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And the MetroGreater winner is...

You've voted, and the winning idea in the MetroGreater contest is... [drum roll] ... installing compass roses at the entrances to Metro stations!

Photo by the finalist Robert B.

This summer, MetroGreater asked for your small, quick fixes to improve riders' experience on Metro. People across the region submitted nearly 1,400 ideas which a jury narrowed down to 10 finalists. Then, you voted to pick a winner and the results are in. Installing compass rose decals at the exits of Metro stations won the majority of the votes!

The winning idea: Compass rose decals at station exits

A compass rose is a figure that shows you which north, south, east, and west are in. Installing compass rose decals outside stations with multiple exits could help Metrorail riders get their bearings after on their way out.

Robert Biemesderfer, an economics teacher from Falls Church, Virginia submitted the winning idea to MetroGreater. Like many others who submitted ideas to MetroGreater, he recognized that there is a lot of room for Metro to improve signage and wayfinding across the system. Here's his original idea:

Exiting at an unfamiliar metro station, but don't know the direction you need to head next? Use a compass rose to quickly orient yourself.

WMATA should keep the decals sufficiently far away from the station exit that tourists won't stand over them and block escalator exits. In fact, if the decals are placed 10 feet forward from the exit, it could draw unfamiliar visitors forward and out of the way of escalators as they orient themselves.

The decals would work best if they gave primary prominence to the north direction, so that they could be read from a distance and were not dependent on reading the letters.

Here's how voting played out

Voters agreed that compass rose decals would improve the rider experience. When casting a vote, people were able to rank as many of the 10 finalists as they wanted. We then picked the winner using Ranked Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting. This system eliminates the lowest vote getter, one by one, and re-apportions each vote to that voter's next highest choice still in the running, until one gets a majority.

Here's a screenshot of the original results, before applying the Ranked Choice Voting method.

To see how the compass rose decal idea got the majority of the votes using the Ranked Choice Voting method, click the left, back arrow button on the green "Round 9" button in the interactive visualization below.

Many thanks to FairVote, for crunching the numbers and producing this tool to visualize the results! Learn more about the instant runoff or ranked choice voting method here.

Who voted?

During the two-week voting period, 1,522 people from across the region (and beyond!) ranked the 10 finalists. A little more than half (55%) of the votes came from people who live in DC. Virginians and Marylanders submitted 41% of the votes (21% and 20%, respectively). The remaining 4% of voters live outside the Washington region.

What's next?

"We're excited about having had the opportunity to work with Greater Greater Washington, CSG, and riders on this contest and are looking forward to following up on the winning idea, compass roses outside Metro stations," said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

In October, Greater Greater Washington will work with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and WMATA to host a happy hour to recognize the finalists and the winning idea. We'll also dole out prizes and talk about ways Metro can continue to make small and big changes to ensure a safe, reliable transit system. Stay tuned for a save the date!

As promised, we're also working on a series of posts about some of the ideas that didn't make it to the finalist round.

Congratulations, again, to Robert and thank you to everyone who participated in MetroGreater!


What's so great about the Purple Line, anyway?

With a recent court decision from a group of opponents delaying the Purple Line once again, it's easy to forget how many people support it, from local environmental groups to Governor Hogan. Let's remember why they fight for this project, and why it will get built one day.

This will get built. Image from Montgomery County.

The Purple Line will be a 16-mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. It'll connect three Metro lines, all three MARC commuter rail lines, and Amtrak, as well as hundreds of local bus routes. It'll serve two of the region's biggest job centers, Bethesda and Silver Spring, as well as Maryland's flagship university. It'll give Montgomery and Prince George's counties a fast, reliable alternative to current bus service and Beltway traffic.

However, it'll do a lot more than that.

1) It'll make walking and bicycling a lot easier and safer. The Purple Line project includes rebuilding or extending trails across Montgomery and Prince George's counties, building on the area's growing bike network.

The Capital Crescent Trail, which ends two miles outside of Silver Spring, will get fully paved and extended to the Silver Spring Metro station, where it'll connect to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The trail will get a new bridge at Connecticut Avenue and new underpasses at Jones Bridge Road, and 16th Street, so trail users won't have to cross those busy streets.

Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring will get a new trail. Photo by the author.

Streets in other parts of the corridor will get rebuilt with new sidewalks and bike lanes. University Boulevard in Langley Park will get a road diet. Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring will get a new, extended Green Trail.

2) It will let more people live and work near transit more affordably. Metro has its problems, but people still value living in walkable, transit-served neighborhoods. As a result, communities with Metro stations can be very expensive. The Purple Line puts more neighborhoods and more homes near transit, as well as more opportunities to build new homes near transit, helping meet demand and fighting spikes in home prices.

How far you can get by transit from Riverdale today and after the Purple Line is built.

3) It will improve commutes far beyond Bethesda to New Carrollton. The Purple Line will dramatically improve transportation access for people who live or work near one of its 21 stations. But even those whose homes or jobs aren't near the Purple Line may travel through the corridor, getting a faster, more reliable trip.

Right now, a bus trip between Silver Spring and Bethesda can take 20 minutes at rush hour (though in reality it takes much longer due to traffic). On the Purple Line, that trip would take just nine minutes. That's a time savings for anyone passing through the Purple Line corridor, like if you were going from Riverdale (which will have a station) to Rock Spring Business Park in Bethesda (which won't).

4) It's finally bringing investment to some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Communities like Long Branch, Langley Park, and Riverdale have long awaited the kind of amenities more affluent communities take for granted. When Maryland and the federal government agreed to fund the Purple Line, people took notice. Long Branch businesses formed an association.

Riverdale residents and business owners are pushing for a more attractive station. A few blocks away, this ad for a new house being built lists exactly one feature: "located within steps of purple metro line's Beacon Heights Station (officially approved by state of Maryland for 5.6 billion)."

While the Purple Line can help meet the demand for transit-served housing, there are real concerns that home prices may still rise, resulting in gentrification and displacement. That's why residents, business owners, and the University of Maryland partnered on the Purple Line Community Compact, which creates a plan for ensuring that people can afford to stay.

5) We actually don't know everything the Purple Line will do. Transportation planners can estimate how many people will use a transit line, but we can't predict how it will affect people's decisions about where to live, work, shop, or do other things. That's the most exciting part.

Metro helped revitalize Silver Spring. The Purple Line can do this for more communities. Photo by the author.

Metro helped make 14th Street a nightlife destination. It turned Arlington into an economic powerhouse. It transformed Merrifield's warehouses into townhouses. Those changes weren't guaranteed, but as a region we took the risk and it paid off.

We're poised to do the same thing for a new generation of neighborhoods along the Purple Line.

While a recent lawsuit from a group of Chevy Chase residents will has halted the project, transportation officials seem hopeful that this will be a temporary delay. The facts remain that this is a strong project that has major benefits for Maryland.

That's why everyone from environmental groups to neighborhood groups to business groups support this project. That's why Governor Hogan agreed to build it, even if he did make some changes to save money.

And that's why, despite a small but vocal opposition, it will get built.


How much could you save with a Metro SelectPass? Use our updated calculator to find out!

WMATA has expanded its new monthly pass program, SelectPass. Now, you can buy a pass for nine different levels of fares based on your travel patterns. What's right for you? We've created a calculator.

Photo by Ken Teegardin on Flickr.

SelectPass gives you a monthly pass for the cost of 18 round trips (36 one-ways) at a price you select. You pick a pass at the level of your regular one-way rush-hour fare; any extra trips of the same or lesser value are free, and more expensive ones just cost the difference between that fare and the single-trip fare.

The cost of the monthly SelectPass, therefore, is 36 times the cost of the fare threshold you choose, ranging from $81 for a $2.25 SelectPass to $212.40 for a $5.90 SelectPass. It's available for every 25¢ increment from $2.25 to $4.00, and also at the maximum fare of $5.90. Is it a good deal for you?

To find out what your savings could be, use the calculator below, which Greater Greater Washington contributor Chris Slatt developed and I adapted and expanded.

We've filled it in with an example representing someone who commutes 20 days a month at rush hour between East Falls Church and Farragut West (40 trips at $3.30 each), and does a round trip in the afternoon between Farragut West and Capitol South once a week (eight trips at $1.75 each). If you don't know how much your trips cost, go to the Metrorail stations page and click on the station where you're starting your trip.

WMATA SelectPass Savings Calculator

In a typical month, how many one-way trips do you take and how much do they cost?

Trips per Month Fare per Trip

Monthly Fares Paid and Savings

Normal Fare: $
Pass level Pass cost Extra fare Total Savings
$2.25 $81.00 $ $
$2.50 $90.00 $ $
$2.75 $99.00 $ $
$3.00 $108.00 $ $
$3.25 $117.00 $ $
$3.50 $126.00 $ $
$3.75 $135.00 $ $
$4.00 $144.00 $ $
$5.90 $212.40 $ $

In the graph above, the green bar shows the pass that is the best deal for you. Blue bars show passes that will also save you money, while those with gray bars will not.

How much would you save with a pass?


VRE's map keeps getting more diagrammatic

Last year, when Virginia's VRE commuter rail system opened a new extension to Spotyslvania, the agency completely redesigned its map. The new version follows a trend for VRE: Every iteration gets more and more like a subway diagram, and less like a true geographic map.

VRE's system map over time. Original images by VRE, compilation by the author.

The new map is at least the third completely different version VRE has tried since its launch in the 1990s. The original map was purely geographic, and oh-so '90s. The second map was a hybrid with simplified geography. The newest is a pure diagram, with equally-spaced station symbols and only the barest nods to geographic context.

It generally makes a lot of sense for transit agencies, and particularly rail providers, to use diagrams instead of geographic maps. Features like the Potomac River's many inlets, or minor curves on the rail lines, aren't information that riders need to know, but they clutter the original map, making it hard to discern the information that does matter. On the other hand, it's useful to know that the Fredericksburg line roughly parallels I-95 and that the Manassas line roughly parallels I-66.

Image from VRE.

Cameron Booth, the internet's foremost expert on transit maps and author of, reviewed VRE's new map in December, calling it a "solid" but "unremarkable" effort.

Across the river in Maryland, the MARC commuter rail map remains completely geographic.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Reports of Metro track defects sat in a database without action for years. One reason: Poor training.

A Silver Line train derailed last month because rail ties had deteriorated and the tracks had moved apart. Metro track inspectors had noticed years earlier, but it was "misclassified" in WMATA's database and never got fixed. Meanwhile, inspectors weren't checking all the places they were supposed to. One big reason for all these failures: bad training.

Degraded rail ties replaced during SafeTrack Surge 6. Image from WMATA.

As we've found out since the derailment, track inspectors weren't properly inspecting interlockings in the rail system, the spots where trains cross over from one track to another. Just like the main tracks, these are supposed to be inspected twice per week.

However, WMATA's top managers don't believe that was occurring, General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld and Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin explained at a special WMATA Board meeting on Thursday.

These track inspections, along with those automated and performed by the Track Geometry Vehicle, then go into Metro's issue tracking database, MAXIMO.

It would be bad enough if the inspections are potentially missing issues. However, the agency can't even trust the defect reports logged in MAXIMO. In a track integrity report the Federal Transit Administration released two weeks ago, Metro staff say they have only "approximately 75 percent" confidence that the data in MAXIMO is accurate, and thus useful.

To lose track of defects or to not be able to validate data in the system may have contributed to the East Falls Church derailment. The rotten rail tie defect reports were "incorrectly classified" and sat in the system for years without being properly escalated to the more serious priority that they warranted.

Metro has now awarded yet another contract to essentially rebuild its MAXIMO database with new track inspections, re-finding all the track defects that exist so that the agency has a known "good" list of issues in the system. This could be cheaper than trying to weed out the good vs the bad in the existing database.

Training is a big source of problems

Whether train operators are instructed not to set parking brakes overnight or track inspectors don't have the experience to properly identify and log defects, employee knowledge gaps are contributing to Metro's safety problems.

The FTA report said that track walkers go through an 18-week training program before being allowed to inspect the tracks, but that this training is insufficient:

The current training program is based on hiring employees from the street, without prior track knowledge and experience. The training does not provide a formal mentoring program for Track Walkers nor does it provide on-going training, specialized modules or workshops. Recertification and re-qualification appears to be limited to a one hour activity that centers largely on validating an employee's measurement skills. Additionally, there does not appear to be a training or on-going training program for supervisors who oversee the Track Walkers.
The agency is bringing in six Federal Railroad Administration-certified track inspectors for a short-term four-month contract to help give the system a fresh look by outsiders. One of Lavin's goals for this group is that they help give on-the-job training to Metro's nearly 60 track inspectors, some of whom have only been with Metro for maybe a year or two.

Not only is classroom training important, but also the practical hands-on side of it: touching the rails, inspecting fasteners and clips, and so on.

After reviewing the East Falls Church incident, Metro's staff came to the conclusion that "standards are appropriate, [but we] must focus on front line training and enforcing compliance to standards." One of the ways to start rectifying this? Have track walkers work with the experienced inspectors to pick up their habits and learn how to do the job better.

In addition, WMATA commissioned a peer review. from the the American Public Transportation Association. Based on its conclusions, a group from the University of Tennessee will be heading to Metro for two weeks in September. Metro's track inspectors will use these two weeks for additional track inspection training to help fill in knowledge gaps.

Even train operators need more training, according to reports including a recent one from the FTA. Operators aren't familiar enough with where the signals are on the tracks, the proper maintenance and troubleshooting of their trains (especially the newer 7000-series ones), and standard operating procedures of how to store trains in rail yards.

While some issues around both track inspections and train operations are a part of the culture deficiencies that Metro managers are trying to fix, others boil down to simply training employees so they can do their jobs successfully and safely. This is just one of the steps needed to boost morale and rebuild employees' confidence so they can make Metro's rail system once again safe and reliable.


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 90

On Tuesday, we featured the ninetieth challenge to see how well you knew the Metro system. Here are the answers. How'd you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Nine of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, J-Train-21, Stephen C, Solomon, AlexC, JamesDCane, dpod, Travis Maiers, and We Will Crush Peter K!

Image 1: L'Enfant Plaza

The first image features a Metro pylon directing passengers to the western entrance to L'Enfant Plaza. This entrance is inside the L'Enfant Plaza shopping concourse, and isn't the easiest to find from the street. This pylon bridges the gap between the traditional M-capped pylon on D Street and the mall entrance.

The main clues for this image are the brutalist buildings in the backgound. They're very iconic and should have been easiily recognizable as parts of the L'Enfant Plaza complex. 20 got it right.

Image 2: Grosvenor

The second image shows the pedestrian bridge over Tuckerman Lane connecting Grosvenor station to the Strathmore Arts Center. The curve of this bridge was a clue, since few pedestrian bridges in the system are curved. The two obvious choices are New Carrollton and Grosvenor, which have bridges like this.

However, the bridge at New Carrollton has a sharper curve. The colored lights here are also very distinctive, but if you haven't used the bridge at night, that might not have been helpful. 11 figured it out nonetheless.

Image 3: Braddock Road

The third image shows some new-ish signage at Braddock Road. We discussed these new platform decals in a post several months ago. This is the only station in the system with these markings.

Additional clues include the Alexandria Peak roof style (only King Street has the same canopy) and a blue marker on the train's destination sign. 14 figured it out.

Image 4: Deanwood

This picture shows the north end of the platform at Deanwood. The surroundings here should help you eliminate all the other possibilities. The catenary masts in the background mean this must be one of the Orange Line stations on the eastern end of the line. But the lack of wires eliminates Landover and New Carrollton.

The island platform eliminates Cheverly. The houses mean that this can't be Minnesota Avenue, since DC 295 is just west of the station. That leaves Deanwood. 21 worked out the logic correctly.

Image 5: Naylor Road

The final image shows a view from the platform at Naylor Road. The perspective here means this is an elevated station. The buildings in the distance, Lynhill Condominiums, were another clue.

Aerial images might have helped you narrow this down, by locating the bus loop and park-and-ride. 18 came to the correct conclusion.

Great work, everyone. Thanks for playing!

We're taking a break until the end of September. So take some time to study up and we'll see you on September 27 with week 91.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Metro badly needs culture change, everyone agrees. Can it pull it off?

Cross-overs. Guarded 8s. Gauge rods. It's hard for most Metro riders to follow all the talk about track inspection practices, the blistering number of Federal Transit Administration recommendations, and regular single-tracking over one problem or another.

While Metro has many problems with its track inspections, the real problem is deeper. Metro lacks a culture of not just safety, but of getting jobs done properly. The organization hides information from one level to another instead of working together to root out and fix problems.

Photo by Ben Schumin on Flickr.

Frederick Kunkle effectively summarizes the problems with Metro's organizational culture through one recent employment action.

Seyoum Haile, a senior mechanic, had falsified preventive maintenance inspection reports on [a] fan, court documents say. When confronted with discrepancies in those inspection reports during the post-accident investigation, Haile also lied, Metro's management says. ...

[But] Haile, who had been employed with the agency for 13 years, had only been following routine procedure in a workplace where management fostered incompetence and allowed people to make stuff up as they went along. ... Haile's supervisor, Nicholas Perry, acknowledged in arbitration testimony that he gave out pre-signed inspection reports to his crew. The forms said "reviewed by a supervisor," even if that were not the case, a practice Perry testified that he has since discontinued. ...

When mechanics wanted to run a test remotely, they had to contact Metro's Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC). The ROCC staff sometimes put the mechanics on hold, failed to call back, or had trouble locating the correct switch for the fans in question. On one of the last inspections Haile and a co-worker conducted on the fan before the fatal Yellow Line incident, he was heard in the background on an audio recording respectfully trying to help the ROCC official locate the right switch. But the ROCC operator couldn't find it and hung up. He and his coworker went to work on another fan but did not return to the original one.

The ROCC hung up? Are you kidding me? And Perry handed out pre-signed reports and never checked them? Come on.

I worked at an organization (Google) known for its culture, around innovation, around encouraging engineers to pursue crazy ideas with 20% of their time, around launching products in "beta" (at least at that time) to see what happens. Culture didn't come automatically to it or any other Silicon Valley company. They worked hard to communicate and reinforce themes and consider it strongly in hiring.

Metro's culture, clearly, is lacking. Many employees, whether front-line or managers, don't take responsibilities seriously. If employees falsify reports, and their managers encourage them to, and other departments hang up on them without solving a problem, something is very wrong not just with a few people or a department, but a culture.

Paul Wiedefeld is trying to change this

Thursday, the WMATA Board grilled agency managers on this. David Strickland, one of the new federal board members and a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said, "There has to be a crosscurrent of responsibility among every employee at WMATA, and quite frankly, it's not there. It's not just individual accountability and punishing wrongdoing. We need to have a self-policing culture."

WMATA General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld agreed. He said, "We have years of disconnect between management and employees. I want to reinforce we're all together in this. We respect each other; we're not going to have retaliation." (Many front-line employees have said they didn't speak up for fear of retaliation from their immediate supervisors, just one of many culture problems that have come to light.)

"I think it's a major reset of how we approach our employees, to hold everyone accountable," Wiedefeld went on. "The thousands of employees I've talked to, they want that, they want to get there."

We need Metro to succeed

It's very hard to turn around large organizational culture. It's possible, and people have done it, but companies in this situation are more apt to decline and go out of business than turn around.

That's not an option for Metro. It isn't something we can abandon (earlier, silly Kunkle columns notwithstanding). With all its problems, it's still the nation's second-best subway system.

It's made the Washington region appealing to the many people who want to live in walkable areas with transit to jobs. It's fed residential and job growth in central DC and many mini-downtowns in Maryland and Virginia. And it's made it possible for downtown DC to thrive without needing to cover all of this land in five-story parking garages:

Image from WMATA.

For those of us who think Metro is one of the best things ever to come to this region, it's heartbreaking to see these problems run so deep. They have to get fixed. They just have to. And all of us need to do whatever we can to help that happen.

There may not be much we can do. The board has hired someone, Paul Wiedefeld, to turn around the organization's culture. So far, people in the know believe he can. It's a tough job.

It will be harder if Metro also has no money

One thing we can do is ensure Metro isn't under-resourced. The more time Wiedefeld is spending out convincing local, state, and federal officials to give him the funds he needs to actually make repairs, the less time he can be fixing the management structure.

It's hard to argue that Metro needs money when so many people seem to be drawing salaries and not doing a good job, but an organization that's spending all its effort cutting expenses to the bone isn't an organization that can devote real management attention to reform. It's not a purely zero-sum game and he can and should do both, but some things really require the top manager, and there are only so many hours in a day.

Until they can, Metro is going to keep having layers upon layers of problems, just waiting to pop to the surface when the right conditions arise. Only a culture of working together to fix problems, not cover them up, will get Metro back to the pride of the region. "Culture changes can be generational, and we don't really have generational time to see that our culture changes," said Arlington's Christian Dorsey at the meeting.

I hope the union and management can truly work together to solve this. It's clear that some front-line employees should be fired, but also clear that many middle managers need to be. This won't get fixed by scapegoating anyone or union busting, but it also requires a shared commitment to change the culture, including removing the most toxic members.

Metro's still got a tough path ahead. Let's all root for it to succeed.


Diane Rehm cast her MetroGreater vote. Have you? Voting closes tomorrow at midnight.

The votes are rolling in! So far more than 1,200 people have cast their votes and rated the ten MetroGreater finalists. Voting closes at 11:59 pm on Friday, August 26th. We'll announce the winner next week.

Diane Rehm. Photo by NIH Image Gallery on Flickr.

Riders like you submitted nearly 1,400 ideas for quick ways Metro can improve the rider experience. A MetroGreater jury comprised of riders, advocates, and WMATA staff selected ten as finalists.

Now, the public will choose the winning idea by voting at WMATA has committed to implement the winning idea over the next six months.

Here are the 10 MetroGreater finalists

Click on each idea below to see the original MetroGreater submission and what commenters think about this idea.

Want to know more about these ideas before you vote? Check out this series of posts, which delve a little deeper into each finalist idea.

More direct priority seating signsMore station name signs
Install split stanchions in trainsCompass rose decals at station exits
Kojo on Metro: Recorded rail announcements by local personalitiesExit Metrobus using the rear door campaign
System map decals for ceilings of rail carsFeature local artists' work in stations
Make the sign post maps more color-blind friendlyReverse commuter parking passes

WAMU gets in on the MetroGreater action

Back in July, Martin DiCaro of WAMU invited David Alpert to talk about the MetroGreater contest on the seventh episode of the podcast Metropocalypse. Martin had David back on the most recent episode of Metropocalypse to comment on Metro's recent challenges and to give an update on the 10 MetroGreater finalist ideas.

Inspired by the "Kojo on Metro" finalist idea, Martin asked his colleagues to lend their voices to a faux Metro announcement. Diane Rehm may not have actually cast her MetroGreater vote, but she did lend her voice. Listen to Diane Rehm and Korva Coleman offer some cheeky advice to Metrorail riders.

Make sure your voice is heard. Vote today!

If you haven't already voted, go to to rank the finalists today! Voting closes at 11:59pm on Friday, August 26th.

Then, stay tuned! We'll announce the winning idea next week on Greater Greater Washington and

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