Posts about Silver Line
Maryland and Virginia will both enact major new transportation funding bills this year. Neither bill says exactly which projects will be funded, but here are the top 10 projects in Maryland and Virginia that most deserve to get some of the funds.
1. 8-car Metro trains: Metrorail is near capacity, especially in Virginia. More Metro railcars and the infrastructure they need (like power systems and yard space) would mean more 8-car trains on the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines.
2. Tysons grid of streets: Tysons Corner has more office space than downtown Baltimore and Richmond put together. Converting it to a functional urban place is a huge priority.
3. Purple Line: Bethesda, Silver Spring, Langley Park, College Park, New Carrollton. That's a serious string of transit-friendly pearls. The Purple Line will be one of America's best light rail lines on the day it opens.
4. Baltimore Red Line: Baltimore has a subway line and a light rail line, but they don't work together very well as a system. The Red Line will greatly improve the reach of Baltimore's rail system.
5. Silver Line Phase 2: The Silver Line extension from Reston to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County is one of the few projects that was earmarked in Virginia's bill, to the tune of $300 million.
6. Arlington streetcars: The Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars both have funding plans already, but could potentially be accelerated.
7. Route 7 transit. Leesburg Pike is the next Rosslyn-Ballston corridor waiting to happen. Virginia is just beginning to study either a light rail or BRT line along it.
8. Corridor Cities Transitway: Gaithersburg has been waiting decades for a quality transit line to build around. BRT will finally connect the many New Urbanist communities there, which are internally walkable but rely on cars for long-range connections.
9. MARC enhancements: MARC is a decent commuter rail, but it could be so much more. Some day it could be more like New York's Metro North or Philadelphia's SEPTA regional rail, with hourly trains all day long, even on weekends.
10. Alexandria BRT network: This will make nearly all of Alexandria accessible via high-quality transit.
Honorable mentions: Montgomery County BRT network, Potomac Yard Metro station, Virginia Beach light rail, Southern Maryland light rail, and VRE platform extensions.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
WMATA has been rolling out information about what will happen once the Silver Line opens. One part: a new map. The agency posted a draft for comments on its MindMixer site.
When the Silver Line joins with Orange and Blue, it will inevitably force some changes to the map. That's because the current map has small station circles and thick lines, which works for two lines together but not three.
In our map contest, designers tried a number of different approaches: much thinner lines like in most cities' subway maps, larger circle symbols, double symbols, or "pill"-shaped station symbols that could span more lines.
WMATA has taken a different approach with this draft. Each line got just a bit thinner, so that the station circles are slightly wider than a line instead of slightly narrower. For the 3-line segments, "whiskers" extend on either side of the station circles to tell riders that all trains stop there.
The map also abbreviates some stations which aren't abbreviated today, like "Metro Ctr" or "Capitol Hgts," and removes the cross streets.
What do you think of the proposed map?
Details emerge on Silver Line frequencies, endpoints
In addition, WMATA has released more operational details about planned Silver Line service.
As was previously reported, Silver trains will go to Largo; the original plan was to turn them at Stadium-Armory, but Metro determined that the existing pocket track is not adequate.
To use the pocket in rush service, Metro needs to be able to pull trains of up to 8 cars in pretty quickly. If the switches have a wide radius and the pocket track is long, the trains can go in at higher speeds, but the pocket has smaller switches and a short pocket, which means pulling trains in will likely slow down other trains behind.
Since the pocket is on an aerial structure, there's not room to expand it without massive expense, so Metro will send the trains to Largo (which gives Blue Line riders east of the river and in Prince George's more frequent service as well).
Silver Line trains will run every 6 minutes during peak, 12 minutes off-peak, 20 minutes after 10 pm, and 12-15 minutes weeknights. This will combine with the Orange's frequency from East Falls Church to Rosslyn and both Orange and Blue beyond that, but outside rush hours, people riding the line will likely have to do a fair amount of waiting.
Also, as we knew (but which won't please riders hurt by Rush Plus), there will be even more Rush Plus. 2 Blue Line trains per hour during the peak will become Yellow Line trains from Franconia to Greenbelt. That makes room at Rosslyn for the Silver Line.
Riders north of Mount Vernon Square on the Green Line will see more service, but Blue Line riders from southern Fairfax, Alexandria, and Arlington going to Rosslyn, Tysons, or Foggy Bottom will have to wait longer for Blue trains or ride through downtown DC.
The only solution to this problem is a new terminal or wye at Rosslyn, so that more trains can come in from the south without taking away capacity from trains from the west. WMATA has proposed this as part of its "Metro 2025" plan, but there's no funding yet for these important projects.
When WMATA released its Momentum plan last week, it reopened the conversation about dealing with core capacity. By 2025, the plan seeks to address one of the biggest chokepoints in the system: Rosslyn.
Metro has to juggle service at Rosslyn, where the Orange and Blue lines merge entering the District from the west, because it faces a structural limit to the number of trains per hour (TPH) that any given section of track is capable of handling. That limit is 26 TPH, or about one train every 2.3 minutes.
The reason for Rush Plus last year was to deal with capacity issues at Rosslyn without undertaking any capital projects. Essentially, Rush Plus was a stopgap measure to get a little more capacity out of Metro. But Rush Plus hurt many Blue Line riders, and without major changes at Rosslyn, even Rush Plus won't be enough.
As ridership increases, Metro has to either find creative ways to move more people throughout the system, without crossing 26 TPH on any segment of track, or expand capacity.
Before Rush Plus
Before Rush Plus started, during peak periods, exactly 26 TPH (the maximum) passed through Rosslyn. Those 26 TPH consisted of 10 Blue and 16 Orange trains.
At Pentagon, those same 10 Blue trains were passing through in addition to 10 Yellow trains. In total, 36 TPH were entering the District from Virginia during the morning rush via Rosslyn and Pentagon combined.
But this left some capacity unused. The Yellow Line bridge was carrying only about 40% of the trains it could carry. As you can see in the diagram below, there was also extra capacity in the Yellow and Green Line tunnel.
This map shows the frequency of service for every line during the peak period. Every track segment is the same width, corresponding to 26 TPH. If 26 TPH pass through at peak, it's "full" with colored lines; if there are fewer trains, there is black space.
After Rush Plus
Once Rush Plus took effect, those numbers increased slightly. At Rosslyn, the numbers are now 19 Orange and 7 Blue, which is still 26 trains per hour. But at Pentagon, in addition to the 7 Blue trains running via Rosslyn, there are now 13 Yellow trains. That means a total of 39 TPH are entering the District from Virginia during the morning rush.
Since the number of trains is the same at Rosslyn as it was before, Metro could have kept the number of Blue and Orange trains the same, and just added new Yellow trains. But adding trains from Virginia was only part of the equation. Metro was also attempting to address the severe crowding on the Orange Line and paving the way for the Silver Line. As a result, Metro traded some Blue Line trains for Orange ones.
When the Silver Line begins operating, some of the Orange trains will have to become Silver trains, in order to keep the total number passing through Rosslyn at 26 TPH.
Cross-Potomac capacity will be maxed out
One of the biggest constraints with Metro is getting trains between Virginia and DC. There are 2 Metro crossings of the Potomac: a tunnel for the Blue/Orange lines and a bridge for the Yellow Line.
Each of these crossings has a capacity of 26 trains per hour, for a total of 52. However, because the Yellow shares with the Green Line, the Yellow Line bridge can only carry 26 TPH minus however many trains per hour are running on the Green Line (at present, 12 TPH).
This means that there are 14 slots available for the Yellow Line to cross the Potomac. Right now, the Yellow Line is taking 13 of those slots during rush hour: 10 for trains running between Huntington and Mount Vernon Square and 3 for trains running between Franconia and Greenbelt.
When the Silver Line opens, Metro's plan will be to redirect one more Franconia train to Greenbelt. This will mean cross-Potomac capacity will be maxed out at 26 TPH through the Rosslyn tunnel and 14 TPH over the Yellow Line bridge, for a total of 40 TPH between Virginia and DC.
Through 2025, those 40 trains are probably enough. But there's another problem: now there aren't enough trains running between Pentagon and Rosslyn. Riders from south Arlington, Alexandria, and southern Fairfax have long waits to get a train to Rosslyn, the Orange and Silver corridors, or to reach stations like Foggy Bottom without a transfer.
How can Metro fix Rosslyn?
Metro wants to address the Rosslyn chokepoint soon. It's one of 7 capital items in the "Metro 2025 recommendations of the Momentum plan.
Planners haven't decided on a specific solution yet, but are studying 2 options. One would build a "wye" at Rosslyn, a track connection so that trains from Tysons or Vienna could turn south and head for Arlington Cemetery, and vice versa. The other option is to build a new station at Rosslyn with separate platforms for the Blue Line.
The wye at Rosslyn would also let Metro add rail service between the Blue-Yellow corridor and the Orange-Silver corridor. Some trains going through Arlington Cemetery would go toward downtown, as the Blue Line does today, while some trains would turn west and run through Ballston and Tysons.
This approach would likely mean a good deal of disruption for Orange and Silver line riders, since Metro would need to build new underground connections to the line between Rosslyn and Court House. It would also permanently limit the number of trains between Court House and downtown DC, because some of those slots would go to the Blue Line and the new north-south all-Virginia line.
But this would also give riders a one-seat ride from Tysons to Pentagon and points south. It would also build a little more redundancy into the system, allowing trains to divert to the south in the case of track work, a disabled train, or other disruptions.
The real issue, though, is that this project only allows for a small increase in the number of trains, and does not increase the number of trains between Virginia and the District. It also would mean that some trains wouldn't stop at Rosslyn, forcing those actually heading there to wait for a later train or transfer.
Under the wye scenario, the service pattern would probably look something like this: 14 Yellow trains crossing the 14th Street Bridge (4 of them from Franconia) each hour during the peak; 5 TPH on the Blue Line between Franconia and Largo via Rosslyn; 10 TPH on the Orange Line from Vienna into DC; and 11 TPH on the Silver Line from Tysons. This still adds up to 40 TPH between Virginia and DC. In addition, the wye would enable 5 completely new TPH between Pentagon and Court House.
A new Blue Line terminal at Rosslyn involves building new, separate tracks at Rosslyn, possibly in a new station next to the old one, that would become the new end of the Blue Line. Blue Line trains could stop and turn around without interfering with the Orange and Silver trains going to Foggy Bottom, and Blue Line riders could transfer to either direction of those trains at Rosslyn.
A new Blue Line station at Rosslyn would allow even more trains between Pentagon and north Arlington
It would require passengers to transfer to the Orange or Silver lines to get to downtown or west toward Ballston and Tysons. But it would also form the first step toward a separated Blue Line through downtown. If and when Metro is able to build that, it could simply extend the new tunnel under the Potomac and beyond. If WMATA thinks a separate Blue Line will be the long-term approach, this solution might be more attractive.
Another advantage to a Blue station at Rosslyn is that it reduces the amount of interlining in the system. That should have a positive effect on reliability, because a delay on the Blue Line won't affect the Orange or Silver lines, or vice versa.
Note that we don't know which trains will go to Franconia or Huntington under this or any other future plan, or how many and which trains will go to New Carrollton vs. Largo vs. turn at Stadium-Armory. Since all trains to those destinations come from the same track, it's not an operational issue, just a question of balancing simplicity with convenience and being fair to riders on each branch.
Transferring can be painless
If Metro does go with the new Blue Line station at Rosslyn, they can help make transferring painless by getting the design of the new station right.
Cross-platform transfers are more commonplace in some cities. Montreal, for example, has 2 in their Metro system, Lionel-Groulx and Snowdon. New York has many, especially between local and express services on each line.
A 4-track stacked Rosslyn station would allow passengers from an inbound Blue Line train to simply walk across the platform to board an inbound Orange or Silver train. To transfer from an inbound to an outbound, the passenger would just have to go downstairs or upstairs.
The station could look something like this:
It would be more expensive, but in terms of simplifying riders' ability to transfer, it could be worth it to build a new Rosslyn station with 4 tracks.
On the other hand, such a station would cost more, and would disrupt all service through Rosslyn during construction, just as the wye would, while a separate station could avoid interfering with Orange and Silver service.
But any new station will be there a long time, and riders may regret making it more difficult to transfer. After all, many riders still suffer from the lack of a direct connection between Farragut North and Farragut West (a tunnel that Metro proposes to complete as part of their 2025 plan).
Tysons Corner has more office space than downtown Baltimore, Richmond, and Norfolk put together. It should be the center its own large transit network. The Silver Line and express buses on the Beltway HOT lanes are good first steps, but in the long run Tysons is going to need more routes, connecting it to more places.
In the long run, Tysons needs something more like this:
In recent years, planners in Virginia have begun to seriously consider a Tysons-centric rapid transit network. It doesn't have a name, and isn't officially separate from any of the other transportation planning going on in the region, but it shows up on long range regional plans like SuperNoVa and TransAction.
In addition to the Silver Line, HOT Lanes Buses, and Tysons' internal circulation network, officials are beginning to study light rail connections to Maryland, Falls Church, and Merrifield, and BRT on the Chain Bridge Road corridor.
It will be years before any of these additional routes are implemented, and they could look very different from this map once they finally are. Details don't exist yet, because at this point these are little more than ideas.
But to work as the urban place Fairfax County officials hope Tysons will become, this is the sort of regional infrastructure it's going to need.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Capital Bikeshare, the Purple Line, and Silver Line are among the best transportation projects in America, according to the Sierra Club's annual list of the 50 best and worst. Virginia also scored 3 "worst" slots with sprawl-inducing, environmentally destructive highway projects around the state.
Capital Bikeshare: Our system, now in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria and soon in Montgomery County, is still the largest bike sharing program in the United States as long as New York and Chicago are delayed (not that we're rooting for any more delays).
The report says, "Capital Bikeshare resolves the "first and last mile" dilemma for many transit users by providing convenient transportation to and from transit stations. User surveys show that bikeshare eliminated 5 million miles of driving in 2011."
Purple Line: The Sierra Club says, "The Purple Line is estimated to have 68,000 daily commuters when complete, replacing an enormous amount of automobile traffic, enhancing air quality and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution. ... Construction on this project is will begin in 2015 and the line is scheduled to open in 2020."
If, that is, Maryland can come up with money to get it built. Local leaders and stakeholders are meeting tomorrow for a "Regional Transportation Funding Summit" to talk about how the state can find the necessary money for its share of the project; right now, it has no funding from 2014 on to keep going with the project.
Silver Line: The line has already spurred TOD at Tysons Corner and is projected to displace 91,000 car trips with both phases complete. "The project will also help preserve the rural nature of western Loudoun County by absorbing growth in higher density TOD around the two stations in the eastern part of that County," notes Sierra Club. It can do that best if Virginia doesn't also build the Outer Beltway to generate more sprawl.
Meanwhile, Virginia's highway-building spree, which Governor McDonnell accelerated but Governor Kaine laid plenty of groundwork for, is causing significant damage and warranted 3 dishonorable mentions:
Outer Beltway: "The project has been repeatedly rejected because it doesn't relieve traffic on the overly congested Washington D.C. Beltway, I-95, or I-66. It will induce greater traffic demand by encouraging housing developments, strip malls and office parks along its route in the now rural areas of western Prince William and Loudoun Counties."
Look for the McDonnell administration to try to push this through in the final years of his term; he's promised to find a solution for transportation funding, which to him means only road funding.
Coalfields Expressway: "Located in Southwest Virginia, [this] is a proposed project to construct a new four-lane highway through rural areas of the Appalachian Mountains via mountain top removal coal mining methods." It will pollute the environment and do little for mobility in the lightly-populated area.
Route 460 in Hampton Roads: This $1.5-2 billion project would create a new 4-lane, 55-mile road paralleling an existing one, which will create more sprawl and environnmental damage. Sierra Club writes, "The new parallel highway is intended to serve as a truck corridor for the Port of Virginia, detracting from a less oil-intensive freight rail alternative for the port."
Transit cuts: Another "worst" project is the nationwide cuts to transit, pressure to raise fares, or both that systems around the nation are facing as the federal government, states, and municipalities reduce their investments in transit.
"A survey of 117 transit agencies by the American Public Transit Association in 2011 found that "nearly eight in ten transit agencies (79%) have cut service or raised fares or are considering either of those actions. Half of the transit agencies (51%) have already cut service or raised fares," the report says.
Because the Congressional "supercommittee" failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan, WMATA is likely to lose about $12 million from the federal government in 2013. This could spell trouble for an agency that has already had to raise fares to keep up with its significant capital needs.
Under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011, without a supercommittee deal, nearly every item in the federal budget will suffer a 10% "sequestration" effective January 1.
Most of the nation's transit systems will be protected from this cut because they get formula grants from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is immune from sequestration. WMATA, however (like Amtrak), receives a direct annual appropriation from general taxpayer funds, $150 million a year for 10 years to make needed repairs that was part of 2008's Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, or PRIIA.
WMATA got that $150 million in fiscal 2012 (which ends September 30). A continuing resolution approved last week will continue this funding level through at least March 31, 2013. But after that, sequestration would take hold.
The HTF gets most of its money from gasoline taxes. Thanks to Congress's refusal to raise the gas tax, even to keep up with inflation, there hasn't been enough money in the fund to meet its obligations for the past several years. Thus, Congress has chosen to infuse general fund money into the HTF to keep it solvent.
These general fund infusions may be subject to sequestration, but none of the HTF's obligations to the states and transit agencies will be reduced. The most likely result is that Congress will have to infuse more general fund money into the HTF sooner. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will have some leeway in applying the sequestration within each federal department and agency.
The WMATA cut is not the only way sequestration could hurt our region. If OMB chooses to apply the cuts retroactively to TIGER grants that the US Department of Transportation has already awarded, this would delay the completion of TIGER-funded projects like bus priority improvements and completing the Anacostia Trail.
Another possible victim is the Silver Line, much of whose funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which is not funded by the HTF. Many other capital projects in the region, including the Purple Line light-rail corridor, have yet to receive federal funding, and any reduction in the amount of money available for grants would put them even farther back in line.
The only alternative to sequestration is another grand debt-reduction deal from Congress. But such a deal could hurt some programs more than sequestration would, in order to preserve others. Even transit-friendly members of Congress from Maryland and Virginia may vote to axe Metro in the end if it means preserving other pots, such as Pentagon spending, that provide huge sources of employment for their constituents.
While members of Congress are campaigning in their districts throughout October, consider taking an opportunity to remind them how important investments in infrastructure that reduces traffic congestion and enhances mobility in a sustainable manner are to you and to the region's economy.
You can also make the point that we could avoid this whole sequestration mess altogether if they could muster the gumption to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, place a small tax on financial transactions, or finally raise the gas tax.
Besides, deficit spending really isn't a bad thing, especially with the economy in recession.
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money