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Posts about Crystal City


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.


Crystal City's Metroway BRT is open and carrying passengers

The Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway officially opened on Sunday, upgrading Metroway bus service to bona fide bus rapid transit in Arlington.

27th & Crystal station. All photos by the author.

Metroway runs between Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations. For much of its route between Crystal City and Potomac Yard, it runs in dedicated bus lanes, making it the Washington region's first real foray into BRT.

The Alexandria portion of the transitway opened in 2014. Arlington's portion through Crystal City opened yesterday, Sunday, April 17.

Through Potomac Yard, the transitway runs in a totally exclusive busway—a completely separate road from the regular lanes.

27th & Crystal station.

Stations in the busway have substantial arched roofs and attractive wall panels.

South Glebe station.

Through Crystal City, bus lanes and bus stations hug the curb.

18th & Crystal station.

Since northbound buses run a block away from southbound buses, bus stations are smaller through this section. They're more like large bus stops.

23rd & Clark station.

Crystal City is pretty quiet on Sundays, so there weren't many opening day riders, and buses only came every 20 minutes. During the week there'll be a lot more riders, and buses will run every 6-12 minutes depending on the time of day.

Head over to Crystal City and check it out! Or see more pictures of both the Arlington and Alexandria transitway sections via Flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Both DC and Arlington open bus lanes this month

April is going to be a huge month for bus lanes. On Monday, April 11, DC will open a four block stretch on Georgia Avenue. Then on Sunday, April 17, Arlington will open the Crystal City transitway.

Crystal City transitway station. Photo by Arlington.

Georgia Avenue

Georgia Avenue's bus lanes will run just four blocks, from Florida Avenue to Barry Place. They'll be curbside lanes, with normal bus stops on the sidewalk.

Location of Georgia Avenue bus lanes. Image from DC and Google.

Four blocks is short, but this location is specifically one of the slowest stretches WMATA's busy 70-series bus line passes through. Bus lanes here will speed the entire line.

Just as importantly, this will be a test project for DDOT to study, and to learn about bus lane implementation. In May, crews will add red paint to the roadway to make the bus lanes more visually obvious. By adding the red surface later, DDOT will gather data on whether the red really does dissuade car drivers from using the lanes illegally.

Red-painted curbside bus lane in New York. Photo by NACTO.

If Georgia Avenue's four block bus lanes prove successful, they could provide a model for the citywide transit lane network envisioned in moveDC. They could also one day form the backbone of a future Georgia Avenue streetcar.

They're short, but they're important.

Crystal City

Get ready for bona fide BRT.

On Sunday the 17th, Arlington will open the second half of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, better known as Metroway. The first half opened in 2014 in Alexandria, and was the Washington region's first foray into BRT.

The new Crystal City transitway section will run from Crystal City Metro south to Alexandria, where it will join the existing busway. It'll be a mix of curbside bus lanes and fully exclusive bi-directional busway.

Crystal City transitway. Image by Arlington.

The DC region once had 60 miles of bus-only lanes. With these projects finally happening, and others like 16th Street on the horizon, it's exciting to see a reborn network begin to take shape.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


A history of streetcar planning in Northern Virginia

Yesterday we looked at the evolution of streetcar proposals in the District. Here's how Northern Virginia's two modern-day efforts unfolded.

Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment from May 2012. Image from the Pike Transit Initiative.

Columbia Pike

Out of desire to revitalize one of its major corridors, Arlington County began the Columbia Pike Initiative in 2001. The project pointed out a need for better transit, and in February 2003 the county began the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative, a formal study of the possibilities.

After an April 2006 study of different transit modes, streetcars emerged as the best choice for Columbia Pike.

Arlington formally committed to a streetcar plan in March 2009, and an environmental study for the project followed. The county confirmed its plans in 2012 after a second alternatives analysis also recommended streetcar as the preferred mode. The state of Virginia committed funds in July of last year.

But by November, voter opposition to the project had grown, due in part to major holdups in the District's streetcar plan. After elections in the fall, the project went onto the shelf.

The board of supervisors from Fairfax County, a partner in the project, called the decision to end it short-sighted and disappointing.

Crystal City/Potomac Yard

Arlington and Alexandria have been working together on a transit service for the Potomac Yard development since 1999. At first, streetcars got serious consideration, but a bus rapid transit (BRT) system won out as the preferred mode for the corridor because of cost concerns.

The cities did not fully rule out streetcars on the corridor at this point, though. As construction of the BRT system neared, Arlington and Alexandria agreed to begin a study on converting the system for streetcar use in the future as the corridor developed. Arlington started its part of the study in July 2011, but Alexandria put its part off until a later date.

In December 2012, when Arlington started seeking federal funds for the project, Alexandria pulled out altogether, focusing its efforts on the Potomac Yard Metro infill station project.

Arlington halted its study of streetcar conversion in Crystal City when the Columbia Pike project got suspended. The first phase of Metroway, the BRT system for the corridor, had opened for service two months prior, in August.

Further developments around the Metroway should be complete later this year.


Visible progress on the Crystal City transitway

Arlington may have canceled its Crystal City streetcar, but work is continuing on the dedicated transitway that would have carried it. Only buses will use this now, but the infrastructure is rising from the ground.

This is the Glebe Road station, in Potomac Yard.

Glebe Road station. Photo by Arlington.

When complete, it will look like this:

Station rendering. Image by Arlington.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


The Potomac Yard transitway is looking good

Construction on Alexandria's Route 1 transitway is coming along, in anticipation of its August 24 opening. These pictures show the station at Route 1 and Custis Avenue.

All photos by Dan Malouff.

While Alexandria's transitway is just about ready, the second phase of the same project, in Arlington, is still a grassy strip. But preliminary construction work started earlier this year, and Arlington will host an official groundbreaking on Friday, July 18, at 9 am.

Arlington's portion, next in line for construction.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


BRT comes to Northern Virginia on August 24

The first bus rapid transit line in the DC region will officially begin service on August 24.

The "Metroway" route will run from Crystal City to Braddock Road, partly in mixed traffic and partly in a dedicated transitway. A later phase to open in 2015 will extend the route to Pentagon City, and shift more of it into dedicated lanes.

Route 1 Transitway under construction in Alexandria. Photo from the City of Alexandria.

Metroway is a joint project between Alexandria, Arlington, and WMATA. Alexandria and Arlington are building the transitway in two phases, and WMATA will operate the buses.

For now, only the Alexandria phase is ready. Arlington's phase just began construction and should be finished next year.

But rather than wait until 2015 to start service, WMATA will begin running buses in August, and simply run in mixed traffic through Crystal City until Arlington's phase is complete.

Metroway initial route (left) and route starting in 2015 (right). Images from WMATA.

Metroway will run every 6 minutes at peak times, dropping to every 12 minutes at midday and every 20 minutes on weekends.

Arlington will eventually convert its portion of the route to streetcar.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Arlington will build its first cycletrack this fall

Despite being an early leader in bicycle friendliness, Arlington has been slow to join the growing trend of building cycletracks (not counting a tiny 30-foot fragment in Rosslyn). While there are plans for cycletracks on Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City and a re-aligned Clark/Bell street in Crystal City, a new pilot project on Eads Street will likely precede both.

South Eads Street today. Image from Google Maps.

Arlington needs to repave several sections of Eads, and multiple development projects are in the works along the corridor. The time is ripe to re-imagine how Eads Street can function to serve pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses, and the county is kicking off a South Eads Street Corridor Study.

Right now, Eads functions primarily to move cars, with roomy lanes that encourage speeding (some as wide as 19 feet), more lanes than necessary for the volume of traffic, few street trees, and limited bike facilities. Technically, there are bike lanes on the southern end, but the markings have faded to almost nothing.

Next Wednesday, Arlington will host a workshop to get feedback on options for various segments of Eads, which parallels Route 1 from I-395 to the border with Alexandria. The options vary quite a bit based on the shifting width of the street. They include buffered bike lanes, a street-level cycletrack, and a raised cycletrack at sidewalk level. All would provide continuous bike facilities from the Four Mile Run Trail connection in the south all the way to a connection with the future Army Navy Drive cycletrack in the north.

Options for one section of Eads Street. Image from Arlington County. Click for larger version including cross-sections.

The visioning process and corridor study will set out the long-term plan for Eads, but officials plan to build a short-term pilot project this fall between 23rd Street and 15th Street. This section of Eads is on the paving list for this year, and Arlington is going to take advantage of that to do a cheap pilot.

The roadway will be re-striped from its existing four lanes to become two lanes and a center turn lane. A two-way cycletrack of some sort will be added, pedestrian crossings upgraded, and parking lanes reconfigured.

Arlington will be gathering significant data on how people travel along this section of Eads both before the changes and after, including bicycle, pedestrian and traffic counts, as well as travel time measurements. Analysis of these metrics from the pilot program will inform the ultimate design of Eads Street as well as future cycletrack projects in the county.

South Eads Street has the potential to be a vital cycling connection in Arlington. North-South travel by bicycle in Arlington is notoriously challenging, with few good options. This project will connect the planned Army Navy Drive cycletrack to the Four Mile Run trail and, from there, the Mt Vernon Trail. Someday it may connect to the planned bike/ped bridge over Four Mile Run, taking cyclists to one of Alexandria's main cycling corridors, Commonwealth Avenue.

If you're free, come out the workshop on Wednesday evening, May 21, 7 pm at the Aurora Hills Community Center and provide your feedback. If you can't make the meeting, the county has an online survey you can take instead.

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