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The "forgiving highway" approach to traffic engineering holds that wider is safer when it comes to street design. After decades of adherence to these standards, American cities are now criss-crossed by streets with 12-foot wide lanes. As Walkable City author Jeff Speck argued in CityLab last year, this is actually terrible for public safety and the pedestrian environment.
The rate of side impact crashes is lowest on urban streets with lanes about 10.5 feet wide—
A new study reinforces the argument that cities need to reconsider lane widths and redesign streets accordingly. In a paper to be presented at the Canadian Institute of Traffic Engineers annual conference, author Dewan Masud Karim presents hard evidence that wider lanes increase risk on city streets.
Karim conducted a wide-ranging review of existing research as well as an examination of crash databases in two cities, taking into consideration 190 randomly selected intersections in Tokyo and 70 in Toronto.
Looking at the crash databases, Karim found that collision rates escalate as lane widths exceed about 10.5 feet.
Roads with the widest lanes—
In Toronto, where traffic lanes are typically wider than in Tokyo, the average crash impact speed is also 34 percent higher, Karim found, suggesting that wider lanes not only result in more crashes but in more severe crashes.
The "inevitable statistical outcome" of the "wider-is-safer approach is loss of precious life, particularly by vulnerable citizens," Karim concluded.
Is building a gondola from Georgetown to Rosslyn feasible? There's money in DC's budget for next year to look into the answer, and there are enough practical reasons to think a gondola might work to make it worth looking into.
The study, proposed by the Georgetown Business Improvement District to determine whether building an aerial gondola from the Rosslyn Metro stop to M Street in Georgetown, would cost $35,000. When considered as part of the $13 billion budget, which the DC Council adopted this week, the project and its impact are relatively tiny.
The gondola proposal has generated biting contempt from several quarters, but the criticism is misplaced. Given the possible benefits, we should absolutely study the possibility of constructing an aerial gondola between Rosslyn and Georgetown.
Where the gondola idea came from
As documented by the Post, the gondola idea is the brainchild of the Georgetown BID's CEO Joe Sternlieb. After seeing an aerial gondola in action in Portland, Oregon, Sternlieb became entranced with the idea of bringing this idea to Washington.
After taking charge at the BID, Sternlieb was quickly able to persuade all the relevant stakeholders that the idea was worth looking into. Two years ago, it took the form of a particularly eye-catching action item in the Georgetown 2028 long-term planning study, which the BID produced with significant community input. Funding the study is a significant step towards completing that action item.
The BID has raised $130,000 from donors and needs an additional $35,000 each from DC and Arlington to fund the anticipated $200,000 study. While Arlington has not officially approved its contribution, a county spokesperson stated that it was working towards it. (Full disclosure: I served on the steering committee of the Georgetown 2028 study).
Here's why some people hate the idea
From the beginning, the gondola proposal has attracted scorn from some transit advocates. The criticism essentially boils down to the following points:
- It's too expensive, and the transit service it provides wouldn't be enough to justify the cost.
- It's just a distraction from other less attention-grabbing transit projects, which would lose some funding to the gondola.
- The technology itself (and thus the project too) is nothing but "gadgetbahn," or new technology being sold as an improvement over what we currently have without actually offering any improvements.
The third point, however, is not entirely fair. By being able to easily traverse otherwise treacherous inclines, gondolas clearly provide transit capabilities that no other technology can. It only becomes "gadgetbahn" when it's being applied in the wrong situation.
Criticisms withstanding, the gondola is worth studying
Ultimately, each of these criticisms may be justified. But we won't know that for certain without the study.
Of course, you could apply that statement to any cockamamie plan. "How could we possibly know a jet pack share wouldn't work without studying it," skeptics might ask with muse. But there are enough reasons to believe a gondola could actually be worth it to justify a study to answer the question.
Here are those reasons:
- Gondolas are, relatively speaking, cheap and quick to build. Sternlieb very much views this mostly as a stop gap measure until Metrorail can be built to Georgetown. Rather than do nothing for 20-30 years as we wait for Metro, we could have this up and running in just a few years.
- A gondola would make for a quick ride from Georgetown to the Metro, and it'd be entertaining to boot.
- A gondola would eliminate the need for Georgetown University to run the GUTS bus between the campus and Rosslyn. This route serves over 700,000 riders a year, and the people who use it would would form the core of the gondola's ridership. That number would likely climb, though, as many students, workers and visitors would start using the route out of convenience. Commuters to and from Georgetown would also likely add significant ridership to the line. And tourists, of course, would likely flock to it.
- Yes, a bus-only lane from Rosslyn to Georgetown and then to Georgetown University would be cheaper and possibly as successful. But creating bus-only lanes through the heart of Rosslyn, across Key Bridge and down Canal Road is politically infeasible. DC cannot marshall the will power to construct successful bus lanes in corridors where doing so is a no-brainer. What chance is there that it could construct a successful multi-jurisdictional bus lane where the case is not as clear cut?
- Without bus lanes and absent a new subway line, there really isn't any other technology that can as easily connect people from Rosslyn to Georgetown and the university as a gondola would. Again, this is not proposed as a replacement of Metro, just a "temporary" measure as we wait several decades for Metro to be expanded.
- A gondola would hold the potential to become a tourist destination in and of itself.
- Unlike other alternatives, a gondola would likely attract funding support from wider sources, like Virginia, Georgetown University, and the BID itself.
The study now will almost certainly move forward. It's possible that the results will make it clear that a gondola isn't worth it, in which case Sternlieb and the BID would drop it and move on. But it's also possible it will show a gondola to be feasible, and at that point, we could have a fully-informed discussion to address each of the critics' points.
Roll your eyes if you must, but personally, I trust Sternlieb. As the man that was largely responsible for the creation of the successful Circulator bus system, he's earned the right to push the boundaries a bit.
A version of this post ran on The Georgetown Metropolitan.
Prince George's County leads the Washington region in pedestrian deaths, and it's behind when it comes to trails and streets that are safe and useful for people on foot and bike. To fix the problem, the county will soon hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and develop a bikeway plan.
News of the hire comes from Darrell B. Mobley, Director of the County's Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T). Mobley says his agency wants to facilitate bicycling.
More specifically, Mobley wants to make the county's bike network more usable. While Prince George's has a lot of trails and local streets that are perfect for bicycling, they aren't connected well enough for bicyclists to reach a destination without riding on more hazardous state and county roads. Mobley wants to create a bicycle network across the county using trails, bike lanes and safe streets.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and several county council members have urged DPW&T to hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator since Rushern Baker first became the county executive. The county posted the job this week, specifying that it's a Planner III position that will pay between $53,000 and $97,000 per year.
The coordinator will report to Victor Weissberg, the special assistant in the director's office who has long been responsible for representing the department on bike and pedestrian matters. According to Weissberg, the coordinator will have frequent access to both Mobley and Andre Issayans, DPW&T's Deputy Director.
Developing a bikeway plan is likely to be one of the first tasks for the new hire, says Weissberg.
The county's master plan of transportation shows where bike lanes and trails should be built in the very long run, but it does not address what will actually done or when. Weissberg says that creating a bikeway plan would probably require supplemental funding.
"When the county is ready, we will find the money," says Greg Billing, director of advocacy for WABA.
Weissberg is not sure whether DPW&T will create a formal bicycle plan or something more like an internal work plan. But he promises to share drafts with the bicycle community and others as the plan is formulated.
Does the new hire signal a substantive change in county policy, or just an institutional commitment?
When Mobley was a top official at the Maryland Department of Transportation, the State Highway Administration (SHA) issued a policy declaring that bicycles would be presumed to ride on all state highways where bicycles are not explicitly prohibited, and that SHA would make at least some effort to make bicyling safer. For example, roads might get signs that told drivers that bicycles may take up the full lane.
By contrast, DPW&T has stated that some roads are not part of the bicycle network, that cyclists use these roads at their own risk, and that no "use full lane" signs would go up on such roads because doing so would encourage other cyclists to ride on them.
Mobley says that he is not ready to endorse SHA's approach. He says that it is too soon to say that bicycles are part of the expected traffic mix on all county roads because he has not examined all of these roads. He wants to wait for the bike and pedestrian coordinator to come on board so that the county can adopt a position based on a reasoned analysis.
"Give us some time and we'll work through these challenges," says Mobley.
Cross-posted at the WABA blog.
On Tuesday, we featured the fifty-second issue of our "whichWMATA" series. This week, all five photos were guest submissions from reader Peter K.
We got 27 guesses this week. Ten of you got all five. Great work, Sand Box John, Andy L, Eric, Aman, Mike Plumb, MZEBE, Justin...., JamesDCane, FN, and Mr. Johnson!
Image 1: Cheverly
The first image shows the underside of the entrance to Cheverly station. At Cheverly, the Orange Line is sandwiched between the CSX freight line and the Amtrak Northeast Corridor. To enter the station, passengers first have to ascend to a bridge over the CSX tracks, which is home to the fare array. The bridge is somewhat distinctive, and we featured the station entrance in week 38. Seventeen of you figured it out.
Image 2: Pentagon
The second image was clearly the easiest, as all 27 of you got it right. It shows a train on the lower level of Pentagon station. This station has a split-level arrangement, which you can tell because of the wall on the right and the sign that indicates trains in the other direction are on a different level. And since there's signage for the Yellow Line, it can't be Rosslyn, so it's obviously Pentagon.
Image 3: Greenbelt
The third image shows the mezzanine skylights at Greenbelt station. They're located between the tracks and the offramp from the Beltway and provide natural light into the interior part of the station. We actually used this same feature, though from a very different angle, in week 1. Twenty-one of you guessed correctly.
Image 4: Vienna
The fourth image shows the south bus loop at Vienna. You should have been able to narrow this down to one of about ten stations because of the Fairfax Connector bus that's visible. This must be Vienna because of the new awning visible at bottom and the townhouses under construction in the distance. The awning is similar to one at West Falls Church, but that bus loop is not adjacent to a parking garage and is in a freeway median. We featured it in week 29. Twenty-two of you got this one right.
Image 5: Dupont Circle
The final image shows one of the elevators in the north (Q Street) mezzanine at Dupont Circle. Even if you've never seen this sign, you could figure this one out from the process of elimination. The sign indicates that this is a station on the Red Line and you can see a waffle vault. That narrows this to the six stations between Union Station and Dupont Circle.
The sign also says the elevator goes only to the Glenmont platform. That means this can't be an island platform station, which eliminates Union Station and Farragut North. And the arrangement of Gallery Place and Metro Center means that the elevators to the Red Line platforms aren't set into the vault in the mezzanine like this. That leaves Judiciary Square and Dupont Circle.
This can't be Judiciary Square because the elevators there don't stop in the mezzanine. They go straight from the street to the platform and each has a faregate on the platform. So this must be Dupont Circle. Sixteen of you did the math and got the right answer.
Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.
Thanks again to Peter K for submitting photos. If you think you have what it takes, email your photos to email@example.com.
DC's two-bar, three-star flag recently got some props for being distinguishable while also having a classic, simple look. A well-designed flag can serve as a rallying point for civic engagement. Our region bears some great flags, along with some that leave something to be desired.
You don't need to look hard to spot DC's flag around town. The flag is on display in lots of storefronts, and it has been a clear symbol of city campaigns for statehood. And for how many cities would a misrepresentation of its banner be a scandal, as was the case this fall when the cover of DC's voter registration guide displayed the flag upside down?
Many might question whether a flag misprint truly compares with all the other problems facing America's cities. The point, though, is that if people are taking pride in their city's flag, it's more likely that they'll engage meaningfully with issues like transit, green space and signage.
Here's what makes a great flag
So what makes DC's flag so great?
There's a whole group of flag enthusiasts ready to explain flag design. According to flag expert Ted Kaye, there are five general ingredients for designing a great flag:
- Keep it simple: The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
- Use meaningful symbolism: "The flag's images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
- Use two or three basic colors: Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
- No lettering or seals: Never use writing of any kind or an organization's seal.
- Be distinctive or be related: Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.
Some of our region's flags meet the bar. Others, not so much
Given those principles, it's easy to see why Washingtonians love their flag. (As far as the symbolism part is concerned, DCers might be interested to know that the red stars and bars are borrowed directly from George Washington's family coat of arms.)
The same ideas also explain why Marylanders love to flash their state flag, a pattern pulled from the coat of arms surrounding Cecilius Calvert, Maryland's founder. The flag is a popular pattern on local clothing, and can often be seen waving from the hands of fans at Orioles games. In fact, a 2001 survey by the National American Vexillological (i.e. flag) Association ranked Maryland's flag 4th best of all state and provincial flags on the continent. (DC ranked 8th.)
Unfortunately flag experts can't offer the same praise for Virginia's flag, which ranked 54 out of 72 on the Vexillological Association's list. Check VA's flag against Ted Kaye's principles, and it's clear why the flag ranked so low: the complicated seal, no focused choice of colors, and the fact that the flag bypasses all symbolism by literally writing out "Virginia."
How do other city flags in the region fare? Chalk Annandale's and Rockville's flags in the thumbs-up category. For flags that could use some love, consider Fairfax and Bowie. And while many county flags in the region settle for complicated seals slapped onto a rectangle, the Montgomery County flag sticks out nicely.
In case you're wondering if only governments with coats of arms can claim great flags, check out Chicago's, the lead example in Mars' TED Talk. The blue bars represent the local bodies of water such as Lake Michigan, while the red stars and their points symbolize different aspects of the city's history.
And for cities whose flags miss the design principles, Mars encourages you to show your love for your city anyway and brandish its flag. Or better yet, start a movement to design a new one.
You can search for your city or county flag here.
Governor Larry Hogan says Maryland can't afford the Purple Line. But as this chart shows, canceling the line would throw away billions of dollars, and save only a few million.
The chart illustrates where the money to build the Purple Line comes from. Purple boxes correspond to federal funding, green boxes are the private sector, and yellow boxes are from Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The blue boxes are the only money coming from the State of Maryland.
There are a total of 245.5 boxes on the chart, representing the Purple Line's total cost of $2.45 billion. Out of those 245.5 boxes, only 74 are state-funded blue. And out of those 74 blue boxes, 16 of them are in the far-right column, indicating money that's already spent. Another 22 boxes are half yellow, representing the requested county contribution. That leaves only 33 boxes, representing $333 million in remaining funding that is solely the state's responsibility.
In other words, Governor Hogan is holding Purple Line hostage over 13% of its cost.
And it may be even less than that. If Transportation Secretary Rahn's proposal to cut costs by 10% can become a reality, that would eliminate 23 of the remaining 33 blue state boxes, leaving only 10.
If that happens, Maryland's state cost to build the Purple Line could drop to as low as $100 million.
This is why cancelling a project would be a radical move. It would sacrifice billions of dollars in investment as well as spite both local opinion and the business community just to scavenge less than 23% of its total value.
This graphic breakdown comes from two primary sources: the Federal Transit Administration's November 2014 Profile and the The leftmost column shows the upfront costs to the state and counties. This is money that could theoretically go to other state or county transportation projects.
The second column covers the non-transferable TIFIA loan that a private-sector partner is undertaking with federal assistance. Maryland doesn't get the benefit of this money unless it goes toward the Purple Line. The last column shows other money Governor Hogan would be walking away from if he cancels the line. That includes a $900 million grant from the federal government, $81 million from the private partner, and $184.7 million already spent in planning and design. It doesn't include the billions in new economic activity that the line would spur. None of this money is transferable to other Maryland project.
In addition, the sunk costs include $26.6 that the federal government has already spent on the Purple Line. The state may be liable for that if Hogan cancels the line.
The leftmost column shows the upfront costs to the state and counties. This is money that could theoretically go to other state or county transportation projects.
The second column covers the non-transferable TIFIA loan that a private-sector partner is undertaking with federal assistance. Maryland doesn't get the benefit of this money unless it goes toward the Purple Line.
The last column shows other money Governor Hogan would be walking away from if he cancels the line. That includes a $900 million grant from the federal government, $81 million from the private partner, and $184.7 million already spent in planning and design. It doesn't include the billions in new economic activity that the line would spur. None of this money is transferable to other Maryland project.
In addition, the sunk costs include $26.6 that the federal government has already spent on the Purple Line. The state may be liable for that if Hogan cancels the line.
Metro recently released data showing where Metrorail riders go from each station, and as one of our commenters noted, the most-frequented destination for people traveling from Anacostia is... Anacostia. That's because Coast Guard employees and contractors use the Anacostia Metro as a pedestrian tunnel.
As commenter Andy pointed out, when a passenger enters at Anacostia during midday, afternoon peak, and evenings on weekdays, they're most likely to exit from the same station. Not only that, but as the chart above shows, entering and exiting at the same station is more common at Anacostia than at any other station in the system. Why?
At St. Elizabeths, where the Coast Guard's headquarters moved in 2013, the National Capital Planning Commission's parking policy allows one parking space for every four employees. That means the Coast Guard is limited to only 931 parking spaces for its 4000 federal employees and numerous additional contractor employees.
Unlike at NIH, the St. Elizabeths campus is over a mile walk from the closest Metro, there are no nearby parking lots, and street parking is limited.
The A4 bus, which leaves from the Anacostia Metro bus bay, runs directly to the campus. So many people who work at St. Elizabeths park in the 800-space garage at the Anacostia Metro, tap into the system at the garage entrance so they can walk through the station, and tap out at the exit closer to the bus bay. From there, they take the A4 to work.
It's not hard to understand why commuters might opt to use the Metro station as a pedestrian walkway. While the walk down Howard Road from the parking garage to the bus bay is less than a quarter of a mile, it requires commuters to walk an empty stretch of road, under I-295 and across a highway on and off ramp.
The accidental pedestrian tunnel won't be around for much longer. In the 2014 Coast Guard Transportation Act, Congress overrode the NCPC. Between now and 2017, the Coast Guard will be required to allocate an additional 1,000 parking spaces at St. Elizabeths.
- Beyond Metro, there's no big idea for transit in DC anymore
- Yes, it's worth looking into a gondola in DC
- Canceling the Purple Line would cost more than it would save
- Incomes are rising in the District, but not for people born here
- DC has an awesome city flag. Here’s why that matters
- Maryland plans new station at BWI, and other projects to run more trains
- Coast Guard employees are using the Anacostia Metro station in a weird way
by Peter K on Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 52
by Alexandria Biker on Yes, it's worth looking into a gondola in DC
by slowlane on DC has an awesome city flag. Here’s why that matters
by Ryan on Yes, it's worth looking into a gondola in DC