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


Over four times the people and no traffic

On a typical weekday, 400,000 commuters enter downtown DC. On Tuesday, 1.8 million people did. Yet there's heavy traffic every rush hour in and out of DC, just to move a small fraction of the people we moved on Tuesday.

Photo by Joe Calhoun on Flickr.

The difference? On Tuesday, people didn't come in private vehicles, with just one person in a car. They came in public and private buses, Metro trains, commuter rail, carpooled, walked and bicycled. With almost all bridges closed to traffic, we actually accommodated four and a half times the typical traffic. On the typical weekday, 40% of commuters—160,000 people—drive alone.

Even AAA admits (in a way) that commuters in single-passenger cars are holding us back. A Washington Times article yesterday pointed out that roads returned to gridlock Wednesday. "There were few traffic problems Tuesday because there was one element eliminated—vehicles," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend. Those are the vehicles whose exclusion another AAA spokesman stridently criticized last week.

If our region is to grow, we need to help more people reach their jobs. One approach is to add traffic lanes and parking garages at enormous cost, both financial and in lost urban vitality. The other solution is to move people as we did on Tuesday. More people rode the trains. Each vehicle coming into the downtown core carried far more people. Over 2,000 people used WABA's bike valet. And many more people started their days within walking distance of downtown. Those houseguests raised our population density enormously, enriching our neighborhood businesses besides.

WAMU played an editorial this morning from Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "The inauguration showed us how we can grow our economy without growing traffic," she said. Yet our federal and local policies keep moving us in the wrong direction.

Many of [the 160,000 daily auto] commuters could be coaxed onto trains, buses and even bicycles if we make smooth, convenient, and safe trips a priority. But we don't. Instead, we are cutting transit service while letting bicycle improvements languish.

In the afterglow of accomplishment, Metro is cutting 900 positions to cope with a looming budget deficit. Public officials acknowledge the importance of transit, but our region's governments continue to find billions of local and federal dollars to expand or build new highways. Maryland is starting construction of the nearly $3 billion Intercounty Connector highway, shortchanging other state priorities. Virginia is bent on widening the Beltway from 8 to 12 lanes. At the federal level, public transit spending is being cut back in the stimulus bill while three times as much money is funneled to roads.

Our priorities are stuck in the 1950s. As President Obama ushers in a season of change, we must focus on what will work for our economy, environment, and communities in the 21st Century. Expanded Metro capacity, better walking and bicycling conditions, and rapid bus corridors should be immediate priorities for improving transportation choices and supporting an economic recovery for our region.

Listen to Cheryl's editorial on RealAudio or Windows Media.

Bloomberg's architecture critic says we need a better approach. "The six rail tracks that tunnel into New York's Penn Station haul as many people as 45 freeway lanes. ... Road projects do little more than rearrange the traffic jams, like the 23-lane extravaganza touted for Atlanta's suburbs."

What if our city saw even a third of Tuesday's activity every day, but with none of the security barricades? Imagine how many more fares Metro would collect, and how much more frequent bus and subway service we could support. Imagine how many more neighborhood hardware stores and restaurants our communities could support, and how much safer our streets would be with more eyes.

If we could get 1.8 million people in and out of downtown DC without any traffic, we can get 500, 600, or 700,000 people in and out every day smoothly with better transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. All that's holding us back is our elected leadership and our ability to envision a better region.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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You're seriously comparing regular commutes vs. the inauguration?

That's such a flawed analysis I don't even know where to begin.

A- The city was over capacity. Do you really think those numbers are sustainable?

B- Imagine trying to get workers around DC rather than to one central area.

C- All the government workers live in the suburbs! The government can't run unless the workers get to work.

by MPC on Jan 23, 2009 5:11 pm • linkreport

The point David is making is spot on. We were able to get four times the regular number of commuters into downtown without any cars. And we were able to get the five dozen who became ill and needed emergency medical care to hospitals in minutes.

No one is saying we should try this again - or at least not until January 20, 2012.

But what he is saying is that - with the area population growing - we cannot keep building an automobile infrastructure. We need to rethink mass transit, population density issues (move more people downtown and near mass transit), and alternative transportation.

The goal here is to make it more affordable and more convenient NOT to have a car.

And what happened Tuesday - as David points out - was an eye-opener for everyone in the Washington area. Especially the lack of gridlock after the inauguration. We were incredibly lucky that Metro had few mechanical issues. But the success of Tuesday opened a lot of minds about issues this blog has been promoting for the past year.

It was a watershed moment.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 23, 2009 5:26 pm • linkreport

Oops. Trying it again on January 20, 2012 would be foolish.

We should wait till January 20, 2013.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 23, 2009 5:28 pm • linkreport

The best way to mitigate the effects of the growth of the population in the area would be to cut back on unncessary government.

Unfortunately with Obama's giant pork project, aka stimulus (really - look at alot of the things they're doing and tell me it's not pork), we'll just have another layer of bureaucrats and lobbyists to divide and administer the money, thus more people clogging up our infrastructure.

Oh well. Increased demand for housing will shoot my real estate values back up. I guess I can't complain too much.


How was it watershed? All it proved is that the DC area government can't handle anything.

by MPC on Jan 23, 2009 5:30 pm • linkreport

Also, MPC, you're probably right that downtown DC was over capacity. But was it at 450% of capacity? Not possible. Instead, Tuesday showed that we have plenty of capacity to go. It's probably not a good idea to try to bring 1.8 million people into the core every day, but how about half of that? 900,000 is still over twice what we get today, but far, far from the crowds of Tuesday.

by David Alpert on Jan 23, 2009 5:30 pm • linkreport

I understand your point - if more of the 160,000 people who drive alone carpooled or took metro, roads would be less crowded. But getting into and out of the metro on Tuesday took an hour or more - who would put up with increasingly long long lines to enter/exit the metro 5 days a week if more people took metro (as they did on Tuesday) instead of driving? Everyone treated Tuesday as special, so no one drove and people (generally) accepted the lines and delays. No one wants that as the norm.

by Steve on Jan 23, 2009 5:32 pm • linkreport

The only thing I have liked to see changed from Tuesday is the number of buses that were needlessly idling. Particularly on and around 14th, 15th and L streets, NW. At times, during lunch and when I left work for the day, it felt like I was walking through a giant tailpipe.

But I agree with a lot of what David is saying. Having lived or visited a lot of places with high automobile traffic -- San Francisco area, Los Angeles, Houston, here -- I have yet to see a highway expansion project that wasn't jam packed with cars at rush hour within a few days or less of opening (usually the day of), and yet traffic on other roads rarely seemed less congested. I have to believe that better support for alternatives to single-driver vehicles would be extremely helpful.

by Mike B. on Jan 23, 2009 5:35 pm • linkreport

Steve, crowding on metro becomes increasingly irrelevant the closer people live to their destination. If the city is able to accommodate people wanting to live, work and shop in walking or biking range, transit strains are eased, not worsened.

by Lucre on Jan 23, 2009 5:42 pm • linkreport

they way i see it falls between David and MPC. it was amazing what happened, but our reality is different than the inauguration. like David said, with all the visitors there was much higher density in the city and therefore it was easier to get them to the mall.

commuters come to DC from Baltimore, Frederick, Freredicksburg, and Front Royal. im not saying that we need to accommodate all of them, but we need a more convenient system. vast areas of Arlington and Alexandria arent served, not to mention areas like my 'hood in Bloomingdale arent metro convenient. DC is moving that way with new street cars and should continue to.

the problem is larger than just building more mass transit. that is key, but a big part is convincing Americans to get out of the car. i drive to Fairfax everyday because thats where my office is and it takes Metro twice as long to get me here in the morning and as long to get home at night. i'd love it if my company was downtown and i could ride my bike...

all said, it is worthwhile to try and a disproportionate amount of money is slated for roads. and while the inauguration was a feat, it was a special situation. it is cause for hope, but isnt a realistic reference point.

by dano on Jan 23, 2009 5:45 pm • linkreport


It was watershed because they did the unthinkable and people saw that it worked. They closed the bridges from Virginia...and banned cars from downtown. And - given the size of the crowd - it worked amazingly well.

Metro, buses, trains, and shoe leather took the place of cars for a day.

No one is saying we should do this again. No one is saying there weren't awful snafus. But on this day of days, we WERE better off without cars. And the entire region saw that.

It was a watershed, because it will help change the conventional wisdom of politicians, planners, and the general populace about how we must make way for the all powerful automobile. Gabe Klein's out of the box ideas will get a better hearing now.

And yes, I own one, and have no plans to get rid of it.

But I hope to use it less and less as transit becomes more convenient and more things become walkable.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 23, 2009 6:38 pm • linkreport

"...we cannot keep building an automobile infrastructure."

Where is the basis for that sort of statement, ESPECIALLY Washington, D.C. which irresponsibly leaves its freeway system mainly unbuilt?

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 23, 2009 7:24 pm • linkreport


"The city was over capacity. Do you really think those numbers are sustainable?"

It wouldn't seem over capacity if there was more transit/ bike infrastructure and more densely populated neighborhoods. No one would put up with waiting over an hour to ride the metro everyday, but these numbers would allow much more transit to be supported. And trust me, these numbers will be reached and surpassed daily in the not too distant future. And it isn't because of bigger government, it's because DC is progressing as a world class city.

The purpose of this post was just to show that we can handle the growth that is to come if we have our priorities straight.

by Justin on Jan 23, 2009 7:25 pm • linkreport

Don't forget, this was also done with "a lot" of overtime paid out to metro employees - the cost to run the system flat out every day is not sustainable on the money that is taken in by the faregates.

by Aaron on Jan 23, 2009 7:55 pm • linkreport

My husband and I had 2 (two) bicycles stolen while locked up in safe places in the middle of the day (Dupont Circle metro station for one, nice area of U street for the other), and both were stolen within 2 weeks of each other, within the first 3 months we lived in DC. One of the locks was somewhat substandard (cable lock), but the other was a $100 Kryptonite U lock. Until the city brings the hammer down on bike theft (we reported them, the cops didn't care, not to mention the people who MUST have seen my bike get stolen at the Dupont Circle Metro Station and did NOTHING), people won't be bicycling to work in droves. I suspect that a guarded bicycle valet on every corner is not likely to happen anytime soon, either.

by GW2L on Jan 23, 2009 8:03 pm • linkreport

Wonderful essay. I biked in and I agree, the day showed we need more bike and transit infrastructure and less for cars to create a vibrant, livable city. Even outside the security zone, car traffic was light and a breeze to cycle in. Every day should be like that!

by Scott on Jan 23, 2009 9:04 pm • linkreport

I know there is a pro-alternative transit bias but you guys are being facetious!

"Every day should be like that!"

" No one would put up with waiting over an hour to ride the metro everyday, but these numbers would allow much more transit to be supported. "

"...we cannot keep building an automobile infrastructure."

Seriously, take a look back and rethink those things over.

As much as some of you may not like to admit it, cars ARE a part of a regional transportation network, and for that matter, outside of New York, they are the majority mode of transportation.

Do I think there is a place for mass transit? Certainly. Density in certain areas justifies the investment.

But even 'world class cities' have cars. Lots of them.

Statements like the ones I highlighted may be popular and even feasible in these circles, but take the AVERAGE American; face it, you'd come across as a nut to them. I think ultimately the militancy turns people off and gives them signals of social engineering. And then it's ultimately counter productive.

by MPC on Jan 23, 2009 9:49 pm • linkreport

Douglas, there are many examples of how the automobile infrastructure induces demand, creates long commutes, splits communities, etc. Just click on "freeways" on the "Most Popular Tags" on the right.

This is one picture that I find interesting, mainly because I can walk here in 5 minutes.

The vibrant city life south of Virginia Ave vanished. I would have preferred the older walkable non-split neighborhood. But perhaps you enjoy a shorter drive to work to live in the suburbs. There must be a compromise between the two, and that's where I think proper land use and transit come in. Transit can transport more passengers and take up less space. If you need proof, look at the 1.8 million people that were able to get into and out of the city on Tuesday!

by Erik on Jan 23, 2009 10:11 pm • linkreport

MPC, this is about using the right tools for the job. Cars are great at what they do, but what they do comes with downsides. For one, they are extremely spatially inefficient for the job they do. This was highlighted by the inauguration, which showed not only that other modes can indeed handle much greater capacities, but clearly showed (in comparison to an average weekday) that cars are not up to the task. This is a matter of applying the right tool to the job, and in an urban area, transit, biking, walking, and other modes must take precedence. This is not about getting rid of cars, it's about focusing resources where they will be most effective.

The average American is getting more and more in touch with this reality, as they deal with mounting congestion in cities and suburbs across the US. The suburbs are getting more crowded, metro areas are growing, and so on.

Still, David's message was pretty clearly tailored to DC and what it can do to have a better urban transportation system.

by Alex B. on Jan 23, 2009 10:15 pm • linkreport

I've been wondering how much better transportation on Inauguration Day might have gone if the WMATA expansion proposals ca.2000 would have been put into effect? Or if the DC light rail system that was proposed several years ago were ready? It's unfortunate that mass-transit planning was put in a deep-freeze these past 8 years.

by Steve on Jan 23, 2009 10:24 pm • linkreport

I agree, generally, with most of David's points.

But like someone above said, inauguration day is a very unusual circumstance where everyone is focusing on one 10-block area that is well-served by a dense network of a dozen metro stations within a half-mile walk of the borders of that area.

Much of downtown DC is maxed out for office space, because of the height caps. There really aren't many surface lots either. Given this, it's not like there really ever *could* be enough space to hold another million workers downtown.

If density could be increased anywhere south of Florida Avenue (and yet still keep the height caps), it would have to be somewhere on the fringes of downtown, not *in* downtown. Such fringe development (like near Nationals Park) is a noble goal, and one I think we'll increasingly see satisfied, but it won't do anything for augmenting *downtown* density.

by Joey on Jan 24, 2009 12:40 am • linkreport

This has been a lively debate. It's very interesting to see what people's opinions are.

MPC Says:

"C- All the government workers live in the suburbs!"

Now, that's a pretty bold statement. Do you have statistics to prove your claim?

I'm curious. Thanks.

by otavio on Jan 24, 2009 1:59 am • linkreport


"Seriously, take a look back and rethink those things over."

Sort of like deja vu all over again, and right from the Department of Redundancy Department.

After Tuesday, I HAVE rethought things. As the happy and proud owner of a Honda Accord, I believe that owning a car in Dupont Circle is becoming more and more of a luxury and an expense that many will want to forego. And we should be about providing more options for folks without cars.

Tuesday was an example - in extremis - of how we could handle a century's worth of growth without cars. The simple fact is the city would be in total gridlock from such growth - assuming it had the same road and transit infrastructure.

Metro - as it stands - has perhaps 25 to 35 years of viability before it nears capacity, and the dual track system has severe growth and efficiency limitations.

VRE has had reliability problems in the past, and MARC faces cutbacks in Maryland's fiscal meltdown.

DC has no light rail, and no dedicated streets or paths to allow efficient light rail.

We should be about strengthening and building efficient mass transit options, because they move more people with greater ease and efficiency that my single occupant car.

And the growth of close in areas like NoMa is allowing more and more people to walk to work. People are already willingly choosing the convenience of close-in, walkable living.

As far as Douglas' comment about the city "irresponsibly" failing to complete its freeway system, please tell me which option for the North Central Freeway connector you favor: the last option was the one that went down New Hampshire AV, dividing Dupont in half and tearing down hundreds of historic buildings. But it did have an off-ramp for the Hilton Hotel, so it solved the loading dock issue.

And, as for the North Central Freeway itself, I'm sure there's plenty of support north of Mass AV to build that "white man's freeway through black men's bedrooms" just as there was when that battle was fought in 1970.

The North Central Freeway - the part of the freeway system that remains unbuilt - would have eviscerated our city for the convenience of suburban automobile commuters. When it was halted, the money went to Metro. The Highway Trust Fund was finally tapped for something other than asphalt or concrete. I submit that was a very good thing.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 24, 2009 4:33 am • linkreport

You need to review the difference between the 1964 report and the 1966 report as a start to see how the former was a deliberate perversion of JFK's 1962 proposal.

Please see the labels about the highway, at A Trip Within The Beltway, particularly "Highway Routing Mysteries".

Also, regarding the cross town I-66 see the Dec 2006 post 1955-62 plans and the March 2007 post about the K Street Tunnel.

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 24, 2009 4:39 am • linkreport

I don't think anyone would argue with David's premise that when you have lots of people all going to the same destination you're far far better off bringing them in via mass transit than you are via personal transportation. And if it were a given that our downtown/Federal Triangle/Capitol Hill government workforces or our "K Street" workforce were growing, then it would follow that we need to increase the suburban to city center lines and capacity.

But are they?

Yes, we've had a few new government buildings put up near the core recently (e.g., the ATF Bldg near the new New York Ave. Metro station), a few new private buildings ... But we need to balance this against the general trend which is that better means of communication have meant that more and more people are spending less and less time in the office and working from home, their local wireless-enabled cafe ... or while traveling hundreds or thousands of miles away from home ... and "the office". Additionally, as one poster already pointed out, the closer you get people to where they need to be --- including work --- the less important these gigantic "New York Penn Station" style mass transit options become.

Frankly, I think what we need more of and what we should be clamoring for is more "London Tube" like stations or light rail/tramways, and other options that will facilitate intra-city travel without the need to resort to a car for all uses including the dwindling need to "go in to the office." And for this type of transportation need, the efficiency (or not, --- remember the "3rd Street Tunnel of Doom") of closing the city to personal vehicle traffic on Inauguration Day is really very irrelevant. Sorry David.

by Lance on Jan 24, 2009 8:50 am • linkreport

To the comment that government workers all live in the suburbs. A couple of things, yes many do, but the government workers who live in the suburbs and work in DC, all get transit benefits that many of them use. In my government office 3 live in woodbridge (two slug, one rides commuter buses) 1 lives in Stafford (slugs), 2 live in Maryland (carpool) and I walk/metrobus from DC. Part of the reason for this is also that, for the most part, the only way you get parking at the building is for you to be in a carpool.

If you look at the trips taken on inauguration day, you would find the vast majority of them were actually from the suburbs as people that lived close in walked. So saying that it couldn't be done on a normal day because of government workers is silly.

The last point I want to make, and it applies to this as well as most other criticisms people make in the comments section, is no one is saying right now if we forced everyone to change what they are doing everything would be better. What is being said is we need to make policy changes and encourage more walkable/transit development. Yes right now it is inconvenient for many people to take metro. The solution is not to say, well they should drive, it is to say lets make it more accessible. Lets build more transit, etc.

by nathaniel on Jan 24, 2009 9:38 am • linkreport

Douglas, you have some very neat old documents on your site! How do you find them?

Its interesting looking at your post the "1962 National Capitol Transportation Agency", which you have a map about the 70S highway. I perhaps look at it differently that you. You mentioned that the 70S placement is essentially the Red Line. I see this as a step that was done in the right direction. Should DC have sacrificed one of the few right of ways that "avoiding the substantial relocation of persons, loss of taxable property and disruption of neighborhoods" on a freeway, or build it into rail?

Looking at the Google maps, I expect that fitting a highway, metro, and train on this right of way would have been very difficult. Plus metro stations next to freeways next to homes don't work that well for walk ability. (Minnesota ave and Deanwood are examples) Although I don't have any quantitative data, I expect that the Red Line transports more people than a highway would though the same right of way with a smaller footprint.

by Erik on Jan 24, 2009 10:20 am • linkreport

With respect to downtown workers living in the suburbs, and their commuting habits, I think there is a big difference generationally. At the two offices I have worked at downtown, most of the older workers carpooled or drove to a Metro station and parked. I've never met a co-worker younger than 35 who took the carpooling option. Everyone either walks, walks to the Metro, takes a bus to the Metro, or drives to the Metro. I've only met one exception: an old friend of mine who lives in Rockville and works in Georgetown. His office gives him free parking so he drives. My other special cases are two friends are accounting auditors so their work location changes. Both live in walking distance of the Metro and use it when their work site is on the Metro. They grumble about driving when their site is out in Reston or Germantown or something. They both use the Metro extensively for nightlife. One of them moved to her place in Crystal City specifically to be on top of a Metro.

Most either prefer not to fight traffic, don't want to pay for parking, or don't own cars. Few younger workers want to get up at the ridiculous hours required to beat the automobile traffic in the morning.

by Cavan on Jan 24, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

Lance, the Purple Tunnel of Doom was entirely an issue of security and poor communication on the part of those operating the security apparatus. The fact that everyone was on foot is irrelevant to your point - the transportation wasn't the problem, the security was.

by Alex B. on Jan 24, 2009 11:03 am • linkreport

What's interesting about this is you basically have the U.S. government agreeing with one of, what I see as, the basic tenants of this blog. Namely, "If you want to move a lot of people into a center city you have to turn car space over to transit, pedestrians and cars." That's what they did and that's how it worked. You got 2000 bikes into part of the Jefferson Memorial parking lot, where you could have put maybe 10 cars.

And when you do that, people will move closer to where they work (think of all the people who slept in their offices or at the home of a friend in the city). It's a little micro (albeit scientifically flawed) experiment.

by David C on Jan 24, 2009 11:12 am • linkreport

Comments by Cavan and David C. just touch the surface. There are deeper societal issues at play.

With regard to carpooling, how many people know when their workday will end in order to make/drive the carpool? Working late, taking off early (if you're fortunate enough to have a forward looking employer) to do some concentrated work at home, socializing in the evening.... In our less structured work world of today, it is difficult to find folks who would have your same/changing schedule.

With regard to people moving closer to where they work, today people change jobs frequently, averaging every 2 years early in their careers. Are they to endure the costs and hassles of a move so often as well? This is especially problematic if they own rather than rent. Employers would do well to locate near mass transit, but they will continue to be enticed by e.g. tax breaks by localities away from transit. Not only regional planning, but tax sharing would be required to address this.

by Lynn Stevens on Jan 24, 2009 11:32 am • linkreport


Agreed that what we need most are those intra-city mass transit options. I'd love to see light rail on K Street, back on Connecticut AV, under the circle, and up into Adams Morgan.

As for the Purple Tunnel of Doom, I've taken note that the one official who still claims the purple area on the Mall was filled up and the tunnel wasn't as awful as everyone says it was -- is Senate Sgt at Arms Terrance Gainer. Yep. That Terry Gainer.

With Feinstein and van Hollen demanding an investigation, and Gainer's having run for office in Cook County as a Republican, I'm not sure about his job security.

There's a goat to be sacrificed here.

by Mike on Jan 24, 2009 1:12 pm • linkreport

Regarding MPC's comment, about how all the government workers live in the suburbs:

GSA and Jones Lang LaSalle did a survey of DHS workers for the St. Elizabeths Master Plan. The Dec. 2008 transportation management document tells me that 19% of DHS staff (across all DC region worksites) live in DC, Arlington, or Alexandria. The remaining 81% live in suburbs, 21% of them in Prince George's, and 37% in outlying Virginia counties.

This is probably a skewed sample. Anecdotally, it matches people I've known in Commerce, but not the bright young economists and lawyers from other agencies.

The funny thing about Tuesday was that, however briefly, extraordinary circumstances turned the clock back to a point when American cities still had one CBD. These are exactly the conditions that Metrorail was designed to support.

We've got a multi-centric region now, of course. It does not follow that Tysons and Rockville must always run on cars and ever-widening roads, but Tuesday's success holds mainly symbolic value.

by David Ramos on Jan 24, 2009 2:10 pm • linkreport


Years of going to libraries with scanners, starting for my original site "Highways and Communities" which I launched in April 2000. I was a panelists at the 1998 DC Historical Society panel "Freeways in Washington".

And I also gave a presentation for the DC NE Historical Society in 2005:

Look closer at the North Central Freeway posts at "A Trip Within The Beltway", the 1962 plan included both freeway AND rail, yet people bought the line that we could only afford the money to build one or the other (and with all of the Pentagon bloat!).

Also look at the 1966 plan, the rail transit was included, even so with the atrocious 1963-64 study which deviated sharply from the 1962 plan to needlessly waste neighborhoods.

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 24, 2009 2:12 pm • linkreport

Catoe out, Alpert in.

by Jasper on Jan 24, 2009 3:39 pm • linkreport

The time has come - make it happen.

by staypuftman on Jan 24, 2009 4:39 pm • linkreport

A basic introduction to Washington, D.C.'s truncated freeway system

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 25, 2009 1:56 am • linkreport

I'm a transit junkie, and promise you anything with the word "bus" scares off just about anyone who's not paid by the hour. It can be rapid, express, doesn't matter, if it's not going to the airport, most professionals won't ride it.

by Dave on Jan 25, 2009 8:33 am • linkreport

400,000 commuters enter DC, but 100,000 also enter Tyson's, and they're about to get heavy rail at 4 different locations.

Appreciate that in every other major metro area, there is no more than one rail stop, if that, at any major suburban office location. Northern NJ's I-287 Office Parks, Silicon Valley, the 128/495 Boston suburbs, at best they have single commuter rail stops that are only used by people who live nearby to get into the city.

We should stop whining and realize this area is way ahead of others in providing transit options.

by Dave on Jan 25, 2009 8:42 am • linkreport

Dave wrote:

"I'm a transit junkie, and promise you anything with the word "bus" scares off just about anyone who's not paid by the hour. It can be rapid, express, doesn't matter, if it's not going to the airport, most professionals won't ride it."

That's not been my experience. That *was* a correct assumption here in the late 80s and most of the 90s, but a huge shift has occurred over recent years.

Where do you live? I'm near 14th Street, a major corridor for our city's buses, and every morning, the majority of the people lined up at the bus stops are professionals. Given, that's the population along 14th Street. But the professionals get on the bus, and yes the cook and the secretary and the elderly church lady are there too, having boarded further north.

And the mix is a beautiful thing.

I just don't see, at the bus stops and on the bus, the assumptions that you make.

by Joel Lawson on Jan 25, 2009 10:17 am • linkreport

Does Dave's comment about buses violate any of those D1 or DH or whatever rules or codes of ethics about blogging? If not then might I say that such a comment illustrates a certain tendency to be something that begins with "d" has a "ch" in the middle and ends with a "y?"

by Jazzy on Jan 25, 2009 11:45 am • linkreport


Did you become an advocate for highways all over all the time before or after your Alexandria Orb idea was shut down? I love that design of yours (it is far better than the design they went with) but that doesn't make the ideas of the 60's any better. People the country over started rioting when they saw what these highways were doing, justifiably so.

by NikolasM on Jan 26, 2009 10:19 am • linkreport

Excellent post!

We can argue about how the numbers aren't quite right, extenuating circumstances, blah blah, til we're blue in the face.

The basic principle remains: last Tuesday, by decreasing automobile capacity, and by expanding walking, biking, and transit options, we increased overall accessibility to the downtown. Inauguration confirmed what transportation planners have been saying for years.

by Just161 on Jan 26, 2009 11:48 am • linkreport

I understand that some people like Jazzy have to resort to personal insults because they don't know the facts. Surprised GGW allows the discussion to deteriorate like that. Guys should clean up the mess he left behind.

by Dave on Jan 26, 2009 12:20 pm • linkreport

I think the key differences between Inauguration Day and the average workday in DC is that a) people were willing to take a longer time to get to their destination; b) they were all converging to more less the same place, an area well served by public transportation; c) people not healthy enough to walk long distances and stand around in below-freezing temperatures for several hours stayed home; and d) many spent the night in the city on friends couches, etc so they were traveling shorter distances than the average commuter. I would like to think that a lesson can be learned from the experience, but it was so far from a normal day that I have a hard time seeing how to draw the parallels or how it can tell us something that we didn't already know.

by DC_Chica on Jan 26, 2009 1:23 pm • linkreport

a) people were willing to take a longer time to get to their destination;

c) people not healthy enough to walk long distances and stand around in below-freezing temperatures for several hours stayed home;

These two (especially 'a'), are key items that some commenters are either missing or ignoring.

by Froggie on Jan 26, 2009 1:42 pm • linkreport

Of course it's not a perfect cognate, but what real world example ever would be?

The point is that it worked. It worked astoundingly well, considering. All the foul-ups were security related.

Consider it a proof of concept.

by Alex B. on Jan 26, 2009 1:50 pm • linkreport



I have supported different highway ideas before and after the Alexandria Orb experience, (it was not considered by the Alexandria City government which acted strangely scared of innovation and outright lied by rescinding most of the proposed Washington Street urban deck).

No I do not support the earlier ideas, but do support modifications of later ideas for urban highways:

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 26, 2009 1:53 pm • linkreport

Also, I wrote about such in the Takoma Voice back in 1997:

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 26, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

David, I am really glad that you posted this essay, since it demonstrates so well a basic lack of understanding of the complexity of our region’s transportation needs. Obviously, the issues pointed out above by Froggie and DC Chica, that for this very special event, people were willing to take a far longer amount of time than normal to reach their destination and that people not healthy enough to walk long distances and stand around in below-freezing temperatures for several hours were told to stay home, are paramount. I would also add a variant on Froggie’s second point, noting that people who did not have tickets frequently compromised, based on the transportation available, in choosing their destination, say the Lincoln Memorial rather than the Capitol or Washington Monument, and that the experiment didn’t capture much of the complex nature of our actual transportation needs, including varied starting points and destinations, as well as the need on a regular basis to carry bulky items or even bring bicycles on the Metro.

Alex, Perhaps it “worked,” but not if you weren’t willing to spend far more time traveling than normal, to consider going to a destination miles from your job or other activity, to consider reaching you destination hours late or hours early, or to stay home if you simply aren’t capable of walking the distances necessary

by JW on Jan 26, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

I think the point that is "paramount" is that if you had left the roads open, you would have had 900,000 people on the mall and 800,000 people trapped in cars and buses at noon.

by David C on Jan 26, 2009 8:11 pm • linkreport

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