Posts about Dulles
Dulles Airport built two huge security checkpoints in 2009, but somehow it still can take a very long time to get through security, especially at busy times when a lot of international flights are soon to leave. How long does it really take? Now we have some data.
Last August, Dulles installed new systems that estimate the wait time at each checkpoint. Cameras connect to computers which try to judge the wait based on the size of the line and the rate of people clearing the checkpoint. You can view the wait times on the web or a smartphone, and screens at the airport show the estimated times so travelers can pick the shorter line.
I set up a system to automatically capture the wait times every 5 minutes, beginning September 23. It's been running for a little over 6 months now, which gives us a good set of data to analyze.
The west checkpoint is the one on the right when you're facing the terminal. It's closer to Daily Garage 2, and also the exit from customs, and is near the first stop on the shuttle buses. Here are the wait times across the average weekday:
Average wait at the west checkpoint for each 5-minute segment, weekdays.
There are some peaks at busy times of day, like early morning, just before noon, and especially late afternoon (when all of the flights to Europe leave), but it's fairly consistent.
The east checkpoint, however, has far more variation:
Average wait at the east checkpoint for each 5-minute segment, weekdays.
Here, the wait times are very low except right around the peak times. This camera seems to report a minimum time of 2 minutes; even in the middle of the night, when the checkpoint is closed, it shows 2 minutes.
Any ideas why this one varies more? Is the volume of people checking in at United or other counters on that side more uneven than on the airlines with west side counters or passengers re-entering after clearing customs? Does TSA staffing vary more? Does the fact that shuttles drop people off first at the west side drive more, and more even, demand to that side?
What about weekends?
Those are weekdays. Are weekends different? Regional transportation always shows huge differences between weekdays and weekends, like Capital Bikeshare usage data, but airlines run pretty much the same schedule 7 days a week. And, in fact, the pattern is little different except the average wait time is slightly less on weekends:
Average wait at the west checkpoint for each 5-minute segment, weekends.
Average wait at the west checkpoint for each 5-minute segment, weekends.
Which checkpoint is better?
Which checkpoint should you take? The best strategy is to actually look at the monitors, but most likely it will tell you to head east unless it's a peak time, when its lines get long:
Probability the east checkpoint has a longer wait for each 5-minute segment, 4 am-10 pm.
Shaded areas show times the probability exceeds 50%.
How big are the differences? If one is better, is that a strong difference? Especially with the real-time screens, you'd expect a lot of travelers to move toward the checkpoint with the shorter line, but apparently not enough do to keep the two balanced.
Differences in waits between the east checkpoint and west checkpoint per 5-minute segment.
This graph shows the size of the typical differences between the two. The center line is the median difference, and the darker area the middle 50% of times; as in the above chart, east usually has the longer lines during these peaks while west is worse at other times.
Still, there is plenty of time when the difference between the two is quite significant, assuming the equipment is accurate. If you have to fly through Dulles, a perfect symbol of how our nation once built great public works but now barely bothers to keep them up and makes new improvements on the cheap, you'll already have long drives and walks to get to your gate; you might as well minimize the wait in those interminable security lines.
If a visitor who knew nothing about geopolitics came to Washington, would he see the dazzling capital of the most powerful nation in the world, as Americans like to think we are and always will be? Or might he conclude, looking at our public works, that this nation's best days ended around the time of President Kennedy?
Take Dulles International Airport, our gateway for many international visitors. It boasts a beautiful, architecturally renowned terminal Union Station, long the front door to the capital, is an even more breathtaking structure. Our nation once let it fall into disrepair, then finally fixed it up, mainly to create a shopping mall. Today, the experience for anyone getting off a train into Washington or, worse yet, trying to board one involves massive jams just to get out of the connected Metro station and grossly overcrowded waiting areas that seem almost an afterthought.
Read more at my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
Union Station, long the front door to the capital, is an even more breathtaking structure. Our nation once let it fall into disrepair, then finally fixed it up, mainly to create a shopping mall. Today, the experience for anyone getting off a train into Washington or, worse yet, trying to board one involves massive jams just to get out of the connected Metro station and grossly overcrowded waiting areas that seem almost an afterthought.
Read more at my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
NASA's Earth Observatory site shows how sprawl in the Dulles Airport area has grown through a comparison of 2 satellite images, one from 1984 and one from 2011.
Drag the slider all the way to the left to see the changes around Dulles, the starkest difference between the two.
The NASA page notes:
Tysons Corner was built on farmland in the 1960s. Located 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Washington, Tysons Corner was conceived as an "edge city" on the outskirts of town. Designed for an automobile-rich society intent on shopping, its malls boasted something like 167,000 parking spaces. Now the urban area has grown far past it, and developed areas extend beyond the airport. ...
Around the time that developers built Tysons Corner, officials in Montgomery County also designed a community, but instead of cars and shopping malls, it was based on a concept known as "wedges and corridors." A plan adopted in 1964 aimed to concentrate commercial and residential development along transportation corridors, and leave the wedges between these corridors open with undeveloped land.
A 2002 report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University described Montgomery County's plan as "one of the most sophisticated systems of growth management in the United States." The different approach to growth management can be seen around Rockville, where urbanized areas did not expand so substantially between 1984 and 2011.
Thanks to Geoff Hatchard and Heather Goss for the tip.
Metro's online survey about station names for the new Silver Line to Dulles and Reston will be ending on March 21. Have you filled it out?
This is your chance to push for station names that create a sense of place and tie in to the region's history and geography, rather than a boring, long, hyphenated string of road names.
Here are my picks, versus the official recommendations from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors:
|My pick||Fairfax Board pick|
|Tysons Corner||Tysons I&II|
|Spring Hill||Tysons-Spring Hill Road|
|Reston||Reston Town Center|
These names are short, can be used in the names of developments or buildings in the area, and will create a memorable name for the area around the station.
What did you pick?
A proposal to use a people mover instead of Metro for the final 1.5 miles of transit to Dulles Airport drew criticism here and from airports authority board members. But this could actually save traveling time as well as money, and is an effective practice in many other cities.
Instead of bringing this $2.8 billion rail link directly to the airport, Brown noted that replacing the final 1.5-mile connection with a people mover would save $70 million thanks to a more limited right-of-way and the construction of one fewer Metro station.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea was perceived as heresy, both by Dan Malouff and MWAA board members. Mame Reiley, one board member, said, "I just don't think that's what we labored for... it is not rail to Dulles."
Board members raised concerns that the federal government might delay the program because the board was "starting over." And indeed the proposal appears to have been dismissed by the authority board as unacceptable.
But such a change could be a reasonable money-saver and may actually improve transit service for both commuters and air travelers. The question is immediately relevant to the Dulles Rail extension, but also equally valid to many cities, as the issue of extending rail networks out towards airports is frequently of concern for transportation planners in major metropolitan areas.
The question of how to reach Dulles by rail has been fraught with controversy since project development began. Originally, the concept was to connect the Metro line to an underground station about 550 feet from the main terminal, but after the project's price tag had exploded past $3 billion, cost-savings became necessary.
The MWAA, which runs Dulles Airport in addition to the Metro extension, eventually agreed in July 2011 to move the stop about 600 feet farther away and to elevate it above the ground. Riders wanting to get off at Dulles will have to make the more than thousand-foot walk from the station to check-in.
Brown's likely stillborn proposal to replace the direct rail link with a people mover reflects the fact that riders are likely to see this connection as inconvenient, especially compared with that at Reagan National Airport, where customers only have to walk about 150 feet between Metro platform and the terminal entrance.
Brown suggested rerouting the Metro line away from the airport (the existing plan is shown in orange below and would be about 4 miles from Route 28 to Route 606), so that it runs directly along the Dulles Greenway (in blue, about 2.5 miles from Route 28 to Route 606). A people mover (also in blue, about 1.5 miles) would connect the Route 28 station to the front of the terminal.
Though customers would have to transfer, they would now get a more direct journey, since it would be far easier to fit in front of the terminal the tracks and station for the people mover than it would have been for the Metro line (and in fact this explains why that latter possibility was never brought up).
This would save a total of $70 million, according to planner estimates, because it would replace about 1.5 miles of very expensive Metro infrastructure (readied for eight-car trains) with much lighter automatic people mover infrastructure, designed for one- or two-car trains.
We know this would save some money. How would this change affect customers?
Riders commuting in to Tyson's Corner, Arlington, or Washington from outer suburban destinations on the end of the rail line west of Dulles would save time: At the 35-mph average speed expected for Silver Line trains,* it will take about 6.9 minutes to get from Route 28 to Route 606 using the current plan. The more direct route proposed by Brown would reduce that journey to 4.3 minutes. That's almost half an hour in saved travel time per week per commuter.
Even better, those using the Silver Line to get to and from the airport might actually save time travelling too.** Though these customers would have to transfer between Dulles Metro and the people mover, if that connection were timed and across the platform (as is quite possible when two automated systems are linked and built at the same time), the time lost would be only two or three minutes.
Meanwhile, once they actually get off at the terminal, the experience of riders taking the people mover would be much superior: Rather than walking 1,150 feet to the terminal, which would take them about 4.8 minutes on average, they would walk something more like 150 feet, which would take them only 0.6 minutes.*** See this back of the envelope comparison:
|Arrive at Rt 28 station||Timed transfer to people mover||Time to Dulles Airport station||Walk to terminal||Total travel time|
|Existing proposal||0 min||--||2.5 min||4.8 min (or about 3 min with moving walkway)||5.5-7.3 min|
|People mover proposal||0 min||3 min||2.5 min||0.6 min||6.1 min|
Though the use of the people mover raises questions about operating another rail system, it could be maintained with similar vehicles as those already servicing Dulles on the Aerotrain, which connects checked-in passengers to the terminals.
The Washington region would not be alone if it chose to make its airport rail link stop somewhat short of the terminal itself. In Phoenix, the new light rail system was built in coordination with airport officials, who are currently constructing an automated train between the rail station and the terminals. The San Francisco Bay Area is building an airport connector to the Oakland Airport that will link a BART station some miles away to the terminals.
Riders in these regions will not suffer; they may lose a few minutes transferring between trains, but if the connection is short and timed, that pain can be minimized. Avoiding the airport, paradoxically enough, could both save money and improve the situation for riders.
* 35 mph: PlanItMetro projects it will take about 22 minutes to travel the 12.8 miles between Dulles Airport and Tysons 7 Station.
** The only customers would would lose out with this change would be those traveling to and from Dulles from outer-suburban locations.
*** Assuming that people with bags travel at about 4 feet/second, a bit slower than the average walking speed of an elderly person.
Cross-posted at The Transport Politic.
It seems like a no-brainer that the long-planned Dulles Airport Metro line should include a stop at Dulles Airport, but to one key decision-maker, that remains an open question.
At yesterday's meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), board member Robert Clarke Brown, a presidential appointee, suggested re-routing Phase 2 of the Silver Line to skip Dulles Airport.
The airport station is expensive, he says, and so MWAA should consider simply not building it. Metro riders hoping to access Dulles would instead transfer to some kind of shuttle or people-mover from the Route 28 station, the next closest.
Skipping the airport and replacing it with a people-mover would reduce the project's overall $2.8 billion price tag by approximately $70 million. That, argues Brown, is reason to take his suggestion seriously. It shouldn't be.
To the MWAA board's credit, they quickly rejected Brown's proposal. As they should have. The main goal of Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro project is to provide service to Dulles Airport. Failing to do so means the project would not meet its main goal.
Cutting so many corners that you don't achieve your goal is not cost savings, it's failure. Far from saving $70 million, by failing to provide Metro service to Dulles Airport Brown's proposal would actually waste billions.
After all, if you're going to force airport riders to transfer onto a shuttle anyway, why not make the transfer at Whiele Avenue, the end station for Phase 1? Why bother building Phase 2 at all? The other Phase 2 stations are all primarily park and rides, and it doesn't make much difference at which station drivers park, so without the connection to Dulles Airport the entire argument for why Phase 2 is necessary in the first place becomes extremely flimsy.
So flimsy that many people would wonder whether the project were worth its $2.8 billion (minus $70 million) price.
The planning history of the Silver Line is replete with compromises. Express tracks to the airport or no express tracks? A subway through Tysons Corner or an elevated line? Airport station at the terminal or a few hundred feet away? At every step of the process, planners have had to weigh the ideal service situation agaist the costs. That's life in the world of transportation planning.
But this is one compromise that absolutely cannot under any circumstances be made. The absolute minimum requirement for a Metro line to Dulles Airport must be that it actually reaches Dulles Airport. Period.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
What will the fare be on the Silver Line, such as from downtown to Dulles Airport? Metro has not announced fares for the line yet, but we can offer some estimates based on today's fares.
In short, unless the current fare caps are changed, the answer would be $5 peak, $2.75 off-peak, with Fairfax and Loudoun paying big extra subsidies. More likely, the fare would be something like $6.20 peak, $3.50 off-peak.
First, it's important to understand the current Metro fare structure.
There are two formulas used to determine the fare between two stations. One is used for off-peak periods (the "reduced fare"), the other is used for peak periods (the "regular fare"). Peak-of-the-peak just adds 20¢ to the regular fare, and the paper farecard surcharge adds 25¢ to the reduced, regular, or peak-of-the-peak fare.
During off-peak periods, fares fall into one of three buckets. Trips equal to or less than 7 miles cost $1.60
$1.95. If your trip is between 7 and 10 miles, the cost is $2.15. Any trips over 10 miles in length cost $2.75.
If you travel during peak periods, the formula is a bit more complex. The first 3 miles cost $1.95. For each mile between 3 and 6, riders are charged 29.9 cents per mile, in addition to the $1.95 base. For any mile beyond 6 miles, the per mile rate is 26.5 cents. Fares stop increasing at $5. The $5 cap does not include the peak-of-the-peak or paper farecard surcharges.
Under the current fare structure, after 14 miles, fares stop increasing. That means that if we added the Silver Line without changing the fare structure, the fare cap would keep fares at a maximum of $5. That probably won't be the case, however.
Currently, the suburban jurisdictions pay half the difference of what the actual fare would be without the cap. With the Silver Line being so long, that arrangement may not continue to be feasible.
Many riders are probably unaware of the cap, and therefore assume that longer lines will automatically result in higher fares. Without the cap, Metro fares would hit a maximum of $9.05 for a trip from Franconia to Shady Grove without peak-of-the-peak or farecard surcharges.
If the Silver Line was added into a fare structure without the $5 cap, the maximum fare would rise to $11.80. That would be the cost of a trip from Route 772 at the end of the Silver Line to Largo Town Center at the end of the Blue Line.
Under that scenario, the fare from Dulles to Metro Center would be $7.80.
But it's unlikely Metro will have uncapped fares. What is a far more likely scenario would be for Metro to raise the cap, and perhaps add a fourth tier to both peak and off-peak trips. The chart below shows one potential scenario.
In this scenario, fares are capped at $6.20 during peak periods. Above 14 miles, riders are charged 20 cents per mile. Additionally, off-peak fares receive a fourth tier of fares. For trips longer than 15 miles, riders are charged $3.50.
Let's look at a few potential fare possibilities.
Under the current fare structure, fares would have 3 buckets for off-peak, and would be capped at $5. In that case, trips from selected stations on the Silver Line would look like this:
|E. Falls Church||$1.60||$2.50||$2.75||$4.35||$2.75||$5.00||$2.75||$5.00|
|Silver Spring||$2.75||$5.00||$2.75||$5.00||$2.75||$5.00||$2.75||$5.00||Union Station||$2.75||$4.70||$2.75||$5.00||$2.75||$5.00||$2.75||$5.00|
Under the scenario with giving off-peak and peak fares a fourth tier and a peak cap of $6.20, fares would look like this:
|E. Falls Church||$1.60||$2.50||$2.75||$4.35||$3.50||$5.65||$3.50||$6.20|
|Silver Spring||$3.50||$5.50||$3.50||$6.20||$3.50||$6.20||$3.50||$6.20||Union Station||$2.75||$4.70||$3.50||$6.15||$3.50||$6.20||$3.50||$6.20|
Finally, what would fares look like under the current structure, if they were not capped at $5?
|East Falls Church||$2.50||$4.35||$5.90||$7.05|
|Silver Spring||$5.65||$7.35||$8.85||$9.85||Union Station||$4.70||$6.55||$8.10||$9.20|
You can see possible fares between all stations and each Silver Line station on the full spreadsheet (XLS).
With costs rising, a vote by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to support an underground station has pitted elected officials against each other over the location of the future stop. And the controversy even thretens to scuttle the second phase of the Silver Line entirely.
MWAA supports an underground station adjacent to the terminal. But others, including Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, are calling for MWAA to choose an elevated station near the north parking garage. This would save about $330 million, but customers would wait for trains on an outdoor platform and would have to take a moving walkway 600 feet farther than the underground option.
Yesterday, Federal Transit Administration Peter Rogoff discussed the issue. He noted that 3 times as many people will use the Tysons stations than Dulles', and that the majority of passengers at Dulles itself will probably be airport workers, based on other airport stations elsewhere. Those are some of the facts that led him and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to push the region to accept the aerial station in order to keep the project moving.
Here's what our contributors have to say about the issue:
Unfortunately it's looking more and more like the same thing is going on here. If Virginia pulls its support for the project, that's the end of Phase II no matter what MWAA wants. The choice therefore may not be between an above or below ground station, but rather between an above ground station or nothing at all.
As much as I agree that a below ground station would be ideal, we may have to accept that a less ideal station is better than no station at all. The above ground option is simply the best compromise for the greater good. Again.
I think the above ground station is a mistake. While 5 minutes of walking doesn't seem like that much time, it could be burdensome for tired travelers coming from longer international flights, disabled and elderly travelers, or travelers with kids.
Anything that makes it easier to use Metro is good. If the Silver Line is the success we all hope it will be, it could drive more flyers out to Dulles. If that indeed happens, the station should be as convenient for folks as possible.
On the other hand, $330 million is a lot. But I am worried that in several years, we'll regret not having a station underground.
Am I the only person who says, "Sure, let's play brinkmanship, what the hell?"
I mean, I know that if the extension out to Dulles was nixed tomorrow, that money wouldn't suddenly be magically available to build a separated Blue Line in the city the next day. But that's what should happen, if you ask me. Building more and more capacity farther and farther from the center, without bolstering capacity in the core, is just going to lead to problems in the long run.
We have the extension to Tysons Corner. Construction on that leg isn't going to stop now. But if the extension to Reston, Herndon, and Dulles doesn't happen, I'm not going to cry about it.
What I want to know is why this particular underground station is so expensive. I get the desire to keep it out of the sightlines of the Saarinen terminal, but the plan calls for a lot of tunneling that seems excessive.
I'd love to see MWAA develop another alternative that involves bringing rail in along one of the existing roadbeds and changing the auto circulation to fit around that, perhaps like the design John Cambron proposed last year. But I fear that's too much of a change at this stage.
I won't cry for Reston and Herndon, either. However, serving Dulles is and should be a major priority. That airport is one of the region's key links to the outside world, and making that connection as seamless as possible is of vital importance to the region.
Cities have always been built around transportation infrastructure hubs, whether that was a great natural port or the confluence of two rivers, or the convergence of several rail lines or highways. Dulles offers a great opportunity, and it's important that the region use this asset well. Dulles might have been a white elephant when first built, but now it has the luxury of spacious runways, excess capacity, and room to grow that other airports do not have.
Ideally, I think we'd also have a direct rail link to downtown as well, but those kinds of improvements can be added later. Metro has considered some options and discussed them on their blog.
If we were really interested in making the connection to Dulles as seamless as possible, we'd have a direct express rail link to the city.
A ride on the Silver Line isn't terribly long for a simple, direct ride to downtown, leaving regularly. It will be appealing for travelers and tourists. I still think the trip will be too long for many who would otherwise need to change trains. Even those of us that would have to ride from some parts of Arlington would still need to change, and that creates a much longer trip.
When I think of a true airport rail link, I think of the CAT in Vienna. That being said, I still use the blue line in Chicago to get from the airport to town. And that can be a very long ride (the website says it is 45 minutes to downtown, but that seems optimistic).
I don't see an underground station being a necessity. So long as it is easily accessible, I am all on board. Especially if it gets the desired savings and keeps the project moving forward.
Also, speaking of timing, a friend of mine was recently in Paris and I asked him to time the trip from the airport to Châtelet. Approximate travel time was 50 minutes, which is about the time projected for the trip from Dulles to Metro Center.
According to PlanItMetro, the trip from Metro Center to Dulles will be 52 minutes. I guess my point is not that the extension to Dulles will not be the best it can be, but will be equivalent to other large airport extensions, though some cities have direct connections, like the express line to London's Heathrow Airport.
However, I think since the Dulles connection will be "good" at best, is that more reason to have a less expensive above ground station if none of that money is going to go to making the metro trip any faster? I'm not 100% sure myself.
I'm split in regard to this debate.
On the one hand, I think $300 million is too much for the underground station. What is the interest payment on that each year, like $9M? And how many people will use it per year? It winds up costing like $2-4 per person per trip. Ask people, would you pay $3 to be teleported 5 minutes closer to the gate and I doubt many people would take your offer. So, I'd be against it on that point.
On the other hand, if the choice is between raising the toll on the toll road to build the underground station and not raising the toll and building an above ground station, I'd choose the aerial option. The road, while very expensive, is still probably underpriced and so let's at least put that money to good use - even if not ideal use.
If there was an option to raise the toll on the toll road and use the money to meet some other, highly rated transit need, I would choose that option. But that option is not on the table.
Passenger convenience and comfort should take priority, because we want people to use the mass-transit option.
But from the perspective of aesthetics, the an aboveground station is better. The below ground station would not be one of metro's dramatic vaults, but instead a lower, split-tube station akin to the ones at Wheaton and Forest Glen. From there, passengers still have to go up an escalator, into the basement. The transit riders won't get the sense of arrival and departure that can distract from the drudgeries of air travel.
Train riders can only see a vista from the side of the railcar. An aboveground station would expose those arriving to a broadside of architectural drama that isn't always easy to get. Once off the train, an architecturally interesting station could frame the terminal better, like a smaller echo in a sympathetic style. You'd be able to see the terminal from the platform, and those in the terminal would be able to see the trains arriving and departing.
But there's no guarantee. In the rush to save costs, aesthetics could be a casualty like convenience. Or it could compensate for the longer walk. But you have to be willing to pay for either.
After believing initially that the few hundred feet length of tunnel was a huge mistake, I've now come around to the fact that probably won't deter many riders.
But I still have big concerns about above ground vs. below ground. I'm sure that waiting outside, exposed to the elements is going to discourage use. Passengers won't want to wait in the DC humid heat or cold winters, as opposed to being underground, in relative comfort.
But seems like consensus is building around above ground. I do really like the approach to Dulles by car and look forward to being able to take in via train.
Above versus below ground is one of the most significant decisions, but there are many other design elements that can at least make an aboveground station more or less pleasant. For example, the moving walkway that passengers would use exists today, in a tunnel.
If the station's escalators lead directly to that tunnel, where their bottom ends open right to the corridor, it could mean less work than if riders have to navigate a warren of twisty corridors to get from one to the other.
Similarly, yesterday Rogoff expressed support for walls or other elements that could make the aboveground station less weather-beaten. If MWAA is going to save a lot of money by building the station outdoors, they should at least use a small fraction of that money to make it a good quality aboveground station.
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