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Posts about Shirlington


Ask GGW: How have planners made your daily commute better?

When it comes to getting around, it can be easy to focus on what we wish we had or what's going wrong. But what about the good stuff that's already there? We asked our contributors about the best parts of their daily commutes and the planning choices that made them happen.

Photo by Andrew Gastwirth on Flickr.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of votes went to bicycle infrastructure, particularly off-street trails. Kelly Blynn sang the praises of DC's newest bike trail, the Metropolitan Branch Trail:

I have to bike on some high speed streets (4th NE and Franklin NE) to get there, but once I'm on it, it's a dream: smooth, mostly down hill, no stop lights. There are even fresh berries to pick for breakfast in the summer months. What?! I really must be dreaming.

So did Jeff Lemieux:

The MBT was the missing link between upper NE DC and downtown. Since it opened, bike commuters no longer have to either ride in heavy traffic or cross major highway-like streets like New York Avenue. Even though it's only a short stretch between Brookland and NoMa, the MBT made my bike commute from northern Prince George's possible.
Abigail Zenner singled out other recently-added bike infrastructure in the District:
I love the L Street, M Street, and 15th Street protected bikeways! I work at the corner of 15th and L NW, and I love having the option to bike to work. I also love the new bikeshare station at that corner for the days I don't want to bike back up the hill. My bike commute takes about the same time as the bus but I can leave whenever I want to and it's a lot more fun.
David Cranor has discovered how better sidewalks also help cyclists on busy routes:
As part of the Great Streets Program, DDOT rebuilt Pennsylvania Avenue SE east of the Anacostia. That rebuild included a 10-foot-wide sidepath on the uphill side. The addition of what is basically a climbing lane on this steep busy road means that I have a relatively pleasant bike ride that's separated from the road, instead of a white-knuckled slog up a hill punctuated by honking drivers and close, aggressive passing.
Canaan Merchant who uses either his folding bike or Metrobus to get to and from Virginia Railway Express at L'Enfant Plaza, said he's grateful to have more than one mode option:
The 15th street bike lanes are a huge help for me because I know that I don't have to hustle like I would feel pressured to do elsewhere. For bad weather days, did you know you can ride Metrobus free on a VRE ticket to or from a VRE station? It's great not to pay twice on my commute.
Chris Slatt touted Arlington's interconnected bikeways:
For me it's the Shirlington Connector, the trail that runs under I-395 and connects the W&OD Trail to the Four Mile Run Trail. 395 is a major barrier for walking and bicycling, but the Shirlington Connector, the recent improvements to Joyce Street, and the planned Hoffman-Boston Connector are all part of Arlington's plan to give people options to overcome that barrier.
Jonathan Krall also talked about his easier bike commute:
The Wilson Bridge Trail reduced my bicycle commute from 12 miles to 9 miles, short enough to do almost every day and a big step towards my current state of car-freedom. A sidewalk on a bridge may seem like a no-brainer, but sidewalks continue to be excluded or dangerously underbuilt on many bridges today. The decision to build a trail on the Wilson Bridge and the decision to plow it in the winter were life-changers. A trail extension along I-295 and a "fix" for the expansion joints would make it the same for hundreds of others.
Adam Froehling, a frequent commenter, offered a note on biking in Alexandria as well as driving-related praise for the Wilson Bridge:
When I was riding my bike a lot, Alexandria's early completion of Potomac Ave through the Potomac Yard area made for a shorter, lower-traffic trip that avoided the lack of connections between the Mount Vernon Trail and the Pentagon area.

I was also thankful for the completion of the local/express lanes on the Wilson Bridge. This made for a mostly-predictable 25 minute commute between Huntington and Suitland, especially in the afternoons.

Michael Perkins mentioned road improvements:
For me, the decision to make I-66 HOV keeps a major highway from being congested during the morning rush hour. Even more significant to my situation is the Federal decision to keep motorcyclists out of dangerous stop-and-go traffic by allowing them to use HOV lanes. I've been bumped from behind on I-395 by a driver who apologized and told me he "fell asleep". That's really comforting considering what's at stake if someone runs into my back...
David Versel mentioned something that isn't a physical construction:
In my case it's not a piece of infrastructure, it's a policy: the Commonwealth Commuter Choice program. As a state employee, I get up to $130 per month towards my Metro fare, which is a terrific incentive that influences many people to use transit.
And Tracey Loh said she really appreciates a piece of technology:
My commuting life became a nightmare after I had a baby and needed to factor in daycare transportation. My saving grace is the navigation app Waze. My worst commute across the city once lasted over two hours one way. Thanks to Waze, my commute is now a very predictable 75 minutes each way.
Dan Reed noted a mundane, oft-overlooked part of a safe, inviting roadway for pedestrians:
Streetlights! On my old street, there were highway-style streetlights that barely covered the roadway, let alone the sidewalks. It was bad enough coming home from work in the winter when I could at least make things out from the headlights of passing cars. But coming home from the bar when nobody was around, it was scary even for a 6'1" guy like me, if only for the potential of running into low-hanging tree branches. Where I live now, there are urban-style streetlights that light the sidewalk, making it safe and comfortable to walk.
Finally, Dan Malouff showed love to an old stand by:
We can't have this discussion without mentioning Metrorail. Yeah, it's frustrating at times, but can you imagine our region without it? Metrorail is so ubiquitous, such a backbone for the region, that we take it for granted all the time. But it's the best post-war subway system in the US, it absolutely makes life better for millions of people every day, and its presence here was by no means a forgone conclusion.
Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!


Simplify Shirlington-Pentagon bus choices

On paper, travelers between Shirlington and the Pentagon have more than 160 buses per day in each direction to choose from. In reality, however, it's difficult to know about and take advantage of these options.

Shirlington bus station. Photo from Arlington VA.

The location of the Shirlington Transit Center bus bays and the fact that two separate operators serve the route, without a combined schedule, hinder passengers' full use of the choices available.

A little restructuring can save passengers from having to remember multiple schedules and know which bus bay to go to depending on when they arrive at the transit center.

Metrobus routes 7A/C/E/F/Y, 22A, 25A/D and ART route 87 serve the I-395 corridor, connecting downtown Shirlington to the Metrorail network. The 7A and 25A are express, taking 6-9 minutes to travel directly between these two stations. The 22A makes a few stops before getting on I-395, resulting in a travel time of about 12-14 minutes. The ART bus takes a local route that takes about 23-27 minutes, meaning that for Pentagon-bound passengers it is usually advantageous to wait for the next Metrobus than take the ART 87.

At Shirlington the 7 and 25 buses are located at Bus Bay C while the 22A is located at the farthest possible point away, bus bay A:

Because these buses travel through the transit center in opposite directions, it's not possible to locate them all at the same bay. But placing them at adjoining bays A & E or B & C would make a lot more sense. A passenger wanting to go directly to the Pentagon would not have to dash around the station to the far end to catch the other bus.

It would be difficult to arrange the bays any more rationally at Pentagon station. There, four adjoining bays, Upper 3, 4, 5, and 6, serve the Shirlington routes. Riders have to be astute to note the alternate buses arriving and knowledgeable of their various options. ART bus locations are not shown on this map, which appears to be somewhat out of date.

While WMATA posts station bus stop maps for rail stations such as the Pentagon, ART's site had a better graphic and includes the Shirlington transportation center map as well.

Because there are several routes that serve these two points, many riders probably only learn over time that they have several options. There is no combined point-to-point schedule of the 160+ buses per day that would make this information easy for passengers to have, hold and use.

Also, since NextBus treats each bus bay as a separate stop, it doesn't effectively serve these customers, who don't care what bus number they get on—they just want to get between these two points as quickly and easily as possible.

There are other cases where a rearrangement of bus stops at the Pentagon would help riders: e.g., the 29 and 17 buses both serve some of the same parts of Annandale, but are located on separate levels at the Pentagon. Similarly, the 25 and 8 buses share parts of Alexandria, but are located far apart at the Pentagon. Passengers are forced to choose one bay or the other, which may frustrate them if circumstances (like a late bus) work against them.

A programmer could probably create a simple smartphone app using NextBus data that would combine the Shirlington and Pentagon bus stops (or other highly-used point-to-point locations), which would be quite useful to these passengers.

These simple changes and enhancements would cost little or nothing, but would get more riders to their destinations quickly and easily. If transit agency planners and managers were to imagine themselves in the shoes of their customers, these kinds of improvements could be more obvious.


Pocket schedules could make bus riding easier

Many bus riders take a single bus for most trips. In fact, many bus riders travel between the same two stops for many trips. A simple, printed, point to point schedule, listing the departure and arrival times for each of the two stops, could be a powerful tool for those riders.

Sample Westover pocket schedule.

One example of an area that could benefit from pocket schedules is the Arlington neighborhood of Westover. It's a mile east of the East Falls Church Metro and 1.8 miles west of Ballston. A group of neighborhood shops anchors the neighborhood, including the Lost Dog Pizza Deli, Lebanese Taverna and Ayers Variety Store, among others.

The #2 Metrobus runs directly through the center to both Metro stops. The majority of riders I've seen take the bus to Ballston and then transfer to Metrorail or stay in Ballston. Since almost all riders are going from one place to a single other place, they could benefit from a simple, easily accessible and usable pocket schedule.

Arlington Transportation Partners, which provides transportation information throughout the county, stocks schedules and maps in one of the local establishments. The #2 Metrobus schedules get snatched up immediately, while the other schedules and maps tend to languish
longer. However, almost all of the information in that schedule is extraneous to most of these users. All they really need to know is when the bus is going to Ballston and when it's returning.

If designed to be the size of a business card folded once, it would easily fit in a wallet. There's no need for a map or other destinations or really anything else. It would serve most of the people who might ride the bus to or from the Westover area. It's so easy, it might lure people who pick up one of these schedules at the ice cream shop to consider taking the bus.

There are certainly dozens of these nodes that directly connect two locations together and are highly used. Obvious ones include Shirlington-Pentagon and Shirlington-Ballston. Especially now that Arlington has built their nice, new Shirlington transit center, easy pocket schedules would be a great boon for users. There are several different routes that serve these points, so having a concise, combined schedule would simplify information and make it more accessible.

One of the big barriers to people riding the bus is they don't know when it comes and schedules can be hard to figure out sometimes. NextBus is one tool to help with that, but it doesn't tell me when I can get back. It also doesn't help me with, say, tomorrow. The WMATA web site can, but a pocket schedule like this requires no computer, no smart phone, no Internet connection and is probably way faster than any of those. It can sit in a pile on the counter of a coffee shop and be tucked in a wallet and used immediately.

I imagine there are scores, if not hundreds, of these highly used node connections. Would it make sense to print all these individual pocket schedules? Maybe not a bad idea. By being enterprising, this might be a good way to get more people on the buses while partnering with local businesses. Why not get a local business to sponsor the schedules to offset the costs? They could pay for the printing (which could be really cheap), and it would be a relatively low-cost advertising vehicle where they would get a little space on the pocket schedule for their marketing message. It's highly geographically targeted marketing, since the only people who would be interested in that particular pocket schedule are those who travel to or from that one location.

Like the invisible tunnel, this is the sort of low-cost or no-cost measure that could help the system run better. Intelligently done, these simple little pocket schedules could be provided for free (both to passengers and for Metro) to thousands of riders and make riding the bus much easier.


Arlington's Smart Growth Journey: Neighborhoods

Arlington has a remarkable diversity of neighborhoods. Clarendon is one of the most successful, lively, mixed-use parts of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Shirlington is demonstrating that you can have Smart Growth even without Metrorail. And in much of the county, even just a short distance from Metro stations, are many quiet single-family neighborhoods.

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