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Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 86

It's time for the eighty-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

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We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please note: We have a slightly earlier deadline this week. Please be sure to have your answers in by 9 am on Thursday.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


748 MetroGreater ideas and counting! What's yours?

Riders across the region have submitted more than 700 ideas to make Metro greater. You can read a few of them below. What's your MetroGreater idea?

Last week, Greater Greater Washington launched MetroGreater, a crowdsourcing site for riders to submit their ideas for small, quick fixes Metro can make to improve the rider experience on rail, bus, or paratransit. Through July 15th, the public can submit and comment on others' ideas. Then, a jury will review the ideas and the public will get to vote among the finalists to pick a winner.

In less than one week we've gotten 748 ideas! Most of them are responsive to the key criteria: that ideas be achievable by Metro for under $100,000 in under six months and not impair safety or violate any laws.

Metro rail art

Several ideas involve art installations in Metro tunnels and stations. Michael thinks art will help keep conductors alert and engaged. Kristin shares research which shows positive effects of subway art on riders' experience. From encouraging tourists to visit lesser-frequented stations by featuring local artists' work to keeping conductors and passengers more engaged, many people think adding art will making riding Metro greater.

Photo by Megan Wong on Flickr.

SmartTrip reloads on Metrobus

In an effort to speed up bus service, Eric thinks there should be a minimum requirement for how much people can reload onto their SmartTrip cards while aboard a bus. He thinks that instituting a minimum reload of $5, $10, or even $20, would reduce the number of reloads per person and improve overall bus travel time. Jess, however, disagrees. Dominic suggests testing out pre-payment on busy bus routes to address the delays caused by onboard reloads.

More seating on rail and bus

Dan and Victoria think we need more seating at Metro rail stations. Mathew suggests stronger language on priority seating signs.

Quick fixes for people with disabilities

Diana suggests printing color words on Metro signs so people with colorblindness can navigate better, while Shelby recommends having a light flash on the exit side of the train as it pulls into a station to help deaf passengers.

Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Popular suggestions

A few ideas seem to be quite popular. At quick glance, the most common suggestions have to do with improving lighting in Metro rail stations, helping people understand the "stand right, walk left" escalator etiquette, and enforcing the no eating or drinking rules.

What do you think of these ideas? Remember, you can submit and comment on others' ideas at through July 15th.


Let's stand by the Silver Line

Sharon Bulova chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

In light of the safety and maintenance issues that Metro is now addressing with SafeTrack, some members of the media have said that instead of building the Silver Line, WMATA should have fixed the rest of the system. As one of the leaders that helped make the Silver Line happen, I'd like to respond.

Photo by Dan Malouff.

Expansion and maintenance are not mutually exclusive when you do them both responsibly, and it is important to note that WMATA did not build or pay for the Silver Line extension. The Silver Line was financed outside of the WMATA budget, and funding to build the extension could not have been used instead for Metro maintenance.

Financing for construction of the Silver Line comes from multiple sources, including special tax districts in Fairfax County paid by commercial and industrial landowners along the Dulles corridor, motorists using the Dulles Toll Road, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the federal government, Loudoun County and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Silver Line took decades of planning and spanned numerous elected officials and leaders. The project almost died a few times, and the 2014 grand opening was a tremendous feat.
This extension of Metro has served as a major underpinning of economic growth and redevelopment in Tysons, spurring over 100 million square feet of new approved development within a half-mile of the new stations. In terms of growth in the commercial tax base, Tysons increased by a rate of 3.1% in FY 2016 and 10.8% in FY 2017.

By 2050, Fairfax County plans to attract 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs to Tysons. Riders using the Silver Line from Phase I (Tysons/Reston) and Phase II (Dulles Airport and beyond) will have access to a one-seat ride to downtown DC and a safe and convenient connection to the rest of the region. This increase in connectivity and access to Metro is why ensuring the safety and reliability of the systen is critical to our region's success.

Photo by Dan Malouff.

Past WMATA leaders failed to make safety the top priority and neglected to do major maintenance as well. That led to tragedy and, eventually, the SafeTrack maintenance plan we see today. SafeTrack is impacting all Metro riders this year, but the heavy dose of maintenance medicine will shore up the entire system.

Paul Wiedefeld is focused on getting Metro back on its feet and transforming WMATA's culture into one that is safety-first. I believe this generation will be known for repairing, revitalizing, reinvesting, and reinvigorating the infrastructure that past generations built. While SafeTrack is placing a temporary burden on commuters, it's necessary and in many cases is being completed ahead of schedule. I believe this bodes well for WMATA's future.

I will be working with my regional counterparts through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Greater Washington Board of Trade to identify dedicated funding for WMATA. We must prepare for the future and we must do so safely, responsibly, and consistently. Our regional economy depends on Metro's success.


Ask GGWash: Why did the Cleveland Park Metro station flood?

During Tuesday's huge thunderstorm, the Cleveland Park Metro station flooded so badly that Metro ended up closing it for nearly two hours. Why was the flooding so severe?

The storm that swept across the region yesterday afternoon brought over an inch of rain to many areas in a very short amount of time. Here's how crazy things got at Cleveland Park:

Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly told the Washington Post that the reason the Cleveland Park station got hit so bad is that it " prone to flooding because it is at the bottom of a hill."

But that's not quite true: many areas east of the Metro station are farther downhill.

Greater Greater Washington contributor Matt Johnson says it's less about the topography of the area than it is about the amount of impervious surface (like roads, sidewalks, and parking lots).

Next to the Cleveland Park Metro, there's a parking lot to the east and buildings to the west. All of the water that falls flows into Connecticut Avenue (from downspouts from the buildings, and down the driveway aprons from the parking lot)—it has to go somewhere.

Near the intersections, some of that water may flow down toward Rock Creek, but there's a fixed amount of drainage volume that can be accommodated that way. The rest of the water gets collected by catch basins along the curb of Connecticut Avenue. Those also have a fixed capacity. Once the rainfall exceeds the ability of the street to drain itself downhill and into the catch basins, the water level will start to rise.

Once the water level rises above the level of the curb (between 4 & 6" above the pavement surface), it starts to spread onto the sidewalk, and will flow downhill, including into anything at a lower elevation than the sidewalk (like a subway station).

Then the water will begin to flow into the grates in the sidewalk that lead to underground vaults that hold things like transformers and Metro vent shafts. Additionally, water will trickle down the escalator and stairway into the station.

Metro has placed sandbags around the grates in the sidewalk near the Cleveland Park station to help keep water out. That works often enough, but not during Tuesday's storm.

"The level of water on the sidewalk had probably reached several inches high during the peak of the rain event, demonstrating how overwhelmed the catch basins were," says Matt.

"In other words, the water volume exceeded DDOT's ability to handle the runoff, so it began to flow into the Metro."

So is there any solution to keeping this from happening again? The sandbags help some, but there are some other options. In New York, MTA has raised the level of some street grates. And at the South Ferry subway station, which is in danger of tidal flooding during storms, MTA has added a few stairs that go up, before going down, at the entrance to the station.

NYC's South Ferry subway stop. Image from Wikipedia.


What are your ideas to make Metro greater?

Metro is your transit system. How could it be greater? Now's your chance to make suggestions for small changes that can improve your experience on rail, bus, or paratransit.

WMATA is hard at work on the big safety fixes we need to have a rail system that works safely and reliable. But while that's underway, there are many smaller things Metro can do to improve the rider experience during SafeTrack and beyond.

To achieve that, we are launching MetroGreater, a crowdsourcing idea site for you to submit your ideas and comment on others. A jury will review the ideas and the public will get to vote among the finalists to pick a winner.

WMATA has committed to implementing the winning idea (as long as it meets the criteria below). And who knows—they might decide to implement more than one! The winner will also get recognition and some Metro memorabilia.

A recent small-scale improvement WMATA implemented. Photo from WMATA.

If you could make one small, quick improvement to Metro, what would it be?

Maybe your idea would help a lot of riders like the stickers that show where the train will stop or green "8"s denoting eight-car trains. Maybe you really want Metro to increase bicycle storage at your station like they did at NoMa a few years ago.

Maybe you know of some bus stops that could use some "appropriate technology" to alleviate the burden of remaining upright (a.k.a. plastic chairs to sit on). Or have ideas to improve the complaint-ridden MetroAccess paratransit service for a better rider experience.

Ideas must:

  • Improve the transit experience for all or some group of riders;
  • Be achievable by Metro on its own in 6 months or less (ideally 3);
  • Cost no more than $100,000;
  • Not cost much to continue into the future;
  • Not impair safety;
  • Not negatively impact service or interfere with other agency responsibilities; and
  • Comply with all laws and regulations.

While slides instead of escalators in your station might be fun, it's not really practical or safe in the long term. Sorry. Image from Volkswagen.

So you have a great idea, what's next?

Submit your idea at by Friday, July 15. You know how awesome your idea is, but make sure others do too. Upload photos or sketches to help others get it.

How does the rest of the contest work?

Submissions will be accepted through July 15, 2016. Then, a jury of regional experts and advocates will select 5-10 submissions that meet all necessary criteria as finalists. The public will then vote for a winner in August, and WMATA will get to work after that.

  • Submission period: Tuesday, June 21 - Friday, July 15, 2016 (at 11:59 pm)
  • Finalist selection by jury: by Friday, August 5, 2016
  • Public voting on finalists: Monday, August 8 - Friday, August 19, 2016
  • Winning idea announced: by Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Read more and submit your idea at What can you come up with?


Express trains wouldn't be of much help to Metro riders

Despite popular belief, having more tracks isn't necessary for proper maintenance of the Metro system. It also turns out that express tracks wouldn't provide much benefit to everyday riders, and it might even do more harm than good.

Photo by Phil King on Flickr.

This may seem a bit surprising to people familiar with express trains on the New York subway, where express tracks can cut a rider's trip by a third, or even a half. But New York's stops are spaced much more closely—an average of two to three per mile throughout the system—than Metro's. This means that a local train in New York spends much more of its time in stations than a Metro train, so there's a lot more time to be saved by skipping stops.

Here's how I simulated a system with express tracks:

With Metro, each mile travelled adds about 1.2 minutes to the trip, while each intermediate station adds about 1.1 minutes. I determined this by comparing the scheduled time to the distance between stations for each of the 93 pairs of adjacent stations in the system. From this data, I was able to model the travel time between all of the system's stations.

Along with a model for trip time, analyzing the possible benefits of express tracks requires a proposed set of local-only and express stations. To demonstrate the maximum benefit that could be achieved with express tracks, I considered a system with minimal express stops.

Along with transfer stations and the ends of lines, I chose nine of Metro's other high-ridership stations for expresses: Bethesda, Dupont Circle, Farragut North, Union Station, and Silver Spring on the Red Line; Foggy Bottom, Farragut West, and McPherson Square on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines; Pentagon City on the Yellow and Blue lines, and Columbia Heights on the Green and Yellow lines.

Map from WMATA, with alterations to show potential express stations by the author.

Express tracks aren't that useful if you aren't coming from the edges of the system

To determine how much time could be saved, I compared the current travel time between pairs of stations to the travel times my model predicted for express trains. Since doing this analysis for each of the 8148 possible station pairs, I analyzed the 30 station pairs with the highest AM rush hour ridership, based on October 2014 data. These station pairs represent ten percent of the total AM rush hour ridership, and include trips from the six most heavily used end-of-line stations to the downtown stations where the most AM rush hour trips terminate, particularly Farragut North and West.

If Metro were to have express trains, the maximum time savings for trips to Farragut Square would be from Shady Grove and New Carrollton. In each case, an express train would save riders eleven minutes, about one-third of their current trips. From Glenmont, Vienna, and Wiehle, the time savings would be about eight minutes—one quarter of the current trips—is saved; and from Franconia-Springfield, the savings would be six minutes—less than a fifth of the current trip.

The time savings would be much less for riders traveling from closer in: riders between the thirty station pairs I considered would save an average of four-and-a-half minutes. Riders traveling to or from less-used stations would likely save no time, since their stations would be local-only and waiting to transfer to an express would consume their time savings.

In comparison, riders on the New York subway can save much more time by taking express trains. In Manhattan, the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line has 12 local-only and six express stops in the six miles from 96th Street to Chambers Street, while the IRT Lexington Avenue Line has 14 local-only and six express stops in the seven miles from 125th Street to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.

Because of the close stop spacing, a local train on either line takes 30 minutes, for an average speed of 12 to 14 miles per hour, less than half of Metro's 30-mile-per-hour average speed. Express trains cut these trips by one-third to one-half, but they still only manage average speeds of around twenty miles per hour.

Having express tracks is one thing. Paying to run trains on them is another.

Even without express tracks, Metro's greater stop spacing allows Metro trains to maintain higher average speeds than New York subway express trains can manage in Manhattan. However, if the system had been built with express tracks throughout, it would still save riders some time, right?

Not necessarily. The usual explanation for why Metro couldn't have been built with express tracks is that doing so would have substantially increased construction costs, and significant amounts of the current system would have had to been cut to make up for this.

However, capital costs aren't the only issue: operating costs would need to be considered as well.

Maintaining current service frequency at local-only stops would mean that any express trains operated would have to be in addition to the service that operates today. During off-peak times, Metro's frequency—particularly on branches, where most local-only stops would be—is already minimal for a rapid-transit system.

Either the express tracks would be unused except during rush hour, or Metro would need a sizable increase in its operating budget, simply to operate the additional trains needed, without considering the additional rail car and track maintenance required. Given Metro's current struggles to obtain enough funding to operate the system we have, a system with express tracks would probably see significantly reduced frequencies at many stations.

The upside of the fact that running expresses often leads to a decreased frequency of locals is that a line with a pair of express tracks has twice the maximum capacity of a line with only local tracks. This is one reason that express tracks are beneficial on the New York subway, which has an annual ridership per mile of revenue track about three times that of Metro, even though most of its core lines, and many of its branch lines, have express tracks.

The fact that much of the system's ridership consists of north-south traffic on Manhattan, a narrow island with a limited number of possible north-south routes makes the New York subway a near-optimal situation for using express tracks to increase capacity. The London Underground, which has a similar total ridership and ridership and ridership per track mile to New York, but which operates in a more symmetric and much less geographically constrained city, achieves a high core capacity by having many double-tracked lines crisscrossing the urban core instead of a lower number of four-tracked lines with express tracks.

If we were to have more tracks, downtown would be the place for them

One section of the Metro system where express tracks could help solve capacity issues is the shared segment of the Orange, Silver, and Blue lines between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory. The large number of commuters from Virginia who enter DC via the Rosslyn tunnel and the frequency reductions on branches needed in order to share one track-pair between three lines lead to severe congestion in this section of the system.

Express tracks here would eliminate the capacity issues that WMATA currently hopes to solve by building a separate Blue Line tunnel under M Street downtown. They would also shorten commute times for riders traveling to downtown from New Carrollton and Largo Town Center (though not from Virginia).

A four-track line between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory—or elsewhere in the system—would also provide the benefit of providing a work-around when tracks have to be closed for maintenance or due to accidents. However, any argument for express tracks on Metro needs to depend on these benefits and increased capacity, rather than hopes of significantly faster service.


On Metro, not all off-peak discounts are created equal

Riding Metrorail outside of peak hours is less expensive, but the amount discounted off of the peak price varies quite a bit by how far you travel. Riders with the largest discounts are more likely than others to wait until off-peak fares start before they enter the system.

Photo by Malcolm Kenton.

Metrorail bases its fares on distances, meaning that usually, the farther you travel, the more you pay. Riders can find the peak and off-peak fares for their trips on the top of the fare payment machines in each system.

Peak fares are charged on weekdays from opening to 9:30 am, and again between 3:00 and 7:00 pm. Off-peak fares are in effect all other times. Around 9:30 am and 7:00 pm, you may notice riders idling outside faregates, waiting for the cheaper off-peak fares to kick in prior to swiping into their origin station.

Graphs by the author.

Presumably, these riders know what it would cost them to ride during both peak and off-peak times, and have decided that the savings are worth the wait. That doesn't mean, however, that they're more frugal than those who swipe in just before 7:00 pm and pay the more expensive peak fare—what's actually more likely is that those waiting get a bigger discount off their peak price than those who aren't.

What's interesting is that a lot of people don't know that off-peak fare discounts vary—Metro's planning blog itself describes off-peak fares as "generally a 25% reduction from peak fares" when in actuality, off-peak fares can range from a 19% to 40% reduction of peak fares. Riders simply know that they get a discount of some size, and they act accordingly.

Off-peak fares are capped differently from peak fares

So why do off-peak discounts vary so much, and who are the lucky riders getting the biggest savings?

Metro's off-peak fare structure was updated to its current fee-per-mile structure in 2012. At that time, to lessen the impact of a large off-peak fare increase for some riders, WMATA limited the percent increase between the old (2010) and new (2012) off-peak fares to 27%.

It turns out this "cap" only affects trips of just under seven and ten miles. WMATA also set the maximum off-peak fare at $3.60. This fare cap benefits riders with trips longer than 11 miles. Metro's current peak fare structure is simpler; the only limitation is a maximum peak fare of $5.90.

As seen below, when off-peak fare limits kick in, the difference between peak and off-peak fares is accentuated. Riders with trips of specific lengths (highlighted green) benefit from higher-percentage off-peak savings.

Basically, the large off-peak discounts are the unintentional outcomes of well-intentioned policies. These off-peak fare limits were aimed to benefit off-peak riders, but not necessarily sway would-be peak riders into off-peak travel.

And while the off-peak fare caps at just under seven and ten miles made sense in 2012, they seem a bit arbitrary now since most riders traveling these mileages probably aren't the same riders who the caps were initially intending to protect.

But hey, we'll take it!

You can read a more formal analysis of ridership patterns on my website.


Check out Montreal's transit network

In Montreal, the subway system has video screens that display more than just train arrival times, and stations double as art galleries. Thanks to low-cost measures like these, commuting in Montreal is a world-class experience.

Montreal's Société de transport de Montréal metro system. Image from STM.

Montreal has a subway called the the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) and a central train station called Gare Centrale, which is fed by six Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) regional rail lines and long distance rail (Via Rail and Amtrak), and an extensive network of traditional bus, electric bus and long distance bus.

There is also a central bus station, Gare d'autocars de Montréal, located adjacent to Berri-UQAM (a Metro transfer station where the Orange, Green and Yellow lines intersect), from which several of the local bus lines (including the 747 to the Montreal airport (YUL)) and the regional and long distance bus services originate/terminate.

AMT map—click for a larger version. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

STM's stations are a bit more lively than Metro's

Montreal subway stations vary widely in terms of design. At Station Lionel-Goulx, for example, which opened in 1978, DC riders feel at home because the orange-red tile and cement walls are reminiscent of the brutalist FBI building. But beyond that, STM stations are distinct from anything you'd find in the DC system in a number of ways.

The differences often begin right at the entrance. Given Montreal's northern location, the entrances to the city's subway are butterfly/diner-style doors that hinge at the middle—these protect against the elements, and are easy to open despite the changes in air pressure thanks to trains coming and going below.

The Mont-Royal station. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

The most obvious difference is in the central convenience store, Couche-Tard, located in the center of the platform. Couche-Tard is a regional chain, much like 7-11. Imagine a miniature 7-11 in the center platform of the lower level of Metro Center.

A Couche-Tard store in Station Lionel-Goulx. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Another obvious difference are the platform stickers indicating where to stand while waiting for passengers to exit from the train that is found at nearly every station.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In Montreal's view, stations don't gave to be grey

The Montreal metro views itself as an art gallery and takes its stewardship responsibility seriously. The STM partners with Art Public Montreal to increase awareness of Montreal as an international public art destination, and artwork is literally incorporated into station designs. Here, you can see stained glass incorporated into the walls at Champ-de-Mars:

Image from STM.

Another example of stained glass in station design, this time at Berri-UQAM:

Image from STM.

But it's not just the art that brightens up the space, it is the actual design of the stations themselves. Below is Station McGill, near McGill University. Notice the white columns, lighter materials used in the walls and ceilings, and, perhaps most strikingly, the video projector displays:

Station McGill. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Less glamorous measures also help the system run smoothly

Metrovision, a private company run in conjunction with STM, first appeared in the Montreal system in 2004. It uses LCD display screens and video projectors to show news, weather, the time, and train arrivals.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Image from Transgesco.

Montreal's subway also has older displays similar to Metro's PIDs, which simply show the next arrival time. The Metrovision displays, however, could teach WMATA a thing or two about about communicating with riders, along with how to make some additional revenue in the process.

After finding that more than half of the more than 1,000 delays in 2012 were caused by passenger actions, including holding open doors or pulling the emergency brake upon missing their stop, Montreal beefed up its enforcement of the law that says people can't keep a train from departing.

Image from STM.

Every train door has a sticker warning passengers that blocking the door when it is closing is a criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Image from Reddit user 4011Hammock.

There are also signs reminding people to be polite riders:

Image from STM.

Take a look at Montreal's hardware

Recently, like Metro, STM began receiving new train cars. Theirs are called Azur. Montreal's system is a bit different from Metro in that the trains consist of nine-linked cars trains that use rubber tires. The new Azur cars have full width walkways between cars, which increases the capacity of each train by 8%.

Image from STM.

The 747 is a bus line linking Trudeau Airport running through downtown to the Gare de Autocars de Montreal. It runs 24 hours a day, typically every 10-15 minutes during peak travel times, taking about 45-60 minutes to arrive downtown depending on highway traffic.

The 747 is limited stop, stopping on major cross streets downtown near hotels. Busses are equipped with wi-fi and the $10 fare includes an unlimited 24 hour day pass that you can use throughout the STM system.

The 747 route. Image from STM.

Montreal is getting some important new rail projects

Five new stations are planned for the east end of the STM's Blue Line, a move that's likely to add an additional 80,000 new daily riders to the system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who ascended to the Liberal Party leader as a Member of Parliament representing a riding (Congressional District) in Montreal, has promised to fund the extension, estimated to cost $1.8 billion.

The extension would add an additional 5.5 kilometers to the system. This is no Silver Line—it would go in dense urban neighborhoods and would serve an area desperately in need of additional transit options.

The Blue Line extension. Image from AMT.

Montreal is also getting a new light rail system. On April 22, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, a pension management Crown corporation, proposed building a new $5 billion light rail system which would connect the transit-neglected West Island, North Shore, South Shore and the Montreal Trudeau Airport with downtown Montreal.

The new system would be fully automated, extend 67 kilometers and encompass 24 new stations.

Image from CDPQ.
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