Greater Greater Washington

Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?

Should the design of major roads and our big transit projects favor moving large numbers of people in and out of downtown? Or should DC focus on making streets feel more like neighborhood streets, and transportation investments that help people travel within and between neighborhoods?


Photo by Roger Wollstadt on Flickr.

This is the major tradeoff that residents considered in a series of public meetings that concluded last week for MoveDC, a project which aims to create a citywide transportation plan.

Planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) presented participants with 3 scenarios which keep things as they are, prioritize transportation to and from the downtown core, or focus on neighborhoods.

Scenarios set different priorities

All of the scenarios include finishing 22 miles of streetcars, the bridge megaprojects like the South Capitol Street racetrack, putting performance parking in busy commercial areas, expanding CaBi and bike trails and lanes, and more.

Stay the Course, the first scenario, sticks with these and keeps allocating resources and space to a balance of long-distance and short-distance travel.

Get To the Center focuses on the downtown areas, still the main engines of DC's economy. This option makes it easier to get to downtown by car and transit, such as by timing signals to maximize traffic flow to and from the core.

DC would invest in transit to and from Maryland and Virginia, like new Metro lines across the Potomac, or commuter rail capacity. Bike trails and cycle tracks that travel to or from downtown would get the highest priority.

Travel would not necessarily be free; this scenario includes a proposal for a congestion charge for private vehicle trips downtown to help pay for infrastructure that gets people downtown.

Connect the Neighborhoods instead focuses on helping people get around within and between neighborhoods. Most capital would go to facilities that help people cross geographic barriers like Rock Creek Park or the Anacostia River. Local streets would put walking, biking, and short-distance local traffic first, such as with medians that make it easier to cross.

New transit would also serve neighborhood needs more than commuters in and out of the city, such as the full proposed 37-mile streetcar system, or buses like the Circulator that connect "activity centers."

This scenario posits that DC needs to decentralize its jobs and retail. As the city grows, a single downtown can't serve all of the needs, and therefore this scenario assumes that more mixed-use zoning will let people work all over the city instead of all cramming the main downtown routes to jobs in the center, which is almost entirely built out.


Georgia Avenue. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

In reality, any actual plan will combine elements of all of these and not go 100% in the direction of core-oriented or neighborhood-oriented transportation. Still, it's a useful discussion, as it helps us think through our priorities. Financial constraints mean we can't build every transportation project anyone has suggested. How do we prioritize investments?

Plus, roadways have finite space. On 16th Street in Columbia Heights, for instance, there have been dueling proposals to build a median, which would make the road safer to cross, or a dedicated bus lane, which would help buses get through the area. Off-peak parking on major arterials creates significant congestion at the edges of rush hour. Bike lanes, dedicated transit lanes, and parking all vie for roadway space.

Land use matters, too

It's mostly outside DDOT's purview, but any discussion of downtown versus neighbor­hoods can't be complete without thinking about land use. Transportation is about getting people to places they need to be: housing, jobs, stores, schools, and so on.

Where will DC grow? Any proposal to grow anywhere meets with some opposition. Can the city develop a consensus to grow in particular places rather than others?

The city could grow mostly in the center. That would protect neighborhood character, something resident activists often speak about. On the other hand, it would probably not mean a lot more neighborhood retail. Most of all, though, there isn't actually much room to grow in the center without changes to the height limit.

Do we want to relax the height limit downtown and create a much busier and denser central business district? That land use scenario fits well with the Get To the Center transportation scenario.

Or, does DC want to decentralize? Put more growth around Metro stations, frequent bus lines, and future streetcar lines in all neighborhoods? That would bring more jobs, residents, and retail to many neighborhoods. However, it requires making sure there's room for this growth.

If every new building meets opposition and the Historic Preservation Review Board wants to shave a floor or two off every proposal in one of the myriad historic districts, neighborhoods won't be able to grow enough to decentralize the city.

But if we do want to help each neighborhood become more self-sufficient and reduce the need to travel long distances for basic necessities like groceries or recreation, the Connect the Neighborhoods scenario makes sense.

We have to do something

By 2040, projections say DC will around 800,000 residents one-third more than today. The region as a whole will add 2 million new residents, also about a third increase.


Projected population growth (left) and job growth (right). Images from DDOT.

The roads, rails, and bike paths will all need to accommodate more people safely, without relying on more physical space, and that's one of the central challenges this plan seeks to address. How will we move ourselves around, with a third more people everywhere?

The District is the 7th most walkable city, according to Walk Score, yet also has the most pedestrian fatalities per capita among major cities, and 46% of respondents in a 2009 DDOT survey complained that unsafe street crossings made it difficult from them to walk to places they want to go.

DDOT is committed to expanding transit, bicycling, and walking options. Mayor Gray's sustainability plan sets goals for 75% of trips to use these modes, which fit in more people per lane mile. At the same time, some people will continue to need to drive. Performance parking, car sharing, and possibly a future driverless car can reduce parking pressures as the number of people grows.

How should the District focus its transportation to meet the needs of the future? How should it balance getting people in and out of the core versus connecting neighborhoods? What do you think?

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 
Rahul Mereand-Sinha was born in DC and grew up nearby in Bethesda. He now lives in Kalorama Triangle with his wife Katherine. He has a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Maryland and moonlights as a macroeconomist. 

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I think the city needs to concentrate on getting people downtown. That will be it's advantage as the region becomes more and more decentralized. DC geographically isn't very big and while better connections can be made for cross town trips all over the place the big projects need to focus on making sure DC's business centers can stay competitive. This includes adding to the already relative ease of getting downtown without a car.

This would also mean modifying the height limit but that's a different discussion.

by drumz on Jun 18, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

I was recently in San Francisco, and I was surprised at how slowly but smoothly the traffic flowed in most parts of town. Speed limits were generally low, and there seemed to be a lot of 4-way stops. It seems to me that should be the goal in DC: to get everyone where they're going comfortably and safely -- not necessarily quickly. That would mean fewer one-way streets, fewer places where you can't turn left, etc. -- make it less confusing for road users, even if that makes it slower in places. Coincidentally, the drivers there seemed more laid-back than DC -- but I don't know which way the causation runs there!

by Gavin on Jun 18, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

I understand the temptation of DC residents to not want to focus on downtown, especially if a congestion tax does not become feasible. But I fear a conscious effort to decentralize employment in the district, will not result in fewer suburban commuters - and WILL mean a higher proportion of them commuting by auto. Locations at non downtown sites served by only one metro line will be likely to make transit commutes problematic even for a large number of commuters from relatively dense inner suburbs. That will mean more cars on DC streets, and will weaken the attempt to make the region more transit focused, and to make the inner suburbs more carfree and carlite.

So while I think it logical to make the roads/streets more focused on interneighborhood movement, and to add choices like the streetcars and circulators that make neighborhood transit more feasible, I think it would be a tremendous mistake to neglect expansion of metrorail to downtown and adjacent areas (such as NoMa and Navy Yard) in the hope of diverting most employment growth into the neighborhoods. Exactly how you finance that metrorail expansion, and how you deal with the height limit, are clearly big and fraught questions.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

The whole premise here -- that the transportation planning should be beholden to only work-home commuting habits -- is incorrect.

You only need to enroll your kid(s) in a beyond-walking-distance charter school to appreciate that.

I am still looking for a the data the shows what fraction of trips are the stereotypical suburb-downtown commute. I contend that most trips aren't.

by goldfish on Jun 18, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

I think it's both really. Unfortunately we need to tolerate the Rock Creek Parkways and Wisconsin Aves to an extent and focus on making the majority of neighborhood streets people friendly. Because of the particulars of our geography and development in the region and think the current downtown focus works.

We are going to need better crosstown service between NW/NE in the future. I expect when they get around to the separated blue line it will take a more northerly route. One of the things I really like about the streetcar network is that it's clearly designed to fill in some of the gaps between the hub and spoke style of metro lines. We are slowly but surely working to capitalize upon land value around existing stations which is a good start to justifying a truly comprehensive network.

The downtown congestion charge is interesting too. I suspect that more than anything would raise too much Congressional ire to be worth it.

by Alan B. on Jun 18, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Adding capacity to Metro (Spiting the Blue / Orange / Silver Lines) and adding more crosstown transit options will almost certainly benefit those who live in most areas of the District. We have to fund the expansion of the Metrorail system within the core.

However, I'm concerned about ensuring that ward's 7 and 8 are not excluded from transportation options. We still focus on getting around on this side of the Anacostia but we seem to forget that some of the most affordable housing in the area has fewer transportation options along with natural and man-made barriers.

by Randall M. on Jun 18, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

How much of this could be solved by reconnecting/redesigning the grid itself? And not just the low-hanging fruit like L'Enfant and Walter Reed (and presumably/hopefully other redevelopment sites like that), but wide swathes of Palisades-type areas, lots of upper northwest, and east of the river. These would all be helped by a more urban focus on their layouts themselves.

by MetroDerp on Jun 18, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

I think that DC first needs to identify how and where it can grow. DDOT seems to be looking to expand established business centers and residential neighborhoods. I'd argue that this is going to happen on its own, and that we need to be thinking in the long-term, and establishing *new* activity centers, rather than cramming more people into existing ones.

Downtown is mostly built-out, and while it could use some additional transportation options, I suspect that any further expansion is quickly going to run into a dead end. The Blue Line will allow us to hit this maximum, but there's not really much room to grow past that, unless you raised the height limit.

Similarly, if we're not going to demolish any existing neighborhoods, we're going to start running out of places for people to live. One could argue that this is already happening. Many of DC's existing neighborhoods don't have much room to grow...

If we're going to start building new Metro lines again, let's first accommodate downtown, and then start looking to see where we have the most room to grow. We don't want to fully decentralize, but we also don't want to sprawl. My two suggestions would be the NY Ave NE and RI Ave NE corridors. Lots of room for new development and infill along both...

by andrew on Jun 18, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

The whole premise here -- that the transportation planning should be beholden to only work-home commuting habits -- is incorrect.

I'll clarify what I said earlier. The answer should be both. However, I think it's relatively easier to make crosstown transit easier since in many places its just not there and its not as hard to add or upgrade a bus line to facilitate those trips as it is to plan a huge upgrade in capacity (usually meaning rail) that's needed to get people downtown.

And if you can better solve the problems of people's commutes then you can make the non work trips (like getting your kid to school) that much easier.

by drumz on Jun 18, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

When the blue line comes I think it might be more northernly, like going through dupont and logan circle rather than closely paralleling the current blue line. I dont think it is economically viable to run it much further north.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 18, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

Compared to cities like SF, NYC, London, Paris etc. in-town transit is absolutely miserable. Metro is mostly worthless to us and we depend on the bus system, which is nothing to brag about.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 18, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

@ Andrew

I believe that according to MARC / AMTRAK long-term plans (2035), they would like to increase the number of tracks from the District line to Union Station from 2 to 3. If Maryland would go along with it, perhaps we could also fund a station along that corridor. Currently, there are no plans for street cars but there has been talk of BRT and a cycle track.

When we think about future transportation options, we have to think about areas such as this.

by Randall M. on Jun 18, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

Richard I was thinking Georgetown > Dupont > Logan > Mt Vernon > Union > Capital Hill > Stadium Armory, although if you Silverline takes over for the Blue EOTR, you could just as well have the Blue Line continue up Rhode Island into NE instead.

by Alan B. on Jun 18, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

Should the design of major roads and our big transit projects favor moving large numbers of people in and out of downtown?

I think the question should be split up. Roads should not favor in/out of downtown but transit should. Bike/ped improvements should probably be a mix of both -- for example, improving walking/biking along the RI NE and NY Ave NE corridors would connect neighborhoods and facilitate getting downtown.

by Falls Church on Jun 18, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

Shorten commutes by making DC a desirable place to live. Any other strategy is a race to bankruptcy.

- Wealth inequity is also a major problem in DC, and it is strongly related to transportation. One needs only to go to a neighborhood poorly served by Metro to see that. This is largely caused by the exodus of workers to the MD and VA suburbs, which will be aggravated by too much focus on serving outlying needs before the needs of DC residents.

- If transit from the outlying suburbs is to be a priority, there need to be costs incurred by those long-distance commuters. Otherwise, DC will be subsidizing sprawl and operating at a deficit to do so.

- There are plenty of existing roads in the District that could be modernized to facilitate work and non-work commuting. Look at Georgia, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island Avenues, for instance.

- There are transmitted systems that allow buses to change traffic lights to green, like ambulances. This system is already in places elsewhere (e.g.,Germany), where it increases traffic efficiency AND bus ridership.

- Finally, rather than throwing more money at NoVA and MoCo, how about increasing access to everything northeast of Rock Creek Park (Silver Spring, NE, SE, PG County)? If you're looking for a place where change could make a difference, that's it. Putting more money into NoVA is short-sighted and will just aggravate the problem.

by Joe Sexton on Jun 18, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Alan
I was thinking similar: Georgetown, Dupont, Logan, Mt Vernon (N street) although adding another station at NJ and N/O/P, and on to NoMa (with a passage to the commuter platforms for MARC/VRE) Then one station near H street/Flrda Ave and then going back up to NY/Bladensburg to continue out next to the Amtrak right of way to Cheverly + New Carrolton.

Hitting Stadium armory would create a bottle neck, you would have all three lines at the same station just like you have at rosslyn(which is the problem in the first place.)

by Richard Bourne on Jun 18, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

@Joe Sexton

You have a great point that if we are a region, we have to bare the transportation costs fairly. Prince George's County must change, it has to become more urbanize and has made small steps. We have to focus more on the east side of the District and working with Maryland to provide better transportation options into the District. Expanding road is just not going to work long term. Maryland has to focus on creating a viable public transportation network in its DC and Baltimore suburbs.

by Randall M. on Jun 18, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

I think there is some confusion here. DC does NOT pay for infrastructure in Md or Va, that should be made clear. Whats at issue in terms of DC enabling suburban commuters is basically two things

1. The ongoing wars about the DC arterials that carry lots of Md commuters - Wisconsin, Connecticut, RCP, 16th street, RI ave, and New York Avenue

2 The big NoVa question - to prioritize the seperate Blue line, or not

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

@Richard Bourne

We can salivate and hash out and dream about the separated Blue Line forver. And we will. But I don't think you have enough stops on your list, and there's also no way in hell a separated Blue Line doesn't stop at Union Station.

Other than a new Potomac crossing and a Georgetown stop, an additional line servicing Union Station is the compelling reason to build the damn thing.

by MetroDerp on Jun 18, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

It is not a choice. Both need to happen.

by Jasper on Jun 18, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

@Joe Sexton

You are ridiculously correct on all fronts.

And I would go one step further than the light timings - why on earth do we consign massive amounts of asphalt to stationary vehicles when we could easily repurpose that roadway for bus-only lanes? It's a preposterously inefficient use of space. And I'm definitely not settling for just at rush hour.

by MetroDerp on Jun 18, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

@Randall M. Maryland has to focus on creating a viable public transportation network in its DC and Baltimore suburbs.

I think that Maryland, unfortunately, leaves it up to each jurisdiction. One only has to look to the difference in bus networks between Montgomery County and PG County. MoCo has a pretty darn extensive bus system (imperfect, yes, but it'll get you where you're going), while PG is......lacking. Less than 30 routes for the entire county? Weekday-only service? They depend heavily on Metrobus to fill in the gaps and bear the responsibility of bus transit because they are unwilling to support it in a meaningful way.

Sadly, I don't see Maryland having the political will to tell it's counties "get your butts in gear" when it comes to investing in public transit, particularly something as unsexy as bus routes.

by Birdie on Jun 18, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

I suppose another question is, considering how close the Silverline and Orange line overlap is why not a seperated Silverline after Rosslyn?

by Alan B. on Jun 18, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

I also think getting people in and out of the core is more important. This will also improve the neighborhood to neighborhood connections becasue it will mitigate the amount of cars that cut through all neighborhoods. Afterall, what is the core? To people in Adams Morgan, it might be Downtown and Dupont, but this is a larger region despite the political boundaries, and what's good for DC is what's good for it's surrounding jurisdictions.

by Thayer-D on Jun 18, 2013 3:25 pm • linkreport

@MetroDerp
The pathing I proposed would hit Union station, at least the trains there. It would not hit the red line station, because in part, that station is too small and far from the actual trains to be of much use.

What I was proposing would be a station under the actual train platforms, so one could ride the metro and then get on a train seamlessly. Similarly upon arrival one could get off a train and enter the metro seamlessly.

If you need to buy a ticket at a ticket counter, you would have to walk fairly far to get into the station that is south of the tracks, but who actually buys their tickets right before they travel these days?

by Richard Bourne on Jun 18, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

I'll say the obvious is both, including

Downtown priorities:
separate blue line
timed street lights
new bridge crossing into VA
bike lanes

Outside downtown priorities:
East-West connectionS
connections to urban centers in PG and MG counties
street car network - including up Wisconsin
improved NY Ave/50
development oriented transit investments in Annocostia
bike lanes

by andy2 on Jun 18, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport

@Richard Bourne

If Metrorail can create a station that doesn't have 100 foot station vaults then maybe we can have a state-of-the-art near or below Union Station. Remember, Amtrak hopes to rebuild the station, oh, over the next 30 years. Hopefully it won't take that long to expand the Metrorail trunk lines.

@Alan B
The Silver line should have gone under and over I66 or even better, it should have been more like a VRE extension. It just never made sense that a subway system with dozens of stops should travel 40 miles to an international airport.

I can't see Amtrak risking people just hoping on and off their trains at the platform level. I don't know of any transit system that allows for "gateless" transfers from a subway system to a national system. If they used the same payment system like MARC and Amtrak now have, maybe.

by Randall M. on Jun 18, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

@Alan B, one of the alternatives analyzed in the TAG studies was splitting off the Silver Line at East Falls Church, running a new line north of the Orange to Rosslyn and then going to Georgetown, M St. Rather expensive. Don't know if it would feasible to create a new split-off Silver Line by splitting off the Orange Line east of Courthouse, duck under the current tunnels to a new Rosslyn connecting station to Georgetown, M St, etc. The decision on what to do at Rosslyn with respect to an interline connector, split off Blue Line with a new station, or other will be a critical one for flexibility in future Metro growth.

The answer to the questions posed above is that both connections to the core and between the neighborhoods have to be done. With a mix of streetcar and BRT lines (in separated lanes even if a car lane or parking have to be taken away), at least 1 new Metro route through the core, multiple light rail lines around DC, extending Orange and Blue lines further out.

by AlanF on Jun 18, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

"It just never made sense that a subway system with dozens of stops should travel 40 miles to an international airport."

How else would you provide a rail connection from Reston, Herndon, and Loudoun to Tysons Corner? Silver Line was never ONLY about Dulles.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

Seriously.

All those stops in between is the entire point of the Silver Line.

by MLD on Jun 18, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

@ Randall
Amtrak does let people just hop on and off their trains. You can walk right out to the trains at most Amtrak stations but if you get on you are asked for your ticket. Similarly MARC does not check tickets until you actually board the train.

I think you would have to have fare-gates to get out of the metro system, but then while still at the mezzanine level you could access different train platforms via different stairs/elevators.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 18, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

@Richard Bourne, there are two levels to the platforms at Union Station. There are also long range plans for a new underground level of platforms for HSR, underground parking garages, new buildings over the platforms and tracks. Any new Metro station there will have to go deep and should provide for direct transfer connections to the Red Line platform.

The Master Plan for Union Station makes reference to preserving space for a new Metro station and tracks. My guess is that would be a reserved deep vault shaped space between building support pilings, wide enough for platforms and tracks that would run at roughly at a right angle to the Red Line. If it runs underneath the width of Union Station, then an elevator bank to the SE end of the new metro station could be built in the new Union Station concourse.

The plan for Union Station calls for Phase 3 to be completed by 2028 (which is too optimistic) which will be well before a new Metro line station (Blue or whatever) could be built and open there.

by AlanF on Jun 18, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

"How else would you provide a rail connection from Reston, Herndon, and Loudoun to Tysons Corner? Silver Line was never ONLY about Dulles." +1. A lot of people appear to have difficultly in grasping this concept. Metro access to Dulles is an important reason for the Silver Line, but it is hardly the only one.

by AlanF on Jun 18, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

Because DC does not have many freeways, especially coming in from the north, major avenues like Conn., Wisconsin and Mass. serve as the commuter arterials. I'm glad that the 50s plans for extensive freeways were not built, but this is the reality today. I want to see more street cars, but a Wisconsin Ave. streetcar would not provide commuter capacity for Montgomery County commuters, it would only constrain the vehicle capacity of this arterial. Unless Reno Rd. becomes more of a vehicle corridor than it is today (which residents who live along it would surely oppose), I don't know where you put the Wisconsin Ave. vehicle traffic.

by James on Jun 18, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

@James,
the point is that transit investments should be done so that it limits the need for cars to enter downtown. Wisconsin, and many other streets, used to carry streetcars and private vehicles. Because we feel that the curb lane of every street should have parking we don't see the room for transit on our streets. Do we want surface parking or transit? I'd vote transit - as it will make the city more livable and sustainable.

by andy2 on Jun 18, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

I get that those Virginia locations were all part of the plan, I just don't like the plan. Take for example getting to BWI. On MARC, it's 5 stops and 30 minutes. At a minimum, someone should have suggested an "express" that bypasses Arlington under I66 and then emerges around Tysons.

We always think about that value of a dollar regarding mass transit but spare no expense on roads. It makes no sense to spend what will probably be an hour on the Silver line from Metro Center because we build a subway.

@Richard Bourne
I'm not saying it can't happen, it sounds interesting.

All of this said, we've shown in our conversation that DC alone can't fix all its transportation ills. We need a regional taskforce to coordinate transportation certain issues, especially those that will impact the region. For example, Maryland should have chipped in money to cover the $300 Million or so spent to rebuilt the 11th Street bridge sense most of it's citizens use it.

by Randall M. on Jun 18, 2013 5:12 pm • linkreport

@Alan
That is the situation I am trying to propose to avoid. Going super deep means you will have a long transfer from the deep track level, to the red line track level then up to the mezannine then up to the actual station. Followed by a hike to your actual trains. The current red line station at Union station is over capacity as it is. Adding any more traffic there would necessitate widening the station, putting the north and southbound tracks further apart. Trying to catch a MARC train from the red line is a royal pain as it is. Going deeper wont help this.

Instead I propose
A north south station alignment, fairly deep but not that deep under the tracks between the actual union station and NoMa. Passengers wanting to transfer to the redline would take the northern exit to the NoMa station, seamless transfer. Passengers wanting to catch a train would exit to the south of the station, rising up to a mezzanine that went east west. From here you could walk under the above platforms to get to the one your train is on. The station should be positioned to be as close to the actual train platforms and a redline transfer as possible. I think by picking the NoMa instead of UniSta red line station you can more easily get close to the train platforms.

I know there are two levels of platforms, this could still be accommodated. HSR isn't coming any time soon, but could also be accommodated.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 18, 2013 5:15 pm • linkreport

" get that those Virginia locations were all part of the plan, I just don't like the plan. Take for example getting to BWI. On MARC, it's 5 stops and 30 minutes. At a minimum, someone should have suggested an "express" that bypasses Arlington under I66 and then emerges around Tysons."

An express under 66 from Ballston or EFC to Rosslyn may make sense as a future addition, when the seperate blue line creates capacity, and Tysons is more built out. For now though, it would have added hundreds of millions to the cost, and reduced frequency of train service to the Arlington stops. So it really wouldnt make sense.

"We always think about that value of a dollar regarding mass transit but spare no expense on roads."

You know thats really not true. While we may spend more on roads than many of us would like, theres still major efforts by state DOTs to keep costs on roads down as well.

"It makes no sense to spend what will probably be an hour on the Silver line from Metro Center because we build a subway."

That will be up to travelers to decide. However this was funded by the Feds, by Fairfax and Loudoun, by DTR tolls, and by the Commonweath - not by air travelers. Adding hundreds of millions in cost because you are unhappy about the trip time was not on the table.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2013 5:24 pm • linkreport

@Richard

WMATA's plan is to expand the north entrance at Union Station so that it has more capacity:
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/6675/expanded-mezzanine-planned-for-union-station-metro/

by MLD on Jun 18, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

Given that Ward 3 has about 20 feet out of the 37 mile planned system, this discussion is moot unless long term planning can envision an alternative.

This could include:

A Wisconsin Avenue line from Bethesda to Rosslyn, connecting at the Purple Line, Red Line and Orange line, as well as the M Street line in Georgetown;

A Connecticut Avenue line from Kensington to Van Ness or better yet, Dupont Circle, connecting the Purple and Red Lines as well as MARC.

Just those two improvements would take thousands of cars off the road. Given that Streetcar service once existed on both routes, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out how to make it work now. Funding it, of course, is another issue.

by Andrew on Jun 18, 2013 5:44 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

You make good points. Of course, serving the people in the toll road corridor is important. However, when you look at most other airports and the construction of rapid transit lines to get to them, most of them emphasize the rapid part. The Silver line is effectively a big compromise that seems to make few happy and doesn't really satisfy one of the basic reasons for building rail to Dulles, to get people from the airport to downtown Washington quickly. We could have build something that served Virginians in that corridor better than what they have now. It would have cost more but they would have something that dramatically decreases their travel time.

We've build a Silver Line that only reduces capacity and worsens travel within the District and Virginia. If we thought more broadly and said that this is a regional project, perhaps we would have acquired funds to build both the blue line bypass in the District and a train to Dulles. When we talk about moving District residents, whether the want to go from Fairlawn to Friendship Heights or from Dupont to Dulles, if we continue to think small we aren't going to fix our regional transportation problems.

by Randall M. on Jun 18, 2013 6:10 pm • linkreport

"Of course, serving the people in the toll road corridor is important. However, when you look at most other airports and the construction of rapid transit lines to get to them, most of them emphasize the rapid part."

As far as I know, the average speed on the Silver line will not be significantly slower (if at all slower) than on most other transit lines to airports. Its just that Dulles happens to be far out. Of course National happens to be very close in. Note, the ride from TYSONS to dulles will be fairly short.

" The Silver line is effectively a big compromise that seems to make few happy"

Almost every major infrastructure project is like that. However for its main purpose, enabling the transformation of Tysons, I think its pretty much right what it needs to be.

" and doesn't really satisfy one of the basic reasons for building rail to Dulles, to get people from the airport to downtown Washington quickly."

I think that was like reason number 3, or 4.

" We could have build something that served Virginians in that corridor better than what they have now. It would have cost more but they would have something that dramatically decreases their travel time."

Financing it was touch and go as it was.

"We've build a Silver Line that only reduces capacity and worsens travel within the District and Virginia."

Huh? Thats not true. This increases capacity and improves travel times for people commuting from Loudoun and Reston/Herndon to Tysons, from those places to North Arlington, from those places to DC, from Tysons to North Arlington and DC.

" If we thought more broadly and said that this is a regional project, perhaps we would have acquired funds to build both the blue line bypass in the District and a train to Dulles. When we talk about moving District residents, whether the want to go from Fairlawn to Friendship Heights or from Dupont to Dulles, if we continue to think small we aren't going to fix our regional transportation problems."

Eh, the District wasnt in a position when this was planned to spend on the seperated Blue line (financing is far from lined up in 2013 as it is) let alone to also chip in several hundred million for an I66 bypass in Arlington - just to benefit a relatively modest number of folks going from DC to Dulles Airport.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2013 6:21 pm • linkreport

@Richard Bourne, taking a quick check with Google Earth, the southern end of the NoMa Metro platform looks to be about 2000' north of H Street. Any connection from the Amtrak/MARC/VRE platforms to NoMa is a long hike. If a new Metro line to built to Union Station, it will be at Union Station, not well north of it at NoMa. It will have to go deep because of the existing buildings and future construction at Union Station. Don't know how much analysis has been done for possible specific routes under, north of, south of Union Station for Blue (NW-SE) or Yellow (N-S) Line tunnels.

As for the existing Metro Union station, the northern end of the mezzanine will be expanded as noted. I could see one end of the platform for the new station located 30' or 40' under one end of the Red line station center platform with elevators for Metro transfers and for passengers who realize they entered the wrong Metro station.

Going deep with subway/Metro tunnels is a reality when building a subway line through a city with built-out dense infrastructure. A line under Union Station would probably still be shallower than the No. 7 extension in NYC. I saw a depth sideview diagram in the EIS document for the tunnel box Amtrak is going to build under the West Side yards to preserve the ROW for 2 new Hudson tunnels to NY Penn Station. Holy Toledo, did they send the TBMs deep in the bedrock under 11th Ave to avoid existing infrastructure.

by AlanF on Jun 18, 2013 6:26 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D,

To people in Adams Morgan, it might be Downtown and Dupont, but this is a larger region despite the political boundaries, and what's good for DC is what's good for it's surrounding jurisdictions.

I'm not sure this is at all self-evident. Or rather, I'm not sure its converse is true. Making transportation into DC easier for those living in the surrounding jurisdictions is *not* what's good for DC. Or at least not when historically that's absolutely degraded the quality of life for those who live here.

Should we gratuitously pursue policies that make (car) commuting into the city more difficult for people who don't live in the city? Of course not. But as DC's population continues to grow, it's going to increasingly be a zero-sum game between quality of life for DC residents, and quality of commute for non-residents. And in that competition, non-residents absolutely must lose.

by oboe on Jun 18, 2013 8:53 pm • linkreport

Neighborhood-based circulators have a place in this discussion - as a separate mode of transit. We took the opportunity to prove the concept works, in the neighborhood behind Waterfront Metro and the old EPA building. The SouthWest Action Team, led by Beth Paulson, made the case for a shuttle service as a crime remediation measure while the EPA building was demolished and the site redeveloped. This 18-month project, primarily funded by developers, used a 12-seater accessible small bus weekdays on a fixed route basis during peak periods, evenings (Jazz Night at Westminster Pres, anyone?) and Tuesday/Friday Middays. The Shuttle-Bug carried 13 passengers per revenue hour, giving a fare-free connection to Metrorail, Safeway, CVS and the library. Commuters used the service until they could safely walk again to Metrorail - with groceries on the way home. MetroAccess clients and seniors used the service to connect to main-line transit to reach work and appointments. This is replicable - and far less expensive than Metrobus or a local transit system would have been. The service was operated by a private contractor experienced both in shuttle services and transporting seniors and people with disabilities.

by Steve Yaffe on Jun 18, 2013 9:59 pm • linkreport

But as DC's population continues to grow, it's going to increasingly be a zero-sum game between quality of life for DC residents, and quality of commute for non-residents. And in that competition, non-residents absolutely must lose.

The caveat is transit.

A strategy focused on making it easy to commute to the core via transit is perfectly compatible with the neighborhood-based approach.

The approach with these broad scenarios seems to make them mode-neutral, but the mode matters a great deal. It's based on basic geometry. The city can aim to be the center of a growing region if it focuses that growth on and around transit, but it needs to nip any car-dominant system in the bud. Without even touching on the quality-of-life issues for residents, it's simply not geometrically feasible.

by Alex B. on Jun 19, 2013 12:02 am • linkreport

Any strategy that focuses on cars over public transportation and pedestrian mobility is shortsighted. Car use continues to decrease and there is a growing demand for more reliable and more frequent mass transportation. This, coupled with an increase in mixed-use neighborhoods, allows new popualtion centers to grow, pulling suburbanites back in DC residences, thus continuing to decrease vehicular demand from outside the city.

by cmc on Jun 19, 2013 12:53 am • linkreport

The big element missing from all these scenarios (check the maps on the DDOT website) is a COMPLETE NETWORK OF PHYSICALLY SEPARATED BIKEWAYS (aka cycle-tracks); the only new proposed additions are the M St. lane and a few other bits. There is no way to reach the mode share goals laid out in the SustainableDC plan if we don't attract a large number of new riders and that won't happen without safe and connected routes that people feel comfortable using. We need a wholesale shift in the way we think about and support personal mobility, not continued incrementalism that leaves us with essentially the same results. This is true whether you favor the in-&-out-of-the-core paradigm or the get-around-&-enhance-the-neighborhoods approach; it also applies to improving transit options and making our streets far more pedestrian friendly (& those that still choose to drive will benefit from all of this as well). Lots of growth is coming to the city/region & we need a visionary transportation system to meet that challenge. Plus the benefits to the quality of life, economic vitality, and public health of our communities would be huge and only enhance the returns on such planning- and spending- decisions.

by PhilK on Jun 19, 2013 1:13 am • linkreport

But as DC's population continues to grow, it's going to increasingly be a zero-sum game between quality of life for DC residents, and quality of commute for non-residents.

I'm going to break form here and disagree with oboe. I think Alex B is right that transit (and better biking and walking) can keep this from being zero-sum. And of course, increased density can help more non-residents become residents.

HSR could help too. If getting from downtown Baltimore to Union Station took 15 minutes, Baltimore - which has much unused capacity - could become a bedroom community for DC. And that would benefit residents and non-residents alike.

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

So does this sum it up?

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/19224/focus-transportation-on-downtown-or-neighborhoods/#comment-188850

I don't see any particular controversy about improving bike crossings across the potomac, or integrating the DC street car system with maryland centers. Even the bus lane vs peds thing doesnt seem like a huge issue. Do we run street cars across town or downtown, where do we prioritize bike lanes, seem easily compromised. Doesn't 95% of the potential policy distinction boil down to "should we make it easier to drive downtown on the arterials, at the expense of like, crossing the street" and "should we spend billions on the blue line when we could spend that on a more extensive and faster implemented streetcar and bus corridor system plus gads of cycle tracks, etc"

by differenthandleforthis on Jun 19, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

I'm not saying that we shouldn't build the Blue Line. However, if we took the amount of money that it would cost to build it, we would literally have difficulty spending it all on bike lanes, and streetcar/LRT projects.

We're comparing things that are in completely different stratospheres.

by andrew on Jun 19, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

@andrew

Good point. For the Second Avenue subway in New York, the construction costs are approach $2 billion per mile. From Benning Road to Rossalyn is about 6 miles.

That's a lot of cycletracks.

(http://www.wisegeek.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-build-a-new-subway-line.htm)

by Randall M. on Jun 19, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

Funding aside I DO think there is a philosophical discussion happening whether we should spend any money on car facilities vs any money on bike/transit. I think most of us here fall into one camp so it's easy to forget it's still well up for debate not how much we should spend on streetcars vs Metro but if we should spend anything on them.

by Alan B. on Jun 19, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

And when I say spend money I also mean prioritizing use of road space which can be more controversial than the cost itself.

by Alan B. on Jun 19, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

If we need more East-West connectivity in DC, what about Klingle Road? Or re-build it as Klingle Parkway.

by Axel on Jun 19, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

@David C
I dont see a world where HSR is cheap enough for commuters from Baltimore to DC every day. Replacing the B&P Tunnel would save 10 minutes. Reducing the number of stops along the route for an express would save another 20, but you aren't going to get below 30 minutes without jacking up the price significantly.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 19, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

Richard, have you seen price estimates for HSR tickets on this part of the route. For the Maglev project 10 years ago, they put the price at $14 each way for commuters.

http://www.bwmaglev.com/about/ridership_summary1.htm

by David C on Jun 19, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

My blog entry on this issue from last week didn't get to the level of regional transportation issues, which people are discussing in this thread. Not having more robust frameworks for consideration of how to do transportation planning makes it tough to know where the city is going with the planning process. Especially because the people at the public sessions are looking for praise, not critical dialogue.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2013/06/dcs-transportation-planning-process.html

by Richard Layman on Jun 19, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport

"For the Second Avenue subway in New York, the construction costs are approach $2 billion per mile. From Benning Road to Rossalyn is about 6 miles."

The cost of the first phase of the Second Ave Subway project in Manhattan at NYC construction prices have no bearing on what it would cost to build a new Blue route through DC. Somehow we managed to build the Red, Orange/Blue, Yellow/Green lines through the city in the 1970s to 1990s without running up huge costs. The Silver Line, including engineering design, a rail yard and purchase of rolling stock, will run about $250 million a mile fully loaded. $4 billion over 5-6 miles for new tunnels under the Potomac to Georgetown to Union Station with new stations is a reasonable guess estimate.

Yes, that would pay for a lot of cycletracks. But the rerouted Blue Line would carry far more people in any given day. The solution is to build both.

by AlanF on Jun 19, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

@AlanF

And, for what it's worth, we did the existing lines relatively affordably without doing them as cut-and-cover (which would be a far better solution for DC, imo).

by MetroDerp on Jun 19, 2013 4:19 pm • linkreport

MetroDerp: Much of the underground portion of today's Metro lines *were* cut-and-cover.

by David Alpert on Jun 19, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

Well, that's embarrassing. I thought that's why all the stations had escalators instead of stairs - they were considered too deep for stairs everywhere because of the tunneling. Urban legend?

by MetroDerp on Jun 19, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

The platforms are deeper than other systems like NYC but they were still built with cut-and-cover.

by MLD on Jun 19, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

I know the Green Line was at least partially cut and cover. Isn't that why most of them follow the street grid?

by Alan B. on Jun 19, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

They built deep because they wanted the big vaulted ceilings, and wanted the vaulted ceilings to make the Metro feel more spacious than the NYC subway, which at the time was pretty poorly maintained and not pleasant. They wanted to attract suburbanites to ride Metro, and this grand feel was part of the plan to do that.

Stations like Metro Center are cut and cover, but deeper cut and cover than a NYC station without the vaults. The escalators are necessary to get down into the vault, and plus at the time they thought they'd be way more comfortable than having to take stairs. Which is true, as long as they're working. They didn't realize what would happen if you under-maintained them for too long.

Ironically, the NYC subway is close to the street because when it was built, it was competing with the elevated railroads, and those were very high up. They didn't have escalators, so designers wanted to minimize the number of stairs someone would have to traverse.

So 2 systems made opposite design decisions in very different eras, each as a reaction to the failings of a previous generation's system.

The really deep stations like Dupont aren't cut and cover. That one's deep because the tunnel has to go under Rock Creek (Woodley Park too, obviously). Ones near the rivers are deep because the tunnel's going under the river. And so on.

I'd encourage everyone to read The Great Society Subway, the best history of the Metro. It has a lot about why they designed the system the way they did.

by David Alpert on Jun 19, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

@ David Alpert

Whats the reason for Wheaton, Bethesda & Forest Glen being so deep

by kk on Jun 23, 2013 8:45 pm • linkreport

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