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Development


Scarred by urban renewal, Silver Spring's Lyttonsville neighborhood gets a second chance

Silver Spring's Lyttonsville neighborhood has a rich history, but urban renewal nearly destroyed it. With the Purple Line coming, this historically-black community could get a second chance, but not everybody looks forward to it.


Urban renewal nearly destroyed Lyttonsville in the 1970s. Photo by Alan Bowser.

Located west of the Red Line tracks from downtown Silver Spring, Lyttonsville is one of Montgomery County's oldest neighborhoods, founded in 1853 by freed slave Samuel Lytton. The area could soon be home to a Purple Line station if the light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton opens as scheduled in 2022.

Over the past two years, Montgomery County planners crafted a vision for a small town center around the future Lyttonsville station, bringing affordable housing and retail options the community lacks. Some residents are deeply skeptical of what's called the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan, though it could restore the town center Lyttonsville lost long ago.

A rough history

During the early 20th century, a thriving main street developed along Brookville Road, including schools, churches, and a cemetery. As surrounding areas became suburban neighborhoods exclusively for white residents, the black Lyttonsville community lacked public services like running water and paved roads. For decades, its only connection to Silver Spring was a wooden, one-lane bridge that remains today.

In the 1970s, the county seized much of the area, destroying Lyttonsville's main street and replacing much of it with an industrial park, a Ride On bus lot, and storage for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Many of the older homes were replaced with large garden apartment complexes.


This wooden bridge was once the only way in and out of Lyttonsville. Photo by the author.

Today, Lyttonsville is a racially diverse community, and sought-after for its location between Silver Spring and Bethesda and being in the vaunted Bethesda-Chevy Chase school catchment. But one out of ten residents lives in poverty, compared to 6.9% of residents countywide. Lyttonsville is hard to access by any form of transportation, isolating its residents from nearby jobs.

Some residents claim the county's plan will continue a legacy of destructive planning decisions. They're worried about traffic and density, about getting redistricted out of the B-CC cluster, and that the area's affordable apartments could get replaced with luxury housing. Others are wary of the Purple Line after fighting off plans to locate a storage yard in the neighborhood.

Charlotte Coffield, who grew up in Lyttonsville during segregation and whose sister Gwendolyn fought to bring services to the area (the local community center is named for her), has emerged as one of the biggest critics. "All [Purple Line] stations do not need to be town centers," she wrote in a letter to the county planning board. "The proposed density would destroy the stable character and balance of our ethnically diverse neighborhood." Last week, the Lyttonsville Community Civic Association, where she is president, voted to accept no more than 400 new homes in the area.

New development in Lyttonsville

Bethesda-based developer EYA, which is currently building townhomes next to the future Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station, has an alternate proposal for Lyttonsville that could address residents' concerns. The biggest land parcels in the area are owned by several different property owners, including multiple government agencies, each with their own plans. Some want to build lots of new homes, while WSSC has a large site that they intend to leave alone.


EYA's vision for Lyttonsville.

EYA has reached out to several landowners about coordinating, allowing development on a combined 33-acre site to happen together. First, they would partner with WSSC to build several hundred affordable apartments and townhomes on their property. Residents of existing apartments could move there first without getting displaced. Then, EYA would partner with the two non-profits who own the affordable apartments to redevelop them with market-rate townhomes. The county would restrict building heights to 70 feet.

Next to the Lyttonsville station itself, EYA envisions a plaza surrounded by market-rate apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space (about half the size of a Giant supermarket), and a small business incubator modeled on Baltimore's Open Works that would offer job training to local residents.

Public art would promote the area's history, while Rosemary Hills Park would get a small addition. Local streets where drivers speed today would get traffic calming and new pedestrian and bicycle connections.

The $500 million proposal addresses most of the neighbors' concerns. EYA seeks to build 1200 new homes on the land, compared to the nearly 1700 the county would allow there. (What Montgomery County wants to allow in Lyttonsville is still less dense than plans for other Purple Line stations, including Long Branch and Chevy Chase Lake.) One-third of the new homes would be set aside for low-income households, and every existing affordable apartment would be replaced.


Lyttonsville's future Purple Line station. Image from MTA.

"The county can leave a legacy for how you can build Smart Growth," says Evan Goldman, VP of Land Acquisition and Development at EYA, stressing that the private development could help pay for the public amenities neighbors want. "There's only so much [public benefits] this can afford," he adds. "If you reduce the units so you can't pay for the benefits, the public benefits won't come."

Can the proposal actually work?

Residents I've spoken to like EYA's proposal, but are skeptical if it can happen. This project could have a transformative effect on Lyttonsville, but only if all of these partners agree to it. Recent experience in Shady Grove suggests finding new locations for the Ride On bus lot or WSSC's facility may be difficult.

"If EYA can execute its plan, there are more upsides," says resident Abe Saffer, "but since they don't have any letters of intent or partnerships firmly in place, I remain nervous."

The Montgomery County Council will hold two public hearings on the Lyttonsville Sector Plan next week in Rockville. Here's where you can sign up. If the plan is approved, the county would then have to approve EYA's proposal, which could then start construction in 2020 and take 10 to 15 years to get built.

Transit


Proximity to transit has always been good for DC real estate, even 150 years ago

Today, DC area real estate revolves around proximity to Metro. But transit-oriented development is nothing new here. 150 years ago, owners of boarding houses used access to the city's omnibus lines to appeal to antebellum urbanists.


1854 Line of Washington omnibuses. Photo from the DC Public Library.

This ad appeared in the Daily Evening Star on June 26, 1854. That year, three omnibus lines ran throughout Washington, serving the Capitol, Georgetown and the Navy Yard:

HOUSES FOR RENT.—I have for rent several new convenient houses, with lots of two acres of ground attached to each, situated on a new street parallel with Boundary street, running along the top of the ridge west of the railroad where it leaves the city, a little more than a mile north-easterly from the Capitol.
These houses have from seven to ten rooms each, including a kitchen, with several closets and cellar, woodsheds and a stable, and pumps of excellent water near at hand. The situation is beautiful, overlooking the railroad and a large portion of the city, and having the Capitol in full view. The approach to them is by H street, Delaware Avenue, and M street, graded and graveled. The soil of the lots is generally good, and capable of being made very productive.

An omnibus now runs twice a day between these houses and the President's square, by way of M street, Delaware avenue, H street, 7th street and Pennsylvania avenue; leaving the houses at about half-past eight o'clock, a.m., and half-past two p.m.; returning, after brief stands at the War, Navy and Treasury Departments, the Centre Market, General Post Office and Patent Office.


Daily Evening Star ad from June 26, 1854 mentions proximity to omnibus line.

Like today's Metro, the omnibus was a regular source of commuter headaches. An 18-year-old Samuel Clemens chronicled his disappointment with the city's mass transit system in February of 1854:

There are scarcely any pavements, and I might almost say no gas, off the thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue. Then, if you should be seized with a desire to go to the Capitol, or [somewhere]else, you may stand in a puddle of water, with the snow driving in your face for fifteen minutes or more, before an omnibus rolls lazily by; and when one does come, ten to one there are [nineteen] passengers inside and fourteen outside, and while the driver casts on you a look of commiseration, you have the inexpressible satisfaction of knowing that you closely resemble a very moist [dish-rag], (and feel so, too,) at the same time that you are unable to discover what benefit you have derived from your fifteen minutes' soaking; and so, driving your fists into the inmost recesses of your breeches pockets, you stride away in despair, with a step and a grimace that would make the fortune of a tragedy actor, while your "onery" appearance is greeted with "screems of laftur" from a pack of vagabond boys over the way.

Such is life, and such is Washington!

This post is excerpted from the book "Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: Adventures Of A Capital Correspondent". Also, this post originally ran in 2013, but since the history hasn't changed, we're sharing it again!

Transit


Watch live as Paul Wiedefeld and other experts answer questions about WMATA tonight at 6 pm

During his tenure at WMATA, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has opened more dialog with advocates and the public than many past General Managers. Tonight at 6 pm, he'll join a panel discussion and answer questions from the public at a livestreamed forum.

Once the event starts, the player above will livestream the event. After the event, we'll swap out the livestream player for a recording once it's available. (Update: the totally unedited recording is now available above; the program starts at 16:15.)

40 minutes will go toward audience questions, meaning attendees will have a chance to ask about pressing issues like late night service, rider safety, and anything else they want to know about.

The two-hour discussion will include a public update from Wiedefeld, a moderated panel discussion, and audience Q&A. The panel will also include WAMU's Martin Di Caro, DowntownDC BID's Neil Albert, Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter.

The forum is taking place at Georgetown University's Urban and Regional Planning program, hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and several partner groups. Uwe Brandes, Executive Director of Georgetown's planning program will moderate.

If you have questions during or before the event, you can tweet them to @betterDCregion using the hashtag #WMATAchat. During the Q&A portion of the program, organizers will pose as many of them as possible.

On October 26, a livestreamed followup forum will tackle Metro funding specifically. RSVP is now open, with more program details coming soon.

Development


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.


This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.


Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.


Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.


The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.


The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.

Transit


Why can't Metro label escalators "walk left, stand right" or label where doors will stop on the platform?

Over 1,000 Metro riders submitted ideas for our recent MetroGreater contest. Two came up most often, but are sadly not possible: Signs or markings to encourage people to stand to the right on the escalators, and decals to show where the doors will stop on the platforms. Here's why they couldn't be winners.


Photo by Benjamin KRAFT on Flickr.

In New York, for instance, markings like the ones above show where the doors will stop and urge riders not to stand right in front of the doors.

The obstacle is simple: On the new 7000 Series trains, the doors are not in the same place as on the older trains. Metro plans to run 7000s on all lines and gradually replace all trains with them, but it will be a long time before any line has no older cars. Therefore, markers wouldn't be in the right spot for all trains.

Here's a comparison between the 7000 series (top) and older cars (bottom) by Sand Box John:


Image by Sand Box John. Note that the exterior design of the 7000 ended up somewhat different than in this sketch made from early plans.

It's too bad the markings aren't possible, but moving the doors closer to the center on the 7000 series does make some sense, as they could better distribute crowding between the middles and ends of the cars. It would have been even better to build them with four doors per side, but perhaps in the future. (If so, however, that will push off the day even further when these markings might be an option.)

Walk left, stand right?

Most of us stand on the right side of an escalator, if we're not walking up or down it, and walk on the left side. Thirty-three separate people submitted variations on the idea of educating people about this custom. It could be a sign, like this one that entrant Kristoffer Wright mocked up:


Image by Kristoffer Wright.

Or, what about footprints, as in this idea by London designer Yoni Alter:


Photo by Yoni Alter.

There's one straightforward problem with the footprints in DC: Many Metro escalators sometimes run up and sometimes down (though many do not). On those, at least, the footprints would make no sense with the escalator reversed. Not only would the feet be facing the wrong way, but the "walk" footprints would then be on the right side, giving people the wrong suggestions. ("You should walk backwards down the wrong side of this escalator"?)

As for signs, reversibility isn't the issue, but safety is. According to WMATA Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox, people walking on escalators "is the single biggest point of customer injury, and Metro does not want to endorse that." They know people walk on the escalator as an "informal commuter practice, but it is a safety concern and we do not want to encourage walking or running on moving conveyances."

Transit agencies around the globe have a wide range of views on whether this is a safety issue. Ryan Young, one of the people who submitted the idea, pointed out a few worldwide examples. Chicago, for instance, officially recommends "walk left, stand right":


Image from Chicago CTA.

Toronto, on the other hand, ended the practice in 2007 for safety reasons. Young also found this Polish article showing a "walk left, stand right" sign in a Warsaw department store and advocating for similar ones in the subway.

We could quibble with Metro's decision, but the fact (right or wrong) right now is that Metro's safety is under a microscope. We have people like US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx insisting that safety is the only priority and that he'd sooner shut down the Metro than have any safety problem whatever. In that climate, doing something on escalators that could be a little less safe, even if the change is slight, is probably not wise.

Personally, I still will be walking on the escalator and politely saying "excuse me" to people who stand on the left.

Pedestrians


National links: Ancient ruins that nobody visits

There are ancient ruins in the United States but people don't treat them as tourist destinations like they do ones in other countries. Also, not everyone gets to weigh in on how their city is planned, and Ford Motor Company is trying out a different transportation strategy. Check out what's going on in the world of housing, transportation, and cities around the globe.


Photo by John Fowler on Flickr.

Ancient ruins ignored: The US has a number of ancient cities, including Cahokia near St. Louis and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. But we don't visit the same way we do places like, say, Machu Picchu. Part of the reason may be that ancient ruins in the US don't exactly mesh with the narrative that this land was uninhibited, waiting for Westerners to simply come and put it to use. (Pricenomics)

Not so representative: Metropolitan planning agencies are notorious for overlooking the opinions of people who live in dense urban areas, especially people of color and women. According to researchers in Austin, Texas, while 63% of their regional population is white, white board members represent 90% of the technical advisory council and 85% of the transportation policy board of region's metropolitan planning organization. Women make up 33% and 30% of these same two boards even though they make up half of the total population. (Streetsblog USA)

Will Ford change urban transportation?: The Ford Motor company is making urban travel part of its business model. The company has bought Chariot, a transit-like company that shuttles people from home to work in large cities, and is paying to bring 7,000 bike share bikes to San Francisco by 2017 (there are 700 now). The company says its goal is to drive down the cost of mobility for everyone. (Medium)

Is "out" the only way forward?: Cities that spread outward have produced more housing than those which have curbed the sprawl, according to a Berkeley economist. More units in sprawling areas has meant lower prices, which means cities will face a hard decision going forward: contain development while production in the core lags and prices go up, or sprawl into the outer areas of the region, a solution that brings high transportation costs and environmental damage. (Wall Street Journal)

Crosswalk, redesigned: A series of crosswalks are being redesigned in San Francisco to promote safety, taking into account the fact that drivers hit three people each day. The idea is to make pedestrians easier to spot by using multiple zebra crossings and raised curbs, but also to make the crossings more park-like. (Curbed SF)

Our transportation habits are wasteful: When writing a book on garbage, Edward Humes noticed that we waste a lot of space and resources on transportation, so he wrote a new book called Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. The fact that vehicles designed for five people ferry around one person, for example, led him to think the car is a social, economic, and health problem that needs to be solved. (New York Times)

Quote of the Day

"If you look at legal requirements on levels of nitrogen dioxide in particular, Oxford Street gets in the first week of January what it should in an entire year. That's one of the reason why there's an urgency to air quality plans."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who himself has adult onset asthma, discussing the air quality problems London faces thanks to endless streams of diesel buses. (CNN)

Transit


AskGGWash: Why are Yellow Line trains terminating at U Street?

During rush hour, Yellow Line trains usually run between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square. But beginning in August, I noticed that many went all the way to U Street, two stops north of their usual ending point. The reason is a mechanical malfunction with a track at Mount Vernon Square that lets trains change direction, and the issue highlights just how important that track is to the entire system.


Photo by the author.

In technical lingo, the problem is called a "bobbing track circuit." The issue is typically considered more of a nuisance than an actual danger, but it's been preventing rush hour Yellow Line trains from accessing their usual turnaround point (the Mount Vernon pocket) for several weeks.

According to WMATA operations guru Stephen Repetski, a track circuit is described as "bobbing" when it erroneously flips back and forth between registering that a train is occupying its block when it might not actually be. This may occur because the circuit is too sensitive, or it may be due to old equipment that needs to be replaced.

A bobbing track circuit can cause trains to lose their speed commands. This forces the operator to stop and wait for permission from the Rail Operations Control Center to proceed to the next signal block, which they must do at a reduced speed. This significantly delays train operations.


WMATA signaling infrastructure. Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Usually, rush hour Yellow Line trains reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there's a pocket track there-- a short third track located between the two main tracks, which allows trains to reverse direction without blocking trains on the mainline. In normal rush hour operation, Yellow Line trains use this pocket track to short turn, e.g. to turn around without running all the way to the end of the line at Greenbelt.

Since Yellow Line trains currently have to turn around using the crossover at U Street* (or run all the way out to Greenbelt), fewer trains are operating on the Green/Yellow Lines every rush hour. This is due to the fact that when trains have to short turn without the use of a pocket track, they cause delays by blocking trains in both directions, as Matt Johnson detailed in a 2010 post on the issue.

*There are crossovers that allow trains to turn around between every station from Gallery Place to Fort Totten, but Metro seems to have chosen U Street as the temporary turnaround point.


Trains that have to short turn without the use of a pocket impede through trains in both directions. Graphic by the author.

However, a pocket between the mainline tracks allows short-turning trains to be taken off the mainline while reversing direction, thus allowing through trains to proceed unobstructed. Thus, when rush hour Yellow Line trains turn back toward Huntington using the pocket track at Mount Vernon Square, they are allowing through trains (e.g. Green Line trains) to pass unimpeded on the mainline while the reversal procedure is carried out.


A pocket allows trains to reverse direction without blocking the mainline tracks. Graphic by the author.

This temporary "extension" of Yellow Line service did get a few Greater Greater Washington contributors thinking: could Metro ever permanently extend the Yellow Line past Mount Vernon Square during rush hour? Doing so would provide booming stations like Shaw, U Street, and Columbia Heights with increased service and a direct connection to Virginia at all hours.

There are, however, several financial and logistical problems standing in the way.

The obstacles: lack of a pocket track, railcars, and funding

After 15 years of short-turning Yellow Line trains at Mount Vernon Square at all hours, Metro began running off-peak Yellow Line trains all the way to Fort Totten in December 2006. The service started as a pilot program, but was quickly made permanent due to high demand.

However, there are three major obstacles preventing Yellow Line trains from running to Fort Totten during peak hours: there's no a pocket track at Fort Totten, Metro only has so many trains, and Metro doesn't have the money (Matt explored these factors in depth in his 2010 post).


An above-ground pocket track north of Silver Spring. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Turning some trains around at pocket tracks (like the one at Mount Vernon Square) rather than running them all the way to the end of the line allows more trains to run on the given section of the Metro system because it keeps terminal stations like Greenbelt from getting overwhelmed.

For example, 50% of rush hour Red Line trains only run between Grosvenor-Strathmore and Silver Spring (rather than all the way from Shady Grove to Glenmont), using the pocket tracks at these stations to reverse and head back in the other direction. This means that Shady Grove and Glenmont only have to handle turning around 13 trains per hour, rather than the maximum of 26.

There is excess rush hour capacity on the Green/Yellow Line tracks north of Mount Vernon Square, as you can see in Matt Johnson's graphic below, and extending the Yellow Line to Fort Totten would take advantage of it (as the four hourly Rush+ Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt already do).


Metro service vs. capacity. Graphic by Matt Johnson.

But without building a pocket track somewhere between Mount Vernon Square and Greenbelt (such as at Fort Totten), it is impossible to take full advantage of this capacity without overwhelming operations at the busy Green Line terminal. Unfortunately, there are significant obstacles standing in the way of this.

In addition to the cost of the pocket track itself, Metro would have to pay for additional rolling stock in order to operate the extended Yellow Line service full time. As Matt explains, the increased service would require 30 additional railcars at a cost of approximately $100 million, plus $3 million per year in operating costs. The new railcars would have to come from Metro's order for the 8000 series, which aren't expected to begin delivery until at least 2023.

Is it possible to build an extra pocket track between Mount Vernon Square and Greenbelt? And how come one didn't go in in the first place? I'll take a look at that in a post next week.

Correction: This post initially said there are crossovers at every station between Gallery Place and Fort Totten. That isn't the case, and given where the crossovers are, U Street makes sense for the current Yellow Line issue.

Public Spaces


Car-free travel idea: Backpacking via Metro

Sure, the Metro can take you to many places, but did you know that you can take it to go backpacking? Parks in both Maryland and Virginia have campgrounds that are less than a one-hour hike away from Metro stations.


Greenbelt Park has family-friendly hiking trails. Photo by Brian Vallelunga on Flickr.

Greenbelt Park in Greenbelt, Maryland

This 174-site campground sits atop a heavily wooded ridge between two small streams that feed into the Anacostia River, within a National Park Service-run park that also has nine miles of hiking trails. It's a two-mile walk from the east entrance to the College Park Metro, about half of which is on sidewalks (going near the College Park Aviation Museum) and the other half on trails; NPS even provides convenient turn-by-turn directions.

The park is also about three miles south of Old Greenbelt, an experimental town built by the federal government during the Great Depression.


Lake Fairfax Park's group campground. Photo by Adam Theo on Flickr.

Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Virginia

The three campgrounds near Lake Fairfax are run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The hike from Wiehle Metro to the nearest campsite is just under two miles, both along suburban streets and along the uppermost reach of the Difficult Run trail, which ultimately leads to Great Falls Park. Besides the recreational lake, the park also has a skateboard area and an "activity pool" with waterslides and a lazy river.

Reston was also built as an experimental planned community, albeit in the 1960s, and the campground is three miles from Reston's original "village center."


Lockhouse 6, one of six cabins for rent along the C&O Canal. Photo by TrailVoice on Flickr.

C&O Canal National Historic Park in Brookmont, Maryland

If a cabin with a kitchen and water views is more your style, Lockhouse 6 is a restored cabin right along the C&O canal that you can rent out for $150 per night. Built almost 200 years ago for canal employees, it's now decorated in a 1950s style and includes a kitchen and bathroom.

Getting there takes either a three-mile walk from the Friendship Heights Metro—or just a five-minute walk from RideOn's bus route 23, which runs Monday through Saturday and stops at Broad Street and Maryland Avenue in Brookmont. A campsite that convenient does have one drawback: the cabin backs up to busy Clara Barton Parkway.

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