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National links: There are downsides to letting the Rust Belt shrink

An economist puts forward a strong argument on why it doesn't make sense to say that we should just let middle-of-the-country places that are struggling economically die off, Donald Trump has named a Secretary of Transportation, and Volvo just finished building the world's longest bus. Read about this, and more, from world of transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Bob Jagendorf on Flickr.

Leaving places behind doesn't pay: When it comes to places that are struggling economically, like Rust Belt cities, most economists would tell you that the solution is to let them shrink and for the people there to go somewhere else where they're more likely to thrive. Some would argue, however, that this is problematic both because it ignores the people who stay in struggling places and because there are wide-ranging benefits of keeping these places alive. (Vox)

The DOT goes back to the future: Donald Trump will nominate Elaine Chao to be the next Secretary of Transportation. She was the DOT's deputy secretary in 1990, and while working in the George W. Bush administration (as the Secretary of Labor), she praised public transit and said we don't necessarily need more highways, though she also fought raising the transit subsidy for Labor Department employees. There's reason to think she'll be pro-ridesharing services (for better or for worse) and pro-coal. (Slate, GovEx, Americans for Tax Reform, Lexington Herald Leader)

A really, really big bus: Volvo has built the world's largest bus. According to the company, the bi-articulated vehicle can carry 300 people and has a length of 98 feet. It was built in Brazil for bus rapid transit projects in the country. (Economic Times Auto)

Amazon is the new Walmart: One of every two dollars spent online goes through Amazon.com, meaning the company has an even bigger effect on the economy than we might have thought. At the local level, Amazon's expansion has meant the extraction of $613 million in subsidies for building new facilities around the country, but those haven't exactly added up to jobs for local economies, as 149,000 retail jobs have been lost in the last 11 years. (Institute for Local Self Reliance)

"Mega regions" in the US: Using data about how we commute, researchers have created new maps of US "mega regions." Mega regions have become a major topic of discussion as separate cities in close proximity to each other become more economically and physically connected. With census tracks and commute data, an algorithm was created to show how the United States has 50 of these regions. (National Geographic)

Quote of the Week

"Here's the hard message for Portland and Seattle and every other city growing like this. If the next 200,000 people come here, and we're planning for us to be a city of 850,000 people ... they're not going to be able to bring their cars and live like we did 20 years ago. In fact, most of us are going to have to drive a lot less. The streets aren't going to get any bigger. They are going to be walking, they are going to be riding their bikes, they are going to be riding the transit system."

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales on the need to put together a new zoning code that allows more people to live in the city. (My Northwest)

Transit


WMATA recommended express bus service along 14th Street NW four years ago. Is it time to make it happen?

The buses that run up and down 14th Street NW are among the most used in the region, but they move slowly and don't come often enough. WMATA suggested adding express service a few years ago, but that has yet to happen.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The 52, 53, 54 run along 14th Street, from Takoma to downtown DC. Many people use the bus to commute from neighborhoods like U Street, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Brightwood to downtown and back. Approximately 15,000 riders use these buses on a typical weekday, and according to some measures, they're among the most used in DC.

According to data from DC's Office of Planning, a quarter of the new residents who moved into DC in the last five years reside in the area served by the 14th Street buses, and from 2011 to 2015, the number of businesses soared from 7,371 all the way to 13,992. Many of these new residents and business employees don't own cars and rely on transit and other transportation services.

But relative to how many people would use them, the 14th Street buses are slow and don't run frequently enough. They stop quite often—at every corner during some stretches. For example, if a rider gets on the 54 at Buchanan Street NW and off at I Street downtown, it takes 26 stops. By contrast, that's three times more stops than than the S9 buses, the express buses that run down 16th Street. More anecdotally, a neighbor of mine recently waited over 20 minutes for a bus during rush hour.


Image from WMATA.

Buses also get caught in snarled traffic on the stretch of 14th Street next to the mall where Target and Best Buy are. In this area, buses don't have signal priority and lots of people double park without penalty.

Slow moving busses and not enough of them are especially acute problems right now because Beach Drive is closed. Many Upper Northwest residents can't use Rock Creek Parkway as a commuting route and this has pushed many more riders onto the bus.

Also, as a result of the problems with the 14th Street buses, many who live along 14th actually go out of their way to use the buses along 16th. That just leads to packed buses and overcrowding on those lines. Improving 14th street bus service would benefit those riding the the S1, S2, S4, S9, 70 and 79 by lessening crowding on 16th and Georgia express buses which would also reduce clustering.

WMATA recommended express bus service on 14th

These issues aren't new—WMATA actually teamed with DDOT to study 14th Street buses in 2011 and 2012. One of the biggest conclusions was that the corridor needs express service. Express busses run the same route as local buses but stop at fewer stops. By skipping stops, they are able to move faster. In exchange for walking one or two extra blocks to the stop, riders can get where they are headed much more quickly.

The study included a rider survey, rider focus groups (I participated in one of those), and a series of public meetings. The study team also gathered data from interviews with Metrobus operators and subsequent interviews to discuss potential service proposals and preliminary recommendations.

The study concluded that express bus service on the 14th Street line (it called express service "limited-stop bus service") would benefit riders:

The advantages to this proposal are that this service would not only enhance route capacity, but would also improve service frequencies at bus stops served by the limited stop service (service frequency at local-only stops would not be impacted). It would also reduce travel times for passengers able to utilize the bus stops that would be served by the limited stop service. The primary disadvantage is that this proposal would likely incur additional operating costs.
WMATA also recommended lengthening the 53 Route to terminate at G street (it currently ends at McPherson Square), running more service north of Colorado Avenue NW, and extending service to the Waterfront area, as well as giving riders better information, doing more to enforce parking restrictions, using articulated buses and training bus operators specifically for the lines they drive.

The key recommendation for express service is discussed in detail beginning on page 33 of here.

According to the report, making these changes would be relatively inexpensive (about $1.25 million). The report also says they could generate more DC tax revenue in increased commerce than they'd cost to fund. These buses are needed for longtime residents and new residents alike. This would be a huge (and cheap) win for DC.

Though improving this line with more, better service was a good idea in 2012, it's an exceptionally good idea now. Express buses along 14th Street would mean more people could travel the important corridor by bus.

More specifically, it'd mean more frequent service at key stops and shorter travel times for riders, smaller headways, and better quality. This would be a huge boon to those commuting or traveling longer distances (such as to Walter Reed). If the service proved successful, even more resources could go toward it over time.

The city as a whole would benefit from an investment in better bus service along 14th Street, as it'd lead to better employment opportunities for people seeking jobs, less traffic congestion on important north-south streets, and a broadening tax base.



Transit


This map shows where the most bus riders live and how close they are to Metro

High population densities are generally considered necessary for frequent and direct bus service. However, not all dense populations have high bus ridership. I recently created a map of the population density of people who commute to work by bus in the DC area.


This map shows the density of people in the region who reported that the longest part of their commute was by bus. The green regions around Metro stations are half-mile walksheds. The darker the red color in the census tract, the more people there take the bus.

To create the map, I used the Census's 2014 American Community Survey's data on how many people in each census block group reported that they made the longest part of their commute to work by bus. It's important to recognize some limitations to this data: in particular, it completely excludes non-working individuals who still make many or most trips by bus. Furthermore, it excludes anyone who uses a bus to get to a Metro station that's too far to walk, and then uses Metrorail for a longer trip to their job.

In addition to the ACS data, I plotted half-mile walksheds around Metrorail stations, using a GIS shapefile provided by WMATA's PlanItMetro blog back in 2014 (unfortunately, this shapefile predates the Silver Line and so doesn't have walksheds for those stations). These walksheds allow us to compare areas of high bus ridership to the areas in which residents have a reasonably short walk to a Metro station.

In some places, lots of people take the bus even though they live near Metrorail

It is interesting to note that some of the highest bus-rider densities in the area are in DC's Mid-City, the neighborhoods from Shaw to Petworth that are in the vicinity of Green and Yellow Line stations. It is likely that these area's proximity to downtown and the fact that they are served by very frequent bus routes (the 14th Street, 16th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines) makes the bus a more convenient, as well as cheaper, alternative to Metrorail.


Chart by Dan Henebery.

But more predictably, most big groups of bus riders don't live near Metrorail

Unsurprisingly, the high density of bus riders along the Silver Spring-to-downtown Metrobus lines continues north of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station, where the corridor is not served by rail. As can be seen in the above chart, the 14th Street and 16th Street lines are Metro's busiest bus lines, and the Georgia Avenue line is its fifth-busiest.

Other than in Mid-City, though, the areas of highest bus rider density tend to be in corridors that are not well served by Metrorail. Within the District, high densities of bus riders can be found along the H Street-Benning Road line—Metro's third-highest-ridership bus line—in the largest area of the original L'Enfant City without Metrorail service.

Like bus riders in the northern Georgia Avenue/14th Street corridor, many of the bus riders East of the River live in areas not well served by Metrorail. A cluster of bus-riders on Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of American University is also some distance from Metro stations. The lack of major bus routes in this area suggests to me that they are mostly students riding university shuttles.

Outside of the District, lower population densities, a less transit-friendly built environment, and less-frequent bus service naturally leads to lower population densities of bus riders. However, high densities of bus riders are found along the Columbia Pike corridor in southern Arlington County, which has been the site of proposed rail lines since the original laying-out of Metro.

The Langley Park area, at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard on the border between Prince George's and Montgomery Counties is also home to a large cluster of bus riders. Metro's sixth-highest-ridership bus route, the circumfrential Greenbelt-Twinbrook line, runs along University Boulevard in this area, which is also served by a number of other Metrobus and RideOn bus routes. The new Takoma-Langley Transit Center, serving these routes, is scheduled to open at the University Boulevard/New Hampshire Avenue intersection in the next several months, and the area is also slated to be home to several Purple Line stations.

It is interesting to note that the White Oak/Calverton area, at the intersection of Columbia Pike and New Hampshire Avenue in eastern Montgomery County, is home to perhaps the highest density of bus riders outside the Beltway. This area is also an employment center, with the FDA's White Oak research campus on the site of the old Navy Surface Warfare Center.

Transit


Self-driving cars, payment via smart phone, and more will change transportation. Is our region ready?

Picture a DC region with autonomous vehicles, crowdsourced buses, and a single payment system for all forms of transit. These things could very well be on the horizon, but according to a group of transportation experts, they'll mean new challenges when it comes to cybersecurity, safety, and accountability.


From left to right, panel moderator Marisa Kashino, Uber's Annaliese Rosenthal, WMATA's Shyam Kanaan, and Amtrak's David Zaidan. Photo by Joanne Pierce.

Planning to deploy tomorrow's transportation technology requires advance effort even though the problems these technologies aim to solve are acute today. WMATA planner Shyam Kanaan, Uber DC General Manager Annaliese Rosenthal, and Amtrak's David Zaidain discussed tomorrow's technology and today's problems at last month's Urban Ideas Forum.

We (Joanne and Sam) attended the event and later discussed our thoughts in a chat format, and the notes are below. We've also added in subheaders for when we moved from one panel subject to another.

JP: I think given that it seemed like everyone wanted to talk about short-term challenges, the moderators did well to at least draw out interesting points. Of course, "short-term challenges" might be a misnomer since WMATA has had these kinds of challenges for years. We're focused on short-term referring to the next 2-5 years, and long-term being longer than that, it seems.

One of the first things the panel talked about was how lifestyles are changing across the region. I thought it was interesting that Shyam Kannan, the head of planning for WMATA, emphasized SelectPass, a prepaid pass which allows unlimited rides at or less than a user selected price, as a way to link trips. He talked about it in a way I hadn't necessarily thought of before, but have since observed in my own life. People want to make multiple stops without having to pay multiple times. I could go to a restaurant, a movie, pick up library books, go to some bookstores, and not have to pay for each trip since it's all built into my SelectPass.

SW: Shyam called SelectPass "Netflix for transit," with the goal of mitigating people from pay-as-you-go. Though Shyam clearly had bigger visions in mind. Eventually allowing for all modes of transit under a single payment. To use your example - we would be able to go to take Amtrak into DC, take Metro from Union Station, then Uber to a final destination with one simple payment. A cool idea, though not in our near or even long-term future.

JP: This is purely anecdotal, but I had a conversation recently about Charlotte's transit system using multiple forms of payment. If you took rail and bus, you could be paying separately and still use paper fare. Charlotte's CATS system does offer passes like SmarTrip. But you still have a proof of purchase ticket that you show.

Metro has a sea of problems. An ocean of troubles. But SmarTrip to pay for Metrobus, Metrorail, Alexandria's DASH bus, REX bus, Fairfax Connector, etc. is one nice thing about how it functions.

SW: It is, and even better that the SmarTrip cards are readable through your wallet! Shyam spoke of having all payment eventually being made via smartphone or "preferably smart watch." He got some push back from the moderators for that comment, given many who need and deserve to use the system probably don't have access to that technology. What do you see as the future of payment methods?

JP: The future of payment is going to be more mobile options, whether we like it or not. Single payment across transit systems no matter where you are in the DC area, to include Uber and others. The problem is, like the moderators said, this technology is inaccessible for some people.

So obviously, SmartTrip has to stay in some way because not everyone will want mobile payment. When WMATA finally phased out all paper fare, more than 90% of riders were already using SmarTrip. The relatively low cost of entry to get a SmarTrip card ($2) is drastically different from the cost of a smartphone and data plan. Even though lots of people have smartphones, many don't or are uncomfortable with paying with them.

As we move toward more complex and mobile payment systems, we have to be concerned about securing our data

JP: There's also a cybersecurity component that the panel didn't go into, but is going to be an increasing concern as we move more towards connecting our financial systems with mobile technology.

SW: Agreed. It's often thought of with Uber, but Metro also has plenty of data on us - our daily routine and habits. The SmarTrip swipes give them a glimpse into our travel patterns, which can be greatly useful as WMATA plans routes and scheduling.

Having to swipe twice, once for entry then again for exit, can be annoying, but is immensely valuable (I think) to helping them understand how we ride, and accommodate accordingly. With Metrobus, a noticeable difference is only swiping upon entry. Shyam spoke of the future of transit being crowdsourced buses. It seems for this to be feasible, entry and exit data would eventually be needed.

Ride hailing is a promising industry, but questions on passenger safety and accountability are still legit

JP: New Jersey is testing crowdsourced busing, or bus on demand. Related to a single payment option, should Uber be in the same category as WMATA? Uber is a private company and its goals can't be the same as WMATA's goals, and WMATA is beholden to certain government regulations to ensure a degree of equity in its service, particularly if it wants to cut service. There have been studies and articles about whether Uber is equitable with its clientele and neighborhoods it serves, but it's not the same. Are we also trusting that Uber will stick around for the next 10 years? Is this company and this field of ride sharing mature enough to be stable?

SW: I'm not sure. Uber is a very different organization of course. Annaliese Rosenthal, General Manager of Uber in DC, was excited about UberPOOL and spoke of it often throughout the night - its ability to take multiple drivers off the road and into a single car by matching people going the same direction. But at the most, this allows for 3 to 4 people in a single vehicle, which is just not comparable to Metro. It seems Uber is needed at the moment, but maybe not part of a longer term future.

JP: Personally, Uber hasn't replaced anything for me. I still take bus and rail (or walk) more than I take Uber. Part of that is that traffic in DC can be
terrible, but also that I have to gauge risk with getting into a car with a stranger. The audience joked a bit about how the MyMTPD text message number [to contact Metro police] is too long and hard to remember, but at the same time, there's no police department for Uber. So safety and risk for passengers is going to be an ongoing discussion as Uber or any other competitors emerge on the scene.

SW: Yup, safety is very (the most) important. Annaliese brought up Uber's rating system as their immediate feedback security system, I hadn't thought of it being it. It's the backbone of their company, but maybe not capable of dealing with immediate security risks. Do you feel safe on Metro?

JP: I usually feel safe on the Metro system. I also tend to ride during busier times so there are always people around.

SW: I feel safe too, though unfortunately the crowd during rush tends to bring out the worst of people; but a little pushing here and there isn't so bad I guess. Plus the riders aren't to blame for the overcrowding.

JP: There's an aspect of control that Uber doesn't allow. With Metro, if there's some disturbance on my train I can hop off and get on another car or I can alert the operator (if the intercom works). But with Uber, I'm not about to leap out and tuck and roll my way out of a potential problem.

SW: LOL please don't. In a much more immediate way you're trusting your life with the driver, and who knows if he's gotten enough sleep, if he has road rage, etc. (Hopefully) there is less room for human error with the rail system.

JP: I think, statistically, car travel is still riskier.

Autonomous vehicles may be the future, but how do they integrate into traditional infrastructure, and will they create more problems than they solve?

SW: Do you think driverless cars can solve this safety issue?

JP: Not at the moment. The technology is untested and there are larger policy implications. For instance, if a driverless car hits my car, that's a bigger risk for me than it is for Uber. Do you think driverless cars will encroach on public transit?

SW: I don't think so, particularly after hearing Shyam's skepticism stemming from what he called the "geometry problem." Because after it drops someone off, where does it go? If it returns to a staging area, that requires a lot a space and infrastructure be built; if it hangs around downtown waiting for the next rider, that greatly increases congestion; and if it returns to the roads or highways, that's just more traffic. So ideally, for healthy urban (and suburban) living, it seems public transit is a more viable option.

However, Uber is and can be a useful and important complement. The three panelists, particularly for Metro and Uber, spoke of the importance of their relationship in serving the public. It's tempting to see Uber and Metro as competitors, but they understand they're complements.

JP: I thought that was interesting as well. WMATA might understandably think it's too big and too integrated into the city for Uber to encroach too much. But beyond that, I think the fundamental problem with driverless cars is that we are not decreasing our dependence on cars. They're still polluting whether there are drivers or passengers.

Amtrak focuses on transit-oriented development around a renovated Union Station

SW: Agreed. More surprising for me was how David Zaidain of Amtrak drew a clear distinction between his market, and that of the city-to-city buses.
Amtrak is focused on transit-oriented development and making Union Station a destination

JP: Poor Amtrak. We haven't talked about it all so far.

SW: Ha, what did you think of his vision for Union Station, having the feel of an Apple store, with employees walking around with iPads ready to help?


Union Station. The planned renovations for Union Station include removing information booths and ticketing kiosks, so employees can carry mobile devices and help passengers with check-in and ticketing. Photo by Amaury Laporte on Flickr.

JP: I haven't been in Union Station in years, so I'm not sure whether that's a better option than having more kiosks or even mobile ticketing.

SW: Years?!

JP: Yeah, I don't ride Amtrak that often. The last time was 2014, probably. One thing that David brought up was how Amtrak wanted to drive development around Union Station and around transit, and namely affordable housing. Do you think that's the right direction, given that Amtrak is sort of a niche? Metro, I see driving that. But this was in the context of Amtrak.

SW: I think Amtrak would like there to be development around Union Station. And there has been plenty, though not necessarily driven by Amtrak. David was asked at one point if he thought the ability to provide a relatively cheap and quick commute between say Baltimore and DC would aid affordable housing, allowing folks to live in Baltimore and commute into DC. He answered optimistically to that scenario, though it clearly isn't Amtrak's goal to allow for and encourage affordable housing.

He was honest about Amtrak's desire and need to operate with a business mindset, focusing on services they can get a return on - Which are the higher end, pricier and more luxuries commutes. His vision of the future was offering better wine and food on trains, not bad, just very different than the focus Metro.

JP: Yeah, and I can see how Amtrak can be a good option for the DC to Baltimore commute, though the lowest fare is $26 round trip. We know we need more housing, and more affordable housing, and building it near transit is ideal.

Metro wants to change hearts and minds about buses

JP: What do you think about Shyam and David's point about using infrastructure that already exists. Is this a good strategy?

SW: I think it's practical. Shyam made a good point about how everyone is a closet urban planner, and how fun and exciting it is to think about adding a station here and there, but how difficult it is in the end to get the funding and support. Metro talks a lot about Transit Oriented Development and would love to see the neighborhoods around their stations (notably in Prince George's County) densify.

They want us to come to them, and we want them to come to us. This is a big reason why Shyam was pushing regional bus systems as the future - So much more flexible.

JP: I like the Potomac Yard BRT and I'm happy that Fairfax County is going to invest in BRT as well. It was disappointing to see WMATA hint at dropping it to save money, or to suggest that not providing full funding would lead to BRT getting the chop, though it seems to be spared from service cuts in the FY 2018 budget. Shyam talked about how if/when we achieve maintenance and safety reliability we would be turning back from a dark period in our transit history. I think the audience found that a little surprising, the notion that we will eventually be happy with how much we've achieved once we start pulling out of Metro's dark time.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

SW: Yes, I think he was honest about the issues at hand, but encouragingly optimistic as well. Emphasizing that if we can make smart, tough decisions today, unreliable service will be in the rearview. Do you think WMATA could get more people to ride buses, as Shyam suggested should be heavily featured in the future of DC transit?

JP: Absolutely. Bus has a reputation as being inefficient or confusing to ride. It can be both, but it can all improve if WMATA invests some effort into making better signs that tell people how to navigate the system. Clarify the difference between Metrobus and Circulator (or other regional lines), put up better signs that give people more specific information about bus routes, and not just one big map. Apps can help as well. People who can give directions on which bus to take. I think more tourists can use the bus. I don't have the numbers on hand, but I think more tourists ride rail than bus. If it can spread out a little more, we could handle the congestion better.

SW: I agree; I often avoid buses just out of confusion.

JP: I didn't really enjoy riding the bus until I started riding the Alexandria City DASH bus. It's a small system, so it's not comparable to Metrobus, but the routes are very easy to understand and there are a lot of connecting points so you can transfer between routes or Metro stations easily, or at least hop off and walk the rest of the way.

SW: Given the extensiveness of Metrobus (which is a good thing!) it would be cool if WMATA could provide maps essentially filtered to your potential commutes, like in New York City. This would make the system a lot less intimidating to me because it is nice to stay above ground :)

Bicycling


When bikeshare stations are near Metro, more people use them... especially if they're outside of DC

Bikeshare can help get people to a Metro station when they live or work too far away to walk there. As a result, the region's busiest Bikeshare stations are next to Metro, especially outside of DC.


The CaBi station at the Pentagon City Metro. Photo by mariordo59 on Flickr.

Although some people do use bikeshare as their primary mode of getting around the same way others use bus and rail transit, one of bikeshare's most important functions is to act as a first and last mile connection, meaning people take it to and from home and wherever they board another service. That's where bikeshare has the most benefit when it comes to increasing transit access and use.

The graph below takes a look at how many of our region's Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) stations are located near Metrorail and how many trips begin and end at those stations. As you can see, CaBi stations near Metro are more active than those that are not:


All charts by the author.

Nearly a third of our region's CaBi stations are within a quarter-mile of a Metro station, but nearly half of all trips begin or end at them. Also, 8% of CaBi stations are located at the Metro (I determined by counting the stations whose names include a Metro station name), and 9% of all trips begin and end at them.

To dig deeper into different parts of the region, I divided the region into geographic clusters: In Montgomery County, there's Rockville, Silver Spring/Takoma Park, and Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights; In Arlington County, there's North and South Arlington (with Arlington Boulevard being the dividing line); there's also Alexandria, and of course DC. Prince George's doesn't have any CaBi stations yet.

The CaBi stations near Metro in DC see slightly more use than the stations that aren't near Metro. But in the clusters outside of DC, CaBi stations near Metro see much more use than ones that aren't. In fact, while 26% of CaBi stations in these clusters are within a quarter mile of Metro stations, 45% of all trips start or end there, and while only 10% of CaBi stations in these clusters are at the Metro, they account for 21% of all trips.

Since so many people outside of DC use Metro to commute, we would expect CaBi stations near Metro to capture both local users and commuters and for their overall use to be proportionately higher than the stations farther from Metro. That's the case just about everywhere—for instance, in South Arlington, 18% of CaBi stations are within a quarter mile of a Metro station, however these stations account for 39% of all the trips in that cluster.

Similarly, 5% of the CaBi stations in South Arlington are at Metro stations, but they account for 20% of the total trips. Curiously, the CaBi stations a quarter mile from Metro stations in Alexandria have proportionally fewer trips, but those at the Metro station have proportionally more trips.

Bikeshare at transit stations provides another mode for people to travel to and from the transit station, introducing another opportunity to increase the level of activity in a specific area.

It's likely that CaBi stations at Metro stations outside of DC have higher levels of use because they serve not only people in specific neighborhoods, but also people who use the Metro system. Although it seems intuitive that people using bikeshare at a Metro station would also use Metro, the available the CaBi data do not include the exact reasons why people are using specific CaBi stations.

As other jurisdictions in the region look to start their own bikeshare systems, it would be wise to not only place stations at and within a quarter mile of Metrorail stations, but also to use a bikeshare system that is compatible with CaBi. Doing so would open up the number of potential bikeshare users to not only people in the neighborhood, but to everyone with access to the Metro system.

Transit


16th Street's traffic lights are now optimized for buses

While planning for a 16th Street bus lane continues, DDOT has quietly made another important but nearly invisible improvement there: The traffic signals are now optimized for buses.


16th and U queue jump signal. Photo by the author.

33 traffic signals along 16th Street NW now have Transit Signal Priority, or TSP. TSP holds a green light a few seconds longer, or switches a red to green a few seconds sooner, if a bus is ready to pass through.

Stopping at fewer red lights speeds buses along a line. In particular, DC is using TSP on 16th Street to keep S9 buses on schedule. When one falls behind, the signal priority kicks in so that bus can catch up.

16th Street has so many buses that DDOT can't give each one priority all the time, or it would gum up every perpendicular street along the line. But keeping buses on schedule is a nice improvement for riders.

16th & U queue jumper

In addition to TSP, at 16th and U there's now a dedicated signal just for buses, called a queue jumper. It gives buses their own "go" signal a few seconds before cars get their green, allowing buses to jump ahead of a line of waiting cars. By the time cars get their green and start moving forward, the bus is in front of them rather than behind.

The bus signal looks different than a normal light, so car drivers don't mistake it for one they're supposed to follow. A horizontal bar means stop, and a vertical bar mean go. It's the same as the dedicated streetcar signal at 3rd and H, and the same as bus signals along the Crystal City Potomac Yard transitway.

Traffic lights may not be as exciting as bus lanes, but these details matter. Thanks DDOT for making this progress.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Under Donald Trump, federal funding for transit projects is likely to dwindle

We're almost a week into the transition to a new presidential administration, and there's still a lot we don't know—for example, President-elect Trump has not selected a transportation secretary. But if you look at statements he made during and after his campaign, there's reason to think the coming years may bring more money for roads in our region and less for public transit.


We could be in for much more of what's on the left and a lot less of what's on the right. Images by and Mega Anorak on Flickr, respectively.

One program likely to be be affected is the one giving federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. Created in 2009 to invest in regional transit projects around the country, TIGER grants have helped fund a number of projects in our region.

For example, $58 million in TIGER money went toward bus improvements in the region in 2010, including $8.5 million for the Metroway BRT in Alexandria and Arlington; $20 million went toward HOT lanes in Virginia in 2011; $10 million helped extend the Anacostia Riverwalk in 2012. The most recent beneficiary was Montgomery County, which received $10 million to build BRT from Silver Spring to Burtonsville.

This is what TIGER grants have gone to around the country in that same timeframe:


Image from the USDOT.

Under Trump, transportation is likely to mean "cars"

The TIGER program has been under fire ever since it was created. In 2013, House Republicans put forth a budget bill that would have eliminated TIGER completely (as well as cut 21% of Amtrak's funding); In 2014, Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, tried to steer TIGER toward only funding roads and freight rail; in 2015, Republicans proposed extreme funding cuts to TIGER that would have made the program nearly useless.

Trump's administration, with the support of a Republican-controlled House and Senate, could finally drive a nail in the coffin. Here are a few quotes from Trump's stated infrastructure plan, along with thoughts on what they might actually mean:

  • "Leverage new revenues and work with financing authorities, public-private partnerships, and other prudent funding opportunities."

    On the face of it, this isn't bad. Public-private partnerships are regular government practice. But with Trump's business focus, this could give more leverage to private companies over government, especially if implementing his plan would require hiring more government workers, which could prove to be unpopular with members of Congress.

  • "Harness market forces to help attract new private infrastructure investments through a deficit-neutral system of infrastructure tax credits."

    Deficit-neutral is a popular phrase with Republicans and Democrats. In this case, Trump intends to make up the cost of infrastructure with tax revenue from the companies that build the infrastructure and the workers who would be employed to do the work. But this assumes that he's creating jobs rather than just giving the work to construction workers who have already been paying taxes, and it also assumes that people will use the roads to the level necessary to raise enough revenue to offset the cost.

  • "Implement a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines in the proud tradition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system."

    More airports could definitely be a positive, and bridges do need to be repaired. But the "tradition of Eisenhower" is the highway system and single occupancy vehicles and not public transit, which would be able to move people around for cheaper and reduce gas consumption.

What's all this mean for our region?

An administration that prefers road infrastructure projects over rail and bus projects could pose big challenges for the region for several reasons.

If the administration gave private companies more power to build and maintain roads and bridges, it would create even more roadways with costly, controlled access—HOT lanes, HOV fees, toll roads, you name it. Expensive projects like these would most likely go up in areas where most people can afford to pay more for access. But for those who can't, and who still need to travel in these places, there could be real problems.

Also, if Republicans also take TIGER funds away from transit projects, local jurisdictions may find it harder to improve public transportation for residents to compensate for the new, more expensive roads.

Finally, any projects to conserve lands for walking or jogging will very likely be off the table, and it would be harder to build new bikeshare stations or bike lanes.

Transit


Having pets doesn't mean having a car

If you don't have a car or don't want to drive all the time, taking care of a pet can seem cumbersome. But transporting a small or medium pet without a car is easier than it sounds. As the proud servant to an 18-pound dog, I've learned how to take him around DC without a car.


Photo by Toby Bradbury on Flickr.

Of course, you can walk or bike to your destination with your furry friend in tow. But dogs, cats, and other small animals are also permitted in most taxis, Metro trains and buses, and Zipcars. Most of them require that you take your pet in a secure carrier.

I have a soft-sided airline on-board carrier for my dog, since I can use the carrier for anything and it has a shoulder strap for easy carrying. A hard-sided carrier would be difficult to manage with anything but very small pets, but is also a great multi-tasking option for very small dogs, kitties, lizards, snakes, and the like. There are even wheeled carriers now, some of which have backpack-like straps, that would be ideal for medium-size dogs that may be hard to lift or transport otherwise.

Metro may have the simplest rules for pets. WMATA allows animals on all trains and buses so long as they are contained in a secure carrier, except service animals. I take my dog in his carrier on the bus or train with some regularity. Some passengers object that I'm not allowed to bring my dog on board, but bus drivers and station managers always know that he is welcome and let others know the rules.

Zipcar rules are also straightforward: pets are fine so long as they're in a secure carrier. I know it's tempting to ignore this rule and just load your pet up without a carrier, but those of us with allergies thank you for following the rules. I am very allergic to most dogs and all cats, and spending time in a car with lingering pet dander would be a miserable experience for me.

Despite my dog being low-allergy, I still crate him if I'm using Zipcar to take him to the groomer, vet, or somewhere else. There's an off-chance that someone who uses the car after me might be so sensitive to pet dander that even my dog would bother them, and that is the spirit of the rule. Zipcar is also a decent option for transporting larger pets. Given a large enough vehicle to accommodate an appropriate crate, larger dogs are free to cruise.

Taxis are a bit more complicated. Of course, service animals are still permitted, but taxi drivers can refuse to take non-service animals. Title 31, Section 801.10(b) of the DC Municipal Regulations say that passengers can bring pets, but they need to be in a secure carrier unless the operator has a medical exemption certificate; the regulations also specify that a for-hire operator may, at their discretion, allow companion animals outside of carriers

When requesting a taxi, I always let the dispatcher know I will have a dog in a carrier with me. I've only once had a problem with this, at National Airport, which is not subject to DC regulations. A driver told me that I'd have to put my dog in the trunk or take another cab, but rather than objecting, I opted to just take a different taxi. Thankfully, the staff member handling the taxi line was able to get me a taxi driver happy to transport my crated dog promptly.

In some situations, you may need to street hail a cab with your pet. In order to refuse you, the cab drive must have a placard in the taxi saying they have an exemption. I sometimes take my dog in Uber sedans, and I've always followed their advice and called the driver as soon as he accepts the fare and let him know I have a dog in a carrier. I've never had an Uber driver refuse service on that basis, though the drivers do sometimes ask how big he is, so you may encounter problems with larger dogs.

There are also several pet taxi services in DC that can take your pet (with or without you) to vet or groomer's appointments or wherever else they need to go. These are the best option for folks with larger animals, as the vehicles are designed for pets and often don't require a crate. They are more expensive than regular cabs, but likely cheaper than owning a car, particularly if you don't need to regularly transport your pet by vehicle or your pet is small enough to take on the Metro.

Managing a pet without a car does present some challenges, but DC has resources to take your pet by public transportation, carshare, or hired vehicles. With the right equipment and knowledge, you can take great care of your pet without driving everywhere.

Links


Worldwide links: Is the future in Finland?

The future of urban transportation may live in Finland, Berlin is taking cars off of its most famous street, and light rail won't run from Norfolk to Virginia Beach. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Raimo Papper on Flickr.

"Mobility" has a new meaning Is Helsinki, Finland the home of the future of transportation? The city is testing self-driving buses on increasingly difficult routes and is at the forefront of the "mobility as a service" movement, which essentially would make buying your mobility like buying a phone plan: you'd pay by the month (rather than by the call) for a spectrum of options. (New York Times)

Pedestrians coming soon: Berlin will be taking cars off of its most famous street, Unter Den Linden, which used to be the city's major parade route and is its current museum strip. The move away from automobiles began with the construction of a new subway segment under the street. The route once carried 30,000 cars a day but is now down to 8,000, and it's likely to be one of the first pieces of the car-free central city that leaders envision happening by 2019. (CityLab)

Stop that train: A measure to build a light rail extension in Virginia Beach failed Tuesday evening, leading the state's transportation secretary to ask local transit planners to stop working on the project. The $155 million already set aside for the project will be redistributed to projects based on the state's new transportation investment scoring system. (Virginian-Pilot)

Building more earth: Humans are constantly shifting the earth below them, both as they build and destroy. For example, after WWII, 75 million tons of rubble from bombed out buildings in Berlin was collected and taken to a dumping site that now forms a not-insignificant hill called Teufelsberg. Anthropologists are studying these man-made base levels of cities, referring to them as an earth layer called the Archaeosphere which, in Sweden's case, can mean extracting raw materials left behind. (Places Journal)

Direct route delayed: A rail tunnel linking the current Caltrain terminus to the new Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco will not be complete until 2026. Lawsuits related to the Millennium Tower in San Francisco, which has started to lean, are holding up money for new tunnels. The tunnels are expected to be used by Caltrain and High Speed Rail once they're finished. (SFist)

Quote of the Day

"Regionalism is a Trojan Horse term right out of the lexicon of the 1970s. So-called regionalism was never a compromise. It was always a stealth tactic, an abandonment of the city, which was considered half dead anyway by the city's own leadership. Regionalism was always a ruse to shift resources to the suburbs."

- Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze discussing whether the city's long term health is better off building more suburban transit, or focusing on the core with a new subway line. (Dallas Observer)

Transit


Get a look at 23rd century public transit in the latest Star Trek movie

In the Star Trek universe, transporter technology can instantaneously whiz characters from starships to planets and back again. The latest Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, shows us transporters in service as public transit.


Public transporter booth. Screencap from Star Trek Beyond. Click for video.

Although transit has never been a key element of Star Trek, which is rarely set in big cities, the franchise's long history does include a few scenes with futuristic transportation.

A few seconds later in that same scene, a high-speed train zips by.

In the previous movie, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, we saw a brief glimpse of a futuristic articulated bus.

And finally, in a 1995 TV episode of Star Trek Voyager, one character emerged from a 24th Century San Francisco subway system called Trans Francisco.

But all those futuristic trains aside, the transporter has got to be the coolest of Trek's multimodal options.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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