2010 wish list for transit
Since many transit projects have either broken ground or are in the engineering phase in the region, it is important to create long-term visions that will continue to make Greater Washington Greater.
Some projects are new, while others repeat from last year's list because they were good ideas then and are good ideas now.
Build a southern entrance to Columbia Heights: A couple of weeks ago, I walked from my office near McPherson Square up to Columbia Heights. It was a very pretty walk up 14th St. NW. After passing U Street, I couldn't help but notice the gap in vibrance and new economic investment between Florida Avenue and the area surrounding the entrance to the Columbia Heights Metro.
Columbia Heights is a reverse cut-and-cover station. It is not too far below the surface, unlike a tunnel bore station like Wheaton. The single entrance to the Metro station is just north of the platform. There would be an improvement in ridership and economic development from having a second entrance to the south of the platform.
Many more residents who live between U St. and Columbia Heights would have convenient, fast transit access. More people would travel to the station in order take advantage of the amenities that would open near the new entrance. It would also be much cheaper to build a new entrance to a cut-and-cover station as opposed to a deep station like Woodley Park.
VA-7 light rail: Echoing Steve Offutt's vision for rail on VA-7, I envision this project as light rail. VA-7 is a main road in Northern Virginia that connects Alexandria to Tysons Corner and points west. It is also a spine that connects multiple ugly, gas guzzling edge cities that have lots of strip malls and acres of surface parking. Many of these strip malls are aging and would be prime Smart Growth redevelopment opportunities in the same vein as Rosslyn-Ballston.
I envision light rail rather than heavy rail because circumferential lines have traditionally had lower ridership than radial lines, although they tend to be less peak-focused. I also see this project as Virginia building their side of the Purple Line.
VA-7 has a lot of similarities to the current plans for the Purple Line. It connects traditional walkable urbanism, modern TOD, and post-war edge cities, both inside and outside the Favored Quarter. Most importantly, it offers connections to Maryland at the Wilson Bridge and at a to-be-named place east of Tysons. Like the existing plans for the Purple Line, challenges would include balancing speed and frequency of stations.
Complete the Purple Line: Between the VA-7 light rail vision, and the current Purple Line project, there is only one hole remaining in a completed Purple Line between New Carrollton and Alexandria. (There is also a hole between Tysons and Bethesda, but it is much smaller and has its unique challenges.) This past fall, Prince George's officials expressed interest in extending the Purple Line from New Carrolton to Largo through Suitland, (although there are proposals rerouting it to the Westphalia development) Oxon Hill, and National Harbor. This would be a long-term vision to be undertaken after the current plans for the Purple Line see groundbreaking.
National moratorium on highway building: My position has not changed. If anything, it has been calcified as we have experienced the highway lobby's misguided attempts to shove more highway projects down our collective throat. I can't remember who said that trying to solve automobile congestion by paving over more land is akin to trying to cure obesity by loosening one's belt. It's still true.
In Virginia, the laughable terms of the deal with Fluor-Transurban on the I-395 widening are a threat to suck money out of the Virginia budget for decades. Maryland is already experiencing sticker shock on the ICC.
I doubt that it was coincidence that the SHA and highway lobby attempted to get the I-270 widening passed in Montgomery County before toll pricing was discussed for the ICC. They wanted to take advantage of public perception of roads as "free." That project would have locked up money for new transportation projects in the state for decades. Projects like the ICC and the I-395 HOT lanes are emphasizing in the public consciousness that highways are huge, expensive projects with many negative externalities.
Close the Center Leg (I-395) between New York Ave and Massachusetts Ave: I reiterate what I said last year: "This segment induces through traffic on New York Avenue between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the Center Leg. The existing open cut could potentially be decked over and used as a right of way for a future heavy rail Blue Line at much lower cost than tunneling the same distance."
Separated Blue Line: A separated Blue Line through a new tunnel at Rosslyn, through Georgetown, the West End, the Golden Triangle BID, the Convention Center, Union Station, and along H Street NE will add enormous new commuter capacity and serve important areas that the Metro currently doesn't reach. The separated Blue Line will both solve the problems associated with the zipper at Rosslyn and offer redundant east-west service in the urban core of the region.
Just as I wrote back in June in the wake of the Red Line crash, everyone would be better served by having redundant transfer stations. This project is of high importance to the whole region, not just the District of Columbia. Perhaps the WMATA member jurisdictions could reach some sort of construction funding compromise similar the existing formula that is employed for operations.
Commuters will be greatly positively affected in Virginia on both the Blue and Orange Lines. Commuters from Prince George's County wouldn't have to put up with service delays that reverberate from delays associated with the Rosslyn zipper. Service on both the Blue and Orange Line could be increased since they wouldn't have to share tracks in the District, affecting all three jurisdictions.
Rockville Pike streetcar/White Flint: A coalition of landowners surrounding the White Flint Metro have gotten together in favor of a vision to recreate Rockville Pike between White Flint Mall and Montrose Road into a human-scale walkable urban place similar to Bethesda. The landowners recognize the vision as both the right thing to do economically and environmentally as well as an honest business opportunity. It is rare that such a stark opportunity for Smart Growth presents itself. My detailed testimony on behalf of ACT to the Montgomery County Council can be found here.
A major part of transforming the area into a traditional human-scale town is evolving Rockville Pike from its current state as a dangerous too-wide suburban arterial into an urban boulevard similar to Connecticut Avenue between the White House and Dupont Circle. The new White Flint town would be well-served by some kind of super-local transit. A streetcar in the median of Rockville pike will serve as a traffic calming mechanism, a safe haven for pedestrians crossing the road, and contribute to an inviting urban feel.
This would all be accomplished without taking away any automobile lanes. Existing lanes would be narrowed from over 12 feet to 10 or 11 feet. Drivers would drive more cautiously while pedestrians would have less asphalt to cross. The landowners believe in the boulevardization of the Pike so much that they are willing to cede a few feet of their properties in order to make it work.
National high-speed rail: We saw a lot of really cool maps and schematics about national high-speed rail corridors, similar to the existing Acela. While we haven't seen much since, some preliminary funding for studying the project was put in the stimulus package.
The reasons for building High Speed Rail remain as compelling as last year: "Train stations are usually located in the heart of downtown, while airports tend to be located 50 miles away. [Their remote location induces car-dependent sprawl along their access highways.] Delivering people to a city's center will boost demand for amenities downtown. It will also increase demand for regional and local mass transit, since visitors will arrive in the city without cars. As we have seen with our own Union Station, vibrant intercity train stations are powerful ways to create a sense of place."
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