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Posts in category Transit

The Dutch government is trolling DC over marijuana, bike lanes, and streetcars

As marijuana legalization took effect in the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said DC would "not become like Amsterdam." We talked about the differences yesterday, including on bicycling and transit, but the Embassy of the Netherlands has playfully responded with this infographic comparing our two capital cities.

Image from the Embassy of the Netherlands. Really.

The embassy also created a Q&A comparing marijuana laws in the two cities. But bicycling and transit supporters might focus more on the bike lane and streetcar disparities. That "(almost)" hurts. Low blow, Netherlands.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

How two families dealt with Metro problems and other transportation options in the snow

There was track work on the Red Line last weekend, and as it turned out, a smoke incident as well. Both Mitch Wander and David Alpert were riding the Red Line, and the experiences yielded plenty of examples of the bad and the good of Metro and other transportation choices.

A family (not Mitch's or David's) in the snow. Photo by Amber Wilkie on Flickr.

Mitch says, "My son and I considered car2go or Uber for an early morning trip from Glover Park to Catholic University. Uber had surge pricing in effect, likely because there were few cars on the road, but there were two nearby cars2go. We walked to the first only to find it parked on a patch of ice and on a hill. But the second one fit the bill."

Meanwhile, David and his daughter were going to Tenleytown. He says, "We've mostly given up on using Metro on weekends when there's track work (and often, sadly, even when there's not). But we didn't want to drive back in a major snowstorm, so we tried the Red Line even though the Metro website said service was only running every 20 minutes.

"We just missed a train to Shady Grove by a few seconds, but fortunately, though the website didn't mention this, there were some extra trains just from Dupont to Shady Grove (and from Judiciary Square to Glenmont), one of which pulled in shortly after."

The snowstorm begins

By the time both families were coming back, the snow was coming down heavily.

There were nearly two inches of snow on the ground when Mitch and his son left Catholic University just before noon. He says, "I overruled my son's suggestion to use car2go again. Instead, we decided to take Metro to Tenleytown and either take Metrobus or get a ride from my wife home.

"We walked to the Brookland-CUA Metro station. The first train arrived but the conductor announced that the train would go out of service at Judiciary Square without explaining why. We waited for the next train which continued downtown.

"At Dupont Circle, the train stopped with doors open for several minutes. There were still no announcements, but Twitter showed photos of smoke at the Woodley Park station."

"My son and I left, as did a few other passengers I informed about the problem. People by the bus stop said that the D2 had not been running for 45 minutes, so after trying to walk a few blocks, we decided to use Uber despite the 1.7x surge pricing. A car arrived within 10 minutes."

Another Metro delay compounds problems

David and his daughter left a little later, at 12:30. It was difficult to even push a stroller two blocks up a small hill to the Metro along sidewalks with fresh snow. This was not a time to be driving.

"Another 'special' train pulled in right as they got to the platform, which I knew wouldn't go through downtown, but he initially assumed it would reach Dupont before turning. However, it instead went out of service at Woodley Park. The conductor also did not explain why; I guessed that perhaps the train was going to wait in the pocket track before going to Dupont, though it also could have related to the smoke which I didn't yet know about.

"The conductor announced that another train was 20 minutes behind, and the signs confirmed this. This seemed odd since the wait between through trains was supposed to be 20 minutes, and the special was surely in between. Nonetheless, we settled in for a wait. Since mobile phone service works in Woodley Park, they were able to play music and watch videos.

"However, 20 minutes later, there was no train,though multiple trains had passed outbound. The top 'Glenmont' line on the digital displays showed a blank space instead of a time estimate. Eventually, the station manager announced that there was a disabled train at Friendship Heights.

Photo by David Alpert.

"I considered bailing on Metro, but my daughter is too small to ride in a car2go or an Uber without a carseat. There were no Uber vehicles with carseats available at all, according to the app, even at a surge rate.

"The platform had grown quite crowded at this point. Fortunately, Metro sent an empty special train in the opposite direction to pick up waiting passengers (even though, as Twitter showed, having a train pass by without picking them up annoyed some people waiting at Dupont Circle).

"An employee arrived on the platform and told people that a train would come within 15 minutes. And it did. The total trip ended up taking about an hour."

What can we learn from this story? There are a few conclusions we can draw:

Travelers have so many options, which is terrific. Mitch and his son used three modes of transportation (car2go, Metroail, and Uber) and considered two others (Metrobus and private car). He says, "I think my son takes for granted that we can seamlessly jump from one transportation option to another." If one mode is struggling, as Metrorail did, many people can opt to switch.

Modern technology is extremely helpful to compare options. It wouldn't have been possible to find out about the smoke so quickly or evaluate as many choices without today's smartphones, apps, and social media. We didn't have these options or this timely, decentralized information even just a few years ago, and it's transformed mobility.

Metro still can do far, far more to communicate about outages. Neither Mitch nor David knew about the short-turning special trains before riding one, and the website didn't talk about them. Some train announcements are hard to understand because of bad equipment and/or train operators who mumble through their explanations.

The following day, David and his daughter rode the Metro again, and when arriving at Dupont on a special train which was turning around, he overheard a rider saying, "I don't understand how this system works." People get confused and frustrated during planned or unplanned disruptions. Communication wouldn't stop all frustration, but could stop the confusion and reduce anger.

We're still lucky to have Metro even despite all its problems (which are many). Even though it took an hour to get from Tenleytown to Dupont Circle, that was better than trying to drive. Buses were not running. Walking was out of the question. Underground trains had a lot of problems, but they still worked. Maybe that's not much to be happy about, but people in most cities and even most parts of our region don't even have that.

Circling the answers to whichWMATA week 40

This week's whichWMATA, the fortieth, had a theme: All of the stations have shapes in their names. How well did you do?

We got 28 guesses this week. Four of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, Rich Frangiamore, FN, and Mr. Johnson! Joey and Chris H also correctly identified the theme, but didn't get all five correct.

Image 1: Dupont Circle

Of Metro's 91 stations, eight have shapes in their names. There's one circle, one triangle, four squares, and two pentagons. I also tried to take photos that featured geometric shapes as well.

The first picture shows the broad bowl that's home to the northern (Q Street) escalators at Dupont Circle station. The circular rim and pit is itself unique within the Metro system. But another distinguishing feature is the inscription around the rim, which Metro installed in 2007. The words are an excerpt from Walt Whitman's poem The Wound Dresser. Every person got this one right, all 28 of you. Great work!

Image 2: Federal Triangle

The next image shows the street escalators at Federal Triangle. Several of you confused this with Union Station, but this entrance is significantly different. For one, there are three side-by-side escalators here. Union Station has just two, and they're separated. Additionally, at Union Station, the escalators face the wall of the station, not the exterior. In this case, the light is streaming in from the courtyard (opposite 12th Street). Just over half of you—16—guessed correctly.

Image 3: Mount Vernon Square

When I went to Mount Vernon Square last week to collect pictures for this series, I didn't intend to capture this angle, which is directly above the street escalators and stair. But the sharp triangle fit with the set so well, I couldn't not snap a shot. The superstructure is part of the Convention Center, and stands over the entrance on the southwest corner of 7th and M Streets NW.

I expected this one to be a stretch, but if you'd sussed out the theme you should have been able to narrow this down to one of four stations. This was the hardest of the set, garnering only five correct answers. Two people guessed a different "square" station.

Image 4: Virginia Square

The fourth image is another square. It's Virginia Square, to be precise, which heretofore was the only station in Virginia we hadn't featured. If you had figured out the theme, you probably knew that the building at left doesn't fit around any of the DC "square" stations, and this is the only "square" outside of the District. It's clearly a residential building (with balconies) and is of the style typical of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.

The other icon is the clock tower visible through the escalator canopy, which a surprising number of you seemed to recognize on its own. Sixteen people knew this was Virginia Square.

Image 5: Pentagon City

The final image shows an unused entrance to Pentagon City. When the station was built, in addition to the entrances on either side of Hayes Street south of 12th Street (and a direct entrance into the mall), a tunnel ran over to the northeast corner. At some point, however, that tunnel closed. But the entrance is behind a set of glass doors immediately opposite the faregates. There are four porthole-shaped windows along the passage, which are the subject of this photo.

In keeping with the theme, they're also a geometric shape. They're the only real clue to this image, but they're a very distinct and easily-visible feature of Pentagon City station since they're straight ahead as you exit the faregates. Nine of you figured this one out.

I expected many people to get Dupont Circle, Federal Triangle, and Pentagon City, since those stations are well-used and fairly distinct. I hoped that knowing there was a theme would help people figure out the two "square" stations.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

A map of Montgomery County's rapid transit future

The Purple Line may dominate recent headlines, but Montgomery County's 81-mile, 115-station Bus Rapid Transit proposal also has tremendous potential. Here's what the future network might look like.

Map by Peter Dovak.

The BRT network would create a vast web of ten major corridors stretching across the county. That may be a bit harder to wrap your head around than simple one-line proposals like the Purple Line, so we've put together this map based on Communities for Transit's diagram of the network.

The map also shows the the Corridor Cities Transitway, a BRT line which has been in planning longer than the larger countywide BRT network; the Purple Line light rail; and existing rail transit in the form of the Metro Red Line and MARC Brunswick line.

Combined together into one map, you can get a glimpse of just how great Montgomery County's transit future could be, extending the reach of the Metro with a connection at every Red Line station, including two long-desired links between the eastern and western halves of the line, connecting Wheaton to Rockville and Glenmont to White Flint.

To make this work, Montgomery County has to avoid "BRT creep" and stick by its plans to give routes dedicated lanes. There will be tremendous pressure to cut corners, and already some segments of the plan don't have dedicated lanes. On the map, those appear with a hollow line instead of a solid one.

The maps shows the lines continuing into DC. The current plans don't include the District, but officials have started talking about ways to make the lines reach Metro stations in DC or go all the way downtown. The county also cut back the line on Wisconsin Avenue to end at Bethesda following resident objections, but it could span that section again if and when the line can continue farther, such as to Georgetown.

DC like Amsterdam? We can only hope

According to yesterday's Express, DC is starting to look a lot like Amsterdam, and not just because of marijuana. That's fantastic if true.

The top of yesterday's Express story.

Among the reasons the Express cites for DC's Amsterdamization are increasing bicycle use, the appearance of streetcars, and Georgetown's improving C&O Canal.

Amsterdam is one of the world's great bicycling and streetcar cities. It's a joy to travel along its extensive bikeways, and even lanes where cars are allowed are amazingly bike friendly. And Amsterdam's huge streetcar network (with streetcars in both dedicated lanes and mixed traffic) is a case study in successful urban transit.

DC's nascent bikeway and streetcar networks pale in comparison, but Amsterdam is a superb model for us to aspire towards.

And while it's true that we can never hope to have as many canals (short of a disastrous global warming-induced flood), we can at least ponder what might have been had the history of Constitution Avenue turned out differently.

Even more similarities

Transportation and canals aside, Amsterdam's overall urban design is actually incredibly similar to DC's. We're both predominantly rowhouse cities, with plenty of brick. Even our street grids are similar: Amsterdam has a relatively small core with twisty medieval streets, but for the most part it's a city of straight streets and radial avenues just like DC.

These scenes from Amsterdam wouldn't look all that out of place in Dupont Circle, U Street, or Adams Morgan, apart from how little street space goes to cars.

Amsterdam, but could be DC. Photos by the author.

Admittedly, Amsterdam beats DC in a lot of ways. But it's not Paris or Hong Kong, not so thoroughly alien. And DC is not Las Vegas. Amsterdam and DC aren't identical, but we're the same species of city, which means Amsterdam is better in ways that DC can practically emulate.

Plus, we've got Amsterdam Falafelshop.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Would you have guessed? Dallas has the country's biggest light rail system

Whether it's to gain a little perspective or just for fun, it's interesting to check out transit in other cities. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail system is the country's longest, stretching 90 miles across North Texas.

A DART train at the DFW Airport station. All photos by the author.

DART opened a five-mile extension to Dallas/Forth Worth International airport last August, making for an easy (though long) trip from the airport into Dallas and areas much farther east. The extension, along with the entire system, draws its funding from a 1% local sales tax.

Map of the DART rail system.

Locals do voice complaints about both how long trips take and how often trains run. Riding DART from the airport to downtown is scheduled to take 50 minutes, and according to Google Maps, the same trip can take as little as half an hour by car. Train frequencies range from every 15 minutes to every 20.

But despite these drawbacks, people in Dallas say they like that DART guarantees a set travel time, whereas dealing with the region's traffic takes some guesswork.

A DART train approaches the Bachman station.

Unlike in the Washington region, where walkable, dense development has sprouted up around a lot of Metro stations, land use in Dallas doesn't yet match the rail system. A lot of the stations on DART's Orange Line between the airport and downtown are surround by parking lots and bus bays—one even had a transit-oriented... field.

A field adjacent to the Irving Convention Center station. A highway flanked the other side of the station.

Dallas residents are using DART network more and more, even with its limitations. In 2014, DART ridership increased 1% to 96,272 average weekday riders compared to the prior year, according to the transit agency.

That DART is helping shift some auto trips to transit is a net positive for the North Texas region. Rail transit there continues to expand, and construction is underway on a 2.6-mile extension of DART's Blue Line due to open in 2016. There are also plans for a new 27-mile commuter rail line between downtown Fort Worth and Dallas/Fort Worth airport that could open as soon as 2018.

For more on transit developments in other cities, check out GGW's coverage of San Francisco BART's new Oakland Airport connector.

How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 40

It's time for the fortieth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Update: This week is a themed week. Figuring out the theme may help you figure out the answers.

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Update: The answers are here.

I can take the bus from my neighborhood to just about anywhere in DC

I'd love for more of my neighbors to consider riding the bus, so I made a spider map to show just how far we can go on all the routes that run through where we live. It turns out that on the bus, we can go from LeDroit Park to nearly every other part of DC.

Click for larger interactive version.

Washington enjoys an extensive bus network, yet buses remain the most underappreciated mode of transit. Buses may be slower than Metrorail, but their coverage of DC is unbeatable.

One reason fewer Washingtonians ride buses than trains is that it's hard to understand the complex bus system, which has criss-crossing routes that all look the same and have hard-to-remember names.

Better marketing, like Peter Dunn's H Street spider map, can help demystify the bus and get more riders onto it.

The map I made shows people in LeDroit Park how they'd ride to Adams Morgan, Woodley Park, the National Cathedral, and Tenleytown to the northwest, a way to get to Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown without having to worry about parking, and how to get to and from H Street's night life without having impaired driving even being a concern.

For those who frequently use Metro, knowing the area's available bus routes brings the comfort of a backup plan for unexpected service disruptions on the Green Line. When the Metro tunnel fire on January 12 shut service to our main Metro station, a lot of my neighbors could have taken a number of buses home from downtown or from connecting Metro lines, but they didn't know it.

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