Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Transit

Denver's beautiful Union Station mixes old and new

When Denver needed a new transit hub, city leaders naturally looked at the city's aging Union Station. Now after a massive expansion, Union Station is a monument to multimodalism, and a beautiful architectural mix of ornate old and shimmering new.

Denver Union Station. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

The new Denver Union Station combines five transit modes with expansive new and refurbished public spaces, and a brand new transit-oriented neighborhood.

Historic depot building

The station is anchored by the beautifully renovated 1894 depot building, with its lovingly restored, bright, airy waiting room. The ground floor includes popular restaurants and bars, along with table shuffleboard sets and occasional live music performances. The upper floors now host a boutique hotel.

Waiting room. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

Plazas surrounding the outside of the depot building are well-landscaped, and integrate nicely with the bustling LoDo neighborhood across the street. They form the northern end of Denver's 16th Street pedestrian mall, and are a vast improvement over the surface parking lots that formerly occupied the same space.

Multimodal transit

The station brings together Amtrak, commuter rail, light rail, and local and intercity buses.

New commuter and light rail lines are the major components of Denver's impressive FasTracks plan, which is adding about 100 miles of new rail to the city's transit network. Union Station will be the hub.

Immediately behind the historic depot lie the new platforms for Amtrak and commuter rail. They're partially covered by the grandest train shed in America.

Intercity and commuter rail platforms. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

For now there's only a slow trickle of Amtrak trains using these platforms. But starting in 2016 when Denver's new commuter rail lines begin to open, it will bustle.

Denver's coming transit lines. Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

Beneath the train shed lies Union Station's subterranean bus depot, the closest thing Denver has to a subway.

The bus depot serves as both a transit terminal and a pedestrian walkway between the main station and the light rail platforms, further beyond the train shed. It's a long walk from one end to the other, but it's an attractive space.

At the far end, Denver's light rail. The city has had light rail since 1994, but it's expanding under the FasTracks program.

Beyond the light rail, active freight rail tracks pass by to the northwest.

Entrance to the bus terminal and light rail station, with freight tracks to the right. Photo by the author.

Transit-oriented development

While the station itself is finished and open to the traveling public, the surrounding land is only half-complete. The former industrial railyards behind the station are being redeveloped as a new high-rise neighborhood.

Millions of square feet of development are planned, with thousands of new housing units in the pipeline. Multiple blocks of mixed-use infill development are under construction.

Denver is undergoing a population and building boom, so planners and developers anticipate high demand for the new units. The South Platte River Valley just to the north is also a fun and attractive part of the city, popular with tourists, cyclists, and shoppers visiting REI's flagship store on the left bank of the river, housed in the former power plant for Denver's streetcar system.

When it's all complete, Denver will have an impressive new urban neighborhood, fully integrated with and surrounding its new transit hub.

New buildings going up. Photo by the author.

A model for DC

The plan to redevelop Washington Union Station is, if anything, even more ambitious and complex than Denver's.

But as the DC area prepares to make that plan a reality, we can draw lessons from Denver's successes. Colorado's experience shows that it's possible to integrate multimodal planning and strong land use decisions, to a beautiful result.

Lousiana Avenue could get a protected bikeway

What's next for protected bikeways in DC? A few sections are in the works, including a connection from NoMA to Pennsylvania Avenue, a north-south bikeway downtown, and several other small connections as well as the next piece of the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

Area around Louisiana Avenue from the DC Bicycle Map.

At a recent meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Council, representatives of the District Department of Transportation announced that DDOT is working with the Architect of the Capitol and the ANC to extend the soon-to-be-completed protected bikeway on First Street NE from Union Station to the bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue NW via Louisiana Avenue NE/NW.

The First Street NE extension to Union Station is almost done. Resurfacing will begin soon (if it's not already underway). After that, DDOT will install concrete blocks similar to those farther north.

When done, First Street will become a one-way street with a two-way protected bikeway where today motor vehicles are allowed to drive two directions for part of the road's length. The bikeway on this block will be two feet wider (10 feet) than on the sections farther north, as DDOT now views 10 feet as the minimum for such facilities. There will be a loading zone on the opposite side of the street.

DDOT has been meeting with the Architect of the Capitol, local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and Councilmember Charles Allen's staff to discuss extending the bikeway further south, along Louisiana Avenue, where it would connect to Pennsylvania Avenue via either First or Third streets.

Discussions are preliminary and no alternatives have been defined yet, but the response has been mostly positive. One potential roadblock is that the design will likely require removing parking along Louisiana. Parking is under the purview of the Senate's Sergeant at Arms, not the AOC, and they are concerned about the loss of parking. But if all goes well, work could begin next year.

Senate parking on Louisiana Avenue. Image from Google Maps.

A north-south bikeway through downtown

The East End Bikeway would be a mile-long north-south bikeway on the east side of downtown. Studies are continuing for this project. DDOT planners have collected data on traffic volume, parking, transit use, land use etc. They have also been reaching out to stakeholders, especially churches, to address concerns early.

They'd like to have a public meeting on it soon, perhaps September, and present alternatives. There will be choices about designs and about which street(s) to use.

Area around downtown from the DC Bicycle Map.

4th and 8th have been ruled out, but they may get bike lanes. On other streets, the options are a one-way protected bikeway on each side of the street; a bi-directional bikeway on one side; or a pair of one-way bikeways on adjacent streets such as 5th and 6th.

They hope to have the 30% design completed by the end of the year, with installation to start next spring.

What else?

DDOT has only installed about two miles of bike lanes so far this year. Bike planners have been busy filling small gaps. Those are nearly as much work as longer lanes, but with less mileage. Still, DDOT planners think they're critical pieces which will pay off.

They've installed a couple of small bike lane sections on 2nd and 3rd streets NE near Rhode Island Avenue; bike lanes and sharrows on 49th street NE; a pair of one-way bike lanes on Galveston and Forrester Streets SE; and one-block sections on 4th and 6th NE near Stanton Park. They plan to do the same thing on 11th and 13th near Lincoln Park too.

19th Street NE/SE on Capitol Hill got a bike lane and sharrows. This project was originally going to be a complete rebuild of the street, but became restriping only.

Area around the northern Met Branch Trail from the DC Bicycle Map.

Design and community outreach is underway on the north section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. DDOT planners are meeting with community groups, taking soil borings near the trash transfer station and the Metro tunnel, and working on the 30% design, which they hope to complete this year. The stickier sections are where the trail crosses Riggs Road and the area near the Brookland Metro entrance. They hope to start construction in 2017.

Finally, DDOT and DPW are creating a snow clearing plan for bridges for next winter. Last year no one was responsible for the 14th Street Bridge so it wasn't cleared. They are trying to prioritize bridge sidewalks for clearing and then DPW and DDOT are dividing up responsibilities, so that every bridge will eventually get service.

A version of this post was originally posted on TheWashCycle.

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 61

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

This week, we have a guest photographer. These five photos were all taken by Mr. Johnson.

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck! Thanks again to Mr. Johnson for his submissions.

Update: The answers are here.

Metro's inefficient info displays worsen crowding

By prioritizing elevator information rather than train arrivals on its platform displays, WMATA forces riders to make bad decisions. The result: inefficient use of sparse train capacity.

Not the best use of this technology. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Picture yourself in this scenario

Imagine you're descending into a Red Line station. You hear a train approaching and rush to the platform. The train pulls up and you see that it's full.

You glance over at the real-time train arrival display, hoping there will be another train a minute or two behind. If so, you'll wait for it rather than crowd on now. Maybe you'll have just enough time to move down the platform to a less crowded spot.

Alas, the display is cycling through elevator outages on the Orange Line in Virginia. Who knows how long until the next train arrives. You'd better crowd on now.

Prioritizing less important info results in badly informed riders

Scenarios like that play out thousands of times every day all over the Metrorail system. It happens because Metro's PIDs, the Passenger Information Displays that show how long until the next train arrives, are programmed to also cycle through each elevator outage in the entire system.

Cycling through elevator outages often takes a long time, making it difficult for riders to get the real-time train arrival information that the displays were invented to show.

In turn, badly-informed riders can't use the system efficiently, and exacerbate overcrowding. Without good information, riders push onto full trains when an empty one is a minute behind, and rush into the nearest door rather than move down the platform to a less crowded one.

Those are increasingly important problems given Metro's capacity limitations.

Wheelchair users need elevator info

WMATA displays elevator outages on the PIDs because it's crucial information for a small minority of riders: the wheelchair bound, and others who can't use escalators or stairs.

For those groups, having plenty of advanced notice about which elevators are out is absolutely necessary. Removing that information from stations would therefore be an unacceptable trade-off.

But that information doesn't have to be on the same screens as train arrival information. In fact, trying to display multiple elevator outages on the PIDs, where there's only enough room to scroll through them one by one, is a remarkably bad way to provide that information.

A better way, in Chicago. Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Displaying elevator outages on the PIDs requires riders who need that information to wait and watch an entire cycle, even if a train they could take is on the platform now.

It would be far more efficient to display that info on a separate screen that can show several outages at once, like the larger more advanced screens at station manager kiosks.

Or even a low-tech dry erase board, the preferred solution for Chicago's CTA.

By trying to satisfy two entirely different sets of needs with one limited screen that runs on decades-old technology, WMATA isn't getting as much out of the PIDs as it could.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 60

On Monday, we posted our sixtieth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. Reader Robb D took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 11 guesses. Three people got all five. Great work, Peter K, MZEBE, and Mr. Johnson!

Image 1: Cheverly

The first image shows the platform at Cheverly. You can tell from the stations listed on the pylon that this is an Orange Line station. And the only outdoor Orange Line station with side platforms is Cheverly.

Ten got this one.

Image 2: Morgan Boulevard

This one was a little trickier. It shows an outbound Silver Line train leaving Morgan Boulevard. You can tell it's a Silver Line train because of the absence of color bars on either side of the destination sign. Except for the 7000 series railcars, the Metro fleet can't display the white LED color used for the Silver Line.

From the station's walls and ceiling, you can tell it's a newer station. But the presence of a Silver Line train is a bit of a red herring.

The design elements aren't quite right for it to be one of the brand new Silver Line stations. The only other "new" stations used by Silver Line trains are on the other end of the line. Those are Largo and Morgan Boulevard, which opened in 2004. This had to be Morgan Boulevard because, unlike at Largo, one end of the station is underground.

Three guessed correctly.

Image 3: Gallery Place

The third image shows part of the crossvault at Gallery Place. This is a rather unique view, since there's a mezzanine under the point where the north-south and east-west vaults intersect.

Robb's photo captures the cut-away portion of the vault from that vantage point. Other helpful hints include the side platforms visible at right and (just barely) some of the experimental signage characteristic of Gallery Place.

Seven knew this one.

Image 4: Suitland

The fourth image shows the mezzanine at Suitland. The big clue here is the overpass above the bus loop, visible at left.

Southern Avenue has a similar overpass, but it doesn't have a next-gen faregate. Suitland is one of the stations in the payment pilot, and knowing that would have helped you narrow this down.

Eight got this one.

Image 5: Van Dorn Street

The final image shows the view from the platform at Van Dorn Street. The main clue here is the line of high-rises in the distance. They should have helped you narrow down the possibilities. Another clue is the shape of the mezzanine roof, which has a crescent-like shape to interface with the bus loop.

Seven figured this one out.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing! And a special thanks to Robb D for supplying the photos this week.

If you have pictures you think would be good fits for whichWMATA, please send them to

Chicago's transit agency uses YouTube to inform and entertain

The Chicago Transit Authority operates one of the largest rail and bus systems in the country. To share information with their riders, like telling them about projects to make service better, the agency maintains an excellent YouTube channel.

The CTA Connections account is a great way for the agency to communicate with riders. Its variety of videos, including some that explain various projects, some that provide fun facts about how the agency works, and those that just entertain, give CTA a public face people can relate to.

The video above is an example of how CTA has done this is with its ongoing work to rehabilitate the "Ravenswood Connector," which is a section of track between the North Side Main Line and the loop carrying the Brown and Purple Lines. Here's a video explaining the project.

The page also includes information about proposed capital projects, like the Brown Line flyover proposed at Clark Junction, near Belmont. In this case, northbound Brown Line trains have to cross over three tracks, which carry north and southbound Red Line trains and southbound Purple Line trains. A flyover would allow for a significant increase in the amount of Red Line trains.

There are also explainer videos, like the one below, which explains what goes on in CTA's interlocking towers. Unlike Washington, where Metro has a centralized control center, tower operators in Chicago actually throw switches from on-site towers. The junction at Tower 18 is one of the busiest rail junctions in the United States, with over 700 trains daily.

The agency also has videos that are more for entertainment purposes than anything else. Each of the eight rail lines has a real-time front-seat view of the line. One of my favorite aspects of these is that at the transfer stations, the videos include links so you can "transfer" to another video.

YouTube and other social media platforms can offer transit agencies great outlets for communicating with riders. Videos can be very informative and can help inform riders, build support for projects, and increase goodwill.

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