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DC is telling us more about blocked sidewalks and car crashes, and that should mean safer streets

DC has created a map that shows where it has issued permits to block sidewalks and bike lanes for construction projects, and soon, the city will begin releasing more detailed data about where vehicle collisions have happened. Both will tell us more about where in the city pedestrians and bicyclists are at risk, which will make it easier to make those areas safer.

A closed sidewalk. Photo by Jacob Mason.

The map went up in August and is updated daily based on public space permits that DDOT issues.

Map from DDOT.

On the map, the green squares are where a utility company has a permit to block the sidewalk or bike lane, and the yellow triangles are where one has applied for a permit. The red triangles represent permits for DDOT contractors to work in the right of way, taking away parking for a temporary span of time. Orange squares mean there's a permit for a block party, purple squares are for mobile cranes, and red squares are for special events.

Jonathan Rogers, a policy analyst who reports to DDOT director Leif Dormsjo, said, "Obviously, DDOT can't be everywhere inspecting work zones, so to the extent residents are checking the public traffic control plan... we can work together make sure developers are keeping the streets and sidewalks safe."

We'll soon know more about car crashes around the District, too

DDOT will also soon begin publishing monthly reports with information about vehicle collisions, including the ward, block or intersection, the type of vehicle involved, the Police Service Area where the crash occured, the number of people killed or injured, and why it happened.

Some of this data, like the date and time of crashes and the geographic X/Y coordinates for the location, is available now in an open format, but it's much more sparse than what's on the way.

"This open data is a matter of transparency," Rogers said. "People have a right to know where traffic injuries and fatalities are occurring in their city. If residents do nothing more than discover the safety trends for their own neighborhood, that is part of good, open governance."

Rogers also points to how the data can be crunched in a variety of ways that DDOT may not have thought of.

"We want to tap into the expertise among the many data scientists out there, the civic hackers, coders, etc. and see what kind of correlations they may discover. Perhaps they can identify locations in need of urgent improvements that DDOT may not have detected."

Before DDOT starts issuing those reports, however, it has to be sure that they do it in a way that doesn't disclose personal information about victims that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) doesn't allow.

"We'll continue to publish the crash and violation data in the open data format in the meantime," said Rogers.


Breakfast links: Decision day for late-night service

Photo by m01229 on Flickr.
The fate of late night: The WMATA Board is voting today on the schedule and duration of late-night service cuts. Board chairman Jack Evans wants late-night service to be restored in one year. (WTOP)

Political theater and the WMATA Board: Virginia Governor McAuliffe called out the WMATA Board for wasting time on political theater after Board member Corbett Price suggested that Metro should halt Silver Line construction. (Post)

Crowdsourcing accessibility: A new app, Project Sidewalk, uses crowdsourcing to map the accessibility of DC's streets. Users have mapped about 40 percent of the District so far. (Technical.lyDC)

A breath of fresh air: Smoking will be prohibited in public housing nationwide. The new federal rule goes into effect next year. (NYTimes, Corbin S.)

Westbard power struggle: The latest renderings of the Westbard redevelopment plan revealed that it will have above-ground utility lines. Only Montgomery's central business districts require underground utility lines, and the planning department says they "heard loud and clear" that residents consider the area suburban. (Bethesda Beat)

Phone theft is up: While the overall number of crimes reported on Metrorail and bus is down, pickpocketing (mostly of cellphones) increased 33%, and crimes in parking garages jumped up 47%. (WTOP)

From Fannie Mae to condos: Fannie Mae's 60-year-old building on Wisconsin Ave NW will be restored and transformed into a shopping center and luxury condos. The company is moving to new headquarters in downtown DC. (UrbanTurf)

Mass transit on mass media: Entertainment's depiction of mass transit in the past has been less than flattering, but new TV shows are making it a part of characters' lives. Could this help transit systems get the attention of policy makers? (NPR)

Fossil fuel failings: Pipelines are the supposed to be the safest method of transporting fossil fuels across the US, but there have been over 9,000 serious incidents in 30 years, with 548 deaths and 2,576 injuries. Is this really the best we can do? (CityLab)

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WMATA recommended express bus service along 14th Street NW four years ago. Is it time to make it happen?

The buses that run up and down 14th Street NW are among the most used in the region, but they move slowly and don't come often enough. WMATA suggested adding express service a few years ago, but that has yet to happen.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The 52, 53, 54 run along 14th Street, from Takoma to downtown DC. Many people use the bus to commute from neighborhoods like U Street, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Brightwood to downtown and back. Approximately 15,000 riders use these buses on a typical weekday, and according to some measures, they're among the most used in DC.

According to data from DC's Office of Planning, a quarter of the new residents who moved into DC in the last five years reside in the area served by the 14th Street buses, and from 2011 to 2015, the number of businesses soared from 7,371 all the way to 13,992. Many of these new residents and business employees don't own cars and rely on transit and other transportation services.

But relative to how many people would use them, the 14th Street buses are slow and don't run frequently enough. They stop quite often—at every corner during some stretches. For example, if a rider gets on the 54 at Buchanan Street NW and off at I Street downtown, it takes 26 stops. By contrast, that's three times more stops than than the S9 buses, the express buses that run down 16th Street. More anecdotally, a neighbor of mine recently waited over 20 minutes for a bus during rush hour.

Image from WMATA.

Buses also get caught in snarled traffic on the stretch of 14th Street next to the mall where Target and Best Buy are. In this area, buses don't have signal priority and lots of people double park without penalty.

Slow moving busses and not enough of them are especially acute problems right now because Beach Drive is closed. Many Upper Northwest residents can't use Rock Creek Parkway as a commuting route and this has pushed many more riders onto the bus.

Also, as a result of the problems with the 14th Street buses, many who live along 14th actually go out of their way to use the buses along 16th. That just leads to packed buses and overcrowding on those lines. Improving 14th street bus service would benefit those riding the the S1, S2, S4, S9, 70 and 79 by lessening crowding on 16th and Georgia express buses which would also reduce clustering.

WMATA recommended express bus service on 14th

These issues aren't new—WMATA actually teamed with DDOT to study 14th Street buses in 2011 and 2012. One of the biggest conclusions was that the corridor needs express service. Express busses run the same route as local buses but stop at fewer stops. By skipping stops, they are able to move faster. In exchange for walking one or two extra blocks to the stop, riders can get where they are headed much more quickly.

The study included a rider survey, rider focus groups (I participated in one of those), and a series of public meetings. The study team also gathered data from interviews with Metrobus operators and subsequent interviews to discuss potential service proposals and preliminary recommendations.

The study concluded that express bus service on the 14th Street line (it called express service "limited-stop bus service") would benefit riders:

The advantages to this proposal are that this service would not only enhance route capacity, but would also improve service frequencies at bus stops served by the limited stop service (service frequency at local-only stops would not be impacted). It would also reduce travel times for passengers able to utilize the bus stops that would be served by the limited stop service. The primary disadvantage is that this proposal would likely incur additional operating costs.
WMATA also recommended lengthening the 53 Route to terminate at G street (it currently ends at McPherson Square), running more service north of Colorado Avenue NW, and extending service to the Waterfront area, as well as giving riders better information, doing more to enforce parking restrictions, using articulated buses and training bus operators specifically for the lines they drive.

The key recommendation for express service is discussed in detail beginning on page 33 of here.

According to the report, making these changes would be relatively inexpensive (about $1.25 million). The report also says they could generate more DC tax revenue in increased commerce than they'd cost to fund. These buses are needed for longtime residents and new residents alike. This would be a huge (and cheap) win for DC.

Though improving this line with more, better service was a good idea in 2012, it's an exceptionally good idea now. Express buses along 14th Street would mean more people could travel the important corridor by bus.

More specifically, it'd mean more frequent service at key stops and shorter travel times for riders, smaller headways, and better quality. This would be a huge boon to those commuting or traveling longer distances (such as to Walter Reed). If the service proved successful, even more resources could go toward it over time.

The city as a whole would benefit from an investment in better bus service along 14th Street, as it'd lead to better employment opportunities for people seeking jobs, less traffic congestion on important north-south streets, and a broadening tax base.


Metro now has an official plan for getting better in 2017. It's called Back2Good.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has released the agency's plans for fixing its safety, reliability, and finance issues in 2017. Metro is calling the plan "Back2Good."

Wiedefeld at the National Press Club. Photo by Adam Tuss on Twitter.

Speaking at the National Press Club this afternoon, Wiedefeld outlined the plan. Highlights of the initiatives include:

  • Preventing near misses by reducing red signal overruns.
  • Completing work on schedule for installing the public radio system and activating cellular service in the tunnels as work is completed.
  • Reducing delays and offloads from track defects and railcar failures by 25% in 2017, through means including accelerating the retirement of the oldest and most unreliable cars, commissioning 50 new trains, implementing targeted repair campaigns of defective components on the legacy fleet, and rebalancing the rail yards to avoid missing terminal dispatches.
  • Power washing, scrubbing, and polishing all 91 stations annually instead of every four years.
  • Further reducing expenses by eliminating a total of 1,000 positions.
  • Balancing the budget and securing regional governance and funding solutions.
Read the full details in Back2Good white paper released by WMATA here. What do you think of Back2Good? Tell us in the comments.


This map shows where the most bus riders live and how close they are to Metro

High population densities are generally considered necessary for frequent and direct bus service. However, not all dense populations have high bus ridership. I recently created a map of the population density of people who commute to work by bus in the DC area.

This map shows the density of people in the region who reported that the longest part of their commute was by bus. The green regions around Metro stations are half-mile walksheds. The darker the red color in the census tract, the more people there take the bus.

To create the map, I used the Census's 2014 American Community Survey's data on how many people in each census block group reported that they made the longest part of their commute to work by bus. It's important to recognize some limitations to this data: in particular, it completely excludes non-working individuals who still make many or most trips by bus. Furthermore, it excludes anyone who uses a bus to get to a Metro station that's too far to walk, and then uses Metrorail for a longer trip to their job.

In addition to the ACS data, I plotted half-mile walksheds around Metrorail stations, using a GIS shapefile provided by WMATA's PlanItMetro blog back in 2014 (unfortunately, this shapefile predates the Silver Line and so doesn't have walksheds for those stations). These walksheds allow us to compare areas of high bus ridership to the areas in which residents have a reasonably short walk to a Metro station.

In some places, lots of people take the bus even though they live near Metrorail

It is interesting to note that some of the highest bus-rider densities in the area are in DC's Mid-City, the neighborhoods from Shaw to Petworth that are in the vicinity of Green and Yellow Line stations. It is likely that these area's proximity to downtown and the fact that they are served by very frequent bus routes (the 14th Street, 16th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines) makes the bus a more convenient, as well as cheaper, alternative to Metrorail.

Chart by Dan Henebery.

But more predictably, most big groups of bus riders don't live near Metrorail

Unsurprisingly, the high density of bus riders along the Silver Spring-to-downtown Metrobus lines continues north of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station, where the corridor is not served by rail. As can be seen in the above chart, the 14th Street and 16th Street lines are Metro's busiest bus lines, and the Georgia Avenue line is its fifth-busiest.

Other than in Mid-City, though, the areas of highest bus rider density tend to be in corridors that are not well served by Metrorail. Within the District, high densities of bus riders can be found along the H Street-Benning Road line—Metro's third-highest-ridership bus line—in the largest area of the original L'Enfant City without Metrorail service.

Like bus riders in the northern Georgia Avenue/14th Street corridor, many of the bus riders East of the River live in areas not well served by Metrorail. A cluster of bus-riders on Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of American University is also some distance from Metro stations. The lack of major bus routes in this area suggests to me that they are mostly students riding university shuttles.

Outside of the District, lower population densities, a less transit-friendly built environment, and less-frequent bus service naturally leads to lower population densities of bus riders. However, high densities of bus riders are found along the Columbia Pike corridor in southern Arlington County, which has been the site of proposed rail lines since the original laying-out of Metro.

The Langley Park area, at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard on the border between Prince George's and Montgomery Counties is also home to a large cluster of bus riders. Metro's sixth-highest-ridership bus route, the circumfrential Greenbelt-Twinbrook line, runs along University Boulevard in this area, which is also served by a number of other Metrobus and RideOn bus routes. The new Takoma-Langley Transit Center, serving these routes, is scheduled to open at the University Boulevard/New Hampshire Avenue intersection in the next several months, and the area is also slated to be home to several Purple Line stations.

It is interesting to note that the White Oak/Calverton area, at the intersection of Columbia Pike and New Hampshire Avenue in eastern Montgomery County, is home to perhaps the highest density of bus riders outside the Beltway. This area is also an employment center, with the FDA's White Oak research campus on the site of the old Navy Surface Warfare Center.


More on why buying your first home in the DC region is so hard

For first-time homebuyers, saving up for a down payment or taking on another loan to buy a house can be all but impossible. But those aren't the only big challenges to buying a house. Here's how competing against buyers who can afford not to use a mortgage, risk having to pay for unexpected repairs after making a deal, or simply offer more than the highest amount you're willing to pay can mean more barriers for first-time homebuyers.

Photo by are you my rik? on Flickr.

Recently, the Washington Post reported that home prices around DC reached their highest levels in ten years thanks in part to low inventory, which means more bidders for fewer houses. And the low end of the market—the part within reach for many first-time buyers—is the most competitive.

Before my wife and I bought in East Silver Spring last March, I felt like we'd never be able to save enough for our first house. Saving for a down payment--budgeting every penny, turning down dinners out with friends, and moving further away from work and public transportation for cheaper rent--was daunting. Where we once thought that saving enough money was the only major hurdle to owning our own home, we soon discovered that the down payment was only the beginning.

You don't have to save 20 percent, but you do have to compete against those who have more cash on hand

A number of mortgage options exist for people like us who have good credit and a decent income, but who see a 20 percent down payment as an impossibility due to high rent and a lot of student loans.

Starting our search in Hyattsville, we knew we would be up against people making all-cash offersin other words, waiving their "mortgage contingency" and telling a seller they could pay the purchase price without getting a loan from a bank.

Photo by Violette79 on Flickr.

All-cash offers are appealing to the seller for three reasons. First, the seller doesn't have to worry about the buyer getting turned down for a mortgage. Second, the seller doesn't have to worry about the house appraising for less than the amount of the offer, which would cause the bank to reject the sale price. Third, with no loan for a bank to underwrite, buyers can close more quickly.

Though recent data show the proportion of all-cash offers has decreased in Prince George's County, in 2015 they still made up a quarter of all offers, give or take, in Prince George's, Montgomery County, and DC.

To minimize the advantages of an all-cash offer relative to what we'd be able to offer, my wife and I got preapproved for a loan with a community bank. Preapproval reduced the risk that our financing would fall through. We chose a community bank (instead of a credit union or a larger bank, like Wells Fargo) because it did its underwriting in-house. With fewer players involved, we would be able to close in far less time than would take other financed buyers.

Having gotten pre-approval, we found a real estate agent and began touring houses. After seeing ten houses or so, found one we were ready to make an offer on.

Escalation clauses advantage buyers who have more money for a down payment or who have been preapproved for a higher mortgage

An escalation clause is a section you can add to your offer that says your bid will automatically go up (to an amount you decide, of course) if someone else bids more. These can seem helpful for first time home buyers, as they allow you to make your offer competitive while ensuring that you bid the least amount possible to win.

In our first offer, we set an escalation amount--$1,000 over the next highest offer--and a ceiling price. Our ceiling was limited by our preapproval and how much money we had on hand to cover the larger down payment.

Ultimately, we lost to a more attractive bid. We felt like we had done everything we could, but that somehow, the next offer we wrote would have to be even more competitive.

Photo by Vicki on Flickr.

Removing the inspection contingency is a risky strategy for a buyer who can't afford unexpected repairs after closing

Typically, offers include an inspection contingency to make sure that the house is sound and that big ticket items, like the roof, don't have to be replaced immediately. After a home inspector writes her report and before closing, the buyer and seller can negotiate the cost and responsibility for repairing any issues.

The inspection contingency protects the buyer and allows her to walk away if the seller won't address critical fixes. Like the mortgage contingency, some people waive the home inspection to make their bids more competitive.

Neither my wife nor I wanted to forgo an inspection because we knew it would take time to rebuild our savings after closing and we wouldn't be able to afford a large repair right away. With our budget, we were looking at older houses that would likely need something fixed. Someone planning to flip a house wouldn't have these concerns.

We ended up waiving the inspection contingency after all, but only because the sellers let us inspect the house before we put in an offer. If it had revealed major issues, we wouldn't even have written one, instead eating the cost of the inspection. Luckily for us, the house didn't need any major repairs, and we were able to write a winning offer.

Even if different mortgage options make it easier to save for a down payment, the risks others are willing to write into their offers makes it hard for first-time buyers to be competitive.

In some cases, competing homebuyers may be more able to waive the mortgage contingency or the inspection contingency and shoulder the risk of coming up with the full cost of the house or major repairs. In a bidding war, people with more money up front may be able to escalate their bid to a higher price. Each of these may be more appealing to a seller than a traditional offer that is dependent on a mortgage or a home inspection.

I looked for data on how often homebuyers use escalation clauses and waive inspection contingencies, but couldn't find any. Have you used them, or lost out to to them? Share in the comments below.


Breakfast links: Should DC block the Silver Line?

Photo by Ryan Stavely on Flickr.
No money, no Silver Line?: Corbett Price, a DC member of the WMATA Board, suggested DC block the Silver Line's Phase 2 unless Virginia agrees to dedicated Metro funding. ... There are four main plans to save Metro, including dedicated funding, reforming the board, and more, but will any of them gain consensus? (Post)

Trim late night just temporarily?: The WMATA Board is ready to strike a deal on the unpopular plans for late-night service cuts. Board Chair Jack Evans says he could accept shorter hours as a one year plan instead of a permanent one. (DCist)

Metro needs billions: Metro estimates that it will need $25 billion over ten years for power and lighting fixes and replacing old equipment. This is all on top of the current year's (already difficult) budget. (WTOP)

Shelter limits: Mayor Bowser has proposed a bill to restrict the city's homeless services to District residents and to stop offering emergency shelter space to those with other housing available, citing the huge cost to the city. (WAMU)

Fight for 15: Workers at National Airport held a rally and authorized a strike vote in support of raising the minimum wage. This comes on the same day as a planned strike by Uber drivers in other cities. (DCist, Post)

New transportation top brass: Donald Trump named Elaine Chao, former Secretary of Labor, as his administration's Secretary of Transportation. We previously considered what the Trump presidency might look like for transportation. (Post, GGWash)

Final ruling delayed for United: DC's Zoning Commission will hold off on a decision on the new DC United stadium until December after hearing residents' health concerns and worries about a lack of parking and transit options. (NBC4, UrbanTurf)

Dupont building rejected: Plans for a Dupont Circle apartment building are on hold after the DC Historic Preservation Review Board said the building would leave a one-story landmark gas station in the shadows. (WCP)

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7 things we learned from this year’s reader survey

Back in September, we asked readers to fill out a survey to help us get to know who makes up the Greater Greater Washington community, learn how and why they read, and identify areas for improvement. 1,041 readers completed the survey. This is what we learned and what we (and you!) can do with this information.

Text analysis of respondents' open-ended comments.

1. You appreciate the content and think we should keep up the good work!

Overall, your feedback was positive and supportive and many of you told us to "keep up the good work." i

Our goal is to publish at least 18 posts on normal weeks (when there isn't a holiday or another reason for us to run a light schedule). Most of our posts are around 700 words long.

The overwhelming majority of respondents thought that the current number of posts and post length are "just right" (93% and 98%, respectively.) So, we'll likely keep up that frequency and length based on your feedback.

Generally, most respondents (71%) felt that the geographic focus of our coverage was on point, as well.

Responses to current coverage of specific geographic areas in the region.

But, nearly a third (32%) want to see more coverage of areas east of the Anacostia River in DC. Respondents would also like to see more coverage of places in Northern Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland.

If you live in or know about urbanism issues in these places, please consider writing for us!

2. You don't have a clear desire to see GGWash experiment with other forms of media

Staff and the editorial board have been wondering if we should test out new forms of content other than the short, written blog posts published on our website that readers have come to expect from GGWash. We wanted to hear readers' thoughts, specifically about podcasts, videos, and printed materials.

Generally readers were ambivalent about whether GGWash should produce or feature other forms of content. Nearly a quarter (24%) recommended that we "definitely" produce or feature podcasts, but about the same number (23%) said we should "definitely not" spend our time on podcasts. You had similar thoughts about videos; very few readers seemed to think that printed materials would be a valuable use of our resources.

Especially since readers' feedback was inconclusive, we're going to explore new media further to learn what it would take to produce regular audio or visual content.

3. A personal interest in urbanism and a desire to be more knowledgeable about your community brings you to GGWash on a regular basis

The majority of respondents (62%) read the blog every day. Readers seem to be most driven to GGWash because of a personal interest in the topics we cover and a desire to be more knowledgeable about what's going on in their community and the region.

Most of our readers have been reading for years. More than one quarter of you (26%) have been reading for more than five years. Thanks for sticking with us! But we're still attracting new readers. We hope that the 11% of you who have been reading for less than a year will become long-time readers, too!

It's worth noting that these data points are likely skewed in favor of frequent, committed, long-time readers. For example, since the survey was only open for a couple of weeks, people who read less often were probably less likely to see the survey opportunity. Similarly, people who have been reading for less than one year may not have been as inclined to complete the survey as those who have been reading for years and feel a deeper connection and commitment to the site.

4. Comments are an important part of GGWash and you want to see them improved

In an era when many media outlets are shutting down their comments sections, GGWash is committed to keeping a respectful, safe space for constructive dialogue about the issues facing our region. So, we wanted to learn what motivates people to comment and if there is anything we can do to encourage more people to comment.

Most people told us they read comments. Half of all respondents read the comments occasionally, when they're "very interested in a post." About a third (36%) read the comments more frequently. The remaining 14% of respondents rarely or never read the comments.

Only a small percentage of readers actually post comments, though. The 278 people who indicated that they comment "frequently" or "occasionally " do so for a variety of reasons ranging from a desire to provide additional information ("educational"), to an intention to poke holes in the post's arguments ("contrarian").

Among readers who don't comment, some (23%) would consider commenting if we made it easier to reply directly to others' comments. Good news! Our new site will allow this, so we hope new voices will come forward in the comments once we roll out the redesign.

5. You are aware of our political endorsements and advocacy coverage, even if you don't engage in it

Most respondents (71%) are aware that GGWash makes political endorsements. Of those, nearly half (49%) indicate that our endorsements have influenced their decision about who to vote for. Given that our survey went out shortly after the contested primary race between Vincent Orange, David Garber, and Robert White, many respondents referenced our endorsements in this race.

Text analysis of respondents' comments about which GGWash endorsements influenced their vote..

The majority of respondents (71%) felt that GGWash is doing just the right amount of advocacy on the blog. Only 11% indicated that they think we're doing too much.

Turning awareness into action has been trickier, though. Of the 71% of respondents who have seen our calls to action on the blog, only 27% have actually participated by sending an email or sharing information.

GGWash's mission is to build informed and engaged residents of the Washington region. We give you information, analysis and opportunities to take action to influence decisions. It's up to you participate!

6. You help keep our local and national economies running

GGWash readers are a well-educated group of people. Nearly 93% of respondents are college graduates and have either started or completed a graduate degree!

You put your skills and education to work in a variety of jobs that keep our communities, local and national, moving forward. Approximately one third of respondents are employed in government jobs, those focusing on computers or technology, or work in business or finance. The remaining respondents hold a wide variety of jobs from transportation, urban planning, and engineering, to education, social sciences and nonprofits. Our readers are lawyers, caregivers, journalists, artists, students, and economists.

Nearly half (44%) of readers work in a job that is focused nationally, while a quarter spend most of their professional time working on local (13%) or regional issues (14%).

7. Our readership is diverse in some ways, but more homogenous in others

Our readers span generations, but nearly half (47%) of readers are under 35. Many of you have spent decades in the Washington region, while others are relative newcomers to the area.

Most readers identify as Caucasian or White (83%), while 5.4% identify as Black, 3.5% as Hispanic or Latino, and 3.3% as East Asian. Nearly 7% of respondents preferred not to respond to this question. More men (71%) responded to this survey than women (25%) or gender non-conforming individuals (.7%).

Although our readers reflect a variety of different backgrounds, we would like our readership to better reflect the demographics of the region. We have some ideas for expanding our readership in the coming year, but we'd love to hear your thoughts, too.

You can help us keep up the good work and make improvements!

These survey results generally suggest that you think we're doing good work and appreciate GGWash as a resource. But, there are some ways we can improve.

Greater Greater Washington staff and the editorial board, can keep us moving forward, but we can't do it without you. Here are two important ways you can help us make Greater Greater Washington...greater!

  • Become a contributor and provide the coverage that you wish you saw on the blog. Be one of the voices you think is missing from the discussion on GGWash, particularly if you share our love for the region and desire to make it better, but don't think you reflect the names, gender, and/or races and ethnicities you find on the blog. Your voice is welcome, too! Need a hand getting started? Come to Wednesday's blogging workshop in Arlington! RSVP here.
  • Make a donation so we can keep bringing you a reliable stream of information about the Washington, DC region. Even though our content is written by volunteers, it costs money to keep the site going. From paying our staff editor, to covering for hosting and server costs, your donations help keep the site running. Will you make a donation today? It's #givingtuesday after all!
Thank you to the more than 1,000 readers who completed the survey! Pat Q., Reema G., and Timothy B. were the lucky winners of a $25 Starbucks gift card, which we offered as an incentive for completing the survey. And, a huge thanks to volunteer contributor Mike Lloyd for analyzing the data!


Metro staff recommend closing at 11:30 weekdays, 1 am on weekends

WMATA staff are recommending that after SafeTrack ends, the Metro system adopt a new service schedule that ends at 11:30 pm Monday through Thursday and 1 am Friday and Saturday and runs between 8 am and 11 pm on Sunday. Reducing late night service will provide an additional eight hours per week for maintenance.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Moving forward with this plan will save Metro millions in operating costs, approximately $2 million of which will be spent on new late-night bus service. The WMATA Board will vote on whether to make it official at its December 15 meeting.

Late-night rail recap

We first heard about potential reductions to late-night service after SafeTrack in July. At first, there were three proposals for cutting service, but in September, a fourth emerged. Unfortunately, all left riders facing relatively low levels of service, even when considering that they came with additional bus service. Accordingly, the public reaction (including that from myself) to these proposals was to demand a different choice set, with better service options.

WMATA proactively responded to many of these comments by providing more data to make the case for increased—and daily, not reactive and intermittent—maintenance time. Agency staff are now recommending that the board adopt Proposal 3, which keeps the system open until 1 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Image from WMATA.

Survey says...

On Monday, WMATA released an analysis of all the public input collected during October, focusing particularly on the findings of a rider survey that garnered almost 15,000 responses in 25 days. The analysis slices and dices the survey responses based on the self-reported demographics of the survey respondents, including race and income.

The staff analysis found that all of the proposed service cut alternatives would have a disproportionate burden on the low-income population that makes up 13% of Metrorail riders, confirming the rationale behind much of the outcry by riders and elected officials during the comment period.

Proposals 3 and 4 were also found to have a disproportionate impact on the minority populations that compose a whopping 45% of Metrorail riders. These impact calculations are based on existing ridership patterns, and do not take into account whether some trips may be more flexible or discretionary than others for riders—all trips are weighted equally. Public input can help illuminate these subtleties.

Image from WMATA.

The riders who participated in the survey, across demographics, expressed a strong preference for Proposal 3, which preserves service after midnight on Friday and Saturday. WMATA staff concluded that "although Proposal 3 creates a disparate impact and disproportionate burden and there appears to be a less discriminatory alternative before staff considered public input...practically speaking, no less discriminatory alternative exists because minority and low-income populations overwhelmingly prefer Proposal 3."

Clearly, public input had a substantive influence on the outcome of the staff recommendation. By creating a structured process to receive input through the survey, WMATA was able to gather real information about rider preferences that they were able to incorporate into the decision-making process in a meaningful way.

Whose input?

Is WMATA collecting and interpreting public input in an appropriate and equitable way? It is worth noting that only 30% of the survey responses were collected through in-station surveys that targeted the ridership hours that would be impacted by the service reduction.

For example, my home Metrorail station, West Hyattsville, was surveyed only once, during a Saturday morning shift that yielded the biggest Spanish-language response of any shift by a factor of 3. But out of 14,975 surveys, WMATA collected only 314 Spanish-language responses in total.

It would be interesting—and potentially important—to know if the response results or respondent demographics differed for the online vs. in-station survey groups. If so, WMATA should consider placing more weight on the survey results that most clearly represent riders that will be impacted by proposed service changes.


Metro's "pick your own price" pass will become permanent. Here are 3 ways it can continue to grow.

WMATA's SelectPass, new this year, is a good deal for almost anyone who rides Metro daily. It's been a pilot program, but soon will likely be permanent.

For some of these folks, riding Metro may have gotten a lot cheaper when SelectPass came around. Now, it's going to stay that way. Photo by Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr.

The pass lets you select a fare level (say, $3.25), pay one fixed price for the month, and then get unlimited rides that cost that amount or less. For more expensive rides, you only pay the amount beyond your set level. Our handy calculator helps you figure out what level is the best deal for you.

According to a presentation from WMATA, Metro now sells 3,700 SelectPasses a month, compared to just 400-1,000 a month for the long-standing unlimited rail pass which did not offer various price levels.

98% of pass users rate the pass at least a 7 out of 10. Low-income riders are even more likely to use the pass, representing 18% of pass users but just 12.8% of overall Metro riders. And WMATA estimates that the pass has slightly increased revenue while increasing ridership even more—just the point of a pass like this.

Michael Perkins has been pushing the idea for this pass since 2009 after getting the idea from Seattle's ORCA; the transit in that area, as with WMATA, has a variety of fare levels that makes the simple one-price-fits all pass not work.

You can currently get the pass at a fare level of any 25¢ increment from $2.25 to $4.00, plus the $5.90 max fare. Metro plans to add fare levels from $4.00 to $5.75 as well if the (quite old) faregate computers can handle it.

Beyond this, there are a few ways Metro could work to further improve this pass:

Make it easier to get with employer benefits

Many riders get transit through their employers, either where the employer pays for some transit fare for free, or as a pre-tax deducation from the employee's paycheck. Unfortunately, it can be a pain to get a Metro SelectPass this way if the employer or payroll personnel are not helpful or knowledgeable.

Employers set up benefits through a special (not very user-friendly) WMATA website. To get a pass, the benefits administrator has to specially designate the money for a pass rather than to go on your SmarTrip card as cash.

Many employers don't know how to do this. Other commenters have said that some employers use third party companies to process these benefits, and not all of those companies support the pass yet.

One GGWash contributor, who asked not to be named, writes, "I made a request with my employer when the pass first came out. I followed up a few months after that. I still haven't heard anything."

Metro either needs to work on making it possible to get the pass even with a non-savvy payroll department, or it should make the payroll process easier so employees can help their employers set up the pass correctly.

Allow riding rail or bus without extra cost

Right now, you can add on a bus pass to your Metro Select Pass for $45 more per month, which is like buying a month's worth of bus rides for just over $1 each. It's a good deal if your normal commute includes a bus ride, but it's not a good deal if some of your trips are on rail only and some of your trips are on bus only.

We want to encourage people to use the best transit mode for their needs. If the train isn't working well, people could switch to the bus; let them. Plus, for people who commute daily by rail, it's in Metro's best interest to let them take some midday bus trips for free when the buses aren't full.

Therefore, it would be better if the Metro Select Pass worked for either mode of transit, rail or bus, as long as it's less than your selected pass value.

Encourage more bulk purchases

Right now, if you're a student at American University, you (or, more likely, your parents) pay a $260 per semester mandatory fee, and you and all other students get an unlimited transit pass. This encourages more students to ride transit, while Metro can charge only $260 a semester because most students don't ride every day.

Beyond adding more universities, Metro could explore building a program to create such passes for other groups, including condo or apartment buildings, employers, and others. When passes are purchased in bulk, the price per pass can be reduced, and everyone is encouraged to use transit.

To get approval for new buildings in many jurisdictions, developers have to prepare Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plans, where they identify strategies to help residents or workers commute by more efficient means than driving. This often includes Bikeshare memberships, car-sharing memberships, TransitScreens in lobbies, and more. Passes could be a great amenity as well.

Congrats to Metro on building a successful new pass program! We look forward to seeing where this goes in the future.

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