Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Why cities?


Photo by BuzzFarmers on Flickr.
Cities for everyone: Joel Kotkin writes that planners cater to the rich and "luxury cities" are not where most Americans can or even want to live. Instead, they find what they need in Sunbelt boomtowns. Should other cities adopt the Sunbelt model? (Post)

For affordable housing, change zoning: Will changing zoning laws to allow denser development bring more expensive condos? Maybe, but it will also allow other types of housing, as argued over decades by advocates for social justice. (Post, Dizzy)

Cities made for walking: People know that living near a highway is unhealthy, but what about cul-de-sacs? Disconnected streets correlate with less walking and could lead to more obesity and diabetes for the poor as they leave cities. (The Atlantic, charlie)

Bike around construction: DDOT has proposed that a protected path must be provided if construction blocks a bike lane. This can be done by closing a parking lane or general-use travel lane or, as a last resort, rerouting cyclists to another street. (WBJ)

Tunnel delays: Some neighbors oppose an expanded Virginia Ave. train tunnel, but delaying the decision is also delaying development. New routes around the bottleneck would be very costly and controversial. (Post)

Takoma Park saves energy: Takoma Park is a semi-finalist in a nation-wide competition to reduce energy waste. The competition, sponsored by Georgetown University, seeks to promote new thinking and $1 billion in energy savings. (Gazette)

Save South Capitol for pedestrians: With plans underway to design a new bridge across the Anacostia, the current one could be retained and repurposed for walking and bicycling, encouraging active transportation east of the river. (RPUS)

Transit and food deserts: One cure for food deserts is more and better-stocked grocery stores; another is frequent transit. It will not only keep food from spoiling, but can also connect the poor to other opportunities. (Human Transit)

If you build it . . . ?: Santa Clara county in California has seen over $13 billion of new investment within 1/2 mile of its light rail system, but ridership remains abysmal. The problem is lack of walkability and buildings that continue to favor driving. (NextCity)

And...: Greater Washington business leaders are supporting funding for eight-car trains. (8CarCoalition) ... There is still no opening date for the Silver Spring Transit Center. (Post) ... You can expect some changes to bus service, including on the 30s lines. (Post)

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Matt Malinowski is a consultant advising government clients on improving the energy efficiency of consumer electronic products, but is interested in all aspects of sustainable infrastructure and community resilience. He lives with his wife in the Truxton Circle/Bates neighborhood of DC. 

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I see that detouring the bike lane is a "last resort". I'm taking wagers on how often this last resort is invoked.

by Crickey7 on Aug 18, 2014 9:02 am • linkreport

Hmm, early morning links we a side of Kotkin! We like our meat rare.

The 20-24 age cohort is now the largest demographic group in the country. With delayed family formation/student loans/daddy issues/hipster beards stopping them from getting married, it hasn't been surprising that that multi-unit 1BR units are doing well on the market.

At some point it likely this group will get married and have kids, and those 1BR rentals don't look like a great option anymore.

As I sent in the links a few weeks ago, it is possible (in Vancounver) to have family units inside multi-unit buildings, but we are nowhere near that point in the DC area.

Incidentaly I was surprised how reasonable condo prices are in Vancouver vs DC.

by charlie on Aug 18, 2014 9:04 am • linkreport

Joel Kotkin likes his urbanism like he likes his analysis, clean and simple. Cities are for hipsters and sophisticated urban dwellers, while real America prefers low cost products and convenience. Divide and concuer type of logic dosen't hold up to how people actually live. Just having to ask "what are cities for" betrays an ignorance of human nature. Humans are social animals, some more than others, and that's why we live around eachother, regardless of what you'd call the arrangement. How to do that intelligently is the question rather than put everyone in a sub group, make a silly generalization of their desires and then question the worth of our great cities. Not that people like Richard Florida haven't done the same on some level, but Kotkin takes it to a nonscencicle level.

"Meanwhile, cities like New York and San Francisco continue to reflect the media’s preferred form of urbanism, first articulated by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg that, to survive, a city must be primarily “a luxury product,”

Or maybe those cities are so attractive becasue they weren't bombed out during the great exodus of Post war America, that there's so much to go back to. There just isn't that much good urbanism in America left, after the years of demolition and neglect that what's left get's gobbled up quick, assuming there's an economy with which to to that.

"It’s city as adult Disneyland or “entertainment machine,” chock-a-block with chic restaurants, shops and festivals."

The dreaded Disneyland critique as if Barron Von Hausman didn't disneyfy Paris.

"Overlooked, or even disdained, is what most middle-class residents of the metropolis actually want: home ownership, rapid access to employment throughout the metropolitan area, good schools and “human scale” neighborhoods."

Yeah, what hipster would ever want those things?

by Thayer-D on Aug 18, 2014 9:15 am • linkreport

Not sure that human flaggers are really needed for all those bike/ped detours or even any...

by Dave G on Aug 18, 2014 9:16 am • linkreport

Joel Kotkin writes that planners cater to the rich and "luxury cities" are not where most Americans can or even want to live.

The 'can' is the issue here. I've raised this several times already. Most new condos in the Greater DC area start at k$300 for studios. Start adding k$50 per bedroom. How is an urban family with kids supposed to afford that? Also, most condos are built with excessive gyms, party rooms, dry cleaners and convenience stores, but lack decent yard areas and playgrounds.

The underlying economic problem is that there is so much demand for urban living that developers can afford to be lazy and only build for the most profitable group: rich people. It is up to cities and counties to zone in such a way that the middle-class has a chance too.

I do not understand why politicians trying to appeal to the middle-class do not bring this up more.

by Jasper on Aug 18, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

I think grid designs are better for lots of reasons, mostly having to do with allowing alternative exits, but also things like snow plowing, etc. happen faster. Living in a cul-de-sac means being last to get some services. And people do walk more when they can go around blocks rather than go to dead-ends and head back seeing the same thing twice but the opposite direction.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 9:41 am • linkreport

It's annoying that one has to read all the way through the column to get to Kotkin's thesis which is at the very end rather than the beginning.

To achieve an urbanism that works for most Americans, cities need to develop a very different focus, emphasizing such things as affordability, middle-class jobs and opportunity.

Of course the way forward to him is arrived through analysis that says "sprawl good, density bad".

And any city that simply can't sprawl itself to prosperity anymore (NYC, SF, DC) is actually a "luxury city" designed solely for hipsters which is a code word for unamerican.

by drumz on Aug 18, 2014 9:42 am • linkreport

I really hate this hipsters vs middle-class trope that columnists like Kotkin droll out. It gets page clicks but it doesn't help in the continuing discussion of what people want from their communities. Both hipsters and the middle-class want the same thing and it is less sitting in traffic and cars, shorter commutes to work, and a place to live richer lives. It's just that in the last 40 years America destroyed a lot of that, unintentionally, when they create more and more sprawl. The result was such a small stock of walkable, transit-, and bike-friendly cities and towns that those that weren't hollowed out have become what he condescendingly call "luxury cities". I for one am glad that Sunbelt cities are finally getting with the program and making their cities more like the SF, DC, NYC, etc. I'm also glad people are finding an alternative. This will decrease the pressure for cities like DC & NYC. I really don't think this has to be a winner-take-all discussion. I like DC, have a family here, and plan to stay, but if other families prefer Houston (or Dallas, or OK City, or wherever) because they are doing a better job of creating human-scale, walkable, urban places then I'm happy about it. Kotkin might not like the "myopic twits", "urbanists", and "hipsters" but he should thank them because it's their pioneering that's made a lot of these Sunbelt and Southern cities wake up and make the positive changes that he is lauding now.

by dc denizen on Aug 18, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

Big question for Kotkin (in the midst of jeers, swearing, and general booing): how much of the "growth" in your vaunted sunbelt cities has come from annexation? How much of it is from the sheer geographic area of these cities?

by LowHeadways on Aug 18, 2014 9:55 am • linkreport

And our own links explain why housing can get expensive in "luxury cities".

Zoning that prevents anything but single family homes, people who can't stand that they live near an important rail link, and a dearth of places to live where people can perform the basic function of walking.

by drumz on Aug 18, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

"Overlooked, or even disdained, is what most middle-class residents of the metropolis actually want: home ownership, rapid access to employment throughout the metropolitan area, good schools and “human scale” neighborhoods."

If by home ownership is meant owning your home, rather than onwing your own SFH, then its quite possible to do in multifamily, via condos and co-ops. We do have issues now in this country with financing for condos, but that is an institutional problem, not one intrinsic to the level of density.

Rapid access to employment throughout a very large metro area with polycentric employment, much of it away from quality transit is simply not possible without bankrupting levels of highway expenditure (with other bad consequences) Most sunbelt metros that offer that are not that large, and the largest are increasingly turning to transit, and experiencing new dense development - even places like Houston and Dallas, IIUC. Maybe its better to live in a small metro, but thats not the choice that is being made by most people.

Most people with kids want good schools. No direct connection between that and density of course. Cities have problemtic schools because of the connection between SES status and school quality, and if Kotkin has a formula for fixing schools with low SES demographics he should share it.

What is human scale varies. For many people a neighborhood of 6 story Paris style mid rises is human scale. For many more rowhouses are, and for many more small detached houses on small lots on grids is. Maybe for some big houses on one third acre lots on cul de sacs is, but I think its far less than many think.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 18, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

(8CarCoalition)-
On their website, I did not see a way they could get the public's support on this.
Maybe they should start a petition
I did sent them an email via their contact webpage but I think they need to do more and get the public involved

by Brett Young on Aug 18, 2014 10:13 am • linkreport

"an increasing number of residents who had remained quiet about the [VA train tunnel] project are now voicing support, concurring with transportation officials, who have said all along that modernizing the tunnel is key to the efficiency of the region’s rail system."

Yay. Just build the darn thing and stop letting two or three vocal people hijack these infrastructure projects.

by aaa on Aug 18, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

The Post clearly hates all the recent progress DC has made toward urban livability. Things were so much better two decades ago, of course.

by Greenbelt on Aug 18, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

Re: S Cap Ped/Bike Bridge

The new Douglass bridge design would already be far and away the best ped/bike bridge in the region if built as planned. It's supposed to have a 10' two-way cycletrack and an 8' sidewalk ON EACH SIDE.

So long as we're not considering converting the old bridge into a recreation bridge along the lines of the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park, I think it's more important to ensure that the proposed ped/bike facilities stay in the plans then spending effort trying to keep the old bridge intact.

I can't believe that the powers that be would be willing to splurge for nice lanes on both structures, and all the inspection reports I've heard about imply that the current Douglass bridge is in pretty bad shape. It'd be worse to put the ped/bike paths on the old bridge only for it to be decommissioned in a decade or two. I really don't see DDOT getting federal funding to maintain such an expensive ped/bike-only bridge.

by Peter K on Aug 18, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

Wait, from that 8-Car Coalition website comes this gem: "Because this is a two-track transportation rail network, there is no ability to increase the number of trains being put through in order to transport the growing number of riders."

What nonsense is that? How many sheer miles of trackage are underutilized precisely because WMATA (and I guess, by extension, this entire effin' region) don't understand the value and necessity of frequent train service? There's literally one section of the entire Metrorail system at capacity (Rosslyn portal), and even that's only maxed out by WMATA's weird, self-imposed limits.

Don't get me wrong, I also think it's ridiculous not to run full-length trains at all times, but even more important than that is running more frequent trains - something this group has chosen to ignore and in fact deny altogether.

by LowHeadways on Aug 18, 2014 10:27 am • linkreport

The view that cities are a luxury product seems to even have adherents among GGW readers, given that each time we have an affordable housing article there are numerous comments to the effect of "if you can't afford to live in the city stop complaining and move out".

by Hadur on Aug 18, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

The Sunbelt isn't cheaper because a lack of density, but because land is cheaper and more available relative to jobs in the local economy.

As a thought experiment- what if you required the DC metro area to have the same density as Houston, and tore down all of the new apartment and condo buildings to make room for single family houses?

People would still need to get to their jobs in the city, but there would just be a lot less housing available. More people would end up driving as housing near metro stations become less scarce, leading to more traffic. To avoid this traffic, you'd create a lot of demand for living close in, and with housing scarce it would inevitably end up going to the richest who could afford it. Houston level density would make the city less affordable.

Another counterpoint to the argument that urbanism raises costs- look at housing values in some of DC's non-dense areas in far Northwest like Spring Valley, Palisades, etc. These have some of the highest housing costs in the city.

by KingmanPark on Aug 18, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

If Kotkin's got you down, read Krugman who raises some good questions on density, health benefits, and public policy.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/16/steps-and-the-city-fairly-trivial/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs®ion=Body&_r=0#

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 18, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

Seems to me the those who honk at bikes the most are obese cul-de-sac people.

Re-purpose that bridge! What a great idea.

by NE John on Aug 18, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

@LowHeadways - You have the same gripe anytime WMATA is mentioned, and you get the same response, this time from me. WMATA cannot run the trains more frequently than 26 per hour because of little things like the Fort Totten crash that resulted in deaths that were caused by a failure of the automated system to signal properly that further resulted in the whole system being manually operated.

Unless you trust all operators to be really quickly responsive to signals telling them they are about to collide with another train - and have you seen/heard some of the operators lately? they are slow to respond to the more routine parts of their jobs, much less an imminent crash - WMATA and others like the National Transportation Safety Board have concluded WMATA cannot operate more than 26 trains per hour anywhere. So until the automated system is back up, that's a limitation the region has to work within for the moment. Accept it and move on.

by djs04f on Aug 18, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

This dichotomy between Luxury cities and sunbelt growth cities is strange. Growth is not the same thing a quality of life.

Many sunbelt cities are growing very quickly, because they are cheap and are somewhat undeveloped. Things in NYC, LA, and SF are not growing so fast, because they are already developed, and are expensive. That does not mean that if given the chance, from a quality of life point of view, that one would want to live in Dallas vs NYC.

If you really want high growth rates, head to North Dakota, or even leave the US, go live in Shenzhen or Chongqing. They are growing very fast. You can have a high income vs the cost of housing. That does not necessarily mean you will have a high standard of living. Because they are developing, many services available in so called luxury places will not be present.

Further, when picking a destination to live, if you chose a growing place; what happens when things do get developed, things start to get expensive, and the growth slows. The transition is not always pleasant.

by Richard on Aug 18, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

"There's literally one section of the entire Metrorail system at capacity (Rosslyn portal)"

Red Line between Silver Spring and Grosvenor is also at capacity during rush times, at least by train count (I don't know whether all those trains are 8-car.)

"even that's only maxed out by WMATA's weird, self-imposed limits."

What's your idea on how to get more trains per hour through this two-track tunnel?

by massysett on Aug 18, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pubd-spHN-0

by Dave on Aug 18, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

As much as Kotkin misses, the growth of sunbelt cities and the comparative lack of growth of 'luxury' cities like NYC, SF, DC, is instructive. Large prosperous coastal cities will never grow like Houston, but there's a lot more that could be done to add housing supply and boost affordability.

by Sherman on Aug 18, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

Great point Richard.

by Thayer-D on Aug 18, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

@massysett: fair point! I should have said one interlined section at capacity. I'm pretty sure they're not all 8-car; WMATA only runs something like a quarter or maybe a third (possibly half) of their peak hour trains as 8-cars. Based on those power system upgrades.

As for putting more trains through, djs04f is right in that the lack of ATO is one of the big impediments. But I still fail to see how adding 4 trains an hour - and running 30tph - is so beyond the pale of imagination.

One of the main issues, as I've seen it described, is a lack of rolling stock, in fact.

by LowHeadways on Aug 18, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

Not sure why SF is being labeled a slow growth metro, it's one of the fastest growing in the country:
http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/San-Francisco-nears-top-for-job-growth-5351501.php

The metro area was the fastest growing in the country last year for GDP
http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_metro/gdp_metro_newsrelease.htm

DC (the city) is still growing quite fast population wise. Jobs are slower, but that is a recent development.

NYC typically has the largest total (though not percentage wise) job and population growth in the country. It's much more nuanced than what Kotkin states. And he is very intentionally misleading.

by h st ll on Aug 18, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

The Sunbelt isn't cheaper because a lack of density, but because land is cheaper and more available relative to jobs in the local economy.

Well, that and there is a price premium that many are willing to pay to live in a lot of the coastal metropolises (many of which are constrained in growth by geographic or historical development). There isn't the same demand to live in Atlanta and Dallas as NYC or San Francisco (both domestic and global demand). That's not passing judgement either way,

by AA on Aug 18, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

I'm with Chuck Marohn - Sun Belt growth is a Ponzi scheme, and when the time comes to maintain all the roads that were built to sustain sprawl growth, there's going to be a reckoning. Of course Kotkin will probably be gone by then.

by renegade09 on Aug 18, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

About condos and coops and home ownership - HOAs can be intrusive and make someone feel like a renter.
I lived in a condo townhome, the HOA refused to allow me the same fence they'd approved for my neighbor, made me buy the precise shade of brown paint they chose for my door, and told me no backyard vegetable garden. They also kept raising the fees which were literally half again the cost of my mortgage - they didn't cover utilities - and planned to remove the kids playground, which was in fine shape and popular, but some folks didn't like living near the sounds of small children. Those against the playground lost, but barely.
I realize that HOAs may not be typically be that awful, but saying condos are the same to people assumes too much.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

Also, I don't know what part of Houston he's been to, but last time I visited Houston a couple months ago, core neighborhoods like the Heights are being massively gentrified and every other house is being ripped down and a big house, or multifamily is getting stuffed into the lot.

by Eric on Aug 18, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

The listing of "opportunity cities" vs. "luxury cities" is hilarious. The use of children under 14 as the metric is ridiculous; much of this is due to different birthrates among "special" populations, e.g. Mormons and Hispanics.

"All 10 of the cities (metropolitan areas) with the largest shares of children 0-14 years of age are opportunity cities, with Salt Lake City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Riverside-San Bernardino and San Antonio taking the top five positions."

Mormons like large families and may still actually express their care for schools via taxes to fund education, but Texans care for low taxes, and are happy to screw the schools. (Especially for those children who are poor, Hispanic or black and don't live in high-income school districts).

So while where Kotkin sees "opportunity", this particular classification using children under 14 is really a large-family/smaller family split. Immigrants are buying opportunity, but the comparison is to Mexico and Central America.

Sprawl makes housing cheaper but transportation much more expensive.

by Kotkin (again?) on Aug 18, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

@LowHeadways - "But I still fail to see how adding 4 trains an hour - and running 30tph - is so beyond the pale of imagination."

You come across as one of those people who also "fail to see" why National Airport can't increase the number of takeoffs and landings per day... or why cars cannot drive closer together on I-95 to add another lane and increase its throughput. At some point, you have to trust the experts that determine that they just can't.

Let's imagine the world where WMATA squeezes in those additional 4 trains per hour that you seem to think would solve all the congestion problems. Google "induced demand." There are some number of people out there avoiding Metro because of the Orange Crush effect at Rosslyn. So what happens when WMATA ignores all of its experts in favor of appeasing people like you who demand Low Headways!!! and all the additional trains also fill up? Are you going to come back and say "well, I fail to see why WMATA can't get 31 cars per hour through there?"

Where is the magic line where you'll actually believe what the experts are saying, and will you reach it only after another fatal crash?

by djs04f on Aug 18, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

*trains not cars

by djs04f on Aug 18, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

@djs04f: got it, so we're stuck with WMATA's abysmal service because adding any more would cause a fatal accident. Cool, thanks, noted

by LowHeadways on Aug 18, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

Re: Luxury Cities

I certainly think that the possibility of a large middle class in cities is possible but historically speaking, that's not who cities were designed for.

Let's take the example of the ancient city of Rome. Like many ancient cities, it was a place for the wealthy/powerful and a place for the poor who lived in ghettos who served them. To the extent there was a middle class in ancient Rome, they lived in the countryside.

Why was the ancient city of Rome the playground for the rich/powerful? Well, for one thing, they had the latest technology and infrastructure which was expensive to build. You don't build aqueducts over hundreds of miles to provide water to poor people. Nor do you build roads for poor people (remember, "all roads lead to Rome" was actually true).

Or, let's take Paris which is the blueprint for many modern cities and new urbanism. The story there is that Paris became a place for poor people but to make it into the successful city it is today, Napoleon III kicked out all the poor people and built modern infrastructure. The Paris we see today is the result of:

Haussmann's renovation of Paris was a vast public works program commissioned by Emperor Napoléon III and directed by the prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann between 1853 and 1870. It included the demolition of crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods, the building of wide avenues, parks and squares, the annexation of the suburbs surrounding Paris, and the construction of new sewers, fountains and aqueducts. Haussmann's work met with fierce opposition, and he was finally dismissed by Napoleon III in 1870; but work on his projects continued until 1927

I'm not saying what's happened in the past is the right thing or how we should do things in the future. My only point is that cities have historically been designed for the rich and their servants because cities are usually chock full of expensive infrastructure, art, and public works. If we want to introduce the concept of middle class in cities, we probably have to re-think them to some extent.

The main reason we don't necessarily associate cities with rich people today is that there was a brief period when many cities were in decline and all the rich people moved to the suburbs but that's just a blip on the historical scale.

Let's bear in mind that when most large cities were founded (new US Western cities being the exception) there didn't exist much of a middle class. The concept of a large middle class is pretty modern.

by Falls Church on Aug 18, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

@djs04f, @LowHeadways:
This is incorrect. The 26 TPH limitation is not related to manual operation. It was 26 even before the Fort Totten crash.

While trains are on manual operation now because WMATA has disallowed use of Automatic Train Operation (ATO), the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system still works, even under manual control.

The 26 TPH limitation is a technical and geometric hurdle, not a safety-related hurdle.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 18, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

"The concept of a large middle class is pretty modern." True, but it's pretty central to our modern life. Infact, it's the emergence of the middle class in the middle ages that led to the revolutionary changes of the Renaisannce.

by Thayer-D on Aug 18, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

"The concept of a large middle class is pretty modern." True, but it's pretty central to our modern life.

Which is why it's important that we re-think cities so they are economically viable to build for the middle class. The easy route is what Bloomberg took which is to leverage the existing blueprint and that existing blueprint is primarily for "luxury cities".

I don't know that we've done a good job re-designing cities so it's economically viable to build new middle class housing in them.

by Falls Church on Aug 18, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

Seems to me it's best for everyone and society as a whole if people of any income level can live somewhere in any city or metropolitan area they want to. I read that Chicago has at least one apartment/condo building that has everyone from low income to middle class to the rich living there. This is how it is in much of Mexico...rich people's houses next to middle class people's houses next to poor people's houses. Seems like it's in the interest of the rich to have poor people available to do certain jobs.

by Dave G on Aug 18, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

@LowHeadways - Here are some facts to which I think all but the most unhinged transit foamer can agree to:

1. There is some maximum number of trains that can move through Rosslyn in any fixed period of time without colliding or interfering with any other train's operation. That number is greater than 0 and likely less than 50, since the most frequent metro system in the world is the one in Taipei (according to this transit fan: http://www.districtdavesforum.co.uk/thread/5210/worlds-most-frequent-metro-systems).

2. The frequency of any train service is dependent on the time it takes between when an incident happens on 1 train that stops/slows it down and when the next train following it can react to that incident in a way that avoids a collision. Of course, if you don't care about collision avoidance, then you can run trains much more frequently, but in current-day America, knowingly doing this is pretty much the same as holding up a sign that reads "Sue me."

3. The frequency of any train service is also affected by its age and the quality of routine maintenance that occurs on it. Following the Fort Totten crash in 2009, WMATA all but admitted that it wasn't doing the maintenance it could have been doing for the decades since it was built... which is why now they have rolling single-tracks and shutdowns every weekend for the 4th year in a row, as they catch up on all of the deferred maintenance issues.

Therefore, although you would like to call into question the exact capacity number discussed in (1) above... 26* tph seems quite plausible, given the applicability of (2) and (3).

(*One could argue that the tendency for the entire WMATA network to go into catastrophic delays following a single minor delay on a single line suggests that the actual capacity might in fact be lower than 26 tph, and by sticking with 26 tph, WMATA is already straining the system beyond what it can reasonably and consistently deliver on a daily basis. But, lack of actual crashes - and not adherence to published headways or schedules - seems to be what the region has implicitly settled on as its "minimal acceptable service level.")

So I would argue that anyone who wishes to argue for a higher capacity than 26 tph should be forced to mathematically prove how that higher service level allows for (1), (2) and (3) to all remain factually true. Find a single person out there who has calculated that WMATA is lying when it says the trains can only operate every 138 seconds instead of every 120 seconds using the staff and equipment it already has, and provide that link here.

If you can't, then perhaps you should defer to experts who can, such as those employed by WMATA and the NTSB. There's nothing bad about deferring to experts in the absence of any suspicion that they might be lying. I defer all the time to the experts who tell me that my elevator can only hold 12 persons or to my doctor who tells me that I can only take 2 pills per day or to the water inspectors who say that 65 parts per million of foreign material is ok in my drinking water. Perhaps that 13th person or 3rd pill or 66th contaminant part wouldn't cause me any grief at all... but experts draw lines in the sand regarding safe generalities all the time, and most people learn to live with it because it saves us from having to calculate our own personal safety levels for everything we do/use.

by djs04f on Aug 18, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

@Matt - I was unaware that the 26 tph figure was in effect prior to 2009. I always thought it was a result of human operation of the trains. My bad for confusing the two. So when LowHeadways bitc... er, *complains* about the infrequent service that is still better than virtually any other metro in North America... you're saying that it hasn't changed at all from prior to Fort Totten? (I wasn't living here then, so I find the 138 sec service to be awesome!)

by djs04f on Aug 18, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

djs04f so headways for the Red Line past SS won't ever get better??
What about the choices to run buses with headways of 15 minutes or longer even on BRT routes?
Some of this stuff is somebody thinking other people's needs and time aren't important.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

dj04f you actually saying WMATA's service is better than most? oh wow.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

PS -- for anyone interested in the history of cities from the perspective of the lowest rung (normally history is all about palaces, monuments, and the rich/powerful associated with them), I highly recommend this series:

http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/series/815/trashopolis

TRASHOPOLIS
It's the secret material that transformed cities from primitive outposts into pillars of civilization. Trash has forced mankind in radical urban and architectural directions, propelled advances in science, and jump-started revolutions. From the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the catacombs of Paris, the ruins of Rome, the sewers of London and the frenetic markets of Cairo, join us as we explore how these great cities fought against the tides of corpses, human waste and stinking garbage to rise above the rubbish.

by Falls Church on Aug 18, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

For the record, though 6-peak/12-off service on, say, the far branches of the orange/silver lines isn't particularly good, I think Jarrett Walker has quoted studies saying that 15 minutes is the point where people stop using the system for "spontaneous" travel (i.e. they start checking the schedules). It's not great compared to, say, Europe, then, but "abysmal" is going a bit far, unless you happen to be in a 20-minute headway area on the weekend.

by FBJ on Aug 18, 2014 2:03 pm • linkreport

Or anytime after rush hour, when service immediately craps out. Anytime on the weekend. Trying to get somewhere midday. It's ridiculous to wait when the infrastructure exists and all that's stopping them as a lack of willpower.

As for peak hour headways, the system is designed to run 90 seconds in recovery mode (not in full operation). And I get that. I have not seen anything that specifically precludes more than 26tph except for references to a study. But those never mention what exactly the issues are. I've looked, too. WMATA personnel only mention that "we did a study" and that was that. So forgive me for not trusting them. Between the rolling stock shortage and the opacity of any improvement or decisionmaking process at JGB I'm no longer inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

If you're content to swallow whatever press release WMATA puts out, that's great. I'd rather keep asking questions. And I'd rather keep pushing for more frequent service than accepting what we do get. People travel at hours outside of 7 to 9 AM and 3:30 to 7 PM. Midday, evening, all around. And a hell of a lot more might if WMATA could run more frequently than a goddamn commuter rail at those hours.

by LowHeadways on Aug 18, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

Assuming for the sake of argument that the blue and orange lines will not be running in separate tunnels for another generation, is it more cost-effective to make the investments to allow 6 or 7 more trains per hour between the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, or to operate with 10-car trains?

MARC trains are twice as long as most platforms, and as far as I know, they don't open doors lacking a platform. Do you need a separate person to open doors and drive the train when the trains are longer than the platform?

by JimT on Aug 18, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

@djs04f: 50TPH for VAL is apples to oranges with metro. Those are little rubber tired cars limited to 4 car trains--they stop and start faster than heavy rail, and their capacity per hour at 50TPH is about 22k, compared with 36k for metro at 26TPH. A better upper bound is probably the moscow metro, at something like 35TPH.

Also, yes, the 26TPH has nothing to do with automatic train control. metro would probably be able to actually manage 26TPH more reliably with automatic control, and getting it back is probably a prerequisite to increasing TPH but...

@LowHeadways: as has been repeated many, many times, the 26TPH figure is derived from the minimum inter-train spacing imposed by the system's signalling (specifically including the block sensors which ensure that two trains aren't on the same bit of track at the same time). The time needed for station stops also impacts the minimum headways (the longer the train dwells at a station, the fewer TPH you can achieve; you can reduce that by reconfiguring cars or changing passenger behavior). Finally, you need to run at less than the theoretical peak to allow recovery time or every minor interruption will cause cascading delays. (Metro may be past that point, see note above about automatic train control and actually achieving 26TPH.) The current signalling system allows a minimum 120s spacing between trains. That's theoretically 30TPH, but I don't think there's any system in the world that schedules 30TPH with 120s spacing. Realistically, to increase to 30 or 33TPH means upgrading the signalling to permits 90s between trains. That would involve upgrades to every dual-lined track segment in the system, to the tune of billions of dollars.

There is no magic wand to wave to increase the TPH at the Rosslyn tunnel.

by Mike on Aug 18, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

Re: tph

Better cars, like the 7000 series, on a line could help push more than 26 trains per hour. WMATA trains spend a rather long dwell time at each station and this is often to accommodate people smashing into the cars and forcing the doors to be reopened. If the trains were able to just jimmy open the one stuck door it would probably be able to leave sooner.

Platform doors would also help.

As would not waiting 5+ seconds after the train arrives on the platform to open the doors. (this alone would almost get you to 27tph)

There are some things that WMATA could do certainly. Better rail cars are coming. Platform doors are probably not an option at most stations, but it could be implemented at some stations. Not waiting 5+ seconds when the train arrives would net you almost 5 seconds per train.

Even then though, more trains per hour will require yet more rail cars and larger power stations. None of this is a cheap or free solution.

by Richard on Aug 18, 2014 3:08 pm • linkreport

@JimT:
This is incorrect. MARC trains are not "twice as long as most platforms". Some of the trains are longer than some of the platforms, but not most, and not by 2 times.

Additionally, passengers can pass between cars on MARC. The commuter trains are generally crewed by at least 3 people, an engineer (who does nothing but drive the train) and two conductors, who take tickets and open/close doors.

But when MARC trains are longer than platforms, it's generally at smaller stations, and passengers who want to alight there are told ahead of time which car to be in. It's not like the train is platforming 1 car at a busy station like BWI.

For reference, the length of platforms on the Penn Line:
>Washington (varies by track)
>New Carrollton - 10 cars
>Seabrook - 3 cars
>Bowie State - 3 cars
>Odenton - 8 cars
>BWI Airport - 12 cars
>Halethorpe - 8 cars
>West Baltimore - 1 car
>Baltimore Penn - 10 cars/12 cars (depending on track)
>Martin Airport - 2 cars
>Edgewood - 3 cars
>Aberdeen - 3 cars
>Perryville - 4 cars

The length of trains also varies significantly.

by Matt' Johnson on Aug 18, 2014 3:10 pm • linkreport

I'm sure people will disagree with me, but I don't think headways in the core sections of the system are that bad off-peak. There's really very little reason to run frequent, 5-minute-headway transit to, say, the Vienna branch of Orange outside of rush hour, because there's pretty much nothing past EFC but commuters.

I mean, I have to deal with this daily- I'm in McLean, and like to head to Ballston to have lunch sometimes, which is 12 minute headways either way, because that's how often the trains run to Reston. But once you get into the trunk line core sections of the system (or the frequent-service area of Red), headways are at least acceptable, if not great off-peak.

by FBJ on Aug 18, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

@JimT: it would probably be cheaper to build another tunnel than to run 10 car trains. That would require upgrading the power for the entire system (just like moving to 8 car trains has done) as well as lengthening the platforms. (Opening only some doors for scheduled service in the core on a subway is basically a non-starter due to dwell time issues.)

by Mike on Aug 18, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Mike: my impression has always been that (now with the exception of the Silver Line), Metrorail has a 40tph maximum capacity for recovery time. See, e.g., here and here.

Quoting from the last link:
"The analysis results show that the Metrorail system can operate on 90-second headways at most system locations when necessary to achieve schedule recovery after a delay has been incurred. However, 90-second headways offer no schedule recovery capability and should not normally be reflected in a scheduled operating plan. "

by LowHeadways on Aug 18, 2014 3:26 pm • linkreport

@Mike: I follow you on the point about increased power, though as you say, that's doable.

But would it really be that hard for experienced rush-hour commuters to avoid the two cars that won't open at their destination (or for tourists during rush hour to get off at the next station and go back)?

by JimT on Aug 18, 2014 3:50 pm • linkreport

"The current signalling system allows a minimum 120s spacing between trains. That's theoretically 30TPH, but I don't think there's any system in the world that schedules 30TPH with 120s spacing. Realistically, to increase to 30 or 33TPH means upgrading the signalling to permits 90s between trains."

I plugged in the wrong numbers from memory. Current system allows minimum 90s/40TPH, upgraded system (equivalent to london) would be minimum 60s/60TPH. The point remains that you need some slack and to increase the TPH would require upgrades. Look at equivalent systems around the world and you'll find that the scheduling is pretty average, not some outrage that WMATA is foisting on us because they just don't feel like doing any better. They could maybe schedule 28TPH with automatic train control working again *and* better overall system reliability (no stuck doors, etc).

by Mike on Aug 18, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

@JimT: doable yes. Cheap? absolutely not. And yes, I think it would be that hard for people to figure out what train to use/manage to get through to the right door. Metro is already having trouble maintaining schedules because of how long it takes people to get on and off trains. Note also that the cars metro is currently buying (which will be in use for the next 30 or 40 years) can only be used in 8 car consists, not 10.

by Mike on Aug 18, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

Rapid transit and people moving between cars in order to get off at their destination don't go together. It's done on US commuter rail but I don't think any subway system does this (other than the South Ferry station in NYC.)

Metro's 8-car trains are already as long as the 10- and 11-car NYC Subway trains. And we aren't even at all 8-car operation yet!

by MLD on Aug 18, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

FBJ - if the core headways are not bad, then they should share the wealth more to reduce the waits at other stations. There's no reason so many trains got to turn around at Silver Spring instead of continuing down the Red Line other than someone making that choice.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

"the scheduling is pretty average, not some outrage that WMATA is foisting on us because they just don't feel like doing any better."

You have a generous spirit.

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

FBJ - if the core headways are not bad, then they should share the wealth more to reduce the waits at other stations. There's no reason so many trains got to turn around at Silver Spring instead of continuing down the Red Line other than someone making that choice.

The red line and the norther green/yellow are that way, but at outbound Rosslyn, Alexandria, L'enfant, Stadium Armory and EFC there is a real problem. The outbound train cannot follow both sets of tracks. It isn't a quantum mechanical particle and can only be one place at one time.

So for instance L'enfant might see 26tph, but waterfront will only see 13(or 26-the number of yellow line trains)

by Richard on Aug 18, 2014 4:49 pm • linkreport

asffa: There's no reason so many trains got to turn around at Silver Spring instead of continuing down the Red Line other than someone making that choice.

Sure there is. There aren't as many people on the trains beyond Silver Spring and Grosvenor, and Metro only has so many cars to go around. Metro should devote less rolling stock to outer stations, not more. In its outer reaches Metro is more like a commuter railroad than a subway, and commuter trains don't run at 26 TPH frequencies.

by jimble on Aug 18, 2014 5:06 pm • linkreport

Have you people every lived outside of DC? Service here is quite good by North American standards. It's not NYC, of course. I lived for 17 years in Boston, where the best rush hour service is 13 tph on the Red Line. I lived for five years in the Bay area, where peak service in the Market Street subway is 20 tph. Maybe Chicago or Philly have higher frequencies, but living in the DC core gives me the best heavy rail service I've ever experienced.

by alurin on Aug 18, 2014 5:37 pm • linkreport

asffa: Frequencies on Crossrail are as low as 2 TPH. Is that what you're suggesting for Metro? I'm confused. RER trains run every 3-5 minutes in central Paris and as infrequently as 2-4 trains per hour in the outskirts. So what's your point, exactly?

by jimble on Aug 18, 2014 6:46 pm • linkreport

alurin - Boston transit is nicer than DC's
jimble Why would I suggest less coming around? It's only a few more stops to finish the route and Silver Spring isn't in DC - it's not the outer planets - so why the resistance?

by asffa on Aug 18, 2014 7:49 pm • linkreport

asffa: I'm trying to understand why you thought the links to Crossrail and RER proved your point. They don't, they prove the opposite -- that it's common for transit systems to have lower frequencies outside the core. Metro has to make choices to make the best use of limited resources, and they have chosen -- correctly, I think -- to prioritize core capacity on the Red Line over convenience to outer suburban commuters. The number of trains per hour during rush hour north of Silver Spring and Grosvenor isn't bad at all by typical surburban commuter rail standards.

by jimble on Aug 18, 2014 8:02 pm • linkreport

Metro runs more 8-car trains than most people realize. Usually when the overhead sign says 2-cars, the train will actually have 8.

by Turnip on Aug 18, 2014 8:17 pm • linkreport

@asffa: ok, what are all these systems which schedule significantly more frequent heavy rail? There's Moscow, Mexico, London (on one line), and ...? Most of the rest of the world does less than 30TPH, just like WMATA. Yes, it's possible to run more trains but it's expensive and takes a significant effort.

by Mike on Aug 19, 2014 6:59 am • linkreport

Going back to the rapid growth of Sunbelt cities: at some point, perhaps soon, they'll run out of water...

by Lisa on Aug 19, 2014 8:16 am • linkreport

I don't know that we've done a good job re-designing cities so it's economically viable to build new middle class housing in them.

We haven't and it's why I'm scratching my head here at the people who are objecting to Kotkin's article. It's unfocused for sure, but I think his general thesis is correct. Right now the big legacy cities (NYC, Boston, DC, LA, Chicago, etc.) are being re-developed and catered to people without kids and lots of disposable income.

Walkability to a coffee shop is nice but families are more likely to put a premium on housing options and amenities (i.e. space) and schools over chic restaurants. They're also more likely to be, at the very least, car-lite and car-dependent than car-free.

by Fitz on Aug 19, 2014 9:51 am • linkreport

Right now the big legacy cities (NYC, Boston, DC, LA, Chicago, etc.) are being re-developed and catered to people without kids and lots of disposable income.

What actual evidence is there for this claim?

Walkability to a coffee shop is nice but families are more likely to put a premium on housing options and amenities (i.e. space) and schools over chic restaurants.

And in those cities in particular, you're not going to add a bunch of large housing units. There's just not the space for it. Whether they are aware of it or not, the cities are taking advantage of their competitive advantages which is dense living rather than sprawling out like Kotkin thinks all cities should do.

Flip it, what would Kotkin specifically propose for DC? That the city add more single family homes? How and where? That developers create more 3br units and above? For someone who likes to rail against city planners he certainly is asking for a lot of planning to be done.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

How exactly are they not trying to lure families? DC has free universal prek3 and 4. No southern city does that I'm aware of.

And actually there was an article in UT yesterday nothing that DC and other coastal areas (md, ny, CA) had the highest percentage of first time homebuyers. Which clearly cuts in to this narrative of having to move somewhere else to afford it.

by h st ll on Aug 19, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

Y'all are assuming Kotkin is interested in public policy re cities. AFAICT he is making a living by culture war free association rants, not public policies proposals of any kind. To the extent there is public policy in there, its national policy - "don't tax carbon because regular folks need "brown" jobs, and cars and big houses". It's aimed more at Richard Florida (or a caricature of Florida, in which RF calls for subsidized art galleries and gay friendly policies as the keys to economic development) than it really is at Jane Jacobs or CONU.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

I know Kotkin doesn't get it but I speak up to let others know to be wary of the points he makes.

Kotkin does well with platitudes but the only reason his arguments ever make any sense is by completely ignoring context wrt whether his solutions would actually work.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

@asffa
Boston transit is nicer than DC's

Really? To some extent, I suppose, that's a matter of opinion, and you're entitled to yours. I suspect, however, that you are merely falling prey to the "grass is greener" fallacy. As someone who lived for nearly two decades in the Boston area (and loved it), I disagree. The T is cheaper, but that's the only advantage it has on Metro. Metro has quieter trains, more pleasant stations, better wayfinding, more lines, and better connectivity. Metrobus is more reliable than the T's bus system.

On the issue at hand, though, Metro is objectively better. The T never gets anywhere near 26 TPH.

by alurin on Aug 19, 2014 10:32 am • linkreport

What actual evidence is there for this claim?

You mean besides the non-stop development of smaller housing units, high-end restaurants, etc? I assume you read this site often and sites such as City Lab, which occasionally discuss how cities are lacking in their appeal to families.

And in those cities in particular, you're not going to add a bunch of large housing units.

I'm not really sure why you asked the first question given that you acknowledge that there's a lack of housing units that are typically seen as acceptable for families. Or at least at more affordable prices.

Flip it, what would Kotkin specifically propose for DC?

Personally I don't think there's anything that can be done. Maybe in a generation we'll see the supply of housing reach the point where prices can be moderated.

by Fitz on Aug 19, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

You mean besides the non-stop development of smaller housing units, high-end restaurants, etc?

That assumes that all or most families aren't interested in those things. Which maybe they aren't but again, there's no evidence for it that's provided by Kotkin or anyone else in this thread.

There has been evidence provided that says families are staying in the city. DCPS is growing, H St LL points out the large number of first time home buyers, etc.

It's a value judgement masked as data.

I'm not really sure why you asked the first question given that you acknowledge that there's a lack of housing units that are typically seen as acceptable for families. Or at least at more affordable prices.

Kotkin's thesis is that certain "luxury" cities are specifically crowding out certain populations because they want to be seen as "cool". Ok, but his argument totally ignores the fact that there are reasons these cities are dense and expensive that aren't because these cities want to be "luxurious".

Even if DC had a stated goal of wanting to be non-luxury and family friendly, the solutions that Kotkin gives wouldn't work in DC anyway.

Again, Kotkin's platitudes about building cities "for families" ignores context, economics and assumes way too much about what families want.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

That assumes that all or most families aren't interested in those things.

I'd argue the vast majority aren't.

There has been evidence provided that says families are staying in the city.

IIRC the vast majority of those families haven't reached the age where they're going to school too. I don't doubt enrollment is up but what are those rates compared to inner and outer burbs?

Again, Kotkin's platitudes about building cities "for families" ignores context, economics and assumes way too much about what families want.

I agree that Kotkin often ignores context when comparing cities but I think he's more in tune with the desires and interests of families than urbanist advocates.

by Fitz on Aug 19, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

"I agree that Kotkin often ignores context when comparing cities but I think he's more in tune with the desires and interests of families than urbanist advocates"

or a carictature of urbanist advocates, anyway.

I don't think anyone is saying most families prefer WUPs to autocentric with a lot of space. Even using the 50% prefer WUPs from Pew, given that includes childless households its like less than 50% of families with children prefer WUPs. Urbanists point is that we have too few units in WUPS/TOD/etc and that makes prices for that too high. NOT that everyone wants to live that way.

Anyway, Kotkin is like the Milloy of the planning debate. Its all free association ranting and finger wagging, not a real policy proposal.

I note he attacks Bloomberg (a - pardon - fat target - a billionaire widely seen as elitist) for what he has tried to do with NYC. But DiBlasio is keeping most of the Bloomberg policies relevant to the column - high density development, bike lanes, more walkability (even doubling down with Vision Zero) Main difference is police policies, and higher taxes on the rich to support prek. If THATS the change Kotkin wants, I agree with him. But its hard to reconcile that with love for Houston.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 19, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

I'd argue the vast majority aren't.

Ok, but it's still at route a value judgment on lifestyles so I'm wary to base any policy on that alone.

IIRC the vast majority of those families haven't reached the age where they're going to school too. I don't doubt enrollment is up but what are those rates compared to inner and outer burbs.

I've been hearing this argument long enough for several years worth of infants to be entering school right now. It hasn't happened yet.

I agree that Kotkin often ignores context when comparing cities but I think he's more in tune with the desires and interests of families than urbanist advocates.

Again, value judgments about lifestyle choices are being conflated with housing policy. He may be in tune with what certain families want. That doesn't mean his policy prescriptions would even benefit those families if applied to certain cities.

So I don't see how its much help to know what families want if your solutions are unworkable anyway. And his solution of "sprawl more" is actually impossible inside the DC city limits and we're seeing lose ground in the metro area as well.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

@alurin: I grew up in and around Boston and with the exception of school and one year in Chicago basically lived there until I moved to DC. Never was I subjected to more than a 10 minute wait even on weekends. Not once did I encounter single-tracking. The Green Line has four interlined branches, all of which run 7 minute headways or better at rush hour. The Central Subway through downtown sees almost 40tph at peak (this is also possible because of wayside signaling as opposed to block).

You want to talk MBTA commuter rail, that's another story entirely. But at least the subway has the excuse of age, something WMATA does not.

Look, I don't think we actually disagree on much. If WMATA can actually maintain 26tph at peak with consistency, that's good (for everyone but Blue Line riders, for whom squeezing out an extra 4 tph would make a difference). But non-interlined headways aren't great. Getting from, say, Columbia Heights to Pentagon City at rush hour becomes a two-seat ride with as much as 15 minutes of just waiting for a train. And I don't think we should ever stop pushing for better service.

by LowHeadways on Aug 19, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

or a carictature of urbanist advocates, anyway.

Not when I see articles like this: http://www.citylab.com/housing/2014/08/how-outdated-parking-laws-price-families-out-of-the-city/375646/

I don't think anyone is saying most families prefer WUPs to autocentric with a lot of space.

I've been reading this blog and similar (Strong Towns, City Lab) for about four years now and what you posit here isn't the sentiment I'm seeing at all. Many seem to be convinced that zoning and highways are all that's stopping us from achieving our ideal urban neighborhood.

Anyway, Kotkin is like the Milloy of the planning debate. Its all free association ranting and finger wagging, not a real policy proposal.

Totally agree.

by Fitz on Aug 19, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

The Central Subway through downtown sees almost 40tph at peak (this is also possible because of wayside signaling as opposed to block).

Serously? We don't have to go into the 1000 ways that a light rail line is different from Metro. The reason they can run those tight headways on the combined section is because the trains go slow enough to enable them to use line-of-sight operations. There are points at which single green line cars pull up right behind another train and service the station almost at the same time. You can't do that with Metro trains - or rather, if you tried to the system would be way worse than it is now.

by MLD on Aug 19, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

Again, value judgments about lifestyle choices are being conflated with housing policy. He may be in tune with what certain families want. That doesn't mean his policy prescriptions would even benefit those families if applied to certain cities.

It's nice to see someone on here recognize that city living is actually a lifestyle choice instead of being some inherently desirable choice who's only barrier is highways, parking lots and zoning laws.

by Fitz on Aug 19, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

Also what is the obsession with increasing Metro's peak headways? One train every 2 minutes 18 seconds isn't enough?

The problem at peak is with the Blue Line, which can be fixed by building another terminal. Upgrading the entire signaling system will give you diminishing returns.

The 20+ minute off-peak headways during track work are terrible and will only be fixed when management wakes up and decides running more service is more important than looking like they are saving as much money as possible. The whole entity needs some serious institutional reform but I don't think Sarles is up for that.

by MLD on Aug 19, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

@Fitz - it is fair to see that a well designed urban environment is likely more time efficient and much healthier for families, though. Walkable grocery stores, schools, parks and public transit mean built in exercise for everyone and less time wasted in traffic. And riding in a car is the number one cause of death for toddlers. So personal safety is greater, as well.

by h st ll on Aug 19, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

I agree that Kotkin often ignores context when comparing cities but I think he's more in tune with the desires and interests of families than urbanist advocates.

It is, or can be, at least. Same with the suburbs. Kotkin's problem is that he thinks that planners are "forcing" families to live in expensive places when zoning allows for dense construction but it's more likely that prices are high because a lot of times we prohibit building above certain densities which leads to sprawl.

Kotkin is just for a different kind of forced choice.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

@LowHeadways: I agree we should not stop pushing for better service. But we should keep perspective. There are a lot of areas in which WMATA could stand to improve service, including weekend service, improving the communication skills of train drivers, and replacing the crappy turnstiles. But service is pretty good by North American standards.

My specific point was that peak headways here are better than in Boston and San Francisco, the two other places I've lived (that even have rail service; Lansing, Toledo, and Seattle do not), and, coincidentally, the two cities that are our closest peers in size.

Yes, @asffa, the Central Subway does run at about 40 TPH. But remember that those are two-car light rail trains, not really comparable. I lived on the D line for a while; I was grateful to move to Somerville so I could be on the Red Line. No one considers the Green Line to be a desirable transit line. The Red Line is much better. But compared to Metro's Red Line, it has longer peak headways and more mechanical breakdowns.The Orange and Blue lines manage only 10 TPH. Each of the four lines only connects to two of the other lines, so unlike DC, you sometimes have to make two transfers. And Metro has had electronic signs estimating the arrival times of the next three trains for decades. After I left Boston two years ago, they installed electronic signs giving you the times of the next two trains.
Commuter rail is another matter. Boston's commuter rail needs to be more frequent, but it does run on weekends and provides reverse commute service. For the last 8 years I was in the Boston area, I lived on the Lowell Line, which I much appreciated. I was very disappointed when I learned that MARC wasn't really comparable.

by alurin on Aug 19, 2014 8:44 pm • linkreport

The last time I had to use a bus shuttle around a section of track closed for weekend track work was in Boston. MBTA's bus shuttle was IMO much slower than WMATA's, but it might simply be that surface congestion is worse there than in DC.

by A Streeter on Aug 19, 2014 9:47 pm • linkreport

@asffa
Boston transit is nicer than DC's

Really? To some extent, I suppose, that's a matter of opinion, and you're entitled to yours. I suspect, however, that you are merely falling prey to the "grass is greener" fallacy. As someone who lived for nearly two decades in the Boston area (and loved it), I disagree. The T is cheaper, but that's the only advantage it has on Metro. Metro has quieter trains, more pleasant stations, better wayfinding, more lines, and better connectivity. Metrobus is more reliable than the T's bus system.

On the issue at hand, though, Metro is objectively better. The T never gets anywhere near 26 TPH.

Also, you get guys like Charlie. No more of this nickel short business- Metro would allow him to go into negative balance on his smartrip.

by Zeus on Aug 20, 2014 3:15 am • linkreport

@Fitz:

"It's nice to see someone on here recognize that city living is actually a lifestyle choice instead of being some inherently desirable choice who's only barrier is highways, parking lots and zoning laws."

What would be cool is if you would likewise recognize that for some suburban living is a choice, and for some it's something they've either been forced into for cost reasons or because they simply didn't realize that a big empty house with two working parents with hour plus commutes and kids in day care wasn't the only way to live. It's not an ideal, or a goal that everyone wants to be striving for--there are a lot of people who would trade off space for more time at home.

by Mike on Aug 20, 2014 7:09 am • linkreport

In case anyone's still reading this old thread, I'll give MBTA this- I've always thought it has the best passenger/platform signage of any system in the US. The way the line color is a dominant element throughout the entire station (even changing in transfer stations) is wonderfully striking.

by FBJ on Aug 20, 2014 10:11 am • linkreport

Fitz

Re the parking article from City lab - I don't see claiming parking minimums add to the price of city living, and keeps some families who DO want to live in the city out, necessarily implies that ALL families want to

Re Strong Towns - yeah, they are over the top, from what I recall of reading them. I stopped reading Strong Towns a while ago. I don't think that blog represents mainstream urbanism, as practiced by planners and architects, or even as promoted by blogs like GGW.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 10:20 am • linkreport

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