Greater Greater Washington

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. Hes 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. 

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 36

On Tuesday, we posted our thirty-sixth 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?

We got 22 guesses this week. Six of you got all five. Great work Chris H, Peter K, MZEBE, Spork!, Mr. Johnson, and FN!


Image 1: McLean

The first image shows McLean station from the bridge over Route 123. You should be able to tell fairly easily that this is a Silver Line station based on the triangular shapes and the tan brick (we featured all five in week 16). The grating through which I took the photo is also unique to the Silver Line. You can also tell that the roof type is "Tysons Peak," which narrows this to McLean or Spring Hill. Spring Hill, however, is in the median of Route 7, not off to one side like McLean is. Sixteen of you knew this one.


Image 2: Takoma

The second picture shows the end of the platform at Takoma. A primary clue here is the bank of escalators. Takoma is the only elevated station to have three escalators side-by-side (featured in week 32). Another clue is the "Gull I" canopy, which extends beyond the platform, creating a very high ceiling above the mezzanine below. The blue clock to the left also helped some of you narrow this down to Takoma. Fourteen of you got this one right.


Image 3: Tysons Corner

This image shows art at Tysons Corner station. We showed this art installation when introducing the Silver Line. Several of you guessed Largo, likely because you confused this art with the similar "Largo Beacon" sculpture that we featured in week 4. Twelve of you guessed correctly.


Image 4: White Flint

The fourth image shows the end of the canopy at White Flint. There were two primary clues here. The first is the tapered "ribs" on the underside of the canopy, which is unique to White Flint (featured in week 20). The other clue is the flat glass roof over the escalators. Of the "General Peak" stations, only Grosvenor and White Flint have this feature, and Grosvenor has a modified canopy that is distinctive. This proved to be this week's hardest clue. Only nine of you got it right.


Image 5: College Park

I took the final picture from the second level of the parking garage at College Park. If you look closely at the left side of the picture, you can see that the station has a "General Peak" canopy, which narrows the field considerably. College Park is the only one of those stations with a parking garage so close to the platform. Fourteen of you got this one.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 36

It's time for the thirty-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

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.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 35

On Tuesday, we posted our thirty-fifth 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?

We got 41 guesses this week. An amazing 12 of you got all five. Great work, Alex B, Peter K, dan reed!, Mr. Johnson, K Conaway, Spork!, MZEBE, DAR, Justin...., hftf, Chris H, and Frank IBC!


Image 1: Wiehle Avenue

I snapped the first image on the Wiehle Avenue station's southern bridge. The main clue here is the freeway below. You can see the six eastbound lanes of the Dulles Toll Road and Dulles Airport Access Road. The gambrel roof of the station, which is visible at left, also narrows this down to one of the three new Silver Line stations with that roof type. Thirty-two of you knew this one.


Image 2: Fort Totten

The next image shows the bus loop and upper level platforms at Fort Totten. One clue here is the tall steel beam running along the station. This is part of the bridge structure that holds up the CSX tracks that flank the Metro tracks between Brookland and Silver Spring. Takoma and Silver Spring also have similar beams, but their layouts are different. The bus loop, which extends under the bridge, is the clearest indicator that this is Fort Totten and not Takoma. Another clue that this isn't Takoma is that the platform continues above the roadway, which is not the case there. Thirty-two guessed correctly.


Image 3: Eisenhower Avenue

The third image was taken from Eisenhower Avenue looking north. At center is an inbound Yellow Line train. The tracks that split off here turn west and go into the Alexandria Rail Yard, which is along the Blue Line. These lead tracks allow Yellow Line trains to be put into service without first going to King Street and reversing. The perspective (off to one side of the tracks) also means that this is a side platform station, which considerably narrows the field. Twenty-eight of you got this one.


Image 4: Wheaton

This picture shows the pedestrian bridge over Viers Mill Road that links Wheaton station to its parking garage and the Wheaton Plaza shopping mall. It's a fairly distinctive bridge, and there aren't any others in the Metro system that share its design. Twenty-seven knew this was Wheaton.


Image 5: Foggy Bottom

The final image shows the entrance to Foggy Bottom station. Metro completely rebuilt this entrance a few years ago. Prior to its reconstruction, it had three escalators. But when one or more was broken, the lines to get into and out of the station were legendary. When WMATA rebuilt it, they put in three new escalators in such a way that there was room for a staircase. The LED lights glinting off the sides of the escalator are a clue here. Another clue is the building visible just outside, which is on the northeast corner of 23rd and I NW. Twenty-two got this one right.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

A green wave gives cyclists a stop-free trip

One tool that planners have to calm neighborhood streets and encourage bicycling is a "green wave." Engineers set the traffic signals so they turn green just as a vehicle traveling at a certain speed arrives.


Sign on Valencia. Photo by the author.

The basic premise of the green wave is to control the average speed on a segment of road. For example, if speeding is a problem in a corridor, the signals can be set for, say, 20 miles per hour. If drivers speed, they'll only end up having to wait.

But green waves can also be set to benefit cyclists. That's the case on Valencia Street in San Francisco, where the signals are set for 13 miles per hour, a very comfortable speed for most cyclists.

I had the opportunity to ride Valencia last summer when I was in San Francisco, and it was an almost religious experience.

The street has bike lanes, which give cyclists their own space, and saves them from feeling pressure to ride faster that motorists can sometimes bring. But riding along at a comfortable 13 mph, the signals turn green just as the leading edge of the wave gets there.

This happens again and again at every intersection. I felt like the hand of God was turning the signals green for me. That's how amazing it is.

There may be streets in DC where this approach could work easily. I used to ride 11th Street from Columbia Heights into Downtown frequently. And on that street, the seemingly random nature of the signal timing meant frequent stops and starts, for both cyclists and motorists.

Of course, green waves are easier said than done. In a complex gridded city, perpendicular streets also have signal timing that needs to fit into a larger pattern. But in targeted corridors, a green wave can calm traffic and encourage cycling.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 35

It's time for the thirty-fifth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

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.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Help us revise our comment policy

For the past six years, we've worked to create a dialogue about how to make the Washington region an even greater place. And your participation in the comment threads makes you part of that. We're considering revisions to the comment policy, and we want your input.


Photo by Lars Hammar on Flickr.

Most of us can agree that we want to build a better Washington. But we don't always agree on how best to do it. That means our comment threads are rooted in fertile soil. But it also means that sometimes the discussion can get acrimonious.

And that's why we have the comment policy in place. Because while we want to have an open debate here, we also want all to feel welcome. The internet can be a vicious place that makes it difficult for many to join in the debate, which is exactly what we don't want for our threads.

And so, in August 2011, we introduced the comment policy.

Even before the comment policy was in place, I was proud of you. I think our pool of regular commenters is among the best on the internet. And I say that with complete sincerity. For the most part, you're civil to each other. You share your knowledge and your ideas. Frequently I find myself learning things from the comments.

If we compare that to most websites, there's really no comparison at all. It's not worth even bothering to read most internet comments because they're so full of hate and ignorance. That is almost never the case here. And I thank all of you for keeping the threads at such a high standard.

But the Editorial Board feels that while the comment policy has served us well over the past three and a half years, it could inspire us to be even better. We want to make some changes to help improve the discourse.

But we want to know your thoughts first. Do you think the comment policy is falling short? Are there behaviors that you see regularly in our comment threads that you think cross the line? Please let us know. Feel free to suggest language.

Note: Normally discussion of the comment policy is not allowed in the comments. In this thread, that prohibition has been lifted.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

See America's light rail and streetcars at the same scale

A few weeks ago, I posted a graphic comparing all of America's streetcar systems at the same scale. Many of you asked about light rail systems, so here they are, all at the same scale.

Note, this graphic is not at the same scale as the earlier graphic that only showed streetcars. But each of the light rail systems shown here are shown at the same scale relative to one another.

Twenty-six American cities have light rail systems. Several of these systems have extensions under construction, identifiable here by the dashed lines.

The largest system is in Dallas, with 85 route miles. The shortest is in Buffalo, where the single line stretches just 6.4 miles.

The light rail systems are very diverse in nature. Some evolved from historic streetcar systems, as was the case in Newark, Pittsburgh, and a few other cities. In some cases, it's difficult to distinguish these from streetcar systems.

Most of the other cities built their modern light rail systems from scratch. San Diego's was first, opening in 1981. Since then, modern systems have multiplied, opening across the nation in places like Phoenix, St Louis, and Baltimore.

These light rail systems fall all along the spectrum between streetcars and rapid transit. In San Francisco, for example, outside of the Metro tunnel many of the light rail lines run in the street with simple "flag" car stops every block or so.

On the other hand, a few systems operate much more like rapid transit. In Los Angeles, the Green Line, which runs from Redondo Beach to Norwalk, is completely grade separated for its entire length. In Seattle, the Link (and its under construction extensions) is almost entirely grade separated, except for a few segments south of downtown.

There are a few systems that are on the border line. Two diesel light rail systems are on the graphic: The River Line between Camden and Trenton, and the Sprinter in northern San Diego County. These systems are a little different from the other light rail systems, since they have longer spacing between stops like a commuter rail line. But their frequencies are like urban transit. So even though they're not electrified, these are still light rail.

Similar systems like Austin's Capital MetroRail, the Dallas to Denton A-Train, and Portland's Westside Express Service are not included. While these operators use vehicles that are much like those of the other diesel lines and also have long stop spacing, their frequencies and hours of operation are more like commuter rail. Because these fall more on that end of the spectrum, I did not include them in the graphic.

Streetcars vs. light rail

In the previous post, many of the comments focused on systems that I did not include in the streetcar graphic. Several of you, for instance, asked why the map of San Francisco only showed the F Line but not the rest of the Muni Metro. I contended that the Muni Metro was light rail and not streetcar, but some of you were unconvinced.

Others argued that it's really impossible to distinguish between light rail and streetcar systems and suggested I was remiss in limiting the graphic. The primary reason that it was necessary to do so was because of the scale difference between light rail and streetcar systems in general. Kenosha's streetcar line, for example, is tiny when compared to light rail systems like the one in Dallas.

But since the discussion was so active, I decided to make a graphic showing all of the light rail and streetcar systems in the United States at the same scale.

Whenever a city has both light rail and streetcar, I've shown the different modes with different colors. For example, in Seattle, the Link light rail is shown in blue, while the two Seattle Streetcar lines are shown in purple. The streetcars also have a thinner stroke than the light rail lines.

This graphic should help give a sense of the scale of the different types of systems. The light rail systems tend to be more regional in scope, while the streetcar systems are generally concentrated in the urban core.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 34

On Tuesday, we posted our thirty-fourth 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?

We got just 13 guesses this week. Only two people got all five correct. Great work, Peter K and Mr. Johnson!


Image 1: Prince George's Plaza

The first image depicts the ceiling above the platforms at Prince George's Plaza. It's also the underside of the parking garage that sits atop the station.

Prince George's Plaza is distinctive as one of the few stations with a flat ceiling. The angle and the staircase visible at top right also hint that this is a side platform station. Eight of you knew this one.


Image 2: Judiciary Square

The second picture shows the eastern entrance to Judiciary Square. The building visible at right is One Judiciary Square, which is a fairly distinctive clue. The roof of the National Building Museum is just visible at center left. Ten people guessed correctly.


Image 3: King Street

The third image shows the northern entrance to King Street. This mezzanine was added to the station about twenty years after the station opened, so the brickwork is newer. There are a few clues to help narrow this down, including the metal ceiling and the round concrete column. From the vantage point, you can see the gate, so this was taken from outside the station.

The staircase going up indicates that this is a mezzanine below the tracks. And from the PIDS screen, you can clearly read "Largo" on the top and bottom lines, so this is a station serving the Blue Line. Only six of you put the clues together to get King Street.


Image 4: Columbia Heights

The fourth image proved to be the hardest. This picture shows new lighting installed at the base of the escalators at Columbia Heights. As far as I know, these lights are unique. But they're not the only clue. The ceiling at Columbia Heights is unique, as we noted in Week 31, because the panels are not recessed into the coffers like at the other Arch I and Arch II stations. Only 2 people knew this one.


Image 5: Landover

The final image shows Landover station from a passing MARC train. The primary clue here is the rusted catenary pole visible at center-right. That tells you that this station is viewed from along the electrified northeast corridor. That narrows it down to three stations: Cheverly, Landover, and New Carrollton.

You can discount Cheverly because it has side platforms and the angle is wrong. And you can eliminate New Carrollton because it's not higher than the Amtrak tracks (Landover is) and there is no parking garage visible, as would be the case at New Carrollton. Six people knew this one.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 34

It's time for the thirty-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

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.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 33

On Tuesday, we featured the thirty-third issue of our "whichWMATA" series. This week, all five photos were guest submissions from reader thisisjamesj.

This week we got 44 guesses. Three people got all five correct. Great work, Mr. Johnson, Skierbum, and Peter K!


Image 1: Dupont Circle

The first image shows the escalators at the Q Street entrance to Dupont Circle. This entrance is very distinctive because of the large bowl surrounding the escalator shaft. Several of you recognized the PNC Bank building in the background as well. All but one person knew this one. Great work.


Image 2: Gallery Place

The second picture shows the interlaced escalators at Gallery Place. This is the only place in the entire system where you can get a view like this, though Tysons Corner station also has interlaced escalators. The reason that Gallery Place has this arrangement is because the mezzanine is directly above the point where the lines cross. At Metro Center and L'Enfant Plaza, the mezzanines above the upper level are at either end, and the lower level isn't beneath them. Forty of you got this one right.


Image 3: L'Enfant Plaza

This one was a little trickier. There were two primary clues to help you identify L'Enfant Plaza. The first is the construction. The hanging lights are in place because WMATA is renovating the underside of the mezzanine above, and it's been this way for quite a while. The other clue is the shape of the vault wall. It's almost vertical here, which is only the case at L'Enfant. At the other vaulted stations, the wall is sloped (being farther away from the top of the train than the bottom of the train). A little less than half20of you guessed correctly.


Image 4: Van Ness

This week, image 4 was the hardest. This picture depicts the pedestrian connection under Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness. While tunnels with similar design elements are common throughout Metro, this one is unique in its arrangement. The escalators from the mezzanine arrive at this level directly under Connecticut Avenue, ending at a T-junction. The corridor seen here allows people to exit to either the east or west side of Connecticut. It can't be Cleveland Park because at Cleveland Park, the escalator shaft to the mezzanine and the escalator shaft to the east side of Connecticut face the same direction. Only 9 people got this one.


Image 5: Metro Center

The final image shows the lower level platform at Metro Center. The clues here are the shape of the vault (which is different from other vaults in the system) and the slight change in height of the ceiling (the dark line running parallel to the tracks). The other clue that should've helped you narrow it down is the mezzanine being flush with the wall at the end of the trainroom and also being almost full-width there.

At most stations, the mezzanine floats above the platform, but where it meets the wall at the end of the station, it narrows, like the top of an inflated balloon. At many of the stations that people guessed on this one, the mezzanine is also in the center of the station, not one end. Several people also guessed Farragut North, which surprised me since the Blue Line doesn't call there. Still, 21 of you figured this one out.

As always, great work! Thanks for playing.

I'd again like to give a special thanks to thisisjamesj for submitting his great photos this week!

We're always looking for reader submissions, so while you're riding Metro keep your eyes (and cameraphones) peeled for unique stations and architectural features. You can submit your photos to whichwmata@ggwash.org.

Greater Greater Washington relies on support from readers like you to keep the site running. Support us now keep the community going.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time

Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Support Us