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Roads


Pedestrian tunnels would not make DC's streets better for walking

DC is looking at ways to make city streets safer in and around Petworth and Brightwood. At least one neighborhood official thinks the best way to do that is to put pedestrians in tunnels—yes, tunnels. But tunnels make for longer trips for people on foot, can encourage crime, and don't really make dangerous streets any safer.


No. Photo by Matt Niemi on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) put together the Rock Creek East Livability Study to come up with ideas and recommendations to improve safety and accessibility for streets in the area north of the Petworth Metro station, east of Rock Creek Park, and west of North Capitol Street.

These places are dense, walkable, and home to many people who do a lot of walking and biking. But they're also primarily designed for cars: the roads are wide, with intersection designs meant for fast turns that encourage drivers to look for gaps in traffic rather than crossing pedestrians.

The final results of the study came out in August, and they included suggestions for things like bike lanes, traffic calming, and intersection designs that are more pedestrian-focused. DDOT engineers hope that different street designs will bring driving speeds down and make people feel safer walking or biking in the neighborhood.

Two major traffic circles, Grant and Sherman, got special treatment in the study. Right now, both have two lanes for cars and none for bikes. Petworth residents have long complained about speeding through the circles and how it makes crossing them on foot to go straight across a dicey proposition. DDOT looked at traffic volumes and determined that each circle could probably stand to have only one driving lane, which would mean room for bike lanes and shorter crosswalks.


Grant Circle Today. Better parking, bike lanes, and wider sidewalks are proposed. Image from Google Maps.

An ANC commissioner says tunnels would be better

Petworth Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C commissioner Talib-Din Uqdah is not a fan of the plan. He thinks the ideas proposed as a result of the study would negatively affect traffic in the area too much. In an attempt to explain to Petworth News' Drew Schneider that he is concerned about the dangers pedestrians face, he suggested that DDOT should dig tunnels underneath Grant Circle for pedestrians to use:

Since I'm now living in a city nostalgic for days past—street cars and "barn-dancing" (sic) at downtown intersections—why don't we consider bringing back the underground walkways that would take you from one side of a busy street, intersection or "circle," to another?

Coming up in the 50's and 60's, the city's earlier solution for pedestrian safety was to construct these underground walkways many of us used. I believe they are all closed-off now, Dupont Circle being the exception...Just something to think about—a win-win for the pedestrian and above ground modes of travel—cost should not be a consideration; all what price do we put on safety?

Here are the problems with pedestrian tunnels

It might seem like tunnels (and bridges) are a no-brainer way to get people across busy streets. There are, after all, places where they do just that, like on trails that cross over rail lines or interstates. But by and large, there are very good reasons for not making them part of our cities.


This pedestrian bridge over I-495 in Annandale makes sense. But over city streets? Not so much. Image from Google Streetview.

Simply re-routing people away from one or two intersections certainly doesn't mean dangerous driving will stop (it could increase since there'd be even fewer people around), and there are still plenty of other people crossing the streets that don't have tunnels.

Meanwhile, simple physics says that with a tunnel, you not only have to walk the distance to your destination, but also up or down the equivalent of a story. It also seems perverse to make walking harder and more inconvenient under the pretext of keeping people safe, especially when other safe options do the same job with less effort.

Moreover, unless you are talking about a lot of pedestrians using a particular tunnel at all hours, you have to deal with other safety concerns about potential crime. Tunnels and bridges that are out of the way of police cars driving by make many people feel unsafe and loathe to use a particular piece of infrastructure. If people feel unsafe walking down a dark tunnel alone at night, they'll decide to take their chances with speeding cars.

And despite Mr. Uqdah's assertion that "cost should not be a consideration" that is simply not true. DDOT and the city certainly do not have unlimited funds, and tunnels of any type are very expensive.


Randolph Street in Petworth. Photo by Rob on Flickr

Traffic calming helps drivers too

Another bad assumption is that traffic calming is just frustrating drivers for the sake of helping others feel good. That's simply not true. Reduced collision rates on calm streets are an obvious benefit for drivers.

Meanwhile, the fears that slower speeds (which usually just brings things down to the speed limit) just lead to increased congestion have not been borne out across the city.

Time and time again, it has been clear that a low-cost solution like traffic calming has great results for everyone when they travel, whether it's on foot or by car. We should get away from the assumption that a tunnel or bridge is far safer than the street.

Something as simple as walking around the neighborhood should not involve elaborate infrastructure plans. Walking is good for people as individuals, it's good for the city, it's good for business, and it's good for a safe and vibrant city. If people do not want to walk because they feel unsafe on the street, then it's going to be very hard to convince them to walk somewhere else.

Suggesting tunnels as a way to keep traffic moving implies that people on foot as mere obstacles for drivers. Tunnels would make the urban environment hostile to the people that live and work there.

Pedestrians


8 ways to make it easier to walk around North Bethesda... or anywhere, really

The North Bethesda neighborhood of White Flint is in the midst of transition from car-oriented suburb to a vibrant, mixed-use community. But the area still has a ways to go. Here are eight ways to make walking around White Flint safer and easier to walk around that wouldn't require major investments.


Rockville Pike. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Around the Pike District, which is the area of White Flint near the Metro, there are a number of examples of how the built environment doesn't make it easy for people to get around on foot, which is increasingly common. There are six-lane roads with no crosswalks, places where people walk but there's no visible lighting, and crosswalk signals that simply don't turn on unless you hit a button.

These are some simple ways to make the Pike District more inviting to pedestrians:

1. Make it easier to see people who are walking

More lighting for sidewalks and crosswalks, clearly-visible crosswalks, and trimming trees and vegetation on drivers' sight lines would all make it easier for people driving and walking to see one another.

Drivers on Rockville Pike and on many of the major streets in the Pike District area aren't used to people walking alongside them. For decades, a pedestrian in that area was almost as rare as a really great $5 Bordeaux. For the cost of a bucket of paint, cool crosswalks would draw attention to the fact that people now walk in the Pike District. (They'd also add some much needed beauty and pizzazz.)


A decorative crosswalk in Los Angeles. Photo by NACTO on Flickr.

2. Make sure there are crosswalks on all sides at all intersections

When crosswalks are missing from one or more sides of an intersection, it forces people walking to go out of their way to cross in the existing crosswalks.

In reality, many people continue to use the most direct route to cross the intersection, only without the safety of a marked crosswalk and walk signal to alert drivers to their presence.


A missing crosswalk at MD-355 and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Several intersections in the Pike District, where huge residential buildings have recently gone up, are missing crosswalks on one or more sides: Montrose Parkway and Towne (Hoya) Road, Nicholson Lane and MD-355, Grand Park Avenue at Old Georgetown Road, and MD-355 at Edson Lane.

3. Make pedestrian signals automatic

Beg buttons—so called because they require pedestrians to press them in order to receive a walk signal rather than providing one automatically with a green light—make walking more complicated and inconvenient.


Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Except for the intersection of Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike, all major intersections within the Pike District feature beg buttons in at least one direction.

Rather than actually making it easier to walk places, these buttons often cause confusion among pedestrians. Not realizing they must press the button to receive a walk signal, pedestrians often tire of waiting and cross against the signal, making things less safe for everyone.

While there's a lot that goes into making sure traffic flows smoothly, it costs nothing to flip the switch to make pedestrian signals automatic like they are in nearly every urban area.

4. Add places for people to wait in the median

Rockville Pike is wide: between six and eight lanes throughout the Pike District. For many, this distance can be too far to cover on foot in one light cycle. When that happens, people are stranded on a narrow concrete island between fast moving traffic.


A pedestrian refuge in Silver Spring. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Pedestrian refuges provide a safe place for those who cannot cross the full distance in one turn. On Rockville Pike, they could be implemented in the short term by narrowing traffic lanes slightly at intersections and using that extra room to expand medians.


A tiny, insufficient pedestrian refuge at Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

5. Make signs better

Improve signage so that drivers are more aware that pedestrians will be crossing the street and so that pedestrians know the safer places to cross. Wayfinding signs could be invaluable in directing people to cross where it's safest.

These following three projects are a bit more complicated and they be more expensive than the ones above, but they're doable if officials get started soon.

6. Eliminate slip lanes

Hot rights, or slip lanes, are dedicated right turn lanes at intersections that allow drivers to make the turn at higher speeds by reducing the angle of the turn versus a typical perpendicular intersection. It also allows cars to turn right without stopping, although they do need to yield to cars and pedestrians.


A slip lane at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Slip lanes make intersections less safe by placing walkers directly in the path of fast-moving cars and increasing the distance they must travel to cross the road.

7. Add mid-block crossings on really long blocks

Mid-block crossings are dedicated pedestrian crosswalks between signalized intersections on very long blocks. A crosswalk at Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike by North Bethesda Market is just one place where a mid-block crosswalk would help.


A mid-block crossing in San Francisco. Photo by Eric Fredericks on Flickr.

8. Fill in missing sidewalks

Several areas of high-pedestrian traffic in the Pike District lack formal sidewalks, and instead have only well-worn dirt paths, or desire paths, that develop from foot traffic. Where there are desire paths, there should be real, paved sidewalks.


Desire path at SE corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Around the Pike District, members of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Friends of White Flint, who teamed up to create the Pike District Pedestrian Safety Campaign, recently put up signs that point out the existing conditions.


Photo by the author.

The signs also invite people who walk in the area to share their own suggestions for making the Pike District more pedestrian-friendly on social media with the hashtag #pikepeds or at pikedistrictpeds.org.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Francis A. Gregory Library

Some of DC's most interesting architecture is hiding in its least-visited neighborhoods. The dynamic glass and timber Francis A. Gregory Library, which was designed by the same architect that brought DC the new African American history museum, sits on Alabama Avenue SE, near the Maryland border.


The Francis Gregory Library. Photo by Neil Flanagan.

This architectural gem's Fort Davis neighborhood is underserved. There's less developed public transit than in other parts of DC, the federal government isn't using any of the available land except for the military's Joint Base Anacostia-- Bolling, and nearby historic sites get little promotion.

Placing Adjaye Associates and Wiencek Associates' world-class library here, though, was no accident. In 2012, David Adjaye's company completed both the Francis A. Gregory Library and the nearby Bellevue Library, in the Washington Highlands neighborhood. The Tanzanian born, London-based architect has worked on projects in similarly marginalized areas of London and Johannesburg. This month, Adjaye's latest joint venture, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National Mall.

Adjaye's is often praised for focusing on the people who live in a given place rather than simply impressing the architectural elite, yet few in the District mention the unusually exciting contemporary architecture he is infusing into an aesthetically conservative city.

The main feature of the library's exterior is the glass curtain wall. That Adjaye could bring joy to a curtain wall speaks to his creativity. A curtain wall is simply a non-structural outer wall that separates occupants from weather. Huge glass curtain walls were once revolutionary, but they now typically signal urban homogeneity.

Adjaye made the curtain wall an exciting building technique again with diamond cutouts whose interiors are lined in wood. This gives both the facade and interior three dimensionality, as well as foreshadowing the woven look that he has implemented in the new Smithsonian's exterior.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

Unlike every new glass building the library truly relates to its environment. Surrounding trees provide natural weather moderation. They also have the rare effect of being mirrored in the library's low-emissivity coated glass. This design is beautiful but also logical, as the library provides passage to the park behind it.

Leaving the steel-canopied exterior for the 22,500 square foot interior does not mean abandoning sun. The atrium and reading rooms provide views of the vegetation, and visitors can sit in some of the wooden diamonds. Glass ceilings cut in a square pattern enhance the intended porousness of the space.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

In keeping with Adjaye's community interest, some of the library's rooms can transition from their public purpose to other uses, like event and conference areas. The space is intentionally intimate and uncluttered. Its 32 public computers and seven transformable rooms reflect an understanding of the rapid evolution of libraries' function in the 21st century.

These themes are all over the new African American history museum, too

Many of the elements from Adjaye's library are reflected in his new work on the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture: steel and wood construction, LEED certification, and evolution of a building typology.


The new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo by Michael Barnes, from the Smithsonian.

It is perhaps this last similarity that is most important. Adjaye's library is a place not only for its classic silent study, but also for presently celebrated ideals like community and learning from others. His new museum is perhaps America's highest profile attempt to understand a history that is still unfolding.


Image from ISEC.

African American history and culture permeate and shape every part of the American story; the ramifications of the subjugation of that race, during slavery and long after, is its ugly underbelly. The conflict between celebration and suppression is still being explored today. To approach such a living, contested subject will be done visibly in Adjaye Associates and Wiencek Associates' museum, but also in the architect's decisions.

The building's design draws inspiration from African American building. Its aluminum and bronze exterior cladding is a modern version of the ornamental metal casting that African Americans created in the south in the 19th century using their knowledge of West African techniques. While expensive to create, the bronze panels will darken over time, making a dramatic statement on the National Mall.

Adjaye's so-called "woodland folly" (a term referring to the fact that the building is supposed to become part of the landscape, suggesting an intertwined relationship with the surrounding nature, as woodland follies were small structures designed to allow users to relax in nature) on Alabama Avenue bears less of this weighty burden. Yet in designing libraries for overlooked areas, Adjaye brings innovation and beauty to neighborhoods others see unfit to visit. He is creating progressive places not for the sake of drawing wealthy people in, but to bring a wealth of ideas to nearby residents local libraries are meant to serve.

Bicycling


A DC law that was terribly unfair to cyclists and pedestrians will soon be a thing of the past. Let's thank the DC Council.

Since the spring, the DC Council has been flirting with a bill that would end "contributory negligence," an unjust rule that keeps people who are hit when walking or biking from collecting medical costs from a driver's insurance. The bill officially passed on Tuesday. Please help us thank the legislators who made it happen.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

DC's "contributory negligence" rule says that if you're involved in a crash while traveling on foot or bike and even one percent at fault for what happened, you can't collect any damages. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015 will do away with that rule, allowing people to collect damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault.

An earlier version of this bill came up two years ago, but fell apart at the last minute. The Council was set to vote on this one early in the summer, and while the vote did get delayed for two weeks, it passed its first reading in July. This week's vote was what's called the second reading, and the bill passed without debate.

This is very, very important

I had my own run-in with "contrib" when a minivan driver hit me, fracturing my pelvis and spraining my back, while I was riding my bike home from work in 2008. The driver's insurance denied my claim, saying that I had contributed to the crash. Instead of receiving a settlement proportional to my injuries and experience, I wound up in court.

I was extremely lucky that a pedestrian witnessed the crash and, over a year later, was willing to come to the Rockville District Court to testify on my behalf. I won a $30,000 judgement against the driver, which his insurance company paid. The amount was above and beyond the total of my lost wages and medical bills, which the judge said was to "make me whole" by compensating me for pain and suffering.

While dollars and cents are what the court has to work with, money alone doesn't make people whole. The months of pain and struggle, the paperwork, the rage I felt when I heard the driver tell the judge that I threw myself in front of his car... well, it's laughable to suggest that the few thousand dollars left over after my lawyer and my health insurance took their cuts could compensate me for all that.

Justice would be a better compensation. When Mayor Bowser signs this bill into law, I will at last be made whole.

There is a huge discrepancy in how drivers experience the costs of collisions as opposed to people on bike or foot. Doing away with contributory negligence in DC will be a huge step forward towards treating road users more fairly in accident compensation.

We should give credit where credit is due

Mayor Bowser still needs to sign this bill (she has praised it before), and then Congress has to approve it. But for today, let's make sure to give DC Councilmembers the thanks they deserve for educating themselves on this issue, finding a solution, and carrying it to completion.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank the DC Council for passing this just, fair law that protects the most vulnerable on our roads.

Use #ContributoryNegligence and #fixcontrib to thank your councilmember, in particular @marycheh, the bill's sponsor, and @CM_McDuffie, the judiciary committee chair. Also use our tweets here below:

  • #DC is much closer to ending #ContributoryNegligence! Thanks #DCcouncil, esp. @CM_McDuffie @marycheh for your votes ggwash.org/33604
  • Votes are in, #ContributoryNegligence is out. Thx #DCcouncil, esp @marycheh @CM_McDuffie for working to #fixcontrib! ggwash.org/33604
  • Thx #DCcouncil for doing your job. @MayorBowser will you sign the #ContributoryNegligence bill & #fixcontrib in #DC? ggwash.org/33604
Check out what people have been tweeting so far:



Links


Breakfast links: Work work work work work


Photo by Robert on Flickr.
Employeepalooza: The DC Council declined to act on a bill aimed at giving food and retail workers more predictable schedules. Meanwhile, advocates are pushing the Council to pass the family leave bill, which would give DC workers 16 weeks of paid time off when they have a child. (WCP, WTOP)

New taxi routes: Taxis are hard to come by in parts of Wards 4, 7, and 8, many of which have mostly black residents. A new DC pilot program will run vans along fixed routes in each ward, charging customers a flat $5 fee or less. (WAMU)

End of the line no more: For the first time, Montgomery County's Ride On bus service will run through Tobytown, linking residents to Metro and other transit. Route 301 will offer daily service and free rides during October. (Bethesda Beat)

Disclose your purchase: When people who buy foreclosed homes in Mongtgomery County don't register their purchases, it's hard to tax the properties. One council member wants big fines for anyone who doesn't register within 30 days. (Post)

No driver? Green light: Federal safety guidelines for driverless cars just came out. Along with an approving (but cautioning) op-ed from President Obama, the rules are a green light for the technology to grow. (CityLab)

Judging gun control: DC has strict laws about who can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, requiring residents to demonstrate a "good reason" to have a gun. Federal judges are currently weighing whether those laws are constitutional. (Post)

Our economy is slacking: Among the nation's 15 biggest metro areas, Washington ranked last in economic growth for 2015, growing by only 1.3%. When it comes to the size of the economy, our region ranked 6th overall. (BizJournal)

Baltimore bus problems: A number of bus routes in Baltimore recently underwent schedule changes that mean fewer buses with longer waits in between. Riders say the changes are harmful and weren't publicized enough in advance. (Baltimore Sun)

And...: Amazon's probable store location in DC means residents will have to pay sales tax on purchases (DCist)... A dozen bars in DC have TransitScreens that display real time Uber, train, bus and bike share info (Washingtonian)... DC isn't in the top 10 when it comes to metro areas that need more single-family housing. (NAR)

Have you filled out our reader survey yet? It'll just take 5 minutes and help us get to know our community and improve the site. Thank you!

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Transit


Watch live as Paul Wiedefeld and other experts answer questions about WMATA tonight at 6 pm

During his tenure at WMATA, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has opened more dialog with advocates and the public than many past General Managers. Tonight at 6 pm, he'll join a panel discussion and answer questions from the public at a livestreamed forum.

Once the event starts, the player above will livestream the event. After the event, we'll swap out the livestream player for a recording once it's available. (Update: the totally unedited recording is now available above; the program starts at 16:15.)

40 minutes will go toward audience questions, meaning attendees will have a chance to ask about pressing issues like late night service, rider safety, and anything else they want to know about.

The two-hour discussion will include a public update from Wiedefeld, a moderated panel discussion, and audience Q&A. The panel will also include WAMU's Martin Di Caro, DowntownDC BID's Neil Albert, Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter.

The forum is taking place at Georgetown University's Urban and Regional Planning program, hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and several partner groups. Uwe Brandes, Executive Director of Georgetown's planning program will moderate.

If you have questions during or before the event, you can tweet them to @betterDCregion using the hashtag #WMATAchat. During the Q&A portion of the program, organizers will pose as many of them as possible.

On October 26, a livestreamed followup forum will tackle Metro funding specifically. RSVP is now open, with more program details coming soon.

Development


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.


This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.


Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.


Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.


The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.


The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.

Transit


Why can't Metro label escalators "walk left, stand right" or label where doors will stop on the platform?

Over 1,000 Metro riders submitted ideas for our recent MetroGreater contest. Two came up most often, but are sadly not possible: Signs or markings to encourage people to stand to the right on the escalators, and decals to show where the doors will stop on the platforms. Here's why they couldn't be winners.


Photo by Benjamin KRAFT on Flickr.

In New York, for instance, markings like the ones above show where the doors will stop and urge riders not to stand right in front of the doors.

The obstacle is simple: On the new 7000 Series trains, the doors are not in the same place as on the older trains. Metro plans to run 7000s on all lines and gradually replace all trains with them, but it will be a long time before any line has no older cars. Therefore, markers wouldn't be in the right spot for all trains.

Here's a comparison between the 7000 series (top) and older cars (bottom) by Sand Box John:


Image by Sand Box John. Note that the exterior design of the 7000 ended up somewhat different than in this sketch made from early plans.

It's too bad the markings aren't possible, but moving the doors closer to the center on the 7000 series does make some sense, as they could better distribute crowding between the middles and ends of the cars. It would have been even better to build them with four doors per side, but perhaps in the future. (If so, however, that will push off the day even further when these markings might be an option.)

Walk left, stand right?

Most of us stand on the right side of an escalator, if we're not walking up or down it, and walk on the left side. Thirty-three separate people submitted variations on the idea of educating people about this custom. It could be a sign, like this one that entrant Kristoffer Wright mocked up:


Image by Kristoffer Wright.

Or, what about footprints, as in this idea by London designer Yoni Alter:


Photo by Yoni Alter.

There's one straightforward problem with the footprints in DC: Many Metro escalators sometimes run up and sometimes down (though many do not). On those, at least, the footprints would make no sense with the escalator reversed. Not only would the feet be facing the wrong way, but the "walk" footprints would then be on the right side, giving people the wrong suggestions. ("You should walk backwards down the wrong side of this escalator"?)

As for signs, reversibility isn't the issue, but safety is. According to WMATA Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox, people walking on escalators "is the single biggest point of customer injury, and Metro does not want to endorse that." They know people walk on the escalator as an "informal commuter practice, but it is a safety concern and we do not want to encourage walking or running on moving conveyances."

Transit agencies around the globe have a wide range of views on whether this is a safety issue. Ryan Young, one of the people who submitted the idea, pointed out a few worldwide examples. Chicago, for instance, officially recommends "walk left, stand right":


Image from Chicago CTA.

Toronto, on the other hand, ended the practice in 2007 for safety reasons. Young also found this Polish article showing a "walk left, stand right" sign in a Warsaw department store and advocating for similar ones in the subway.

We could quibble with Metro's decision, but the fact (right or wrong) right now is that Metro's safety is under a microscope. We have people like US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx insisting that safety is the only priority and that he'd sooner shut down the Metro than have any safety problem whatever. In that climate, doing something on escalators that could be a little less safe, even if the change is slight, is probably not wise.

Personally, I still will be walking on the escalator and politely saying "excuse me" to people who stand on the left.

Links


Breakfast links: Too much security for Cemetery?


Photo by Norman Maddeaux on Flickr.
Monumental security enhancements: Arlington Cemetery is going to start screening anyone who comes to visit. It's an example of how "enhanced security" is destroying our national monuments by making them symbols of fear and exclusion instead of freedom. (Post)

Late fee limits for renters: A new bill expected to pass the DC Council today would limit the fee landlords can charge tenants for late payments to 5% of the rent. (City Paper)

Fix270Now: Local business and political leaders have joined together to lobby lawmakers to "Fix270Now" by adding express toll lanes, bus rapid transit, and other pedestrian, cycling, and transit improvements along I-270. (WTOP)

An ominous extension: Congress has reintroduced a bill that would allow federal transit benefits to be used on bike sharing and ride hailing services during SafeTrack. But the benefits would last until December 2018, well after SafeTrack is scheduled to end. (Post)

Turncloak on tax breaks: DC agreed to millions in tax breaks if a developer hired workers who live in the city to construct its new hotel in Adams Morgan. Now it looks like the developer won't hold up their end of the deal. Will the city fight back? (Post)

Crystal clear urban plans: Crystal City's biggest landowner wants to transform the area into a "dynamic urban neighborhood" with a ton of new retail, a movie theater, and a more welcoming design. (WBJ)

A deadline for Anacostia restaurant: Anacostia's long-planned Busboys & Poets will open by next November at the latest, or it won't open at all. The landlord is still working to secure financing. (UrbanTurf)

And...: DC is the ninth most bike-friendly city in the US. (DCist) ... Lyft's founder says private car ownership will all but end by 2025. (CityLab) ... Which Metro line has the longest waits? (Washingtonian)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Development


This graph shows which parts of our region are walkable, affordable, and equitable

The Washington region is blessed with many walkable places. But with more and more people hoping to live and work in them, some are more affordable and accessible to a wide variety of people than others. A nifty analysis from GWU looks at which walkable areas in the region are the most affordable and equitable over a wide variety of factors.


Scatterplot by the author.

The scatterplot above shows the combined economic and social equity score for 50 walkable urban places in our region, or WalkUPs, a phrase my research group coined when we first started measuring this in 2012. The chart below summarizes how we find and define WalkUPs.

In the plot, the economic index is a weighted average of rents for office, retail, and multifamily residential buildings (per square foot), compared to a region-wide average for the baseline and discounted for vacancy; the social equity index is a five-part index based on transit-accessible jobs (10%), housing supply (15%), percentage of income spent on housing for a household earning 80% of the area median income (40%), percentage of income spent on transportation for same (20%), and public space per capita (15%).

These places are the site of the most intense and rapid development and demographic pressures and changes in our region, and it often seems like these two metrics are in direct conflict in those circumstances. However, we've identified some special places in our region that are at a "sweet spot" for both investors and residents. Those places are in the upper right quadrant of the plot.

Places in the upper left quadrant have relatively higher rents than the region as a whole, but lower social equity scores. But it's interesting to note that there are places, even in the geographic northwest of DC, that score high on both indices, such as Friendship Heights. In these places, while rents are high, lower transportation costs help keep them within reach for average renters (note: this analysis does not include for-sale housing).

The quadrant where walkability, lower rents across product types, and equity meet is in the lower-right hand corner. Silver Spring scored number one of established WalkUPs on equity, and it's affordable too! Housing hunters, take note.

This plot is a snapshot of 2015. The really interesting question is where our region is trending. The future sustainability of many of these places, especially suburban TODs, and many "emerging" WalkUPs that we've identified, hinge on the future of transit in our region. As Metrorail struggles and the Purple Line remains tied up in court, where market demand for walkability will land is an open question. Local jurisdictions whose budgets are supported by property taxes should take note, however, that walkability and value remain inextricably intertwined. All the places on this plot are walkable, and command significant premiums over a region that is mostly...not...yet?

If you'd like to hear more about this analysis, I'll be presenting these findings at an Urban Land Institute event this Wednesday, September 21. Or, stay tuned for a forthcoming report.

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