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Posts about Dulles


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.


When airports give your kids a place to play, traveling is far less stressful

If you're a parent, flying out of Dulles International Airport will soon be a somewhat more bearable experience. That's because the airport recently opened a children's play area in Concourse B, where many international flights leave from. The contained space—known as the "FunWay"—has airport-themed climbing structures and a video console with 100 games.

The FunWay at Dulles Airport. Photos by the author.

This is a good thing. A very good thing. And it's actually a bigger deal than you might think.

A few months ago, I wouldn't really have given a kid's play area in a local airport much thought. But after a recent visit to Switzerland with my wife and two-and-a-half year old daughter to see relatives, it became painfully obvious to me that compared to most of Europe, the US doesn't really consider the needs of families—especially those with young children—when it comes to how we get around.

We started our trip at Dulles in mid-July, a few weeks before the FunWay was finished. We had a few hours to kill, so we play zone defense the best we could: one of us would rest while the other took off running as my daughter sprinted down the concourse and into just about every nook and cranny Dulles has to offer. (There's lots, and a toddler will find them all.) To her, it was new and exciting, and she got to explore it all. But for us as parents, it was exhausting and, at times, stressful. There was no easy way to contain her, lest I put her in front of a screen. (Certainly not beyond me, but we were saving that for the 8-hour flight.)

But when we landed in Copenhagen, our five-hour layover was significantly easier. That's because the Danish airport not only has communal strollers for parents to use (we had checked ours in Dulles, and it wouldn't get to us until Zurich), but also a large play area. She got to run around and play with toys in a safe and contained space, while we got to sit back and relax as we waited for our next flight.

And so it went for the rest of the trip. The inter-city trains in Switzerland had designated cars for families—and those cars had small playgrounds for kids. The buses in Berne, where we stayed with family, allowed parents to park strollers in the area designated for passengers in wheelchairs. Even the highway rest stops in Switzerland had playgrounds.

A playground in a train in Switzerland.

This isn't to say that some US airports haven't been ahead of the curve. Chicago O'Hare, San Francisco and Boston Logan are regularly ranked as some of the most kid-friendly in the country—and even compete with some of the better airports internationally. But that hasn't really been the case locally.

Until now, Dulles had nothing for kids—but it did have multiple smoking lounges, not to mention four designated pet relief areas. (Don't get me wrong—I love pets. But I'd bet more kids travel than do pets.) And on Metrobus, you're required to fold up a stroller and carry it. It goes without saying that it's probably a distant hope that Amtrak—not to mention MARC or VRE—would ever consider a kid-friendly car. (Per its website, the best Amtrak offers is the suggestion that parents should "download a train-themed movie for your little ones to watch while they ride the real thing!")

Don't get me wrong: There are far bigger things the US could tackle to make the country more friendly to new families. We're nowhere near Europe—much less most of the world—when it comes to paid family leave, for one. But that's not an excuse not to tackle the smaller things, most of which would be far easier to implement anyhow.

Those small things send clear signals about what we collectively prioritize. Cities that prioritize bikes have great bike infrastructure; just the same, cities and countries that prioritize kids and families will build things like a play area in an airport or have a designated car for kids in a train. Kids are accommodated, not avoided.

And for anyone who thinks I'm just an annoying parent trying to bend the world to my needs and decisions, consider this: the happier kids are anywhere they go, the happier we all are. No one likes a bored, screaming child, least of all their parents. Accommodating children in small ways during travel is cheap—and has a big payoff for everyone.

On our way back to the US earlier this month, our flight was delayed by nine hours. We were all tired and bored, but there was one saving grace: We were delayed in Copenhagen, and we knew we had a place to take my daughter.

Full disclosure: Dulles Airport has provided underwriting for my employer, WAMU 88.5. And to be honest, I only heard about the FunWay when it came up in one of their underwriting spots on our air last week. The idea for this piece predated that spot, though, and I've received no compensation from Dulles Airport for writing this.


This group built a Metro map out of cans as part of a charity drive

Every year, participants in Canstruction, a charity food drive, create sculptures out of canned goods. This year's theme was transportation, which led to replicas of the Metro map, Washington Dulles International airport, and a Car2Go.

A DC Metro map. Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Sponsored by the Washington Architectural Foundation, Canstruction's goal is to raise awareness about hunger in DC. According to the event's website, Canstruction teams donated nearly 56,000 pounds of food and $8,000 in cash in 2014—the equivalent of about 42,000 meals.

The photo above is of the OutSMARTing hunger Metro map, which the Young Constructors Forum (YCF) of Associated General Contractors of Metro DC built with 2,800 cans.

Below, check out Dulles: 2 Pringles to Paradise, a cross-section of the iconic Eero Saarinen terminal at Dulles airport that KCCT Architects submitted. It's made out of 3,360 cans.

Dulles: 2 Pringles to Paradise. Photo by Erin Kelleher Photography, courtesy of the Washington Architectural Foundation.

Even the popular car sharing service Car2Go was featured, with a Can2Go sculpture by Barnes Vanze Architects.

Can2Go. Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

All of the 68,313 cans used in the 24 sculptures were donated to the Capital Area Food Bank on Black Friday, says the Washington Architectural Foundation.

See more of the Canstruction sculptures on the Washington Architectural Foundation's Facebook page.


Here's who rides the bus to the airport, and why

The 5A and B30 buses take people to Dulles and BWI airports, in Virginia and Maryland, respectively. Do these just serve residents of those states, or everyone? Are they mainly for air travelers, or others? New graphs from PlanItMetro shed light on this.

Image from WMATA.

The data for these charts comes from a recent survey of bus riders. They show that that the 5A riders are 47% from Virginia, 22% DC, and 15% Maryland, while B30 riders are 29% Maryland, 33% DC, and 7% Virginia.

Image from WMATA.

The B30 serves a lot more air travelers than the 5A, which does double duty as a commuter bus for people working at the airport and people going from Herndon to downtown DC. That's because the 5A goes into downtown DC, to L'Enfant Plaza, while the B30 ends in Greenbelt.

You can also see that the B30 has more riders from outside our region (31%) than the 5A in the top chart.

One piece of information you can't see from these pie charts is that the 5A carries about twice as many passengers as the B30. I made these graphs into bar graphs based on May 2014 ridership:

As you can see, Montgomery residents actually use the 5A even more than they use the B30, while Prince George's residents use both about equally even though the B30 starts in Prince George's County. Virginians, meanwhile, hardly use the B30 at all. That's not surprising since it's at the end of the Green Line, a line that doesn't go into Virginia, while the 5A stops along five Metro lines which all go to Maryland.

This chart shows how the B30 and 5A are about comparable in serving people going on personal air travel, but the 5A gets far more riders going to and from home and work.

What'll happen with the 5A?

In May, the Hogan Administration (through its WMATA board member Michael Goldman) announced it didn't want to chip in any money for the 5A bus to Dulles Airport (which, of course, is in Virginia). Goldman threatened to withhold Maryland's $6 million share of paying for power upgrades if the rest of the board didn't go along.

Goldman argued that because the bus runs from DC to Virginia without going to Maryland, the state shouldn't pay. He also pointed out that Maryland fully pays for the B30 bus which runs from Greenbelt to BWI airport.

Metrobus has two types of bus lines: "regional," where jurisdictions share the cost according to a formula which factors in where bus riders comefrom; and "non-regional," where one jurisdiction pays the whole cost. The B30 is non-regional, while the 5A has a special formula due to its unusual history.

In the latest budget, the $990,000 annual cost of the 5A is split $405,900 from DC, $188,100 from Maryland, $79,200 from Arlington, $9,900 from Alexandria, and $306,900 from Fairfax.

Riders pushed back against cuts to the 5A, and in a presentation to the board for the November 5 meeting, Metro bus planners are recommending keeping the 5A. Instead, if Maryland wants to save money, the presentation suggests, the B30 bus to BWI airport could be cut.

Maryland may still refuse to pay any money for the 5A, though based on this graph, it seems that shouldering some of the cost, like the current 18% is reasonable since 15% of the riders are from Maryland.

There's one way Maryland could try to get more out of its investment: Push the airports authority to better support the 5A. At least as of 2013, the authority was refusing to post signs about the 5A, include it in announcements, offer employees SmartBenefits, or have SmarTrip vending machines at the airport. Instead of protecting the Washington Flyer, MWAA can help encourage people to ride the 5A at least until the Silver Line gets to the airport.

Fund regional buses regionally

Anyway, as this data shows, the 5A is more of a commuter bus than an airport bus per se. And it's one with a strong constituency. It's a necessary airport link when Metrorail is closed, but the rest of the time, it's still a bus that many people use, people who will likely still want to keep it when the Metro goes right to Dulles.

Goldman and Maryland do have a legitimate argument that the B30 ought to be consider a regional route, with the cost shared regionally, as other buses. It doesn't leave Maryland, but it connects regionally-significant destinations. It's not healthy for jurisdictions to pick and choose which regional routes to fund; Metro should have a regional bus system, with a single formula (which applies to the 5A and B30 as well) for sharing the costs of that regional system.

WMATA planners are already considering changes to redefine "regional" routes with a simpler, clearer formula. Applying that formula to the airport buses could settle the need for this kind of line-specific squabbling that should be beneath the board.


Ask GGW: What will the Metro station at Dulles Airport look like?

World-famous architect Eero Saarinen designed the Dulles Airport terminal, meaning the coming Metro station won't be a simple addition to your run-of-the-mill streetscape. What will it look like?

Photo by Joe Ravi on Wikipedia Commons.

Reader Lee Bristol wants to know:

Are there any current illustrations for the architectural design of the new Metro station at Dulles? Its prominent location opposite the iconic Saarinen Terminal certainly makes this a significant design challenge requiring an exceptional design. Is there is a public source of information documenting the design?
Matt Johnson and Edward Russell both pointed out that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which built the first phase of the Silver Line and is building the second as well, has a Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project site with information on all of the current and proposed Metro stations on the Silver Line. The current illustrations for the design of the Dulles Airport station are on the station's information page.

The Dulles Airport station will have a unique design, like Anacostia and a few other stations. The other five new Silver Line stations will have the "gambrel" design like Wiehle Avenue.

Final rendering of Dulles Airport station. Photo by Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

The station will mimic and reflect the iconic Saarinen terminal The platform will be screened by a diagonal glass wall like the terminal. From there, escalators and elevators will descend to the mezzanine one level below grade.

The mezzanine will be to one side of an existing tunnel connecting the north parking garage with the terminal. Metro riders will be able to use the existing tunnel and its moving walkways to get to the terminal.

Final rendering of Dulles Airport station. Photo by Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

In 2012, Dan Malouff posted conceptual renderings of the station on his blog. Guidelines for the station had come up in the Silver Line's environmental review phase.

Conceptual rendering of Dulles Airport station. Photo by BeyondDC.

Finally, commenter John R. Cambron recently posted about progress on the second phase of the Silver Line, including construction of the new Dulles Airport station.

Excavation for the Dulles Airport station mezzanine is underway. Photo by John R. Cambron.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll pose a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!


How big are Dulles and BWI airports? These maps give you an idea

Dulles and Baltimore Washington International airports can sometimes feel like they're not all that close to the District. But what would happen if they were built closer to DC? Like, in DC itself?

Dulles (black) and BWI (red) airports over DC. Rendering by the author and base image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

Above is where the runways would fall if you built Dulles or BWI as is in DC. In the image, each airport's terminal is roughly aligned with Union Station.

As you can see, Dulles is more spread out than BWI: from north to south, its runways span the distance from T Street NW (in the overlay, the Black Cat is among the northern-most landmarks that the "airport" covers) to south of the Navy Yard. East to west, it spreads from the Lincoln Memorial to 9th Street NE and SE.

While it's relatively compact, BWI would cover a good chunk of Capitol Hill and spread nearly to 12th Street NW.

And all that's just accounting for Dulles and BWI's runways. Contributor Adam Froehlig created an image to show just how much land all three of the region's major airports take up:

Centered on the Capitol, Dulles takes up a huge amount of land, from north of the McMillan Reservoir to Mississippi Avenue SE. It covers all of Arlington Cemetery and nearly reaches the Starburst intersection. BWI looks modest in comparison, while National looks downright tiny.

What do you notice?


Ask GGW: Why is it so hard to walk to the Air & Space Museum at Dulles?

If you're not traveling by car, it's pretty tough to get to the the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the National Air and Space Museum located at Dulles Airport.

Observation Tower at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo by Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Reader Lew wants to know why there isn't a better way to access the museum.

Is this the only Smithsonian museum that has no pedestrian access? Will there be any coordination once the Silver Line gets to Dulles for tourists to easily get to Udvar-Hazy?
Simply put, the museum is in a very pedestrian-unfriendly place next to airports and highways. There probably wasn't a "no pedestrians" decision, but it's likely that since there weren't any zoning rules requiring pedestrian accommodations, pedestrians weren't much of a priority.

Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), an organization of cycling enthusiasts and advocates that helps produce the Fairfax County Bicycle Route Map, sponsored a number of bicycle rides to the museum in the spring of 2012. After the ride, FABB noted a lack of pedestrian and bike facilities on Air and Space Museum Parkway as well as a lack of bike facilities at the museum itself.

Cars currently have to pay $15 to park at the museum, though there's no charge for admission.

As more residential construction increases in the area over the next few years, a better case can be made for improvements to Air and Space Museum Parkway and Route 28 to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to access the museum.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll pose a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

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