Greater Greater Washington

More people walking, biking, riding the bus to Metro stations

Metro is beginning a study to examine bicycle and pedestrian accessibility to rail stations. Many of the stations were originally designed around commuter park-and-ride use, but more recently, more and more people are biking, walking, and riding the bus to stations. The study will formulate recommendations for improving bike and pedestrian access as well as facilities like bicycle parking and lockers.


Photo by dbking.

According to a presentation given to the Riders' Advisory Council last night, between 2002 and 2007, bicycling to Metro stations increased 60%, and walking increased 18%. Bus ridership as a method of reaching rail stations also grew substantially, with 22% more people taking Metrobus to the station and 35% more taking other local buses.

Bicycling remains the least common mode, but it is quickly catching up to ride sharing, which declined 5% over the same time period. Park and ride was the most popular in 2002, but declined 1% by 2007 while Metrorail trips in the morning peak increased 11%, and walking took the top spot.

Metro will look at the bicycle racks on buses (which can hold two bikes), the system's 1,660 racks, and the 1,280 key operated lockers. Right now riders can only rent lockers on an annual basis, and there is a long waiting list at many stations, but according to Metro's Thomas Harrington, they will explore whether to also allow daily rentals. The study will identify missing links for bicycles and pedestrians to reach stations around the system. Metro can then work with local jurisdictions to improve that access, as they recently did by giving Montgomery County permission to build a bicycle path to Shady Grove.

A big part of the study is collecting suggestions from riders. What do you think Metro should do to improve bicycle or pedestrian access to the rail system? How could they improve racks, lockers or other facilities?

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. 

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Have they ever studied foreign systems? Most commuters do not drive to Japanese stations and there are facilities for bikes, buses, and taxis. There are some amazing bike garages in Japan near stations that are not multi-million dollar contraptions. Not sure why the bike garages need to be so jazzed up here - it's just a place to put your bike. They are multi-level there and you just roll your bike into a track, lock, and head out. The whole process takes less than a minute.

Maybe they could use some of the garage space at DC USA for bikes??? I think a direct link from that garage to the Metro station would have been a good idea...could they use this as a test location?

I'm also amazed that Union Station does not have a large bus terminal in front of it where buses can pick up commuters and travelers and quickly whisk them away to other parts of the city. Stations that I can think of that have bus links are the Pentagon, Silver Spring, and Greenbelt (I'm sure there are others.)

I'm encouraged that LaHood is looking at systems and methods developed outside the United States, but it seems like the US/DC should try to adopt some of the methods from other countries that seem to work well. If WMATA did do some studies of foreign systems and best practices are they available and where could I find them?

by Rob on Jun 5, 2009 9:41 am • linkreport

Just a quick thought... and partly because I love to be a devil's advocate:

What if the bicycle lockers were performance-priced, applying Shoup's car-based pricing to a different mode? Of course, I'm sure the cycling community would protest... but is that fundamentally different from when motorists protest paying for *their* parking? An argument could be made that bicyclists do a community service by not driving, but what about the pedestrians -- who place no demand for such parking amenities? After all, a free alternative -- bike racks -- is often available. Funds raised from performance-based bicycle parking could go back toward improving bicycle amenities at stations, such as providing even more racks & lockers. Although to return to a car comparison: that'd be like using parking meters to pay for even more parking spaces -- something sure to drive Shoupistas up a wall :)

I have no idea if I agree with this idea or not, but it's something for folks to ponder a bit over the weekend.

by Bossi on Jun 5, 2009 9:45 am • linkreport

I totally agree with the previous commenter.

It seems as though the planners in the DC area ignore the experiences of other places entirely- and try to re-invent the wheel here- often times with idiotic results.

The bike lanes in the streets are a good example. In Germany, the bike ways are put on sidewalks and separated from pedestrians - this way cyclists- and not just athletic or racing enthusiasts- can cycle without being "doored" or hit by cars. We have a super long way to go here.

Bike sharing was also initiated by GermanRail years before it was adopted by the French [ American planners seem to ignore Germany's many great transit & urban design innovations- as well as Japan's].

Metro should study Germany's train systems- they have special trains JUST FOR BICYCLES on the regional trains- which are akin to our Metro. They also have mini- escalators whereby you can put your luggae or bicycle on the side and walk with it up a staircase. Simple things like this go a long way. Stubborn, car oriented planners in the USA have plenty of hubris and arrogance and seem to refuse or ignore the decades of adaptation to the bicycle and to transit that these countries can teach to us.

by w on Jun 5, 2009 9:53 am • linkreport

Simplify.

Simple u-racks at Metro stops instead of those bizarre, proprietary venus-fly-trap contraptions that just rust apart.

U-racks at bus stops instead of racks on buses. That way people can peddle to their bus stop, lock up, and take bus to Metro without having to lug their bicycle on and off the system. You'd expand your penetration into neighborhoods too since a 5 minute pedal has a bigger radius than a 5 minute walk.

by crin on Jun 5, 2009 10:17 am • linkreport

In order to improve pedestrian access to Metro:

(1) Speed up escalators

(2) Add new entrances to stations, especially ones with a single entrance at one end of the platform. Add a southern entrance to Archives near the Mall. Add an eastern entrance to Federal Triangle from inside the Old Post Office. Add a northern entrance to Woodley Park closer to the Zoo.

by michael on Jun 5, 2009 10:25 am • linkreport

Bicycle tracks on escalators?

by Gavin Baker on Jun 5, 2009 10:50 am • linkreport

@michael:

- I believe escalator speeds have some regulation in how fast they can go, because of course not everyone is necessarily capable of accessing it at high speed... elderly, kids, disabled, etc. Sure, they could use the elevator; but so could bicyclists ... and bicyclists can get to the elevators a lot faster :)

I do agree with other entrances... but there's a LOT of $$$ and right-of-way demands that go into that. It's not as easy as "dig a hole" ... there are elevator shafts for ADA, stairs that are of enough capacity for emergencies, and even whether or not we can put another access on the Mall -- a protected viewshed.

@Gavin:

Escalators are currently wide enough for 2 people. Adding a bicycle track (as I've seen, at least) would reduce the width to only one person. Since tracks would be a 24/7 emplacement, escalator capacity would be cut in half without widening.

@crin:

Don't forget about those who don't just bike TO the bus; but bike FROM the bus. That expands your servicable area on both ends of the bus ride.

by Bossi on Jun 5, 2009 10:58 am • linkreport

Also, for buses: more covered bus stops. (P.S. What's up with all the rain recently?) More information about the bus schedule: I really like the LED signs at Rosslyn that display the time of the next scheduled bus. If that's too expensive to install at every Metro station, what about displaying a list of the next scheduled buses on the TV screens inside the stations?

For all modes: Does anyone know if, when they close a station entrance, they post directions to an open entrance?

by Gavin Baker on Jun 5, 2009 10:59 am • linkreport

Metro's escalators are so frequently inoperative--and too narrow even when they do work--that I think they should be scrapped. To ensure better accessibility for disabled and older people, Metro could put in more elevators (this time buying some that are more reliable than what they have now) and replace the escalators with a big, wide staircase.

This would also force all the lazy people to actually move their hineys.

I know--it's not a perfect idea. Some people would simply walk over to the elevator. And there would have one-way turnstiles at the top of each staircase to ensure equal ease of ingress and egress (lest someone going down the stairs encounter a crowd of annoying people comign up the stairs, as sometimes happens with a stopped escalator).

But still--the ridiculous escalators are a joke and aren't serving anyone except the mechanics who work on them.

by JB on Jun 5, 2009 11:09 am • linkreport

As a biker, I would love more covered bike racks at metro stops. Off the top of my head, the only stop in the district I can think of with covered racks is Cleveland Park (and it has, as a previous commenter called them, "those venus fly trap bike racks that just rust apart." If I ever switch from bike to metro, it's usually because it's raining hard, so a place to keep my bike dry would be ideal.

Or either a) let me take it on the escalator or b) make the elevators go faster than 2-inches per minute

by Padraic on Jun 5, 2009 11:17 am • linkreport

@JB

Just curious, have you ever been to Wheaton? That would be a rather long flight of stairs to walk.

by Steve on Jun 5, 2009 11:23 am • linkreport

Steve, I actually don't think I have--but that's a great point that didn't occur to me. Rosslyn also has an incredibly long escalator. So maybe stairs aren't an option in all stations.

It's one argument for above-ground Metro stops.

And here goes my tangent: If only Metro were a surface light rail system, there could be more stops, longer trains, and no annoying escalators.

by JB on Jun 5, 2009 11:33 am • linkreport

Make the areas around the station more oriented to daily life by encouraging the growth of restaurants, small daily shops etc... Thus, someone can pickup a loaf of bread or the dry-cleaners when they walk out of the station. If I have to walk across parking lots and empty space it makes the station feel further away and makes me think I should have driven.

Modify construction laws so that car parking is not required at new buildings near stations. It would increase the number of pedestrians at stations throughout the system (enter at one station and exit at another) and create a larger potential customer base for smaller shops considering locations near station entrances.

Posting readable schedules for that individual station (both train and bus) would be nice - thus one can easily tell when they can make the return trip. Maybe something that reads something like this to make it a more user friendly:

HH: MM MM MM

06: 01 07 11....

07: 02 05 08 10....

Other general thoughts:

1) Why can't they make the escalators lighter? Use plastics instead of metal in order to reduce the strain on the motors. The Moscow and St. Petersburg escalators use some sort of composite that isn't metal. Could this help reduce maintenance?

2) For the longer escalators where there are two going in a single direction couldn't one of them be made into an 'express'

3) Create dedicated entrances and exits to the stations so that individuals going in opposite directions aren't running into each other. Start with the wickets where all wickets on one side of the manger's booth are one direction and the other side are another.

4) Use the smart-trip touchless technology in the individual farecards. There would be fewer individuals slowing down to insert tickets while users would be using the same methods so the tourists and news users wouldn't be trying swipe their farecards over the Smart-Trip readers.

5) Sell smart-trip cards from the vending machines that don't require a $5 purchase fee. These wouldn't have the same protection the ones through the mail would have in case you lost it, but it should increase the number of individuals going through the wickets without inserting an actual ticket.

6) Have all the trains stop so that the doors open in the same spot every time. Once Metro can figure out how to do this then the doors should be able to open quicker because the drivers won't have to keep inching up. Additionally, the passengers can line up orderly. I've seen this in Russia and Japan (The door entrances are painted on the floor in some stations).

by Rob on Jun 5, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

Making the escalators go faster isn't the answer - there are enough people that have to stop walking and hesitate to get either on or off the escalators - it drives me nuts, but making them faster sure won't help things in that regard.

Adding more station entrances is also a non-starter. It's a nice long term idea, but it is incredibly expensive, and most of the stations listed don't have nearly the demand at their one entrance to justify another one.

JB,

Your tangent on making metro a surface light rail system is a little off base. If it were, there's no way you'd see longer trains - an 8 car metro train is 600 feet long. I don't think there's a single light rail system in the US with trains that long - most are more like 300' max.

by Alex B. on Jun 5, 2009 11:59 am • linkreport

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the Metro stops with entrances on only one side of a pedestrian-hostile road--think Dunn-Loring (you need to cross I-66 on Gallows to get it from the north) or Forest Glen (you have to play Frogger on Georgia Avenue if you approach from the east). Fixing those problems wouldn't be cheap, but wouldn't that considerably expand the ped-shed for those stations?

by Rob on Jun 5, 2009 12:23 pm • linkreport

In keeping with Rob's comment--I used to ride my bike to the Glenmont station. By far the most harrowing part of my day was riding on the narrow sidewalk with no separation from the cars whipping past at 40+ on Georgia Ave. I think a large part of making stations more accessible to bikers/peds has to do with the approach to the station, which might not be under Metro's direct control.

by Dan Miller on Jun 5, 2009 12:33 pm • linkreport

There needs to be a better method to securing bikes in and around metro stations and bus stops before I'd consider regularly locking up my bike all day. Bike thieves are active all over and most I (along with most people) wouldn't want be out a few hundred bucks if the bike gets filched.

by Stating the Obvious on Jun 5, 2009 12:42 pm • linkreport

@Bossi, to be specific, bike racks at SUBURBAN bus stops would be helpful. A typical suburb to downtown Metro commute involves going from a sprawl of SFDs to a dense urban neighborhood. You probably don't need a bike on the office end of the commute because you're already within walking distance (or you could even use the DC bike share). But your suburban SFD neighborhood might have one bus route on a main artery every 20 minutes, and your house is way back in the subdivision, beyond efficient walking distance. So you drive to the Metro or downtown even. Bike racks at these suburban bus stops would help people leave their car at home and get more people on the bus.

I lock my bike 8 hours a day downtown and don't have theft problems. I doubt a bike locked 8 hours a day in north Arlington would have any problems either.

by crin on Jun 5, 2009 1:00 pm • linkreport

Here, here! I'm all for an entrance on the other side of Georgia at the Forest Glen station; as fun as my daily dose of frogger is...

by Art on Jun 5, 2009 1:06 pm • linkreport

@ Rob

Exactly what are express escalators ? Do they go faster or something because its not like they stop at more than one location

Why not build ramps in the stations instead of escalators or elevators. That way you could have sets of ramps at each end of the station and they both would lead to one end of the station.

Another thing that they could do is make the escalators face different directions for example New York Ave station all escalators when going up will reach about 50 from each other when at the top; one set should be facing toward Rhode Island ave and the other toward Union Station. Also the elevators why are they both across from each other why not have them both by each of the exits.

For the buses WMATA should do better interms of notifying riders for buses that pass 1 or 2 blocks from stations and is not shown on the schedules. Some buses could be rerouted to serve these stations. Buses and bike racks should be the closes things to the station entrances not the parking lot like at some stations.

Union Station should have an elevator on the Columbus Circle side to accommodating better use of the station with disabled and elderly riders who may be transferring to or from the bus.

Stadium Armory should have had elevators on both sides or wherever they planned the buses to stop at.

DC, WMATA, CSX and Rhode Island Ave Shopping center should worked together to build a ramp or path to the shopping center since thats where the majority of people using the ramp over Rhode Island ave are going.

Build 4 instead of 3 escalators from now on in metro stations like Wheaton & Woodley Park.

Build another entrance to Forest Glen

Put elevators on the side of the crowded entrance not the empty one at stations with more than one entrance.

Don't ever use the manufacturer the current escalators came from again.

Dont build stations where stations where escalators and elevators entrances are 1,2,3 or 4 blocks apart no more. (Red Line stations from Dupont Circle to Van Ness, Bethesda, Takoma,) it is hard for disabled people to get to buses at these stations.

by KK on Jun 5, 2009 3:01 pm • linkreport

@KK

express escalator would be a fast one while the other would remain the same speed. It's just a thought to help speed things at rush hour. However, people would need to positioned single file or side by side before stepping onto the escalator. Currently, this is still being sorted out when one steps onto the escalator as the line is condensed from a jumble on the platform.

I like the idea of a two-three inch ramp on the stairs so that bikes do not need to go down in the elevators.

by Rob on Jun 5, 2009 3:27 pm • linkreport

"Why not build ramps in the stations instead of escalators or elevators."

At first I thought this was a great idea. Then I realized what would happen; you'd have a few cyclists speeding down the ramp and hitting other people. Probably not a lot, but enough to cause a problem. And probably a few skateboarders.

Also, a ramp would have to be so long that it wouldn't fit in the given space.

I like the creative thinking, however.

by JB on Jun 5, 2009 3:33 pm • linkreport

@Rob-

Sounds like you're talking about a lot of ski lifts work... they bunch up at the access points because they slow down, but they stretch out as they get going -- increasing the headways & the speeds. Can't say I've ever seen that applied to escalators... could be an interesting thought, but I'm sure liability worries would nix it with many American transit agencies (kind of makes me miss sovereign immunity).

@JB et al:

I've seen both of these types of ramps used extensively in Europe & Asia to great effect:

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/3468927443/in/set-72157615820454522/

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/3469740522/in/set-72157615820454522/

There are some people who ride down them, and some who can't help but get a kick about sliding down the latter on your own two feet (myself included); but I never saw any near hits resulting from it. Peds tended to keep to one side; skaters/bikes/strollers to the other.

by Bossi on Jun 5, 2009 3:46 pm • linkreport

You mean detachable ski lifts? The key is the detachable part--the chair comes off the fast-moving cable and goes onto a slow moving one for loading and unloading. I don't see how one could do that with an escalator that's a single loop, unless you create multiple-loop escalators with a half-speed entry and exit. I can only imagine the repair disasters that would create.

by ah on Jun 5, 2009 4:13 pm • linkreport

They've tried multi-speed high-speed moving walkways in France, to poor results. They require multiple belts or rollers, and you have to hold on, and yes, same

Back to the issue of bikes on the Metro, I think maybe just a little marketing would help. Most people I know don't think you can take a bike on the Metro or are afraid to. Why not a viral video (like the one for had for Pope Day) of etiquette and how-tos.

by цarьchitect on Jun 5, 2009 5:12 pm • linkreport

meant to say, ...and yes, some minor injuries have resulted.

by цarьchitect on Jun 5, 2009 5:13 pm • linkreport

These access plans are incredibly important. One of the early ones for a suburban system was for BART in the Bay Area in 2003. It's a great read that covers all the key principles. It's especially good in explaining why moving on from Park-and-Ride is both necessary and politically hard, and why pricing of Park-and-Ride stalls is unavoidable sooner or later.

http://www.bart.gov/docs/planning/access_guidelines.pdf

Full disclosure: It's by a firm that I used to work for, but I didn't work on it.

by Jarrett at HumanTransit.org on Jun 6, 2009 4:00 am • linkreport

Bossi, I've recommended performance parking for bikes. Or at least raising prices for bike lockers at stations where there's a waiting list until you clear out the waiting list. Then use the extra revenue to build more bike lockers.

in addition to a bike coordinator, bike plan and online long-term locker reservation I would recommend:

1. Reevaluate the rush-hour restriction. New York asks cyclists to avoid rush-hour, but does not ban them. "Consideration for others along with reasonable judgment help produce a safer, more comfortable environment for everyone,including bicyclists." I think we have room for more access that is considerate. San Francisco limits the stations and lines (highlighted on the schedule here) bikes can use, but it's not a wholesale ban.

2. Both of the above systems also allow bikes to be carried up and down stairs. It's worth considering and if they decide to allow them - make bicycle troughs mandatory at all new stations (Dulles) or upgrades. Also look at bicycle escalators for new stations.

3. On train bike storage.

4. Add short-term bike lockers, that can be rented by the hour instead of the month. You can even add online locker reservation (a.la. zipcar)for people worried that they won't get a locker when they need it. And make it payable (and unlockable) with your SmartCard. This makes paying easier and also allows people to pay for it with their transit benefit.

5. Covered bike parking for those not using lockers. Or even in-station bicycle parking.

6. Bike parking at each bus stop.

7. No other system that I could find requires that folded bikes be placed inside a carry-on bag. Remove that rule.

8. San Francisco clearly states its policy on where a folding bike must be folded "During commute hours, folding bikes must be folded before entering the paid area at the Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, and Civic Center San Francisco Stations, and the 12th and 19th Street Oakland Stations. At all other stations, they may be folded on the platform, but must be folded before boarding a train." and allow passengers to roll their bike to the platform at stations where it makes sense. Metro has no policy, but should model it after San Francisco's.

9. Each station should have a bicycle mobility plan with trails, maps, signs etc...

by washcycle on Jun 7, 2009 9:20 pm • linkreport

When taking your bicycle into a Metro station that isn't road-level-accessible, cyclists are restricted from using the escalators or stairs and are supposed to use the elevators, but still must yield to handicapped persons and even then don't fit into the small, slow Metro elevators with people pulling suitcases and carrying other packages. These restrictions can dramatically slow cyclist's access to stations and this could be improved in a fairly cost-effective manner.

While I agree that there's no need to accomodate bicyclists on escalators, I often see hurried cyclists shouldering their bikes and darting down the stairs to save time. It seems that by definition, cyclists should be fitter and willing to use steps, so I'd like to see Metro install bicycle ramps and remove the stair restriction for cyclists.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not advocating ramps that cyclists can ride their bikes down. I'm suggesting the installation of relatively inexpensive bicycle wheel ramps on the edges of stairwells. They're in common use in Europe and Asia and they're becoming more common in the U.S. They're just a narrow bike-tire-sized ramp, tucked under the handrail on both sides of the stairs. The ramp allows a dismounted cyclist to tip their bike slightly to the side and roll their bicycles up or down the ramp as they walk on the stairs, while still keeping them at the edge of any given stairwell. Because they're always at the edge, hurried or speedier pedestrians can still get around them.

As long as the tire-ramps are on both sides and cyclists obey the stay-to-the-right etiquette of Metro's stairs, there should be no difficulty in improving cyclist's access to Metro stations in this manner. They might not be as heavily used at stations with really long stairways, but they'd be tremendously more cost effective than bigger, faster elevators and could easily be phased in throughout the system. In places where the ramps can't be tucked under stair rails, they can be tilted toward the center of the stairwell. This would prevent cyclists from being able to ride on them, but the tilt wouldn't inconvenience a dismounted cyclist whose bike would be tilted that direction anyway.

Additionally, Metro should re-evaluate their ban on bicycles during rush hours and their requirement to cover folded bicycles while they're on the trains. My folding bike takes up less room than a mid-sized suitcase and is capable of being rolled along on one wheel (even while folded), like a folded child-stroller, so there should be a policy allowing that as well.

The adoption of these suggestions would go a long way toward encouraging bicycle usage in conjuction with Metro and would help to remove the obvious second-class status of cyclists on Metro.

by JB55 on Jul 27, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

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