Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Keeping it moving


Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.
Metro's misfortunes: Escalator woes aren't going away anytime soon (Dr. Gridlock) ... Those outages made at least one person climb the side of the escalator at Bethesda (DCist) ... A train derailed in the New Carrollton railyard (Examiner) ... Some ways to improve the vital signs scorecard (Dr. Gridlock) ... At least the doors are fixed. (Examiner)

Blue Bus becomes Circulator 9/1: Posters have started appearing in the Georgetown Metro Connection ("Blue Bus") informing riders that the routes will become Circulators starting September 1. (brownpau via Georgetown Metropolitan)

Bus stop consolidation very tough politically: The Maryland MTA won't eliminate any bus stops after a rider advocacy group complained. It's important to have a good process and make sure people get heard, but it's also necessary to take some heat and remove some bus stops if they're truly too close together. (Baltimore Sun)

BRAC imminent: Nearly everyone agrees BRAC is going to be a traffic disaster next year, with 18,000 jobs moving from transit-oriented Crystal City and the Pentagon to the Mark Center and Fort Belvoir. Congressmen think so, AAA, VDOT, and I are all quoted saying so. A real estate agent in exurban southern Fairfax is excited, though. (Examiner)

Security sprawl: Besides BRAC, one factor contributing to defense sprawl is the desire of every agency to have a really big SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, regardless of need. (Post)

Washington Monument competition too modern?: Erik Bootsma worries about the lack of classical architects on the judging panel for the National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds, and also suggests just implementing the original McMillan plans for the area. (Beatus Est)

Repeat after me: How many times do we have to debunk the claim that driving is a result of a free market? It's not! Libertarian think tanks could push many really innovative market-based transportation solutions, but instead Cato just turns over transportation policy to transit hater Randal O'Toole. (Matthew Yglesias)

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

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"... In addition to that, we do have an issue of these escalators [being] old. They have not been kept in a state of good repair. We're behind the curve on that. We have to catch up."

Accountability? Anyone? Anyone?

by Lou on Jul 22, 2010 9:08 am • linkreport

I was riding ART yesterday. It is amazing how much nicer a small bus is. Better AC, better suspension, and quieter.

Replacing the small BB with a larger circulator bus is stupid. There really is no need for such a large bus on that route. Not enough passengers, and it will move much slower on M st traffic.

by charlie on Jul 22, 2010 9:08 am • linkreport

@Charlie: Odds are that Circulator would use some of their 30' buses (which usually are used on the 14th Street and Navy Yard routes) to provide service on the Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont route. Those buses aren't much bigger than the current Blue Buses.

by Jason on Jul 22, 2010 9:17 am • linkreport

Does being a supporter of BRT now qualify one as a 'transit hater'? If that is the case, then there are _lots_ of transit haters here and around the US - not just at Cato.

by Peter Smith on Jul 22, 2010 9:18 am • linkreport

Randal O'Toole is a Randian tool.

by Nick on Jul 22, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

WMATA's performance metrics should include:

  • Number of trains placed into service with "locked out" cars.  There seem to have been more of them lately. 

  • Train A/C and heating failures.  The rolling saunas have become a fixture of the daily Metro experience. 

captcha: Jean-Luc streaked

by intermodal commuter on Jul 22, 2010 9:46 am • linkreport

O'Toole isn't a supporter of BRT because he believes in it, or wants the bus system to be better. He's a supporter of BRT because he wants us to spend the absolute minimum possible on transit, and is savvy enough to know that more people will listen to him if he's ostensibly for something instead of against everything.

Ironically, O'Toole probably hurts the BRT movement even more than he hurts the rail movement, because his thinly veiled "support" for buses (that's in actuality opposition to transit spending) reminds so many transit supporters of the GM streetcar scandal. A lot of people are really hesitant to embrace BRT because it is clear that many BRT supporters are only in the game because they want to destroy rail. That's unfortunate, because BRT definitely deserves a place in our transit pantheon.

by BeyondDC on Jul 22, 2010 9:56 am • linkreport

"many BRT supporters are only in the game because they want to destroy rail"

Funny, I am pretty sure that we are not talking about ripping up train tracks to replace them with BRT -- it is about future builds. But typical of the transit geek paranoia.

by charlie on Jul 22, 2010 10:00 am • linkreport

@Jason; well, that would be good. But are they ordered new buses or just using the existing fleet? Because if they don't have some new ones you're going to have some shortfalls in service.....I think there are at least 5 or 6 dedicated BB and might be more.

by charlie on Jul 22, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

Finally! The Blue bus should have been a Circulator since its beginning. Branding is a key marketing tool in public transportation. It's the only way to attract riders and get the service known!

About Bus stop consolidation: When do we start in DC? A bus stop every 200 yards does not serve any purpose other than pissing off the riders that stay on the bus & making the journey much more slower!

by Vincent Flament on Jul 22, 2010 10:12 am • linkreport

I don't think calling southern Fairfax exurban is all that accurate, at least in the areas close to Ft. Belvoir. It's maybe 20 miles south of DC and the land is mostly all filled in. Still a traffic disaster, but it's not exactly in the middle of nowhere or far, far away from job centers, etc.

by jordan on Jul 22, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

Transit agencies eliminate entire bus routes and leave riders pretty much SOL, but MTA can't eliminate stops on a bus line because opposition is so fierce? I can't quite wrap my head around this one.

by Rob Pitingolo on Jul 22, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

Funny, I am pretty sure that we are not talking about ripping up train tracks to replace them with BRT -- it is about future builds. But typical of the transit geek paranoia.

Well, if you're talking about tearing up existing subway or light rail lines for BRT, then you're right, I don't think that will happen (although it did in the postwar period). But regular rail lines are torn up and converted to BRT. The East Busway in Pittsburgh, and the Orange Line in LA were rail lines. The electrified Princeton branch of the NE Corridor will most likely be paved and become BRT.

Abandoned or lightly used rail lines are looked at for new rail transit lines and BRT, and trails, of course. The thing is, once the tracks come up, they're highly unlikely to come back. We've seen the difficulties with the Purple Line. And the only BRT line that's become LRT that I know of is Guadalajara. There is the Seattle tunnel, and the tunnel in Pittsburgh, but technically both have always had rails, and buses use them in addition to trains.

by kinverson on Jul 22, 2010 12:43 pm • linkreport

As long as that means that the blue bus will take Smart-trip cards, I'm all in favor of it.

by Aaron on Jul 22, 2010 2:31 pm • linkreport

Whether The Nazis advocated for the death chambers because they actually hated Jews or because the death chambers just happened to be the most cost-effective way of dealing with 'The Jewish Problem' -- the end result was the same -- an extermination of a large percentage of the Jewish population. Similarly, whether O'Toole and others advocate for BRT because they actually hate public transit or because BRT just happens to be the most cost-effctive way of dealing with 'The Public Transit Problem' -- the end result is the same -- the extermination of a large percentage of public transit.

Even if you think of yourself as an innocent non-partial observer of the BRT war -- like Ford and IBM -- it may be time for you to re-examine your own role in the catastrophe.

Thanks to the commenter for pointing out some examples of BRT replacing rail, and better, threatening to replace rail at every turn. The whole point of BRT has always been to destroy public transit -- just because O'Toole is now on your side does not change this fact. Though, it would -- I hope -- cause some BRT advocates to think twice about their position. Hasn't happened yet.

The next phase of BRT will be getting rid of our subway systems. Even if they don't win outright, they'll force the rail systems into an even more barebones existence - if that is eveen possible - but this will definitely happen - that is the whole point of the 'surface subway' terminology. Look at the numbers from China's BRT systems and you'll see they're moving as many or more people than the NYC subway -- and for a thousandth of the up-front capital costs.

At some point, all you 'cost effective public transit' folks -- i.e. 'put the poor people on buses' people - will realize that you lent your support to a movement that you can no longer control. I said the only way to deal with BRT was to take it off the table completely. Very few people listened.

Good luck keeping your beloved Metro.

by Peter Smith on Jul 22, 2010 7:33 pm • linkreport

How are the bus stops that are consolidated chosen, are they picking random stops along routes or the ones that are the least used throughout the day, least boardings, least exits etc.

by kk on Jul 22, 2010 9:10 pm • linkreport

Usually the oil/gas/car/rubber/anti-transit people aren't so direct -- they usually do their talking through TheCityFix/EMBARQ/WRI/BTI/etc. -- but, either they're getting a bit careless or a bit braver, based on all the success they've been having lately:
Cities which have yet to collapse in gridlock or spend billions on old-style metro schemes, says Chris West of the Shell Foundation, could leapfrog to next generation urban transport systems, like bus rapid transit (BRT) of the sort pioneered in Curitiba (see, 'Exclusive interview with the man behind Curitiba's master plan'). He sees a future for “small, efficient bus fleets, structured like an underground but running on the surface…Undergrounds are so expensive, no city ever recovers the cost,” he says. By contrast, land values around BRT networks go up, and so rising rents swell the city coffers. Adair Turner sounds a cautionary note: “Status fascination remains a problem… High-income people in London will use the tube. High-income people in Nairobi will not use the bus. We will not have emerging economy middle classes immediately jump to the attitudes of the green middle class in high-income countries.”
There's a lot to be criticized in that paragraph, of course, but you'll never be able to beat it back with an army of one -- they're very well funded.

One of the reasons I didn't want to write anything for Worldchanging was because of this kind of stuff -- the Shell guy's words mixed in with the writer's words, which lends the oil/gas/rubber/anti-transit guys the legitimacy of Worldchanging.

And we shouldn't forget that General Motors was able to crush rail transit in the US primarily by just starting the fire -- that's the conclusion of at least one serious study -- once it got going it was self-perpetuating -- that's what we're witnessing now with BRT. GM still chipped in with the anti-rail war, helping pull down the rail companies along the way, whenever their shadow company, National City Lines, would run into a roadblock -- usually some stingy set of local transit advocates -- but General Motors, as you know, almost always won. And even when they didn't win directly, they were able to create enough anti-rail vibes and anti-rail policy that the systems remained underfunded and eventually crumbled. If you don't see parallels between what happened fifty years ago and what's happening around the US now, with extreme underfunding for public transit, especially rail transit, then you're not paying attention.

The auto companies are running scared, but they found a huge winner in BRT and gullible transit 'advocates'. Bikes are going to be the next target, so us bike folks need to get on top of things and not be as naive as the transit folks.

Good luck with that 'old-style metro scheme' of yours.

by Peter Smith on Jul 23, 2010 12:21 am • linkreport

Speaking of the GM streetcar destruction scandal:
1940: Hey, let's replace rail with this new technology -- buses!
2010: Hey, let's replace rail with this new technology -- big buses!
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

70+ years to learn this lesson. Books. Movies. Pop culture. Daily experience. Even wiki pages. And still...nothing. We're absolutely doomed to repeat the past.

I can imagine the scene 70 years ago at the town hall meetings and protests -- people yelling, crying, pleading -- doing whatever they could to save their streetcars. And then the yelling when the town councilors inevitably dropped the hammer on the streetcars for good. Then the finger wagging from the local newspaper the next day when they tell the bus people that 'they should have consulted the town before ripping up the rails -- they should not have ripped up the rails in the middle of the night'.

Then the noise and smog and terror and havoc and indignity of buses invading our cities and killing the street life of the city. Then the boom in demand for cars. Then the outmigration from the destroyed cities to the suburbs. So it goes.

And the well-meaning transportation 'advocates' get up to the lectern at the town hall meeting (and write blog posts and newspaper editorials and go on lecture tours) and say, "I think streetcars can be good transportation, but I also think buses definitely deserve a place in our transit pantheon. We should move forward -- buses are a good idea -- more flexible -- less expensive -- more cost-effective -- better for taxpayers -- we can't stay in the past -- we have to move forward."

And the GM -- errrr, National City Lines -- guys get up to the lectern, in their neat suits and shiny shoes, and echo the same things.

And not enough people were around to defend the rights of regular citizens to decent and dignified transportation, to a decent city.

Seventy years ago, people had no idea what hit them -- they were blindsided -- had no way of knowing just how much force General Motors threw behind the effort to destroy public transit. But today is different -- or should be different. Are we open to learning from the past? It doesn't look good so far. But we can still change.

It's not good enough to say that you've seen the documentary -- you have to actually understand the lessons provided therein. I'm sure Shell and BP and Ford are happy you haven't, though. And Mr. Lerner and the Peñalosa brothers and the various professional BRT-hawkers (soon, I suspect, to include Mr. Calabrese, of Healthline infamy) will continue to have plenty to sell for the next couple of decades. Hey - it's a living.

by Peter Smith on Jul 23, 2010 10:26 pm • linkreport

"The East Busway in Pittsburgh, and the Orange Line in LA were rail lines."

The East Busway in Pittsburgh is an unmitigated disaster.

The Orange Line in LA.... well, given the sheer insanity of the politics around it, and the relative unimportance of the line, I think it's rather nice to have such a solid example of "BRT failure" in Los Angeles. It's actually helping get other light rail lines built.

"The electrified Princeton branch of the NE Corridor will most likely be paved and become BRT."
Not if activists can help it. The fact that Princeton University is mind-bogglingly stupid and doesn't realize what an asset it has in its rail line -- it wants to steal the property under it -- puts it at risk however.

by Nathanael on Jul 24, 2010 3:32 pm • linkreport

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