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Posts about BART


San Francisco street lights will animate subway trains below

A public art installation on San Francisco's Market Street will add animated lights following the movement of subway trains running directly below.

Image from Illuminate The Arts.

The project is called "LightRail," and according to its sponsors it will be the world's first "subway-responsive light sculpture."

Two LED strings will stretch above Market Street for two miles through downtown San Francisco. Using real-time arrival data, the strings will visualize movement of BART and Muni trains directly underneath the street.

Sponsors hope LightRail will open in 2015, and will remain in place until at least 2018. If it proves popular, officials may decide to keep it up longer.

Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest public art projects I've ever seen.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Oakland's new airport train would be perfect at BWI

San Francisco's BART opened the new 3.2-mile Oakland Airport Connector shortly before Thanksgiving, tying a second Bay Area airport into the region's rail system. A similar project could give BWI a boost.

Oakland Airport Connector trains pass near the airport. Photo by the author.

Oakland International and BWI airports share the same problem of being a couple of miles away from important transit lines, BART and the MARC train, respectively. Oakland solved the problem with a special "people mover" automated train that simply goes back and forth between the airport and the nearest BART station.

In the Washington region, a similar connector could be used to bridge the roughly two-mile gap between the BWI Marshall Airport rail station on the Amtrak and MARC line and the airport terminal. This would create a direct airport-rail connection similar to the one at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport and the Silver Line station under construction at Washington Dulles International airport, while at the same time reducing congestion on airport roads and emissions from the fleet of shuttle buses.

"A people mover is included in long-term planning efforts," says airport spokesman Jonathan Dean. "BWI Marshall airport has examined different people-mover concepts that would connect the airport terminal with our parking facilities, the BWI Rail Station, and the rental car facility."

Transfer between the BART Coliseum platform and the Oakland Airport Connector. Photo by the author.

Oakland's automated line operates every five minutes during the day with the trip to the terminal buildings at Oakland International airport from BART's Coliseum station taking nine minutes. The train trip onwards to downtown San Francisco takes about 20 minutes and to downtown Oakland about 10 minutes.

The connector replaces AirBART shuttle busses with a more frequent and faster ride, albeit also at double the cost with one-way fares increasing to $6 from $3.

As a frequent traveller to the Bay Area, the ride on the connector is much more pleasant than the shuttle bus. The airport station is a short walk from the terminal with the connection at the Coliseum station short and taking travelers directly to the BART platform.

People movers that connect airport terminals with parking lots, a transit station and rental car facilities are common at major US airports. Newark Liberty International airport and Chicago O'Hare International airport are two airports with such systems.

The question is whether the project would be cost effective for BWI. The Oakland Airport Connector cost BART and its partners $484 million after more than 30 years of studies. About 3,000 to 3,500 riders are expected to use it daily, compared to the about 2,500 to 3,000 daily riders that used the AirBART buses previously.

The free shuttle buses between the terminal and the rail station at BWI carried about 1,775 riders daily in 2013, says Dean.

Amtrak/MARC shuttle bus at BWI. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

An automated connector partially funded by the airport would be an attractive and passenger friendly addition to BWI. However, BWI has no plans to build a people mover in the near term, says Dean. With numerous bus lines and the Baltimore light rail already serving the terminal at BWI in addition to the the rail station shuttle buses, a people mover is likely a project that the region can wait on.


Could Metro allow bicycles during rush hour?

Yesterday, San Francisco's BART system lifted its long-standing ban on allowing bicycles on rush-hour trains. Given bicycling's popularity in the DC area, and the Metro system's packed park and ride lots, perhaps a similar reform would work here.

Photo by San Francisco Bicycle... on Flickr.

After a lengthy trial process, BART will allow bikes on all its trains at all times, finally giving people an easy way to cross the San Francisco Bay with a bike. Like Metro, BART is overloaded through the urban core of San Francisco, and there were concerns that bikes would just make things worse.

The three trial periods were progressively more intense. BART allowed bikes on Fridays for a month, then for one full week, then for five full months. The agency wanted to measure how much disruption bicycles would cause and to gauge public support. As it turned out, the concerns were unfounded, and public support was quite high. Crowding did not get worse, and 79 percent of riders wanted to see the ban lifted entirely.

Like BART, Metro doesn't allow bikes during rush hour due to fears of crowding. But if passengers could bring bicycles on the train without inconveniencing others, there's no reason it would be a problem here.

Perhaps WMATA ought to consider a series of trials, too, to gauge how it affects our commutes. Metro is not BART, after all, and so may not be as good a fit. We won't know unless we try.


BART pilot will test bikes on rush hour trains

WMATA's counterpart in the San Francisco Bay Area, BART, currently restricts bikes on their trains during rush hours. But they've decided to pilot letting cyclists bring their bikes on trains during the peak period.

Video from BART.

Rules for bringing bikes on BART are more nuanced than WMATA's rules, which ban bikes outright during rush hours.

On BART, for example, the printed schedules specifically show which trains do not allow bikes. Essentially, during rush hour (roughly 7-8:30 am and 4:30-6:30pm), bikes are not allowed on inbound trains. Additionally, during peak periods, bikes are not allowed to enter or exit the stations in downtown Oakland or downtown San Francisco (except cyclists can board morning trains bound for the East Bay at Embarcadero and can ride to Embarcadero from the East Bay in the afternoon).

BART requires that cyclists not board crowded trains and give priority to seniors and the disabled. That will continue to be the case under the pilot project.

The pilot will allow cyclists to ride all trains, at all times, during Fridays in August. Depending on what happens, the rules might change—or they might not.

Could the approach work in Washington? Our trains do get crowded, as do stations. But a cyclist going from Brookland to Silver Spring in the morning, would likely be on a very empty train. Could allowing bikes on outbound trains that don't pass through the core work?

The best way to find out might be through a pilot program. I'm glad to see BART is trying to get some experiential data.


Comic teaches new customers how to ride transit

San Francisco's BART has created a great new comic book to help new riders learn to navigate the system. Could it work here?

For new riders, any transit system can seem daunting at first. This effort might make it easier for people to figure out how to try transit, and perhaps help make them regular riders.

The BART system is very similar to Metro, right down to the graduated fare system. In many respects this comic could easily be used here, just by changing some names. And based on the number of (tourist) riders I see at Greenbelt each morning trying to go in an out gate, some people could clearly use a little extra instruction.

It's good to see a transit agency trying new ways of communicating with riders. What do you think Metro could do to make it easier for new riders?


More weekend closures, less single-tracking for Metrorail

To save time and money, Metro is revising the way they do some track work. Instead of single-tracking through work zones, Metro will now close whole line segments more often.

Photo by ElvertBarnes on Flickr.

When BART was being designed, a 1971 article in the IEEE Transactions on Industry and General Applications described its system for avoiding shutdowns by single-tracking:

The BART system will provide service at 90-s intervals during peak demand periods, extending to as long as 15-min intervals during the low-demand early morning hours. At no time will service be discontinued; by the use of carefully placed crossovers and the control of trains in a reverse running mode, maintenance work on the roadbed can be performed without serious disruption of the service.

But in 1971 BART had yet to open, and the Metrorail system had only broken ground two years earlier. Operating experience in the years since has shown that while single-tracking may preserve service, it does so at the expense of lengthened headways and disruptions along the entire length of the line.

Today, taking this experience into account, WMATA has announced a new approach to weekend track work on the Metrorail system, in which entire sections of lines will be closed and replaced with buses.

Single-tracking doesn't just disrupt riders in the work area itself; it slows down the entire line, and affects riders throughout the Metrorail system.

WMATA's new approach to track work will preserve service on the open portions of lines, and avoid the follow-on effects which usually occur when trains are single-tracking.

Closing lines to speed repairs is, by itself, nothing new. In 2006, London Underground elected to close the Waterloo & City Line in its entirety for five months, in order to avoid a projected 70 weekend closures necessary to complete the major overhaul of the line.

Because of the complete closure, weekday riders who would have been spared disruption under a program of weekend closures instead had to take alternate routes. But because the complete closure was more efficient, the work was done (and the disruption ended) in 5 months, rather than in more than a year for weekend closures alone.

New York City's MTA has also been examining partial line closures as an alternative to frequent evening and weekend disruption. No decision has been made yet, but MTA Chairman Jay Walder seems to think it's a strategy that's proven itself in London, and which may prove viable in New York as well.

So, how well will this strategy work for Metrorail? At the extremities of lines, complete closures will probably be superior to single-tracking. Work will go faster with no trains running through the work areas, and the unaffected parts of the line won't have to contend with the bottleneck caused by single-tracking. In the core of the network, though, where ridership levels are high even on weekends, shuttle buses may end up swamped with passengers, leading to delays for riders traveling through the closed areas.

In the end, riders will face disruption whether trains are single-tracking or replaced with shuttle buses—but in this case, replacing trains with shuttle buses means a faster end to the work, and a quicker return to normalcy.


Metro beats BART with suburban transit-oriented jobs

Planners from San Francisco's SPUR recently visited Greater Washington to find out how Metrorail compares to BART. They found that our strong transit-oriented development at suburban stations has led to greater transit use and higher farebox recovery rates.

Photo by mindgutter.

According to their article, the two cities' systems, while built at similar times with similar technology, took very different turns when communities made their land use choices.

"When BART opened in 1974, many suburban Bay Area communities "downzoned" the areas directly adjacent to the station," they write. That hasn't stopped; Pittsburg, California did the same thing when their station opened in 1996.

That's a significant factor in why BART has remained predominantly a park-and-ride system. Running the lines in medians of freeways and having a much more spread-out system didn't help either.

In Washington, on the other hand, foresighted leaders in Arlington and Montgomery County took the opposite tack, planning for higher density right around the stations. Especially in Arlington, they satisfied neighbors opposed to changing their low-density neighborhoods by promising to limit the upzoning to a quarter-mile radius around new stations. We all know the result: new walkable neighborhoods have thrived around these stations.

It's not just about condos in Clarendon, however. This approach also created significant numbers of jobs right around many suburban stations, including Rockville, Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, the Pentagon-Crystal City area, and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Rosslyn-Ballston has more than doubled from 30,000 jobs to 80,000 jobs, and, SPUR writes, "this two-square-mile corridor would occupy fourteen square miles if it were built at typical suburban densities."

Those jobs give the Washington region a significantly different commuting pattern than other cities.

Over 30 percent of D.C. residents who work outside the city take transit. This compares with only 17 percent of San Francisco residents who take transit to their jobs outside of the city. In general, it is difficult to get a large share of residents to choose transit over driving for reverse commute trips. Not only is there less congestion leaving the city in the morning commute, but parking is usually cheap or free in the suburbs. So to attract reverse commuters, transit must be particularly convenient and work destinations must be directly adjacent to suburban transit. Due to the design of many Metrorail stations outside of D.C., this is the case for many reverse commuters.
That also brings a very significant benefit to Metro from collecting fares in both directions. When most riders use a system in the peak direction, the transit system has to run empty trains the other way; the more people commute to jobs at outer stations, the more use they get from that extra capacity. SPUR credits this with generating a 71% farebox recovery rate (in 2008) for Metrorail, compared to only 52% for BART (in 2007).

Why did the Washington region do things differently? Smart leadership in Arlington and Montgomery County played a role. So did a few factors that, SPUR notes, "are difficult or undesirable to replicate," such as the height limit, higher taxes, and DC's "poor reputation" in the 1970s, which drove more jobs outside the city core. However, many other cities also experienced this flight of jobs to the suburbs, and failed to concentrate them around new or existing transit.

One of the largest factors in this TOD success story is the federal government's "policy (dating to the Carter Administration) to locate federal agencies near Metrorail stations," and the federal transit benefit for employees. Those are some of the reasons, SPUR says, "federal employees represent nearly 50 percent of all peak period Metrorail riders."

The federal role in Metorail's tremendous success makes it all the more tragic that the government is now proceeding to reverse its brilliant policy by relocating defense jobs away from Metro-adjacent offices through BRAC. So too is the tragedy of Montgomery County's plan to create a "Science City" 4 miles from Shady Grove Metro instead of utilizing all the empty space and industrial parks on top of it.

And for every TOD success story in the suburbs, there's a park-and-ride station no better than BART's disappointing stations. Even in DC, there are plenty of areas that successfully prevented new housing and offices atop Metro stations, like Cleveland Park and Tenleytown, just as many residents of Berkeley have since the 1970s.

The Metro system and jurisdictions' good TOD choices across the years have created a transit network that's enormously valuable to the Washington region. It's up to residents and leaders to continue and expand the good practices of the past as the region continues to grow, instead of foolishly abandoning them for the sake of expedience.

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