces using inexpensive materials: in May, tape, paper, and potted plants were all it took to build a temporary bikeway.

The pop-up plaza calls to mind the temporary "parklets" that pop up on Park(ing) Day each September, but it's great to see these innovative spaces being created at other times of year.

Hopefully this plaza will remain a permanent fixture of the Courth House neighborhood (at least until the entire parking lot is reclaimed and transformed into a park).

Where do you think Arlington's next pop-up plaza should go?

Development


DC's Edgewood neighborhood is set to get more affordable housing and connections to the Met Branch Trail

Plans for a massive new development planned along Rhode Island Avenue NE include affordable housing, new connections to a large nearby apartment complex, and links to an important bike trail.


An elevation showing the first phase (completed, on the right) and later phases (outlined in white) of the planned Rhode Island Center development. Image by MRP Realty.

Rhode Island Center is a roughly 1,600-residential unit mixed-use development that will rise on the site of the Big Lots and Forman Mills between the Metropolitan Branch Trail and 4th Street NE.

This is the ideal transit-oriented development for the region: lots of housing, both affordable and market rate, a block from the Metro on a site that is currently a suburban-style strip mall. To top it off, it includes needed pedestrian and cycling improvements to the surrounding area.

Developer MRP Realty plans to include about 128 units in the District's Inclusionary Zoning program, build new stairways up to Edgewood Commons on the hill above it, make improvements to the MBT, install two new Capital Bikeshare docks and provide residents $225 in incentives towards alternative transportation options, like a bikeshare or carshare membership, a benefits package submitted to the DC Planning Commission on 1 August shows.

Affordable housing

The project will be built in phases, with the first two buildings fronting the MBT scheduled to open in 2019, confirms MRP's vice-president of development Michael Skena in an email. Phase one will include about 450 units, with 8%, or about 36 units, set aside for affordable housing.


Looking south at the first phase of Rhode Island Center from the MBT. Image by MRP Realty.

Half of the affordable units will be for households of four earning up to $54,300 a year, or 50% of the DC region's area median income (AMI), and half for similarly sized households earning up to $86,880, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development's (DHCD) 2016 inclusionary zoning schedule shows. Rents for two-bedroom apartments are capped at $1,222 a month and $1,955 a month, respectively, for the two income groups.

The affordable housing in Rhode Island Center's later phases will see slightly more units going to needier families, with 5% for those in the lower income bucket and 3% in the higher one.

The income levels for both the first and later phases of the development will be set if they are approved by the Zoning Commission on September 12, says Skena, even if the DC Council passes a pending change to the IZ program lowering the maximum household income level to 60% of AMI.

However, commissioners from ANC 5E, which oversees the area including Rhode Island Center, declined to support the development unless MRP includes nearly double the number of units, 14% of the total, in the IZ program at 60% of AMI, in a letter to the Planning Commission dated July 7.

While further changes to the affordable housing component in the development are possible before the September hearing, they are unlikely to include any units at the lower household income level sought by the ANC.

In July, the DHCD objected to a proposal that affordable units be available to households earning up to 60% of AMI in the Eckington Yards development. While the main objection was to a request by the developer to administer the units itself outside of the agency's IZ program, the agency emphasized a need for developers to be held to all the District's existing laws and regulations.

Current regulations require that units in the IZ program are available to households earning up to either 50% or 80% of AMI.

Stairways and connections

MRP promises to build two new stairways between Edgewood Commons and Rhode Island Center. This would provide residents of the apartment complex with a new direct connection to the MBT and Rhode Island Ave Metro station, eliminating the current about half-a-mile journey through the existing shopping center and up 4th Street.


The planned stairway connecting Edgewood Commons to the MBT. Image by MRP Realty.

The first stairway, which would be located in the northeast corner of the development adjacent to the trail, would be built with the first phase. The stairs would be closed between 1 am and 4:30 am on weekdays, and 3 am and 6:30 am on weekends.

Easier access to the Metro and trail would benefit residents of the mixed-income Edgewood Commons community. It would improve connections between the complex and the east side of the neighborhood, and potentially increase economic opportunities for residents. For example, the time it takes to walk to the shopping center with Giant Foods and Home Depot would be cut in half.

Connections to the MBT are a big part of the Rhode Island Center proposal. The central artery through the project will stretch from 4th Street NE to a new plaza where the trail and bridge to the Rhode Island Ave station meet, and include a new protected bike lane.


Looking east down the central corridor through Rhode Island Center towards the MBT. Image by MRP Realty.

The developer will realign the MBT so it passes under the stairs to the bridge to reduce pedestrian conflicts in the planned plaza, and make other signage, wayfinding, landscaping and lighting improvements.

The benefits package also includes $10,000 for the connection between the MBT and Franklin Street NE, which was included in the NoMa Business Improvement District's MBT Safety and Access Study earlier this year.

MRP will install two new bikeshare docks as part of the package. One next to the trail near the planned plaza and one on 4th Street NE between Bryant Street and Franklin Street.

Transit


Split stanchions in rail cars? A reverse commuter parking pass? Here are two more MetroGreater finalist ideas.

Last week we announced the MetroGreater finalists. Between now and August 26th, when voting closes, we want to tell you more about each finalist idea. Today's featured finalists: Install split stanchions in (some) rail cars and create a reverse commuter parking pass.


Photos by Shanan and thisisbossi on Flickr, respectively.

Install split stanchions in some rail cars

This finalist idea proposes to increase the amount of surface area on the vertical poles, or "stanchions," in Metrorail cars, allowing more people to hold on to the pole at the same time.


Photo by Shanan on Flickr.

Here's the original submission:

Seen in many new subway train models, these poles are split into multiple handles so that more people can hold onto them at the same time, and also prevents one rude leaning passenger from obstructing the entire pole.

I believe that split stanchions would be a significant benefit for riders, especially in crowded conditions. Most older railcars have clusters of three vertical stanchions at the ends, which makes navigating through them a bit tricky and often discourages riders from evenly distributing through the car. Replacing these with one or two split stanchions would free up walking space without losing surface area for riders to hold.

Split stanchions also solves the issue of one rude rider leaning against a pole, preventing anyone else from holding on.

These poles are an increasingly common sight on new and future railcars, including Montreal and San Francisco.

Peter D. knew that the MetroGreater contest was looking for "relatively simple ideas that would have a noticeable impact for riders" and thought the idea of switching out some of the vertical handrails fit the bill. Noting that "most older railcars have clusters of three vertical stanchions at the ends, which makes navigating through them a bit tricky and often discourages riders from evenly distributing through the car," Peter thinks replacing a few of these with split stanchions "would free up walking space without losing surface area for riders to hold."

Volunteer contributor Steven Offutt wrote a post about split stanchions after noticing them in a Barcelona subway car back in 2010. He noted then that "while the top and the bottom of the stanchion are a single pole just like in DC, the center section splits into three, allowing more people to comfortably hold on in the same amount of space. This appears to be a solution that could be retrofit into existing cars by cutting out the center of an existing stanchion and welding on these midsection portions."

When the jury nominated this ideas a finalist, they recognized that to implement this idea in under six months and $100,000, Metro would have to start by doing this as a pilot in a few trains only.

What do you think? Should Metro test these out? Vote at MetroGreater.org or share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Reverse commuter parking pass

Another finalist idea offers a solution to "reverse commuters," people who live in the District, but work in suburban areas of the region. Many of them could use Metrorail to get most of the way to work, but need a car to get from the station to their jobs. A reverse commuter parking pass would allow these folks to leave their cars overnight at a Metro stop near their work during the week and even through the weekend.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The original submission provides an example:

I think there are a number of individuals who would actually use metro to reverse commute but have the issue of "the last mile". If Metro allowed this individuals to purchase a parking pass that would be valid for overnight parking they could then use the Metro rather than driving the entire way.

For instance, if I lived in DC but worked in Gaithersburg or Germantown, I could take the Metro to the Gaithersburg station pick up my car and then go to work. Because of the time these spaces would still be available for regular commuters. They could use the same permit process."

Dennis E. found Metro's guidance on overnight parking confusing for people who may want to use station lots for reverse commuting. So he thought, "why not clear up the issue while creating a marketing-campaign which could promote the idea of reverse commuting and making it work for those individuals who don't work near a Metro Station or bus route?"

Dennis acknowledges that some of the other finalist ideas would impact a greater number of people, but he envisions several benefits of a reverse commuter program:

  • Raise awareness of reverse commuting using Metro and increase the number of riders who reverse commute by Metro.
  • Free up on-street parking spaces in DC and eliminates the headache of trying to find a spot for reverse commuters.
  • By parking overnight, reverse commuters reduce traffic congestion and reduce wear and tear on their vehicles.
What do you think of a reverse commuter parking pass? Even if you wouldn't use it, is it a worthwhile program to invest in? Tell us with your vote at MetroGreater.org!

And, ICYMI, check out the other finalist ideas we've profiled here and here.

Bicycling


College Park recreated Paris's "bus stop of the future" on the cheap

Four years ago, Paris made headlines for its bus stop of the future, a bigger and better bus stop with amenities like bikesharing and a book-sharing library attached. Now College Park has a bus stop with some of the same amenities, but using inexpensive, off-the-shelf pieces.


College Park's bus stop of the future. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Paris' bus stop of the future

In 2012, Paris's transit agency tried out a luxurious new bus stop design. In addition to the normal sign, bench, and shelter, the stop had electric bikes, bookshelves, wifi, and stylish architecture. It looked great and it made waiting for the bus more enjoyable, but it was expensive and took up a lot of space.

Paris' concept was a neat idea, but wasn't ultimately practical for mass production.


Paris's bus stop of the future. Image from RATP.

But some of the ideas from Paris's attempt make sense. Locating a bikeshare station next to a bus stop makes it convenient for more people to use both. And book-sharing can be a nice amenity, if it's easy and inexpensive to manage.

College Park's version

Enter College Park, where rather than design a custom building, the city simply added some of those components to an existing bus stop using their standard off-the-shelf pieces.

They started with a normal bus stop sign and shelter, then added a standard mBike bikeshare station. To help with maintenance, the city chained a bike tire pump to the station sign.

For the library, they staked to the ground a Little Free Library, a pre-fab wood box for people to take and give away free books. There's no librarian and no library cards; it runs on the honor system, and relies on people donating as many books as they take.


A similar Little Free Library in California. Photo by Michael R Perry on Flickr.

The stop is at the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Muskogee Street, in front of the Hollywood shopping center, just one block south of College Park's first protected bikeway. The stop serves Metrobus lines 81 and 83, which are among the busier lines in Prince George's County.

It's no grand Parisian bus station, but that would be overkill. For a bus stop in a relatively low-density suburban area, it's pretty darn nice.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Fun


There's a word for that

On a recent post about short bike lanes near intersections, a discussion started up about whether we should use a technical term or simpler ones. To help you learn some transportation lingo, here are some recently-discovered, never-published verses to the Barenaked Ladies' children's song, A Word for That. Listen below first, then read along:

There's a word for that
But I can't quite recall
When cars wait at a corner and I go around them all
The word for that
Some drivers are annoyed
But others say it's safe and isn't something to avoid

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(The word you are looking for is "filtering.")

There's a word for that
It sure is aggravating
To not remember what's the term for how long I am waiting
The word for that
In sun or snow or rain
How far apart arrivals are for any bus or train

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(Do you mean "headways"?)

There's a word for that
It's different every day
Sometimes I walk or ride a bus or go another way
The word for that
When traffic engineers
Ensure the road is safe no matter what your type of gears

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(Are you nuts, it's "multimodal.")

Bicycling


Upcoming events: Happy hour with Rushern Baker, bike theft, transportation tech, and more!

Our next happy hour is coming up on Tuesday, August 23, featuring special guest Rushern Baker, the Prince George's County Executive. Also, here are some more upcoming ways for you to extend your urbanist learning and activism to the physical world.


Photo by Joe Loong on Flickr.

County Executive Baker has been a champion for smart growth and transit in a county that has been patiently waiting for both. It's also your chance to visit Mount Rainier, an awesome town on the DC/Maryland line home to the burgeoning Gateway Arts District. RSVP here.

We'll be there from 6 to 8 pm at Bird Kitchen + Cocktails, located at 3801 34th Street, Mount Rainier. Our original announcement has a list of Metro rail and bus options for getting there.

If you'd like to bike, Ned Russell and Matt Johnson are organizing a bicycle group to go to the happy hour from The Bike Rack, 716 Monroe Street NE by the Brookland Metro station. They'll depart promptly at 5:45 pm. Here's a map of the route.

This happy hour is sponsored by the Anacostia Heritage Trails Association (also known as Maryland Milestones), which promotes local history in the area.

Besides the happy hour, there are some other great events coming up:

Today, August 14: Worried about bike theft? Come discuss your concerns with safety and enforcement at the Bicycle Advisory Council meeting at 6 pm at Busboys and Poets (1025 5th St) with special guest Phil Koopman of BicycleSPACE.

Thursday, August 18: Learn about the latest tech that's helping people share the road at the next Transportation Techies meetup, where individual coders and tech companies from around the region show off their work. This month's theme is "Playing with Traffic," and it's at 6 pm at the WeWork in Crystal City (2221 South Clark Street).

Next Thursday, August 24: Netwalking is an organization that gets people out in the community, walking for fitness, and learning about important issues. The next Netwalk will focus on the U Street neighborhood and will teach people about strategies for effective community engagement. It starts at 6pm; Meet at the corner of Vermont St and 10th Street, NW.

Coming to the happy hour? Let us know here:

History


Worldwide links: The most meaningful gold medal?

A US Olympic swimmer's gold medal feels like a triumph over the country's racist past, a Palo Alto planning commission member says she's leaving because it's too expensive to live there, and the guy who built Las Vegas' downtown housing should have gone up earlier in the process. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Länsmuseet Gävleborg on Flickr.

More than just a gold medal: Last night, Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic swimming gold medal. Manuel's win is obviously impressive on its own, but it carries even more gravity given that swimming pools in the United States have long been bastions of racism and segregation. "If you know how Jim Crow metastasized in America's pools, you know how significant Simone Manuel's gold medal is," tweeted Post columnist and Maryland professor Kevin Blackistone. (Vox)

Restrictively high rents in Palo Alto: A member of the Palo Alto planning commission resigned, saying she's leaving the city because housing there is too expensive. Kate Vershov Downing, whose family was paying half the $6,200 rent for a house, says that zoning policies that ban 2-story apartments and otherwise restrict density are to blame for the city only being affordable to "Joe Millionaires." (Curbed SF)

Build housing earlier: In order to create a go-to destination away from the well-known Vegas Strip, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has pumped $350 million into downtown Las Vegas. Some businesses have come and gone, and Hsieh says that if he had it to do all over again, he'd have built housing sooner so more people would have been around to create foot traffic in the area. (CNBC)

Cincy subway, interrupted: Cincinnati built a subway in the early 1900s, but political battles scuttled the project and the trains never actually carried passengers. Today, some of the tunnels house water mains, and people are exploring other ways to use them. But Cincinnati really missed a chance to change the face of the city in the first half of the 20th century. (The Verge)

First electricity, then internet: Also in the early 1900s, people in rural areas in the United States had to form cooperatives in order to get electricity. Now, the laws and statutes that allowed those cooperatives are allowing electric companies to serve those very same areas with broadband internet that major companies deemed too expensive to provide. (New York Times)

The straddle bus on the struggle bus: Testing has been postponed for China's "straddle bus" (which is actually a train) that's supposed to straddle the road and drive over cars. The people who built it have billed it as a solution to busy streets , but the Chinese media is now wondering whether the entire thing is a scam. (Shanghaiist)

Quote of the Week

"In helmetsplaining, people who clearly do not ride bikes and do not know that there is a difference between racing down a mountain at maximum speed on a bike and going to the store for a quart of milk consider themselves experts in bicycle safety and lecture everyone else."

Lloyd Alter at Treehugger on the Olympic sport of "Helmetsplaining"

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