Posts about Dulles
If a shrinking number of people want to fly in and out of an airport, is the solution to spend a billion dollars to build a road there? Or is the better approach to build infrastructure where people do want to go?
The former doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but that's exactly what we're hearing from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and Virginia officials about the proposed Bi-County Parkway from Prince William County to the airport.
The Post explored the question in the July 14 Metro article "Could a Pr. William-Loudoun road revive Dulles?" The basic issue is that people seem more eager to fly in and out of Reagan National Airport than Dulles. Congress recently added exemptions to Reagan's perimeter rule that has allowed airlines to add more long-distance flights, helping to spur a 5 percent increase of passenger traffic last year. Meanwhile, Dulles saw 2 percent growth in international traffic, but domestic traffic dropped 8 percent.
DC, Maryland, and Virginia have proposed their latest series of changes to a regional transportation plan. It's amusing to look at the list: DC's new projects are all about reconfiguring roadways to be less like highways, while Virginia's are all about adding or widening highways.
This is part of an annual process where the states and DC update lists of what projects they want to do in coming years. The regional Transportation Planning Board has to ensure that the lists, which form the Constrained Long-Range Plan, fit with expected local and federal revenue, and juggles assumptions until staff can at least claim that all the new roads won't make our air quality too bad.
DC is adding 6 new projects, to construct bus lanes on I Street, make New Jersey Avenue 2-way, add a bike trail, and reduce the number of general travel lanes on 4 streets. Those projects will cost about $20.5 million altogether.
The DC changes also include the median on Pennsylvania Avenue east of the river and 2 cycle tracks which have already happened but weren't in the TPB's plan yet.
Meanwhile, Virginia wants to widen 5 highways, build new ones through Manassas Battlefield and around Dulles Airport, and add highway ramps around Tysons Corner, for a total cost of $750 million to $1.4 billion depending on what they choose for Dulles. All of that money is for car capacity; there are no transit, pedestrian, or bicycle projects being added to Virginia's list this year.
Maryland isn't changing much this round; it's just moving some money from the Corridor Cities Transitway to the Purple Line.
Here is the list of new projects for the District of Columbia (not counting ones DC is adding which are already complete):
- I St. NW from 13th St. NW to Pennsylvania Ave. NW: Add peak period bus-only lanes
- New Jersey Ave. NW from H St. NW to N St. NW: Reconstruct from 4 lanes one-way to 2 lanes in each direction
- 17th St. NE/SE from Benning Rd. NE to Potomac Ave. NE: Reduce from 2 lanes to 1 lane southbound
- C St. NE from 16th St. NE to Oklahoma Ave. NE: Remove 1 of 2 travel lanes in each direction to calm traffic
- East Capitol St. from 40th St. to Southern Ave.: Implement pedestrian safety and traffic operations improvements and remove 1 of 3 travel lanes in each direction
- South Capitol St. from Firth Sterling Ave. SE to Southern Ave. SE: Design and construct a paved bicycle and pedestrian trail and reduce the number of lanes from 5 to 4
- Widen I-395, Shirley Memorial Highway, Southbound from Duke St. to Edsall Rd.
- Capital Beltway HOT Lanes: The segment of HOT Lanes between south of the George Washington Pkwy and
south of Old Dominion Dr. was planned to be 2 lanes wide. VDOT proposes to make this segment 4 lanes wide.
- Capital Beltway Ramps at Dulles Airport Access Highway and Dulles Toll Road: Construct a new ramp connecting the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 to the inner lanes of westbound Dulles Airport Access Highway. Widen the ramp connecting eastbound Dulles Toll Road to the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 from 1 to 2 lanes.
- Widen US 1, Jefferson Davis Highway from Lorton Rd. to Annapolis Way from 4 to 6 lanes.
- Widen VA 7, Leesburg Pike from I-495 to I-66 from 4 to 6 lanes.
- Construct 2-lane collector-distributor roads parallel to Dulles Toll Road between VA 684, Spring Hill Rd. and VA 828, Wiehle Ave.
- Dulles Toll Road Ramps in Tysons: Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Boone Blvd. extension at Ashgrove Lane. Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Greensboro Dr. extension at Tyco Rd.
- Dulles Greenway Ramp: Construct a new egress ramp from the Dulles Greenway to the planned Hawling Farm Blvd.
- "Improved access" to Dulles Airport: [4 alternatives, a no-build and 3 that involve new 4-lane limited access highways or widening US-50 and VA-606.]
- VA 28 Manassas Bypass: Study a proposed 4 to 6 lane bypass through Prince William and Fairfax Counties.
- Change in project cost of the Corridor Cities Transitway from $1.2 billion to $828 million
- Change in project cost of the Purple Line from $1.79 billion to $2.245 billion
Still, this gives something of a glimpse into what's on the minds of transportation planners in each jurisdiction right now. DC is spending some small dollars to reconstruct roads to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and buses; Viginia is spending big dollars on new road capacity.
The WMATA Board will consider a package of changes to Metrobus routes at its meeting tomorrow. There are many small changes to routes, but one that could affect a large number of residents is a proposal from DC and Fairfax County to cut the 5A bus to Dulles.
The bus may become unnecessary once the Silver Line's Phase 2 goes all the way to the airport. In the meantime, Fairfax County has established a bus from Tysons Corner, in addition to the Washington Flyer bus to
East West Falls Church.
There are a lot of other small bus route changes in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, especially east of the Anacostia and around Burke and East Falls Church. The NH1 National Harbor bus will get another reroute and will now go to King Street in Alexandria, while Prince George's County will add a The Bus route to Southern Avenue to accommodate National Harbor employees.
The 5A serves a variety of riders
The 5A connects L'Enfant Plaza, Rosslyn, and the airport with a $6 fare. It was able to operate very successfully with a mix of people going to the airport for air trips, employees at the airport, and commuters from Herndon and points west.
The bus started out in 2000 with a grant from DC to provide reverse commute service from the District to Tysons and the Dulles corridor. It originally had 2 variants: the 5A went from L'Enfant Plaza to Dulles Airport, and the 5B ended at the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride. In 2006, WMATA merged the two.
Once the grant expired, the various jurisdictions agreed to keep funding the 5A separate from the regular funding formula, which didn't really fit the 5A. Fairfax created its Tysons-Dulles bus, and officials in that county and at the District Department of Transportation are now considering whether the two jurisdictions can eliminate their funding for the 5A.
The 5A and Washington Flyer make an imperfect pair
Even at $6, the 5A is cheaper than the Washington Flyer and rail ($10 for the Flyer plus the rail fare). A report on airport bus service from the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council (RAC) notes that many people ride the 5A from the Herndon Park and Ride, likely using the bus as an alternative to more expensive commuter buses.
The RAC report says that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has never cooperated with WMATA much about the 5A:
The original 5A stop was located far from the terminal building and marked with a black and white sign that did not conform to WMATA signage standards, making it confusing to regular system riders. (MWAA originally argued that WMATA signage did not conform to the airport's color scheme.) The stop was eventuallyHaving two separate buses, each running at infrequent headways (30 minutes for the Flyer, 40-60 for the 5A) indeed seems inefficient. Perhaps better coordination between WMATA, area jurisdictions, and MWAA could allow a more frequent bus for the years until the Silver Line reaches Dulles Airport.
moved in closer to the arrivals area and standard WMATA signage was permitted.
WMATA officials note, however, that barriers to use of the 5A remain in place at Dulles: WMATA is still unable to post signs within the airport itself directing passengers to the 5A; official airport announcements in the arrivals area tell customers that the Washington Flyer and MWAA-sponsored taxis are the only forms of airport transportation endorsed and authorized by the airport authority; airport employees do not currently receive Smartbenefits from MWAA which could potentially be used on the 5A; and there is no place to purchase a Smartrip card within the terminal.
What can happen with the 5A?
Options besides cutting the 5A, WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre told the RAC last winter, include keeping it with a new stop at Wiehle, or turning it into a shuttle just between the airport and Wiehle (in other words, a WMATA version of the Washington Flyer).
According to the RAC report, the Flyer still loses money. It once traveled all the way to downtown DC, but private operators refused to bid on such an expensive service. The current contract will end next year. Rather than treating the Flyer as a concession contract, It seems it might be better to have WMATA or another area transit operator run the "Flyer" as a public bus (perhaps even numbered 5A).
Do you think DC and Fairfax should stop funding the 5A? What airport transit should exist once the Silver Line opens, but before it gets to the airport? What about after?
The WMATA Board's action tomorrow would just put these changes out for public hearings in September. The board would then vote on a final set of changes in the fall to take effect between December 2013 and June 2014.
US Airways is merging with American Airlines, and will then control most of DCA airport's flights. Should it have to give up slots? What will that mean for small communities? Moreover, should DCA grow? How?
Last week, US Airways CEO Doug Parker testified before Congress about his pending merger with American. US Airways already is the dominant airline at DCA, and combined with American, will control 68% of the slots and 49% of passenger traffic.
Beyond the questions about what's good for airfares and the aviation industry, what happens at DCA has a big effect on our region. The airport is far easier to reach from most central urban and suburban neighborhoods, where more and more people are living. If the region is growing in the core, should air travel grow there as well? How?
Everyone wants slots
DCA is one of only a few airports in the nation where regulations limit the number of flights. Carriers own "slots" which give them rights to one takeoff or landing per day. There are also limits on how many flights can operate in each hour.
These slots are extremely valuable, since many people will pay more to fly from convenient DCA instead of more distant (for most people) Dulles or BWI. JetBlue recently paid $40 million for slots to run 8 daily round trips.
Furthermore, DCA has a perimeter rule limiting most flights to cities no more than 1,250 miles away (far enough to get to Dallas but not Austin). There are a limited number of exceptions, including some Congress added last year, which gave us new flights from DCA to San Francisco, Portland, San Diego, Austin, and San Juan, as well as more flights to Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, which already had exemptions.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Justice could require the combined airline to give up some DCA slots as part of a merger. United and Continental had to do this at Newark, for instance. However, US Airways currently uses many of its slots to fly to small cities around the East Coast. When JetBlue bought those 8 round trips, it didn't do that; it added flights to Boston and Florida.
CEO Doug Parker, therefore, has been arguing that if his airline has to divest slots, other airlines will simply use them to fly to big cities that already have a lot of service. That will likely lower fares to those cities, but remove options to other cities. Some members of Congress sent a letter asking for US Airways/American to keep its slots so that their small communities can keep their flights.
What is the role of DCA?
This debate raises several important questions about how DCA fits into the region. It's the most convenient airport for the greatest number of residents, while Dulles and BWI take longer to reach. Therefore, there's some logic to the idea that short flights should leave from DCA, while the trek to a farther airport isn't such a burden if the flight itself is longer as well.
Also, being most convenient, perhaps it makes sense to prioritize coverage over price. Price-sensitive flyers can go to BWI, where Southwest has a huge operation, and where other airlines' fares are also generally lower.
Still, as the region grows in the core, it makes sense to think about how DCA could grow as well. Passenger traffic has grown 5.5%, while Dulles lost 6.4% of its traffic. Some of that is the rest of the new beyond-perimeter flights. Clearly, more people would rather fly from DCA. When the Silver Line opens, it might shift some more passengers to Dulles.
DCA has many limits on its size. With only one long-ish runway, it can't handle large numbers of planes at once. Nothing is going to change that. It also has a legal cap on the number of gates, as well as the slot restrictions. Some of that placates Arlington, which has to cope with the noise from planes. On the other hand, those restrictions came about at a time that planes were much noisier than they are today.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has been primarily investing in Dulles Airport, with the newish AeroTrain, the Silver Line, and roadway projects. Ever since Dulles opened and the DCA perimeter went into effect, there's been a general policy of trying to shift traffic there.
Make DCA bigger?
Should the region still try to build up Dulles and BWI and keep a lid on DCA? Just as letting the region's core grow is more economically efficient and better for mobility, so is helping more people use the central airport. More planes can't easily fly in and out of DCA, but they could be larger planes, if MWAA wanted to, and legally could, invest in more gates and more security screening capacity.
One slot can go to a plane of any size that fits at DCA, but many US Airways flights are on small regional jets which flyers reach by shuttle bus. That's why the combined airline would only have half the airport's passengers but 2/3 of the flights. With enough gate space, larger planes could use those slots and carry more people.
However, larger planes have to go to larger cities. US Airways flies so many small planes now because they match the level of demand. There's particularly strong demand beyond the perimeter, and if the rule didn't exist many more flights would be going to the west, but the rule is there to keep that demand at Dulles and BWI instead.
Which brings us back to the same central question: should DCA be a sort of niche airport with smaller planes to many little destinations, or an airport that tries to serve as much of the travel demand, close in to the center of the region, as possible? There's no obvious answer.
Google's global 1984-2012 satellite timelapse shows remarkable growth in Northern Virginia. Take a look.
The most striking change is vast land development in Loudoun County, but that's not the only visible growth. You can also see expansion of Tysons Corner (lower right), construction of the Dulles Greenway toll road, the airport's new western runway, and at the very end, construction of the Beltway HOT lanes.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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.
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