Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Transit

Landover is not the place for the FBI

The owners of the Prince George's County land where Landover Mall used to sit are lobbying to locate the FBI headquarters there rather than near the Greenbelt or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. But a site not easily accessible by Metro isn't the best location for the FBI.

Photo by Jonathan on Flickr.

While building the project in Landover might be cheaper to start, the long-term costs to local governments and regional workers, including added traffic and longer commutes, would be far, far higher.

Prince George's Metro stations are the least used in the system (averaging 4,716 daily boardings per station in 2012, compared with 8,478 systemwide). While other counties promoted walkable development around their stations to maximize their investment in Metro, most Prince George's stations remain isolated parking lots with little or nothing to attract activity and train rides.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Many Silver Line riders make a long trek from Metro's eastern branches

Fifteen percent of commuters who take Metro's Silver Line to Tysons Corner or Wiehle Avenue come from east of the Anacostia River in DC or Prince George's County. These long commutes result from a growth pattern that puts jobs in far-flung western suburbs and affordable housing in the east. They're part of the price our region pays for sprawl.

Wiehle Avenue station. Photo by Matt Johnson.

Data released last week from Metro shows that 150 of the 983 morning rush hour riders arriving daily at Wiehle Avenue come from the system's easternmost stations. With 126 out of 827 passengers coming from the same area, the new Tysons station has similar numbers. The percentage is even higher at Spring Hill station.

These numbers are particularly noteworthy because only 20% of Metro's morning riders come from east of the Anacostia or Prince George's in the first place.

Silver Line stationAM peak riders
from EOTR/PG
Total AM
peak riders
Tysons Corner12682715%
Spring Hill8440620%
Wiehle Ave15098315%
Click on a column header to sort.

Some of those arriving at Wiehle Avenue are no doubt well-off homeowners who chose long commutes in order to live near Chesapeake Bay. After years of long car treks around the crowded Beltway, they might well prefer to park at New Carrollton or Largo and take a train trip of 70 minutes or more.

But the most common motivation for Silver Line riders from the east side is surely economic necessity, as most board at stations that draw riders from less affluent neighborhoods nearby.

Going from New Carrollton or Addison Road to Reston is a tough commute no matter how one travels, and if you have to wait for the bus at one or both ends, it's brutal. These ridership figures are a reminder of how painful it is when low wages meet land use policies that separate jobs from affordable housing.

Events roundup: Buses, buses, buses (and walking and biking)

If you care about buses, this is the week for you! The events calendar is filled with Virginia bus meetings, but if you get tired of sitting and listening during your weeknights, CSG and WABA have got your exercise with a walking tour and bike tour this weekend in Maryland.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Virginia buses (and other transportation): If you're a Virginian and care about buses, boy is it a busy week of public meetings for you! Tonight in Woodbridge and tomorrow in Fairfax, learn more about the Route 1 transit study.

Also tomorrow night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will hold a listening session at Fairfax City Hall to gather input for its TransAction 2040 long-range plan. Finally, weigh in on the next ten years of Fairfax Circulator service in Chantilly, also Thursday night.

Walk Saturday morning: Saturday morning, join the Coalition for Smarter Growth on one of their popular walking tours. This week's tour is Making Silver Spring a Great Place to Walk. Talk high speed roads and narrow sidewalks, but also the many things Silver Spring is doing right. RSVP requested.

Bike Saturday afternoon: Also Saturday, join WABA in their bike tour series as they explore the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis (WB&A) trail in northeast Prince George's County. The 9-mile rail trail tour will start and end at the Race Track Road parking lot.

#GGWchat: Don't forget, Monday at lunchtime, GGW will live chat with DC mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser. As with our previous live chats, we'll select questions to pose to her and she will respond. Submit your questions in advance, or during the chat on Twitter using #ggwchat.

Vision Zero: Join the Action Committee for Transit at their monthly meeting next Tuesday night in downtown Silver Spring to hear about Vision Zero from the editor of Streetsblog USA (and GGW contributor) Tanya Snyder.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at

Metro savvy: There's a free ride in them thar trash cans

Finding discarded farecards that still have money on them: It's one of the oldest tricks in any late night Metro rider's handbook, and for me, it's been a go-to Metro secret since my undergrad days. I estimate that I've foraged over a thousand dollars worth of fares over the last decade.

Photos by the author.

A friend and I once collected about $100 in discarded paper farecards every day while clipboard canvassing at the Smithsonian Metro station. An average of $100 per year bump to my SmarTrip just for picking up scraps out of the trash? Not bad.

Don't believe me? Neither did a co-worker when I told him about my little trick of the trade. But as we walked into a station earlier this week, I showed him how it's done.

A how-to guide

Start by giving a slight glance into the trashcan, like you're looking for the day's newspaper. If you spot a farecard resting on top, quickly grab it. To excavate fully, lightly shake the edge of the trash bag to jostle any remaining cards. If liquid appears at any point during either step, immediately cease, since wet farecards are no good.

In this particular case, the bag on the trashcan we approached had just been changed, which is always helpful for spying clean farecards. While we didn't see any on the surface, I told my co-worker to watch and learn before cautiously pinching the left side of the bag and giving it a gentle tug.

"No luck," he said, not seeing anything.

"Spoke too soon," I said as I snatched a farecard that had been crumpled into a small ball.

"No way," he deadpanned.

I proceeded to flatten the balled-up card by placing it against the fare machine and running the edge of my SmarTrip over it a few times. I then tapped my SmarTrip, pressed "Add Value," and slid my find into the machine.

"Slink!" $0.55 value added. I tapped my SmarTrip and turned to my friend as we headed toward the faregates.

"The Metro Jedi Force is now with you, my son."

A dying art

Next year, this trick of the trade will come to a sad but largely unknown and unceremonious end. The elimination of the paper farecard will make it a bit harder for people to throw their money away, meaning that some of Metro's savviest riders will no longer get their trips subsidized by the trash.

For now, though, those paper farecards are still out there, waiting to be found and traded in.

Later, I received an email from my co-worker with the subject line, "WOW!"

Along with a picture of himself holding three cards, each with values of $1.30, he wrote, "$3.90 pulled out of the SS Metro trash can and added to my SmarTrip card. Thank you teacher."

If you keep your eyes open, you too could add a few free bucks to your SmarTrip card.

See Metro's architectural types appear over time

Yesterday, I introduced you to Metro's eleven types of station architecture. Now, you can watch the designs as they appeared with the growth of Metro in this animated GIF.

Image by the author.

In 1976, Metro opened with just two architectural types, the Waffle for underground stations and Gull I for aboveground ones. Today, it's grown to eleven basic styles and six unique designs.

In some cases, expansion brought many stations of the same type, like the 1984 extension of the Red Line from Van Ness to Grosvenor which added four new Arch I stations. But in other cases, the types were somewhat mixed, such as the 1991 tunnel for the Yellow and later Green Line from Gallery Place to U Street.

To learn more about these styles, see the original post.

To rehab part of the Red Line, Metro will close it for 14 weekends

Get ready for major construction along the Metrorail Red Line. Starting in the summer of 2016, WMATA will close portions of the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor for 14 weekends, including one stretch of at least 7 consecutive weekends.

Grosvenor Metro station. Photo by Isaac Wedin on Flickr.

The good news is that in exchange for all those closures, Metro will complete a whole cadre of major rehabilitation projects up and down the line, and begin construction on the Purple Line. Instead of the piecemeal reconstruction that's characterized Metro rebuilding elsewhere, this will be a comprehensive program that will solve several problems at once.

Metro will fix water leaks in the subway tunnel, repair the piers that hold up the elevated tracks near Grosvenor, rebuild the platform at Grosvenor, and begin construction on a new mezzanine at Bethesda station, for transfers to the Purple Line.

The most significant construction will happen at just outside Medical Center station, where Metro workers will install a large arch between the tracks and ceiling, to help waterproof the tunnel.

Medical Center arch. Image from WMATA.

The work is necessary because water leaks in the subway tunnels have been causing electrical failures. In addition to waterproofing the area around Medical Center station, workers will power wash the tunnel, fix leaks in the tunnel, install better drain pipes, and replace tunnel lights and electrical cables.

Since the water leaks are an immediate problem that will take several weekends to fix, WMATA will take advantage of the station closures to do other work as well.

The agency will rehabilitate the elevated tracks near Grosvenor, where the metal bolts holding up the aerial structure have begun to degrade. Although the structure is not in any immediate danger of falling down, it could become a threat if Metro doesn't fix the situation now.

At Grosvenor station itself, workers will replace the crumbling original platform tiles with the newer Takoma-style tiles the agency has been using in recent years.

Finally, Metro will begin construction on its portion of the Purple Line, at the Metro stations that will double as Purple Line transfer points. At Bethesda, workers will begin to install a second entrance and mezzanine. At Silver Spring, the agency will begin to plan a similar connection, although construction won't begin yet during this period.

Bethesda second mezzanine. Image from WMATA.

There's no doubt all this construction will be painful for riders, but it's better than the alternate. At one point, Metro management was considering completely closing this part of the Red Line 24x7 for at least five weeks. By closing only the weekends, at least the line will remain useful for commuters.

Correction: The initial version of this post implied that a new arch would go inside Medical Center station. It is actually in the tunnel just outside the station.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

WhichWMATA: A retrospective

It's hard to believe, but we've been doing whichWMATA now for 25 weeks, and you've guessed on 125 images. Let's take a look back at the series to date.

On April 16, I asked you to try to identify the first set of images. Thanks to a link from Politico, week one got over 5,000 pageviews. Though, we only got 40 guesses.

Greenbelt, from week 1. Only one person got this one right.

I'm glad so many of you enjoy the series. I've had quite a lot of fun putting it together, but it's not easy. In fact, sometimes I wonder if my job is harder than yours.

It's a fine line to walk, and it's made much harder by the uniformity of design features across the system. In Atlanta, for example, I could take a picture of blue glazed platform tiles and it could only be Garnett. But here, if I take a picture of the floor tiles, you can only narrow it down to 80 or so stations.

So I have to take photos that are unique enough that you all have a fighting chance of guessing. But the photo also has to be obscure enough that it's not too easy. It's a fine line to walk.

Some stations have few distinguishing features, so it's very hard to include those stops. It's one of the costs of uniform design.

U Street, from week 7.

On the other hand, it's fun to help you exercise your deductive reasoning, as I did in week 7. 17 of you figured out that image 5 was U Street, despite relatively few clues. Here's my blurb from the answers that week:

As I indicated in the clue on Tuesday, there was enough information to narrow this down to 3 stations. 32 stations have the waffle-style vaults. Of that subset, 20 stations have a center platform like the one pictured, but 4 of those have full-length mezzanines. Of the 16 remaining, only three have floating mezzanines at both ends of the station: U Street, Shaw, and Navy Yard. But Shaw and Navy Yard have short names that don't require the station nameplates to be double-height as those at U Street are.
And I haven't been alone. We've had guest photographers in four of the sets: week 6, week 14, week 18, and week 22. I'm thankful to Ben Schumin, DC Transit Nerd, Peter K, and Sand Box John for submitting photos, so I could go on vacation.

If any of you ever want to try your hand, feel free to submit photos to

Mount Vernon Square, from week six. Photo by DC Transit Nerd.

Through the first 25 weeks of this series, people have guessed 903 times. On average, 36 people play each week. The fewest guesses we ever got came in week 21, when only 14 people played.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most guesses we ever got in a week was last week, when all five images depicted elements of L'Enfant Plaza station. We got 84 guesses in week 25.

Georgia Avenue, from week 24. Only two people knew this one.

Over the weeks, I've tried to balance the distribution of the stations across the system. But it's not always easy.

I ride the Red and Green (or Yellow) daily, and so pictures of the other lines are generally the product of a photo safari. Some of them are older pictures that I've taken and pressed into service for whichWMATA. But the other complicating factor is that some lines have more stations with unique features than others.

In the past, we've gotten some complaints that Virginia stations weren't featured enough, and with only 34 featured photos, Virginia does come in last. But we've only featured 35 Maryland photos, so it doesn't trail by much.

And in fact, in two weeks, we've featured Virginia stations exclusively: week 12 and week 16.

Eisenhower Avenue, from week 12.

In several weeks, we've had themed sets, including week 16, which featured the newly-opened Silver Line stations. Other themes included station art (week 4) and the pylons outside station entrances (week 11).

Rosslyn, from week 4.

I'm going to keep running the series for as long as I can find material to share. But I'd like to get your feedback on how I can improve whichWMATA.

What would you like to see included? What are we missing? Is it too hard? Too easy? Tell me in the comments (and don't worry: this time there are no wrong answers).

WhichWMATA will return in a few weeks.

Thanks for playing! Good luck!

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