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. 

Transit


Did Rush Plus depress Blue Line ridership?

To make room for new Silver Line trains at the Rosslyn bottleneck, WMATA has reduced the number of Blue Line (and Orange Line) trains and added Yellow Line trains. A group calling itself Save the Blue Line claims that a similar change in 2012 caused riders to stop using Metro. Is that accurate?


Graph from Save The Blue Line.

In June of 2012, Metro started a new service pattern in Virginia. To make way for more Orange Line trains and more service in north Arlington and Fairfax, the agency started sending some "Blue" Line trains from Franconia over the Yellow Line bridge to Greenbelt, labeled "Rush Plus" Yellow Line trains.

In the two years since, has that lowered ridership?

It's hard to say with any certainty. Ridership at the stations south of Pentagon is lower than it was before Rush Plus. On the other hand, ridership was already dropping before Rush Plus started.

There's actually an error in the Save The Blue Line graph: while the arrow suggests Rush Plus started between the 2011 and 2012 data points, the 2012 data is actually from a count in May, before Rush Plus started. The arrow should actually point one more space to the right, and therefore the drop you can see on the graph began before Rush Plus.

Did Rush Plus contribute to the ridership drop?

We cannot prove causation from correlation, but perhaps we can glean some insight from the numbers.

If we look just at boardings from Van Dorn Street and Franconia/Springfield, we can see a noticeable dip starting in about 2010. It continues into 2013 before leveling off a bit.


This and all subsequent graphics by the author.

From 2011 to 2012 (one year before Rush Plus), ridership at Van Dorn and Franconia declined 3.94%. That drop contrasted with a systemwide increase in ridership of 0.13%. So before Rush Plus the Blue Line (the end at least) was already losing riders compared to the rest of the system.

The May 2013 number is the first data point after Rush Plus started. In the period from May 2012 to May 2013, ridership at Van Dorn and Franconia shrank 7.81%, significantly more than the systemwide decline of 2.57%.

The ridership decrease was somewhat attenuated between 2013 and 2014, where at Franconia and Van Dorn it dropped only 1.17% compared to 0.55% systemwide.

If we look at all the stations most affected by Rush Plus, from Pentagon south, we see similar trends, though they're less strong.

Prior to Rush Plus, average daily boardings at Pentagon and the stations to the south (to Huntington and Franconia/Springfield) declined 3.68% over the 12 months from May 2011 to May 2012. Following 11 months of Rush Plus, ridership on this section had dropped 4.49% (compared to 2.57% systemwide).

So the data do show that ridership on the Blue and Yellow lines south of Pentagon has been lower since Rush Plus was implemented. But the ridership was already shrinking before Rush Plus.

It's certainly possible that Rush Plus exacerbated the ridership loss, but there's no way to tell for sure with the data available.

Even if Rush Plus did cause a significant drop, there's little WMATA can do. The tracks between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory are operating at their capacity of 26 trains per hour. With Silver Line service starting this weekend, something has to give. With higher ridership in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, WMATA has decided to shift some Blue Line trains onto the 7th Street subway.

The number of trains at Franconia and Van Dorn hasn't decreased. Passengers still have the same number of trains going downtown. But fewer of them go to Rosslyn. For getting to the western end of downtown, some riders will now be better off transferring at L'Enfant Plaza.

WMATA planners are hoping to relieve pressure in the future by upgrading the system to handle more 8-car trains and building new Blue Line platforms at Rosslyn. Future phases could take the line across downtown.

Without more railcars, power stations, and core capacity, WMATA has little alternative but to reduce Blue Line service. That's why riders frustrated at losing Blue Line trains can have the best impact by lobbying their elected officials to fund Metro's plans for 8-car trains, a second Rosslyn station, and eventually a new crossing into DC.

History


The Metro plan has changed a lot since 1968

Saturday, the Metro system will grow in length by 10% with the Silver Line, first envisioned in the mid-1960s. A lot has changed from the original plans for Metro. Today, DDOT circulated a 1968 map of the planned system.

In the wake of the 1968 riots, DC pushed WMATA to reroute what's now the Green Line through some of the harder-hit neighborhoods. In 1970, the WMATA Board voted to change the "E route" from Massachusetts Avenue and 13th Street and instead run it along 7th Street to Shaw and then 14th Street to Columbia Heights.

The 1970 decision also deleted the "Petworth" station, which would have been at Kansas Avenue and Sherman Circle. The "Georgia Avenue" station would have been under Kansas Avenue at Georgia and Upshur, in the heart of Petworth, but the alignment later shifted south to New Hampshire Avenue.


The blue circle (not on the original map) shows where the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station is today.

In addition to the many station name changes (you won't see Ardmore, Voice of America, or Marine Barracks stations on the map today), there have been a few pretty significant changes to alignments and station locations.

At the time of this map, the line we know today as the Blue Line had a split terminus, with some trains running to Franconia and some trains running to Backlick Road (and a potential future extension to Burke).

In the northwestern part of the region, the Red Line was to stop at Rockville, instead of running all the way to Shady Grove. The northern Green Line was also shorter, including a station between Berwyn Road and Greenbelt Road, instead of further north at I-495, where the current Greenbelt station is.

Along the Orange and Blue lines, there were to be two more common stations, one at Oklahoma Avenue and one at Kenilworth Avenue (River Terrace) before the lines split. The Minnesota Avenue station was not in the plan at the time.

The southern Green Line was the subject of lots of controversy between 1968 and its completion in 2001. There were two competing routes planned, one to Branch Avenue and an alternate route to Rosecroft Raceway. The 1968 map here shows the line going to Branch Avenue via Alabama Avenue.

But later, WMATA settled on using the Rosecroft alignment in DC, via Congress Heights, and the Branch Avenue alignment in Prince George's County. This created in the "jog" along the District line where the Southern Avenue station is located.


Left: 1968 planned alignment. Right: Actual alignment; image by Matt Johnson using Google Maps.

The map also shows potential future extensions in blue. Today's Silver Line is included, though it stays in the median of the Dulles Access Road instead of detouring through Tysons Corner (which was much smaller then; the mall first opened in 1968). Also shown are lines along Columbia Pike in Virginia and extensions to Bowie, Brandywine, Gaithersburg, and Laurel. The extension to Largo was actually built and opened in 2004.

You can view a pannable, zoomable version of the map here.

Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 15

On Monday, we posted our fifteenth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 44 guesses on this post. A whopping 26 of you (over half) got all 5 correct. Great job!


Image 1: Rosslyn.

The first image shows the escalator shaft at Rosslyn station. This shaft is distinctive because the four escalators are split by an elevator, which ascends through them. When Metro opened the new elevator-only entrance, however, it this elevator was deactivated. A development atop the station site will soon demolish the top of the elevator, but it's not clear if WMATA will remove the remainder of the shaft. 37 people knew this one.


Image 2: Huntington.

These "County of Fairfax" seals are at Huntington station, next to the tunnel portals at the southern end of the station. There's one on either side of the tracks. The seals line up with the circular holes in the buttresses, which we featured in week 8. One clue there is the "end ATC" sign, which indicates that this is the end of the line. 36 got this one right.


Image 3: Columbia Heights.

The third image was taken at the eastern entrance to Columbia Heights station. The canopy that's visible here is unique to two stations: Columbia Heights and Petworth. The Kenyon Square building visible through the glass is the clue to narrow it down to Columbia Heights. 35 correctly guessed this one.


Image 4: Union Station.

The fourth image shows the cramped northern mezzanine at Union Station, looking down from the elevator landing on the commuter rail level. This mezzanine is unique because of its size and shape, necessary to fit it in under Union Station. The four flags show that this is a key station. 38 knew this one.


Image 5: White Flint

The final image is a picture of White Flint from 2009. This picture is looking south at the station from above the subway tunnel. The main clue here is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission building just south of the station. 38 correctly guessed White Flint.

Congratulations to the winners!

Next Monday, we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

History


McPherson Square's namesake died 150 years ago today

Washington has many squares and circles named after generals in the Civil War. McPherson Square is no exception, named after General James B. McPherson, who died 150 years ago today at the Battle of Atlanta.


Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

McPherson was the second-highest ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War. At the time of his death, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee, and his death elevated General John A. Logan to command.

Logan would later lend his name to Logan Circle.

McPherson was killed in what is now the Inman Park neighborhood east of downtown Atlanta. The Battle of Atlanta, fought July 22, 1864, was largely a stalemate and led to a 6-week siege of Atlanta, which finally fell on September 2. The city was later burned by order of General William Sherman on November 14, 1864.

Interestingly, the statue of James McPherson in McPherson Square was cast in 1876 using the metal of Confederate cannons captured in Atlanta. They were melted down and recast into his statue.

A 360-degree painting and diorama of the Battle of Atlanta is on display at the Atlanta Cyclorama in Grant Park (not named after Ulysses S. Grant), and prominently includes General Logan riding to the front. He commissioned the painting to bolster his vice presidential campaign in 1884, though he died in 1886 without ever seeing the completed work.

The Battle of Atlanta was part of the Atlanta Campaign, and led to Sherman's March to the Sea, which split the Confederacy in two along a line from Chattanooga to Atlanta and on to Savannah.

Transit


Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 15

It's time for the fifteenth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 14

On Monday, we posted our fourteenth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. Four of our readers took photos of different stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 35 guesses on this post. 10 of you knew all five. Great work Aaron, AndrewB, Justin...., yest2kwasi, Sand Box John, Russell, Phil, Peter K, nativedc, and PieSuperPac!


Image 1: Brookland. Photo by Sand Box John.

The first image was taken at Brookland. The clue here is that the platform is curved. Only two stations in the system have a curved platform, and the context here is clearly Brookland rather than Silver Spring. 23 of you knew this one.


Image 2: Huntington. Photo by Peter K.

The second image was taken at Huntington. This is at the south end of the platform, where one regular-sized and two narrow escalators ascend to the southern mezzanine. I believe these are the only narrow escalators in the system.

But the real clue is the funicular on the left. This elevator is unique in the system because it does not ascend vertically. It ascends diagonally, just like the escalators. Only 15 of you knew this one, so it was the hardest to answer this week.


Image 3: Stadium/Armory. Photo by Peter K.

This picture shows the northern entrance to Stadium/Armory. There were three clues visible in this image. The yellow banner at the top is very distinctive, and says "STADIUM THIS WAY," pointing passengers to the correct exit for RFK Stadium.

The entrance itself is a clue, being unique in the system. Instead of ascending to a floating mezzanine, the escalators lead directly from the platform to a mezzanine in a different room. The unique feature here is that the opening for the escalators goes very high above the platform.

The third clue, just visible to the right is the junction indicator above the outbound track. These are present at each of the stations where trains split between lines.

31 people got this one right, the highest total this week.


Image 4: Farragut North. Photo by DC Transit Nerd.

The fourth picture was taken at Farragut North. While many stations have floating mezzanines, the one at Farragut North (for the exit to the southwest corner of Connecticut and L) is unique because of the buttresses that link the mezzanine to the vault wall. The other mezzanines are supported only by columns down to the platform. 18 of you guessed correctly.


Image 5: Grosvenor. Photo by Ben Schumin.

The final image shows Grovesnor station. This station is in an open cut, like White Flint, though the context here (no tall buildings visible to the north) demonstrates that it can't be White Flint.

We got a few other guesses for stations in cuttings, but they all have different roof types, which is a key to guessing the correct station. There are only 4 above-ground canopy types in the system (though that will increase to 6 when the Silver Line opens) plus a few unique designs.

26 of you guessed correctly here.

Thanks to Ben Schumin, DC Transit Nerd, Peter K, and Sand Box John for submitting photos! Thanks to all of you for playing.

Next Monday, we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify.

Transit


Can you guess the station? It's whichWMATA week 14

This week, it's time for a little something different on whichWMATA: Your entries. We picked the best five images from reader submissions. Can you guess the five stations these images depict?


Image 1: Photo by Sand Box John.


Image 2: Photo by Peter K.


Image 3: Photo by Peter K.


Image 4: Photo by DC Transit Nerd.


Image 5: Photo by Ben Schumin.

In the future, we'll have more reader submissions, so while you're riding Metro keep your eyes (and cameraphones) peeled for unique stations and architectural features.

We'll hide the comments so that the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

Transit


A "wye" is out, but a second Rosslyn station may make more Blue Line trains possible

Metro's planners have been studying ways to deal with the capacity crunch at Rosslyn station. A track connection from Court House to Arlington Cemetery isn't possible, but a second station for the Blue Line is, and could be built by 2025.

Each Metro track segment is limited to 26 trains per hour (TPH). At Rosslyn, where the Blue, Orange, and (soon!) Silver Lines come together, this limits the number of trains on each line. In 2012, Metro reduced the number of Blue Line trains to allow more Orange Line capacity. Later this month, the number of Blue Line trains will decline even more to make room for the Silver Line.


Two possible fixes for Rosslyn. Image from WMATA.

There's really no way to alleviate this crunch without additional track capacity. Eventually, it's likely that a second subway across downtown will be necessary to handle the ridership. Metro is currently exploring the idea of building a new loop line through the central city. A new subway would allow Orange and Silver lines to each have 13 slots, and the Blue Line could also to have increased service up to 13 TPH.

Earlier, Metro was looking at two ways to address the capacity constraints. One concept was a "wye" track connection, to allow trains coming from Court House to turn south and go toward Arlington Cemetery and vice versa. The follow-up study this year, though, determined that building foundations make this option impossible.


Potential location for a second Rosslyn station. Image from WMATA.

The other option, though, is feasible. It would require building a second station one block west of the current Rosslyn station. This new platform would connect to the existing Rosslyn station with a pedestrian tunnel. At least initially, only the Blue Line would use it. The Orange and Silver lines would stay in the current station.

If built, this would mean that the Blue Line would only operate between Franconia-Springfield and Rosslyn (though some Yellow Line trains might still start and end in Franconia as they do today). That would mean that, at least until the line is extended across the Potomac, Blue Line riders would need to transfer to an Orange or Silver line train at Rosslyn to get downtown. But all the lines at Rosslyn would be coming more frequently than they do today, which might alleviate the inconvenience of changing trains.

These diagrams I made last year show how the new station (and the infeasible wye) could work.


View peak service levels: Pre-Silver Line   With Silver Line
Possible solutions: Blue Line terminal Wye (rejected)  

Note: Since this graphic was created in 2013, Metro has announced there will be 5 TPH per hour on the Blue Line once the Silver Line opens, rather than 6 as shown here.

The wye would have allowed for more trains on the new Silver Line tracks and given riders from Alexandria and south Arlington a one-seat ride to Court House, Clarendon, etc. (if they caught the train every ten minutes going that way), but it also would have made service more complex, added chances for delays, and not fit in as well with a future Potomac River crossing. A new Rosslyn terminal would hopefully be just the first segment of a crosstown subway through Georgetown.


Possible extension to Georgetown.

Right now, Metro's planning staff is recommending the proposed station be moved forward for project development funding, which essentially means that they want it to get money for more detailed study. But the project is in the Metro 2025 plan, so planners anticipate that this could be opened within 11 yearsif the jurisdictions, particularly Virginia and its cities and counties, are willing to pay for it.

For the next few years, the capacity crush at Rosslyn is likely to get worse. But this project might be the light at the end of the tunnel for Blue, Orange, and Silver line riders.

Transit


Ask GGW: Why can't Metro keep more trains on the Blue Line?

With Silver Line opening soon, Metro is reducing the number of Blue Line trains running between Pentagon and Rosslyn. Reader Daniel W. wants to know why Metro is doing this.


Photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr.
Could GGW offer some insight into why Metro is increasing headway on the Blue Line instead of clearing room in the tunnel by running fewer Orange Line trains but running them with eight cars? WMATA can service the same number of Orange Line riders with one third fewer trains by simply running trains at system capacity.

The current situation is fairly complex. Each Metro line has a capacity of 26 trains per hour (TPH). Right now, the combined Blue/Orange line between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory is operating at that limit. When the Silver Line starts operating later this month, both the Blue and the Orange lines will see fewer trains to make way for the Silver Line. That much is inevitable.

But the Blue Line reduction is more severe for two primary reasons. First, there's simply more demand for trains coming from north Arlington, so Metro wants to give the majority of the slots to the Orange and Silver lines. The other reason is that the line coming up from Alexandria and southern Arlington splits at Pentagon. Blue and Yellow line riders have two options for getting into downtown. But for the Orange and Silver lines, the only place they can be routed is via Rosslyn.

Many Blue Line riders are understandably upset about having longer waits for a direct train to the western part of downtown. Now, it may often be faster for riders to take the "rush plus" Yellow Line from Franconia and transfer at L'Enfant. But without a separated subway for the Blue Line, there's not much WMATA can do to increase capacity.

Comparing capacity

What does the current breakdown look like?


View peak service levels: Pre-Silver Line   With Silver Line
Note: This graphic was originally created in 2013. Since then, Metro has announced there will be 5 TPH per hour on the Blue Line once Silver opens, rather than 6 as shown here.

Right now at Rosslyn during peak hours, there are 19 inbound Orange Line trains and 7 inbound Blue Line trains each hour. That means there's an inbound train about every 2 and a half minutes.

Of the Orange Line trains, about 40% are 8 cars long and 60% are 6 cars. All of the Blue Line trains are currently 6 car trains. That means that each hour at Rosslyn, there are roughly 42 inbound Blue Line cars and 130 inbound Orange Line cars. This means a total of 172 inbound cars per hour.

Once the Silver Line opens, the distribution will change. Starting on July 28, the mix at Rosslyn will be 11 Orange Line trains each hour, 10 Silver Line trains per hour, and 5 Blue Line trains per hour.

All of the Silver Line trains will be 6 cars in length. The proportion of Orange Line cars is not expected to change, so it will remain about 40% 8-car trains. The Blue Line will operate with half of its trains as 8 car sets.

That means that at Rosslyn, there will be 35 Blue Line cars inbound each hour, a reduction of 7 cars. The Orange Line will also see a reduction, with only 74 cars per hour. The Silver Line will have 60 cars inbound each hour. Now, since the Silver and Orange share in northern Arlington, riders at stations like Clarendon will see 134 inbound cars each hour, which is a very slight increase. Overall, at Rosslyn, that will mean 169 cars inbound each hour (which is a slight decrease).

So, even though the transit agency is reducing Blue Line frequency in order to fit more trains coming from northern Arlington, the change in the length balance of those trains means that essentially passenger capacity is staying the same. It's only increasing by 4 cars per hour. And of course, it's dropping by quite a bit for the stations on the Orange Line west of East Falls Church (from 130 today to 74), though that section of the line is less crowded than the parts closer to the core.

Alternate solutions

Daniel's question is specifically whether WMATA can have the same capacity by increasing the length of Orange Line trains rather than reducing frequency on the Blue Line.

If WMATA kept the same number of Blue Line trains as there are today7 TPH each 6 cars in lengththe inbound Blue would have 42 cars per hour. The number of Orange Line trains would still have to change to accommodate the Silver Line, so let's assume the remaining 19 slots are distributed 10 to the Orange Line, with all 8-car trains, and 9 to the Silver Line, with all 6-car trains.

There would then be 80 inbound Orange Line cars per hour and 64 inbound Silver Line cars per hour, for a total of 144 cars per hour coming through northern Arlington. That would mean a total of 186 cars per hour inbound at Rosslyn, which is significantly more than today.

However, this solution would actually require Metro to use more cars in daily service, and right now, there simply aren't enough. The Silver Line requires more cars to run, since Wiehle Avenue is so far out. The opening of the new line is already stretching Metro's fleet. There will be more wiggle room sometime soon, once the first 64 7000-series cars arrive, but that milestone is probably more than a year away.

The other issue is that Metro still needs upgrade power systems on all the lines to enable more 8-car trains to operate. Right now, even if Metro had enough cars, there isn't enough traction power capacity to run all 8-car trains, though the agency is slowly working to upgrade traction power substations throughout the system.

Metro does anticipate running 100% 8-car trains in the near future. But being able to do so is dependent on being able to finance more 7000 series railcars. Right now, the local jurisdictionswho pay for capital upgradeshaven't ponied up enough money for that to happen, but there's still time.

WMATA expects ridership to continue to grow. More people ride the Orange Line in northern Arlington than ride the Blue Line between Pentagon and Rosslyn, and so the transit agency is trying to send enough trains that way. Officials see a Blue Line reduction as the only way right now, and since the Yellow Line bridge offers a relief valve, Metro can still give Blue Line riders just as many inbound trains each day, but some riders who used to have a direct trip may find themselves making a transfer.

The only way to resolve this capacity crunch is, in the short term, for local governments to fund more railcars and more power stations, and eventually build another Potomac crossing. Without a new river crossing, there can't be more trains on Blue, Orange, and Silver at the same time.

Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 13

On Monday, we posted our thirteenth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

There were 44 guesses on this post. Eight of you got all five correct. Great work FN, Sean Emerson, MZEBE, Peter K, Rob K, JayTee, Roger, and King Terrapin!


Image 1: Fort Totten.

The first image shows the lower level of Fort Totten, viewed from the mezzanine. The lower level of Fort Totten is unique in that it's partially above ground and partially below ground. The northbound train that's visible is emerging from the subterranean portion of the station. 32 of you knew this one.


Image 2: King Street.

The second image shows the north end of the platform at King Street. This entrance is newer than the rest of the station, and is at the end of an extension of the platform. The fences are there because trains don't stop at this section. The roof type (only present at King Street and Braddock Road) and dual elevators are both clues to the station's identity. 26 of you got this one right.


Image 3: Glenmont.

This image shows the bus loop at Glenmont station. This canopy is unique to Glenmont. The Ride On bus you can see at the left was a clue to help narrow down the possibilities. (I specifically waited to take the picture until the bus drove into the frame). 23 of you guessed correctly.


Image 4: Vienna.

The fourth image is a shot of Vienna station from one of the parking garages on the south side of the station. While this station does have the common glass and concrete peaked roof, it is clearly a median station, which narrows it to one of the four Orange Line stations along I-66.

The pedestrian bridges on both sides of the freeway, however, mean that this must be Vienna. West Falls Chruch and Dunn Loring only have a bridge to one side, and East Falls Church has an exit below the platform rather than above. 28 knew that this was Vienna.


Image 5: Rockville.

The final image was somewhat harder. This is a picture of an elevator near Rockville station. This elevator leads from Monroe Street to the pedestrian bridge that takes riders across Route 355 to the station. One clue to the location is the Brutalist Montgomery County Executive Office Building, visible at right. Only 11 of you guessed this one correctly.

Congratulations to the winners!

Submit your photos

Do you have a photo for next week's whichWMATA? If so, please email it to whichwmata@ggwash.org by tomorrow (Thursday) evening.

Include the station where you took the photo and the name you want credited as photographer. Any photos you submit must be photos you have taken personally, and by emailing us the photo, you give us permission to use and republish it.

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