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Where is Falls Church, exactly?

A couple months ago, Greater Greater Washington editor Dan Reed wrote about how Silver Spring doesn't have actual boundaries. That's not the only place in our region where that's the case: the question of where, exactly, Falls Church's borders are is also an open one.

Unlike Silver Spring, there is an official boundary in terms of the City of Falls Church (which is an independent city not part of Fairfax County):


Map of the City of Falls Church from Google Maps.

But when people say "Falls Church," they have always meant more than the current boundaries of the city (in fact, neither the East Falls Church nor West Falls Church Metro stations are in the City of Falls Church). So, let's start with a bit of history.

In 1875, Falls Church gained township status within Fairfax. In 1887, it retroceded "South Falls Church" back to Fairfax (I touched on this in a 2014 post about the naming of West Falls Church). According to the City's website, "In 1890, the Town Council of Falls Church voted to cede its other majority African American districts to Fairfax County. As a result, over one-third of the land that made up the town was retroceded to the County."

East Falls Church, which makes up the western corner of Arlington County, has its own interesting history. It was part of the Town of Falls Church (while simultaneously within a county, which changed designations as Virginia ceded its portion to, then retroceded it back from, the District of Columbia).

So, from 1875 to 1887, the Town of Falls Church included what is basically today's City, along with South Falls Church and East Falls Church. I found a map of the Town of Falls Church here and georeferenced it onto a current map:


Current City of Falls Church boundaries are in red, overlaying a map of the former "Town of Falls Church." Map by the author using data from Fairfax County GIS and Quora.

For a more modern look at what the boundaries of Falls Church could be, we can start with the most inclusive: postal addresses that use Falls Church. The peach-colored area in the map below represents the five zip codes that use Falls Church in their addresses. While it's the largest area considered, it omits East Falls Church, which has an Arlington address.


Map from Fairfax County GIS with annotations by the author.

On the other extreme, you could strictly define Falls Church as the City, whose boundaries are shown in green above. This is a tidy solution in that it is a formal boundary. But then what do you call the surrounding area?

(For those who are familiar with Falls Church but haven't looked at these boundaries in a while, you'll note the 22043 zip code sticking out. This reflects the the boundary of the City of Falls Church having changed very slightly in the last few years: the middle school and the high school for the City of Falls Church had been in Fairfax County (adjacent to the city boundary). As part of the deal where Fairfax Water bought the Falls Church City water system a few years ago, Fairfax County handed over the school property to the City.)

Could physical features define Falls Church?

In Dan Reed's post about Silver Spring, and in the comments, there was mention of physical attributes (roads, natural features) as boundaries.

With this approach, I-66 (to the north), the Beltway (to the west) and Holmes Run/Columbia Pike (to the south) would be logical boundaries for Falls Church. This is shown in yellow above. (To the east, I selected the Arlington County border which, admittedly, isn't a physical feature.)

I often hear the term "Greater Falls Church" to describe the City and surrounding areas, but I wasn't able to find any formal boundary definitions of such. I checked the circulation information of the Falls Church News Press, which says it targets "…customers in the greater Falls Church area of Northern Virginia." They deliver to the five zip codes above, but provided no additional information on their website. (Their circulation is quite sparse outside of the City.)

The Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, which used to be called the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, has a map of its members that corresponds closely to the northern half of the zip code area:

But other than the formal boundaries of the City, there are no formal definitions of where "Falls Church" begins and ends. So, what do you consider the boundaries of "Falls Church" to be?

Bicycling


When bikeshare stations are near Metro, more people use them... especially if they're outside of DC

Bikeshare can help get people to a Metro station when they live or work too far away to walk there. As a result, the region's busiest Bikeshare stations are next to Metro, especially outside of DC.


The CaBi station at the Pentagon City Metro. Photo by mariordo59 on Flickr.

Although some people do use bikeshare as their primary mode of getting around the same way others use bus and rail transit, one of bikeshare's most important functions is to act as a first and last mile connection, meaning people take it to and from home and wherever they board another service. That's where bikeshare has the most benefit when it comes to increasing transit access and use.

The graph below takes a look at how many of our region's Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) stations are located near Metrorail and how many trips begin and end at those stations. As you can see, CaBi stations near Metro are more active than those that are not:


All charts by the author.

Nearly a third of our region's CaBi stations are within a quarter-mile of a Metro station, but nearly half of all trips begin or end at them. Also, 8% of CaBi stations are located at the Metro (I determined by counting the stations whose names include a Metro station name), and 9% of all trips begin and end at them.

To dig deeper into different parts of the region, I divided the region into geographic clusters: In Montgomery County, there's Rockville, Silver Spring/Takoma Park, and Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights; In Arlington County, there's North and South Arlington (with Arlington Boulevard being the dividing line); there's also Alexandria, and of course DC. Prince George's doesn't have any CaBi stations yet.

The CaBi stations near Metro in DC see slightly more use than the stations that aren't near Metro. But in the clusters outside of DC, CaBi stations near Metro see much more use than ones that aren't. In fact, while 26% of CaBi stations in these clusters are within a quarter mile of Metro stations, 45% of all trips start or end there, and while only 10% of CaBi stations in these clusters are at the Metro, they account for 21% of all trips.

Since so many people outside of DC use Metro to commute, we would expect CaBi stations near Metro to capture both local users and commuters and for their overall use to be proportionately higher than the stations farther from Metro. That's the case just about everywhere—for instance, in South Arlington, 18% of CaBi stations are within a quarter mile of a Metro station, however these stations account for 39% of all the trips in that cluster.

Similarly, 5% of the CaBi stations in South Arlington are at Metro stations, but they account for 20% of the total trips. Curiously, the CaBi stations a quarter mile from Metro stations in Alexandria have proportionally fewer trips, but those at the Metro station have proportionally more trips.

Bikeshare at transit stations provides another mode for people to travel to and from the transit station, introducing another opportunity to increase the level of activity in a specific area.

It's likely that CaBi stations at Metro stations outside of DC have higher levels of use because they serve not only people in specific neighborhoods, but also people who use the Metro system. Although it seems intuitive that people using bikeshare at a Metro station would also use Metro, the available the CaBi data do not include the exact reasons why people are using specific CaBi stations.

As other jurisdictions in the region look to start their own bikeshare systems, it would be wise to not only place stations at and within a quarter mile of Metrorail stations, but also to use a bikeshare system that is compatible with CaBi. Doing so would open up the number of potential bikeshare users to not only people in the neighborhood, but to everyone with access to the Metro system.

Transit


Could a gondola from Georgetown to Rosslyn work? A study says yes.

Getting from Georgetown to Rosslyn, or to any Metro station, isn't easy. An aerial gondola across the Key Bridge could provide the missing connection, say leaders of the two neighborhoods, and a new study looks at how to make it happen, what it will cost, and where stations would go.


All images from the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Feasibility Study.

The idea for the gondola—cable-operated aerial trams, not the Venetian boats—first came up in 2013, when the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) included it in its 15-year action plan. The goal is to fill the public transit gaps between Georgetown and Rosslyn, most notably the lack of a Metro stop.

In May 2015, Greater Greater Washington contributor Topher Mathews wrote that yes, this idea was at least worth looking into. While he said there were valid reasons to be skeptical of a gondola, like it being too expensive, or a distraction from more practical transit options, or just a shiny new toy, he also noted that "we won't know that for certain without the study."

Topher went on to note that gondolas are relatively cheap compared to, say, rail, that a quick ride from Georgetown to the Metro would be ideal, and that more bus lanes between Georgetown and Rosslyn really weren't politically feasible.

In July, both the Georgetown and Rosslyn BIDs, along with DC, Arlington County, Georgetown University and a number of businesses in the neighborhood, and a group of developers began studying the possibility in earnest.

The findings of the study came out today. Here are some of the details:

Where might stations go?

The study considered several station locations on either side of the river. The report said the top preferences are the the Exxon Station/36th Street right-of-way site in Georgetown (just north of M Street, near the "Exorcist steps") and North Lynn Street adjacent to Central Place in Rosslyn. Putting stations here would not require an angle station to re-direct the cables (in other words, the route would be a straight shot), and it would provide access to both Georgetown University and M Street.

The Exxon site would require private land acquisition (which could be tough given a recent proposal to build condos there). The study says the site would allow easy access to both M Street (below the Exorcist steps) and Prospect Street above, meaning it'd be less than a 10 minute walk from both the retail corridor and the lawn fronting the Georgetown campus.

The other Rosslyn site that's under serious consideration, Fort Myer Drive, would require an angle station, as would another proposed site in Georgetown, 3401 Water Street (just below the C&O Canal).


In both of these images, the Georgetown station is at the Exxon site. The image on the left shows the Rosslyn station on Fort Myer Drive, and on the right it's on North Lynn Street.

Proximity to Metro is a huge piece of the puzzle

Connecting to Metro is a critical piece of the entire gondola idea. In fact, Georgetown BID CEO Joe Sternlieb said the "goal is to make this the equivalent of the Georgetown Metro station."

In Rosslyn, both the North Lynn and Fort Myer sites are half a block and a block from a Metro entrance, meaning it could take as little as two minutes to transfer from the gondola, according to Sternlieb.

The report proposes building a new "vertical connection" between Metro and gondola station for the Fort Myer site, while using the new elevators built as part of the Central Place development to connect Metro to the North Lynn site.

According to the report, the gondola would put a lot more places within a 30-minute transit commute: you could take the gondola and then metro further west along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor as well as to Pentagon City and Crystal City in Virginia, and you could also go east into the District toward L'Enfant Plaza, Mount Vernon Square, and Penn Quarter. (As counterintuitive as it seems, Georgetown workers and residents could take the gondola to Virginia and then Metro back into the District.)


Here, the dark colors represent the places that are currently within a 30-minute transit ride of Rosslyn and Georgetown. The lighter colors show how a gondola would expand those options.

Federal approval is key

The National Park Service has jurisdiction over the river and the C&O Canal National Historical Park, both of which a gondola would have to cross with a visible set of wires and towers.

Due to the multi-jurisdictional nature of the project and the fact that it would cross federal land, a number of agencies and entities—including the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts—would have to approve the project. The consultants conducting the feasibility study did meet with NPS, NCPC, and CFA representatives.

Also, the Federal Aviation Administration has to approve tall buildings that go up in Rosslyn because it's so close to the flight path into DCA. A real consideration with the gondola cables is that airplane wings can create vortices that might lead to dangerous turbulence.

Costs, projected ridership, and potential economic benefits

At a projected cost of $80-90 million, the gondola would be significantly cheaper than the $1.5 billion for a Georgetown Metro tunnel and station laid out in the Metro 2040 Plan. It's even cheaper than building a Metro station alone.

The report estimates that between 6,000 and 15,000 people would ride the gondola each day. The project could replace several existing bus routes, cutting nearly 100,000 Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle and DC Circulator bus trips over the Key Bridge per year.

Organizers also see economic development benefits, especially for hotels in Rosslyn—increased occupancy and rates would boost local business and tax revenue—and restaurants and retail on both sides of the Potomac. Rosslyn officials also see the potential for more Georgetown workers to live in Rosslyn, potentially boosting rent and property tax revenue.

The study says that the development community is "generally supportive" and that the gondola could contribute to vitality and "buzz" for both neighborhoods with respect to office, retail, and residential considerations.

Could this happen anytime soon?

The feasibility study is only the latest step in making a gondola happen. Future phases would involve more public input and details on funding, which would involve multiple jurisdictions. The feasibility study found that the approval process could take 3-4 years, with an additional two years for construction.

The Georgetown and Rosslyn BIDs will host a public meeting tonight at the Georgetown Theater (1351 Wisconsin Avenue NW), featuring a presentation of the feasibility study findings and questions from the audience. Doors open at 6 pm. You can find more details here.

Pedestrians


Three examples of great street design in France

On a recent trip to France, I had my eyes open for smart design. Three cities in particular were full of examples of how to make streets for people rather than cars. Here's what I noticed.


Rue de Trois Cailloux, a pedestrian street in Amiens, France. All photos by the author.

First, a small bit of context: the cities I visited were Amiens, Rouen, and Chartres, three regional capitals in northern France. Amiens and Rouen each have a little over 100,000 people, while Chartres has about 40,000. Here's where they are in relation to the rest of the country:


Image from Google Maps.

1. Amiens

Amiens is a small city known for its soaring Gothic cathedral, which is the tallest completed cathedral in France. The cathedral was built to house a relic—a piece of John the Baptist's skulland was built at such a grand scale to accommodate pilgrims who would come to see it. In Amiens, a large pedestrian street (Rue de Cailloux) cuts through the heart of the city, taking you through rows of trees and water features and past stores, bakeries, banks, and more.

At points, Rue de Cailloux intersects streets carrying car traffic, but the roads narrow so much at these intersections that instead of pedestrians waiting for a break in cars to cross, the cars had to wait for a break in the people walking to drive through.


Intersection of Amiens' pedestrian street with traffic.

When my mom and I arrived, we got stuck in a long line of traffic; I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was because of the significant volume of pedestrians milling across an intersection like the one pictured below.


Cyclists wind down a street in Amiens.

2. Rouen

Rouen is another city known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral, which was painted by Claude Monet. A brief stop in Rouen to see the cathedral also meant stumbling onto a similar street. The Rue de General Leclerc in Rouen runs through the center of town and consists of two designated bus lanes flanked by a lane for pedestrians and cyclists.

Compared to Amiens, this pedestrian- and transit-oriented street wasn't as bustling or green. Tourists seemed confused about where to walk and the few passing bicyclists would swerve into the bus lanes, which are separated by a low gutter rather than a steep curb. But the bus passengers waiting at stops up and down the street showed that the design provides a useful alternative for bus transit compared with the traffic-heavy streets surrounding Rue de General Leclerc.

3. Chartres

Chartres, a suburb about an hour and a half outside of Paris, is a delightful medieval town crowned with yet another awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral at its heart. The cathedral soars above the small medieval town below it, whose buildings are generally only three or fours stories and whose streets are often only just wide enough to accommodate a car.

Ultimately, the grand structure serves to put the human scale of the medieval town center into perspective. And the automated bollard system set up throughout this center limits the presence of cars, meaning you can stroll the streets and ponder that difference of scale in peace.

When cars do appear on the winding, narrow roads of Chartres centre ville, they share the space with pedestrians and cyclists.

Is our region full of towns woven through with small medieval streets? No. But that doesn't mean cities like it can't learn from the scale and prioritization put forth by cities like Amiens, Rouen, and Chartres (plus, Annapolis is pretty close).

Given that the Arlington County Board recently approved pedestrian-only streets, and that such streets in other cities have been reversed due to low pedestrian traffic, these French examples give us good fodder to consider what makes or breaks a street that is not primarily used by cars.

The primary key to a successful pedestrian street, it would seem, is a city that designs streets so that pedestrians feel safe and welcome. As Arlington moves forward with their plan, it will be interesting to see how they implement parallel plans to encourage walking and biking, and therefore the success of their newly approved car-free zones.

Transit


Why is there no Metro line on Columbia Pike?

Along the Metro tracks just south of Pentagon station, there are two dead-end tunnels that branch off in the direction of Columbia Pike. They were built so Metro could expand westward in the future, so why has the line never received serious consideration?


These Metro corridors got heavy consideration in the 1960s. Graphic by the author.

Columbia Pike, which runs southwest from the Pentagon to Annandale, passes through several residential and commercial areas, including Bailey's Crossroads at the intersection with Leesburg Pike. When Metro was in its initial planning stages in the 1960s, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the National Capital Transportation Agency studied routes on the Virginia side of the Potomac, and Columbia Pike was among the routes the agencies considered.

The NVTC envisioned a Columbia Pike Metro line running to Americana Fairfax at the Beltway via Little River Turnpike, which is where Columbia Pike ends in Annandale. The NCTA considered a route along Columbia Pike that was as an alternative to what would become the Orange Line. It ran from the Pentagon to the Barcroft neighborhood, where it turned north at Four Mile Run until it joined I-66 and continued west.

Ultimately, a number of factors led to this corridor being dropped from consideration, the largest being its price tag. To avoid tunneling and to minimize cost, Metro planners prioritized using existing rights-of-way, such as highway medians and railroads, for its potential routes.

This, combined with the desire to ensure Metro connectivity to north Arlington and Springfield, led to the Virginia getting Metro corridors along I-66 and the RF&P railroad (what would become the Orange and Blue lines, respectively).


Metro tunnels outside of the Pentagon. Graphic by the author.

The Columbia Pike line would have needed to be entirely in a tunnel all the way to Annandale, and its projected ridership was simply not sufficient to justify such a high cost. The cost also resulted in pressure from Maryland to prevent Virginia from having three lines, worried that the Columbia Pike line would reduce money available for the rest of the system.

There were some outspoken proponents of a Columbia Pike line, most notably the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Frederick Babson. Babson had campaigned on getting the Columbia Pike line built, and as such was very vocal at planning meetings.

In 1967, largely to placate Babson, WMATA did some informal studies on the Columbia Pike line as an alternative to the north Arlington line. These studies did not change the Board's decision, and to this day remain the last studies done on a Columbia Pike Metro line.

Likely as a consolation, the Columbia Pike line remained on WMATA's planning maps as part of several aspirational dotted lines for "future extensions." The corridor described by the NVTC appears on this 1967 proposed network with a modification to serve Lincolnia, but by the time the official Adopted Regional System was determined, the line was truncated there.


The Columbia Pike line on the 1968 Adopted Regional System. Image from DDOT.

In 1968, WMATA Board director Jay Ricks noted that the Columbia Pike line was ruled out with the understanding that it would have top priority for any future extensions, and that the line would be reinstated if the state of Virginia made more money available.

The Silver Line opened in 2014, so this obviously didn't happen. A Columbia Pike line has not seen any serious consideration since 1967. The Columbia Pike Transit Initiative did not include rapid transit as a possible alternative, and though WMATA has recently studied many theoretical routes as part of its long-term vision, a line along Columbia Pike is not one of them.

Is a Columbia Pike line possible in the future?

Though some residents along Columbia Pike were opposed to a Metro line because they didn't want the level of development and growth that occurred in north Arlington, such development has occurred regardless. There is much more residential density along Columbia Pike than there used to be, and job centers like the Mark Center have popped up along the corridor. The Skyline Center at Bailey's Crossroads was even built largely in anticipation of a Metro line.

Would this increase in potential ridership be enough to justify constructing the line today?


Bailey's Crossroads skyline. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Unfortunately, the cost of an underground Metro line remains a substantial hurdle. The proposed tunneled segments of the Silver Line in Tysons and Dulles Airport were rejected due to their high cost. Given that Arlington County had difficulty justifying the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar line, proposing an entirely tunneled Metro line may be a near-impossible task.

However, the most significant barrier to a Columbia Pike Metro line is capacity. How this line would integrate into the Metro system was never seriously considered. Simply building off of the stub tunnels at Pentagon would create the same capacity issue that planners are working to solve at Rosslyn, where there's a huge bottleneck, and like most proposed Metro extensions, a new downtown core line would need to come before any regional expansion because all possible routes the line could take after Pentagon are at capacity.


Metro's current capacity constraints. Graphic by Matt Johnson.

Metro's current long-term vision for future service downtown includes a loop line via Georgetown and Union Station with a supplementary station at Rosslyn and the Pentagon. The addition of the second Pentagon station could allow for a Columbia Pike line to exist, integrating into the downtown loop. I've created a hypothetical example of how this might work below, utilizing the alignment from 1967.


How a Columbia Pike line could integrate into the future Metro system. Graphic by the author.

The growth of the Columbia Pike corridor has made it a desirable line for many residents in the area, but its high cost and operational difficulties mean that we won't see such a line for many years, at least until Metro's downtown core capacity issues are resolved first.

Transit


WMATA is considering scrapping the Metroway BRT

Ridership on Metroway, the BRT route that runs from Braddock Road to Pentagon City, has been climbing since the service started in 2014. Yet WMATA is still considering shutting it down to save money. That'd negate years of planning and construction and sour public opinion on transit.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2014, WMATA introduced a bus rapid transit (BRT) service called Metroway, whose MW1 line runs between Braddock Road in Alexandria and Crystal City in Arlington. As our region's only BRT, Metroway runs in its own lane parallel to Route 1; its ability to skip traffic makes it a reliable transportation option.

Metroway ridership has been growing since it first opened. WMATA's 9S bus, which it replaced, had a daily ridership of 1,091 in its final year running. But by June 2015, Metroway ridership was at about 1,400 people per day, and as ridership grew, Metroway expanded it's service to the Pentagon City Metro station.


Image from the City of Alexandria.

At the heart of the MW1 route (which remains Metroway's only line) is Potomac Yard, a former 295-acre rail yard, which used to be on EPA's list of hazardous sites but has been growing into a great example of transit-oriented development (TOD) over the past decade. As large apartment buildings in Potomac Yard have gone up, so has the number of people riding Metroway.

In 2016, Metroway saw a roughly 50% increase in ridership over the same months in 2015. In June of 2016, the average daily ridership topped 2,000 for the first time.

Metroway is quite cheap compared to other WMATA concerns

Last week, WMATA released several radical ideas to close the gap between its operating budget and allocated funds for Fiscal Year 2018.Included in a collection of ideas to save $10 million on bus service was eliminating 20 bus routes that WMATA has to subsidize because fares don't cover costs. In Metroway's case, WMATA pays $3.5 million extra per year to run the service, which is nearly three times the amount of money the 20 routes averaged together.

To put that in perspective, WMATA projects a budget gap of $275 million for FY 2018, and that number is likely to grow in the future. While we typically talk about rail in terms of decades and in magnitudes of billions of dollars, BRT offers options for smaller areas at a fraction of the cost-- a $3.5 million compared to hundreds of millions, for example-- and time.

For instance, the Silver Line was part of the original Metro planning during the 1960s, and the construction cost for Phase II alone is $3 billion. The Potomac Yard Metro Station also has roots dating back to the original Metro planning, was in various forms of development beginning in the early 90's, and will be complete in 2020 at an estimated cost of $268 million.

On the other hand, the time between the completing the conceptual design for the Metroway BRT Route and the grand opening was only 41 months at a cost of only $42 million for construction.

Beyond that, Metroway is just getting started. Why cut it off now?

Metroway has a growing ridership, as it serves an area that's growing. In fact, it has far more riders than the other 19 bus lines proposed for elimination, with the average ridership among the others being less than 500 riders per day. Only one other route, Oxon Hill-Fort Washington, has more than 1,000 riders per day.

Also, recent numbers Metro used to evaluate Metroway for its recent budget report were distorted: During SafeTrack surges 3 and 4 in July, anyone transferring from Metro was allowed to ride Metroway for free, which pushed ridership from being over 2,000 paying customers per day down to around 1,300. The next month, though, ridership was back over 2,000.

If Metroway stays around, ridership will grow and Metro will come closer and closer to breaking even on Metroway. With the next wave of development starting to kick off in the north end of Potomac Yard and Oakville Triangle, even more potential riders will have a chance to use the service..

That brings up another point: Metroway has come on board to serve the TOD of Potomac Yard. Eliminating the line would add more congestion to the Route 1 corridor, defeating the purpose of TOD. It could also drive up automobile ownership among residents who relied on the system.

Also, WMATA has already invested in the infrastructure needed to run BRT, and while it was far cheaper than a rail project, it's still a lot to simply throw away. The years of planning and construction are in place, which represent a cost 12 times greater than the annual subsidy, which should decrease as development continues. Shutting down these lanes would be another black eye for WMATA.

Finally, residents' opinion of BRT matters, as other jurisdictions begin to develop their own systems. Montgomery County is planning a 14 mile stretch along Route 29 that is part of a larger 80 mile system. Eliminating this line would sour the public opinion and possibly derail other local jurisdictions from developing their own.

As WMATA continues to face ridership declines from what it calls "poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents" that plague the rest of their system, it would be foolish to cut this growing asset.

Bicycling


Whether you're traveling from Virginia or Maryland, Capital Bikeshare isn't just for short trips

People often rely on Capital Bikeshare for short, local trips. But not always; lots of times, they use the system to travel a little farther. These graphs show how often people use Capital Bikeshare to go between different groups of stations in the region and where exactly they travel to and from.


A Capital Bikeshare station in Montgomery County. Photo by author.

When Capital Bikeshare first came to our region, the vast majority of stations were in DC and a few were in Arlington. As the system has expanded, so have options for traveling between places.

I wanted to analyze bikeshare trips between counties, cities, and the District, as well as trips within different parts of the same county but still outside of DC. To do this, I divided Montgomery County and Arlington County into what I'm calling geographic clusters: Rockville, Silver Spring/Takoma Park, and Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights for Montgomery County, and North and South Arlington County, with Arlington Boulevard being the dividing line. Then I looked at CaBi trips from between September 2013 and May 2016.

This graph shows how many trips from each of those clusters ended in another one:


All graphs by the author. Click for a larger version.

As you can see, the places closest to DC are the ones from which people take the most trips between clusters; about 36% of trips in North Arlington and 35% of trips in Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights end somewhere else, while only 1% of trips in Rockville end outside of Rockville. Among all the clusters outside of DC, approximately 30% of trips go from one to another.

A closer look shows that most of the trips from one cluster to another are trips to DC, but not all. For instance, 9% of the trips that begin in South Arlington are between clusters but do not end in DC.


Click for a larger version.

This graph shows where, exactly, most bikeshare users go from various clusters:


Click for a larger version.

Further examination of South Arlington shows that approximately 71% of the trips there are local, 20% end in DC, 4.5% end in Alexandria, and 4.5% end in North Arlington. Also notice that nearly 8% of trips starting in Alexandria and 4% of trips in North Arlington end in South Arlington. As an area that is adjacent to clusters that use bicycle share, South Arlington sees more bikeshare activity.

Similar to the dense bikeshare system in DC, bikeshare outside of DC serves mostly local trips. But that doesn't mean bikeshare doesn't have a regional value, as nearly a third of trips system-wide are between clusters. As bikeshare continues to expand in the region, municipalities, especially those near other places with bikeshare, like Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, or Langley Park, would see an increase in ridership if bikeshare users could access the regional system.

This data only shows individual trips and doesn't show the length of time of trips or whether the user has a causal or annual membership. Exploring this information, as well as specific bikeshare travel patterns in more suburban areas, would tell us more about how bikeshare fits in both the local and regional transportation system.

Transit


There’s no place like… the Ballston Metro station

I love the Ballston Metro station. And that makes sense, given that I'm an unabashed Metro fanatic and Ballston has been my home station since I moved to the region in 1997. It's a shining example of just how great a neighborhood can become when we build good transit and then use it to anchor retail, commerce, and housing.


Image by the author.

With 11,520 average daily boardings in 2015, Ballston-MU (the station's official name as of 1995) was ranked as the 17th-busiest of WMATA's 91 stations, and the fifth-busiest in Virginia (behind Pentagon, Rosslyn, Pentagon City, and Crystal City). Ballston's status as a major bus transfer station no doubt plays a factor in this high ridership: 13 Metrobus routes and seven Arlington Transit (ART) routes connect Ballston to the rest of the county, as well as to Alexandria, Fairfax, and even Georgetown and K Street via route 38B.

As detailed by Zachary Schrag in his seminal book The Great Society Subway, the portion of the Metro that now constitutes the Orange Line between Rosslyn and Ballston was originally supposed to run entirely in the median of I-66 (as it does from Ballston westward to Vienna), in order to speed commuters from Fairfax County into DC.

However, Arlington officials were able to convince Metro's planners to reroute the Orange Line about a half mile south of I-66, in a subway to be built beneath the declining commercial corridors along Wilson Boulevard and Fairfax Drive. By concentrating development around the new Metro stations in these areas, Arlington would be able to massively grow its population and job market in the coming decades without increasing automobile traffic.


Ballston in the 1970s, with station entrance circled in red. Note the bus bays located on the current site of Ballston Metro Center, as well as the still-existing IHOP. Photo courtesy Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development, with addition by the author.

As the western end of this new "Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor," Ballston was envisioned as the shopping and retail hub of the county. The station was to be located just a few blocks from Parkington Shopping Center (now the redeveloping Ballston Common Mall), and would eventually be connected to the mall by a series of skybridges. The entrance is also just a few blocks from Marymount University's "Blue Goose" building, which also recently underwent redevelopment.

The station was originally designated as "Glebe Road" in planning documents, but it was renamed to Ballston before it opened. Glebe Road is a major north-south arterial in Arlington that is served by numerous buses connecting to Ballston, and the station lies just east of Glebe's intersection with Fairfax Drive.

The Orange Line used to end at Ballston, even though that wasn't ideal

Ballston station opened on December 1, 1979, as the western terminus of the new Orange Line. The opening coincided with the completion of the Court House, Clarendon, and Virginia Square stations west of Rosslyn. From its opening until the western extension to Vienna opened in June 1986, Ballston was the western terminus of the Orange Line.

Interestingly, Ballston was one of the only terminal stations in the history of the Metro system to have side platforms. This would present several difficulties from an operational standpoint, as terminal stations are almost always built with island platforms so that trains can berth at either track, and customers do not have to wait on the mezzanine to see which platform their train will service.

(The Orange Line had technically commenced operations a year earlier when the extension to New Carrollton opened, but the extension to Ballston was the first time that it operated as a completely separate service from the Blue Line. See our evolution of Metrorail animation for an explanation of this discrepancy.)


Commuters at Ballston station shortly after it opened in 1979. Photo courtesy of DC Public Library, Star Collection.

When the station first opened, the Ballston area still mainly consisted of auto body shops and empty lots. The nearest major attraction, the 1950s-era Parkington Shopping Center, had fallen into decline and would not be renovated and reopened as Ballston Common until 1986.

Development from the 1980s onward

Ridership at Ballston declined steeply after the Orange Line was extended westward to Vienna in 1986, falling from 11,300 to 8,100 daily boardings over the course of a year. However, passenger volumes gradually increased over the coming decades as the area welcomed new development and an influx of residents, and the station was transformed into the focal point of a wonderfully walkable, transit-oriented neighborhood.


Photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Plans for the "Ballston Metro Center" complex were unveiled in 1985, and the project was completed in 1989. The building is directly adjacent to the Metro entrance (protected from the elements by one of Metro's first escalator canopies), and contains 300,000 square feet of office and retail space, as well as a Hilton hotel and 320 condominiums. New pedestrian bridges provided direct connections to Ballston Common Mall and the headquarters of the National Science Foundation.


Ballston Metro Center entrance from the station escalator. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Ballston was renamed to Ballston-MU in December 1995, to recognize the nearby Marymount University facilities on Fairfax Drive. Silver Line service to Ballston began on July 26, 2014, when that line began operating between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center.

Future plans for the station include a second entrance at North Fairfax Drive and Vermont Street, in order to better serve new development near the intersection of N. Fairfax and Glebe Road. The station will also see increased service from several ART bus routes under the recommendations put forward in Arlington's new Transit Development Plan, in order to foster connections between numerous local routes serving the County.


The Ballston neighborhood today. Photo by Brett VA on Flickr.

Today, Ballston station continues to drive development in the surrounding neighborhood, with almost a dozen transit-oriented development projects in the pipeline. It remains the busiest Metro station west of Rosslyn, and ridership should only continue to rise with the addition of new TOD and bolstered bus service. Ballston-MU shows the power that rapid transit can have when its transformative development potential is fully realized, and I'm proud to call it my home station.

Do you live or work near Ballston? How has Metro changed your neighborhood for the better?

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