Posts about Arlington
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?
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
This graph shows where, exactly, most bikeshare users go from various clusters:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
On Friday, September 16th, greater Washington gave some parking spaces a facelift and converted them into miniature parks for Park(ing) Day, an imaginative international event to show what else could be done with curbside parking spaces.
Thanks to readers who tweeted pictures and uploaded to our Flickr pool. Here is some of what you submitted:
The Anacostia Waterfront Trust collaborated with the DC Council and several other organizations to create a superblock-long parklet at the John A. Wilson Building along the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue otherwise reserved for councilmember parking.
Councilmember David Grosso biked to eight DC parklets. Above, he's pictured at center, with Greater Greater Washington contributor and chief of staff Tony Goodman to his left. They're talking to BicycleSPACE co-owner Erik Kugler at the shop's Mount Vernon Triangle parklet while a staff member lunches.
Photo by @bestpixelco.
The National Park Service turned asphalt to water for imaginary canoe trips along F Street NW.
GGWash editorial board member Payton Chung enjoyed the Urban Land Institute's effort to strike the right balance between the natural and built environment.
GGWash reader Jim Chandler took this picture to say aloha from Hyattsville's University Town Center, where the city created a "temporary tropical oasis."
Reader Melissa E.B. McMahon captured the fun and games at one of Arlington County's five parklets.
Our write-ups from throughout the years of Park(ing) Days are here.
Friday, September 16th is Park(ing) Day! Park(ing) Day is an annual, international event where people turn parking spaces into miniature parks for a day, prompting impromptu public gatherings and calling attention to our need for more open spaces.
Landscape architecture firm Oculus' 2013 Park(ing) Day installation in DC. Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.
Here's a list of where some of the miniature parks (aka "parklets") will pop up tomorrow:
DC's official list of parklets is here. More than 25 locations will serve as pop-up parklets, including locations near Metro stations like NoMa, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, Gallery Place, McPherson Square, and Shaw-Howard.
The DC Department of Transportation is hosting a parklet and commuter spa at Farragut North, complete with a reading nook and a professional masseuse.
Several organizations promoting Anacostia River revitalization, including Waterfront Trust, Living Classrooms, Nature Conservancy, Washington Parks and People, and DC UrbanGreens will host a parklet in front of the Wilson Building.
Alexandria City will have five parklets throughout Old Town Alexandria, including City Hall and the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech.
Montgomery County will host pop-ups in Wheaton, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Takoma Park. Docs in Progress, a group that teaches documentary filmmaking, will be interviewing residents at its Silver Spring parklet.
Hyattsville will host four parklets, including an evening parklet from 6 pm to 8 pm at the City Municipal Building, which will have lawn games, food, beer, and live music.
Help us crowdsource PARK(ing) Day 2016
If you know of a parklet we've missed or if you see a parklet tomorrow, let us know in the comments. Share any photos of parklets and add them to the Greater Greater Washington Flickr pool or tweet it (#parkingday) and tag us (@ggwash). We'll post photos in a roundup next week.
Big marathons lean heavily on transit, whether it's local rail systems or networks of shuttle buses, to get thousands of participants to their start lines. However, due to SafeTrack, Metro will not be an option for the more than 30,000 runners in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and its associated races this October for the first time in years.
Metro has historically opened two hours early, at 5:00 am, for the race. This allows runners to get to the start line near Arlington Cemetery from all points in the system well ahead of the 7:55 am start.
On average, 24,000 runners use Metro to get the race, according to the MCM's organizers.
This year, however, Metro will open at its usual Sunday time of 7:00 am on race day, October 30th. This is not early enough for most runners to take Metro to what was the fourth largest marathon in the USA in 2015.
Instead, the organizers will offer parking in Crystal City and Pentagon City with runner-only shuttle buses to the starting line. Runners will also be able to begin the race for up to an hour after the 7:55 am start. Arlington Transit will run extra buses for runners as well.
The race has also changed its course slightly, adding sections in Arlington and shortening ones in DC. This was necessary because some road closures had been planned far in advance and the times couldn't be shifted; this is also why the organizers can't just delay the start.
Metro says no exceptions
WMATA announced a blanket one-year moratorium on early openings and late closings as part of its SafeTrack plan this May. The moratorium has stood since then for any event, from concerts to Nationals games and now the MCM.
Metro has not wavered on the moratorium, even under pressure from local pols including DC mayor Muriel Bowser.
To date, WMATA has only considered adding to the time it needs for maintenance work, seeking board approval in July to make a "temporary" suspension of late night service permanent.
Opinions are mixed on Metro's decision
The majority of participants in large marathons take transit to start lines, with races all over the world encouraging runners to rides trains or buses. The benefit of existing transit networks is just that: the network. With one in place, race organizers do not need to create a network of shuttle buses that can collect runners from the various corners of a metro area.
While Metro does need to accomplish the SafeTrack repairs and the reduce its backlog of deferred maintenance, not opening early for the MCM, when the vast majority of runners ride the train, is far more detrimental to them than not staying open late for, say, a Nationals game, when on average only 11,000 attendees ride Metro.
Metro could be more transparent about what it needs to accomplish when it refuses to adjust its hours slightly for large events. In the case of the MCM, what work will be done during those two hours that cannot be done another time? Knowing this would help people understand if Metro really needs the time or just wants to stick to one standard for simplicity's sake.
Extra trains added to Metro throughout the day, but MCM officials asking runners to minimize reliance on Metro that day (insert joke here)—
Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) August 31, 2016
Elizabeth Whitton feels Metro isn't being unreasonable:
"I've organized large scale athletic events in the past and take an opposite view of the issue. For these large scale events (across the country, not just DC), the usual protocol is for the event organizers to request additional public services (transit, port-a-potties, police, etc) and then work out agreements with the necessary government entities. Most local governments charge fees in exchange for additional services.Metro certainly is not entirely to blame in this situation. The MCM organizers have already made some lousy decisions for this year's race, for example, moving the pre-race expo, where the majority of participants go to pick up their bibs and race packets, to the transit-desert of National Harbor from the transit-rich Washington Convention Center.
I read this news as: Metro does not feel it is mutually beneficial to provide additional rail service to the MCM start due to its on-going Safetrack program.
Realistically, the marathon could change its start time. Lots of reasons why this is not practical, though. For one, the race has a permit to use the 14th Street Bridge for a specific time of day. The logistics of changing this permit would be a nightmare.
Bottom line: Metro should not receive a lot of the blame for this. It is the responsibility of the race organizers to ensure participants can access the start line."
Gray Kimbrough thinks that some intermediate threshold is warranted.
"I understand that Metro can't open early or stay open late for every event. They absolutely need to have set thresholds so that it's not up in the air.Canaan Merchant thinks the situation presents some opportunities for Metro to consider:
It seems like now is as good a time as any to come up with reasonable thresholds. Or is Metro's stand really going to be that SafeTrack can never be delayed or altered for any events? Will they continue to close down lines through the Cherry Blossom Festival, for example? Are they not going to alter anything for the next inauguration either?"
"Metro could charge more money to organizations who want to hold an early or late event. Or Metro could see if the work that they're planning on even affects downtown areas; if not, then the system could maybe open in some parts and not the others.What do you think?
In general, as much as Metro needs to get its maintenance straight, they need to think long and hard about turning away easy ridership boosts like this one as well."
What if you turned parking space in your neighborhood into the area's newest park? Staff members from a handful of Arlington County agencies recently did just that, creating a new "pop-up plaza" near Courthouse Plaza. It only took paint, plantings, outdoor furniture, and two days of work.
Though the County may have borrowed this idea from New York City, it has recently shown an ability to get innovative in transforming public spaces using inexpensive materials: in May, tape, paper, and potted plants were all it took to build a temporary bikeway.
Hopefully this plaza will remain a permanent fixture of the Courth House neighborhood (at least until the entire parking lot is reclaimed and transformed into a park).
Where do you think Arlington's next pop-up plaza should go?
- Proponents of term limits in Montgomery hope they'd mean more Republicans and less development. Both are unlikely.
- We're building apartments to be far smaller than we used to
- Why is there no Metro line on Columbia Pike?
- We know where most of DC's population lives. Does Metro run through those places?
- Prince George's County leaders join the chorus to keep late-night rail service
- A record number of people petitioned for a dog park at the Takoma Rec Center, but it's still not happening
- The shutdown is coming! The shutdown is coming! (On the Red Line)