Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category transit

There's history to behold on some of DC's manhole covers

The District has thousands of manhole covers, and a lot of them offer a glimpse into the city's history. This one, for example, is from a 19th Century streetcar company that hasn't existed in over 100 years.


An extant manhole cover from the Anacostia & Potomac River Railroad. Photo by the author.

The "A&P RR" refers to the Anacostia and Potomac River Railroad, which was the fourth streetcar company to begin operation in DC. A&P ran from 1876 until 1912, when the Washington Railway and Electric Company bought it.

The manhole was almost surely for below-the-street electrical power access. A&P was the last company to switch from horse-cars to electric power, making the switch in 1900, so we can reasonably assume this cover to be from between 1900 and 1912.

This cover is on 11th Street SE, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Lincoln Park. I've seen three covers like it in the area, and another on Maryland Avenue NE, just east of 14th Street by the Checkers. Those are the only ones I know about. These locations are a bit surprising since the A&P didn't run on these streets, nor did any other streetcar. The A&P did run in 11th Street SE, but only south of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Know of any interesting manhole covers in the DC area? Mention them in the comments!

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 48

On Tuesday, we posted our forty-eighth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 16 guesses. Six of you got all five correct. Great work, Peter K, JamesDCane, William M, Frank IBC, FN, and Mr. Johnson!


Image 1: Glenmont

The first image shows the eastern entrance to Glenmont station. Structurally, this is a unique escalator covering. But it's also distinctive because of the artwork Swallows and Stars tiled along the canopy supports.

Today, escalator canopies are commonplace on Metro because WMATA wants to protect the moving stairs from the elements. But before the agency started putting in the standardized glassy canopy, like the one at Virginia Square featured in week 40, they built unique canopies at new stations.

When Glenmont opened in 1998, it was among the first to get a canopy like this. Columbia Heights and Georgia Avenue followed in 1999. Congress Heights included an entrance pavilion similar to the Mid City stations two years later when it opened. Fourteen of you recognized Glenmont.


Image 2: Franconia-Springfield

The second image shows the roof of Franconia-Springfield. The structure, especially the width of the roof, should have told you this was a high peak station. But which of the four could it be?

The main clue was the vantage point. The photo is from the VRE overpass, which is higher than the roof of the station. Southern Avenue and Suitland both have overpasses leading to the station, but their escalator configuration doesn't allow this view. Six of you guessed correctly.


Image 3: East Falls Church

This picture shows the roof of East Falls Church looking up through a "hole" in the platform from the mezzanine. The roof type is general peak, and the perspective means the station's mezzanine is below the tracks. That eliminates six of the eleven stations of this type. Of the remaining five, only East Falls Church fits the bill.

The crossbars below the glass are closely spaced, which is only the case at East Falls Church, Dunn Loring, and Vienna. And as noted above, you can discount Dunn Loring and Vienna. The other clue is the railing visible at the bottom center of the photo. That's present only at East Falls Church, and you could (barely) see it in week 46. Eight of you got this one.


Image 4: Naylor Road

The fourth image shows the newest general peak station in the system, Naylor Road. This station is a bit different from the other stations because it has an extremely shallow glass peak.

Note how in the images above (East Falls Church) and below (Addison Road), the peak is angled at roughly 45 degrees, with a right angle at the apex. Compare that to Naylor Road, where the slope is probably closer to 20 degrees above horizontal and the apex is a very obtuse angle. Seven of you guessed correctly here.


Image 5: Addison Road

The final image shows the canopy at Addison Road. Like the last two images, it has a general peak roof. But Addison Road has a unique variant of the canopy. This is the oldest general peak station in the system, opening in 1980. All of the other general peak stations, except for East Falls Church and Dunn Loring, have two columns supporting the canopy on either side of the peak (see image 4).

Addison Road has a single row of columns centered under the peak. This unique element is the only real clue to solving the final image. And eight of you were able to solve the puzzle.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next week.

Transit to Wolf Trap will still run through West Falls Church

Despite speculation that the Silver Line might change how the Fairfax Connector runs to Wolf Trap, the service's Route 480 Wolf Trap Express will continue to run from West Falls Church this season. While some Silver Line stations are closer, it turns out West Falls Church still makes sense.


Photo from FCDOT.

According to Nicholas Perfili, the Fairfax Connector section chief, Wolf Trap and Fairfax County DOT officials did discuss the possibility of changing the service to run from a station on the Silver Line. Ultimately, they decided against it.

West Falls Church still has a lot to offer

The main reason for keeping the current routing is to make sure concert goers can stay at Wolf Trap for as long as possible. While the last train to DC leaves Spring Hill at 11:18 pm during the week, the last train from West Falls leaves at 11:32. Concerts can run late into the evening, and those extra few minutes can be the difference between having to leave before a show ends and catching the encore.

Perfili also pointed out that the route from West Falls Church to Wolf Trap offers a more reliable trip time because it has HOV-2 restrictions on the Dulles Connector Road and a bus-on-shoulder lane that lets buses bypass other traffic. Also, a bus from Spring Hill would be subject to Tysons congestion, which can be quite bad.


Photo from FCDOT.

While there's ample parking at West Falls Church, there isn't at any of the Tysons stations. A final thing West Falls Church has that the others don't: room for buses to park and wait if need be.

The Wolf Trap Express will undergo one change this year: it will now use West Falls Church's Bus Bay E, which is closer than Bay B, which it used to use. The move comes thanks to the Silver Line, which made it possible to cut the number of buses needing to run through West Falls Church.

That means that, albeit indirectly, the Silver Line is making trips to Wolf Trap shorter... if only by a few feet.

See the beginnings of the Purple Line in Silver Spring

The Purple Line may still face some hurdles in Annapolis, but Montgomery County is already planning for its arrival. This construction project at the Silver Spring Library is making room for the light rail:


Construction at Silver Spring Library. Photo by Matt Johnson.

The worker on the right is installing a detectable warning surface, which most people know as the bumpy strip that tells a blind person they're about to step into a road or rail line.

Once the surface is complete, it will be very obvious that the space, which connects to a larger public plaza, is part of a transit station.

The station will be one of two in downtown Silver Spring, a major destination for the Purple Line. It will anchor a new mixed-use development going up, which will include a coffee shop, gallery space, and affordable housing for seniors in addition to a new library.


Rendering of the completed station. Image from MTA.

Purple Line rails and trains are still a ways off. Still, it's nice to see the beginnings of such a major project coming together already.

The Takoma Langley transit center is rising from the ground

Construction is progressing rapidly at Maryland's Takoma Langley transit center. Take a look:


Construction progress as of Saturday, April 18, 2015. Photos by the author unless noted.

The transit center will feature bus bays and rider amenities, covered under a great curving roof that's sure to become a local landmark.

Fow now, the bright white frame looks more like something out of a sci-fi movie than a bus station.

Here's what it will all look like once construction is done:


Rendering of the final station from the State of Maryland.

Langley Park needs this

Langley Park, at the corner of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, is the busiest bus transfer location in the Washington region that isn't connected to a Metro station.

Eleven bus routes stop on the side of the street at the busy crossroads, serving 12,000 daily bus riders. That's nearly as many bus riders per day as there are Metrorail riders at Silver Spring Metro, and it's about double the number of Metrorail riders at Takoma station.

Corralling all those bus stops into a single transit center will make transfers vastly easier, faster, and safer for bus riders.

Heavy construction began at the transit center last year, and is scheduled to be complete around December 2015.

If the Purple Line light rail is built, Takoma Langley will become one of its stations, boosting ridership even more. The light rail transitway and station would have to be added later, and would fit snuggly in the median of University Boulevard.


How a Purple Line station would fit. Rendering from the State of Maryland.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 48

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


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Update: The answers are here.

Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care?

One of the most basic tenets of standard economics is that consumer choice dictates the market. Yet in discussions about transit, many economic analyses seem to throw consumer preference out the window, insisting that riders' preference for rail over bus doesn't matter, or is imaginary.


Photo by Joshua Daniel Franklin on Flickr.

Opponents of rail projects often argue that trains are a waste of money because buses provide the same benefits for less cost. That's incorrect on technical grounds, but it also ignores the factor of consumer preference.

The great virtue of markets, mainstream economics asserts, is that they compel producers to make what the "sovereign consumer" desires. Each individual buys what he or she wants and isn't forced to accept what someone else thinks they should want.

But as I recently discussed in more detail in Dissent magazine, transportation economists often ignore a basic premise of their own discipline, and dethrone the sovereign consumer.

Be complete and be honest

Unlike their colleagues who study ordinary markets, transportation economists don't try (as they could) to measure consumer preference and weigh the costs of meeting it. Instead, they tell commuters who yearn for trains that their preferences are mere emotion and myth.

Telling consumers they're wrong to feel the way they do is extremely unusual, and transportation economists' insistence upon doing so undermines honest economic assessment of transportation proposals. Most commuters have options, and every freedom to put their preferences to practice.

This is not to say there aren't economic advantages to buses. Of course there are. Buses are generally cheaper, so cities can use buses to run more transit routes to more places than they could on a rail-only system. That's a genuine benefit. It matters, and it's why we'll always have dozens or hundreds of bus routes for every rail route.

So economists are correct to assert that buses can offer great value. But the fact that buses are great on their own terms does not mean consumer preference for rail can be left out of economic analysis.

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