Posts about Silver Line
Last week, WMATA planners released a proposal for a new Metro loop downtown to help relieve capacity issues on the other lines. How might this new line operate? Details are scarce, but we can talk about some possibilities.
The proposal is to build a new Metro line that would loop through downtown DC. Starting at Rosslyn, the tracks would tunnel under the Potomac to Georgetown. They would then follow M Street and New Jersey Avenue to Union Station. The tracks would turn south along 2nd Street to cross Capitol Hill, and then parallel the Green Line under I Street. The loop would complete itself by joining to the existing Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.
Metro's proposal indicates that the loop line will be fed by the current Blue and Yellow lines, which would enter at the Pentagon station, and a new "express" line in northern Arlington, which would enter near Rosslyn.
Why build a loop?
Metro's team of planners looked at a variety of solutions to the core capacity issues, including new lines. The alternative they settled on was this loop. Why did they pick a loop?
Essentially, a loop solves most of Metro's problems relatively cheaply. The primary issue facing Metro over the next few decades is core capacity, espcially in terms of train throughput. The Blue/Orange subway through downtown is at capacity, and no more trains can be added.
Untangling the Gordian knot at Rosslyn is the most complicated part of this. What is most clear is that Metro needs a new Potomac crossing near Rosslyn to increase capacity on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.
But Metro also needs more capacity around the southern side of downtown DC. Because the Green and Yellow Lines share the 7th Street subway, which is operating very close to capacity, each line can only be increased at the expense of the other line. In other words, WMATA can't add Green trains without subtracting Yellow trains. So Metro also needs a new subway for the Yellow Line.
However, Metro's studies found little need for a new subways outside of downtown based on the expected travel patterns in and density of those areas in 2040.
Essentially, Metro sees the need to build an east-west subway across the north side of downtown and a north-south subway across the east side of downtown. But they don't see a need for the east-west subway to continue east or the north-south subway to continue north.
For that reason, Metro thinks it makes the most sense to just connect the east-west and north-south subways at Union Station and operate them as a loop.
It's not exactly clear how the new subway loop would work, and since this project is decades away from completion much could change. But there are a few likely ways it could operate.
For now, let's only consider the Blue and Yellow Lines. We will discuss the proposed North Arlington Express line in a later post.
Operating an inner and outer loop is one of the obvious choices. In this scenario, one of the lines would run clockwise around the inner loop, while the other line runs counterclockwise around the outer loop.
So Yellow Line trains coming from Huntington would cross the Potomac north of the Pentagon, as they do today. Then they would continue east to Capitol Hill before turning north toward Union Station and going around the loop to return to Huntington via Arlington Cemetery. Blue Line trains would do the reverse.
One of the advantages of operating the Yellow and Blue lines as a loop through downtown is that the loop can actually carry more capacity. If the Blue and Yellow didn't need to share tracks with the Orange and Green lines, each could run at a frequency of 13 trains per hour (TPH) in each direction. And that means that the outer loop would have 13 TPH, as would the inner loop. Since Metro's track capacity is 26 TPH, there's actually room to add two more lines to the loop.
One of the disadvantages, though, is that riders who have a short one-seat ride in the morning have a long one-seat ride in the afternoon. Someone who commutes from Franconia to Georgetown has a pretty direct trip in the morning. But in the afternoon, they either have to face a long ride on the Blue Line via Union Station and Potomac Park or take a two-seat ride by riding the Yellow Line to Pentagon and changing.
"Transforming" loop trains would resolve that problem, though it would be more complicated and difficult to show on the map.
In this scenario, a Blue Line train leaving Franconia would run as far as Pentagon and then continue toward Arlington Cemetery. At some point on its journey, the train would magically transform into a Yellow Line train bound for Huntington. Yellow Line trains would operate similarly, becoming Blue Line trains during their journeys.
This way, a person who commutes from Franconia to Georgetown would have a short, one-seat ride on the Blue Line in both directions. The same would be the case for Yellow Line riders.
For anyone waiting for trains at a station on the loop, trains on the outer loop would always be bound for Franconia, but would have come from Huntington. On the inner loop, trains would be bound for Huntington, but would have come from Franconia.
To avoid confusion, trains bound for the loop would just be signed with their color and a destination of "Downtown." The change of color and destination on the loop wouldn't matter for the passengers on board, since the train would continue around the loop. This is, incidentally, what Chicago L trains do as they arrive at the Loop: they change their headsigns from "Loop" to whichever destination they're headed back to.
Alternatively, trains don't have to "loop" all the way around the loop. Instead, the Blue and Yellow lines could just be interlined on the new tracks.
In this scenario, Blue Line trains would operate onto the new tracks for a certain distance. On the map above, I've shown trains going as far as 4th & Eye, but they could stop at any point along the line (Union Station, for example). Then trains turn back around and run over the same tracks back to Franconia. Yellow Line trains would operate similarly.
Anywhere the two lines overlap would max out the capacity of the new line, just as the other lines in the core are currently topped out at 26 TPH. The reason this is true for the interlined scenario but not for the loop scenarios is because in the loop scenarios, trains run around the loop once. In the interlined scenario trains run over the tracks twice, once inbound and once again outbound.
North Arlington Express trains
As noted above, the new loop would also carry trains from the North Arlington Express line. We haven't discussed those trains yet, but we're going to cover how they might work with the loop in another post soon.
Metro's vision for the future is still decades away, so we have no idea what the final product will look like exactly. It might look like one of the operating patterns shown here, but then again, lots can change in 25 years. But Metro's core is approaching capacity, and expansion is desperately needed. Metro's new vision will set the stage for building the system's next generation.
To relieve congestion on the Orange and Blue lines and support future growth in the region's core, Metro is proposing a loop line between downtown DC and Arlington. They've just created a map of what the service might look like.
Detail of Metro's proposed downtown loop from PlanItMetro.
The loop is part of Metro's Regional Transit System Plan, which lays out a vision of how the transit system should expand over the next three decades to accommodate predicted regional growth. It incorporates previously studied ways to expand Metro in downtown DC, including new Blue and Yellow lines.
The loop line would go to areas that don't have Metro service, like Georgetown, while adding new connections to existing transfer points like Farragut Square and Union Station. It's unclear how Metro's service patterns would change to serve the loop. Right now, the map shows the Blue, Orange, Silver, and Yellow lines all running on the loop.
WMATA planners are also considering an express line on I-66.
Metro's also looking at a new express line along I-66 between Rosslyn and East Falls Church, which could give the Silver Line an alternate, faster path to downtown DC. This isn't a new idea, either.
What do you think of Metro's loop line?
Despite years of planning to transform Tysons Corner from a car-oriented edge city into a walkable downtown, some Northern Virginia residents are surprised to learn that Tysons' 4 Metro stations will not be surrounded by parking lots.
The confusion seems to stem from a mix-up about what Metro stations in Tysons Corner are supposed to accomplish. Are they places for DC-bound commuters to board, or are they the destination stations for people working in Tysons? There will surely be some of both, but most users will be the latter, and they're who the line must be designed to best serve.
If stations are surrounded by parking that will reduce the number of buildings within walking distance of Metro. Not only that, it would also make the walk less interesting and more dangerous, since walking through a busy parking lot is hardly a pleasant experience. That in turn would reduce the number of people who could use Metro to commute to Tysons. That would undermine the entire project.
The main purpose of the Silver Line project is to transform Tysons Corner. Tysons is a behemoth, with about the same amount of office space as downtown Baltimore. It can't grow or continue to prosper as a car-oriented place. Nor would it make sense to invest almost $7 billion in a new Metrorail line if it were not going to support a more urban Tysons, or serve easy commuting into Tysons.
Consider other walkable downtown areas, like downtown DC or Rosslyn. Would it make sense if Gallery Place Metro station were surrounded by parking instead of buildings? Of course it would not. Tysons will one day be the same. It may not look like that yet, but it never will if its best land is used for parking lots.
Yes, it's true there should be enough parking along the Dulles Corridor for commuters into DC to use the system. That's why there are large parking lots at the Wiehle Avenue and West Falls Church stations. There's no need for drivers to enter congested Tysons Corner to find parking, when more highway-oriented stations exist specifically for that purpose.
Alternatively, those few drivers who do want to park in Tysons will surely be able to do the same thing they do in Ballston, DC, Bethesda, or anywhere else: Pay to park in a nearby garage, and walk a couple of blocks. As more new buildings are built near Metro stations, there will be more available private garages to pick from.
There may be some small number of people currently living in Tysons who refuse to walk to stations, and will have to drive out of Tysons to find parking. That's unfortunate, but accommodating them with parking lots at urban stations would make those stations less convenient for the larger number of walkers, and future walkers.
Temporary parking isn't a panacea
Some suggest that since it may be a few years before all the land near Metro stations is developed, it could be used as interim parking on a temporary basis. In fact, that's exactly the plan at the McLean station, where 700 parking spaces will be available at first.
That could be a workable idea in a few places, especially at McLean, which is the easternmost of Tysons' 4 stations. But it's less practical than some may assume, because most of the land surrounding these stations isn't currently empty.
For example, Greensboro station is surrounded by strip malls. They will eventually be redeveloped into high-rises, but in the meantime the property owners make more money with retail there than they would with just parking.
In places where Fairfax County or WMATA can strike deals with landowners to let Metro riders use existing parking lots, that's fine. But it does not make sense to tear down functional money-making buildings and replace them with temporary parking lots. Especially when there are better parking options elsewhere for drivers hoping to park and ride.
The bottom line is that Tysons Metro stations were planned correctly. Some interim measures are OK if they're practical, but surrounding Tysons Metro stations with parking would undermine the entire reason for running the Silver Line through Tysons in the first place.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
When the new Rosslyn Metro entrance opened earlier this week, it became the first in what will be an exciting string of big transit projects opening in the DC region. Still to come: Metro, MARC, streetcars, and BRT.
From left to right: Alexandria's BRT, MARC, Silver Line, DC streetcar.
BRT and Metro photos from Alexandria and Fairfax County.
MARC and streetcar photos from BeyondDC.
The next big event will be on December 7, when MARC trains begin running on weekends between DC and Baltimore. MARC's transition from a commuter railroad to a more general-purpose transit system will open up Baltimore and other parts of Maryland like never before.
After that come streetcars. Sometime in late December, or possibly January, DDOT expects to start running streetcars along H Street. Then in February, the Silver Line will open, and begin carrying passengers to Tysons Corner and Wiehle Avenue.
Finally, sometime in the spring of 2014 Alexandria will open its Route 1 transitway, marking the beginning of the first bona fide bus rapid transit line in the region. All together, it's the most exciting time for transit openings in the DC area since the early 1980s, when Metrorail was opening new segments every few months.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
WMATA has released its next Metrorail map, proposed to go into trains and stations in time for the Silver Line to open.
A new map is necessary to fit the complete Silver Line, which will run all the way through downtown DC and into Prince George's County. The existing Metrorail map just shows the portion of the Silver Line that's currently under construction, but the route will actually join with the Orange Line and run through DC.
The new map will also show Phase 2 of the Silver Line, extending all the way to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County. Phase 2 won't open for several more years, but work on it recently started, and showing it on the map will help riders to become familiar with it sooner rather than later.
Wyman narrowed the line thickness, lightened the station symbols, and changed the placement of the Silver Line in central DC, to be between the Blue and Orange Lines rather that atop them both.
The "whiskers" at stations where the 3 lines all share track are now white instead of solid black. The "pill" option for those shared stations, from the May draft, has been abandoned.
Overall, these changes make the map lighter and airier-looking, compared the March draft which was clunky and cluttered, especially in the DC core.
One thing missing from this map is DC's H Street streetcar, which should open for service about the same time as the Silver Line. Although the streetcar won't be operated by WMATA, it will certainly be an important rail service in the District.
As streetcar and BRT plans throughout the region move forward, WMATA may want to follow Boston's lead, and show surface transit on its map as well.
But that's a problem for another day.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
In a few months, Metro's new Silver Line will open, and will mean major changes to commuters in Fairfax County. Reader Nick G. wants to know how long trips on the Silver Line will take.
Right now, commuters to and from Reston and Herndon often rely on a set of commuter buses that run express down the Dulles Toll Road to West Falls Church station. After the Silver Line opens, most of these buses will feed riders into the Silver Line instead of running all the way to meet the Orange Line at I-66.
But the Silver Line takes the scenic route through Tysons Corner instead of staying on the freeway. The 4 stops in Tysons will serve many of the offices and shopping centers in the business district, but they will also add time for riders merely passing through. How much? It looks like just a few minutes.
One of Nick's questions is whether his trip from DC to Reston will get longer with the Silver Line. That will probably depend a lot on each individual commute, since people have different starting and ending points.
To get a sense of Nick's commute, I looked at a commute from Metro Center to Reston Town Center using the Orange Line and the 505 Fairfax Connector bus. It takes 21 minutes to get from Metro Center to West Falls Church. Once on the 505, it takes 15 minutes to get to the Sunset Hills Park and Ride, near the Wiehle Avenue station. That's a trip time of 36 minutes.
On the Silver Line, the ride from Metro Center to Wiehle Avenue is 40 minutes. That's a little bit longer. If Fairfax reallocates some of those buses no longer used for commuter service, transit riders might save time by having shorter transfer times at Wiehle Avenue or at the Tysons stations. Fairfax County DOT has posted their bus operating plans that will go into effect once the Silver Line opens.
The above graphic should help you figure out how your commute will compare.
The numbers in orange under each station's name give the travel time to East Falls Church. Rosslyn, Metro Center, and L'Enfant Plaza are also shown. To get the travel time from Tysons Corner to Rosslyn, you'll have to add the numbers. In that example, it will take 10 minutes to get from Tysons Corner to East Falls Church and another 12 minutes to get to Rosslyn (that's 22 minutes).
If your station isn't included, you can use Metro's trip planner to find the travel time between it and East Falls Church.
The blue numbers on the left side of the graphic show the travel time between each station. It will take 9 minutes for the train to travel between Wiehle Avenue and Spring Hill, for example.
Metro hasn't yet released a schedule for the line. So we can't get too detailed about how long a trip will last, or how long transfers will be. But the travel time data in the graphic should give you a sense of how long your ride on the Silver Line will take.
Edit: Note, these data are courtesy of Nick Perfili at Fairfax County DOT.
- How might the new Metro loop work?
- More roads won't solve traffic on I-95 in Northern Virginia
- Want the urban lifestyle? DC's best corner is...
- The reason cyclists love green bike lanes
- Can we build up around MARC stations?
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- How does DC's proposed Metro loop compare?