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Transit


Walking and transit score high in Virginia's transportation rankings

Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.


West Broad Street and Oak Street in downtown Falls Church. Image from Google Maps.

In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:

  • Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
  • More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
  • Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
Passed in 2014, a state law commonly known as HB2 requires Virginia's Department of Transportation to use an objective and quantitative system to score transportation projects. The idea is to make planning more transparent, but high score doesn't guarantee funding nor does a low score preclude it.

In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.

Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.

Here's more detail about the law

Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.

Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.

What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?

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Transit


Montgomery County says it can't build BRT, but there's money for new roads

Earlier this month, Montgomery County leaders released plans to fund transportation over the next two years. There's $300 million for building new roads, but not enough money to keep BRT moving forward or to increase current bus service.


BRT in Crystal City. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2013, Montgomery County approved a plan for an 81-mile bus rapid transit network. The idea was to alleviate congestion and keep Montgomery economically competitive. The first phase of BRT along Veirs Mill Rd, MD 355, and US 29 would intersect with key master plans like those for White Flint and White Oak while also providing rapid transit along a major east-west connector (Veirs Mill).

By 2040, Montgomery will have 70% more congestion, 40% more jobs and 20% more residents. Better transit, which BRT would achieve, is a way to address this coming challenge.

But recent attempts to actually fund it have met resistance. Many supporters of the system are worried about stalled progress. Now, BRT funding from the state is set to run out, and BRT's future in Montgomery could be in doubt.

Money that could bring BRT to Montgomery is currently set aside for roads

Every two years the County Executive submits a plan for capital improvements in what's called the Capital Improvement Plan. The CIP is a budget that encompasses 6 fiscal years and is amended every two. While council staff notes road funding has been down in recent years, it acknowledges that it still dwarfs that of other jurisdictions in the region.

One road in particular stands out as particularly expensive: Montrose Parkway East. With a price tag close to $140 million, Montrose Parkway East is 20 million dollars more expensive than it was two years ago. The project is in the Pike District, an area the county wants to encourage walkability, but building the road would only invite more people to drive.

Montrose Parkway East is an even more questionable use of public funds, considering the county has transit modeshare goals. Development of White Flint is literally dependent on transit, so why are we building a $140 Million road there?

There's still hope for funding BRT in Montgomery

There are ways to move BRT forward without moving money away from road projects: Council staff has suggested implementing special taxing districts, others have suggested working through existing systems and creating a pilot corridor, while County Executive Ike Leggett proposed creating an independent transit authority to fund it.

But transit advocates can push legislators to stop spending money on road projects, and instead invest that money in things like BRT. It takes a vote of at five council members to approve or modify a proposed improvement plan in the CIP, and six votes to amend a previously approved capital program.

If Montgomery officials are serious about a transit oriented future, they must reallocate funds from projects like Montrose Parkway East and put them toward making BRT a reality.

Montgomery County residents can testify at a public hearing on Feb 11 and contact their lawmakers via the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

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Transit


National links: No more grocery stores

Walmart has turned many towns into high-dry food deserts, Nashville is considering its transit options, and Uber had to get creative to get insurance. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Alison & Orlando Masis on Flickr.

Walmart's small town shuffle: Walmart is closing shop in a number of small towns despite only recently arriving and putting other grocery stores out of business. Residents say the effect is devastating. (Bloomberg)

Music City moving: Nashville's transit authority is working to put forward a plan for developing transit. The most robust possibility would build new light rail, streetcars, and bus lines, and would cost $5.4 billion. The smallest plan, at $800 million, would focus on buses and the existing commuter rail line. (Nashville Tennessean)

Uber insurance: Uber as a ride hailing service might not exist if not for one of its employees convincing insurance agents to cover drivers. There's a lot of grey area in how to insure someone who is waiting for the app to connect them with a customer. (Buzz Feed News)

Build up for cars: As soon as cars came on the scene in cities, residents and businesses needed places to put them. In dense places, people put cars on elevators and stored vertically. These pictures show how that technology evolved from the 1920s to 1970s. (Mashable)

To live and ride in LA: Transit ridership has gone down in Los Angeles by 10% from the high reached in 2006. Officials are wondering how to attract more high-income riders, and whether they should stick with current plans to build more bike and bus-only lanes. (Los Angeles Times)

Cities as testing grounds: Gridlock at the US Capitol and in state houses nationwide has liberal leaders testing new laws and ideas at the municipal level. The hope is that cities will prove certain laws work, which will lead to change at state and federal level. (New York Times)

Quote of the Week: "The government is one group that doesn't get to choose its customers. We want to make it work for everyone." Jennifer Pahlka, who started Code for America to help cities work better with their citizens. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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Roads


Reston wants urban street grids around future Metro stations

Fairfax County wants to make it easier to walk, bike, and drive in Reston, especially to current and planned Silver Line stations. A new street grid and three ways to cross the Dulles Toll Road are part of the plan to make that happen.


Image from Fairfax County

The county's Department of Transportation recently kicked off the Reston Network Analysis, which is focused on finalizing the grid of streets necessary to support the coming development around three new Metro stations in Reston.

Ideas for near the stations include new bike lanes, adjusted traffic signals, and re-striped roads, as well as realigned or wider roads. It's also possible that Fairfax will build new roads in these areas.


Proposed bike facilities in Reston. Image from Fairfax County.

One of the Reston-wide improvements is the Soapstone Drive Overpass , which will provide another connection across the Dulles Toll Road and a new way to get to the Wiehle-Reston East station.

There will also be a Town Center Parkway Underpass to provide an additional connection across the Dulles Toll Road to help relieve Fairfax County Parkway and Reston Parkway. It will also provide a direct connection from the transit-oriented developments to the north and south of the Reston Town Center station.

A November presentation also mentioned a South Lakes Drive Overpass. The connection would be similar to the Soapstone over pass, allowing for pedestrian, bikes, single-occupancy-vehicles and busses to cross the Dulles Toll Road without using Wiehle Avenue or Hunter Mill Road.


The Reston Transportation Study Area. Image from Fairfax County.

The study will also look at ways to improve four specific areas: Reston Parkway from Lawyers Road to Baron Cameron Avenue; Fairfax County Parkway at Spring Street; Fairfax County Parkway at Sunrise Valley Drive; and Rock Hill Bridge, which connects Loudoun County and Fairfax County over the Dulles Toll Road.

These areas are under consideration because they are important parts of Reston's transportation network and are currently over capacity or will be after the redevelopment around the Metro stations occurs. The study will also look at how to make it easier to bike and walk in these areas.

The Hunter Mill Supervisor has appointed the Reston Network Analysis Advisory Group to help staff develop and test ways to make the street grids better.

In 2015, the Fairfax Department of Transportation presented a report that summarized existing conditions by looking at traffic counts from mid-2015. Among the key findings in the report:

  1. During evening commutes, the intersection of Wiehle and Sunset Hills rates an "F" for level of service
  2. The planned grid of streets will make pedestrian access and mobility near transit stations better
  3. The report also published baseline vehicle volume levels near current and future Silver Line stations
For future trips that come from more density around the coming Metro stations, the goal is to cut vehicle trips within a quarter mile of the stations by 45%.

Members of the public can learn about and comment on the project at a meeting on Monday, February 1 from 7-9 pm at Lake Anne Elementary School, which is at 11510 North Shore Drive in Reston. You can also contact project manager Kristin Calkins at Kristin.Calkins@fairfaxcounty.gov.

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Pedestrians


Pedestrian deaths tripled in Fairfax County. Bad road design didn't help.

Eleven people on foot died in crashes in Fairfax County in 2015. That continues a rising trend since 2012, when the number was just four. What's going on?

NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss talked to some people about what's going on. A leading hypothesis in the story is that more people are walking around. That seems likely, but one element is missing: how poorly Fairfax's roads are designed for walking.

A number of people in the story talk about newcomers. One driver says, "I definitely worry about people who aren't from here," who try to cross when they don't have the light or not at a crosswalk. The subtext sure sounded like, "... people aren't familiar with the way we haven't designed roads for pedestrians in Fairfax County."

Just look at this intersection where Tuss is standing, the corner of Gallows Road and Route 29. It's about 0.6 miles from the Dunn Loring Metro station. And it's huge.


Image from Tuss' report.

That Target is part of the Mosaic District, which was designed to be walkable and transit-oriented. The interior is beautiful, but to get there from Metro requires walking along a not-very-hospitable sidewalk on 6- to 8-lane wide Gallows, and then crossing this monstrosity, 9 lanes on both Gallows and 29.

VDOT widened both roads in 2011 in a project billed to "increase safety, reduce congestion and enhance bicycle and pedestrian access," but which prioritized car throughput over other considerations. (This recent article from Joe Cortright effectively summarizes the mindset that would let VDOT think this would "increase safety.")

At least there are sidewalks, though, and you can legally walk directly along the road. That's not always true elsewhere in the county, like at Tysons Corner. Some sides of many intersections there were never designed for people to cross on foot. Only a lot of people are, now that Metro goes there.


Tysons Corner. Photo by Ken Archer.

Lucy Caldwell of Fairfax Police told Tuss, "We have situations that have occurred near Metro [stations], where people sometimes don't want to take that extra few minutes, and they cross where they shouldn't be crossing." If someone has to walk a few minutes farther to cross a road, most of all near a Metro station, you haven't designed it right.

To its credit, Fairfax officials are trying to gradually fix these spots, but there's a long way to go.

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Public Spaces


When "aging in place" efforts extend beyond the elderly, everyone benefits

Across the region, grassroots efforts are underway to make it easier for elderly people to independently take care of errands and chores. But one group is recognizing the importance of mitigating these kinds of challenges for people of all ages.


College students help serve dinner at a meal hosted by Glover Park Village. Photo by Street Sense on Flickr.

Trips the doctor, food shopping, yard work, snow shoveling, and going to social events are all examples of things that can get harder as residents age or sustain long or short-term disabilities. Not having a way to do these things can cause people to live in isolation, eat poorly, worry a lot, and have a generally lower quality of life.

While residents sometimes ask for help from neighbors when they can't do it all independently, volunteers often step in and help.

This is commonly referred to as "aging in place," but more recently, "aging in community" has become the preferred term because "community" reflects the value of strong and fulfilling bonds that keep people engaged.

In 2010, Glover Park Citizens' Association president Patricia Clark and a team of volunteers formed the Golden Glovers to formalize efforts to help seniors age in community, like seminars, financial counseling, and end of life care. Before they even got started, though, they widened their scope to include everyone in their community, recognizing that young and old residents alike face both temporary and permanent conditions that could force them away from independent living.

Very soon after it formed, the organization shed "Golden" from its name and started calling itself Glover Park Village because, as a participant in Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) it wanted to apply the larger organization's "village" concept.

Glover Park Village offers tons of different services

Glover Park Village offers a broad range of services to make independent living more feasible. Some residents need a helping hand with yard work, small fix-it projects and help using tools or computers. Sometimes volunteers help with taking winter clothes out of storage and decluttering living space. They also take people for walks, help with paperwork, and simply pay friendly visits.

Others residents request transportation to medical appointments, prescription pickup, mailing packages or grocery shopping. In those cases, Clark explained that the drive itself isn't always why someone requests a ride to the doctor. Walking to and from parking spaces on both ends of the trip adds additional complexity, making a door-to-door drive more feasible.

Still others are interested in the home visits and seminars for the companionship and social interaction. Glover Park Village hosts regular gatherings with guest speakers, and attendees often say that simply getting together as a community means as much as the speaker's topic.

Really, Glover Park Village volunteers do just about everything except personal medical care. Addressing the situations of those they help is often more like peeling layers of an onion than fixing a single problem, according to Clark.

"One neighbor needs an eye operation," Clark says. "Then, he stays at home at least a week to recover. Transportation to and from the surgery is only part of his concern. We're working with him to plan his meals and volunteers to keep him company. Before he schedules the surgery, he wants to see and feel comfortable about his daily routine."

Glover Park Village has been running for five years now

At its five year anniversary, Glover Park Village boasts over 100 volunteers, including a pool of 20-30 available drivers, and provides services to over 100 residents. Glover Park Village currently gets its funding from donations, not charging a dime for its services or events.

When Glover Park Village formed, the GPCA and ANC3B provided nearly $10,000 over a three year period for early operating expenses such as background checks for volunteers, insurance, website, database, printing and postage. Now organization, currently relying on resident donations and volunteer efforts, is self-sustaining. The volunteers report that they appreciate their own opportunity to strengthen the community and connect with fellow residents.

Glover Park Village works with residents of more than just Glover Park. It has triangle shaped borders, with Glover-Archbold Park to the west, Whitehaven Parkway to the south and Massachusetts Avenue to the east—that means it covers Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, the Naval Observatory, and other nearby areas.

And in fact, neighborhoods across our region run a network of 48 villages that meet quarterly through WAVE to discuss issues such as end of life care, hospital discharges and financial liability. The DC Office on Aging organizes four seminars annually on topics relevant to villages.

Ultimately, the village movement is about more than senior citizens needing a ride. It's a reflection of how neighbors organize to identify needs of individual residents living independently, resolve quality of life issues and build livable communities.

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Snow


How would you grade the region's snow response?

The Kojo Nnamdi Show is asking how you would rate your government's response to the snowtorm, your neighbors', and your own. At 12:40, I'll be on the show to discuss this, and I asked our contributors for their ratings.


Photo by Clif Burns on Flickr.

Joe Fox gave a succinct set of ratings:

  • PEPCO/Dominion/BGE: A+. Don't forget what a disaster the last few real storms have been. Teaming up w/ plow trains & tree trimming crews meant that what problems that did pop up were fixed, and fast.
  • WMATA communication: A. They were ahead of the needs, and explained what they were doing and why.
  • MNCPPC [Montgomery and Prince George's parks agency]: A. Many of the county park roads were cleared, with bonus points for sanctioning sledding hills this year.
  • DC Government: B. Execution was good, but farther from downtown was rough. Bowser had some head scratcher remarks on cars vs. peds, as well as why no travel ban that were a bit hard to comprehend.
  • WMATA execution: C. Is it still a surprise that when OPM gives a three hour delay, that rush hour will happen three hours later, and to set up service accordingly? Even with trains every 8+ minutes, still no 8 car trains...
  • Citizens: C. These storms bring out the crazies, I noticed a lot more anger this time than in 2010. But sidewalks on private property were cleared faster than before.
  • Montgomery, Prince George's, and VDOT (handling VA counties): D+. They did what they could, but were woefully overmatched. Clumsy declarations of victory and broken data trackers brought up comparisons with PEPCO of days gone by.
  • National Park Service: F. [See below.]
Contributors' views varied, but overall, there was a good amount of consensus. Here are some key points and ratings, broken down by agency.

The National Park Service

The Park Service controls a lot of downtown parks and major trails around the region, but does very little on snow clearance. Contributors unanimously agreed it flunked the storm.

  • David Cranor: "The Park Service deserves a very low grade. The Mount Vernon Trail is one of the only ones that was not plowed (thought I don't know about the Rock Creek Park Trail). Sidewalks along NPS property were untouched. I realize they're budget limited, but something needs to be done."
  • Neil Flanagan wrote back on Monday: "On my walk to work, through downtown to Georgetown, most government sidewalks were walkable (if not clear), with the exception of NPS."

Photo by Bill Couch on Flickr.

WMATA

  • Kristy Cartier: WMATA gets an "A" for communication.
  • Abigail Zenner: I agree with Kristy about WMATA. Our ANC has battled with WMATA about better explanation on bus route changes. I was irritated they went to severe snow routes Friday morning, hours before the storm was due. BUT, they were very clear about when and where service would be restored and it was exactly as they said, at least in Glover Park.
  • Dan Malouff: WMATA I think was OK but a bit too gun-shy on closing everything early, and hasn't clearly communicated some stuff about reopening. For example, it's understandable that some buses have to go on detour, but Metro seems to have no system in place to let riders know if their bus is detouring or not.
  • Mathew Friedman: I rode the G2 to work Thursday morning for the first time since last Wednesday. It doesn't run from the "moderate" snow plan on up. Neither does the G8, which is a major route running down Rhode Island Avenue. From my neck of the woods, those are the only 2 bus lines that run downtown and for a full week, neither was running. I can at least walk 5 blocks to Shaw Metro if I need to, but for folks further out, that's not an option. I would think that taking so long to bring these bus routes and many others back online must leave a lot of people stranded.

    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • Steven Yates: WMATA's response was...mixed. Trying to shelter the trains was maybe a good theory, but the execution was obviously not great. Would it have been better to run the trains underground on Saturday instead? I'm inclined to say no, just because you probably don't want to be encouraging people to be out and about. The running of trains for free on Monday was certainly a nice gesture.
    • Travis Maiers: Metro is still operating at reduced service levels. They are apparently still short railcars due to the blizzard. I give them high marks for communicating their storm plan and being realistic on when service could be resumed, but I feel by now, 5 days later, they should be back at full service. Their plan to shut down the system for safety and to store railcars underground was prudent, but I'm not sure it was executed as well as it could have been.
    • Svet Neov: I think WMATA did pretty well, since almost everything was running on Tuesday. At my stop (Grosvenor) they did a great job cleaning the sidewalks—those were done wayyy before the parking lot was.
    DC
    • Abigail Zenner: I thought they did a great job all things considered. Even northern cities have trouble with storms of this size. I grade them a B+ or A-. The poor rhetoric notwithstanding, DC did well.

      I thought that many District agencies did a good job communicating on social media and through emails to ANCs. My ANC colleagues would then send information to our lists.

      [The Department of General Services] promised to clear areas around DCPS schools by midnight Monday and Tuesday morning, the sidewalks all the way around Stoddert Elementary was cleared including curb cuts and bus stops. I have never seen these walks cleared so fast. I did also tweet at DCPS, Stoddert, DPR, and DGS.


    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • Steve Seelig: From a cycling perspective in DC, it was great. I rode from Friendship to downtown on both Monday and Tuesday, and because only part of the roadways were plowed, there was plenty of room in the curb lanes to ride where a car could not fit.

      As for biking infrastucture plowing: an A+ for the Capital Crescent Trail -plowed from Bethesda to Georgetown. An F for NPS on any of its trails. DDOT gets a C+ for just getting to the L Street, M Street and 15th Street bike lanes.

    • Justin Lini: In DC's Ward 7, snow removal was a bit inconsistent. Parkside and a number of other communities saw plows nearly every day of the storm. In some cases, even blocks with public housing were cleared during the storm. However, some of my neighbors in other communities didn't see any attention at all until Monday.

      The Mayor's office also did daily briefings by teleconference with the ANCs. These were useful because they communicated DC government's plans so we could set expectations, but they also keyed us in on potential trouble. They also assigned us extra staff liaisons that could help resolve issues with trouble spots.

      We were able to get an important pedestrian bridge cleared by Monday evening. In the past this bridge was never consistently cleared even in routine snow events. I don't know if the other ANCs used their liaisons, but I found mine to be a good partner. I don't know if previous administrations employed this measure, but I thought it was very effective.

      Uncleared sidewalks are a huge problem in the ward. As of Tuesday many property owners, especially large apartment buildings and retail areas, did not clear sidewalks along some high volume corridors like Minnesota Ave NE. In some cases contractors had blocked sidewalks or intentionally used them to store piles of snow. Many crosswalks are also plowed over. The decision not to enforce sidewalk clearing laws on these properties until late was a big mistake that shouldn't be repeated.


    Mayfair Mansions, Ward 7, on Tuesday. Photo by Justin Lini.
    • Steven Yates: I can't really speak for other jurisdictions, but in my time here, I've been mostly impressed with how well DC handles large amounts of snow, given that these sorts of storms don't happen that often (oddly, smaller amounts of snow they seem to do less well with). This storm has been no exception. The street I live in (which is by no means a major street) was at least passable a few hours after the snow ended.
    Alexandria & Arlington

    • Ned Russell: Alexandria streets were far worse [than in DC] both for cars and pedestrians, not to mention the DASH bus service did not run even on a limited schedule to serve rush hour on Tuesday. Sidewalks across the station that peds need to use to access Braddock Road were not cleared until this morning.
    • Svet Neov: The only complaints, other than slow sidewalk cleanup, I've heard is dead end or small streets in Arlington which didn't get plowed until [Tuesday] night.

    King Street Metro. Photo by Justin Henry.

    Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax

    • Ben Ross: "I grade MoCo an A- on street clearing but an F on sidewalks. Our businesses, at least in Bethesda, did very well on sidewalks, much better than in past big snowstorms. [But] 27 hours after it has finished opening the roads to cars, the county has announced, it will begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks.begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks 27 hours after it finishes opening roads to cars. Ike Leggett announced "common sense" enforcement of the snow shoveling law. In my mind, common sense means that if you have shoveled out your driveway, you should have shoveled the sidewalk.
    • Kristy Cartier: In Fairfax County, the roads had at least one lane Tuesday so I'd give them a B+ (only because there are disappearing lanes). For sidewalks, I would give a D. One person was walking on Rte. 50 near Rte. 28 and two people were standing on Reston Pkwy Wednesday morning waiting for the bus. I hope that the addition of the Silver Line stations improves Fairfax County's response to clearing at least some of the sidewalks.
    • Matt Johnson: I didn't have any trouble [Wednesday] morning. But [in the] afternoon, I had to go to an appointment in the city, and drove to Glenmont. On my way from Glenmont to the ICC, I discovered that the 3 northbound lanes are essentially functioning as 1. The curb lane never appeared, except for the dashes periodically peeking out from the edge of the snow. The center lane would run for a few blocks and then suddenly, without warning, disappear, forcing drivers to swerve into the left lane, the only one left.

      In addition, pedestrians were walking in the lane, since the sidewalks were impassible, and unaccessible from the buses that run on Georgia. On the day after the storm, this might be acceptable. But several days later, on one of the region's most important radial corridors, this is quite intolerable.

    • Joe Fox: I've noticed that roads maintained by both state agencies (MD SHA and VDOT) fared the worst, by far. I've posted several tweets about Colesville Road this morning, which, despite having the ability to reverse lanes, has gone from 3 lanes to one the last two days, wreaking havoc in the neighborhoods, and with a slew of bus lines.

      To me, the fact that county/local roads/sidewalks/paths seemed to fare a lot better brings to mind the argument that counties (Montgomery, Fairfax), should follow the lead of the independent cities in their respective states and take control over their transportation infrastructure (save for perhaps interstate highways and maybe toll roads) from the state agencies, who are simply not equipped to handle local issues like intersection design, traffic signals, and snow clearing.


    Photo by Aimee Custis.

    Overall

    • Svet Neov: Given the amount of snowfall I would give the region a B. I flew home on Monday morning after being stuck in Texas and used almost every mode of transportation in several places around the area. The airports were back up and running on Monday (as normal as possible). I flew into BWI which seemed to have no problems.
    • Ned Russell: After reading the discussion and thinking about all the things that go into snow response, I give the region a B-. But there are a lot of things that could have been done better.
    • Canaan Merchant: I'd give it a B-. For what we can expect of the region I think they did well. But to get an A they're going to have actually acknowledge that people like to use sidewalks, bike facilities and transit and work towards that as well.
    What grades would you give? Fill out the Kojo show's poll and post your thoughts in the comments. And listen in at 12:40 to hear me and Petula Dvorak discuss the issue.

    If you're reading this before 12:40, it's also worth tuning in to Kojo for a segment on whether high traffic fines change behavior (they don't), including Gabe Klein as one of the guests.

    Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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  • Roads


    For I-66, outside-the-beltway lawmakers say "toss the facts, widen baby widen"

    A group of Virginia state legislators from outside the beltway are urging Governor McAuliffe to widen I-66 inside the beltway, rather than go forward with VDOT's transit and tolls proposal. But years of data say the multimodal proposal would be more effective.


    I-66. Photo by Virginia Department of Transportation on Flickr.

    What's happening with I-66

    Over the course of 2015, the Virginia Department of Transportation settled on a plan to change how I-66 inside the beltway operates.

    Instead of the current configuration where the entire highway is HOV-only in the peak direction during rush hour, the peak direction would become HOT, meaning single-occupant cars could travel on it if they pay a toll, while HOV cars remain free.

    In exchange for letting single-occupant cars onto a highway they're currently not allowed to use, toll revenue would go to improving transit.

    Then, after a few years of operating like that, VDOT would study how traffic changed, and either widen I-66 or opt not to.

    That plan had been gaining steam all through 2015, as VDOT did the planning to take it from rough concept to fully fleshed out project.

    Some just want a wider highway

    Then the Virginia General Assembly began its 2016 session, and a prominent bill proposes to kill the project, replacing it with a straight-up widening of I-66. The bill's author, western Fairfax / eastern Loudoun delegate Jim LeMunyon, consistently advocates for bigger highways, and has a history of trying to cut transit and bike/ped funding.

    Governor McAuliffe, who supports the transit and tolls plan, says he won't veto the bill if it reaches his desk on the back of support from Northern Virginia's delegates.

    That prompted a group of seven other lawmakers, all from the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia, to urge VDOT to drop the transit and tolls plan, and support widening only.

    No lawmakers from inside the beltway, where this plan would actually take place, signed on to the letter.

    Analysis says the transit and tolls plan is better

    VDOT's transit and tolls plan has been in the works for 13 years. Studies in 2003, 2009, and 2012 built towards the 2015 proposal, all of which determined a widening-only approach wouldn't work very well.

    Most recently, in 2015 VDOT ran three projects through a sophisticated computer model called "HB-599," to see how they would affect traffic congestion. The three projects:

    • "Transform66 Inside," the transit and tolls proposal
    • "Widen I-66 Inside," a widening-only alternate
    • "Transform66 Outside," an entirely separate project outside the beltway, that's less controversial.
    The outcome: For inside the beltway, the transit and tolls proposal is a far more effective project than widening only. It reduces congestion on I-66 much, much more than widening only would. Never mind the added mobility and benefits to car-free urbanites. Simply in the terms of reducing highway congestion, the model says the transit and tolls proposal is better.


    Image by VDOT.

    Be objective, unless being objective doesn't produce what you want

    Ironically, the HB-599 process is Jim LeMunyon's own brainchild. It's the result of a bill he sponsored in 2012 to force Northern Virginia to objectively evaluate the congestion reduction effects of major projects.

    But now the HB-599 results are in, and alas, they aren't what LeMunyon hoped for. According to LeMunyon's own hand-picked metrics, the transit and tolls project is better than just widening.

    But none of that matters to the outer suburban politicians who just want bigger highways. For them, I-66 seems to be a case of "Damn the numbers! Widen baby, widen!"

    What will happen?

    Until a bill to block tolls becomes law, VDOT is continuing to move forward with the transit and tolls plan. If the plan stays alive, construction will begin this summer, and the project will open in the summer of 2017.

    With Governor McAuliffe threatening to withhold a veto, some of Northern Virginia's lawmakers will need to come out in support of the transit and tolls plan. Virginians can contact their lawmakers via the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

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    Pedestrians


    Sidewalk snow shoveling hall of shame: Walmart, Autozone, Exxon, Hechinger Mall

    Shoveling from the weekend's snowstorm is a big job. Many residents and businesses have cleared sidewalks, but some have not. Those that deserve a special circle of hell: businesses who had no trouble shoveling huge parking lots but left their sidewalks impassable.


    Photos by Steve Money on Twitter.

    Like the Georgia Avenue Walmart, which Steve Money says cleared its delivery area but piled snow high on the sidewalk. That forced people on foot to walk in the road on busy Missouri Avenue.

    The same goes for Autozone, right near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. Shane Farthing says someone in a wheelchair had to go into the street to get to the Metro.


    Photo by Shane Farthing on Twitter.

    Kate Sweeney nominated the Exxon at Franklin and 12th streets NE in Brookland. She says, "They never shovel the sidewalks. Infuriating! The parking lot isn't totally clear but they've shoveled enough that people can get to the pumps."


    Photo by Kate Sweeney.

    The Hechinger Mall and 7-11 on Bladensburg Road also shoveled parking but not sidewalks, says Dan Malouff, who had to walk in the road to get home Tuesday night.


    Photos by Dan Malouff.

    What will DC do?

    One thing these businesses have in common is that their customer base is largely or entirely arriving by car, so access on foot is not a priority. But even if it's not in their interest to make it safe for people to walk, it's important.

    Last year, the DC Council passed a law authorizing the government to fine property owners who don't shovel their sidewalks by eight daylight hours after a storm. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who wasn't a fan of the idea when she was a councilmember, announced she wouldn't enforce the law, but then later announced that she would in fact enforce it, on businesses in particular.

    I actually think it's reasonable for her to forebear on giving any tickets to individual homeowners for now. People have had a lot of time to shovel by now, but there's not much reason to slap a $25 ticket on an elderly homeowner or something like that. However, Walmart and Autozone aren't unable to shovel; they are choosing not to.

    These are the kinds of properties DC should fine. If anything, the issue is whether the fine isn't large enough. When the bill was being debated, I advocated for very small fines for an individual homeowner and potentially large ones for a very big commercial property.

    If a company owns a large site with a big parking lot and can clear it, but doesn't bother to open the sidewalk, only government action, or maybe shaming, will change that.

    Thanks to the many people who sent in photos and sorry we couldn't use them all (at least not yet)! If you see other big offenders, post them in the comments or send them to snow@ggwash.org.

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