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Worldwide links: France

Today, we mourn for France, which was again the target of a horrific terrorist attack.


Photo by Kristoffer Trolle on Flickr.

Tragedy in France: A man killed over 80 people and injured at least 200 more when he drove a truck through a crowds celebrating Bastille Day in France's southern city of Nice. The attack on the pedestrian-filled promenade was the third major terrorist attack in France since January 2015.

Tramways of Paris: Light rail and streetcar lines continue to go up around the country, and while some have been successful others suffer from low ridership and poor design. Across the Atlantic, however, Paris built a system of "trams" that has a ridership in excess of 900,000. The Paris tram's successful integration with the city's existing network, along with its dedicated right of way, are things we should learn from. (TransitCenter)

Catch them all: The Pokemon Go phenomenon has urban thinkers excited about a new possibility for getting people out of the house and exploring their neighborhoods. People playing the game have been roaming the streets and complaining of tired legs while going places they normally might not in order to capture Pokemon for their collections. (Curbed)

Pre-fabulous: A new method for building prefabricated housing in England has cut construction time from eight weeks to three. Using timber construction, architects build self-supporting boxes and ship them to the site. At around £100,000, these homes could be a new source of affordable housing. (Wired UK)

Exhibits, but no musuem: Stadiums and museums cost a lot of money to build and keep running. But maybe the best place for what happens in those buildings, like concerts and exhibits, is festivals. While buildings require up keep and become a liability, festivals can use public spaces and temporary structures to fill their needs. It's an idea to ponder for places that don't have much budget to waste. (Des Moines Register)

Old burbs: As the generation known as the Baby Boomers ages, the structure of the suburbs will become more challenging: as people age, driving cars and climbing stairs will become more strenuous on both physical and mental health. But there are ways for people downsizing to prepare, and it's possible for them to move into more walkable neighborhoods. (The Herald)

Brew tube: To bring down the number of beer-filled tanker trucks driving through historic Bruges, Belgium, a local brewery decided to build a two-mile beer pipeline to its bottling plant on the outskirts of town. The pipeline allowed jobs to stay in the UNESCO historic district while upholding not just architectural heritage, but also continuing the tradition of brewing beer. (Guardian Cities)

Quote of the Week

"During multiple sessions, attendees have expressed concerns that the streetcar will speed up gentrification and displace long-time residents. Thus, the plan, these opponents say, should be discarded in the name of affordability... Over the years, studies have shown that transit access will be a factor in increased rents and gentrification, but transit access isn't the only factor. It is, then, possible and necessary to implement zoning and housing policies that can tamp down on the upward pressures transit access exerts on the affordability of a neighborhood and stave off displacement."

Ben Kabak of New York City transit blog Second Avenue Sagas on the link between transit and gentrification.

Transit


How does Metro compare to rail in Amsterdam and Paris?

In June, the Washington Post compared Metrorail to various other rapid transit systems in major cities around the world and said Metro came up short. But if you compare Metro to transit systems built to serve places more similar to the DC region, it's actually quite competitive.


Photo by Jeffrey on Flickr.

Post reporter Max Bearak looked at data from competing metro systems from capital cities around the world, focusing on measures like number of miles covered, stations and lines, monthly trips made, and how many cars the system has. When compared to systems in much bigger cities, like Tokyo, New Delhi, and London, Metro scored near the bottom in a number of the comparisons.

But did Bearak really compare apples to apples? When you look at how Metro stacks up against similarly-designed systems, it actually does fairly well. In other words, let's say a transit system is designed to handle 5,000 riders per mile per day. If it's operating near capacity, does it make sense to say it's inferior because another is designed to carry 10,000 or 20,000 riders per mile? I would say no; the two systems are just different examples that fulfill different needs.

Washington's Metro was designed mostly as an alternative to highway commuting, decades after transit use in America peaked. Consequently, it's best to analyze Metro against systems with specs that are more like the following:

  • Short train headway in city center (6-12 minutes on each line, or approximately 2-6 minutes between trains during peak hours)
  • Average of 1+ miles between stations
  • Service routes that branch out in suburban places
  • 6,000 weekday daily riders per mile / 1.75 million annual riders per mile
  • Urban population of ~4.5 million people
  • In the neighborhood of 118 miles in length
Below are a few examples from around the world. Metro certainly has maintenance issues, but if you compare it to these other systems, you see that the system is actually doing largely what it was designed to. There is, however, plenty to learn from as well:

Amsterdam Metro

Amsterdam is a considerably smaller metropolitan area than Washington, and the Amsterdam Metro is shorter in length (~26 miles), but there are some similarities between these systems. With 66.2 million annual riders, its per-mile ridership of about 2.5 million people is not much higher than Washington's. Headways are slightly longer than Washington's, ranging from 7.5 - 15 minutes.


Photo by GVB Verbindt on Flickr.

Like Metrorail, the Amsterdam Metro is only about 40 years old, and much of its network is on the city's periphery. One big thing Amsterdam's metro has going for it is that it's only one component of its transportation network—trams, buses, and ferries are all important in the city. Perhaps the most important contrast between DC and cities that have systems similar to Metrorail, like Amsterdam, is that rail forms only one component of a successful multimodal network. DC has various other modes of mass transit, but Metro is by far what commuters use the most.

Trams in Amsterdam, on the other hand, actually have higher ridership than the city's metro. Along with buses and ferries, they offer a wide variety of options for transportation in places where rapid transit does not go. This does not even take Amsterdam's heavy bicycle use into consideration—there are actually more cyclists than car or transit users in the city.


A map of Amsterdam's metro system.

Berlin S-Bahn

Unlike most S-Bahns, which are strictly commuter rail systems, the Berlin S-Bahn has third-rail electrification, its routes extensively serve the city proper, and its stations are relatively close together—there's an average of 1.21 miles between stations. With 1.3 million daily riders and 15 routes, it outshines WMATA in a number of ways, but its per-mile ridership is similar (~6,500 daily).

In this sense, Metro shares similarities to this hybrid S-Bahn system. Like Amsterdam, Berlin also relies on other transit modes: an additional rapid transit system (U-Bahn), regional trains, an extensive tram network, and a bus fleet.


Berlin's S-Bahn. Image from S-Bahn Berlin.

San Francisco BART

The United States has several Metrorail-like systems, with BART being one of them. BART has around 1.2 million riders per mile annually, and an average of 2.3 miles between stations. Being on par with other American systems may not seem impressive if Washington's goal is to have a world class metro, but BART is an integral part of transit in the entire Bay Area.


The BART system. Image from BART.

One area where San Francisco actually edges out DC: it has more transit commuters.


Inside a new BART car. Image from BART.

Paris RER

The RER is Paris's commuter rail system, but its frequent service gives it some similar qualities to rapid transit. Comparing it to Metro is a little more difficult, as its five lines have two different operators. Some of the few available official statistics show that Line A has over 4.4 million annual riders per mile (16,800 per day) and peak headways of two minutes, making it as efficient as a rapid transit system.


Paris' RER. Image from RATP.

One notable difference between the RER Line A and Metrorail is that the average headway in the Paris city core never drops 12.5 minutes (Metrorail's headways in the city core can be as high as 20 minutes on the weekend, or even higher during track work). The RER's reliability, on top of Paris's various other transit options, is a big reason for RER's higher ridership.

Madrid Metro

The Madrid Metro is a conventional rapid transit system, and is Metro's closest relative among the cities the Post article mentions. Madrid is somewhat larger in population and has a metro network of almost 183 miles.


Madrid's Metro. Image from Metro de Madrid.

At 3.1 million annual riders per mile, Madrid has almost twice as many riders as Washington. Opened in 1919, the Madrid Metro is far older than DC's system, but most of the system was constructed in the last two decades. The system's MetroSur (Line 12—built in 2003) is a particularly encouraging model for Washington. This line operates exclusively in Madrid's suburbs, and boasts station locations within 600 meters of 60% of residences in a service area of a million people. Notably, however, the suburbs MetroSur serves have population densities similar to DC or Alexandria, making quality transit services to Madrid's periphery more viable.

If Washington increases the density of its Metrorail network, as well as the overall population density across the metropolitan area, reaching a figure closer to Madrid's 570 million annual riders could be an achievable goal in the coming decades.


Madrid's Metro. Image from Metro de Madrid.

What other similar examples could Metro learn from?

Transit


8 lessons about great transit I learned riding the Paris Métro

Paris has one of the world's great subway systems. Beyond its truly impressive coverage and service quality, here are eight wonderful details about how it operates that US systems would do well to mimic.


Door knobs on a Paris metro train. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

1. Door knobs speed trains

In DC and in many US subway systems, when trains pull into stations passengers wait for the train operator to open the doors. That adds a few seconds to every stop while the train idles on the platform, doors shut. Waiting passengers tap their feet and cross their arms.

All those seconds, at every station, every trip, all day, add up. The result is not only less happy riders, but also slower trains that come less frequently and carry fewer people than the system's theoretical maximum.

In Paris, those delays don't happen. Each door has a manual knob or button that passengers can push to enter or exit at their own pace. For safety, the doors are all locked while the train is moving quickly. But as it comes to a halt the doors unlock, and passengers can immediately open the doors to exit trains.

Here's a video, showing how the whole operation makes exiting a train noticeably faster than on WMATA:

WMATA did have automatic doors up until 2008, which were faster than the operator-controlled doors of today. But that was eight years ago, and there's no indication they'll be fixed any time soon.

Although the issues for a streetcar are different than a subway, this is one detail DC's streetcars share.

2. Full platform seating works

Why do WMATA station platforms have so few seats? Especially at side platform stations, why not just line the entire platform with one long bench?

Check out Paris' Chatelet station, where that's exactly the layout:


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Most Paris stations aren't like Chatelet. Frankly, with sub-five-minute headways most of the time, a lot of seating isn't as crucial there as it is in DC. But there's been many a day I've stood for 15 minutes in a WMATA station wishing it had this feature.

3. Flip-up seats add capacity

The first row of seats inside Paris' train doors flip up. On sparsely-populated trains, riders can sit in the seats comfortably. On especially crowded ones, riders can stand, creating more space on the train.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Yes, riders in Paris sitting on these seats do seem to usually get up and create more space when the train gets crowded. It seems to be part of Paris transit etiquette, like standing on the left on DC escalators. Not everyone does it, but enough do to make a difference.

This arrangement also makes it easier for people in wheelchairs to ride without blocking the aisle.

4. Open gangways really do work

US transit systems are slowly beginning to catch on to the benefits of longer open-gangway trains. If passengers can move from front to back of trains without getting off, that makes trains less crowded and boosts capacity.

All new or recently refurbished lines in Paris have open gangways. And they're wonderful.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

5. Great late night service is possible with only two tracks

Paris' metro lacks express tracks just like DC's, and it runs basically comparable hours to WMATA. It's also decades older than Metrorail. It must have at least similar maintenance needs, and no more time in the day to accomplish them.

Yet somehow Paris manages to run frequent trains late into the night.


A train every 4 minutes at 10:21 pm. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

I have no idea how they do it. When do maintenance workers do their work? How do they keep up tracks with trains coming every four minutes?

I wish I knew. If you know, send Mr. Wiedefeld an explanatory note.

6. Els can be public art

Talk about elevated rail in the US and most people visualize either Chicago-style steel monstrosities or Tysons Corner-style concrete ones. Neither are particularly endearing images, except maybe to transitphiles and architecture buffs.

In Paris, even the el train is beautiful.


Pont Bir-Hakeim. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

And though a bridge over the Seine is a special place, Paris' els have nice aesthetic touches elsewhere too.

7. Wayfinding can be beautiful

"If you can make something pretty, why not make it pretty?" My wife and I kept coming back to that thought as we explored Paris. These signs, telling riders which direction their metro train is headed are one example of why.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

8. Location-specific maps help riders navigate

Going to the airport? Rather than only a tiny icon on the main system map, how about helping riders with a dedicated airport transit map?


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In DC we already put location-specific bus maps and neighborhood maps inside every Metro station. Why not unique maps for destinations to which infrequent riders often travel, like airports and stadiums?

What details like these have you noticed on other countries' transit systems, that you'd like to see imported to the US?

Roads


Cities worldwide are building beautiful, landmark pedestrian and bicycle bridges. Could Georgetown be next?

A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge may one day connect Georgetown with Roosevelt Island. Some recent bridges like this in other cities have become iconic landmarks. Could DC do the same and compensate for its freqently lackluster bridge designs? Here are a few of the world's great pedestrian bridges.


London's Millennium Bridge. Photo by Dominik Morbitzer on Flickr.

Such a bridge was part of Georgetown's recent 15-year action plan and made it into DC's MoveDC citywide transportation plan last year.


Where the bridge could go. Image from the Georgetown BID.

Many cities have built new bridges as opportunities to showcase distinctive design while adding vital pedestrian links. The London Borough of Wandsworth is sponsoring a design competition right now for a new footbridge across the Thames.

Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava designed the glass-floored Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in Redding, California.


The Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. Photo by David W Oliver on Flickr.


Photo by dwhartwig on Flickr.

London's Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 to bridge the Thames between the Tate Modern to St. Paul's Cathedral. The bridge is tall enough to allow river navigation, but short enough not to obstruct the historically protected view corridor of the cathedral.


Photo by Duen Ee Chan on Flickr.


Photo by andre.m(eye)r.vitali on Flickr.

The Simone de Beauvoir Footbridge has been undulating across the Seine in Paris since 2006.


Photo by Tim Brown Architecture on Flickr.


Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz on Flickr.

The crescent Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, tilts back to allow ships to pass.


Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr.


Photo by Martin Sotirov on Flickr.

The Henderson Waves bridge soars 120 feet over a valley in the Southern Ridges park of Singapore. The bridge deck provides shade and seating areas to view the park valley.


Photo by edwin.11 on Flickr.


Photo by Steel Wool on Flickr.

Although it spans a relatively short distance, Sarajevo's Festina Lente Bridge features a playful loop that shades a seating area midway across the bridge.


Photo by the author.

Could one of these bridges come to DC?

Such a connection would provide many advantages. Although the island is inside the boundaries of the District of Columbia, visitors can only access it from Virginia. Visiting the island requires a half-mile walk or bike ride from Rosslyn down the Mount Vernon Trail. There's a small parking lot on the Virginia shore, but it fills up quickly on warm weekends, and drivers can only reach it from the northbound GW Parkway.

A bridge from Georgetown would give District residents and visitors easier access to this wooded and marshy parkland, which serves as a stark contrast to the dense urbanization of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.


The view from Georgetown Waterfront Park. Image by the author.


Georgetown Waterfront Park (left) and Roosevelt Island (right) as viewed from the Key Bridge. Image by the author.

There isn't money for the bridge today. MoveDC lists the bridge as a second-tier priority, meaning it is not within DC's six-year capital plan. DDOT planner Colleen Hawkinson said external factors, such as outside funding or public support, could shift the bridge's priority.

Even if funding arises, multiple federal agencies will have to act. The National Park Service controls the island and would have to agree to any changes. MoveDC classifies the bridge as a bicycle transportation project, but the National Park Service, which controls the island, prohibits cycling there. The National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts, which are providing advice on the Frederick Douglass Bridge replacement, would play a strong role in reviewing designs.

Any project will require an environmental analysis which could take years (one for a proposed boathouse on Park Service land on the Arlington shore of the Potomac is dragging on into its third year, for example). If the bridge does come to fruition, it will be years away, but it would be a major asset to help people enjoy and appreciate the Potomac River.

Bicycling


What's the best way to protect a bikeway? How about a bikeshare station?

How's this for a natural idea: Locate bikeshare stations between a street's protected bikeway and car lanes.

That's exactly the arrangement in Crystal City, where the Capital Bikeshare station at 23rd and Eads helps to form part of the bikeway's protective barrier.


23rd and Eads. Photo by Euan Fisk on Flickr.

DC has at least one example, on 6th Street NE next to Union Market. You can also find this arrangement in New York, Paris, and a ton of other cities.

It's just a nifty, straightforward idea that's too sensible not to use.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Fruit stands abound within Paris Métro

Throughout the Paris Métro are ubiquitous vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vending machines on station platforms sell candy and bottled beverages. The option to quickly grab a snack is readily available to Parisians and riders of New York's subway, but not our own. Should it be?


Fruit stand at Barbès—Rochechouart station. Photos by the author.

Apples, clementines, bananas, mangoes and tomatoes are readily available at reasonable prices throughout the M´tro system, from the modern Bibliothèque François Mitterrand station on Line 14 to older stations like Barbès-Rochechouart on Lines 2 and 4.


Fruit stand at Place de Clichy station.

There are no restrictions on eating on the Paris Métro. While there is ample supply of discarded chicken bones, sunflower seeds and fast food on Washington's Metro despite a ban on food, the Paris Métro is comparatively clean, with no traces of food on the trains or station platforms.

Some of the stands are free-standing, requiring the proprietors to set them up and take them down every day. Others rent existing kiosk space. Each vendor stand has a digital scale uses to weigh your purchase. From one vendor a clementine cost 0.35 Euro, while at another stand, a clementine and green apple ran to 1.37 Euro.


Vendor at Bibliothéque François Mitterrand station.

Two years ago, a New York State Senator proposed a law that would ban eating on New York's MTA. The law was widely opposed, even by MTA's chief, and did not pass.

Even with a ban on eating, Metro still employs a rodent exterminator, who the Post recently profiled. Is Paris' Métro clean while Washington's Metro is dirtier, despite a ban on food here and not there, a result of varying cultures?

Is it time for the Washington Metro to change its orientation towards food, or is the ban appropriate? Would you patronize a fruit and vegetable stand at Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn?

Architecture


No, DC is not going to be like Paris

Supporters of DC's height limit say restricting building heights has worked to keep Paris beautiful. But embracing the Parisian built form would have unintended consequences on DC's neighborhoods.


Demolition near l'Opéra in Paris, 1877. Photo by Charles Marville

The mid-rise Paris that we know today was built not by a democracy, but by a mad emperor and his bulldozer-wielding prefect. As Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning said in a recent WAMU interview, "Paris took their residential neighborhoods and made them essentially block after block of small apartment buildings."

"If we were to do that in our neighborhoods, we could accommodate easily 100 years' worth of residential growth," she added. "But they would be very different neighborhoods."

A haunting exhibition of photographs by Charles Marville, now on view at the National Gallery of Art, offers us a glimpse at how this change manifested itself in Paris.

The city government hired Marville to document the systematic demolition of central Paris' low-rise neighborhoods, the construction of new mid-rise neighborhoods (the ones we know today) in their stead, and the widespread displacement of the center's low-income residents to the urban fringe. (Numerous books have been written about the era, notably "Transforming Paris," by David Jordan.) There were technological limits on buildings in that era, too: elevators were slow and expensive, and the new water mains could not supply satisfactory water pressure to the upper floors of many buildings.

Not dissimilarly, downtown DC's horizontal march has steamrolled numerous low-rise neighborhoods in its wake, from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom. Now that only a few blocks are left for downtown to grow into, office buildings are muscling into Shaw. This is only natural for a mid-rise city: Paris' mid-rise urban fabric superimposed on DC would spill outside the diamond, vastly larger than the existing downtown.

That path of destruction is why most other growing cities in this century (i.e., built-out but growing central cities, from London and Singapore to New York, Portland, Toronto, and San Francisco) have gone the Vancouver route and rezoned central industrial land for high-rises. This method allows them to simultaneously accommodate new housing, and new jobs, while keeping voters' single family houses intact.

By opposing higher buildings downtown, DC's neighborhoods are opposing change now, but at the cost of demanding far more wrenching changes ahead: substantial redevelopment of low-rise neighborhoods, skyrocketing property prices (as in Paris), or increasing irrelevance within the regional economy as jobs, housing, and economic activity get pushed further into suburbs that welcome growth.

Among large North American cities, only Toronto has joined DC in making a concerted effort to redirect growth into mid-rise buildings along streetcar lines, and only as an adjunct strategy in addition to hundreds of high-rises under construction. (The two metro regions are of surprisingly similar population today.) Yet there, just like here, neighborhoods are up in arms at the very notion.

DC cannot put a lid on development downtown, in the rowhouse neighborhoods, in the single-family neighborhoods, and on the few infill sites we have left, and yet somehow also accommodate enough new jobs and residents to make our city reliably solvent, much less sustainable. The sum of remaining developable land in the city amounts to 4.9% of the city, which as OP demonstrates through its analysis, cannot accommodate projected growth under existing mandates.

Something will have to give. A good place to start is a loophole-ridden law imposed back when DC was a protectorate and when Greater Washington counted fewer residents than today's Asheville or Quad Cities.

The Office of Planning has suggested a reasonable framework for a subtly revised Height Act that can accommodate growth and change while preserving the city's cherished urban design and historic neighborhoods. Adapting the rigid 130' cap to a street-width rule maintains the Height Act framework along our ceremonial avenues, where our city's namesake actually set a height minimum.

Along streets like L'Enfant Promenade, Washington had the right idea: taller buildings will better frame vistas. Beyond the L'Enfant City, the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance will continue to ensure that most buildings never reach the 90' Height Act maximum, but the city will have the flexibility to adapt to evolving construction techniques and special opportunity sites.

As DC re-adjusts to a new century of urban growth, after a lost generation of population decline and disinvestment, inaction poses a far greater risk than action. Paris' combination of horizontality and verticality is undeniably beautiful, but its unique form resulted from a peculiar historical process that I would not wish upon an American city today.

The District of Columbia Council is accepting written testimony about the Height Act until next Tuesday. For more information or to send your comments, visit their website.

A version of this post appeared on West North.

Transit


Weekend video: Can you outrun the train?

We've all probably run to catch a train at one time or another. But have you ever gotten off a train, and then ran to meet it at its next stop? One man in Paris attempted to do just that.

He is running between Cluny-La Sorbonne and Odéon trying to catch the same westbound Paris Metro 10 train he just got of off. Despite having to cross a busy road and even falling down at one point, he manages to catch the train.

Are there any Metro station pairs that one could make this trip?

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