Posts by Matt Johnson
|Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer.|
On Tuesday, we featured the fifty-second issue of our "whichWMATA" series. This week, all five photos were guest submissions from reader Peter K.
We got 27 guesses this week. Ten of you got all five. Great work, Sand Box John, Andy L, Eric, Aman, Mike Plumb, MZEBE, Justin...., JamesDCane, FN, and Mr. Johnson!
Image 1: Cheverly
The first image shows the underside of the entrance to Cheverly station. At Cheverly, the Orange Line is sandwiched between the CSX freight line and the Amtrak Northeast Corridor. To enter the station, passengers first have to ascend to a bridge over the CSX tracks, which is home to the fare array. The bridge is somewhat distinctive, and we featured the station entrance in week 38. Seventeen of you figured it out.
Image 2: Pentagon
The second image was clearly the easiest, as all 27 of you got it right. It shows a train on the lower level of Pentagon station. This station has a split-level arrangement, which you can tell because of the wall on the right and the sign that indicates trains in the other direction are on a different level. And since there's signage for the Yellow Line, it can't be Rosslyn, so it's obviously Pentagon.
Image 3: Greenbelt
The third image shows the mezzanine skylights at Greenbelt station. They're located between the tracks and the offramp from the Beltway and provide natural light into the interior part of the station. We actually used this same feature, though from a very different angle, in week 1. Twenty-one of you guessed correctly.
Image 4: Vienna
The fourth image shows the south bus loop at Vienna. You should have been able to narrow this down to one of about ten stations because of the Fairfax Connector bus that's visible. This must be Vienna because of the new awning visible at bottom and the townhouses under construction in the distance. The awning is similar to one at West Falls Church, but that bus loop is not adjacent to a parking garage and is in a freeway median. We featured it in week 29. Twenty-two of you got this one right.
Image 5: Dupont Circle
The final image shows one of the elevators in the north (Q Street) mezzanine at Dupont Circle. Even if you've never seen this sign, you could figure this one out from the process of elimination. The sign indicates that this is a station on the Red Line and you can see a waffle vault. That narrows this to the six stations between Union Station and Dupont Circle.
The sign also says the elevator goes only to the Glenmont platform. That means this can't be an island platform station, which eliminates Union Station and Farragut North. And the arrangement of Gallery Place and Metro Center means that the elevators to the Red Line platforms aren't set into the vault in the mezzanine like this. That leaves Judiciary Square and Dupont Circle.
This can't be Judiciary Square because the elevators there don't stop in the mezzanine. They go straight from the street to the platform and each has a faregate on the platform. So this must be Dupont Circle. Sixteen of you did the math and got the right answer.
Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.
Thanks again to Peter K for submitting photos. If you think you have what it takes, email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maryland's Mass Transit Administration is planning upgrades to the Amtrak/MARC station at BWI Airport along with several other projects along the Washington-Boston Northeast Corridor within the state. The projects will make Amtrak and MARC trains in the area more reliable as well as allow more trains to pass through the overcrowded rail corridor.
The project will reconfigure the station to have four mainline tracks, each with access to a platform. It will also include a nine-mile fourth track that will run alongside the existing ones, and a new station building with a larger waiting room.
The proposal is currently undergoing an assessment to determine how it would affect the environment. If MTA can get the funds and further environmental review isn't necessary, the final design process could start next year. Even then, though, construction probably wouldn't start until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.
A lot of people use the BWI station, which isn't built to handle them all
The current BWI Airport rail station is served by Amtrak and MARC trains on the busy Northeast Corridor. On top of being a popular way to get to the airport, the station also gets heavy use from commuters because it has two parking garages with over 3,000 parking spaces.
The problem is that the station's layout is inefficient, and it's operating above its designed capacity. The station has two platforms on either side of the three-track Amtrak main line. In order to service the station, trains must be on one of the outside tracks, which reduces operational flexibility.
It can be problematic because even the limited-stop Acela Express trains occasionally stop at BWI. Also, the location of interlockings, where trains can change tracks, means any train serving the BWI station has to run on the outside track for 9 miles, from Odenton to Halethorpe.
Fast trains, like the Acela, share the railroad corridor with slower Northeast Regionals and commuter trains making local stops. If an Acela or Regional needs to stop at BWI, it has to be on the local track, and that can mean getting stuck behind a slower MARC train (or having dispatchers hold the MARC train so the higher-priority Amtrak train can pass it before getting on the local track).
With a four-track station, fast trains on the center tracks won't have to slow down to switch to the local track or mix with commuter trains. That will make it easier for Amtrak to schedule stops for the faster trains. And with fewer conflicts, will allow more MARC trains.
Ridership at the BWI rail station has dwarfed its capacity to handle the crowds. When the station opened in 1980, it was primarily designed to serve the two MARC trains in each direction that operated between Baltimore and Washington. The waiting room only seats 40 people. Today, more than 32,000 passengers use the station each day. Just under 60% of those are MARC riders; the rest are Amtrak customers.
Correction: It appears the 32,000 number, which comes from the Environmental Assessment documentation, was part of a poorly phrased paragraph. The 32,000 passengers referred to count those who use the station and also counts anyone who passes through on a train without boarding or alighting. Sorry for the confusion.
Another constraint is the track arrangement. Right now, the section of track sees 92 Amtrak trains and 56 MARC trains each day. But by 2030, expected service levels will rise to 110 Amtrak trains and 135 MARC trains, an increase of 66% from 148 to 235 trains.
Building a new station
The new station will have four tracks, each with access to a platform. The existing southbound side platform will remain in its current location. The current northbound side platform will be enlarged into a center platform, and a new northbound side platform will be constructed alongside the new fourth track.
When completed, the new four-track segment will tie into an existing four-track segment that runs between Halethorpe and West Baltimore. That will mean the corridor will have a 14.5-mile segment of four tracks, greatly increasing operational flexibility and redundancy.
The project's status
The Federal Railroad Administration is leading an environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether the likely impact of the project will require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or if it can go to design and engineering without that step. The EA is scheduled to be finish this summer.
If the result of the EA is a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI), the project will be able to proceed directly to engineering and design if funding is available. If an EIS is required, however, that process will probably take about two years to complete. The design phase and the process of selecting a contractor will probably take another two years.
During construction, at least two tracks need to be open to traffic, each with access to a platform. That means it will take three and a half years to complete the project. Certain parts of the project, including the new station building and larger waiting room, should be finished in about two and a half years.
The estimated costs for the project, including nine miles of new track, two new platforms at BWI, and a new station building is approximately $540 million. Funding sources haven't been identified, but will likely be a combination of funding from the federal government, Amtrak, and the state of Maryland.
Other projects are in the works
In addition to the BWI improvements, Maryland, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration are working on several other projects that will help rehabilitate and expand infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor. Some of these projects have been on Maryland's wish list for several years.
Between West Baltimore and Baltimore Penn Station, the corridor runs through the B&P Tunnels, which were built in 1873 and are badly in need of repair and replacement. The tunnels have a speed limit of 30 miles per hour and the four-track segment has to narrow down to two tracks, creating a bottleneck.
The replacement of these tunnels is currently undergoing the environmental review process and doesn't have funding. If that changes, the project will construct a new two-track tunnel to replace the B&P Tunnels. Once it's complete, the older tunnels will be shuttered for an overhaul and then later returned to service.
Amtrak is also studying the replacement of the Susquehanna River Bridge, which carries trains across the wide river just above its mouth. It was built in 1906 and is also badly in need of repair. The current proposals will replace the two-track span with two two-track spans, enlarging the corridor to four tracks here.
The replacement is not currently funded beyond the study phases, but getting through the environmental process is a necessary step for getting the project to "shovel-ready" status and making it eligible for federal funding.
Two more much-wanted projects do not have funding, even for environmental studies. Amtrak also needs to replace long bridges over the Bush and Gunpowder Rivers north of Baltimore. Maryland applied for federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act several years ago for studies of these bridges, but the request was unsuccessful.
These infrastructure projects are a huge part of ensuring the economic vitality of the Boston-Washington corridor. Currently, Amtrak carries three quarters of the Washington— Amtrak and the commuter railroads, like MARC, that ply the corridor want to increase capacity by running trains more frequently. But without investments in infrastructure, that won't be possible. And in fact, if certain projects, like the Gateway Project in New York and New Jersey, are not completed, capacity may actually be lower than it is now.
Amtrak and the commuter railroads, like MARC, that ply the corridor want to increase capacity by running trains more frequently. But without investments in infrastructure, that won't be possible. And in fact, if certain projects, like the Gateway Project in New York and New Jersey, are not completed, capacity may actually be lower than it is now.
It's time for the fifty-second installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?
This week, all five photos were submitted by reigning champion Peter K. Thanks for the submissions, Peter!
The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.
"This train will not service Brookland." If you've ever ridden Metro during a delay, you've probably heard some variation of these words. That's because Metro is "expressing" your train, meaning it's skipping stops to recover.
We recently discussed "schedule adjustments" as a way Metro tries to mitigate delays. While schedule adjustments keep headways more even, which both guards against overcrowding and bunching as well as mitigates waits for people ahead of delayed trains, skipping stations allows the delayed train(s) to catch up.
Small windows of time can make a systemwide difference
Skipping a station can save a train about a minute. Every minute counts, both for minimizing overall delays in the system and keeping delays from creeping into the opposite direction.
In the graphic above, if the delayed train were 11 minutes behind and ran express through, say, NoMa and Brookland, it'd make up two minutes on its way to Fort Totten. It would also increase the gap from the train behind from one minute to three minutes.
This technique is also used to cut delays down during unscheduled single-tracking. We explained that use last year.
When they reach the end of a line, most trains turn and run in the opposite direction. There is generally a scheduled layover (called "recovery time") that lasts between half of the headway and the full headway.
That means a train with a scheduled layover of six minutes has that amount of time before it needs to return inbound. If it's 10 minutes late, it's going to be delayed in the other direction even if it turns around and leaves immediately when it reaches the end of the line.
What about passengers whose stations get skipped?
Of course, the cost of skipping stations is that passengers who want to board or alight at the skipped station have to wait for the next train, which can cost them a few minutes.
Most of the time, though, trains are stacked up behind the delayed train, and when that's the case the extra wait is only a minute or two. While it's inconvenient for passengers who need to get off at one of the stops their train is skipping to disembark and then take the next train, the actual delay is rarely huge.
Metro usually only skips more lightly used stations. I've been riding the northern end of the Green Line daily since 2007. When train operators are told to skip stops there, it's almost always West Hyattsville and/or College Park. They almost never skip Prince George's Plaza because so many more people use it than the other two. They don't skip Fort Totten because it's a transfer station, and Greenbelt can't be skipped because it's the terminal.
On Tuesday, we posted our fifty-first photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?
This week, we got 19 guesses. Five of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, Patrick, MZEBE, Mr. Johnson, and Justin....!
Image 1: Tysons Corner
The first image shows the lower level entrance at Tysons Corner station. Most of you were able to immediately recognize that this was a Silver Line station based on the newness, the signage, and the design finishes. But the only station that has a "spiral" staircase like this is Tysons Corner.
Several of you guessed McLean and Spring Hill because they have mezzanines below the tracks, and the arrangement here clearly directs passengers up to trains. But while Tysons Corner's mezzanine is above the tracks, there is an entrance underneath, which is a unique arrangement in the system. Riders entering here go up two levels (with an escalator landing (featured in week 20) to the mezzanine and then back down to trains.
Update: The number of correct answers was inadvertently deleted during editing. Thirteen people guessed correctly on this clue.
Image 2: Dunn Loring
This picture shows the platform at Dunn Loring. The main clue here is the bridge in the distance. It's a ramp that carries traffic from the northbound HOT lanes on I-495 to the westbound HOV lane on I-66. It passes over the Orange Line just east of the platform. Because of the ramp, the wall on the left is much taller than the wall on the right side. It also slopes down along with the ramp.
Even without the added height for the ramp, the walls at Dunn Loring and East Falls Church are much higher than the platform walls at other stations, mainly to block out the noise from traffic along I-66. Fifteen of you got this one correct.
Image 3: Rhode Island Avenue
The third image shows the bridge from the north side of Rhode Island Avenue to the eponymous station. The bridge crosses the street on a slope, and is directly underneath the platform. The rounded fencing gives it a distinctive shape. The circular ramp where the bridge lands on the north side was featured in week 44. Fourteen of you figured this one out.
Image 4: Anacostia
For the fourth image, you needed to reflect on things to find the answer. There were two main clues. First, since this is clearly a subway station (given the lighting), it has to be Anacostia, because that's the only underground station that has straight walls next to the tracks. The rest of the underground stations have vaulted walls.
But the primary clue is the ceiling, which is reflected at top left and top center. Anacostia has a unique ceiling with small semicircular mini-vaults running perpendicular to the tracks. It's one of the unique stations in the system, and we featured it in week 7, week 8, and week 21. Fourteen of you reflected correctly.
Image 5: Shady Grove
The final image shows the eastern entrance to Shady Grove. The watercourse here, Crabbs Branch, runs through a small greensward between the north parking garage and the east bus loop, and it seems to come straight out of the eastern entrance. It's not the only waterway near a Metro entrance, but it's probably the most obvious one. If you didn't recognize it, it's also clearly visible on aerial images.
At far left, you can just see a stairwell for the north garage. Only five of you (the same five that got all five) figured this one out. Better luck next time!
Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next week.
Many great minds have opined on cities, design, and urban planning. But few have made such a stark and apocryphal statement as this:
One technological event has swamped us. That is the advent of the rubber-wheeled vehicle. The private car, the truck, the trailer as means of mass transportation. And their threat to human life and health is just as great as that of the exposed sewer.Strong words, indeed. But what is more surprising is who uttered them: none other than Victor Gruen, the man who invented the enclosed shopping mall that so came to be nearly synonymous with the American suburb.
Like many architects and planners of the post-war era, Gruen was attempting to deal with a society facing radical changes in the built form: cities were starting to be hollowed out by parking lots and urban renewal, and the automobile-centric suburbs were starting to sprawl across the landscape. He saw the American suburbs as lacking in the types of "third places" necessary for social engagement. He thought the fact that everyone drove everywhere severely limited social engagement and interaction.
His solution was to build a large enclosed public space centered on a climate controlled court. It would include retail arranged in a sort of main street style with small storefronts facing pedestrian walks. But cars, of course, would be banned. This is the form the typical shopping mall took.
Gruen's vision didn't stop there, though. He actually intended for the mall to be the centerpiece of a mixed-use neighborhood. The projects would include offices, apartments, public services, and other amenities. And within this space, the pedestrian would be king.
That's not how things turned out. The first of his projects, the Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota, near Minneapolis, was built with only its retail components. And it was surrounded by a sea of parking. People might walk within the mall, but they almost certainly drove to it.
For a fuller discussion of Gruen's vision and his disappointment with how it turned out, make sure to listen to this episode of 99% invisible. The design-focused podcast offers an excellent overview of the built environment and the other ways that design (invisibly) influences our lives.
If you've ridden Metro for any length of time you've probably experienced a "schedule adjustment," where the train holds for a minute or two at a station. Why does Metro do that?
The basic answer is that your train has gotten too close to the train ahead of it or the following train has gotten too far behind. Schedule adjustments are a way that Metro keeps headways (the time between trains) consistent. And that's important because not having an even headway can lead to "bunching." Also, uneven headways can lead to customers getting stuck waiting for the delayed train.
Bunching is when a vehicle doesn't come for a long time and then several show up at once. The basic cause of bunching is that one bus or train gets slowed down for some reason, and that initial delay means that every stop down the line has more customers waiting to board than usual. That leads to longer dwell times at each stop.
Buses are particularly susceptible to bunching because all boarding happens through the front door, people have to pay when they board, aisles are narrow, and they can get stuck in traffic. Buses that get delayed fall behind, lengthening dwell times for riders waiting for the bus while also shortening the headway until the next bus, which now has fewer passengers to pick up.
The uneven passenger loads that come from bunching are hard on transit. One way that Metro curbs bunching on the rail system is by holding trains for schedule adjustments when they're getting too close to the preceding train.
In the center of the graphic above, you can see that the train running early is just one minute behind the preceding train. But the train behind is lagging by a minute because of the additional loading. So instead of a three minute gap between trains, it's doubled here to six minutes.
If Metro were to hold the early train by one minute, it would then be two minutes behind the preceding train and five minutes ahead of the following train, which is closer to the scheduled headway.
Metro also uses schedule adjustments to help when there's a delay behind the one it's holding.
For example, let's say you're on a Glenmont-bound Red Line train approaching Fort Totten. The operator announces that due to a disabled train at Judiciary Square, you'll be holding three minutes at Fort Totten. You're probably wondering how a delay behind you can mean your train needs to wait.
Doing this allows Metro to mitigate the delay for people who've yet to board your train. Yes, everyone on your train will be delayed three minutes. But by holding the train, Metro allows the people who arrive at Fort Totten (and any downstream station) during the three minute hold to board. Without the schedule adjustment, those people would be stuck waiting for the originally delayed train to arrive, which could be quite a while.
Schedule adjustments also keep there from being too many people who need to board the first train to come through after the wait. Because it's been a while since the last train, the first train following the gap is often too crowded to board, which means it dwells at each station longer than usual, creating more delays. The downstream schedule adjustment clears some of those passengers off the platform ahead of the gap.
In the graphic above, you can see what it might look like without a schedule adjustment, where the last train before the gap is still three minutes behind the preceding train. But there's an eleven minute gap behind it.
With a schedule adjustment of, say, three minutes, the spacing between those trains would go from three and 11 to six and eight, which is much closer to the desired interval.
Metro can also "express" the lagging train to further reduce the gap, but that's a topic for another day.
Schedule adjustments aren't always pleasant, especially if you're already on the train. But they do help keep passengers who've yet to arrive on the platform from facing a long wait. In more serious delays, schedule adjustments can make a lot of sense. They're one tool that Metro uses to try and keep trains evenly spaced.
It's time for the fifty-first installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?
The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.
Update: The answers are here.
Thirteen months ago, we started a very popular series on the blog: whichWMATA. Over the last 50 weeks, we've featured 250 images from 83 stations.
In the last retrospective, I reflected that Metro's uniformity often made it difficult to find subject matter. In fact, somewhat prophetically, I said:
In Atlanta, for example, I could take a picture of blue glazed platform tiles and it could only be Garnett. But here, if I take a picture of the floor tiles, you can only narrow it down to 80 or so stations.For our April Fools' series this year, the episode from week 45 was a bit harder than a usual whichWMATA.
A floor tile from week 45.
Over the past few months, we've also had a few themed rounds, including shapes (week 40), colors (week 43), and the original five stations in the system (week 44). While themed weeks are fun, they're also a bit harder to put together, so I can't do them every week.
Rest assured, there are more themed weeks in the works. But in many cases, I have to actually visit stations (often far-flung) and collect photos first.
Pentagon City from week 40.
Of course, I've had help. Since our last retrospective, we've run several sets of photos submitted by readers. In week 33, I used five fantastic photos from thisisjamesj. Not to be outdone, reigning champion Peter K submitted photos that we used in week 38, week 41, and week 46.
If any of you ever want to try your hand, feel free to submit photos to email@example.com.
Gallery Place from week 33. Photo by thisisjamesj.
It's hard to maintain a balance because many stations are far away, so I don't have as many chances to get to them to collect photos. I do have a few photos from almost every station, but it's definitely a slog to collect more.
Even so, the featured photos have been fairly even between Maryland and Virginia, with 28% and 29% of the share, respectively. Photos from DC make up 43% of the featured images.
In terms of line distribution, the Orange, Blue, Green, and Yellow lines are roughly tied at 15-16% each. The Silver Line, which opened after the series started, comes in at 13%. With 23%, the Red Line comprises the largest set of photos.
I hope you've enjoyed the series. I plan to keep it going for the foreseeable future.
As always, good luck! Thanks for playing!
On Tuesday, we posted our fiftieth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?
This week, we only got 16 guesses. Two people, Peter K and Mr. Johnson, got all five correct. Excellent work!
This week proved much harder than I'd intended. Images 2 through 5 gave you all a lot of trouble, which I didn't expect. Sorry to make it so hard!
The first image shows the eastbound track at West Falls Church. The primary clue here is the diagonal glass roof over the track. Two stations have this sort of design. But the other one, Vienna, has a much shorter glass area. And at Vienna, the glass is at one end of the platform, as opposed to in the center like at West Falls Church. If this were Vienna, there would be much more platform (and an overpass) in the distance.
The other clue is the angle of the sun. That means this must be on a stretch of track that runs roughly east-west. We saw this architectural feature (on the other side of the station) in week 23. Ten of you got this one right.
I really thought this one would be a slam-dunk, but it gave lots of people trouble. This image shows the south end of the Glenmont platform at Dupont Circle. The main clue is the angle of the stem connecting the escalators to the mezzanine. Because the Red Line is under Connecticut Avenue but the escalators are aligned with 19th Street, the entrance is at an angle. That's unique in the system.
You could also tell that it was a side platform station with a waffle vault, which means it could only be one of eight stations. Five of you figured this one out.
The third image shows an art installation in the corridor leading from the street entrances to the fare array at Georgia Avenue. It's similar to the artwork at U Street (west), but the color scheme is completely different. To get this one, you probably needed to be familiar with the art. Five got it right.
The fourth image shows Rockville station, from the bridge over Rockville Pike. The bridge ends at a junction leading to stairs or elevators and the junction is covered with this sloped-glass roof. It's unique, so that's the primary clue.
Also, you can tell that this is a station with a general peak roof with an access point that comes in at or above track level. That should have helped you narrow it down. The bridge (and a glimpse of this area) was featured in week 9. Seven of you figured this one out.
The final image shows the corridor leading to the elevator at Navy Yard's Half Street entrance. Peter K wasn't sure about this one, but he used the process of elimination to make an educated guess. In most Metro stations, the elevator and escalator depart from the mezzanine near each other, which means they emerge far apart at street level.
Only where Metro made an attempt to have the elevator emerge close to the escalator at street level did they put in a long corridor to access the elevator at mezzanine level. As far as I'm aware, Navy Yard (west) is the only station that fits that description.
Metro reconstructed the entrance when the Nationals moved to the area. As a result, Navy Yard actually has elevators at both entrances, which is extremely rare in the Metro system. The original elevator at the New Jersey (east) exit is fairly standard for Metro. But the new elevator at Half Street (west) was built into the base of the DDOT building above the station (which the columns support). We saw a different view of this entrance in week 6. Four of you guessed Navy Yard.
Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next week.
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