The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts from July 2010


Vacation time

I'm taking a vacation for the month of August.

Photo by anjuraj on Flickr.

It's been a while since I had some time off from the blog, and in the past, I've only taken a break for big trips like my honeymoon. In those cases, I also scrambled to get posts in ahead of time from myself and contributors to keep the blog going.

Larry Lessig would always take one month completely off from work, including not checking email. I'm not going to completely unplug from the blog or email. However, I'm going to set expectations that during that month, I probably won't reply to messages, probably won't attend meetings, and probably won't post.

The other contributors will keep up some amount of posting, but that's up to them. There might be some breakfast links on days some contributors have time to do them. If you want to suggest an article, please make sure to use the tip form so that it goes in the queue.

If there's something I really want to post, maybe I will. But maybe I won't. Maybe I'll do a little coding on some ideas I've had for useful tools, potentially using the new Metro open data. Or maybe not. I'll probably take care of some chores around the house. Maybe I'll go explore more of the region on foot or by bike. Greater Greater Wife and I will also be out of town at the beach for a week.

I'll be back after Labor Day, on Tuesday, September 7th.

I hope you will keep checking Greater Greater Washington and, in particular, resume your frequent reading in September. If you might forget to come back, sign up for the daily email or subscribe in an RSS reader.

Have a nice August!


Rain floods the Flickr pool

Photo by ianseanlivingston.

Photo by amberture.

A familiar scene for many. Are they going to work or coming home? They look tired, so probably coming home. Photo by BrianMKA.

View from Union Station. Photo by thisisbossi.

Check out her great bike accessories. Photo by katiesalay.

Photo by neverminddtheend.

Don't forget to join the Flickr group and submit your own photos! We're looking for anything that shows off an interesting feature of the Greater Washington area's urban or suburban spaces, buildings and transportation infrastructure, whether good or bad.

Public Spaces

Bruce-Monroe won't stay a park, might not be a school

As the Washington City Paper reported, DC released an RFP to redevelop the former Bruce-Monroe school site on July 26th. The RFP could lead to a new school on the site, but also opens up the possibility of other uses that fund school improvements off site.

The stated long-term goal of the property has been to build a new Bruce-Monroe school, yet significant obstacles—most notably money and the economic climate—have prevented this to date. The option of modernizing the historic Park View school, where Bruce-Monroe students currently attend, has met with significant resistance from some of the parents and teachers at the school.

Proposed site plan for Bruce-Monroe. Image from DMPED.

Recognizing that it could be five years before shovel hits dirt, city officials decided to develop an interim use for the property. Their initial approach was to spend $500,000 on an area parking lot. This idea also met with fierce community opposition, ultimately resulting in a commitment of $2M to create a community park.

The interim park is scheduled to open on July 29th, and already includes sod, some trees, two basketball courts, a tennis court, two tot-lots with playground equipment and a small parking lot. A building is to be built in the second phase of the project to support educational programs.

Interim park site plan. Image from DMPED.

The high price tag for the park led some to speculate that DC might keep it as a park permanently, but this RFP makes it clear the park isn't permanent. On the other hand, it's possible it won't become a school again, either.

Though the RFP clearly has the educational needs of the community as a priority, developers have the option to submit proposals that don't include a new school as well as ones that do. In the event that a winning proposal is focus primarily on the commercial aspect of the property, the RFP states that funds generated from the conveyance of the property to the developer would be used to "fund school improvement at the off-site Bruce Monroe Elementary School at Parkview."

This clearly brings the modernization of the Park View school back into the mix. This is significant since a renovated Park View has been rejected by approximately 30 to 40 of the parents of the 414 students who attended the school this year.

Its impossible to see which way this issue will go until proposals start to roll in. Its certainly possible that a new school will arise on the site of the old. Yet, each twist and turn seems to include an additional challenge for that vision.

Those interested in reading the full RFP, as well as the contents of the four appendices, can do so by going to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development's Web site.


Breakfast links: Up and down

Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.
Power line problems: A power line fell on a Red Line train yesterday north of Silver Spring, trapping passengers for 2½ hours and blocking Red Line, MARC and Amtrak service. Nobody was injured but the storm also added 15,000 customers to Pepco's platoon without power. (Post)

"Home Rule 2.0"?: Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) attached language to a spending bill in a budget markup to end Congress's review of the DC budget, which would be a major step forward for home rule. (Post)

No bus here: UMD has gone ahead with its 4-week trial of closing Campus Drive to all vehicles, including buses, despite strong opposition from students and the community. But inadequate signage meant many students were still waiting at Stamp Student Union for a bus that would never arrive. (The Diamondback)

New ZCer already siding with feds: The Zoning Commission seems a bit skeptical of Big Bear's desire to change its zoning to commercial, led primarily by federal reps Peter May and Peter Turnbull but also with the support of new member Greg Selfridge. This is exactly what I was worried about when Selfridge was nominated. (Housing Complex)

Watch a church evolve: The architects for St. Thomas' Parish are chronicling their experiences in a blog, illuminating elements of the development process like DC's public space regulations and how to design nice handrails. (Creating Sanctuary)

Costco doesn't need gas after all: After insisting for months it would pull out entirely from Wheaton if it couldn't get its proposed gas station to bypass normal review processes, Costco will move forward with a store in Westfield Wheaton with or without the gas station. (Gazette)

Who's the boss? (in Rockville?): Who is the chief executive of Rockville? The Mayor or the City Manager? And should Rockville switch to a "strong Mayor" system of government? (Rockville Central)

Money for electric cars, none for transit?: The Senate may pass some kind of energy bill, but it probably won't do a thing for transit, but might put more money into electric and natural gas cars. (Streetsblog Capitol Hill)

And...: Free Tysons lunchtime shuttles haven't taken off (Examiner) ... The Purple Line is officially on the Montgomery County master plan (Post) ... Taxi drivers are appealing to Congress about Fenty gutting the Taxicab Commission (Examiner) ... Is our region getting the nickname "the DMV" (for the District, Maryland, and Virginia)? Please, no. (Post)

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Metro by the numbers, part 2

Yesterday, I compared Metro to other heavy rail systems on ridership and fares. Those are just a few of the ways to compare Metro to other heavy rail systems around the country.

Service Span: There's probably not a person under 30 in Washington who hasn't complained about the lack of super-late service on the Metro. I've certainly been there. But Metro runs a pretty standard operation as far as evenings are concerned.

Except for the 3 round-the-clock systems in the US and Chicago's pair of 24-hour lines, America's metros close between midnight and 1 am. But Metro does have one leg up on the others. In this region, the subway runs later on Fridays and Saturdays. That's very uncommon in the States, and luckily, Metro has no plans to end that service extension.

But Metro is the first (or was when I did the analysis in December) system to start to close each evening (except Fridays and Saturdays). The last train of the day leaves Branch Avenue for Greenbelt at 11:24 pm as the day's first last train. Downtown, last trains leave Metro Center at 12:06 am after a 2 minute dwell period on the platform.

Deaths in crashes (since 1970): Metro has been in the national spotlight over the past year because of several mishaps coming in the shadow of the fatal crash of June 22, 2009. In that crash, 8 passengers were killed. It was only the second time when Metro passengers were killed in a rail crash. In December Jaunuary 1982, 3 people were killed in a derailment near Smithsonian Station.

Ryan McNeely, in his post critical of the Metro, incorrectly says that the other three top agencies have not had any fatalities since 1990. In fact, 7 passengers were killed in 2 separate New York City Subway incidents since 1990. But, by and large, America's heavy rail operators have good safety records. Going back to 1970, I could only find 3 4 heavy rail operators that had seen passenger fatalities as a result of rail accidents: Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Of those 3 4, Chicago leads the pack with 13 passenger fatalities since 1970. The most recent crash killed 11 when a train fell from the loop onto the streets below on February 4, 1977.

Washington and New York are tied, each with 11 passenger fatalities since 1970. The most recent passenger fatalities in the New York Subway system occurred on August 28, 1991 near Union Square. The drunk motorman went through an interlocking with a speed limit of 10 mph at over 40 mph, and the resulting crash killed 5.

Authors note: this post originally neglected to mention a 1990 accident in Philadelphia. In March 1990, a crash west of 30th Street Station on SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line killed 4. Like the Smithsonian derailment, the crash occurred because of a split switch. The front truck (wheelset) of the 4th car went straight, while the rear truck took the crossover. It was caused when a traction motor on the 3rd car fell from its mount and was dragged along the trackway, damaging the switch.

In this category, I would say that Metro comes in last place.

System Size: We can measure several attributes to see how large a rail system is. This may give us a hint about how much of the region can be reached by heavy rail.

First, let's look at directional route miles. This metric tells us how many miles of track each system has in each direction. Once again, New York comes in first. But Metro takes second place, as it has done in several categories. In this case, Metro has 211.8 directional route miles.

Another measure is number of stations. Washington is in third place in this category with 86 stations. New York's 468 and Chicago's 144 certainly dwarf Metro, but 86 is nothing to sneeze at, either.

One more variable to consider about system size is the number of vehicles used in maximum service. This is the count of railcars used during rush hour. It is a great way to determine how much service a transit agency is running during the peak. In this case, Washington comes in 3rd. New York and Chicago again take first and second places.

Annual vehicle revenue miles and annual vehicle revenue hours can also indicate how much service an agency provides. In these cases, Washington's Metro comes in second and third places, respectively. New York wins both categories outright.

Service Quality: Unfortunately, I have not been able to unearth any national data on customer satisfaction, but we can perhaps make use of a few alternative measures.

One thing that customers value is a quick trip. In March, I discussed the average scheduled speed of all of America's heavy rail lines. The aptly named PATCO Speedline in the Philadelphia area is in the lead, with an average scheduled speed of 34.1 mph. It is followed by BART and the Baltimore Metro. Washington's transit system comes in 4th, with an average scheduled speed of 29.5 mph.

And because newer cars are probably more reliable and perhaps more comfortable, the average fleet age could indicate the quality of service as well. In this category, BART wins, with an average fleet age of 9.7 years. At 18.6 years, WMATA comes in 5th place. But these numbers are from 2007. Metro has received some new railcars since then, which would lower the number.

Efficiency & Effectiveness: Another aspect to consider is how efficient each system is in terms of the cost to operate versus the service provided. In both operating cost per revenue mile and operating cost per revenue hour, Metro comes in at 8th place. But it fares better when passengers are considered. In terms of operating cost per passenger mile and operating cost per unlinked trip, Metro comes in 5th and 6th places, respectively.

Just as important as efficiency, though, is effectiveness. The transit database provides some helpful measures in that regard. Unlinked trips per vehicle revenue mile and unlinked trips per vehicle revenue hour show the relationship between ridership and the service that is being provided. In the first category, Metro comes in 6th, in the second category, Metro comes in 5th. New York and Los Angeles take the first two slots in both categories, although not in the same order in both.

Overall, Metro scores very well in comparison to other agencies. Of course, it all depends on what you measure. There are certainly other factors out there that could be considered.

And no matter what a transit agency does, it is going to get criticism. Much of it is deserved. But as far as Metro is concerned, it does a decent job of getting people where they need to go. Sure, there are hiccups sometimes, but it could be worse—as indicated by some of the other rail operators.


Bus garage at Walter Reed good for residents, DC budget

The federal government will soon vacate most of Water Reed hospital in northern DC, and DC officials are currently pondering potential uses and getting community input. Metro's proposal to build a new bus garage should be part of the final plan.

Western Bus Garage. Image from Google Street View.

Federal base closure rules restrict the uses to government and non-profit, so DC can't simply let developers build some condos and grocery stores on the site. It can be used for public health, prison, homeless assistance, seaports, and more. A seaport is probably not in the cards, but a bus garage would be a great use of some of the space.

Why does DC need a new bus garage? Its two bus garages in the northern part of DC are falling apart and neighbors would rather use the land for other purposes. The 175-bus Northern garage, along 14th Street between Buchanan and Decatur Street, needs a massive overhaul. However, the local community is strongly pushing to remove the garage entirely.

Meanwhile, the 138-bus Western garage occupies an enormous tract of land right on top of the Friendship Heights Metro, creating an empty block-long wall right on Wisconsin Avenue and heavy bus traffic on the smaller streets in the neighborhood, where the garage entrances lie. Many residents would love to see more street-activating uses on Wisconsin and remove the bus traffic.

However, these buses would have to go somewhere. Who wants a bus garage? Nobody wants one in their neighborhood, but Walter Reed represents a great opportunity. It's a huge site, and WMATA could build its garage in one of the interior spaces. Many buses could exit directly onto 16th Street, which is not a neighborhood street at all. Meanwhile, the Georgia Avenue frontage could get other uses that more directly serve residents on Georgia Avenue.

One potential site for a bus garage at Walter Reed. Images combined from WMATA and DMPED.

Alternately, WMATA has made some sketches of a bus facility that could front onto Georgia with a more attractive facade. However, putting it farther west seems to make the most sense.

The best aspect of this option is that it could return two significant parcels of land in dense neighborhoods back to the tax rolls. DC can't get tax revenue from Walter Reed itself, but it can get some from the Northern and Western garage properties. WMATA would sell those properties and use the money to fund the new garage, and DC could get stores, apartments and townhouses right on the growing northern 14th Street commercial corridor and atop the Metro in lively Friendship Heights.

If WMATA doesn't get to do this, they'll have to invest substantial resources into rehabilitating the existing garages, ensuring those stay where they are and annoy neighbors for another generation.

WMATA's long-term bus plan calls for closing Northern in 2014 and rehabilitating it until 2016. WMATA would temporarily move Northern's bus operations to the DC Village facility in Southeast DC, which will replace the Southeastern Bus Garage that closed in 2008. DC Village is scheduled to open in 2012 and will have enough capacity to handle the buses at Northern. However, WMATA will have to spend millions of dollars a year in extra fuel and driver pay to deadhead buses from DC Village up to routes in northern DC and southern Montgomery County, which translates into high costs for the local jurisdictions.

Summary of bus fleet and facility growth, from WMATA.

After Northern is rebuilt, they would close Western, shift its buses to Northern, and rehab Western until 2018. All three garages, as well as the others outside DC, are necessary if WMATA wants to have enough buses for the anticipated growth in ridership by 2020.

The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is rightly working with residents right around Walter Reed to identify the uses they'd prefer for the site. However, especially for the parcels that aren't immediately adjacent to residents or businesses, they should also consider the bigger picture. A new garage in the interior of the site would help residents in two other neighborhoods without harming the Walter Reed neighbors, bring in more money for the DC budget in the long run, and ensure that our bus service can continue to grow as more and more residents use transit.


Expanded mezzanine planned for Union Station Metro

The northern entrance to the Union Station Metro is probably one of the most cramped in the system. And during peak periods it becomes very congested. The District Department of Transportation is working with WMATA to greatly expand the capacity and utility of the mezzanine.

Because of the design constraints of the site, the northern mezzanine had to be shoehorned into a very small area adjacent to Union Station. With the large number of transfers between commuter rail and Metro, the space is no longer sufficient.

Images by the author.

The Metro station is not directly under the Union Station building. It's actually underneath the ramp that comes down from the parking garage. Two escalators and one elevator connect the northern edge of the Metro platform to the mezzanine. From there, an elevator and two escalators ascend to the concourse level of Union Station and a ramp descends to an exit to First Street NE.

North mezzanine. Photo by the author.
At the concourse level, passengers can walk down a corridor past the Post Office into Union Station or they can turn and head to the MARC platforms near Gate A. Because of this easy access, this entrance sees lots of commuter rail passengers. But the escalators connecting the concourse to the mezzanine also serve Union Station customers headed to and from First Street NE and NoMa.

A separate entrance to the Metro is located further south, toward the center of the platform. The southern mezzanine gives patrons access to the front side of Union Station, the Great Hall, Massachusetts Avenue, Senate and other office buildings, and direct access to the Union Station Food Court. No changes are planned for this mezzanine.

Proposed Solutions
One of the biggest problems with the northern mezzanine is vertical capacity. The two escalators at the north end of the platform have a difficult time handling the mass of commuters each day. To solve this problem, the project will remove the current elevator and replace it with a staircase in between the two escalators.

The new elevators would come down about where the middle pylon is.
To replace the platform-to-mezzanine elevator, the agencies will need to reconfigure the mezzanine level of the station. A passageway will be constructed inside the fare-paid area just to the east of the up escalator (above the Glenmont track). It will turn south, travel parallel to the escalators, and then turn west to move above the platform. There, two new elevators will connect the mezzanine to the platform. The elevators will pierce the part of the ceiling that is lower and flat (not the arched vault part).

The fare-paid zone will be expanded by closing the existing First Street entranceway. The current ramp will be filled in, which will allow new faregates to be added in that area. This will help to reduce congestion in the mezzanine.

To compensate for the loss of the current First Street entrance, a new, larger entrance will be constructed slightly further north, essentially on a line with the existing concourse-to-mezzanine escalators. A ramp and stairs will be constructed outside the station wall to connect to the sidewalk. The ramp will face southward and the stairs will face north.

Left: Existing First Street entrance. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
Right: Walled over passageway. Photo by the author.

Additionally, an incomplete passageway, built in the mid-1970s, will be completed and opened. The passage runs underground toward H Street alongside the Red Line. The passageway was never opened, and the entrance was walled over. You can see it directly across from the exit faregates. By opening this area, DDOT will be able to link the Red Line to the new streetcar line along H Street. The passage will head north until it reaches the H Street underpass (which predates the H Street bridge). There, it will connect to the temporary streetcar platform and to an exit to First Street.

Four elevators will be constructed to connect the new lobby at First Street (under H) to the bridge-level H Street. It is not clear whether DDOT will install cars and equipment in all 4 initially, but at least 2 will be put in service as a part of the first phase.

The new escalators will come up to the left side of the picture.
In addition, the area where the passageway intersects the mezzanine will be expanded. This will allow the construction of two new escalators which will ascend to the south, emerging on the concourse level of Union Station directly in front of the Post Office and liquor store.

Also to be constructed off of the passage are two new elevators. They will connect to the concourse level at the point where the corridor to the MARC trains meets the corridor toward the Post Office—essentially across the hall from the existing elevator. The current elevator will be removed once construction is complete.

There is not currently a timeframe for this project. DDOT estimates that it will take at least 36 months after money has been granted to complete construction.

DDOT and WMATA are currently working on funding the project. They are preparing to apply for a TIGER II grant from the US Department of Transportation. Another approach being considered is a 5 cent surcharge on trips beginning or ending at Union Station. The Metro Board has proposed this as a way to accelerate capital improvements at stations where they are needed.

All told, the improvements are expected to cost between $33 and $36 million.

In June, the Board's Finance Committee approved the option to allow 6 stations systemwide to implement this surcharge—2 each in the District, Maryland, and Virginia. The full Board has approved the concept, but has not selected which stations will see the surcharge. It is likely that it would be implemented at all 6 locations at the same time.

The surcharge idea would be an excellent way to get vital capital improvements on the fast track. While Union Station has been the only station named so far as a potential site, some other projects come to mind as potential candidates, including the proposed tunnels between Gallery Place and Metro Center and between Farragut West and Farragut North.


Breakfast links: Still out

Photo by diskychick on Flickr.
Pepco's blunders: About 31,000 Pepco customers are still without power, and the utility admits they handled things "poorly." They called in aid from nearby states, but those people didn't arrive until Tuesday. (Post, Examiner)

Smart Growth couple to Columbia Heights: Harriet Tregoning and her husband, SGA head Geoff Anderson, are moving to Columbia Heights from Adams Morgan. Naturally, they prioritized transit in their search. (Examiner)

Why some golfers fear bike trail: An Army Navy Country Club member who's suing club management to block the bike trail along their property's edge speaks up, unconvincingly arguing it's all about legal liability. (TheWashCycle)

In bikes: The first Capital Bikeshare bike has arrived in DC (BeyondDC) ... The Golden Triangle BID has new paper clip bike racks (WashCycle) ... A bike activist was killed in Sunday's storm, not by traffic but by lightning felling a tree, but at least one news outlet manages to blame it on him not having a car anyway. (WashCycle)

Peak of one peak: The peak of the peak Metrorail fare will go into effect Monday, but only in the afternoon rush, while Metro tries to get morning and evening to both fit in the limited memory of the faregates. Riders can avoid paying by entering the system before 4:30 or after 6. (Dr. Gridlock)

To th Examiner, it's all Graham's fault, no matter what: An Examiner editorial lists lots of people who deserve blame for the Metro crash, but chooses to specifically attack the Board in the headline and name Jim Graham alone for no particular reason other than we know they hate him. (Examiner)

Gray: Too much process or just right?: Michael Grass profiles Vince Gray in the City Paper and is fairly suspicious of the amount of process Gray would bring to decisionmaking. On the other hand, he's much more well versed in issues and still moves forward resolutely, only after listening to everyone. (City Paper)

And...: Marion Barry won't block DDOT's move to a new HQ (Housing Complex) ... The McMillan site has an architect (Housing Complex) ... More restrictive zoning creates worse housing bubbles (Matt Yglesias) ... Want to run for ANC? (We Love DC)

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Metro by the numbers, part 1

Last week, Ryan McNeely at Matt Yglesias's blog wondered how bad the DC Metro really is.

He introduced a few metrics, though mainly compared Metro to the transit systems in New York, Chicago, and Boston, which are systems from a different generation. Among the metrics were weekday ridership per mile, fares, span of service, and passenger fatalities since 1990.

McNeely concludes that the Washington Metro is the worst of the big 4. But he does make it clear that he doesn't think it "sucks."

However, there are far better metrics to use. Let's stop for a second. Think about the transit systems you've ridden. Pick your favorite. Now, reflect on why it's your favorite. I'm willing to bet that for most of you, the number of passengers per day per route mile is not one of the top factors. Most people like transit systems that get them where they need to go quickly and cheaply. They like clean, safe, and easy to navigate systems.

There are 13 heavy rail operators in the United States. I see no reason to restrict my analysis to the biggest four. Especially since the definition of "biggest four" can change depending on what you measure.

Since data speaks louder than words, let's take a look at what the National Transit Database has to say about the issue. Unfortunately, the NTD does not always give us the best data to evaluate the rider experience. So we'll have to use proxy measures to some degree. For instance, the NTD doesn't really show how much of a region is accessible by transit. But we can measure system mileage and number of stations to get an idea.

The chart below shows the ranking of the different systems based on different categories. All numbers are from 2007, the most recent year for which data have been released. The farther left on the chart a system appears, the better it is performing in that specific metric.

Heavy rail systems ranked by metric. Washington Metro is highlighted in red.

One note on the systems: Unless otherwise mentioned, the data refer only to the heavy rail lines in the system. For example, that means that Boston's Green Line (light rail) and other non-HRT modes are excluded from the analysis.

First, let's consider ridership characteristics. These measures are probably the best determinant of a successful system. And they probably also indicate whether the system is performing in a somewhat satisfactory manner.

Annual Unlinked Trips (HRT): Unlinked Trips is the count of the number of times a patron boards a vehicle. In this case, it's the annual sum of all passenger boardings on the heavy rail lines of each transit agency. As an example, someone traveling from Vienna to Dupont Circle would be making 2 unlinked trips: 1 on the Orange Line and 1 on the Red Line.

Washington is in second place. Only New York sees more annual unlinked trips on heavy rail. As Ryan noted, Chicago and Boston round out the top 4.

Annual Passenger Miles (HRT): This is the cumulative total of the miles each passenger travels. In this case, the number is only for the heavy rail lines for each agency. As an example, if 100 people ride 10 miles on a subway line, that's 1,000 passenger miles.

Using this measure helps to normalize for the amount of transit consumed. A trip from Metro Center to Gallery Place is not the same as a trip from Shady Grove to Metro Center. But in the previous category, unlinked trips, both trips count the same.

Again, Washington comes in second place behind New York. But BART and Atlanta move up into the top 5, while Boston drops to 6th place.

Unlinked Trips per Directional Route Mile: This is not directly measured in the reports available from the National Transit Database, but it is easily calculated using two of the other statistics. This is most similar to what Ryan analyzed in terms of ridership initially. It takes the number of unlinked trips and divides by the number of miles of revenue track (in each direction). It's not quite the same measure, but it's close. Note that the number of unlinked trips is per year, not per day.

In this category, New York still leads the pack. But New York is going to win in a lot of transit ridership categories no matter what they do. PATH, also in the New York area comes in second, with Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles rounding out the top 5.

Fares: Another one of Ryan's complaints is about how expensive it is to ride Metro. He also complains about having to swipe a farecard twice (once to enter, once to exit). So, how does Metro compare?

Metro uses a fare system graduated based on distance traveled. Of the other heavy rail systems in the US, only 2—BART and PATCO—use graduated fares. The rest all employ a flat fare. On the other hand, commuter rail systems use graduated fares. Since Metro (and BART and PATCO) is something of a hybrid between urban subway and commuter rail, this makes sense.

It's also positive from an equity perspective. Why should someone traveling 3 blocks (from Gallery Place to Metro Center, perhaps) pay the same as someone traveling from Franconia-Springfield to Shady Grove? Were Metro to change over to a flat fare, some of the longer trips would probably get cheaper, but then the shorter trips would get more expensive.

Let's consider fares on the low end. While there is a range of prices based on how far and when you travel (and starting August 1, the fare media with which you pay), short trips can cost as little as $1.60. Only 2 systems have a cheaper low-end fare—PATCO and Los Angeles. Baltimore's flat fare is the same as Washington's base fare. Tied for 3rd out of 13 sounds pretty good, no?

But we also need to consider the maximum fare. For the purposes of this exercise, I went ahead and considered the fare changes which will go into effect August 1. Starting on Monday, August 2, the highest price you could pay on Metro will be $5.45. That's if you travel all the way across the region, entering during the peak-of-the-peak period, and pay with a paper farecard.

That is pretty steep. It's almost 2.5 times higher than New York's base fare, for example. But the DC Metro is not the most expensive in the country. No, that honor goes to BART, where a trip from San Francisco Airport to Pittsburg/Bay Point will run you $10.90. That's twice the maximum Metro fare.

Next: Span of service, safety, size and efficiency.

Public Spaces

Students fix Foggy Bottom's waterfront problems

Lydia DePillis's constant attendance at community meetings turned up a fascinating plan from the Catholic University Urban Design Studio to improve some of Foggy Bottom's biggest flaws: the mess of freeways between the neighborhood and the waterfront.

A professor and team of students came up with the vision, which has no funding but which DePillis reports they hope the Office of Planning will incorporate into the DC Comprehensive Plan.

Left: Area around 27th and K now. Image from Google Maps.
Right: The same area in the plan. Images via Housing Complex.

The "ramp spaghetti" in front of the Kennedy Center, the freeway under Juarez Circle, the ramps to the Whitehurst, and Rock Creek create a big barrier between Foggy Bottom and the waterfront, and many small park segments many of which are inaccessible or underutilized.

The plan includes new pedestrian connections across Rock Creek and the Potomac, and suggests decking some of the freeway ramps to the Whitehurst to build better parks. It also resurrects the Kennedy Center's ideas to cover the ramps between it and E Street to connect it to the neighborhood.

Of course, covering freeways is expensive, or we'd do it all the time. That freeway is also wider than it needs to be, since it was originally built to continue up along Florida Avenue or K Street. Some of the ramps could probably come down instead of being decked over.

Besides improving the waterfront access, DePillis reports that the plan includes a new entrance to Foggy Bottom Metro, benches at Juarez Circle, a Native American cultural center, and another performing arts center near the Kennedy Center. DePillis couldn't post the entire plan, but we look forward to seeing more!

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