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Posts about Dulles


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!


Check out these historic airline maps of Washington's airports

Our region has three major airports, and they're all constantly changing. Here's a look at how they've evolved over the past 30 years.

A US Airways diagram of National showing the Interim Terminal, which handled passengers during construction of terminal B/C, in the mid-1990s.

Ronald Reagan Washington National airport is both the region's oldest and the one that's closest to the District. American Airlines operated the first commercial flight there in 1941, and Eastern Air Lines was National's dominant carrier until the beginning of the 1990s. It was only then that US Airways, an American subsidiary then called USAir, became the largest airline at the airport.

Northwest Airlines briefly operated a focus city at National after acquiring some of Eastern's slots in 1991. It shrank the operation barely a year later in July 1992. Northwest merged with Delta Air Lines in 2009.

Northwest used gates in the Main Terminal (now terminal A) at National in 1992.

US Airways has operated out of the center and north piers of terminal B/C since it opened in July 1997.

US Airways' facilities in terminal B/C, then the North Terminal, in September 1997.

As this current diagram shows, National hasn't changed much since 1997.

The combined American-US Airways continue to use the center and north piers at National. Image from American Airlines.


The region's busiest airport, Baltimore/Washington International (BWI), was also the first to sport a major airline hub when Piedmont Airlines made it its mid-Atlantic base in 1983.

BWI became a major hub for US Airways after its merger with Piedmont in 1989.

US Airways' facilities in concourse D at BWI in 1990. Many of the former USAir Express gates are walled off today.

US Airways maintained its hub at the airport through the 1990s, only to close it in the early 2000s when Southwest emerged as the dominant airline at BWI.

A contemporary diagram of Southwest's facilities at BWI. Image from Southwest Airlines.


Washington Dulles International airport has seen the most growth in its facilities since the 1980s. New York Air built what became today's Z gates when it established the first hub at Dulles in 1985. Continental Airlines acquired the hub when the airlines merged in 1987.

A Continental diagram showing the former New York Air terminal gates at Dulles in 1987.

United Airlines soon replaced Continental as the dominant carrier at Dulles, making the airport its primary east coast hub and transatlantic gateway in the late 1980s. It built concourse C, which first opened in 1986, and acquired space in concourse D from Continental in 1988.

A United map of Dulles showing the terminal gates, then new concourse B and the midfield concourses C and D in 1998.

Concourse A, including the regional gates used by some United Express flights, opened in 1999.

United's facilities, including the regional concourse, at Dulles in 2002.

The Washington region's airports continue to evolve. MWAA is designing a regional concourse at Reagan National, BWI is expanding its international facilities by connecting concourses D and E, and the long-awaited Metro station at Dulles is scheduled to open in 2018.

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