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Posts about Transit

Transit


This map shows how easy it is to take transit to work

We spend a lot of time praising neighborhood walkability and proximity to transit. But how valuable is the ability to walk to the grocery store if residents still need to drive a long distance to get to work?


A map of "Opportunity Score" values from Redfin for the DC area, with county boundaries added by the contributor. Scores are based on the number of jobs paying $40,000/year or more accessible by a transit commute of less than half an hour from a given point.

The real-estate company Redfin recently released an online tool called "Opportunity Score" that lets you explore the number of jobs that are accessible by transit from any address in a number of metro areas, including DC.

For any address in an area that the tool covers, the tool can calculate a numerical score between zero (least transit-accessible jobs) and one hundred (most transit accessible jobs). Alternatively, by searching for a metro area without a specific address, you can see a color-coded map of the numerical scores throughout the region, where green corresponds to the highest scores and red to the lowest.

The Transit Score map for the DC area reveals some interesting, if not entirely surprising, patterns. Thanks to Metro and good bus service, nearly everywhere within DC, Arlington, and Alexandria has good transit access to jobs.

Some places farther out are similar: several areas in Fairfax County (particularly in the vicinities of Tysons and Reston) and a large part of Montgomery County (in Silver Spring and along the Wisconsin Avenue-Rockville Pike corridor) have very good access to jobs.

In Prince George's County, however, things are quite different. The relative lack of high-paying jobs in the county and the low density around most of its Metro stations, along with more limited bus service, result in there being very few areas in the county where it is possible to commute to many jobs by transit in under thirty minutes.

Notably, the Prince George's County section of the Purple Line will connect a number of areas with low access to jobs to the employment centers in Bethesda and Silver Spring. However, this will serve only a very small portion of the county. Better bus service as well as increasing density in the more transit-accessible parts of the county are also essential to scaling back the car-dependence of commutes in Prince George's.

The tool might not be as useful for some as it is others

It is worth noting that Opportunity Score, which is based on Redfin's Walk Score tool, has a couple of notable limitations. The list of jobs only includes ones that pay over $40,000/year, so it doesn't tell you anything about the commutes to low-paying jobs (and people with those jobs are particularly likely to use transit).

It also considers some commuting options that only run at rush hour (i.e., I could take the Camden Line from my apartment in College Park, but it only runs at rush hour, so it doesn't do me much good if I have a night shift job, for example).

Most jobs that pay over $40,000 do follow the usual 9-to-5, though, so the fact that some of the transit considered is rush-hour-only will matter less to people looking for those jobs than to service workers looking for lower-paying jobs, but who will need to commute at less standard hours.

Transit


Is a gondola across the Potomac realistic? We're about to find out.

Is it a crazy idea to link Georgetown and Rosslyn by building a gondola over the Potomac? We're about to find out. A study of the idea has begun in earnest, and by the fall we should know more about whether building one is possible and how many people might use it.


Could the iconic Key Bridge get a new neighbor? Images from the Georgetown BID unless otherwise noted.

Here's what we know about the gondola thus far

The notion of an aerial gondola system linking Georgetown and Rosslyn first came to light in the Georgetown BID's 15 year action plan, which was published in 2013.

In theory, a gondola could pick up passengers right at the Rosslyn Metro (even, some have speculated, with elevators right from the Metro station) and take them to spots on M Street and on Georgetown University.

Because the topography is very steep in this area (for example, there's a big change in altitude between M Street and the university), a gondola might be able to offer more direct trips than even one on a roadway.

According to proponents, a gondola could quickly and cheaply provide transit instead of waiting for a Metro line to link Georgetown and Rosslyn, which is likely decades away from happening (if ever).

A gondola system can also accommodate a high capacity of passengers with efficient headways (more than 3,000 passengers per hour, per direction) and efficient travel time (approximately four minutes end-to-end).

Gondolas are a real transit mode in many cities

If a gondola system is to become reality in DC/Northern Virginia, one major hurdle to clear is that of public perception. The idea of a gondola system as a legitimate mode of transit is simply not one that many people take very seriously.

This is due largely in part to the fact that urban gondola systems are still a rarity here in the United States. In fact, there are only two active urban aerial systems in the country which are used for transportation purposes. Those systems are located at Roosevelt Island in New York City and Portland, OR.

That being said, there has been a significant uptick in urban gondola systems internationally since the year 2000, including three systems in Turkey, three in Africa (and a fourth currently under construction), and two in Spain

The Portland, OR aerial system specifically serves as a significant model of success. It's ridership reached ten million only seven years after opening, and it serves over 3,000 riders per day.


Portland's gondola, otherwise known as the aerial tram. Image from Gobytram.

Could a gondola work in Georgetown?

Contributor Topher Matthews, a Georgetown resident who participated in the Georgetown 2028 action plan process, says not to scoff at the idea:

Currently the GU GUTS bus carries 700,000 people from Rosslyn to campus every year. That's just a starting point to what the gondola would expect in terms of ridership. I have no doubt the ridership from GU alone would increase substantially with a gondola. And that's before even considering a single tourist, resident or worker wanting to use it to get to M Street faster.

Lots of the eye rolling comes from supposedly more level headed pro-transit people thinking that a cheaper more effective solution can be found with less exotic technology. But with the exception of Metro (which the plan admits will make the gondola no longer necessary), all the ways to improve the Rosslyn to Georgetown/GU connection go over Key Bridge and through Canal Road. Do you really think transit only lanes on these routes is remotely politically feasible?

A study will answer many questions

We still don't know all that much about how much a gondola would actually help move people between Georgetown and Rosslyn, and there are many regulatory and cross-jurisdictional challenges that some view as difficult (if not impossible) to overcome. This is due in part to the fact that agencies in both DC and Virginia would need to sign off on the project, not to mention the National Park Service, which tends to be jealous about keeping overhead wires away from its parkland.

A feasibility study, which ZGF Architects is leading, will aim to find out how many people might actually use a Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola, as well as to gauge the system's ability to spur economic growth and development.
The study was funded from a combination of grants from DDOT, Arlington, the Rosslyn and Georgetown BIDs, and others. The study kicked off at a public meeting on July 7.

It will attempt to identify any major roadblocks or "fatal flaws" that would make the project a non-starter. These could include regulations or engineering requirements that are just too hard to get around.

ZGF will propose a couple of different layouts for the gondola. It will also study how the system could complement public spaces on either side of the river. From there, the firm will come up with strategies for logistics like funding and operating the system. ZGF will present its findings and recommendations this fall.

The bottom line is that the gondola is at least worth studying. If it turns out to be too costly in any respect, the idea can simply be dropped. But it might not be such a crazy idea after all.

Transit


SafeTrack returns to Ballston this week, and some work from last time still isn't finished

Between July 20th and 31st, Orange and Silver Line trains will share a single track between Ballston and East Falls Church and run less frequently. SafeTrack's first work surge was in the same place, and there are still a few loose ends to tie up.


The percent change in how many trains will run on the Silver and Orange lines during SafeTrack Surge 5. Image from WMATA.

Surge 1 work focused on the track typically used for inbound traffic (otherwise known as track "K1"). During Surge 2, Metro workers will hop over to track 2 (K2) and will do a lot of the same work. That likely means replacing rail ties, fasteners, insulators, grout pad, and power cables. In addition to this, workers will also need to finish up some deferred power maintenance that they didn't get done during Surge 1.

For all riders to the west of Ballston, this means that trains will come only every 18 minutes, 1/3 the number that typically come during a normal rush hour. They'll run more frequently east of Ballston, both because some Orange Line trains coming from New Carrollton will stop and turn around there and because the Blue Line will keep running its normal schedule from Rosslyn.

How to get around during the Surge

As with Surge 1, some westbound Orange line trains will stop at Ballston, and others will continue to Vienna. The ones that stop at Ballston will probably let people off on the regular outbound platform, turn around, reload passengers, and continue back to New Carrollton. Trains continuing to Vienna and Wiehle will enter Ballston on the "wrong" track, let people on/off there, and continue to their destination.

In other words, the shuffling that caused confused riders at Ballston's platforms will probably be back. It'll be possible for trains both heading into and away from DC to pick up and drop off passengers on either platform. So hopefully Metro again has employees in the station helping you out telling you where to pick up the train.

Metro has lots of alternative transportation info listed, including the bus shuttles around West Falls, East Falls, and Ballston, Metrobus routes with additional service, and info on traveling by bike rather than train. If you anticipate being affected by the work, check to see if there's a bus line, carpooling options, or other transport that might be a feasible alternative during the 12 days of single-tracking.

The FTA already found defects in the Surge 1 and 2 areas

The Federal Transit Administration recently released inspection data on the first two surges, showing that as of July 14th, inspectors found 109 "defects" in 27 inspections. The Surge 1 area from East Falls Church to Ballston had eight items that needed to be corrected, and there were 26 for the second SafeTrack area, near Stadium-Armory.

The term "defects" is vague, however: a defect could be anything from a burnt out lightbulb in a tunnel, to missing fasteners that could cause a derailment. The FTA defines a defect as "a documented non-conformance or deviation of WMATA's safety standards, [or] rules or procedure." So some of the issues the FTA found may be relatively small, but any noted deficiencies shows Metro still needs to work towards minding both the big and little rules when it comes to passenger and worker/employee safety.

Metro's Deputy General Manager of Operations, Andy Off, commented on the quality of the work done so far during SafeTrack, acknowledging that the agency needs to tighten up on some of the quality control being done. A new feature of SafeTrack is having quality control/assurance employees walking the tracks while work is being done, not just afterwards.

If this procedure change is more tightly integrated with the track work being done and Metro's new Chief Safety Officer continues to work on the agency's safety culture, then we should hopefully see these defect numbers diminish over the life of SafeTrack, and further on down the road.

Links


Worldwide links: France

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


Photo by Kristoffer Trolle on Flickr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week

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

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

Public Spaces


National links: Hockey as a harbinger

What does outlawing street hockey in Canada say about public space? Germany is building super highways for bikes, and Oakland is getting its first Department of Transportation. Check out what's happening around the country (and beyond) in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Dave Kuehn on Flickr.

Game Off!!: Fewer people are playing street hockey in Canada. People playing have received tickets for doing so on neighborhood streets, and some kids say a lot of the hockey they play these days has so much supervision and structure that it's boring. Hockey is one thing, but the bigger issue is that kids feel less welcome in public spaces, like streets, than they used to. (Guardian Cities)

Bike super highways: Germany is building a series of bicycle super highways that will soon connect ten cities and is predicted to take 50,000 drivers off the road. The paths are 13 feet wide and fully separated from car traffic, even at intersections. There's a hope that this kind of infrastructure will usher in alternatives to crowded road and transit systems. (Guardian Cities)

New department in town: Oakland, California doesn't have a Department of Transportation, but it's starting one up this month. The interim director says the new agency will lead the way in answering questions about how to design transportation equitably and inclusively and how to design bike infrastructure without putting drivers on the defensive. (Next City)

Urban growth measures: We often compare cities by their population growth over time. Houston has overtaken Chicago as the third largest city in the US, but that's because counts include suburban growth and annexation, not just central city infill. Analysis by Yonah Freemark shows how central cities have changed since 1960, and that we should consider differences in how cities have grown when we talk about transportation policy. (Transport Politic)

A dense definition: The word "density" makes different people think of different things, and it's pretty unclear what it means relative to cities Are we talking about the density of buildings? People? Another quantifiable statistic? Perhaps the best kind of density is when the result is places where people want to go out and be around one another. (City Metric)

Quote of the week

"These are public streets, and navigation apps take advantage of them. Waze didn't invent cut-through traffic, it just propagates it."

Aarian Marshall in Wired Magazine discussing the neighborhood animosity towards the Waze App.

Links


National links: How the highways happened

The US highway system is around partly because of a road trip Dwight Eisenhower took right after WWI, and if our leaders don't invest in our transit infrastructure, we'll have to sit back and hope for the best until they change their minds. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

Interstate prelude: On July 7, 1919, Dwight Eisenhower struck out on a road trip across the country. His military convoy, the first to cross the US by car, was partly a WWI celebration and partly an effort to gather info on the state of American roads at the time. It averaged 52 miles per day. This road trip and a view of the German autobahns would plant the seeds of the future US Interstate Highway System (History)

Alphabet soup: Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (which is basically Google), has offered a suite of tools to Columbus Ohio, the winner of a contest for city design. It includes a program called "Flow," which would help the city modernize its parking system and coordinate ride sharing for low income residents. Though some worry the program will take away from standard transit services. (Guardian Cities)

Surviving the storm: Transit in the United States is often set back by ideological rigidity and under-investment. Laws that keep tax money from going toward infrastructure, for example, make it impossible to get the support needed to repair and expand transit, and they'll stay in place unless leaders change them. The real question is whether transit can survive until those changes happen. (The Hill)

Try something new!: The developers behind a Harris Teeter in Carrboro, North Carolina, want to build something familiar: a grocery store in a tired strip mall. The design has remained very suburban and auto-oriented despite the city's multiple efforts to make it more urban and increase its potential tax base. It's an example of what happens when bean counters at the home office believe what they've always done (strip malls) is the only way to make money. (City Beautiful 21)

No Mickey Mouse ride: Disney has been pushing for a streetcar line from a commuter rail station in Anaheim to the theme park, and local officials were going along with the plan until now. The streetcar has been cancelled by the Orange Country Transit Authority board, with opponents citing low demand for the existing commuter rail and a high speed rail station that's coming in the future as reasons. (Voice of the OC)

Geek city:This week bay area tech incubator Y Combinator has put out a request for applications for its city research endeavor. The agency hopes that in the future, it might be able to find out the best way to build a city from scratch in a way that's better than what exists now. Good luck with that.(Treehugger)

Quote of the Week

"Drive-ins shifted the film industry's focus to the teenage demographic, a tactic that still informs studio decisions in 2016. And drive-ins unwittingly became both cause and casualty of urban sprawl."

- Urban planning expert Ryan Baker on the heyday of the drive in theater.

Transit


748 MetroGreater ideas and counting! What's yours?

Riders across the region have submitted more than 700 ideas to make Metro greater. You can read a few of them below. What's your MetroGreater idea?

Last week, Greater Greater Washington launched MetroGreater, a crowdsourcing site for riders to submit their ideas for small, quick fixes Metro can make to improve the rider experience on rail, bus, or paratransit. Through July 15th, the public can submit and comment on others' ideas. Then, a jury will review the ideas and the public will get to vote among the finalists to pick a winner.

In less than one week we've gotten 748 ideas! Most of them are responsive to the key criteria: that ideas be achievable by Metro for under $100,000 in under six months and not impair safety or violate any laws.

Metro rail art

Several ideas involve art installations in Metro tunnels and stations. Michael thinks art will help keep conductors alert and engaged. Kristin shares research which shows positive effects of subway art on riders' experience. From encouraging tourists to visit lesser-frequented stations by featuring local artists' work to keeping conductors and passengers more engaged, many people think adding art will making riding Metro greater.


Photo by Megan Wong on Flickr.

SmartTrip reloads on Metrobus

In an effort to speed up bus service, Eric thinks there should be a minimum requirement for how much people can reload onto their SmartTrip cards while aboard a bus. He thinks that instituting a minimum reload of $5, $10, or even $20, would reduce the number of reloads per person and improve overall bus travel time. Jess, however, disagrees. Dominic suggests testing out pre-payment on busy bus routes to address the delays caused by onboard reloads.

More seating on rail and bus

Dan and Victoria think we need more seating at Metro rail stations. Mathew suggests stronger language on priority seating signs.

Quick fixes for people with disabilities

Diana suggests printing color words on Metro signs so people with colorblindness can navigate better, while Shelby recommends having a light flash on the exit side of the train as it pulls into a station to help deaf passengers.


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Popular suggestions

A few ideas seem to be quite popular. At quick glance, the most common suggestions have to do with improving lighting in Metro rail stations, helping people understand the "stand right, walk left" escalator etiquette, and enforcing the no eating or drinking rules.

What do you think of these ideas? Remember, you can submit and comment on others' ideas at metrogreater.org through July 15th.

Transit


At this park & ride, buses and bikes get the spotlight

Renovations to Fairfax's Stringfellow Road Park and Ride just finished up, and they're largely focused on buses and bicycles. This means the park and ride will function more like a multi-modal transit center than just a place for commuters to leave their cars.


New waiting area and bike racks. Photo by Adam Lind.

The park and ride is in Centreville, close to Fair Lakes and I-66. There is a special HOV-only exit that makes it popular with commuters who want to either join a slug line or catch the bus.


Image from Google Maps.

It will be easier to catch a bus

New buses will service the park and ride, while existing routes will run more often, seven days a week. At rush hour, buses will run between Stringfellow and the Vienna Metro every 10 minutes.

A Fairfax Connector store will have resources for riders, as well as a place to wait for the bus. Also, more bus service is likely to come in the future thanks to Transform 66. That project will build HOT lanes between Haymarket and Falls Church that will be used by a number of express buses, which may originate or stop at Stringfellow Road.

There's a great option for storing your bike

Bicycling also gets a big boost thanks to the arrival of the county's second secure bike room. This facility will be similar to the now-popular bike room at the Reston-Wiehle Metro station.

The bike room is a great option for cyclists: the fact that you need a membership pass makes it much less likely for your bike to be stolen, and the shelter keeps your bike out of the elements. Some parking is available for bike trailers or other over-sized bicycles as well.


Inside the secure bike room. Photo by Adam Lind.

Adam Lind, Fairfax County's bicycle program coordinator, said that Fairfax has plans to provide secure bike parking at any regular parking garage built or funded by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. This includes garages built at future Silver Line Metro stations. He also said that members will be able to use any garage in the county's growing network.

Lind expects that biking to the Stringfellow Park and Ride will become even more popular since Transform 66 will many making bike and pedestrian options in surrounding neighborhoods better. One example: plans to extend the Custis Trail.

While the big transit news in Fairfax usually deals with Tyson's Corner and the Silver Line the new amenities at Stringfellow Road show that improvement is happening all over the our region's most populous jurisdiction.

Transit


Public transportation is important, say Virginians

Fewer people in Virginia are driving to work alone, Virginians want more bus, train, and bike options throughout the state, and there's a link between the number of transit options a person has and their quality of life. These takeaways, and more, come from a recently-released survey of Virginia's residents.


One question in the survey asked "How satisfied are you with your trip to work?" Image from DRPT.

Last year, Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation ran the Virginia Statewide Travel Study, asking almost 10,000 people across the state about their commutes. The agency ran a similar survey in 2007.

The vast majority of respondents came from 12 major areas in the state including Northern Virginia, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville. The survey asked people a variety of questions about how they get to work, what they know about the transportation available where they live, and what they think about it.

The results of the 2015 were presented in May, at the Virginia Transit Association's annual conference. DRPT summarized the study's findings in five points:

  1. Virginia is becoming more multimodal, and transit is part of this success story.
  2. Higher satisfaction ratings with work commutes directly correlate to higher satisfaction ratings with Virginia's transportation system. Higher ratings of Virginia's transportation system drive higher quality of life ratings.
  3. Those who commute to work by bus/train (versus other modes) are more satisfied with their work commutes and Virginia's transportation system.
  4. Virginia needs to get more people on board. This comes with little risk, as more people would ride the bus if more convenient transit services were available.
  5. Most people would support more investment in Virginia's transportation system. The vast majority of Virginians, including "drive-alone commuters," feel it is important that Virginia invest in its transportation system to maintain and grow Virginia's economy. This includes alternative transportation options.
The average commuting distance from home to work of those surveyed was just under 17 miles and 29 minutes one-way, just about the same as what the survey found in 2007.

However, the survey also found that people driving alone to/from work accounted for around 77% of trips, a 5% decrease from 82% in 2007. The drop in single-occupancy driving is interesting, as Virginia's population has grown by 600,000 people from 7.7 to 8.3 million between the time the two studies were conducted.

Seven of 10 major regional markets in Virginia saw the drop in drive-alone rates, led by Hampton Roads (down 11 percent), Culpeper (down 9 percent), and Richmond (down 8 percent). State-wide, Virginia saw train, bus, and telework commuting rise 5.5 percent at the same time.


Virginians agree strongly that public transportation is important.

When asked about the importance of investment in and upkeep of transportation, all age groups, generations, transportation mode users, and even the vast majority of drive-alone commuters expressed significant agreement that the transportation system is important to Virginia's economy.

Most importantly though, the responses seem to indicate agreement that a multitude of transportations is important—not just driving. Multiple options including car, train, and bus can provide backups to each other, added capacity, and affordable options for getting from one place to the next.


DRPT's study suggests increasing transit frequency and making it more available would increase ridership.

The DRPT survey also suggests that if there were more transit service, more people would use it. Just around 50 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to use public transit more often if either it was available closer to where they live, or if it operated more frequently. Both of these statements seem to be fairly obvious, but now the state has data to back up similar claims when they're looking to expand capacity like bringing rail service back to Roanoake.

Interestingly, there's a 6% gap between the top two responses, and the next five down. The response gap between the top two and the third option of less-expensive fares appears to suggest that even if the transit service is somewhat pricey (think WMATA's distance-based fares), the ridership could still be there as long as access to the service is convenient, and as long as the service is frequent.

The entire 2015 Virginia Statewide Travel Study presentation is available on the DRPT website. The agency plans to release region-specific versions of the report in the near future.

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