Greater Greater Washington

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 65

On Tuesday, we posted our sixty-fifth photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 21 guesses. Six people got all five. Great work, Peter K, Justin..., Roger Bowles, AlexC, JamesDCane, and Mr. Johnson!

Image 1: Archives

This week had a theme: knockout panels. Each of the featured stations has provisions for future entrances. For each station, the image we featured is where slightly different walls make that visible.

The first image shows the knockout panel for a future southern entrance to Archives station (it would be in the vicinity of Constitution Avenue and 7th Street NW). This knockout panel is fairly distinctive because of the full outline of the mezzanine opening in the endwall of the station. The mushroom-shaped panel is easily visible from the platform. Note, the white rectangle extending outward from the wall has nothing to do with the panel. It's part of an antenna for providing cellular coverage in the station.

Thirteen got this one right.

Image 2: Federal Triangle

The second image shows the provision for a future entrance to Federal Triangle station. Unlike at Archives, this future entrance would make use of the current mezzanine, and would not require a new fare control area. This entrance was planned at a time when the federal government intended to tear down the Old Post Office to complete the long-planned Federal Triangle complex. Since the building is landmarked, this entrance is unlikley to ever be constructed.

We featured this knockout panel in week 6. Only a few stations have knockout panels. You could've narrowed this down to Federal Triangle because of the elevator here. The only similar knockout panel is at Navy Yard (pictured below), and that knockout panel is not located next to an elevator.

Nine knew this one.

Image 3: Pentagon City

The third image shows the place where a future southern mezzanine could be installed at Pentagon City. Like at Archives, this would be a completely new entrance, with its own fare control. The main clue here is the orientation of the station. There are very few side platform stations in Metro, and even fewer have the waffle-style vault. So that should have helped you narrow down the options pretty significantly.

We featured these knockout panels in week 12. Eleven guessed Pentagon City.

Image 4: Navy Yard

The fourth image shows one of the knockout panels (yes, there's more than one) at Navy Yard station. This entrance would lead to an escalator at the corner on the north side of M Street at Half Street SE. Originally, fare control at the western entrance of Navy Yard was at the mezzanine level (where the picture was taken), however, when this entrance was reconstructed to accommodate crowds coming from Nationals Park, fare control was moved to street level. If this entrance were built, the faregates would need to be at street level as well.

Clues for figuring this one out included the jagged area on the bottom of the panel (for structural supports) and the fact that you could see a second mezzanine at the opposite end of the station. Very few underground stations have entrances at opposite ends of the trainroom. So that should have helped a lot.

Nine figured it out.

Image 5: Bethesda

The final image shows the well-disguised knockout panels at the southern end of Bethesda station. These panels will soon be used to build a southern mezzanine with a connection to the Purple Line station just below the surface.

Other than having noticed these before, or having figured out the theme, the only thing you could do to narrow this down was to note the architectural type. This was clearly an Arch I station, a type which appears only on the Red Line's Shady Grove branch. You can tell this is Arch I (4 coffer vault) because the first crossbar is very high on the wall. At an Arch II station, like Georgia Avenue, the first crossbar would be lower, and a second would be visible above.

Fifteen guessed Bethesda.

Next Tuesday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Note: You can find the leaderboard, submission guidelines, and other information at

Which local news sources did good actual reporting on the bad Texas A&M traffic study?

Every two years, a research institute at Texas A&M comes out with a flawed report on traffic. Each time, other transportation analysts debunk it. But most reporters breathlessly regurgitate quotes from author Tim Lomax every time without doing any actual reporting of their own. How did our local reporters fare this year?

Interview photo from Shutterstock.

The Texas Transportation Institute's "Urban Mobility Study" takes a "searching under the streetlight" approach of looking at some data they get from INRIX and extrapolating that into shoddy conclusions. Victoria Transportation Policy Institute researcher Todd Litman, Joe Cortright of City Observatory, and locally, the Coalition for Smarter Growth have all rebutted the study's many flaws.

But Lomax knows that the press just eats up this "we're #1 in traffic" or "commuters waste 3 days per year in traffic" or whatever. When his report is about to come out, he goes on a press blitz, and hundreds of news outlets write up his non-peer-reviewed study (543, at last count via Google News).

Some of our local reporters just packaged Lomax's quotes and numbers into an unquestioning bundle of clickbait. Others took a moment to ask a few more questions or even wrote critical articles. Here's how they stacked up.

The "not fooled for a minute" crowd

  • WAMU. Martin di Caro, one of the region's best transportation reporters, focused his story around criticisms of the study, especially the Coalition for Smarter Growth's. Di Caro also actually asked study author Tim Lomax about the critiques.

    One criticism has been that the study's summary talks about delay to residents, when really it's just about car commuters. Lomax acknowledged that he doesn't have good data on transit, bicycling, or walking, but argues it's unfair to criticize the study for leaving pieces out even though Lomax spins his own data into sensational statements and suggests policy conclusions.

  • WTOP. Ari Ashe, who was around the last time this came up and apparently remembers the controversy, skipped the bandwagon (though WTOP ran the Associated Press's press-release-rewrite version) and instead wrote a good story with CSG's rebuttal and comments by Falls Church Vice Mayor Dave Snyder.

The "used some actual shoe leather" crowd

  • NBC4. While the lead-in by the anchor sensationalizes the "we're #1 in traffic!!!!!" angle, Tom Sherwood mostly uses this story as an opportunity to talk to people around the region, including Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, about solutions that include transit, bicycling, and more as well as roads. He also interviewed me. The CSG press release came out a little later, and the NBC4 web version of the story now includes quotes from that as well.

The "second draft is the best" crowd

  • Washingtonian 2.0. Posted just after this article initially went live, Ben Freed's take criticizes the report and also points out weak spots in what Tim Lomax told Martin di Caro. Freed's article also possibly has the best headline of the bunch: "Driving in Washington Is Bad. So Is That Study That Says How Bad It Is."

The "phoned it in" crowd

  • WUSA9: USA Today's national article was pretty terrible. And USA Today appears first on the byline for WUSA9's article. Lomax speaks, these outlets transcribe.

  • Washingtonian 1.0. The writing is clever—82 hours is enough time to watch Orange Is the New Black twice. Cute, if only it were based on valid data. Update: Washingtonian has followed up with another article, above.

  • Washington City Paper. We miss you, Aaron Wiener. The lack of a regular Housing Complex reporter covering planning and transportation is evident in the City Paper's unremarkable summary of the report.

    It's most disappointing because this is our alt-weekly that often finds an irreverent take on issues, questions conventional wisdom, and looks at the world through the city dweller's lens. I don't expect better from WUSA9, but do from these great folks who do so much excellent reporting (like the fantastic exposé on Metro's PR-spin-efforts after the January smoke death incident).

    Also, the City Paper's headline for the TTI study, "D.C. Most Congested U.S. City for Drivers, Report Finds," commits the cardinal sin of conflating DC with the whole region; as Tom Sherwood noted, the traffic analysis is about the whole region, not the District itself.

The "fool me twice" crowd

  • Washington Post. Ashley Halsey III has seen this story before. In fact, he's written it three times before, in 2009, 2011, and 2013.

    Halsey has had ample time to see the criticisms that people have leveled at the study every time it comes out. He even quoted more other people for context in 2009 and 2011, but stopped in 2013, and this year's article again simply recited Lomax's claims with no critical eye at all.

The "are there even humans here?" crowd

  • Fauquier Times. This "news source" appears in Google News, but its article on the issue is just a straight-up reprint of the AAA Mid-Atlantic press release (which, not surprisingly, argues that the solution to the traffic reported in the study is spending more money on roads).

Some are questioning whether all students should be on a college prep track

A former professor who spent two years teaching in a high-poverty DC Public Schools high school advocates separating students into a college prep track and other tracks that would lead directly to jobs. But to really know who belongs in which track we need to revamp an elementary school system that has left almost all poor students woefully unprepared for a college prep curriculum.

Photo from Bigstock.

The old practice of separating students into academic and vocational tracks has fallen into disfavor. That's because traditionally, school systems often funneled white and affluent students into college prep classes while relegating poor black ones into classes intended to prepare them for jobs in fields like auto repair and cosmetology.

Education reformers have generally insisted that all students follow a college prep curriculum. But some are beginning to recognize the value of what is now called career and technical education in engaging disaffected students and providing them with practical skills.

Some school districts, including DCPS, are beefing up their formerly anemic vocational offerings with new Career Academies embedded within neighborhood high schools. Two new ones, focusing on engineering and information technology, are opening this year at H.D. Woodson High School in Ward 7.

But these academies—and much of the vocational training finding favor among reformers—are an addition to, not a substitute for, college prep classes. The DCPS website explicitly says the expectation is that "all Academy graduates continue on to college before pursuing a career."

A former teacher and others question whether "college for all" makes sense

Caleb Stewart Rossiter, a former professor at American University who spent two years teaching math at H.D. Woodson, proposes a different approach in his book Ain't Nobody Be Learnin' Nothin': The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools..

Rossiter says only about 20% of students at schools like Woodson are "within striking distance of high school standards." And he argues that under the current system, those students will never be college-ready because they're being held back by students who are disruptive or hopelessly behind.

In some ways Rossiter's version of tracking differs from the paternalistic model that prevailed in the old days, when the school system decided which track a student should be on. Students and their parents or guardians themselves would choose either a college-prep or vocational track at 7th grade, with an option to reevaluate at 9th. Rossiter wouldn't exclude any students who are highly motivated from college prep.

But, as under the old system, Rossiter wants vocational tracks to lead students directly to jobs rather than to college. And he wants schools to require students who are years behind to undertake intensive remediation before embarking on either track, although they might need less remediation for the vocational one.

Rossiter's book details extreme dysfunction at Woodson (which he refers to as "Johnson" in his book), characterizing the "unspoken bargain of calm high-poverty classes" as "don't push me to work and I won't disrupt the class much." In addition to tracking, Rossiter wants extremely disruptive students and those far behind grade level removed from regular classes and getting counseling and non-credit remediation.

Rossiter isn't the only one questioning the assumption that all students should go to college. When students are in 11th or 12th grade and still reading and doing math at an elementary level, subjecting them to a grade-level college prep curriculum appears to be a waste of everyone's time.

And, as Rossiter argues, the supposed college-prep curriculum isn't even doing a good job with the low-income students who manage to make it to college: 64.5% of low-income students who enroll in a two-year college need remedial classes, as do 31.9% of those who enroll in a four-year college. Only 9% of the poorest students complete a college degree—less than a third of those who enroll. Those who drop out are often left with huge debt and no degree.

True, poor and minority individuals who make it through college do far better than those who don't. But college doesn't seem to be the great equalizer that some had hoped for. A new study has found that black and Hispanic college graduates have far less wealth than their white counterparts.

So offering students the option of a track that leads to a job rather than to college makes sense. And there should be no shame in vocational education. Society needs beauticians and auto mechanics as much as it needs college professors and lawyers.

Vocational classes may solve some of the disciplinary problems afflicting high-poverty schools as well. As Rossiter saw when some of his most disruptive students eagerly embraced a challenging masonry task and excelled at it, some students are far more responsive and persevering when learning is part of a hands-on task.

Lately, some reformers—including the Obama administrationhave modified the "college for all" mantra, saying instead that "all Americans need some form of postsecondary education," if not college then at least a training or certification program after high school. But if we could embed that training or certification within a high school curriculum, and make it meaningful, we could save everyone time and money.

Before we embrace a version of tracking that allows some students to opt out of college prep, however, we should be aware of a couple of major caveats. One is that most decent jobs that don't require a college degree still require a high level of accomplishment. Some people who skip college and complete an occupational concentration in high school manage to out-earn college graduates, but only if they did well in Algebra II and advanced biology.

Inadequate elementary school education may be masking students' potential

More fundamentally, we may be overlooking a lot of undeveloped academic potential in low-income kids because of the education they get before they reach high school. Elementary education is currently so inadequate that we simply don't know how many kids would be capable of handling a college prep curriculum if they were given the right kind of foundation.

Even before standardized tests became important—but even more so afterwards—elementary schools have been focusing almost exclusively on basic skills in reading and math. In reading, that means hours every day practicing comprehension strategies like "finding the main idea" and making predictions.

Elementary schools have spent little or no time building students' knowledge of subjects like history and science. That's particularly harmful for poor kids, who are less likely to acquire that kind of knowledge at home.

When those kids get to high school, they suddenly encounter a curriculum that assumes a lot of knowledge and vocabulary they don't have. As a result, they can't understand much of what they're supposed to be learning. No wonder they become disaffected.

Of course, some teenagers will be disaffected even if we inject actual content into the elementary school curriculum—a slow and difficult process that DCPS is now beginning to undertake. And some students who are engaged in school still won't be interested in going to college. But right now, we can't know for sure which kids fall into which category.

In the short-term, the only way we might be able to tell is to offer motivated students intensive tutoring in the subjects they're supposed to be learning—not, as Rossiter proposes, tutoring in "basic skills," which will do them no more good than a skill-based curriculum did in elementary school. That would require a huge and most likely expensive effort, but it's worth trying.

For the longer term, we need to revamp the elementary school curriculum so that poor kids are acquiring the tools that will allow them to access high school level work. Only then will students and their families be able to make a genuine choice between a path that leads to college and one that leads in a different, but equally fulfilling and possibly even lucrative, direction.

Cross-posted at DC Eduphile.

A protected bikeway will soon come to C Street NE

New bike lanes and walkways headline DDOT's plans for a new C Street NE. The changes will go a long way in making it a complete street that's safe for everyone.

Image from DDOT.

The proposal is to cut one driving lane in each direction on C Street between 16th Street and Oklahoma Avenue and use that space to add protected bike lanes (which we also call protected bikeways.

West of 16th, where C Street becomes a one-way street, the westbound bike lane will continue on to 14th Place and the eastbound one will run along North Carolina Avenue from 14th Street.

The project also calls for new sidewalks and full time parking on each side of the street, bulb outs, and rain gardens.

Base image from Google Maps.

C Street is breaking new ground for DC

The District currently has one-way protected bike lanes with flexiposts along L and M Streets, a two-way protected bike lane with flexposts along 15th Street, and a two-way protected bike lane with curb separation along 1st Street.

But the type of bike lanes DDOT wants for C street would be a first for DC, and they'll likely make people using the street both on bikes and on foot more comfortable.

Image from DDOT.

The first distinction is that they'll be raised to the sidewalk level, which will provide another barrier to separate bikes from vehicles.

Also, a landscaped area will go between the road and the bike lane, providing a lot more protection than the traditional small two foot-wide curb or flexi posts. There will also be a landscaped area between the bike lanes and the sidewalk.

Finally, since the bikes lane are at the sidewalk level, which is above the road, there are two options: bring the bike lanes and sidewalk down to the road level at crossings, or vice versa. The design will bring the road up to the level of the bike lanes and sidewalk. That means C Street will essentially get speed bumps with crosswalks on top of them, which should cause cars to slow down as they cross or make turns where people on bikes and foot use the street.

An example of raised crossings from Boulder, Colorado. Base image from Google Maps.

A C Street with fewer car travel lanes and bulb outs at intersections will mean people who want to cross on bike or foot won't have to cover as much distance. In fact, the crossing distance will shrink from 90 feet to 44, and includes a pedestrian refuge in the median at most crossing locations.

Raised crosswalks, fewer car travel lanes, and smaller turning radii will slow vehicle speeds and provide better sight lines, helping C Street to do its part in achieving DC's Vision Zero goal.

This has worked elsewhere

Looking outside of DC, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a great example of a raised, two-way protected bike lane that has been extremely successful and seen high levels of use.

DDOT's planning phase should wrap up before the end of 2015. Neither funding nor a construction schedule are nailed down yet, but it's likely the project will move forward. All good work starts with a good plan, and this one is off to the right start.

Breakfast links: Purple proceeding

Photo by Jurgen Appelo on Flickr.
Good to go: Montgomery and Prince George's Counties are going to contribute more to build the Purple Line, which brings the line closer to being fully funded. With county and state contributions in place, the project can now work on securing federal and private funding. (Post)

E-ticket, please!: When the streetcar opens, you might be able to pay your fare from your phone. DDOT is looking for a firm to build a system that would essentially make phones work like SmarTrip cards. (WBJ)

Crime time: Murders are up in 5 of DC's 7 police districts, and MPD Chief Cathy Lanier is being transparent about efforts to curb the spike. She publicized stats and reasons behind the rise, and openly talked details with a city resident. (City Paper, PoPVille)

All accesss: 35% of the region's 19,000 bus stops aren't accessible to people with disabilities. Metro is working to give stops clear, flat loading surfaces and an accessible pathways to the nearest street corner. (PlanItMetro)

Power off: There's a new trend among some kids, and it's making you late to work: pulling emergency "kill switches" on Metrobuses. Metro worries locking the switches would make it harder for emergency crews to get to them, but the first responders union says that wouldn't be a problem. (NBC4)

Rolling in the dough: DCPS gets a lot of money from donors. In 2010, $31 million from various foundations came out to $702 per student, the highest rate in the country. Most of the money goes to the general fund, but some goes to charter schools. (Post)

Supersized: Baltimore could become DC's northern edge, says local sports owner Ted Leonsis. With a growing population and multiple airports, Leonsis predicts a "supercity" that will one day stretch 100 miles, from Loudoun to Baltimore. (WBJ)

Pay a little, get a lot: Phoenix voters passed Proposition 104, supporting a 0.4% sales tax increase that will triple the size of the light rail system, expand the bus network, and leave money for other transportation improvements. (AZ Central)

Asheville's (un)affordability: Asheville, North Carolina is pretty great. So much that a lot of retirees want to move there, making housing scarce and expensive. So expensive the people who work in coffee shops can't afford places to live. (Amanda K Hurley)

And...: The distracted driver from a hit-and-run that killed a cyclist in Hagerstown has been sentenced to five years in jail. (TheWashCycle) ... APA used DC to show planners how to build inclusive neighborhoods with a mix of housing... Reading a book will get you a free bus ride in Romania. (Next City)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Want a stress-free bike ride? In Arlington, there's a map for that.

Arlington has a new map for cyclists that ranks streets by "comfort level." It illustrates the places where even kids or senior citizens would feel safe biking, helping people to avoid busy or fast roads. It also gives policymakers a tool for making the county's bike network even better.

All images from BikeArlington.

A comfort map takes into consideration the volume and speed of car traffic, hills, and other issues to show the streets that are the easiest (or most comfortable) to bike on, regardless of whether or not they have bike lanes. It's an attempt to illustrate a more honest assessment of the in-person usability of the streets, for biking.

There are five possible rankings on Arlington's map: "easy," "medium," "difficult," "strongly discouraged," and "prohibited/major car route." BikeArlington staff created the ranking criteria based on surveys to find out what people thought was important.

Ratings of "medium" and "difficult" went to routes where only experienced cyclists would be able to confidently bike them. The county's various trails got an automatic "easy" rating.

Bike lanes alone don't guarantee comfort

Bike lanes didn't get automatic "easy" ratings because a lot of them are still difficult to ride in.

For example, while Hayes and Eads Streets in Crystal City got "easy" ratings, Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards were rated "medium." That's because the former has protected bikeways that separate bikes from moving cars while the latter has bikeways that aren't protected.

The full comfort map.

You can't get everywhere comfortably

Arlington's focus on understanding and illustrating where people riding bikes feel the most comfortable is commendable. This is a neat and useful map.

But it also highlights how much work is left to do. For all the comfortable bike routes in the county, there are also huge gaps.

Few of Arlington's major commercial main streets have comfortable bikeways for much of their length. Many are even blacked out as places where cycling is "strongly discouraged." But those are the places people want to go, and the routes that connect one part of the county to another.

Alternate routes often aren't easy to come by. Even where they do exist, they often involve lengthy detours or circuitous hopping around.

This map provides a valuable tool, but it also clearly illustrates how Arlington's bike network is still a long way from complete. County officials have their work cut out for them.

Hey look, that flawed Texas A&M traffic study is back and grabbing the usual headlines

The Texas Transportation Institute today released another one of its periodic reports on traffic congestion. This one ranked the DC area first in delay per car commuter. The last report, in 2012, came under considerable criticism for its flawed methodology, and the new one doesn't seem to have changed much, though its author sounds a little more sophisticated about possible solutions.

The report, from Texas A&M University, looks at only one factor: how fast traffic moves. Consider two hypothetical cities. In Denseopolis, people live within 2 miles of work on average, but the roads are fairly clogged and drivers can only go about 20 miles per hour. However, it only takes an average of 6 minutes to get to work, which isn't bad.

On the other hand, in Sprawlville, people live about 30 miles from work on average, but there are lots and lots of fast-moving freeways, so people can drive 60 mph. That means it takes 30 minutes to get to work.

Which city has worse roads? By TTI's methods, it's Denseopolis. But it's the people of Sprawlville who spend more time commuting, and thus have less time to be with their families and for recreation.

(Note: This post is a revised version of one I wrote in 2011. That's because just about everything I wrote then is still relevant.)

Critics like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute and Joe Cortright of CEOs for Cities have pointed out these problems each time TTI releases a new study with an accompanying press blitz, but TTI continues to focus on the same metrics. For example, in the 2012 report, TTI ranked Portland as worse than Nashville, with a Travel Time Index (TTI) of 1.15 for Nashville and 1.23 for Portland. However, because of greater sprawl, Nashville commuters spent an average of 268 hours that year commuting, while the average Portland commuter spent 193 hours.

Does this mean build more roads?

What does this mean for public policy and the Washington region? TTI's data is often used to justify spending money on new freeway capacity, since congestion sounds bad. Tim Lomax, a co-author of the report, told the Post's Ashley Halsey III in 2012, "You can do little things like stagger work hours, fix traffic-light timing and clear wrecks faster, but in the end, there's a need for more capacity."

"That we are congested is not news, but TTI's report does tremendous damage, because they fail to recognize the primary cause of our congestion and imply that we could simply widen roads to build our way out of the problem," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, about the 2012 report.

Perhaps responding to the criticism Lomax received for his one-sided push for road construction, he seems to have softened his tone somewhat. This year, Lomax told Halsey, "It's going to be hard to figure out how you scale up [the Capital Beltway] to make it accommodate another million people, 20 or 25 percent more travel demand. We need to figure out how to use our existing capacity smarter."

Lomax did talk about squeezing more cars on the road through technology like car automation that can run cars closer together. But he also suggested how technology can remind drivers when transit might be a better option:

Say you're commuting in from Manassas: Your computer looks at your calendar, sees that it's a regular commute day and that the weather's going to be terrible so traffic is going to be bad, and there's already been a big crash on I-66. So, your computer goes out and finds the VRE train schedule and the bus schedule, and here's the Metrorail schedule and where it drops you off. So, at 5:45, you're shaved and showered and your computer presents you with your travel options for today.

Traffic in Houston. Photo by TexasDarkHorse on Flickr.

The real solution is to reduce dependence on long commutes

Technology can help people get around more easily, but there are bigger-picture policies as well to help people not have to drive so far in the first place. To do that, we need to concentrate future growth around existing hubs with more residents, jobs, and multimodal transportation.

That's what the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has been trying to push with its Region Forward plan and the related "What Would It Take?" scenario (PDF). These involve focusing development in places like Tysons Corner and the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax, around underutilized Metro stations in Prince George's, future ones in Loudoun, and MARC and VRE hubs in Maryland and Virginia.

Arlington achieved substantial job and resident growth in its Rosslyn-Ballston corridor without adding to traffic congestion, as has Montgomery with growth in Silver Spring and Bethesda and DC development in places like NoMA and the Capitol Riverfront area. Regional leaders should be less concerned with speeding up existing cars, which just leads to sprawl farther out, and invest more in finding ways to grow the region without adding traffic.

In fact, that's just what the DC region has done. Another, better part of TTI's 2012 analysis (which I don't see in the 2015 report) measures the amount of time savings that come from each region's transit; DC was 3rd best. That metric still doesn't account for the value of people living nearer to their jobs, however.

Washington has grown while managing congestion

Between better location and transit, page 50 of the original report (now not online) showed congestion did not increase from 1999 to 2012 even on TTI's flawed scale. That means our region had been successfully growing without adding traffic. Instead of "Washington area tied with Chicago for traffic congestion, study finds," which was the 2012 Post headline, it could have read, "Washington area's traffic hasn't gotten worse in a decade thanks to smart growth."

In his article about this year's report, Halsey reported that "traffic delays in most parts of the country have bounced back to pre-recession levels." But in Washington, the TTI report's numbers hardly budged from 2012 to 2014, according to the Excel spreadsheet you can download.

The Silver Line, which opened between the last TTI report and this one, reduced traffic by 15% at some intersections while also offering many people new choices to get to work.

These smart growth approaches work. They slow the rate of traffic worsening while letting regions grow by helping people not have to drive so much or so far. Our region simply has to follow through.

Update: Joe Cortright has written a new critique of the latest TTI report at City Observatory, and Todd Litman picks apart the report in Planetizen.

The Silver Line has been bringing Metro’s performance numbers down

If you've noticed Metro's performance declining over the past several months, you're not alone. In order to open the Silver Line last year, Metro has had to run more train cars longer, and the extra mileage put onto them has meant their breakdowns may affect your service more often.

Graphic by the author.

To get an idea of the overall picture, the graph above shows the WMATA on-time performance for all rail lines since 2011. Silver Line service started in July 2014 and from that point forward you can see a clear 3% decline in on-time performance systemwide (that doesn't include the big dip on the far right, which is the result of the harsh temperatures of last winter).

The dip in performance relative to before and after the Silver Line opened primarily affected the Blue, Orange, and Green lines. System-wide, on-time performance dropped from 92% to 89%:

Graphic by the author.

Putting more spare trains into service sets the stage

Transit agencies try to keep a spare ratio of around 20-25%. Some cars are going to need to be in the shop for unscheduled repairs, preventative maintenance, or inspections. No transit agency operates 100% of its cars in service at any given time.

When WMATA opened the Silver Line it had not yet deployed the new 7000 series cars needed, so the agency dipped into its spare pool temporarily until enough new cars were set for service.

With a lower spare ratio, Metro doesn't have enough time to do preventative maintenance or inspections on cars. And when some need maintenance that can't wait, there may not be enough cars to build a train or the train may break down on the mainline, causing delays.

One impact of the lack of cars is that an increased number of scheduled trains do not operate (DNO). The data shown in the graph below are the number of trains that were canceled or otherwise did not operate on the six lines between August 2012 and July 2015.

Graphic by the author.

A train might be marked as DNO for a variety of reasons, but one main cause can be attributed to not having enough cars available to make a full train. For instance if there are too few cars available to make up a train, that train is not able to run. Alternatively, WMATA might only have 1000 series cars available and no others to act as the head and rear of the train; thus, the train would not be able to run.

Before July 2014, the Orange Line averaged 18 DNO trains per month. When the Silver Line opened in July 2014, that number spiked fairly dramatically. Since then the Orange Line has averaged 45 DNO trains per month, and Vienna station itself hit a maximum of 50 DNO trains in the month of June 2015. The overall system average has increased from 40 DNO trains per month to 141.

When a train doesn't operate, it creates a gap in service averaging just over six minutes. So instead of waiting, say, six minutes for a train, customers have to wait up to 12 minutes. During that period the platform gets more crowded, and when the next train shows up, it has to carry a larger load.

The more crowded a train is, the longer it dwells in stations, which exacerbates the delay, and can cause bunching. Crowded trains can be more likely to be offloaded themselves as passengers hold the doors trying to get on and off. With the overall system averaging system averaging 7-8 DNO trains per day in June and July 2015, the delays can really start adding up.

So what's causing the number of DNO trains to spike?

There aren't enough train cars

There are several reasons why performance on the rail system is suffering, but the main item we can draw from this data is that the railcar spare ratio is too low.

WMATA does not currently have enough train cars to run the full system including the Silver Line. The first phase of the Silver Line requires 64 train cars to operate, which were to have been delivered before its opening. Today, only 32 of these cars are in revenue service.

WMATA says that the current system requires 954 train cars to operate at peak service and the agency has approximately 1,140 available for revenue service use. Metro plans for 24% of the total cars to be out of service for maintenance, spare, or unscheduled reasons, leaving 868 available. But with 954 cars required, that means the operating spare ratio is only 16% and sometimes even lower when more are pressed into service.

With fewer cars available to put into service when others break, we are more likely to see a domino effect of breakdowns. Fewer trains may be available to run at peak hours due to equipment constraints (and thus marked DNO, like when the 4000-series cars were taken out of service earlier this summer). In addition, each car is likely to have less available time for preventative maintenance meaning the chance of breakdown increases over time. To take a look at another part of the equation, the reliability of the railcars that Metro runs varies, the topic of discussion in a recent post.

While the data suggest WMATA doesn't yet have all the cars they need, help is slowly arriving. The fourth 7000 series train entered service on the Green line this past week, and more are coming, especially once the test/commissioning track near the Greenbelt station is finished. Once at least 64 of the new 7000 series cars are in service, we should start to see a tapering of car-related issues and on-time performance should start to increase again. For all those having to deal with train delays, we hold our baited breath for relief to come.

A modified version of this post ran earlier on Stephen's website. He tweets online about Metro at @MetroReasons.

Breakfast links: Slow down

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
If you build them: The annual Texas A&M traffic study says that our region has the worst traffic in the country. The authors suggest building more roads and that technology could help commuters choose the best routes each day. (Post)

Keeping kids safe: "Free-range" parent Danielle Meitiv says that the biggest danger to her kids walking alone in Silver Spring is traffic, not child predators. (Washingtonian)

Metro slows: Metro has placed speed restrictions on many sections of track following the derailment this month. The speed restrictions allow Metro to continue operations until they can inspect or repair the tracks, but do result in minor delays. (Post)

Don't stop: For one week, Metrobus will suspend nighttime stops at a bus stop where a non-fatal shooting occurred last week. It's unclear what Metro wants to accomplish by avoiding the stop. (Post)

From streetcar to monorail: Columbia Pike's civic association is considering a monorail-like transportation system in lieu of the cancelled streetcar line. Arlington will decide on an alternate transit plan for Columbia Pike next year. (ARLnow)

Electric merger rejected: The DC Public Service Commission rejected the proposed merger between Pepco and Exelon after deciding it would not be in the public interest for the electric utilities to merge. (WAMU)

Don't yield to the law: A San Francisco lawmaker wants to let cyclists treat stop signs like yield signs. State laws keep the city from making the practice legal, but they could pass a law to strongly discourage enforcement. (Streetsblog)

And...: Two Democratic senators want to add TSA screening for train travel following the foiled French attack. (The Hill) ... This family-budget calculator shows that DC is now the most expensive place in the country for a family of four. (CityPaper) ... To fight crime, Mayor Bowser wants to legalize stop-and-frisk for people on parole or probation. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 65

It's time for the sixty-fifth 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

This is a themed week.

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

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

Support Us