Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Dan Malouff

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

Bicycling


Curb-protected cycletracks are now appearing in DC

Two new cycletracks will open in DC this spring, on M Street NW and 1st Street NE. Their designs are a step up from previous DC cycletracks, since they each include spotsthough on M, a very brief spotwhere a full concrete curb separates bikes from cars.


The 1st Street NE cycletrack (left), and the Rhode Island Avenue portion of the M Street NW cycletrack (right).

The 1st Street NE cycletrack connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and downtown DC. DDOT installed its curb last week, from K Street to M Street. Crews are still working on striping and signals, but the project is close to opening.

The M Street cycletrack is longer than 1st Street's overall, but the portion with a curb is shorter. It's less than one block, where the cycletrack briefly curves onto Rhode Island Avenue in order to approach Connecticut Avenue more safely. Officials say the M Street cycletrack is a week or two from opening.

Typically DDOT uses plastic bollards instead of curbs. The bollards are less expensive, easier to install, and can be removed occasionally to perform street maintenance. But they're less attractive and less significant as a physical barrier, compared to a curb.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


Lipstick can help the Tysons pig, a little

Fairfax County is considering dressing up the Silver Line's mammoth concrete pylons with murals. The idea could help animate the otherwise bleak, gray structures.


Mock up of a possible Silver Line mural. Image from the Tysons Partnership.

Ideally the Silver Line would've been underground through Tysons Corner. But federal rules that have since changed prevented that, forcing the Metro line above ground, onto a huge elevated structure.

That wasn't the end of the world, but it did condemn Tysons to some unnecessary ugly.

So why not dress it up? Murals can unquestionably make big gray structures more colorful and interesting. They're easy to implement, don't cost very much, and help a little. There's not much down side.

Murals are, however, still just lipstick on a pig. They don't solve the underlying deadening effect of bare walls. For example the Discovery building mural on Colesville Road in Silver Spring is surely better than bare concrete, but shops & cafes would've been better still.

And Tysons' murals won't be as effective as the one in Silver Spring. Colesville Road is basically urban, basically walkable. The block with the mural is the weakest link on an otherwise lively urban street.

But in Tysons, the Silver Line runs down the middle of Leesburg Pike, one of the most pedestrian-hostile highways in the region. If murals are added to the Silver Line, they may become the best and most interesting part of the streetscape, as opposed to the worst.

So by all means, Fairfax County should absolutely do this. Murals are a great tool to cover any large blank structure. But what Tysons really needs is walkable streets with lively sidewalks.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Tetris on the side of a skyscraper? Why not, it's the future

What does it look like when one of Philadelphia's most prominent skyscrapers becomes a giant Tetris game board?

It looks awesome, that's what.


Photo by Bradley Maule for PhillySkyline.com.

Last Saturday, organizers for Philly Tech Week temporarily turned the 29-story Cira Centre into a huge game of Tetris. And it wasn't just for looks. Actual people played actual games, with the whole city looking on.

Meanwhile, construction is wrapping up on the DC region's new tallest skyscraper. Just sayin'.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Tennessee's BRT feud shows even modest projects face opposition

Often when a new city proposes its first rail line, opponents who don't like spending money on transit call for BRT instead. So it's tempting to think cities might have an easier time implementing new transit lines if they simply planned BRT from the start. Unfortunately, BRT often faces the exact same opposition.


Two projects that have faced major opposition, the Nashville BRT (left) and Cincinnati streetcar (right). Images from the cities of Nashville and Cincinnati.

Nashville is the latest city to face strong opposition to its first BRT project, called the Amp. The Tennessee state legislature recently passed a bill blocking the line.

The debate mirrors one going on a few hundred miles north, in Cincinnati. There, opponents tried to kill that city's first streetcar line. The state government even tried to block it.

Both Nashville and Cincinnati are among America's most car-dependent and least transit-accessible large cities. Nashville's entire regional transit agency only carries about 31,000 passengers per day. Cincinnati's carries about 58,000.

For comparison, Montgomery County's Ride-On bus carries 87,000, never mind WMATA.

In places like Nashville and Cincinnati, authorities have ignored transit for so long that any attempt to take it seriously is inherently controversial, regardless of the mode.

Arguments may fixate on rails, dedicated lanes, or overhead wires, but for at least some opponents those issues seem to be simply vehicles for larger ideological opposition.

That may sometimes be true even in places with stronger transit cultures. Arlington's streetcar and Montgomery's BRT network are both controversial themselves. Both have plenty of detractors who say the plans are unaffordable or would get in the way of cars.

Ultimately there are many reasons a city hoping to improve transit might choose BRT or rail. The two modes are both useful, and smart cities use them both based on the specific needs of the location.

But either way, expect similar tropes from opposition. It's inescapable.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Here are the busiest bus stops on 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue

The map shows where riders are going on Metro's busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.


Map from DDOT.

It's a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC's densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It's not surprising then that 16th Street's riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It's easy to see why DDOT's streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


"Bikeometer" shows cyclists are significant

Yesterday Arlington unveiled the region's first "bikeometer," a high-tech device that counts how many cyclists pass by, and displays the daily and yearly totals for anyone to see.

By publicly displaying the data, the bikeometer helps illustrate that a lot of people really do use bikes to get around.


Arlington bikeometer. The numbers aren't visible in the photo due to the camera scanning frequency. Photo by the author.

The bikeometer is on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge. It's a busy crossroads for cycling traffic headed into DC from Virginia. Older bike counts have shown thousands of cyclists per day at the location.

As of about 11:30 am yesterday, after only a couple of hours running, the display already showed 768 cyclists.

The device is technically called an Eco-TOTEM. It reads an underground wire, which counts bikes rolling over the trail above and sends the data to a digital display.

Arlington's bikeometer is the first such device in the eastern US, although they're common on the west coast and in Europe.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


Add a piano to make your city square sing

Here's a fun way to add vitality to a public space: Outdoor pianos.

In 2009, Denver started adding public pianos along its busy mile-long downtown pedestrian mall. The pianos have become a popular and noticeable part of that city's public realm. 5 years later, they're still there, and people are still playing them.


Photo by voteprime on flickr.

Even if weather or careless use ruins them after one season, upright pianos aren't particularly expensive. It would be completely practical for DC to buy one or two per year and put them in squares or circles around the central city. Roll them out in spring, and pack them back up around Thanksgiving.

The idea could work great in Farragut Square or along the Georgetown waterfront.

A potentially bigger holdup might be getting the National Park Service to allow it.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Government


DC population grows more than any other local county

The US Census' newest county-level population estimates show that between 2012 and 2013, the District of Columbia added more residents than any other metro area county.

Loudoun County grew slightly faster by percentage. But even according to that measure, DC is second.

County 2012
population
2013
population
Raw
growth
Percent
growth
District of Columbia 633,427 646,449 13,022 2.1
Loudoun (VA) 337,248 349,679 12,431 3.7
Fairfax (VA) 1,118,683 1,130,924 12,241 1.1
Montgomery (MD) 1,004,476 1,016,677 12,201 1.2
Prince George's (MD) 881,419 890,081 8,662 1.0
Prince William (VA) 430,100 438,580 8,480 2.0
Anne Arundel (MD) 550,175 555,743 5,568 1.0
Baltimore County (MD) 817,682 823,015 5,333 0.7
Howard (MD) 299,356 304,580 5,224 1.7
Arlington (VA) 221,275 224,906 3,631 1.6
Stafford (VA) 134,251 136,788 2,537 1.9
Charles (MD) 150,710 152,864 2,154 1.4
Alexandria (VA) 146,839 148,892 2,053 1.4
Frederick (MD) 239,520 241,409 1,889 0.8
Spotsylvania (VA) 125,772 127,348 1,576 1.3
Fauquier (VA) 66,526 67,207 681 1.0
Baltimore City (MD) 622,417 622,104 -313 -0.1

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


Is Gaithersburg the next frontier for Capital Bikeshare?

Gaithersburg is considering joining Capital Bikeshare with up to 21 additional stations. But with turbulent bikeshare rollouts in College Park and Rockville, it may not be easy.


Proposed bikeshare stations in Gaithersburg. Map by the author, using Google.

The Gaithersburg City Council is mulling whether or not to join Capital Bikeshare, and how to fund the program if they join. At a meeting on Monday, the council worked out preliminary plans for 8 initial stations, to be followed by around a dozen more later.

Gaithersburg has a growing collection of mixed-use neighborhoods that will someday be connected by the Corridor Cities Transitway. Adding bikesharing to that mix makes sense, and can help Gaithersburg transition to be a less car-dependent community.

But is expansion even possible right now? And if it is, does Gaithersburg have the right plan?

Trouble in College Park and Rockville

Theoretically the next expansion of Capital Bikeshare in suburban Maryland should be underway in College Park right now. But with Capital Bikeshare's parent supplier company in bankruptcy and reorganization, no new bikes or bike stations are rolling off the assembly line. As a result, College Park's expansion is on indefinite hold.

Eventually the assembly line will start rolling again. But how long will it take, and how huge will be the backlog of existing orders? It may be some time before anybody can accept new orders.

Meanwhile, nearby Rockville has its bikeshare stations already, but they're poorly used.

One big problem appears to be that Rockville's stations are spread too far apart. Instead of placing stations every couple of blocks, Rockville only put one or two stations in each neighborhood. Cyclists have to commit to a long ride to use the system.

Based on the map of proposed stations, it looks like Gaithersburg is shaping up to make the same mistake. It might be better for both cities to rethink their stations, and cluster them together in a smaller part of town.

But implementation details aside, it's great news to see more and more communities looking to progressive transportation options.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Metro railcar plays double duty as pedestrian bridge at National Airport

There's good news and bad news at the National Airport Metro station. The bad news is an elevator is out of service, leaving one of the train platforms without elevator access. The good news is WMATA came up with a delightfully clever solution: Park a Metro railcar on the extra track between the two platforms, and use it as a pedestrian bridge to access the platform with the working elevator.


Metrorail "train bridge" at National Airport. Photo by Lily Monster on flickr.

The Metro station at Reagan National Airport has an unusual layout, with three rail tracks instead of the more normal two. There are two outside tracks, plus a third middle track. Two island platforms flank the middle track, each of them providing access to both the middle track and one of the outside tracks. West Falls Church has a similar layout.

The middle track is not actually necessary for day-to-day operations. So Metro parked a railcar on it and opened its doors, allowing passengers waiting on one of the platforms to use the railcar as a bridge to reach the other.

Thus passengers who need an elevator can access one. There's no need to detour them to another station and make them wait for a shuttle.

WMATA is sometimes criticized for being overly bureaucratic, rigid, and slow to solve problems. But they deserve credit for this, a nimble and inexpensive solution that genuinely makes riding the system a little easier.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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