Posts by Jamie Scott
|Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown.|
Metro will suspend all service on the Red Line for the next 8 months to allow repair crews to finish work on the line more quickly. Shuttle buses will replace trains between Shady Grove and Glenmont.
According to Metro spokesman Stan Dessel, Metro is tired of the constant weekend track work. "Frankly, we're just as sick of the slow trickle of repairs as the customers are. We decided it would simply be faster to just fix everything at once," Dessel said.
Dessel said customers should also consider alternative commuting methods, like driving. Customers who drive or take the shuttle buses should expect to add an additional 60-120 minutes to their travel time.
Riders from Shady Grove can also drive to Vienna and take the Orange Line.
Governors Bob McDonnell and Martin O'Malley announced plans to spend $10 billion to build a new freeway across the Potomac River in order to accommodate the Metro riders, but added that funding is too scarce to contribute more to speed up the Metro repairs. "We think this is the best way to use our state transportation dollars to help commuters," said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Proaughton.
In addition, MARC will add new service on the Brunswick Line. CSX announced that it would allow MARC to run more trains and actually tell its dispatchers to give priority to passenger trains on the line, as opposed to previous times when they claimed to have done so but dispatchers did not actually follow through.
Metro is launching a new public relations campaign around the closure, called "Red Line: Deal With It." Customers will see construction walls at Red Line station entrances with slogans like, "8 Months Isn't So Bad, Is It?" and "No More Delays. No More Red Line."
Organizers of large national events are also being informed. A national tea party convention has already modified its website to inform attendees driving to the region from points north on I-95 to take the Beltway to Vienna instead of driving to Glenmont or using any other station.
Metro will suspend all work on other lines, including Silver Line construction, in order to complete the work in 8 months. "We hope that by the time the Red Line reopens, we'll only have to single-track twice a month," said WMATA CEO Richard Snarles.
Dessel said Metro is working with Mayor Gray to hire thousands of unemployed District residents to help with the 24-hour repairs. The program is part of a new employment program called "One City, One Line."
A social media component of the program, called "Metro Fast Forward," will equip track workers with helmet video cameras and editing software so that they can produce videos of the work in real time.
This concept has actually been in the works for over a year. Previous WMATA spokesperson Lisa Dystone planned not to tell riders about the closure, arguing that nobody would notice. However, Michael Perkins noticed an obscure footnote in a WMATA Board presentation and encouraged officials to mount a larger campaign to inform riders.
Some have already criticized Metro's plan. The critical blog DeCrapify DC Metro said 8 months is far longer than needed to finish the work. Another blog and popular Twitter account, WTF WMATA, wrote that customers deserve better treatment and vowed to hold Metro accountable.
How will you adjust to the Red Line closing? Let us know in the comments.
Too many bus stops are located far from the nearest crosswalk. Rather than walk long distances, many riders therefore cross dangerously in the middle of busy streets. The jurisdictions controlling the bus stops should either move them to safer intersections, or add new and better crosswalks.
This is a big problem throughout many parts of the region, but especially in suburban Prince George's County, and it is irresponsible to put transit users in such danger unnecessarily. A few examples from Suitland show the dangers of poor siting and design.
At Silver Hill Road and Randall Road, there is no crosswalk on Silver Hill. Pedestrians hoping to cross are out of luck.
If pedestrians need to cross Silver Hill to access the Suitland Metro station, they have to walk back along a narrow sidewalk to Navy Day Drive and then cross. Even then, the crosswalk badly needs new paint. The faded lines can be particularly dangerous at night.
This bus stop should be on the south side of Navy Day Drive. That way, pedestrians would be able to cross immediately over to the Suitland Metro station. Buses could also take advantage of red lights to pick up or drop off passengers, rather than stopping in the middle of the block.
On the other side of Silver Hill Road, the Randall Road stop comes right before a turn lane off of Silver Hill. The crosswalk across the turn lane is not signalized and pedestrians have to cross a second signalized crosswalk to reach the Suitland Metro.
At Silver Hill and Suitland Road, the bus stop on the west side is in the middle of the block far from the crosswalk and adjacent to nothing. The stop would be more useful farther back on the north side of the intersection with Suitland Road.
On the east side of the road, the situation is the opposite. The bus stop is past Suitland Road, which forces pedestrians to walk back to the crosswalk. The stop should be on the south side of the Suitland Road intersection instead.
Some bus stops on Suitland Road are even more dangerous. There is no crosswalk for the bus stop on the south side of Suitland Road and Huron Avenue. Additionally, the sidewalk abruptly ends at the bus stop, so if pedestrians want to reach the stop from the other side of Suitland, they must risk crossing the street without a crosswalk.
Since Suitland Road's blocks are so long, it might not make sense to move this stop to a different intersection. At the very least, a new, high-visibility crosswalk across Suitland Road would make it safer for pedestrians.
The bus stop on the other side of Suitland however, would be better just east of Huron Ave. If a crosswalk is installed there, pedestrians could easily cross Suitland Road if they were coming from either direction.
Unsafe bus stops are common in other suburban communities, too. This bus stop on Old Keene Mill Road in Fairfax County has no sidewalk and no way to cross the 6-lane stretch of Old Keene Mill.
This bus stop on River Road in Montgomery County is along the shoulder. There is a small concrete pad on which to stand, but there is no protection for pedestrians walking to and from the stop, or for crossing River Road.
Much of the problem has to do with suburban street design, where pedestrian access has generally been an afterthought. Suburban blocks are longer than city blocks, and not all intersections have crosswalks or pedestrian walk signals.
But people in the suburbs do use buses and the stops should be convenient and safe, preferably at the intersection of 2 streets instead of the middle of a long block. Intersections should all have well marked crosswalks and sidewalks shouldn't abruptly end, particularly where there is poor access to another sidewalk.
Moving poorly placed bus stops or adding stops where needed, as well as adding crosswalks to some streets, would go a long way to help make suburban buses safer and more convenient to use.
Metro is upgrading its bus fleet to replace older diesel buses with new hybrid-electric buses. Almost two-thirds of buses use alternative fuel today. The difference in miles per gallon is not substantial, but alternative fuel buses have lower operating costs and lower emissions.
DC lags behind some other cities in alternative fuel use for buses. LA uses 100% alternative fuel buses and New York has more alternative fuel buses, but they comprise a smaller proportion of the total fleet. DC has more alternative fuel buses than San Francisco's MUNI, but MUNI also operates electric buses and DC does not.
Metro does not plan to switch to entirely alternative fuels, according to Brian Anderson, Metro's Social Media Manager. Metro will continue to operate clean diesel fuel buses, which Anderson said must meet stricter EPA emissions standards.
The newest buses come in two different models, the 2009 New Flyer and the 2011 New Flyer Xcelsior. These buses have slightly less capacity than the diesel ones but there are 412 of these buses, comprising about one-fourth of the total fleet.
In addition to the hybrid electric buses, Metro operates 460 CNG buses. Because they require special fuel, they can only be stored at Metro's bus garages at Bladensburg and at Four Mile Run in Arlington. Some of the CNG bus models have luggage racks and service Metro's airport routes to Dulles and BWI.
Metro also operates three longer articulated bus models and one short model. Two of the articulated models are versions of the New Flyer hybrid bus and the third is an older diesel model. Articulated buses must use the Northern bus garage near the former Walter Reed site, the Montgomery bus garage in Rockville, or the Bladensburg garage in northeast DC to accommodate the extra length.
The articulated buses run on high capacity routes like the S1, 70 and X2. The short bus is an older diesel model and runs on lower ridership routes like the D2 and M4.
The oldest buses in Metro's fleet are 15 year-old diesel models. The average lifespan of these buses is 15 years, so many of the oldest ones are ready for replacement. This 15-year lifespan is longer than the Federal Transit Administration's 12-year minimum retirement age for heavy duty buses but the Metro board uses extended specifications (see bottom of page 25) to procure longer lasting buses.
Metro rehabilitates all buses around their mid-life point and performs about 100 bus rehabs per year. Rehabs don't extend the lifespan, but Anderson said mechanics examine almost every part of the bus to prevent breakdowns. This process costs about $110,000 per bus.
Metro has 104 of the 2011 New Flyer Xcelsior hybrid buses and has added about 102 New Flyer hybrid buses per year between 2008 and 2010. There are more than 300 of the oldest diesel models in the fleet but Anderson said Metro doesn't expect to replace all the diesel buses until 2017, which means some buses could be 20 years old at retirement.
Buses that old would be not that unusual. Metro still had 19-year old bus models in the fleet in June 2009, but those buses are no longer in service. As Metro continues to face budget constraints, it's not surprising that some buses will remain in service beyond their target life.
Here are photos of each of Metro's bus types. All photos from WMATA.
Fairfax County is planning to turn Tysons into a dense, walkable, urban center. This transformation will include the creation of street grid and better bike and pedestrian facilities. But two major thoroughfares will weaken pedestrian circulation and divide the new Tysons in two.
Route 123 and Route 7 are major 6-lane roads running through the heart of Tysons Corner. The Silver Line will run along portions of either road, meaning that many pedestrians will be entering Tysons along these arteries.
But the construction of the Silver Line through Tysons Corner isn't the only work being done in the corridor. Fairfax County is currently widening Route 123 from 6 to 8 lanes.
The creation of a grid of streets coupled with bike/ped improvements is necessary to facilitate movement within an urban Tysons, particularly to and from the metro stations. The widening of 123, however, moves Tysons Corner in the opposite direction.
As a pedestrian, crossing 6 lanes of a major arterial road can be daunting. Adding an additional lane in each direction can make it even more difficult. Since Route 123 runs parallel to the Silver Line through the middle of Tysons, residents and employees will inevitably need to cross this busy street.
Last night the National Building Museum hosted an event on the Tysons redevelopment plan. Matt Ladd, a Fairfax County planner, said that lanes on 123 are 12 feet wide. The plan calls for a reduction to 11 feet, but that still means pedestrians would have to cross an 88-foot road, not counting any turn lanes.
This certainly isn't impossible. Infrastructure improvements like pedestrian islands and leading pedestrian intervals can make crossing easier. The problem is that crossing major streets like this isn't attractive and it makes for a pedestrian-hostile space.
Ladd also mentioned that the county's plan calls for wide sidewalks and a double row of trees along 123. These additions will make walking along the road more pleasant but don't make it any easier to cross.
Crossing 123 will be even more difficult at the Tysons Central 7 metro station because the tracks are at grade. Pedestrians will either have to cross over or under the tracks to get from side to side. Again, this isn't an impossible scenario. But if the county wants to make Tysons a walkable, accessible urban space, it will have to solve these barrier problems.
Today's Tysons lacks any real neighborhoods, in large part because of wide roads, on-ramps, mega-blocks, parking garages, and other major built environment factors that break up any coherent community. The new urban Tysons will overcome some of these, but a major 8-lane highway will act as an abrupt and unnatural edge to any future neighborhoods or districts that will stunt their growth and weaken them.
If residents find it too difficult or unpleasant to cross major roads, they may choose to patronize businesses on their side or use parks that are easier to reach. The physical division can also create social divisions and isolate communities.
The county can't just rip up state highways, so the roads will always be an issue. But planners must be careful to prevent the roads from becoming enormous barriers to a true urban space. The county could narrow the lanes further and convert one lane for street parking.
Ladd suggested that because the county is planning for redevelopment over 40 years, these options could become a reality at some point. Hopefully the county doesn't wait that long to solve the problem. Encouraging strong urban growth in a transit-oriented Tysons Corner should be a priority now, not decades down the road.
Last April, Vincent Orange beat a crowded field of candidates to fill Kwame Brown's at-large seat on the DC Council. Facing reelection less than a year later, Orange could be running against 4 other candidates, which could benefit him as the incumbent.
5 candidates have picked up petitions for the Democratic at-large nomination. In addition to Orange, Sekou Biddle, E. Gail Anderson Holness, Peter Shapiro, and Edward Wolterbeek have declared their candidacies for the seat.
With a crowded field, it could be difficult for the other candidates to distinguish themselves, particularly as many point to ethics reform as a key issue.
However, tonight is the deadline to file petitions to appear on the ballot, and only 2 Orange challengers have filed so far. If no others do, the race will be significantly different from last spring's.
Although Orange has been in office less than a year, he has name recognition from his previous 2 terms on the Council representing Ward 5 and from city-wide elections for Council Chairman and Mayor.
Biddle has strong name recognition too, however. He won the temporary appointment to Brown's seat last year and spent 4 months on the Council. He also ran in the city-wide special election to finish the term and placed third. Voters know his name, and he is likely the most credible challenger to Orange.
Peter Shapiro served on the Prince George's county council for 6 years, but has not run for elected office in DC. E. Gail Anderson Holness is currently an ANC-1B commissioner, representing ANC-1B11 near Howard University.
Edward Wolterbeek has run in several previous elections without much success, including as a Republican for Ward 5 Representative to the DC State Board of Education, Ward 5 Councilmember, Delegate to the US House of Representatives, and ANC-5A12 commissioner.
Last spring, Orange won 4 of the city's 8 wards, with the other 4 split between Bryan Weaver, Sekou Biddle, and Patrick Mara. If the race continues with 5 candidates, Orange could again benefit from a split vote.
However, today is the final day for candidates to file petitions and only Biddle, Orange, and Holness have done so. Shapiro is the only other candidate with a website, so he likely has a more organized campaign than Wolterbeek, who is a perennial candidate.
If none of the other candidates file by today's deadline, Biddle and Holness would be the only challengers. There is a chance that Biddle and Holness could split votes, but it's unclear how Holness could challenge Orange.
Biddle and Orange know each other from last year's election, which became heated at times. In his campaign announcement in November, Biddle attacked Orange for accepting out-of-state campaign donations and for trying to increase Council salaries.
If either Biddle or Holness can tie Orange to bad leadership, the anti-incumbent vote could propel them to victory. If Shapiro and Wolterbeek file in time, the field of challengers will double.
Part of the reason Orange won last April was that Weaver, Biddle, and Mara split the progressive vote, which may not happen this year. But Orange's competitors may split another constituency this year, the anti-incumbent vote.
Biddle has been strong on education, while Shapiro gained a reputation for economic development in Prince George's, although ethics is sure to play a major role. Once the filing deadline passes, we'll explore where the remaining candidates stand on the issues.
In many suburban jurisdictions, bus systems feel like an afterthought, with tiny bus flags at the side of a road and confusing or even nonexistent information about which bus to take.
Most suburban routes run less frequently than Metrobus routes in DC, making them harder to use. But it would cost a lot of money to increase frequency. Meanwhile, for a very small investment, jurisdictions like Fairfax County could make buses much easier to use with simple wayfinding improvements.
Bus stop flags should identify the routes that stop there; believe it or not, at least in Fairfax, they don't today. And buses should add automated announcements of the next stop.
Since the buses are so infrequent, better wayfinding is even more critical. If a rider misses a stop or misses a bus while waiting at the wrong stop, he or she could end up waiting an hour for the next bus, or have to take a very long walk to the destination.
Fairfax's county government offices are difficult to access by public transit. Only two Fairfax Connector routes serve them. But not all residents can afford to or want to own a car, and those who can't or won't drive are at a decided disadvantage in being able to fully participate in society.
I had to visit the county seat two years ago to register to vote in Virginia; my permanent address was then my parents' house in Kingstowne. I had to register in person during office hours, but my parents both worked. Living in the District and lacking access to a car, I took the Metro to Vienna and then took a Fairfax Connector to the county office.
I had never been to the county offices before and I wasn't familiar with the area. The stops weren't announced, so I had to be extra careful about when to get off. I ended up getting off the bus too early and had to walk the rest of the way.
When I left the office, I walked to what I thought was the stop for the bus back to the Metro. The bus stop sign didn't have the route number. Suburban streets also aren't marked as clearly as city streets, so finding the intersection where my bus stopped wasn't as easy.
It turns out I was at the wrong bus stop, but as the bus approached, I was able to hustle to the correct stop, which luckily was nearby. If the stop flag had been marked, I would have known at which stop I should wait. If I had missed the bus, I would have had to wait at least 30 minutes for the next one.
When traveling after dark, it can be hard to identify bus stops while on the bus. Announcing the stops would make it easier for riders to know where they are. Stop announcements don't always work, but having them fail sometimes is better than not having them at all.
Adding route numbers to bus stops signs would require a minimal investment, but would make it much easier for riders to know if they are in the right place. Fairfax Connector route numbers are often shown on shelters, where they exist, but not on stop flags. Metrobus, Montgomery's Ride On and Arlington's ART, on the other hand, show route numbers on almost all stop flags. Ride On's even show the route's ultimate destination, so you don't find yourself on the correct route but going the wrong way.
Automated stop announcements require that buses be equipped with GPS, which is a bigger investment. Ride On is piloting real-time tracking, which would be useful for the Connector. GPS tracking could also bring NextBus' ability to predict how many minutes until the bus arrives to Fairfax Connector riders.
More attractive, easier to understand bus service can make suburban communities easier to navigate and reduce the need for driving. These two wayfinding improvements won't suddenly bring residents out of their cars. But they can make life easier for current bus riders and make buses a better option for those hesitant to ride.
The center of Ward Circle near American University is an unused and wasted space. The road design heavily favors car traffic and features few bicycle or pedestrian facilities. Closing some traffic lanes and adding pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes could make Ward Circle a more coherent public space.
The center of the circle, at the intersection of Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues NW, is currently inaccessible to pedestrians and features only a statue and some shrubs in the middle. Pedestrians and cyclists are able to travel around the circle but not into or through it.
An improved park would serve many, as both American University and the Department of Homeland Security headquarters are within walking distance. Students could study or take a break from classes, and DHS employees could eat lunch in the circle, in the vein of the denizens of Dupont Circle.
In addition to sharing the two circumnavigating lanes with Massachusetts Avenue, Nebraska Avenue has two express lanes that travel through the middle of the circle. Even if pedestrians did want to travel into the middle of Ward Circle, they would have to cross both the outer travel lanes and the inner express lanes.
DDOT studied the option of closing the Nebraska Avenue through-lanes in the Rock Creek West II Livability Study. Doing so would slow automobile traffic but could help make for a better public place.
One alternative to improve traffic flow, through an expensive and logistically difficult proposition, would be to tunnel Nebraska Avenue under Ward Circle. Several other avenues tunnel under other circles in the District: Connecticut Avenue under Dupont Circle, Massachusetts under Thomas Circle, and 16th Street under Scott Circle.
Even without a tunnel, eliminating the express lanes and routing all traffic around the circle would improve the space. Crosswalks with leading pedestrian intervals would make it easier to cross only two lanes of traffic. Otherwise, DDOT will have to install crosswalks for both the outer and inner lanes.
Benches would also make the circle a more attractive place to spend time. Trees or larger shrubs along the edge could screen some of the traffic noise and provide shade. Lighting would make the circle a safe and attractive place to be at night.
DDOT redesigned Thomas Circle in a similar way in 2006. DDOT removed the middle lanes through the circle and restored the circular shape. Thomas Circle still needs additional amenities in the center to make it a more welcoming space, however, and similar improvements to Ward Circle would create a better community park.
Nebraska Avenue is also an unfriendly bike corridor along an important commuter route. Nebraska connects AU and DHS to Tenleytown, the closest Metro station. AU runs a shuttle to the Metro and DHS runs some shuttles, but biking along Nebraska can be treacherous with the traffic.
DDOT is considering widening the sidewalk on the north side of Nebraska and installing a bike path. According to Jim Sebastian, Nebraska Avenue is too narrow at 40 feet to install bike lanes on the street. The north side of Nebraska has heavier pedestrian traffic than the south side, so DDOT is only looking to expand there.
Increasing bicycle accessibility and mobility between Tenleytown and the circle should also be a goal of the redesign. A bike path along the sidewalk could encourage more bike commuting from Tenleytown to Ward Circle. DDOT should also add a second Capital Bikeshare station at the circle and expand the station at Tenleytown.
Currently, there is only one bike share station on Massachusetts Avenue to the northwest of Ward Circle. A station directly at the circle would not only accommodate more bikers, but it would also make it more of a destination. DDOT is now crowdsourcing suggestions for new stations, so residents, students, and nearby employees can suggest adding one here.
Finally, the bike lane network near AU is incomplete. Massachusetts Avenue has no lanes, and ANC3D opposed adding bike lanes to New Mexico Avenue near Nebraska. It's good that DDOT wants to add a bike path to Nebraska, but the agency should also push for a more connected and complete bike lane network around Ward Circle.
Ward Circle is close to students, residents, and federal workers, all of whom could benefit from a large green space, and the District should include in its planning modifications that activate the space. The proposed changes will create a better community space that is welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists, while still allowing for automobile flow. What else do you think would improve the circle?