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Transit


Richmond will have BRT by 2018

Bus rapid transit will come to Richmond in 2018. The long-planned Broad Street BRT project won a federal TIGER grant this week to cover half its cost, allowing the project to move forward into final design and construction.


Rendering of Broad Street BRT. Image from the Greater Richmond Transit Company.

Broad Street is Richmond's most successful transit corridor, and main bus spine. It runs through or near most of Richmond's densest urban neighborhoods and most important central city hubs. It's the natural place for rapid transit.

The BRT project will run from the Willow Lawn shopping center in suburban Henrico County, through Virginia Commonwealth University and downtown Richmond, all the way to Rocketts Landing on the city's east side.

It will use a mix of dedicated curbside bus lanes and a median busway through the busiest sections of the central city, with mixed-traffic operation on either end.


Map of Broad Street BRT. Original image from the GRTC.

Projections say the BRT line will carry about 3,300 riders per day. That's low compared to the standards of a transit rich metropolis like DC, but it's huge for a place like Richmond, where there are only about 35,000 total daily bus riders in the entire region.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


DC Circulator is such a great brand it's expanded to Ohio

Earlier this year Columbus, Ohio launched CBUS, the Columbus Circulator. It's a special overlay bus route running along the main street through the city's densest, most urban neighborhoods. It comes every 10 minutes, has a low (actually free) fare, and limited stops. Sound familiar?

Oh, and here's a photo:


Photo by Darius Pinkston on Flickr.

Look familiar? That sweeping line, the destinations labeled on the side, "CIRCULATOR" in a modern sans-serif font right in the middle. It looks nothing like Columbus' standard bus livery, but it is all very reminiscent of the DC Circulator.

In fact, Ohio transit advocates had the DC Circulator in mind during planning for CBUS.

Columbus isn't alone, either. "Circulator" is spreading as an increasingly common brand choice for short-distance, high-frequency buses in mixed-use areas, especially near DC. There's a Bethesda Circulator, a Tysons Circulator, and a Baltimore Circulator.

Just how far will this brand spread?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit pulls into Gaithersburg

Bus Rapid Transit is years away in Montgomery County, but residents got a preview when Action Committee for Transit and Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended brought a bus rapid rabbit transit bus to the 76th annual Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade.


County Executive Ike Leggett at the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade. Photos by Tracey Johnstone.

ACT's Tina Slater and Bee Ditzler conceived of, designed, and built the bus, which traveled the one-mile parade route in a rapid 45 minutes. It sports drawings of rabbits riding the bus, making this not just Bus Rapid Transit, but Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit.

In addition, a dance team performed a routine ably choreographed by the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn to the sounds of the Hollies' Bus Stop, the Fatback Band's Do the Bus Stop, and the Four Tops's bus stop song.

But don't feel bad if you missed it. ACT is already planning its second year of marching in the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade. If you have ideas or want to join, please visit ACT's website and get in touch! But don't delay, because the big day is only 11 weeks away.

Transit


A $1.50 fare isn't holding back the Tide

Norfolk's Tide Light Rail opened in 2011, and has exceeded its initial ridership projections. But the Virginian-Pilot newspaper recently called for Hampton Roads Transit to slash Tide fares to increase ridership. Are fares holding back ridership, or are other factors at play here?


Photo by VDOT.

Local media jumped on the news trying to
figure out
whether the arguments in Norfolk for free fares apply in the DC area for projects like the Columbia Pike Streetcar.

Do free fares encourage new ridership?

Simply put, yes. The editorial notes that for a 10% decrease in fares, ridership generally increases about 3%. The real question is whether the additional subsidy required to operate a free (or cheap) transit service is worth the cost.

But for all of its problems, it's probably not the fares that are keeping people from riding the Tide.

The Virginian-Pilot argues that the Tide's problem is low demand, and points to falling ridership on the line. This ignores that ridership has fallen on the area's bus routes as well, and in Hampton Roads a bus fare is the same as the fare on the Tide. Maybe the whole system should be free. That would probably increase transit ridership.

Other cities either have (or have experimented with) free fares but there's not a lot of evidence that the prospect of a free ride leads to a big increase in ridership. Besides, there may be better ways to increase ridership.

What does the Tide actually need?

The editorial does make some suggestions that would also benefit the Tide. The first is an acknowledgement that the system needs to grow. Norfolk wants to expand the system within its own borders to the Naval Base and the Airport. Meanwhile Virginia Beach wants to take advantage of the existing railroad right of way and extend the line all the way to the Atlantic waterfront.

This would automatically put the system closer to a great number of people and jobs, and could even have state-wide benefits with the ability to take Amtrak to Norfolk and then light rail to the beach.

The editorial also notes that the Tide was meant to jumpstart a wave of transit-oriented development (TOD) that hasn't happened yet. In the DC area we know how long it can take TOD to arrive even for an extensive system like Metro. The Pilot does seem to get that TOD will increase ridership. But instead of arguing for zoning and policy changes, it assumes the free fare itself will be enough to generate the TOD.

Development centered around transit will very likely increase ridership, though those land use changes will take decades. And people will not decide just to locate next to a transit line because it's free or cheap. They'll only move there if they find the line useful. If it doesn't go where they're going, they won't ride it, even if it is free.

That's why it's important for Hampton Roads Transit to build a larger transit network and why it's important for the local governments to encourage development (the places people want to go) near transit.

The city of Norfolk's goal (building TOD and reducing traffic) is notably different from Hampton Roads Transit's, whose goal is to make sure it can provide service without running into any large budget problems. If Norfolk ends up agreeing with the newspaper and makes the Tide free, maybe the city can pay the difference so the additional subsidy requirement won't harm other transit services in the region.

It's good that the Virginian-Pilot wants the Tide to be successful and recognizes that transit is an effective way to reduce or mitigate the effects of traffic congestion and how it can be a tool that allows lifestyle and urban form changes. But just focusing on fares is a narrow solution that will have less impact than a more balanced approach.

The same can be said for transit in the DC region. Free fares may be a good thing to consider, but we should be considering many factors when discussing how to increase ridership.

Projects like the Columbia Pike Streetcar will have ridership whether or not the cost to ride is free. The proposed line will connect dense, diverse neighborhoods along the Pike to the Pentagon and the Metro system. It will also likely encourage more development in the corridor over time, which will have a positive impact on ridership. Making fares cheaper may increase ridership, but transit-oriented development and service improvements (faster trips, more frequent trains) will make the line more useful, and that will have a much larger impact on ridership.

Transit


Alexandria's Metroway BRT: Open and carrying passengers

The DC region's first Bus Rapid Transit line opened this weekend. Metroway runs from Crystal City to Braddock Road, using a transitway along Route 1 in Alexandria.


All photos by Dan Malouff.

The transitway runs down the center of Route 1, with one lane in each direction. Stations are on either side, in medians separating the transitway from the general lanes.

The Metroway buses themselves have a unique brand and paint scheme, but are otherwise similar to other WMATA Metrobuses.

But Metroway isn't the only route that uses the transitway. Any Metrobus route traveling down that stretch of Route 1 can use it.

The transitway stations are more comparable to light rail stations than normal bus stops. They're larger, have better protection against the elements, more seats, raised platforms, and better information. Unfortunately so far they lack real-time arrival displays or pre-pay.

For now, the Metroway is only really BRT for part of the Alexandria portion of its route. The Arlington portion of the transitway is still under construction, so the bus runs in mixed traffic through Arlington for now.

But in 2015, new sections of transitway and dedicated bus lanes will open in Arlington, making Metroway even better.


Metroway initial route (left) and route starting in 2015 (right). Map from WMATA.

Visit the full Flickr album to see more photos.

Transit


Ask GGW: Why do some stations have side platforms?

Have you ever wondered why your Metro station has two side platforms instead of a single island platform? If so, you're not alone. Reader Sam Inman is curious, too.


Images by the author.
Why are some stations (I'm particularly interested in the subterranean stations) designed with the side platform design instead of the island?

Do you know if this is dictated by a topography/cost concerns? Or was there a design consideration that wanted to force passengers to make their decision at the mezzanine level rather than on the platform level?

Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. In practice, the layout can be influenced by a variety of factors, so there's great variation between transit systems. But there are some general rules that influence the layout (though they're not hard and fast).

Economics
In general, island platforms can be cheaper because they require less duplicative infrastructure. However, sometimes other technical factors can make side platform stations cheaper.

With an island platform, the station requires less vertical circulation. For example, Foggy Bottom only needs 1 mezzanine-to-platform elevator, since it has an island platform. But Farragut West needs 2 mezzanine-to-platform elevators, since it has side platforms. Staircases and escalators can do double duty at an island platform, but sometimes need to be duplicated at side platform stations.

Loading can also be an issue. For example, at a station that is very commuter heavy in the morning with passengers all traveling the same direction, a side platform station may have one platform that is very full and one that is completely empty. That's less efficient than an island platform, where the passengers can use the whole platform, even though they're primarily focused on one track.

But oftentimes these considerations take a back seat to the method of construction, which can also influence the station design.

Construction influences
For underground construction, if the line is cut-and-cover, it is often more cost-effective to build side platforms. With cut-and-cover construction, the tunnels are constructed by digging up the street, building the tunnels, and then rebuilding the street.

To build an island platform station with this method, it requires the two tracks be spread apart from each other (to give room for the platform). This requires more excavation than a side-platform station, which only requires the extra width for the length of the station.


The difference in excavation required for side versus island platforms. Graphic by the author.

So when subways are constructed using cut-and-cover, like along I Street around McPherson and Farragut Squares, stations often have side platforms.

On the other hand, when a subway line is deeper, and is bored through the ground, it often makes much more sense to have island platform stations. This is because when lines are bored, the two subway tubes are not directly next to each other. Since the tracks are already apart, when they get to a station, it's much easier to just put the platform between the tracks, rather than to pull the tracks together so the platforms can be on the outside.

This is the case for the deep stations along Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue between Woodley Park and Medical Center.

It's much rarer, but sometimes both tracks are built in the same (larger) subway tube. This is the case for the Red Line between Farragut North and Woodley Park (not including either of those stations). Both tracks are in the same (bored) tunnel, and so at Dupont Circle, it makes much more sense to have side platforms, since the tracks are already right next to each other.

This is also the case for almost the entire Montreal Metro system, where the tracks are always in the same tunnel. As a result, almost every station has side platforms.

There's less pressure for one or the other design on elevated and surface rail lines, since the construction is cheaper than subway construction. However, there are still some influencing factors. For example, when the tracks are running in a freeway median, the road lanes have to spread out in advance of the station anyway, so there's no penalty for spreading the tracks out ahead of time either. So in that case, there's no penalty for an island platform station. For a side-platform station, the only penalty is the duplicated infrastructure.

On an elevated viaduct, it might be easier to have one structure carrying both tracks rather than two separate structures for each track, and therefore side platform stations may be cheaper, like at West Hyattsville. But then again, it's not necessarily better one way or the other, and so sometimes an island platform makes more sense, like at McLean.

Design decisions
Sometimes, though, a transit agency might make an intentional decision that overrides other concerns.

Terminal stations should have island platforms so that the next train can leave from either track. So any station that is planned to be a terminal for any period of time generally has an island platform. When a terminal does have side platforms, generally trains have to go out of service on one platform, go past the station, reverse, and then pull in on the other platform. That's very inefficient. Alternatively, passengers have to wait in the mezzanine and then pick a platform when the train is ready to depart, also inefficient. All of Metro's terminals have island platforms.

Any station that is likely to be a transfer between diverging lines should have an island platform. That way a passenger coming from one branch can transfer to the other branch simply by walking across the platform. This is the case at Stadium/Armory, where a passenger riding from Addison Road to New Carrollton can make an easy cross-platform transfer.

Furthermore, at key stations, certain platform arrangements can be more efficient.

Metro Center, Gallery Place, and L'Enfant Plaza are good examples. With right-side exits on the upper level, there can be multiple escalator shafts down to the island platform on the lower level. If both levels at these stations had center platforms, the only efficient layout would be to have a mezzanine between, which is how Fort Totten is laid out. And that's generally more expensive and less efficient. Though in the case of Fort Totten it works because the lines have such a great vertical separation (the Red is elevated, the Green is underground).

Other design factors
And while we don't have any examples of it in the Washington region, the "Spanish solution" can also be employed to reduce dwell times. The Spanish solution is where the doors on both sides of the train open. This makes it faster to unload and load the train. MARTA's Five Points station has this on both the upper and lower levels.

When looking at express/local configurations, having island platforms between the local and express tracks allow for an easy cross-platform transfer between trains going the same direction. But at some stations where express service needs to stop, but where the agency wants to discourage transferring passengers (because of crowding), the island platform can be placed between the two express tracks and with the local tracks having side platforms. This is the case at 34th Street/Penn Station on the 1-2-3 and A-C-E. That station is important enough that all trains need to stop, but the stations are crowded. The traditional island/island layout is present one stop north at Times Square/42nd Street to allow transfers between locals and expresses.


Graphic by the author.

In systems that have express/local tracks, there are even alternate ways to accommodate local stations. In New York, local tracks tend to be on the outside, so local-only stations have side platforms. The drawback here is that if the local service ends before the express service, it's difficult to turn those trains around, since they have to cross over the express tracks. The Lexington Avenue (4-5-6) Line handles this by having the local 6 train dive under the 4-5 express tracks via the City Hall Loop.

A rarer alternate version is to put the local tracks in the center. In this case, with the express tracks on the outside, the local-only stations have center platforms. This is present on Chicago's north side trunk, with the local Red Line in the center and the Purple Line Express running on the outer tracks.

So, as you can see, the logic is somewhat complicated. Sometimes it's cheaper to do one, sometimes it's cheaper to do the other. Sometimes, there are logistical reasons for doing one over the other. Sometimes, it may just be more-or-less random.

Transit


More households near transit mean more transit riders

Pop quiz! Can you name the 5 Metro stations that have the highest number of households within a half-mile walk?

Here's a hint: More riders walk to those 5 stations each morning than to just about any others in the system.

It's not a coincidence. According to WMATA's PlanItMetro blog, "the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to transitand data across Metrorail stations prove it."

But there's at least one surprise: 3 of the 5 stations with the most households in a half-mile walkshed are in Maryland or Virginia, not the District.


Households and walk ridership per Metro station. Image by WMATA.

Columbia Heights has by far the most households within walking distance. That makes sense. It's one of DC's densest neighborhoods, and the Metro station is right near its center.

But the second most household-rich Metro station is Arlington's Court House. Rounding out the top 5 are Ballston, Silver Spring, and Dupont Circle.

All 5 of the most household-rich stations are also among the top 10 stations with the most riders who walk to the station each morning. The rest of the top 10 walking stations are Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Bethesda.

More riders may be walking to jobs from the downtown stations, or from Rosslyn, but those are the destinations, where riders in the morning are getting off. The origin stations are the more residential ones.

All in all, Metro's stations fit neatly along a trendline that shows a strong correlation between more households nearby and more riders arriving to stations by foot.

Even the outliers tell a story. U Street and Mount Vernon Square have the 6th and 7th highest number of households nearby, but they underperform on walking Metro ridership. One might speculate that Mount Vernon Square is so close to so many offices that more people simply walk. U Street is a little farther away, but it's still close enough to downtown that buses and bicycles may be better options for a large portion of riders.

What else pops out as interesting?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Photo: An actual bus running in the Route 1 transitway

This bus is not in service. But it is running in Alexandria's Metroway BRT corridor, presumably on a test run. It's pretty exciting to see the region's first BRT so close to starting.

The BRT opens for real on Sunday, August 24.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Transit


How do you get people excited about Bus Rapid Transit? Bring a bus to the county fair

Bus Rapid Transit has become an increasingly popular concept for communities in the DC area, but to see it in action, you'd have to travel to Cleveland or Los Angeles. This week, you can get a glimpse of our possible future at the Montgomery County fair in Gaithersburg.


Photo by betterDCregion on Flickr.

Communities for Transit, a local nonprofit that promotes Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan, set up a brand-new bus to display outside the gates of the fair, which began last Saturday and runs through this Saturday, August 16. Visitors can learn about the county's concept for an 80-mile system of bus lanes on major streets like Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, and Columbia Pike, and tour the bus, which will eventually make its way to Denver.

At a press conference yesterday, county councilmembers and County Executive Ike Leggett said they hope to ride BRT here within four years. Getting there will require more detailed studies, which are currently underway, and securing a funding source.


Fairgoers check out the bus while CFT's Scott Williamson explains how it works. Photo by the author.

While the BRT plan faced intense opposition from wealthier neighborhoods like Chevy Chase West and Woodmoor, those at the fair were more receptive, asking Communities for Transit staff and volunteers when it was going to happen. Parents searched a route map to find the closest stop to their jobs, while their kids hopped into the bus driver's seat and pretended to drive.

Most people don't participate in traditional community meetings, meaning a vocal minority can dominate the conversation. That's why there's a bus parked outside the county fair: it brings people into the conversation who otherwise wouldn't get engaged, revealing that public support is actually greater than we thought. And the display vehicle, with its big windows, cushioned seats, and overpowering new smell, may have changed any negative impressions some visitors may have had about riding the bus.

Hopefully, Montgomery County officials will encourage people to ride the Metroway BRT line that will open in Arlington and Alexandria in two weeks. It'll be the region's first chance to actually ride BRT in person, and a prime opportunity to build support and allay some residents' concerns.

Until then, you can see the Bus Rapid Transit vehicle for yourself from 12 pm to 8 pm every day this week through this Saturday at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds, located at 16 Chestnut Street in Gaithersburg.

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