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Parking


For a day, we're getting a bunch of tiny new parks

Friday, September 16th is Park(ing) Day! Park(ing) Day is an annual, international event where people turn parking spaces into miniature parks for a day, prompting impromptu public gatherings and calling attention to our need for more open spaces.


Landscape architecture firm Oculus' 2013 Park(ing) Day installation in DC. Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

Here's a list of where some of the miniature parks (aka "parklets") will pop up tomorrow:

District parklets

DC's official list of parklets is here. More than 25 locations will serve as pop-up parklets, including locations near Metro stations like NoMa, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, Gallery Place, McPherson Square, and Shaw-Howard.


A map of where parklets will pop up in DC. Click for an interactive version.

The DC Department of Transportation is hosting a parklet and commuter spa at Farragut North, complete with a reading nook and a professional masseuse.

Several organizations promoting Anacostia River revitalization, including Waterfront Trust, Living Classrooms, Nature Conservancy, Washington Parks and People, and DC UrbanGreens will host a parklet in front of the Wilson Building.

Virginia parklets

Alexandria City will have five parklets throughout Old Town Alexandria, including City Hall and the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech.

Arlington will host five parklets, including one at Courthouse Plaza that will feature art by Kate Stewart.


A shot from Park(ing) Day 2013 in Arlington. Photo by Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr.

Maryland parklets

Montgomery County will host pop-ups in Wheaton, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Takoma Park. Docs in Progress, a group that teaches documentary filmmaking, will be interviewing residents at its Silver Spring parklet.

Hyattsville will host four parklets, including an evening parklet from 6 pm to 8 pm at the City Municipal Building, which will have lawn games, food, beer, and live music.

Help us crowdsource PARK(ing) Day 2016

If you know of a parklet we've missed or if you see a parklet tomorrow, let us know in the comments. Share any photos of parklets and add them to the Greater Greater Washington Flickr pool or tweet it (#parkingday) and tag us (@ggwash). We'll post photos in a roundup next week.

Development


An old power plant in DC's Ward 7 is ripe for redevelopment. Let's not make it a trash and recycling plant.

Between the Anacostia River and I-295, a defunct power plant stretches along the north side of Benning Road. A plan for how to put the space to use just came out, and while some of the ideas could bring jobs to the community, others threaten to perpetuate a history of communities east of the Anacostia getting the short end of the stick.


Pepco's Benning Road site is desolate now, but it could turn into something great. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

The Benning Service Center is a 77 acre industrial campus located on the eastern bank of the Anacostia River. In 2015 Pepco demolished its 100-year-old oil fired plant on the site and after decades of community advocacy led by leaders such as George Gurley. Following the demolition Pepco began a DC Department of Energy and Environment supervised cleanup of PCBs and other contaminants in the soil and neighboring Anacostia River.

In the last decade the Kenilworth-Parkside community has seen the construction of 400+ homes, two schools, and significant reinvestment in the historic Mayfair Mansions Apartments. In the next decade the community is anticipating the construction of 1300 more homes, retail, an education campus and office space. Nearby Minnesota Avenue has seen the construction of Park 7 Apartments and the District Department of Employment Services building. To the south, River Terrace is increasingly drawing the attention of developers looking to capitalize on the extension of DC's streetcar.

Given the considerable investment going into the community, the Pepco site is looking increasingly anachronistic in its current state, but its proximity to Metro, the streetcar, and I-295 give it incredible potential. With the right changes, it could provide much-needed economic opportunities to Ward 7 residents and become the economic and social center that Ward 7 has long lacked.


The Pepco site and surrounding developments. Red highlights denote developments are completed or near completion. Blue highlighted areas denote proposed projects. The green line illustrates the route of the streetcar extension. Map by the author, using Google Maps.

In November 2015, DC's Office of Planning partnered with the Urban Land Institute to form a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) on the future of the Benning Service Center with the goal of improving transportation access at the site, creating new community amenities, and providing economic opportunities for Ward 7 residents.

ULI forms TAPs to assist cities to come up with unique ideas on difficult sites, and the Benning Road panel brought together experts in from the fields of urban planning, design, transportation, real estate development, as well as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

ULI recently released the TAP's recommendations. The panel issued short, interim, and long term recommendations based on a tour of the site, discussions with community leaders, and an analysis of similar brownfields in other cities. Short term proposals were primarily those that could be implemented immediately without altering the site itself, and interim proposals focused on temporary land uses. The long term proposals spoke to permanent changes in land use.


The TAP looked focused on the 19 acre site once occupied by the coal and oil fired powerplant. The remaining 58 acres was not considered. Photo from the Benning Road Service Center.

Changes in the near future could include better walkways and more recreational activity

The panel's short term recommendations for the site are largely uncontroversial. They focus on adding connections to the Parkside neighborhood by extending Anacostia Avenue around the site and linking it to River Terrace. Other recommendations focused on making the site more friendly for neighbors by improving the surrounding streetscapes with broader sidewalks, tree plantings, and public art.


Public art like "The Lego Bridge" could soften highway and other transportation infrastructure like this WMATA viaduct. Image from the DC Office of Planning.


Pedestrian infrastructure has long been neglected at the site. Despite these formidable barriers and high speed traffic, residents use this sidewalk everyday. Photo by the author.

The panel's Interim recommendations focus on engaging the community by partnering with an organization like Arcadia Mobile Market to bring a farmers market's to the neighborhood, as well as hosting events like BBQ battles.

The space would also be available for athletic events like Tough Mudders, paintball, and even an outdoor roller rink. Other uses focused on providing creative "maker" spaces for industrial arts and crafts.

The long-term recommendations focus on job creation

The TAP's long term recommendations were the most interesting and potentially controversial.

One thing the planners aimed to address were the community's concerns about the fact that there aren't many opportunities for blue collar employment in the area. The TAP made three suggestions for the site with that thought in mind:

  • First is an Industrial Business Incubator that would offer space to light manufacturing businesses.
  • The second, an "Eco Industrial Park," would feature recycling, composting, and bio fuel generation facilities.
  • The third proposal focuses on an energy research and design facility that would design and test new electrical generation and distribution technologies.

The first and third proposals would have a natural synergy with the District Department of Employment Services offices on Minnesota Avenue. Both facilities could form partnerships with community organizations and schools focusing on vocational training. A research and development facility could offer students in Ward 7's HD Woodson High School STEM program co-op and internship opportunities.

Both of these facilities could be a long term investment in the skills, creativity and talent of Ward 7's residents. They would create a one-of-a-kind destination for innovation unmatched in the District. They would create new businesses and opportunities that would have impacts far beyond the site.

Jobs are great, but this shouldn't become a trash-processing site

The second option, creating the Eco Industrial Park, has a lot less to offer for the community, and ignores a century of environmental racism inflicted by decisions to locate powerplants, dumps, garbage incinerators, highways and other undesirable infrastructure in Ward 7.

By its own admission, the TAP acknowledges that such a facility would face stiff resistance from the surrounding community. The proposed facility would be essentially be an expansion in the scope and scale of operations of the current Benning Trash Transfer station, which the surrounding community has rallied to oppose as recently as 2000.

The surrounding communities fought for positive change for decades and have gotten real traction with the numerous new developments in the area. Placing another trash handling facility prominently along its prime transportation corridor on riverfront property would be a step backwards for a community that has disproportionately borne the costs of facilities intended to benefit The District.

While the facility would potentially generate several hundred jobs, it is unlikely they would be the long term or high paying. In discussions TAP planners noted that growing automation would reduce the demand for low skilled labor over time undercutting any long term employment benefits that might be achieved by going with a low skilled, high employment option.

Does TAP make the most of a once in a lifetime opportunity?

The demolition of the Pepco plant is an opportunity to fix decades-old economic and transportation challenges. The report offers innovative and creative ideas to make the Benning Service Center a better neighbor, but is it an ambitious enough goal?

The TAP focused on only the westernmost nineteen acres of the site, leaving the remaining fifty-eight acres closest to the surrounding communities unaddressed. A process that included the entire site could offer much better solutions while working with Pepco to improve the efficiency of its operations. A more ambitious plan could have included a new Metro station, the restoration of the street grid between Parkside and River Terrace, as well as many more job opportunities for the community.

Despite its limits the report marks a seachange in thinking about the Pepco site. Previously there had been little serious discussion of the Pepco site that hadn't included a powerplant. The discussions started in the TAP should be revisited as the Pepco-Exelon merger continues and new investment facilitates the modernization of Pepco operations. The Mayor's office and the new Ward 7 Councilmember should be on the lookout for opportunities to use land swaps and other incentives to achieve the goals outlined in the TAP plan.

Roads


Red light cameras work. The Washington Post runs the same old attack on them anyway.

Red light cameras work, but articles saying they don't, based on more innuendo than fact, pop up in the press regularly. The latest example is from Washington Post "Tripping" blogger Frederick Kunkle.


This is a sculpture. There's no penalty for running these red lights. Image by Daniel Guimberteau on Flickr.

DC uses cameras around the city to catch people running red lights. The machines photograph the license plates of cars that run red lights, and a few weeks later the car owner gets a ticket in the mail. The city has 48 cameras set up, and issues thousands of tickets each year.

Proponents argue that the cameras effectively combat dangerous driving, reducing collisions and making streets safer for everyone. Others, while they may broadly agree that there's a need for better red light enforcement, voice concerns that range from whether or not the cameras work properly to people's ability to fight tickets in court to the claim that DC is too dependent on revenue from camera citations.

In a column on Tripping that went up last week, Kunkle mentions that the total number of tickets from red light cameras is down in DC (another way of putting this: fewer people are speeding running red lights), and that a majority of drivers happen to support DC's red light cameras. He also notes that almost all drivers agree that running a red light is a dangerous activity that needs to be curbed. Those two facts alone might be considered good news for many who want to see a government program prove to be popular and effective.

But as he continues, Kunkle spins these facts into negatives. The total number of tickets might be down, he says, but since DC's fines are higher than in Maryland the total amount of revenue collected is higher—a clear money grab by the District. And even though there is a lot of support for the cameras, Kunkle uses the term "slim majority" to hint that red light cameras may be more controversial than they actually are.

This is creating a scandal where there isn't one

Throughout the article, Kunkle quotes speculation from John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic, including the thought that the city is playing "dirty pool" by having its yellow lights turn over extra quickly.

DC has not simply shortened its yellow light times, and a look at the big picture makes it clear that there's no money grab happening here. Last year, DDOT changed the timing of hundreds of stop lights across the city, but that included every phase of the light, including pedestrian signals. That's something DDOT needs to do as it works on the incredibly complex issue of creating traffic flow that gives everyone what they want.

Still, even with the lack of evidence, Kunkle fuels the thought that nefarious traffic engineers are out there shortening yellow lights so more people run reds.

Another claim from Townsend that Kunkle leans on is the notion that most red light tickets are somehow erroneously issued for drivers "who stopped beyond on [sic] the intersection threshold line or beyond the stop line but who never crossed the intersection"—as if stopping late and possibly blocking the crosswalk at the intersection are not serious problems in and of themselves.

The fact that different jurisdictions do not always have the same fines should not be a shock. But rule number one in bad traffic camera journalism, it seems, says that you cannot talk about fines unless you openly wonder whether or not the cameras are there for safety or for revenue. Send the message that cameras are there solely for revenue, and you can help ensure that people focus on simply removing the cameras rather than think about ways to improve safety at intersections.

Kunkle is gracious enough to suggest that city's motivations could be about revenue and safety, but the "really makes you think" rhetorical device used across the column is clearly aimed at getting people ready to expect a scandal despite a lack of any evidence.

Traffic safety measures shouldn't turn into us vs. them affairs

Its disheartening to see columnists like Kunkle twist neutral or positive facts into bad things. All it does is play into the narrative about a "war on cars" that tries to shut down any proposal or idea that even loosely appears to treat driving as an equal part of the transportation landscape rather than the primary and superior way to get around.

Worse, these kinds of arguments divert attention away from improving the city's camera program for everyone, drivers included. Even red light camera proponents have ideas to improve them to help ensure they're more effective and fair. For example, our own David Alpert has argued that raising DC's camera fines is the wrong approach to traffic safety—instead, the solution is lower but more frequent citations. Casting red light cameras as evil from the get-go limits conversations about how to make them better.

Insinuations that cameras are about revenue rather than safety, or spinning neutral facts into bad news, do little to inform people about an issue that is important to just about everyone. Once a driver who is under the "threat" of a traffic ticket parks their car and has to cross the street to their final destination, they benefit from safe streets just as much as the next person. The Post should do better.

Correction: This post originally said fewer tickets means fewer people speeding. It meant to say fewer tickets means fewer people running red lights.

Budget


WMATA wants a private company to run its parking facilities. That's a risky move.

WMATA recently announced that it's looking to have a private concessionaire take over operations and maintenance of all of its parking facilities, including garages and parking meters on its property. In exchange for a big up-front payment equal to 50 years of parking fees, the concessionaire would have to operate and maintain almost 60,000 parking spaces. It'd also get to collect all the parking fees.


Right now, Metro runs its parking lots. WMATA is looking for a company to take over, though. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

For the base proposal, WMATA allows up to a 3% increase in parking rates every year, and expects the estimated payout to be based on similar hours of operation. However, as an alternate proposal, each potential operator can propose changes to rates and hours of operation, which would be subject to board approval.

This idea looks disturbingly similar to a disastrous proposal which locked the city of Chicago into giving away most of the value of their on-street parking for 75 years. In exchange for $1.2 billion up-front, mostly used to close budget gaps and now long gone, Chicago no longer has any control of how on-street parking is priced, and has to pay the concessionaire when people use the streets for festivals, for disabled placard use, and for allowing construction of parking garages.

Why WMATA might want this deal

The benefits to WMATA are fairly obvious: they get out of the business of operating parking garages and lots, similar to how they have contracted out paratransit service. WMATA gets a big up-front payment of what I'd estimate to be about 1 billion dollars depending on the discount rate, the cost of operating and maintaining the parking spaces, and how much profit the private concessionaire prices into its bid.

However, WMATA and the funding jurisdictions would lose almost $50 million in current parking revenues per year, which is approximately half of the annual estimated budget shortfall WMATA has had at the beginning of the typical budget season for the past 12 years. So in addition to the usual $100 million in budget savings, fare increases, and juridictional subsidy increases to close the typical budget gap, WMATA would have to find an additional $50 million a year to make up for the loss in parking revenue.

The deal could limit Metro's freedom to boost ridership or redevelop stations

But that's not all. Since WMATA is requesting potential concessionaires to be creative with their bids, they could potentially increase the amount of the up-front payment by offering to charge for parking during nights and weekends.

Currently, WMATA offers parking for free evenings during the week, and all weekend. This helps improve WMATA's bottom line, because the parking is not scarce, and the people parking typically ride Metrorail and pay substantial off-peak fares (increased over the past decade from about 50% of peak fares to about 75% of peak fares under the guidance of former general manager Richard Sarles).

A savvy concessionaire could offer WMATA a much larger payout by charging for evening and weekend parking. But by discouraging weekend/evening riders, it could be taking revenue away from Metrorail—revenue that WMATA may have been counting on, but which wasn't on the parking concessionaire's balance sheet. Without a solid analysis of how much fare revenue could be lost, WMATA risks further damaging the annual budget in exchange for a one-time payout.


Parking here during nights and weekends is currently free, which encourages more people to ride Metro. But a private company could change that. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

It's even worse if WMATA decides in the future that parking isn't the best use of some land near a station. If office, residential, or retail would be better around a station, or if Metro needs some of the metered spaces for buses or another use, WMATA would either have to pay the concessionaire a large penalty or, depending how the contract is structured, be unable to make the change at all.

Even if a redevelopment replaces parking, would the concessionaire be able to veto designs it didn't like? Would WMATA have to pay it back for all of the revenue while the garage is being rebuilt, and what would the cost be? WMATA's request for proposals doesn't specify, but if a final contract is anything like Chicago's, this deal could significantly hamstring Metro's choices in the future.

Do we trust Metro to negotiate well?

All of this aside, for this plan to succeed, we would have to trust WMATA to correctly evaluate the future value of their parking assets so as not to get taken advantage of financially. According to an independent inspector general report, Chicago's deal could have been worth almost $900 milllion more than the city actually received. In response to a press inquiry, WMATA only stated that "outside resources" would be used to help evaluate bids.

We also have to trust that WMATA will appropriately spend the money it gets up front in a way that is worth giving up all the future revenue from parking we currently count on to pay WMATA's bills. Without parking revenue to help increase the cost recovery ratio of the system, it is possible that state and local governments will put pressure on fares to make sure more of the operating costs are being covered. Finally, WMATA risks losing the ability to control prices or usage of the parking lots without financial penalties.

This looks like an extremely risky potential deal. WMATA should proceed with caution.

Bicycling


The Park Service plans to connect key bike trails on the Mall, in Arlington, and elsewhere

A 15th Street protected bikeway that extends through the Mall and a Mount Vernon trail with more connections are two of the many changes that a new plan from the National Park Service (NPS) would make to the region's trails.


The Mount Vernon Trail near National airport. Photo by the author.

In its recently-released Paved Trails Study, NPS makes 121 recommendations for improvements that include everything from bridge access to safety and closing missing gaps in the trail network. It prioritizes 18 projects for implementation in the next two years, including:

  • Extending the 15th Street NW protected bikeway about a mile, across the Mall to the 14th Street bridge. It currently ends at Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Connecting the Mount Vernon Trail to the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge, which would make it easier to get between the trail and the Mall by using the existing path on the bridge that ends on the west side of the Potomac River.
  • Studying the possibility of a protected bike lane from Rock Creek Park to 16th Street NW along Military Road, a stretch of road that is like a four-lane highway with scant shoulder and no sidewalks or bike lanes.
  • Studying the possibility of an off-street connection between Oxon Hill and the planned South Capitol Street Trail that would connect to National Harbor and the Woodrow Wilson bridge path. Closing this gap in the trail system east of the Anacostia River would provide cyclists and pedestrians with access to job and activity centers in Prince George's County and Virginia.
  • Improving safety at the "intersection of doom" where cyclists and pedestrians on the Custis and Mount Vernon trails must share space with cars at the corner of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street in Rosslyn.

Map of NPS and other trails in the Washington DC region. Image by the NPS.

NPS will make prominent trails easier to get to

Extending the 15th Street protected bikeway to the 14th Street Bridge would close a prominent gap between the District's burgeoning bike lane network and one of the busiest bike crossings of the Potomac River. The bridge saw an average of 2,400 to 2,500 cyclists on weekdays during June, July and August, Bike Arlington's counters show.


The route of an extended 15th Street protected bike lane to the 14th Street Bridge. Image by the NPS.

The lane would replace parking along 15th Street north of Constitution Avenue NW, be built in the space between the curb and sidewalk from Constitution to Independence Avenue SW, and replace a southbound traffic lane on Maine Avenue SW to the bridge, the report says. It would be built in partnership with the DC Department of Transportation.

The other planned connections listed above also close gaps in the regional trail network. One of the more exciting is probably the off-street trail to Oxon Hill that would provide District residents who live east of the Anacostia River an off-street bike route to jobs and activities in National Harbor and in Virginia. It would also create a new bike loop on both sides of the Potomac River using the 14th Street and Woodrow Wilson bridges.


The proposed off-street connection between South Capital Street and Oxon Hill. Image by the NPS.

A fix is coming to the "intersection of doom"

The Park Service plans to work with Arlington County to improve safety at the busy intersection of the Custis and Mount Vernon trails in Rosslyn, otherwise known as the "intersection of doom."

The intersection is one of the most frequent sites of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, Arlington County Police data has shown. Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon trail to the Custis trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge, must pass through the intersection, sharing the space with two lanes of auto traffic that is trying to turn onto the Key Bridge from I-66.

The recommendation includes "clearly separate" spaces for bikes, pedestrians, and cars at the intersection, as outlined in Arlington's Realize Rosslyn Sector Plan, the report says.


Concept plan for the intersection of the Custis and Mount Vernon trails in Rosslyn. Image by Arlington County.

However, beyond saying that the NPS will work with Arlington County on the plan for the intersection, the report does not detail exactly how they plan to clearly separate pedestrians and bikes from car traffic.

A change of heart from NPS?

The recommendations hopefully signal a change of heart for NPS. For years, the agency did not take bike travel seriously, instead emphasizing keeping existing auto-only roads as they were. For example, it took NPS 20 years to respond to trail user and resident requests for improvements to the popular trail through Rock Creek Park.

"Trail usage has increased significantly and as the area continues to grow in residential and employment population, walking and biking trips will also continue to increase," NPS says in the report. "These trends place increased pressure on the trail network, particularly the trail segments that form the backbone of the larger regional trail network."

The plan has one big hole: funding. None of the proposed improvements can be implemented in the timeline outlined by the report without funds to pay for them.

The plan does not gloss over funding entirely. It points out that NPS parks in the Washington region have been more successful at securing funding for projects from non-federal sources, like partnering with local jurisdictions, than parks elsewhere, but that it also receives fewer federal funds.

Such partnerships certainly present an opportunity for funding the 121 trail improvement recommendations but fall short of a firm plan that leaves the fate of many of the proposed projects in limbo.

Transit


National links: We'll pay you to avoid rush hour

BART, San Francisco's major transit system, wants to reward riders for avoiding rush hour, drivers have run into a house in Raleigh 6 times in 9 years and the owners can't sell, and an engineer in Oslo has turned kids into "secret agents" in a bid to report street hazards. Check out what's going on in the world of housing, transportation, and cities around the globe.


Photo by Storm Crypt on Flickr.

Frequent rider miles: San Francisco's BART is piloting a rewards program that will give points to riders who use the system at times next to, but not during, peak periods. The program gives riders one point per mile an hour before and after the peak rush hour, with 1,000 points equaling to use toward BART passes. (Curbed SF)

Uber as transit: Altamonte Springs, a suburb of Orlando Florida, is subsidizing Uber rides for residents in lieu of a transit system. The city manager had hoped to create a system of smaller buses that came when called until his project idea was killed last year by the USDOT. The agreement is the first of its kind in the country, and is controversial because it leaves out key segments of the riding population including the the disabled and those without bank accounts. (The Verge)

Stop driving into my house: Speeding drivers that fly around a sharp turn on a big arterial have hit a house in Raleigh 6 times in the last 9 years. The family constantly fears for its safety, but the city won't do anything about the road, where people constantly drive over the speed limit, nor will it help the family move out of the house, which is impossible to sell. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

Housing takes a loss: Small dorm-sized apartments called microhousing have been regulated away in Seattle. One legislative change after another brought higher standards, larger floor plans, and higher costs. Best described as death by a thousand cuts, the fight against microhousing has added up to a loss of over 800 units per year. (Sightline Institute)

Walk to get smart: There is a great "link between mind and feet". According to science, we are able to come up with ideas and think better when we're walking because of our body chemistry. When you go on a walk, your heart pumps faster and and circulates more oxygen to all parts of your body, including your brain. (New Yorker)

Put the kids to work: An app in Oslo called Traffic Agent was created to allow children in the city to report hazards. A local traffic engineer came up with the idea when she realized that it would be tough to complete a traffic report on all city roads and wanted to get more children involved in traffic safety issues. The data and information will be used in the future when the city closes the core to vehicles. (Next City)

Quote of the Week

"We're trying to get back to that great system that we had. Get rid of the debt and get rid of the tolls and have a low-cost system that everybody can benefit from."

- Retired engineer Don Dixon on Texas' plans to look at making all of the state's toll roads free. Doing so would cost $24 billion.

Transit


Should Metro change its rules to allow bikes during rush hour?

Today, Metro does not allow standard bikes on its trains during rush hour. But one of the ideas that came through MetroGreater was to reverse that policy and allow bikes at all times of day. Some of our contributors (as well as some well-known members of the local media...) think it's a good idea, while others don't.


Photo by anokarina on Flickr.

According to WMATA spokesman Richard Jordan, Metro doesn't allow bikes on trains during weekday morning and afternoon rush (defined as the hours between 7-10 am and 4-7 pm) "for the safety of all riders... allowing for unobstructed entries on and exits off the train." He also added that "bicycles are not allowed inside railcars on July 4th or Inauguration Day."

David Cranor thinks the arguments for the ban don't hold much water:

There's no evidence that taking bikes on Metro is dangerous. The argument about space is valid but a folding bike doesn't really take up that much less space than a full-size bike, and how often are passengers really left on the platform because they can't get anyone else on?

[Also,] there is excess capacity in the reverse direction, why not monetize that and create better service at the same time? I've always done a reverse commute and when I used a folding bike it felt silly taking it on an empty train.

There is already a rule against bikes on crowded trains and platforms outside of rush hour, and definitely times when trains are crowded outside of rush hour. Is there any evidence that the system isn't working at those times?

Chris Slatt agrees:
There are clear mobility benefits to allowing bikes on MetroRail all the time, and as Metro has been pointing out - ridership is down, so there must be some "excess" capacity that could be used by people with their bikes. At a time when MetroRail is hurting for money and ridership, we shouldn't be turning people away without a clear and compelling reason to do so. I really think this is one of those problems that doesn't require a regulatory solution. People will naturally balance their need to take their bike on Metro vs. social pressure against doing so in a crowded direction at a crowded time. In general, people don't want to be "that idiot" who is getting in everyone else's way. Will it happen sometimes? Yes. Frequently enough to be more of a problem than tourists in general? I doubt it.
Jacob Mason says they are able to figure this out in New York:
The NYC subway does not ban bikes at any time, and there is certainly greater crowding there than in DC. It is often not physically possible to bring a bike on board a packed train, and you risk a LOT of people being very angry at you if you try. Same goes for strollers and any other large piece of equipment. There are some lines and some directions that are lightly used during rush hour, and this policy allows people to use bikes for these trips.
But Graham Jenkins, a MetroGreater jury member can see why it'd be hard to safely allow bikes on the Metro during rush hour:
It's impossible for personnel to tell whether a cyclist entering a station intends to ride in an off-peak direction.
1. Regardless of which direction the cyclist intends to travel, it's still difficult to maneuver with/around a bike during peak hours in almost any station (and if it's not bad at the origin, what about the destination?).
2. Even if under normal circumstances there is technically room for bikes, if anything goes wrong and results in crush loading, so much the worse.
3.Travel through the core is typically crowded in either direction, particularly during peak hours, leaving no room for bicycles on trains or in stations.
Lessie Henderson, another jury member, agrees with Graham that "if a dedicated car isn't available, then the bikes could get in the way; especially with rush and other events combined." She thinks a reasonable alternative would be to "encourage use of the bike lockers at the stations," maybe even connecting the bike lockers to a discounted Metro fare.

And when this conversation first came up, WAMU transportation reporter and Metropocalypse host Martin DiCaro is pretty against the idea:

So did NBC transportation reporter Adam Tuss and WMATA Board Member Corbett Price, as well as WAMU reporter and Metropocalypse host Martin Di Caro.

Tom Sherwood, another media icon in our region, is a fan:

Kelli Raboy points out that there are compelling reasons people want to bring bikes on:

It's not so much about the merits of the proposal (I don't really have an opinion on that), but more about the perception of WHY people would want to bring bikes on Metro during rush hour. It seems like all the arguments against this are entrenched in the idea that people who want to bring bikes on Metro want to do it out of convenience, or for a "fun" alternative. In reality, people will opt to navigate busy platforms and trains with a bike if it's their only reasonable option.
Alex Baca looks to California to give us some guidance:
BART in San Francisco has designated areas for bikes. BART is slammed regularly and people move around the bikes, which can really only be stacked about five deep before they seriously block the aisle between the seats. It's super-annoying as a rider without a bike and as a rider with a bike to navigate this, but it's far less annoying than not being able to bring your bike on the train for a few hours. Keep in mind that it is not possible to bike across the Bay Bridge, so putting your bike on BART (or an AC Transit bus) is the only way to get it between San Francisco and Oakland.
Svet Neov thinks even without a ban, there should probably be some restrictions:
Does it make sense for Metro to ban bikes at particular times of the day or in particular stations? Yes, it probably does.

It's just a matter of bicyclists not boarding a crowded train. Trains become crowded at some point during their journey. So a cyclist bound for, say, Woodley Park, may board a perfectly empty train at Forest Glen, and then suddenly find himself unable to get out of the way when a horde of passengers board at Union Station or when the train becomes even more crowded at Gallery Place.

On the other hand, does it make sense for Metro to completely ban bikes? Probably not.

If someone is reverse commuting on a Red Line train outbound towards Grosvenor in the morning, chances are there's plenty of room on the train. A similar situation could occur on any line in the middle of the day when ridership is low.

So, some trains may be perfectly able to accept bikes. Especially those that are outside of the core and headed away from it.

Before BART relaxed its ban on bicycles, they actually noted in the schedule (and on the digital signs on station platforms) specific trains that bikes were allowed on. And that works much better than a blanket ban based on time.

For example, let's imagine a Green Line train that is scheduled to depart Greenbelt at 9:58 am. Since the bike ban goes until 10:00 am, bicyclists are not allowed to be on that train. However, when that same train arrives at College Park at 10:03 am, where it becomes more crowded, bicycles are allowed. What is the point of banning cyclists from that train between Greenbelt and College Park? There is none and the goal of the ban becomes obsolete.

What do you think? Should the ban go or should Metro keep it?
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