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Posts in category transit


Worldwide links: Does Seattle want more transit?

Seattle is about to vote on whether to expand its light rail, stirring up memories of votes to reject a subway line in the late 60s. In San Francisco, people would love to see subway lines in place of some current bus routes, and in France, a rising political start is big on the power of cities. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

Subway in Seattle?: Seattle is gearing up for a massive vote on whether to approve a new light rail line, and a Seattle Times reporter says the paper is, on the whole, anti-transit. Meanwhile, lots of residents haven't forgotten that in 1968 and 1970, voters rejected the chance to build a subway line in favor of a new stadium and highways. (Streetsblog, Seattle Met, Crosscut)

Fantasy maps, or reality?: Transit planners in San Francisco asked residents to draw subway fantasy maps to see where the most popular routes would be located. They got what they asked for, with over 2,600 maps submitted. The findings were also not surprising, as major bus routes were the most popular choices for a subway. (Curbed SF)

Paris mayor --> French president?: Sometimes labeled as the socialist "Queen of the Bohemians", Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has quietly moved up the political ladder, and she's now a serious candidate to be France's future head of state. Hidalgo did the unthinkable by banning cars from the banks of the Seine, and her ability to make change at the local level makes her believe cities are, in many respects, more important than the countries they inhabit. (New York Times)

How romantic is the self-driving car?: In the US, driving at age 16 was a 20th century right of passage. But what happens when we take the keys away? What happens to people's love affairs with cars if cars drive themselves? Does turning 16 mean anything in terms of passage into adulthood? In this long read, Robert Moor wonders how the self-driving car will affect the American psyche, and especially whether older drivers will ever recover. (New York Magazine)

Pushing back on art in LA: Local activists in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, are pushing back against artist spaces they feel are gentrifying the neighborhood. Research shows that the arts aren't necessarily a direct gentrifying agent, but planners do watch art spaces to analyze neighborhood change. (Los Angeles Times)

Quote of the Week

We've had this concentrated population growth in urban areas at the same time that people have been doing an increasing percentage of their shopping online. This has made urban delivery a more pressing problem.

- Anne Goodchild on the growth of smaller freight traffic in urban areas. (Associated Press)


Here's what the public told the WMATA Board about the idea to permanently cut late-night Metro service

On Thursday, WMATA held a nine and a half-hour public hearing about its proposals to cut late-night Metro service. Lots of people turned out to say they depend on Metro, while others stressed an array of options to consider before moving forward with late-night cuts.

Metro staff is proposing that cuts to late-night rail service, which are currently in effect as part of SafeTrack, become permanent so that there's more time for much-needed system maintenence.

While it still hasn't made a clear argument as to why these cuts are necessary, at least not publicly, Metro staff has moved forward by presenting the WMATA Board of Directors with four different options for shorter hours. The WMATA compact stipulates that before the board can make any of them official, it has to hold public hearings like yesterday's.

WMATA staff has asked the Board to make one of these sets of hours of operation official. There are Image from WMATA.

A quick rundown of how these hearings work: anyone who wants to testify signs up to do so, and when it's their turn, they get to address the board directly for three minutes (elected officials get five). Yesterday, board members mostly listened, withholding comment except to thank whoever had spoken once they finished.

Regarding testimony to the Board, Justin Lini, who recently explained why closing Metro stations in Wards 7 and 8 would (that's a separate-but-related matter), said that most of the people who showed up to speak were regular riders from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

"There were also a number of ANC reps from Wards 2, 4, and 7," he said, "as well as DC Councilmembers and a councilmember from Capitol Heights, MD. There were some disability activists there as well, and and African American activists. The local service union had a large contingent too."

Nicole Cacozza, another GGWash contributor, added that when she got to WMATA's headquarters, a group with signs was outside to protest the cuts.

Photo by Nicole Cacozza.

According to Justin and Nicole, nobody who showed up at the hearings was there to support cutting service. People cited all kinds of arguments for why Metro needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with better options, from saying it would damage to the city's reputation and economic growth and that it would do disproportionate harm to low-income communities to asking why Metro couldn't do a better job with the maintenence time it already has.

Nicole said a lot of people spoke about how much they rely on Metro, and how not having service late at night would be devastating:

One man came to testify on behalf of his former coworkers in the service industry who worked long shifts and needed Metro to get home.

A woman from WMATA's accessibility committee spoke about just not being able to travel on weekends if Metro cut its morning service, because she cannot get around without public transportation.

One woman who immigrated to Maryland as a child said that she used Metro to travel to Virginia after school in order to spend time with other people from her home country, and she currently knows people who use it to attend GED classes after work.

One person brought up that there have already been reports of workers sleeping in their offices because they could not get home.

Similar stories stood out to Justin:
Some spoke about how cuts will make it harder for them to get to work. Others talked about not being able to go out in DC anymore. One person got very emotional over the Nats game last week and talked about how she didn't make it home until 4 am due to lack of metrorail service.

We also had some people who were concerned about increasing drunk driving, and the environmental impact of putting more cars on our roads.

Personal accounts like these illustrate why Metro has to find a way forward that doesn't include cutting late-night service, and it's important that Board members hear them. But there was also plenty of comment regarding the technical and logistical problems Metro is up against, and how to fix them.

Justin said that DC Councilmenber Elissa Silverman pushed WMATA to develop better metrics to measure its performance, and also for the agency to do more to put out information on particular incidents or plans, like it did last year when there was a fire at Stadium-Armory that curbed service for 13 weeks.

A number of comments also suggested looking to other systems for examples of how to do massive repairs while not making such drastic service cuts. "References were made to the PATH system in New Jersey, in that its a two track system which runs 24 hours," Justin said. "Another model raised was SEPTA night owl service, which runs busses overnight parallel to rail routes."

People also said WMATA should consider doing maintenence SafeTrack-style, closing segments of lines for longer periods of time (or even entire lines if absolutely necessary) but not the entire system. Patrick Kennedy, a GGWash contributor and ANC commissioner, said this in his testimony:

Rather than taking a meat cleaver to the hours of the system across 110 miles of track, I'd encourage the Board to consider a more surgical policy of prioritizing limited service reductions—single-tracks, early shutdowns, etc.—in discrete locations where maintenance tasks are to be performed. This would require additional effort for planning purposes in order to inform customers and manage impacts on revenue service, but it would carry a significant dividend for riders over a complete service reduction as proposed.
Another common refrain: if Metro does go forward with permanent late-night rail closures, it's got to provide the bus service needed to bridge the gap—and right now, the proposal on the table doesn't come close.


Picture this: You're nibbling breakfast at Union Station when a train plows through the building

At 8:38 am on January 15th, 1953, a man ran onto the Union Station concourse screaming "run for your lives!" 20 seconds later the building shook as a runaway 1,100 ton passenger train smashed through the north wall and collapsed the through the floor into the basement. Dozens of passengers were injured but, amazingly, there were no fatalities on the train or in the station.


The Federal Express 173, which ran from Boston to Washington, consisted of an electric locomotive and 16 coach and Pullman sleeper cars. The brake failure and subsequent crash were caused by a design flaw with the train's airbrake system.

The first warning signs that a crash was on the way appeared about 15 minutes outside of Washington. The engineer started decelerating from the cruising speed of 80 mph, but the train the train wouldn't go below 60 mph. The emergency braking system temporarily slowed the train down, but the declining slope of the tracks approaching Union Station all but canceled it out.

At the time, trains didn't have two-way radios, so the only warning signal the engineer could give was with the train's horn.

According to a Washington Post account (which I accessed via the DC Public Library), the conductor began running back through the cars shouting for passengers to "Lie down on the floor or lie down on your seat." As the out of control train buzzed the K Tower in Union Station's rail yard at 50 mph, it was obvious that a disaster was moments away.

The towerman frantically telephoned the station master "Runaway on Track 16!" and through their quick action, the platform was cleared. Luckily, unlike today's Amtrak passengers, most people waited for their trains on now-removed benches in the main hall, so the concourse area was relatively empty.

The Post quotes from one of their own employees, a young layout artist who happened to be in one of the front three cars on his morning commute from Baltimore.

"There was a tremendous rumble and the screeching of steel rubbing against steel," said 25 year old Edward K. Koch. "The end of the car was tossed upward. Sparks were flying all over the place... Smoke and cement dust billowed up and about the car and we couldn't see out the windows... For a moment there was a period of awesome silence, punctuated by the sizzle of steam and the sputtering of live wires."

To understand the damage, you need to envision how Union Station looked before it was remodeled. The stairs that today lead down to the foodcourt didn't exist yet - they were cut through the floor years later. The shops and floating platforms were later additions.

Photo by the author.

Juxtaposing the damage with today's Union Station, imagine the train plowing through the Starbucks, Amtrak-Marc ticket counter and falling through the floor around the central staircases, and coming to rest right up against the doors of the chocolate shop.

400 station laborers got to work immediately repairing the damage - the Eisenhower inauguration was just 5 days away and Union Station was expecting large crowds. The locomotive was lowered down into the basement so it could be dismantled and brought above ground. (Interesting side note: the engine was later rebuilt, saw 30 years of continued service, and is currently at the Baltimore railroad museum).

Steel supports were installed in the hole in the station floor, and according to the Post, it was bridged with "two-inch tongue-and-groove wood flooring supported by heavy timbers" within 72 hours. The temporary floor was solidified by "quick drying asphalt [that] was applied over the wood floor."

Amazingly, the station was fully reopened within three days of the crash. The temporary floor was replaced by a all-steel and concrete replacement later that summer.

Cross-posted at Architect of the Capital.


WMATA is considering scrapping the Metroway BRT

Ridership on Metroway, the BRT route that runs from Braddock Road to Pentagon City, has been climbing since the service started in 2014. Yet WMATA is still considering shutting it down to save money. That'd negate years of planning and construction and sour public opinion on transit.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2014, WMATA introduced a bus rapid transit (BRT) service called Metroway, whose MW1 line runs between Braddock Road in Alexandria and Crystal City in Arlington. As our region's only BRT, Metroway runs in its own lane parallel to Route 1; its ability to skip traffic makes it a reliable transportation option.

Metroway ridership has been growing since it first opened. WMATA's 9S bus, which it replaced, had a daily ridership of 1,091 in its final year running. But by June 2015, Metroway ridership was at about 1,400 people per day, and as ridership grew, Metroway expanded it's service to the Pentagon City Metro station.

Image from the City of Alexandria.

At the heart of the MW1 route (which remains Metroway's only line) is Potomac Yard, a former 295-acre rail yard, which used to be on EPA's list of hazardous sites but has been growing into a great example of transit-oriented development (TOD) over the past decade. As large apartment buildings in Potomac Yard have gone up, so has the number of people riding Metroway.

In 2016, Metroway saw a roughly 50% increase in ridership over the same months in 2015. In June of 2016, the average daily ridership topped 2,000 for the first time.

Metroway is quite cheap compared to other WMATA concerns

Last week, WMATA released several radical ideas to close the gap between its operating budget and allocated funds for Fiscal Year 2018.Included in a collection of ideas to save $10 million on bus service was eliminating 20 bus routes that WMATA has to subsidize because fares don't cover costs. In Metroway's case, WMATA pays $3.5 million extra per year to run the service, which is nearly three times the amount of money the 20 routes averaged together.

To put that in perspective, WMATA projects a budget gap of $275 million for FY 2018, and that number is likely to grow in the future. While we typically talk about rail in terms of decades and in magnitudes of billions of dollars, BRT offers options for smaller areas at a fraction of the cost-- a $3.5 million compared to hundreds of millions, for example-- and time.

For instance, the Silver Line was part of the original Metro planning during the 1960s, and the construction cost for Phase II alone is $3 billion. The Potomac Yard Metro Station also has roots dating back to the original Metro planning, was in various forms of development beginning in the early 90's, and will be complete in 2020 at an estimated cost of $268 million.

On the other hand, the time between the completing the conceptual design for the Metroway BRT Route and the grand opening was only 41 months at a cost of only $42 million for construction.

Beyond that, Metroway is just getting started. Why cut it off now?

Metroway has a growing ridership, as it serves an area that's growing. In fact, it has far more riders than the other 19 bus lines proposed for elimination, with the average ridership among the others being less than 500 riders per day. Only one other route, Oxon Hill-Fort Washington, has more than 1,000 riders per day.

Also, recent numbers Metro used to evaluate Metroway for its recent budget report were distorted: During SafeTrack surges 3 and 4 in July, anyone transferring from Metro was allowed to ride Metroway for free, which pushed ridership from being over 2,000 paying customers per day down to around 1,300. The next month, though, ridership was back over 2,000.

If Metroway stays around, ridership will grow and Metro will come closer and closer to breaking even on Metroway. With the next wave of development starting to kick off in the north end of Potomac Yard and Oakville Triangle, even more potential riders will have a chance to use the service..

That brings up another point: Metroway has come on board to serve the TOD of Potomac Yard. Eliminating the line would add more congestion to the Route 1 corridor, defeating the purpose of TOD. It could also drive up automobile ownership among residents who relied on the system.

Also, WMATA has already invested in the infrastructure needed to run BRT, and while it was far cheaper than a rail project, it's still a lot to simply throw away. The years of planning and construction are in place, which represent a cost 12 times greater than the annual subsidy, which should decrease as development continues. Shutting down these lanes would be another black eye for WMATA.

Finally, residents' opinion of BRT matters, as other jurisdictions begin to develop their own systems. Montgomery County is planning a 14 mile stretch along Route 29 that is part of a larger 80 mile system. Eliminating this line would sour the public opinion and possibly derail other local jurisdictions from developing their own.

As WMATA continues to face ridership declines from what it calls "poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents" that plague the rest of their system, it would be foolish to cut this growing asset.


Metro is proposing service cuts, again. Will riders ever see the benefits?

Metro has fallen and it can't get up. That's the reality facing riders, agency staff, local officials, and the WMATA Board of Directors. In yet another slap at riders, Metro is proposing service cuts to allow for the the work time necessary to fix the system. But will it make a difference?

Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

For the better part of a decade, Metro riders have faced deteriorating service, both in quality and quantity. Even bright spots, like the Silver Line opening, have been bittersweet, with the cannibalization of railcars for the new service leading to maintenance problems and train shortages across the system.

In the wake of the deadly 2009 crash at Fort Totten, WMATA started taking steps to bring the system back into a state of good repair.

The agency was up front with riders: repairs would take time, and they would be painful. The needed work would delay trains and detour riders. But it couldn't be helped. The only alternative was to let Metro fall apart at the seams.

Metro first asked customers to sacrifice reliable and frequent weekend service. Then the agency cut into weeknight service, increasing wait times and delaying trains. Midday service was slashed next, to give more time on the tracks.

More recently, the agency even began asking riders to sacrifice during peak hours, with round-the-clock SafeTrack work in particularly troublesome areas for weeks at a time. Late night service has been cut altogether for now, and even special event service has been nixed.

Yet after seven years, riders aren't seeing benefits. Trains still break down with unreasonable frequency. Emergency track repairs have become commonplace. Crowded trains and stations are par for the course, not because ridership is skyrocketing—in fact, it's falling—but because trains are infrequent and oft-delayed.

Metro said in 2009, and many times since, "bear with us. There will be some pain, but things will get better." But things aren't getting better. Riders aren't seeing service quality increase. There seems to be little to no benefit for the sacrifice riders have had to make, even after seven years.

And now, Metro is coming to riders again. If the agency doesn't get more time to work on the tracks, it says, the system will deteriorate. The only way for things to get better is to face another painful cut. This time, a permanent cut to late night service, extending the 12-month suspension necessitated by SafeTrack.

But this is an insult to riders. Not least of all because we have seen no evidence from WMATA to date that these cuts are the ones that will actually do the trick, or even what else beyond this it would take to do the trick.

I sadly expect that one year hence, the WMATA Board will come to riders again and ask for yet another service cut. It's a pattern that has become all too familiar after three quarters of a decade of the same.

I had a conversation recently where a person with transit experience correctly pointed out that cutting late night service is the least painful cut Metro could make. And that is true. I'd much rather lose service at 2:00 in the morning than 2:00 in the afternoon.

The issue is larger than that, though. This isn't the first cut Metro has made. Inside of rush hour, service quality and reliability is declining. Outside of rush hour, the frequent single-tracking and long waits are driving even the most dedicated of customers away.

This cut may be fairly innocuous as far as transit cuts go, but it's the thousandth cut for a Metro that is bleeding to death on the floor of the emergency room waiting room.

Today, the Metro Board is asking riders to weigh in on the proposed cuts to late night service. But I have no faith that accepting yet another cut is what it will take to get Metro back on its feet. Metro needs to stop the hemorrhaging of riders. The agency needs band-aids to stop the gushing, self-inflicted wounds it already has, not yet another stab wound.

Unfortunately, Metro has a track record here, and it doesn't bode well for the patient. Or those riders who rely on the region's transit system.


The biggest and the smallest Capital Bikeshare stations

Capital Bikeshare stations range in size, from nine docks to 47 docks. Here are photos of the smallest station (a secret station!) and the five biggest.

First, the smallest station: the White House secret station. It's got nine docks, and sits behind a fence at 17th Street and State Place NW, just south of the Old Executive Office building.

Photo by the author.

The station is not open to the public and does not appear in Capital Bikeshare's data feed. It's also an anomaly for its size: 81 stations, each with 11 docks, are tied as the second-smallest stations in the system.

Now, the biggest stations, starting with a three-way tie for third place:

3rd-biggest (tie): 12th Street & Independence Avenue SW, next to the USDA buiding (39 docks)

Photo by the author.

This station sits close to the Smithsonian Metro station's south exit and is likely popular among tourists and office workers alike.

3rd-biggest (tie): Maryland & Independence Avenues SW (39 docks)

Photo by the author.

Farther east on Independence Avenue is this 39-dock station, placed in the median of Maryland Avenue SW, which is slated to become the future Eisenhower Memorial. This station is the closest one to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the third most-visited museum on the planet.

3rd-biggest (tie): Nationals Park / 1st & N Streets SE (39 docks)

Photo by the author.

It's no surprise Nationals Park is a huge trip generator. This station likely saw even higher demand than usual when WMATA decided to keep with its early closing schedule during the Nationals' playoff games.

2nd-biggest: Massachusetts Avenue & Dupont Circle NW (45 docks)

Photo by the author.

The second-biggest station sits at Massachusetts Avenue and Dupont Circle NW. The docks are split between two parallel rows. Located in a neighborhood populous with both residences and offices, it's no surprise this station is the system's second-busiest.

Biggest station: Union Station (47 docks)

Photo by the author.

Capital Bikeshare's biggest and busiest station resides at Union Station, a multimodal transportation hub serving 40 million visitors a year. The 47-dock station stretches along Columbus Circle NE near the east faÁade of the station and lies at the end of a contraflow bike lane that runs on F Street NE.


Here's why it'd be wrong to shut down Metro east of the Anacostia River

Last week, WMATA reported that one way to close its budget gap could be to close 20 Metro stations outside of rush hour, including seven that serve DC communities that are east of the Anacostia River. Moving forward with this idea would make it far harder for children to get to schools and for adults to access social and political life in the District. It could be a major civil rights violation, too.

Under WMATA's new proposal, stations with red dots could only get service during rush hour. Image from WMATA.

DC is split up geographically into eight wards, each of which has a representative on the DC Council. The Stadium Armory, Minnesota Avenue, Deanwood, Benning Road, and Capitol Heights stations are all in Ward 7, and Congress Heights is in Ward 8; these two wards are most certainly DC's most underserved.

DC's eight wards. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

There are, of course, 13 others on the list of stations that see low ridership and that Metro could consider closing outside of rush hour, from White Flint to Tysons-- but they aren't nearly as concentrated.

A lot of students use these Metro stations to get to and from school

According to research conducted by the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, an organization committed to improving education in Ward 7, 64% of children in Kenilworth-Parkside (which the Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue Metro stations serve) travel outside of their neighborhood to attend school, and many rely on Metro to get there.

Altogether, around half of Ward 7's parents send their children to schools outside of their neighborhood. The disruption also impacts students west of the Anacostia, as DC Charter School Board notes that more than 1,100 students travel to charters in Ward 7. While schools generally begin and end during rush hours, students would not necessarily be able to rely on Metro to get home from after school activities if WMATA's idea moves forward.

These Metro stations also have a big impact on access to jobs

Neighborhoods east of the river are predominantly residential, lacking large concentrations of commercial or government that make them destinations for morning commuters. This means that parents, like their children, travel outside their ward to jobs, often during off peak hours.

Due to Ward 7's geography, crosstown bus service is limited to just a handful of lines lines that are already amongst the busiest in DC. Some would lose their jobs or be forced to move if Metro stopped running outside of rush hour.

This map shows the number of jobs in different areas of the District. The bigger the orange circle, the more jobs are in the area. Clearly, people who live east of the Anacostia need to travel west to get to work. Map from OpenDataDC.

These closures would hurt future development and render existing bus service less useful

Ward 7 is primed to grow rapidly in the next few years. Ward 7 has transit-oriented developments proposed at all its Metro stops, like on Reservation 13 and at RFK, which are next to Stadium Armory, Parkside (Minnesota Ave), Kenilworth Courts Revitalization (Deanwood Metro), SOME (Benning Road Metro), and Capitol Gateway (Capitol Heights Metro).

These developments' success depends on their proximity to metrorail stations. Cutting off service would dramatically change the calculus of development in Ward 7, and communities seeing the first green shoots of growth would instantly see them snuffed out. Tens of thousands of homeowners would see their home values decline, and DC would lose millions in tax revenue.

Also, bus routes in these areas are East of the River bus routes are designed to feed into the Metro stations. A plan that would close stations without a significant upgrades to crosstown lines and within-ward service would further compound the transportation problems facing the community.

Why is ridership so low in Ward 7?

There is, of course, the fact that these stations are among the 20 Metro stations that get the lowest ridership. I'm not disputing that. But if we look at why that's the case, it's clear that closing these stations for most of the day is only going to exacerbate social and economic problems.

Ward 7 residents have borne the brunt of WMATA's service disruptions since 2009. The ward's stations are consistently among the most likely to be closed due to weekend track work. Between 2012 and 2013, Orange line stations in Ward 7 were disrupted 19 weekends. This level of disruption continued into 2015, when stations were disrupted for 17 weekends.

Graphic by Peter Dovak.

The impacts of WMATA's work strategies on ridership have been predictable. In 2008, Minnesota Avenue on the Orange line had an average weekday passenger boarding count of 3,552, but by 2015 this number had declined to 2,387 (a 32% decline). This despite the construction of hundreds of new homes in the surrounding area. Benning Road station on the Blue Line declined from 3,382 in 2008 to 2,823 in 2015, or a decline of 16%.

Service to areas east of the Anacostia suffered further disruptions in September 2015, when a transformer exploded near Stadium Armory, and when an insulator exploded at Capitol South in May 2016. Both helped trigger Safe Track, along with a two-week suspension of Metro service to Ward 7 in late June. This work featured extensive reconstruction of the tracks near Stadium Armory, despite years of closures on this very section of track.

Closing these stations wouldn't just be harmful. It could be illegal.

Again, these seven stations aren't the only ones on the list. But the fact that they make up virtually all the Metro stations in a place where the vast majority of residents are black is enough to bring up an important legal question.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says policies should not have an outsized effect on people from a protected class, such as race or gender, where alternatives could achieve the same objectives. The Federal Transit Administration regularly asks transit agencies to do an analysis of the impact of service cuts to make sure they don't disproportionately affect low income and minority riders, and in this case, it's not unreasonable to think they would.

Just take a look at this map, which shows DC's racial makeup and density, and look again at which area is faced with taking on a large percentage of the proposed closures:

A map illustrating racial makeup and density in Washington DC. Each dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent white people, blue are black people, green are Asian, orange are Hispanic, yellow are "other." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Metro can't close all these stations. It'd create a two-tiered transportation system in which 140,000 DC residents are cut off from heart of DC's economic, political and social life.


Marriott is moving its headquarters to downtown Bethesda so it can be in a denser place that's closer to transit

Marriott International, a major local employer and national hotelier, is making an "in-town" move, relocating its headquarters from North Bethesda to downtown Bethesda. That sends an important message: walkable urban places and proximity to transit, specifically Metro but also the coming Purple Line, are economically crucial.

Photo by José Carlos Cortizo Pérez on Flickr.

Marriott International announced in March of 2015 that it would not be renewing the lease on its current Fernwood Road headquarters, inside the I-270 spur at the Beltway. According to Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, it was "essential that we be accessible to Metro."

Today, Marriott International announced that it's moving to downtown Bethesda.

"It'll be great to have a more convenient option for public transportation," said a current Marriott employee who asked to remain anonymous. "Proximity to restaurants and shops is a great plus as well. Now we're next door to a mall, but it's good to have different options."

Younger workers want travel and lifestyle options, and Marriott's relocation is about competing for this workforce talent. It's worth noting that Marriott competitor Choice Hotels (think Comfort Inn) is also headquartered in Montgomery County, in an office building across the street from Rockville Metro.

Marriott International's current headquarters in a North Bethesda office park. Image from Google Maps.

Back when Marriott announced its coming move, Maryland, DC, and Virginia instantly went into battle mode over the $17 billion corporation, which the Washington Business Journal called "the hottest corporate relocation prospect currently in the market" because of its 2,000+ employees and its need for hundreds of thousands of square feet of premium office space.

With sequestration and base closures tightening the office market, developers were ready to fight for a big client. Regional elected leaders vowed to compete as well (though more voices are speaking up for regional cooperation, instead of a race to the bottom).

Marriott isn't the first company to want a move like this

In looking to relocate near Metro, the hotel giant is in step with a bigger trend. Suburban office parks all over our region are losing tenants to walkable urban places. Prior to Marriott's announcement, the company's current neighborhood office market in North Bethesda already had a vacancy rate of 19%.

The Marriott relocation will happen when the company's current lease ends in 2022. If that date sounds familiar, it's because it's the year Purple Line service is planned to begin! That powerful vibration you just felt is the synergy between economic development, land use, and transportation aligning in downtown Bethesda.

The exact site is still a mystery. The planned redevelopment of the Apex Building to make way for the Purple Line station only includes about half of the office space square footage that Marriott is looking for—and Marriott also wants to build a 200+ room hotel. We'll have to stay tuned for exactly where Marriott will go and how they'll find all that space in an already-dense urban place.

Virginia and Prince George's County probably never had a chance, given that Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson lives in Somerset—and CEO commute distance is a noted predictor of firm location. In that regard, today is not the big win for greater regional cooperation and jobs/housing balance that some hoped for.


Metro's plan for late-night bus service isn't much of a plan

Last week, Metro released a plan for late-night bus service if late-night rail closures become permanent. Our contributors and readers took a look, and they think it'd leave a lot of people without a reliable and practical way to get around.

Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.

First things first: before it moves forward with any plans to extend the late-night rail closures beyond SafeTrack, the agency needs to explain why doing so is actually necessary; right now, we don't know that it is. If it does need to happen, though, it's imperative that Metro beef up its nighttime bus service so people who depend on rail have a viable transportation option.

According to our contributors and readers, the current late-night bus proposal isn't up to snuff.

The proposed plan is confusing

Our staff editor, Jonathan Neeley, noticed a lack of detail in the plan as soon as it came out:

Does anyone know exactly what times this proposal is for? The Metro site says 'The changes are based on recent ridership data showing where Metrorail customers are traveling during the hours under consideration for closure,' but those hours aren't actually posted on the same page as the route proposals.

Proposed supplemental bus service. Click for a larger version. Map by WMATA.

Reader SM noted another big piece of missing information: "This map compiles in one place the buses that already run late at night, but it doesn't indicate whether buses will run more frequently than they do now to make up for the lack of rail service."

GGWash contributor Joanne Pierce also noted that the frequency of service is likely not as advertised:

Looking at the map, the transition between shorter wait times and longer wait times is confusing. If you're at Pentagon waiting for the 13Y to get into DC then the inbound bus is coming from a zone with 30 minute frequency and switches to less than 30 minute frequency at Pentagon.
It seems that the plan is to have buses skip several rail stations

Dan Reed noticed that "Several Metro stations would have little or no late-night connections." That's a problem because a lot of people live near Metro stations are transit users, and many of the existing bus lines, which the late-night plan is based on, are specifically designed to feed into rail stations. Without service along the entire rail corridor, the system is missing its most crucial trunk routes.

Reader Arthur noted that some of the late-night extensions seem half-hearted:

It's interesting that they'd have [less than 30 minute frequency] service to White Flint but then not continue at all to Rockville or Shady Grove. If the point is to replace Metrorail service then shouldn't the bus replacements at least provide [30 minute frequency] service along all the existing rail line paths?
"Even though I live less than a 10 minute walk to two Metrorail stations," said reader ex804, "'late-night' Metrobus service—which would require a couple transfers and 2+ hours—wouldn't get me closer than 1.5 miles from home."

A lot of trips would take a very long time and multiple transfers

"There are also some station pairings that will take a very long time to travel between under this 'plan,'" said Steven Yates. "For instance, traveling between East Falls Church and Waterfront takes about 40 minutes via Metrorail. According to Google Maps, a trip leaving East Falls Church would take nearly two hours with three transfers."

Stephen Hudson added, "If you were a service worker commuting from Dupont Circle to Rockville late night, you would have to make a minimum of two transfers. Getting between DC and Alexandria looks equally as painful. Considering that a number of late night service workers likely live in the suburbs, I think these gaps must be addressed."

Reader Johan also noticed that the plan includes some bizarre transfers: "Does this map tell you that if you want to go from downtown to New Carrollton at night, you should transfer in Silver Spring? And if you are going to Franconia, transfer in Ballston and Dunn Loring? How much time does that take?"

Here's an idea for a better approach

Ideally, Metro can find a way to do track maintenance without permanently ending late-night rail service. If that doesn't happen, our contributors and readers think bus service should be easily understandable, frequent, include logical transfers, and cover every station.

One solution, which several readers and contributors argued for, is for late-night bus service that mirrors the existing Metro lines as much as possible. Earlier this year, Gray Kimbrough described how Montreal does this, and more, for their late night bus service:

Montreal's current night network is relatively recent, the result of many incremental improvements like a slight retooling in 2011. These are the most important characteristics:
  • Service every night of the week, for all hours when the Metro is closed.
  • Even in the dead of night, buses are at most 45 minutes apart on all routes.
  • The routes are long, designed to require no transfers.
  • On an important central corridor with lots of bars and restaurants, headways are 15 minutes all night.
In Montreal, late night bus service isn't an afterthought

These routes aren't just a stopgap measure for some hours when the Metro is closed; they are designed to be an integral part of the transit system and provide meaningful, frequent service all night long. While at some hours headways lengthen to 30 or 45 minutes, the routes are designed to take people where they need to go without transfers.

Also, information about these routes is readily accessible; a map of the night bus network is freely available, and when riders look up the operating hours of Metro lines, they see very clearly that complementary night bus service operates at other hours.

What do you think of the current proposal for late-night bus service?
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