Posts about Gaithersburg
As designs for the Corridor Cities Transitway BRT line solidify, officials are revising plans to try and cut costs and ease approvals. Among the changes: Smaller stations, fewer dedicated lanes, and fewer grade-separated street crossings.
Original two-bus station design (left) and smaller one-bus design (right). All images from Maryland.
According to initial designs, all transitway stations would have been 150 feet long, large enough to comfortably accommodate two articulated buses in each direction.
The revised plans reduce six of the transitway's ten stations down to 65 feet long, and the other four stations down to 125 feet.
The 125-foot stations will still be able to squeeze in two buses at a time. The 65-foot stations will only fit a single bus. All stations will be designed so they can expand to 125 feet later if necessary.
With buses scheduled to come every six minutes at peak times, single-bus stations could cause delays if buses begin to bunch together.
Dedicated lanes at the Belward property
The Corridor Cities Transitway will be, for the most part, true BRT. It will have a dedicated running way for most of its length. But now officials are proposing that it run in mixed traffic for a 1.1 mile detour around the Belward property, aka the last farm in Gaithersburg.
Original alignment through the Belward property (left) and proposed mixed-traffic realignment around it (right).
This change isn't to save money, nor is it to avoid upsetting car drivers. It has to do with the historic farmhouse in the middle of the property.
Under federal rules concerning historic preservation, the state cannot build the transitway through the farm unless the property is disturbed by development first. But Montgomery County's master plan does not allow for development on the farm until after the transitway is up and running. It's a chicken and egg problem.
Thus Maryland's new plan: Buses will detour around Belward farm on existing roads, in mixed traffic.
It's not clear whether the detour plan is supposed to be temporary or permanent. It could be the state will operate the detour at first, long enough to allow development at Belward, and then retrofit in the dedicated transitway once development is underway.
Or it could be the state will never correct this problem, and buses will run in mixed-traffic around Belward long after buildings have replaced the farm. Time will tell.
At-grade street crossing
Another major cost-saving change is coming where the transitway crosses MD Route 28, Key West Avenue.
Initial plans called for an underpass below Key West Avenue. Buses never would have had to stop for a red light. New plans show a surface crossing, meaning buses will have to contend with traffic signals.
And although the state webpage does clearly say that an at-grade crossing will have minimal "effects on general traffic flow through the intersection," it doesn't say anything about how this change will affect transit travel time.
Questions about cost
Montgomery County official Glenn Orlin recently revealed that costs for the transitway are climbing.
The most recent state cost estimate, from 2012, was for $545 million. Officially that's still the estimate. But Orlin says a new estimate is forthcoming and will be "in the $700-800 million range." If true, that's a troubling increase, and could explain some of the state's moves to reduce costs.
On the other hand, Orlin also indicated the new estimate is in year-of-construction dollars, while the old estimate was in 2012 dollars. If so, inflation could account for the lion's share of the difference. Until the actual estimate comes out, it's impossible to know.
It may not matter anyway, as the transitway remains unfunded, and prospects for funding under Maryland Governor Hogan appear slim.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Since 1987, over 100 DC area cyclists have died in motor vehicle crashes. This map shows where they are. And there's just one intersection in the region which had two separate fatal crashes. Can you guess where?
In the above graph, red pins show crashes in an intersection, yellow in the roadway, black in a crosswalk, blue on the shoulder of the roadway, orange on a sidewalk, green in a bike lane, or white where the location was not available.
These fatalities have occurred in every jurisdiction, on busy highways and quiet neighborhood streets, and on every part of the roadway from sidewalks to traffic lanes.
The real "Intersection of Doom" is at Gaithersburg's edge
The intersection of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street, where drivers make a right turn across cyclists' path coming off the Mount Vernon Trail, gets much coverage as the "Intersection of Doom." But fortunately, I found no actual bicycle fatalities there.
Nor were there any where the Mt. Vernon Trail connections cross the George Washington Parkway, another harrowing experience for cyclists and a big problem spot that needs fixing. But there was one location where two separate fatal bike crashes occurred.
In 1997, a driver hit 15-year-old Alexis Smith on her bicycle in the crosswalk as she crossed the ramp from Great Seneca Highway to Sam Eig Highway, just west of the end of I-370 in Montgomery County. Then in 2009, another driver hit and killed Codi Alexander, 16 at the same spot.
However, Montgomery County wasn't the place with the most fatal bike crashes.
Prince George's has the most deaths by far
Of the seven jurisdictions I looked at, Prince George's had the most fatalities, with 36. Here is the full list:
|District of Columbia||25|
Some of the variation might be explained by population and square mileage, but Prince George's County is neither the largest nor the most populous. And comparisons get more complicated because DC's surge of daytime population means that considering its resident population understates the amount of exposure cyclists have there.
Most fatal crashes happen at intersections
If we combine fatalities listed as in the intersection and in the crosswalk, it shows that more than half of all fatal crashes happen at intersections. (Some crashes listed as on sidewalks or in bike lanes also may be at intersections.)
Where this data comes from
I assembled this list and map from two main sources: media reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Most media reports are newspaper accounts available on highbeam, which is why they only go back to 1987. These accounts are usually very accurate and reliable. I only flagged one possible error during the review.
However, these are not particularly comprehensive. Only 53% of all fatal bike crashes get reported in newspapers, and usually as only one story about the fatal crash itself. Occasionally a reporter will follow up with a second item once authorities release the victim's name. For a particularly sensational story, there may coverage all the way through a trial and sentencing. Most media accounts, however, just end with a line saying something like, "Police are continuing to investigate the incident."
The NHTSA FARS data, on the other hand, is significantly more comprehensive but riddled with a vast array of errors. It also only goes back to 1994. Some of the errors come from problems with the forms themselves, while people filling them out introduce others.
These errors ranged from trivial cases, such as mislabeling a female fatality as male, to nonsensical cases where a bike fatality was coded as "Safety Belt Used Improperly," to the outright misleading case where a cyclist was mislabeled as a pedestrian. But 98% of the fatalities with media accounts also appeared in FARS.
Still, FARS data under-counts total bike fatalities because it does not include crashes on driveways or parking lots or crashes that don't involve a motor vehicle. I identified 15 such fatalities. In addition, the United States Park Police apparently doesn't submit FARS forms to the NHTSA, as crashes they investigated don't appear. Nor do bike deaths that arise from medical conditions such as heat stroke or from murder (except in the one case where the murder weapon was a car). So while the FARS data is more comprehensive, it is not complete.
The map above includes every bike fatality identified except for one that had an unworkable location description.
* The original version of this post failed to count one Arlington fatality.
Cross-posted with footnotes at TheWashCycle.
Bus Rapid Transit is years away in Montgomery County, but residents got a preview when Action Committee for Transit and Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended brought a bus rapid rabbit transit bus to the 76th annual Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade.
ACT's Tina Slater and Bee Ditzler conceived of, designed, and built the bus, which traveled the one-mile parade route in a rapid 45 minutes. It sports drawings of rabbits riding the bus, making this not just Bus Rapid Transit, but Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit.
In addition, a dance team performed a routine ably choreographed by the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn to the sounds of the Hollies' Bus Stop, the Fatback Band's Do the Bus Stop, and the Four Tops's bus stop song.
But don't feel bad if you missed it. ACT is already planning its second year of marching in the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade. If you have ideas or want to join, please visit ACT's website and get in touch! But don't delay, because the big day is only 11 weeks away.
Bus Rapid Transit has become an increasingly popular concept for communities in the DC area, but to see it in action, you'd have to travel to Cleveland or Los Angeles. This week, you can get a glimpse of our possible future at the Montgomery County fair in Gaithersburg.
Communities for Transit, a local nonprofit that promotes Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan, set up a brand-new bus to display outside the gates of the fair, which began last Saturday and runs through this Saturday, August 16. Visitors can learn about the county's concept for an 80-mile system of bus lanes on major streets like Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, and Columbia Pike, and tour the bus, which will eventually make its way to Denver.
At a press conference yesterday, county councilmembers and County Executive Ike Leggett said they hope to ride BRT here within four years. Getting there will require more detailed studies, which are currently underway, and securing a funding source.
Fairgoers check out the bus while CFT's Scott Williamson explains how it works. Photo by the author.
While the BRT plan faced intense opposition from wealthier neighborhoods like Chevy Chase West and Woodmoor, those at the fair were more receptive, asking Communities for Transit staff and volunteers when it was going to happen. Parents searched a route map to find the closest stop to their jobs, while their kids hopped into the bus driver's seat and pretended to drive.
Most people don't participate in traditional community meetings, meaning a vocal minority can dominate the conversation. That's why there's a bus parked outside the county fair: it brings people into the conversation who otherwise wouldn't get engaged, revealing that public support is actually greater than we thought. And the display vehicle, with its big windows, cushioned seats, and overpowering new smell, may have changed any negative impressions some visitors may have had about riding the bus.
Hopefully, Montgomery County officials will encourage people to ride the Metroway BRT line that will open in Arlington and Alexandria in two weeks. It'll be the region's first chance to actually ride BRT in person, and a prime opportunity to build support and allay some residents' concerns.
Until then, you can see the Bus Rapid Transit vehicle for yourself from 12 pm to 8 pm every day this week through this Saturday at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds, located at 16 Chestnut Street in Gaithersburg.
Montgomery County's District 3 will be at the heart of several key new transit projects in the coming years. Will its new councilmember push to surround them with new, walkable neighborhoods, or move forward with a 1960s-era road plan?
Located in the heart of the county, District 3 contains the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, along with Leisure World and Derwood. It's a fast-growing area, but most new development is designed around the approved Corridor Cities Transitway and a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line on Route 355. It also contains part of the proposed M-83 highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg.
After 16 years representing the area, current councilmember Phil Andrews is leaving to run for County Executive. Running to replace him are Gaithersburg mayor Sidney Katz and city councilmember Ryan Spiegel, Rockville councilmember Tom Moore, and local activist Guled Kassim. Only Spiegel and Moore returned their ACT questionnaires.
Candidates agree on complete streets, building near transit
District 3 has grown significantly in recent years, adding 25,000 people between 2000 and 2010. Much of that growth is happening in Rockville and Gaithersburg's existing town centers, or in new, urban neighborhoods like Crown in Gaithersburg, which will be on the Corridor Cities Transitway. And both candidates agree that this is the right way to go.
Moore, who grew up in Montgomery County, cited his support for Rockville Town Center as evidence of his record on building near transit. If elected, he says he'll "push to concentrate Montgomery County's housing growth along our existing transit corridors" and along future transit corridors as well.
Spiegel said he supports density in the right places, and has worked to create incentives to focus development at transit. He sees transit as a draw for developers to build nearby, allow building height increases near transit, and would work to steer development away for areas "not appropriate for growth."
Bigger differences on Bus Rapid Transit and new highways
On BRT, Moore was unequivocal in his support for dedicating lanes to buses, saying "person-throughput, and not vehicle-throughput, is the key metric here; a lane converted to bus use is more efficient." Spiegel said he supports repurposing lanes for transit, but qualifies his answer that he supports it "in targeted locations where it makes sense."
At the recent Transportation Forum in Silver Spring, both Katz and Spiegel both said they oppose M-83, which has been on the books since the 1960s. But Moore received a "minus" on ACT's scorecard on M-83; he says opposes it, but is open to learning more. I "would first want to gather all the information and public input I can with the advantages of being a sitting Councilmember," he wrote.
Other candidatescampaign website doesn't say much about land use and transportation, other than that he supports the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and "Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated lanes." He's endorsed Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed BRT but is often skeptical of building around transit.
Guled Kassim, a former Marine, immigrated here from Somalia as a child and grew up in Silver Spring before moving to Derwood. While running for District 19 delegate in 2006, he worried that the county's "rate of growth was too fast," but expressed support for the Purple Line.main priorities for "congestion relief are building the Corridor Cities Transitway and a new interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road, which would serve a transit-oriented development being built at the Metropolitan Grove MARC station. He also supports "big improvements in existing intersections for a freer flow of traffic" during rush hour, though that may make the area's roads even more impassable for pedestrians and cyclists.
Most people might know District 3 as the home of Rockville Pike and the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds. But in recent years, Rockville and Gaithersburg are leading the county's larger shift to becoming a more urban, diverse place. As a result, whoever becomes the area's next county councilmember will have a big role to play in its future.
Gaithersburg is considering joining Capital Bikeshare with up to 21 additional stations. But with turbulent bikeshare rollouts in College Park and Rockville, it may not be easy.
The Gaithersburg City Council is mulling whether or not to join Capital Bikeshare, and how to fund the program if they join. At a meeting on Monday, the council worked out preliminary plans for 8 initial stations, to be followed by around a dozen more later.
Gaithersburg has a growing collection of mixed-use neighborhoods that will someday be connected by the Corridor Cities Transitway. Adding bikesharing to that mix makes sense, and can help Gaithersburg transition to be a less car-dependent community.
But is expansion even possible right now? And if it is, does Gaithersburg have the right plan?
Trouble in College Park and Rockville
Theoretically the next expansion of Capital Bikeshare in suburban Maryland should be underway in College Park right now. But with Capital Bikeshare's
parent supplier company in bankruptcy and reorganization, no new bikes or bike stations are rolling off the assembly line. As a result, College Park's expansion is on indefinite hold.
Eventually the assembly line will start rolling again. But how long will it take, and how huge will be the backlog of existing orders? It may be some time before anybody can accept new orders.
Meanwhile, nearby Rockville has its bikeshare stations already, but they're poorly used.
One big problem appears to be that Rockville's stations are spread too far apart. Instead of placing stations every couple of blocks, Rockville only put one or two stations in each neighborhood. Cyclists have to commit to a long ride to use the system.
Based on the map of proposed stations, it looks like Gaithersburg is shaping up to make the same mistake. It might be better for both cities to rethink their stations, and cluster them together in a smaller part of town.
But implementation details aside, it's great news to see more and more communities looking to progressive transportation options.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Both neighborhoods are planned around future stations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, which will someday connect a whole string of walkable neighborhoods in upper Montgomery County to Shady Grove Metro station. But with rapid transit service still years away, construction is working from the outside in, focusing first on sections farther from planned transit stations.
At the Crown development, construction progress is focused on Phase 1, the western half. A mixed-use town center surrounds the corner of Ellington Boulevard and Crown Park Avenue, with blocks of rowhouse neighborhoods to the side.
It's clear that serious work and expense went into the architectural details.
To the east, the rowhouse neighborhoods are taking shape as well.
Decoverly Drive marks the boundary of Phase 1, as well as the future route of the transitway. Crown's original plans show an even larger town center surrounding the BRT station along Decoverly. But following actual construction, it appears density has been reduced around the station, and rowhouses line the Phase 1 edge instead.
One wonders if Phase 2 will make Crown a truly transit-oriented place, or if transit will merely run through it.
Watkins Mill Town Center
A few miles to the northwest, adjacent to the Metropolitan Grove MARC station, Watkins Mill Town Center is taking shape.
At Watkins Mill, the rowhouses and lower density portions are nearing completion, but the downtown section has yet to begin construction. As a result, a huge field separates the MARC station (and future BRT stop) from the constructed portions of the development.
Someday, the Corridor Cities Transitway could make Gaithersburg a second Arlington, a string of walkable communities knit together by transit. Whether that actually happens or not will depend the State of Maryland getting the transitway built, and the City of Gaithersburg insisting on truly transit-oriented places.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
As Montgomery County asks the state to spend more on transit within the county, its proposed budget pours money into sprawl-inducing highways instead, while calling road widenings near schools and Metro stations "pedestrian improvements."
Last week, County Executive Ike Leggett sent his proposed $1 billion transportation budget for 2015-2020 to the County Council. It adds new money to build two $100 million highway segments, Goshen Road in Gaithersburg and the 8000-foot-long Montrose Parkway East near White Flint, and lets environmental studies for the even more expensive extension of Midcounty Highway continue.
But many transit, bike, and pedestrian projects have been delayed. The proposed BRT system will get a $10 million state planning grant, but no county funds. The $80 milllion south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, which the County Council previously funded over objections from the Department of Transportation (MCDOT), was left alone.
Bicyclists get a speedup in construction for a bike path on Needwood Road, required under the terms of a state grant. But the money comes from slowing down work to complete the far more important Metropolitan Branch Trail. Bike projects on Bethesda Avenue, Frederick Road, and Seven Locks Road are delayed too.
MCDOT learned long ago that cars-first policies had to be disguised with lip service to transit and pedestrians, and this budget continues that tradition. While new roads are the first category in the current six-year budget, the new budget lists them after transit.
At first glance, the proposed transit and pedestrian budgets seem large, but this is a mirage. The numbers are inflated with items that belong elsewhere. The county calls a $70 million dollar garage for school buses and park maintenance vehicles a mass transit facility. Road widenings around new schools, previously classified as road projects, are listed as pedestrian improvements this year. Buried in the budget for a new Metro entrance at Medical Center is the cost of a turn lane a block away at Jones Bridge Road.
Montgomery County's ped/bike budget will pay for a turn lane onto Rockville Pike at NIH. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
A telling example of MCDOT's attitude is how it justifies spending money on bike lanes in downtown Bethesda. The county planning board made us do it, agency officials say. The bike lanes must be built before development can proceed beyond a certain point. There's no thought that they might serve a transportation purpose.
In recent years the County Council has shown increasing willingness to challenge MCDOT's priorities. The council funded the $80 million south Bethesda Metro entrance in 2008 and repeatedly fended off requests to reverse that decision. Two years ago, it put off construction of Goshen Road and Montrose Parkway East and budgeted for the Capital Crescent Trail instead.
But MCDOT still clings to the traffic engineering doctrines of the 1950s. The one completely new big project in the budget is yet another upcounty highway, a segment of Observation Drive whose price tag is likely to wind up north of $50 million a mile. The Bethesda Metro entrance stands as the only major county-funded transit construction project.
The time has come to reject once and for all the discredited idea that wide highways are a cure for traffic congestion. The council should zero out all spending on upcounty highways and end the pernicious practice of forcing developers to widen roads. All of the county's scarce transportation dollars are needed to correct the expensive mistakes of the past with better transit and a street network that works well for pedestrians and cyclists, not just for drivers.
M-83, also known as Midcounty Highway Extended, is an environmental calamity that will cost hundreds of millions. Yet Montgomery County continues to pursue its construction. Will county leaders consider a transit alternative to a new highway?
When Montgomery County planners put M-83 on the master plan of highways in the early 1960s, the county's population was 340,000. DC's streetcars had recently gone away. And highways were the future of transportation. Today, the county population is one million, DC is about to bring back the streetcar, and highway removal is common. But M-83, the county's zombie highway, is still around.
This Thursday, the Planning Board will review alternatives for the proposed highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg. But planning staff recommends that they ask the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to study a transit alternative as well, and remove the alternative with the most property takings.
Highway laid out according to 1960s standards
Midcounty Highway was supposed to be an 8.7-mile, limited access, four to six lane highway east of Route 355, connecting the planned corridor cities of Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Clarksburg. The county has built the southern end, a 3-mile divided highway between Shady Grove Road and Montgomery Village Avenue in Gaithersburg. And developers recently built the northern end, called Snowden Farm Parkway, in Clarksburg.
The Planning Board last reviewed the remaining middle part of M-83 in 1992, but for over a decade, not much happened due to a lack of money. In 2003, MCDOT began to study building the rest of M-83 along the master plan route. But that route dates from before the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), when planners thought it was a good idea to put highways in stream valleys.
So the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) got involved. And MCDOT had to follow NEPA's requirement to identify alternatives and evaluate the environmental effects.
In May 2013, MCDOT issued its draft report on the environmental effects. The Army Corps of Engineers and MDE then held a public hearing in August about MCDOT's application for a permit to build M-83. They have yet to publish their findings.
Planning staff recommend studying a transit alternative
But this week, the Planning Board will nonetheless review the master plan route and its alternatives. In a report issued last week, planning staff say that MCDOT should evaluate a transit alternative, including the planned bus rapid transit (BRT) route along 355, and that MCDOT's transportation systems management/transportation demand management (TSM/TDM) alternative should also include BRT along 355.
Their analysis suggests that the area can meet its transportation needs through 2040 without M-83. They also note that the 355 BRT corridor would have the second-highest daily ridership of the 10 proposed transit corridors in the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.
MCDOT says they didn't look at a transit alternative because Montgomery County has not adopted any plans for BRT. They also did not consider transit in their TSM/TDM alternative, even though TSM/TDM usually includes transit.
The staff report's recommendation will please M-83's opponents, including Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended (TAME) and the Action Committee for Transit, who have been calling for years for MCDOT to study a transit alternative.
County planners also recommend asking MCDOT to eliminate the alternative route through Goshen, which would involve widening existing two- and four-lane roads. The Planning Board already recommended eliminating the route in 1992. Some community groups have strongly opposed this alternative in favor of the master plan route so that M-83 wouldn't go through their neighborhoods. If the threat from this alternative route goes away, some of the support for M-83 along the master plan route will probably go away as well.
MCDOT's report underestimates environmental and property impacts
In addition, the staff report points out problems with MCDOT's evaluation of environmental effects. For example, MCDOT reports that if M-83 isn't built, 16 intersections will exceed traffic congestion standards. But the staff report notes that at least 6 of these intersections are south of M-83 and would also exceed the standard under all of the alternative routes, including the master plan route.
Similarly, MCDOT's traffic modeling estimates a 55% reduction in travel time for the master plan route and a 37% reduction for Alternative 5, compared to not doing anything at all. (Alternative 5 proposes widening Route 355 and adding service roads.) The staff report notes that the 37% reduction represents a trip that is 3 minutes shorter.
The staff report also points out that MCDOT used a roadway width of less than 150 feet to estimate how many properties each alternative route would disturb or displace. However, 150 feet is the standard roadway width in the current county road code. In addition, MCDOT did not estimate how many properties stormwater management and noise abatement measures might affect. Thus, MCDOT's estimates of the number of affected properties are probably too low.
As for the cost of building M-83, MCDOT estimates for the build alternatives range from $41 million for the TSM/TDM alternative to $357 million for the master plan route. But these estimates are probably too low as well.
According to the staff report, MCDOT's estimates of environmental impacts do not account for stormwater management and the effects of retaining walls. For example, the master plan route would require a retaining wall 400 feet long along Great Seneca Creek, most of which would be in the flood plain within 20-30 feet of the stream channel.
Along Whetstone Run, the master plan route would have to be built on fill, with a retaining wall next to the stream channel. And while the smaller stream reaches may not have delineated flood plains, they have wetlands that function much like flood plains.
What's more, much of the master plan route goes through parkland, including Great Seneca Creek Park and the North Germantown Greenway Stream Valley Park. According to the staff report, the master plan route would have "calamitous" effects on 3 of the largest biodiversity areas in the county, far beyond the official limits of disturbance. And the staff report recommends mitigating impacts on parkland through a combination of trails, environmental projects, and replacement of parkland with land of equal or greater value.
So how much would it cost to build M-83, including parkland mitigation and the environmental requirements of building across streams and along stream valleys? Presumably more than MCDOT estimates.
For now, asking MCDOT to evaluate a transit alternative is a good idea, and so is repeating the Planning Board's 20-year-old request to remove the alternative route through Goshen. But ultimately, it's time for Montgomery County to say no at last to this environment-destroying, obsolete, expensive highway.
Perhaps in the early 1960s, transportation meant moving cars, and the environment was supposed to make way for progress. But it's 2013. Shouldn't we know better by now?
The Planning Board will review the alternatives for Midcounty Highway in Silver Spring on Thursday, November 21, beginning at 6 pm. If you want the Planning Board review to include your thoughts about this project, you can send written comments by e-mail through Wednesday.
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