Posts about National Airport
Washington's growing fleet of water taxis are useful as transportation, but they're also a fun and unique way to see the city. I used an American River Taxi to travel to a Nationals game a few weeks ago, and photographed the trip for posterity.
ART ferries sailing to the ballpark pick up passengers at Washington Harbor, in Georgetown. Boats pull directly up to the boardwalk, and passengers simply walk straight on.
Inside, the boats have a double row of seats and a crew of 2 or 3. There are no bathrooms, and no vending.
Shortly after casting off from Washington Harbor there are great views of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.
Thanks to calm water and shoreline trails, the river and its banks are multi-modal.
The Roosevelt Bridge is the first of many that the ferry passes under.
Between Roosevelt and Memorial bridges, the monuments of the National Mall are visible.
Memorial Bridge is the most ornate of Washington's Potomac bridges.
Monuments continue to be visible as the ferry passes West Potomac Park.
The 14th Street Bridge looks very plain.
Metrorail's Yellow Line bridge is even plainer.
Last and oldest of the 14th Street Bridge cluster, the Long Bridge looks ancient compared to any other on the river.
After crossing below Long Bridge, East Potomac Park becomes visible on the east bank, while Crystal City and National Airport dominate the west bank.
Looking back upstream, Rosslyn, the National Cathedral, and the Washington Monument are prominent.
At Hains Point the ferry turns to go up the Anacostia River.
Looking up the Anacostia, the Frederick Douglass Bridge rises, and the baseball stadium comes into view.
Yards Park becomes visible beneath Douglass Bridge.
The stadium looms large above the river.
Finally, the ferry docks at Diamond Teague Park, just downstream from Navy Yard.
For even more photos of the ride, view the complete Flickr set.
Portland has achieved near-cult status in urbanist circles for its progressive development and transportation policies. All is not perfect in Portland, but there are lot of great things we can take away from the City of Roses.
The city has a thriving downtown, and walkable inner-ring neighborhoods. It sports an extensive transit network and unbeatable bike infrastructure. But the central city gives way quickly to suburban development and highway interchanges. And there some examples where, even a town whose name is synonymous with alternate transportation, it's hard to overcome the primacy of the auto.
Last week I traveled to Oregon for work and had a few hours to kill in Portland before heading back east. Here are a few great things that Portland has accomplished, and also some pitfalls the DC region should try to avoid.
Transit and bike friendly airport
Landing in PDX, you are greeted by abundant wayfinding signage, all of which clearly points out transit and bike options.
Left: Wayfinding signage points out bike and transit options.
Right: MAX information is highly visible.
The MAX light rail line dead ends at one end of the terminal, much like the MTA light rail does at BWI. The covered walk from there into the main terminal is easily half the distance most drivers would walk from the nearest, most expensive parking garage. The MAX is brightly advertised on monitors in the airport, encouraging people to take transit into the city.
PDX is also extremely bike friendly, even featuring a bike assembly area. As one of the few airports in the country to be connected by trails and bike lanes to its downtown, this is an outstanding amenity. And while fliers probably don't use it heavily since checking a full-size bike on an airplane has become almost prohibitively expensive, even travelers with folding bikes will find the work stand, tool set, and bike pump useful.
It's also a low-cost amenity that is makes commuting by bike easier for thousands of airport employees and serves as a visible reminder that biking is a valued access mode.
Top left: Ample covered bike parking on the arrivals level. Top right: The bike assembly station. Bottom: detail of bike assembly sign.
Washington National Airport is ideal for an amenity like this. DCA connects to multiple trails, making a ride to the airport convenient from downtown, the close-in Virginia suburbs and even parts of Maryland. Washington National is even closer to downtown DC and Arlington than PDX is to Portland, making biking an even more viable option.
Bike amenities everywhere
Induced demand gets a bad rap on the highways side, but Portland is using it to its advantage with bike parking. You cannot walk 20 feet without finding a bike rack, both downtown and in neighborhoods. I was struck by Portland State University and Oregon Health and Science University efforts to provide ample bike parking. Demographically, students, and to some extent faculty members, are more likely to ride bikes, so it makes perfect sense.
Hundreds of bike spaces at Portland State University. Classes clearly aren't in session for another week. Photo by the author.
Comparatively, the major universities in DC have made meager attempts to provide ample, high quality bike racks. The biggest bike parking are on Georgetown's campus consists of 4 "comb" racks which are nearly impossible to safely lock bikes on. George Washington University's campus in Foggy Bottom, is practically devoid of on-street bike racks. GW's newest mixed-use building, Square 21, provided a total of 10 racks spread around an entire block with a Whole Foods and multiple restaurants.
The MAX trains also have hanging bike racks in them for cyclists. While racks like these won't work in the shorter Metro cars, they're worth keeping in mind as the DC streetcar system gets started.
In downtown, several streets feature buffered bike lanes. Although they were one-way, they were nice and wide, allowing easy passing for cyclists traveling different speeds. In other places where bike lanes were not separated from traffic, they were painted bright green and flowed into large green bike boxes at intersections.
In the redeveloped South Waterfront neighborhood, there are significant on- and off-street bike treatments that connect to a trail into downtown. Best of all, there is a massive bike parking area and a bike station with valet and repair services.
Left: A curb-separated bike lane splits as it enters the South Waterfront. Right: The northbound bike lane turns onto the sidewalk to send cyclists across the crosswalk to the sidepath into downtown.
This is right next to the lower Portland Aerial Tram station and a Streetcar stop. The Tram connects the burgeoning research, education, and residential neighborhood with the main campus of Oregon Health & Science University, situated on a massive hill and separated from the waterfront by I-5.
Good on-street transit information
Tri-Met and the city of Portland have made significant investments in good, visible transit information on the streets of downtown. The city's wayfinding system signs point to the nearest streetcar and MAX stations. Major downtown stops have very clear customer information, communicating which buses stop where, and where those buses travel. Also, many of the stops have real-time arrival screens, something DC has yet to achieve outside of the Metro.
Left: A bus stop is clearly marked with visible, high quality infrastructure.
Right: Real-time bus arrival information.
Acquiring right-of-way and laying track is expensive. So Tri-Met and Portland chose to single-track the MAX and Streetcar in some places where right-of-way would have been politically or financially unfeasible. In downtown, the streetcar runs on one track in both directions for 2 blocks just past PSU. For a low-speed system, where headways are unlikely ever to be shorter than a few minutes, this compromise makes sense if it allows for the most effective routing, in this case right through the center of PSU's campus.
Left: Streetcar singletracking south of PSU. Image from Google Maps. Right: Single track flyover on the Portland MAX Red Line. Image from Bing Maps.
On the MAX line to the airport, the system is single tracked in two places, for almost a mile after the Gateway/NE 99th Ave stop where the Red Line parts ways with the Blue and Green lines to head north along I-205, and again upon entering airport property until just before the terminal station. The first location incorporates a tight cloverleaf flyover and several over- and underpasses around I-84 and I-205. Again, frequencies on this line are unlikely to be high enough to make it worth the massive extra cost to build this infrastructure doubly wide.
Not quite level boarding
The result is that people with disabilities can only board some doors, which would maddeningly frustrating when an extra few inches of precision would have made all the doors accessible. The operational ramifications of having to deploy a ramp are minor, but not insignificant, so I'm not sure why you wouldn't just make sure the platform is entirely level with the rolling stock.
In DC, the existing streetcar platforms on H Street only have portions that are raised, so people in mobility devices will not be able to board at any doors. Hopefully, though those raised sections will at least be totally level, eliminating the need to operate and maintain ramps.
Mixed-traffic transit and highway right-of-ways
For a medium-size city, Portland has built a significant rail transit system in a phenomenally short time. However, this system suffers from one major shortcoming: low-quality right-of-way. The majority of Portland's light rail and streetcar systems run in either mixed-traffic lanes, or in the highway medians or shoulder.
The areas dense enough to best utilize high-capacity rapid transit only get high-capacity transit. The sections of the system where trains can run relatively fast suffer peaked ridership and lower productivity resulting from low-density development and park-and-rides that surround the stations.
The MAX gets more preferential treatment, running along a transit mall through much of downtown, but runs in highway right-of-ways in many directions on the outskirts of town, where comparatively little is within walking distance of stations.
Good or bad, Portland has led the way with many innovative urban investments. As we develop our bike and streetcar networks here in the Washington region, we should look to the west for lessons learned.
On Monday morning Southwest Airlines announced its intent to acquire AirTran Airways. The deal won't be approved for some time, but when it is, the new combined company will likely impact air travel in Greater Washington.
Southwest's biggest presence in the region is at Baltimore-Washington International, where the airline currently occupies 20 gates with 43 non-stop routes and 172 daily departures. Measured by number of departures, BWI is the 4th busiest in the Southwest system.
On the other side of town, since 2006 Southwest has operated what the company refers to as a "boutique operation" out of Dulles International. Today they occupy 2 gates with 2 non-stop routes and 8 daily departures.
What might Southwest service out of National look like?
AirTran currently has 2 gates in Terminal A with 4 non-stop routes and about a dozen daily departures. Even if Southwest maintained that level of service, it would only be a fraction of the business they do out of BWI. Southwest would likely select a few strategic city-pairs for service out of DCA, so many Washingtonians hoping for an inexpensive one-seat flight home to wherever they're from will probably be out of luck.
More interesting is what might happen up in Maryland. BWI is both a top market for Southwest and a secondary hub for AirTran.
While the two airlines directly compete on only about a half-dozen routes, there's legitimate fear that eliminating that competition could push fares higher. In a rare twist of events, expanded Southwest service could have the opposite effect that it historically has had. Only time will tell if Southwest's revenue management team thinks they can successfully pull off higher fares.
At the end of the day, Southwest's acquisition of AirTran might not have as big an impact on air travel in Washington as many are hoping. And while Southwest's arrival at DCA will be welcome by many travelers, it will hardly be a sizable operation.
Last year, members of the United States Senate were threatening to take over Metro if they didn't get what they wanted. Now, they're making those threats against the local airport authority, because it isn't acceding to western senators' demands to allow longer distance flights at National Airport.
WTOP reports that Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are calling for hearings into the the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), its governance and finances after officials defended the rules limiting long-distance flights.
MWAA officials said adding flights at
Dulles National and replacing other short-range flights with flights to the west will reduce traffic at Dulles and impact revenue expected from the Silver Line. They also argued that the airport's parking, security screening and baggage handling couldn't handle the additional demand.
Local senators, led by Mark Warner (D-VA) have been protecting the rule, which is popular in Arlington because it limits noise from aircraft. Last time we had this debate, though, commenters pointed out that relaxing the rule would lead to more midday flights, not night flights (since National's slot limitations only apply during the day), and that larger planes aren't as loud as they once were.
Virginia and Maryland's senators also are mostly protecting Dulles and BWI, wanting to drive as much traffic there. Each airport is more convenient to more of their constituents but less convenient to DC. More remote airports also drive sprawl, creating incentives for large office parks to locate near the airport but very distant from the rest of the region.
Meanwhile, unless the plan has changed, it would replace some amount of micromanaging at National with other micromanaging by different senators. For example, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
included tried to include a provision requiring four small carriers to fly to West Texas, likely not the area with the highest travel demand to and from DC.
It's be great if hearings into MWAA looked into another important issue: Why MWAA is less transparent and accountable to local residents than other governing bodies. When MWAA decided to take away funding for Fairfax Connector buses along the Dulles Toll Road and prioritize freeway construction, there was little accountability. Unfortunately, when these senators talk about accountability, they naturally just mean accountability to them.
What do you think?
Update: Joe Brenckle from the Republican side of the Commerce Committee explained some details of the current proposal. It does not include Senator Hutchison's suggested amendment requiring some flights to West Texas. It would add 5 flights to go to "new entrant or limited incumbent air carriers" which could go outside the perimeter, and allow up to 16 existing flights to be changed to ones beyond the perimeter.
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