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Transit


A "wye" is out, but a second Rosslyn station may make more Blue Line trains possible

Metro's planners have been studying ways to deal with the capacity crunch at Rosslyn station. A track connection from Court House to Arlington Cemetery isn't possible, but a second station for the Blue Line is, and could be built by 2025.

Each Metro track segment is limited to 26 trains per hour (TPH). At Rosslyn, where the Blue, Orange, and (soon!) Silver Lines come together, this limits the number of trains on each line. In 2012, Metro reduced the number of Blue Line trains to allow more Orange Line capacity. Later this month, the number of Blue Line trains will decline even more to make room for the Silver Line.


Two possible fixes for Rosslyn. Image from WMATA.

There's really no way to alleviate this crunch without additional track capacity. Eventually, it's likely that a second subway across downtown will be necessary to handle the ridership. Metro is currently exploring the idea of building a new loop line through the central city. A new subway would allow Orange and Silver lines to each have 13 slots, and the Blue Line could also to have increased service up to 13 TPH.

Earlier, Metro was looking at two ways to address the capacity constraints. One concept was a "wye" track connection, to allow trains coming from Court House to turn south and go toward Arlington Cemetery and vice versa. The follow-up study this year, though, determined that building foundations make this option impossible.


Potential location for a second Rosslyn station. Image from WMATA.

The other option, though, is feasible. It would require building a second station one block west of the current Rosslyn station. This new platform would connect to the existing Rosslyn station with a pedestrian tunnel. At least initially, only the Blue Line would use it. The Orange and Silver lines would stay in the current station.

If built, this would mean that the Blue Line would only operate between Franconia-Springfield and Rosslyn (though some Yellow Line trains might still start and end in Franconia as they do today). That would mean that, at least until the line is extended across the Potomac, Blue Line riders would need to transfer to an Orange or Silver line train at Rosslyn to get downtown. But all the lines at Rosslyn would be coming more frequently than they do today, which might alleviate the inconvenience of changing trains.

These diagrams I made last year show how the new station (and the infeasible wye) could work.


View peak service levels: Pre-Silver Line   With Silver Line
Possible solutions: Blue Line terminal Wye (rejected)  

Note: Since this graphic was created in 2013, Metro has announced there will be 5 TPH per hour on the Blue Line once the Silver Line opens, rather than 6 as shown here.

The wye would have allowed for more trains on the new Silver Line tracks and given riders from Alexandria and south Arlington a one-seat ride to Court House, Clarendon, etc. (if they caught the train every ten minutes going that way), but it also would have made service more complex, added chances for delays, and not fit in as well with a future Potomac River crossing. A new Rosslyn terminal would hopefully be just the first segment of a crosstown subway through Georgetown.


Possible extension to Georgetown.

Right now, Metro's planning staff is recommending the proposed station be moved forward for project development funding, which essentially means that they want it to get money for more detailed study. But the project is in the Metro 2025 plan, so planners anticipate that this could be opened within 11 yearsif the jurisdictions, particularly Virginia and its cities and counties, are willing to pay for it.

For the next few years, the capacity crush at Rosslyn is likely to get worse. But this project might be the light at the end of the tunnel for Blue, Orange, and Silver line riders.

Transit


Virginia commits to fund the Columbia Pike streetcar

The Commonwealth of Virginia will dedicate funding for up to half the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar project.


Photo by Fairfax County on Flickr.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced $65 million in dedicated streetcar funding today, above and beyond state money Arlington and Fairfax had already hoped to receive.

More state funding means Arlington and Fairfax won't have to rely on the cumbersome federal New Starts funding process. That will speed up construction by a year, and save at least $25 million in costs.

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette has repeatedly said that Arlington would not finance the project using homeowner property taxes. This new money guarantees Arlington can stick to that promise.

Development


How do you fix Ballston mall? Make it less like a mall

Problem: The Ballston Common Mall isn't working very well. Solution: Open the mall up to the surrounding streets, so it becomes the center of a lively community rather than a walled-off separate place.


Concept for the Ballston mall renovation. Images from Forest City.

Ballston is one of the smallest malls in the region. It can't compete well against bigger centers with more stores, like Pentagon City or Tysons Corner. Instead, the mall generally only draws customers from a small area nearby, and thus makes less money than other, bigger malls.

Meanwhile, being an enclosed mall that serves mostly local traffic, it saps sidewalk retail away from Ballston's neighborhood streets. Stores that would otherwise be on the sidewalk are instead bottled up in the mall.

To fix this, developer Forest City plans to face more stores to the sidewalk, and give them more inviting storefronts. It will replace nondescript mall doors with open-air plazas that naturally extend the street into the mall. Capping the building will be a new 29-story residential tower.


Concept for the open-air plaza.

Forest City still needs to work with Arlington County to finalize and approve plans. For now, these are just concepts. But if all goes well, the 1980s-style Ballston Common Mall will transition to become the contemporary Ballston Center in 2017 and 2018.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


As Arlington booms, traffic drops

Traffic on several Arlington roads is lower today than decades ago, despite huge increases in density and activity.


The Orange Line corridor, where new high-rises lower traffic counts. Photo by Arlington.

Since 1996, Arlington has boomed. It's added millions of square feet of new development, some of the tallest high-rises in Virginia, and about 50,000 new residents. And in that time, traffic counts have declined.

The explanation: Virtually all the growth has happened in Arlington's Metrorail corridors, where using transit, biking, and walking are the norm. As mixed-use high-rises have replaced the previous generation's car-oriented retail, the new residents don't have to drive as much.

Traffic goes down

Street SegmentStreet Type19962011/2012% Change
1996-2012
Lee Hwy - RosslynEW 6-lane arterial37,77031,951-15.4%
Wash. Blvd. - VA SquareEW 4-lane arterial20,46917,500-14.5%
Clarendon Blvd.EW 2-lane 1-way arterial13,98013,292-5.0%
Wilson Blvd. - ClarendonEW 2-lane 1-way arterial16,36812,603-23.0%
Arlington Blvd.EW 6-lane arterial55,86565,25916.8%
Glebe Road - BallstonNS 6-lane arterial35,23031,000-12.0%
Glebe Road - S. of Col. PikeNS 4-lane arterial29,00027,000-6.0%
George Mason DriveNS 4-lane arterial20,00220,5182.3%
Jefferson Davis Hwy - N. of GlebeNS 6-lane arterial52,00044,000-15.4%

Traffic declined most dramatically on the most urban and high-density streets. Wilson Boulevard, the main street through the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, saw the steepest reduction, 23%.

The next steepest drops were on Route 1 through Crystal City, and on Lee Highway in Rosslyn, which each fell 15.4%.

Why these streets? They've got the best transit, but that's only part of the story. Thanks to high density and mixed-use, many trips that once required a car now happen on foot. Why drive to the store and fight parking when it's only a block away, and walking there only takes 2 minutes?

Other roads that don't mirror Metro lines saw reductions as well. For example the north-south Glebe Road, which saw 6-12% less traffic.

Traffic did rise on some roads. George Mason Drive traffic increased 2% over the period, and Arlington Boulevard (Route 50) went up 16%.

But George Mason is in the western, more suburban part of Arlington, where there's been less growth and less of a shift to the car-free diet. And Route 50 is a major commuting route for traffic from the outer suburbs, where smart growth is less prevalent, and more growth still means more cars.

Transit ridership goes up

During the same time period, Arlington's transit ridership is way up.

FY1996 ActualFY2013 Actual% Growth
Metrorail Arlington Stations45,335,00059,528,74431.3%
Metrobus Arlington Routes12,049,00014,848,03623.2%
VRECrystal City567,0001,102,07694.4%
Arlington Transit (ART)105,0002,644,0002,518%
Total Annual Ridership58,076,00078,122,85634.5%

Arlington's local bus operation, ART, went from a very small system to a major countywide network. The Crystal City VRE stop saw its ridership double (VRE service began in 1992). Metrorail and Metrobus grew by 31% and 23%, respectively.

Put it all together and you get one staggering statistic: Fully 40% of all Virginia statewide transit trips either begin or end in Arlington.

It almost didn't happen this way

Arlington has embraced transit-oriented development and walkability for a long time, but in the 1970s and '80s when the county was originally debating its plans, some of Arlington's choices seemed like risky moves.

Building the Metro through the heart of Arlington's business districts rather than in highway medians added huge expense to the project. But it also made possible places like Clarendon and Ballston as we know them today. Without that big initial investment, they'd likely look more like Seven Corners or Bailey's Crossroads.

For the next generation, Arlington hopes to add to its transit-oriented successes with the Columbia Pike Streetcar, the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, and new Metrorail station entrances, confident that these will put more people on transit and take more cars off the streets.

Development


Housing is a big part of inequality in Washington. We need more housing, and more affordable housing, to fix it

There's a lot of inequality in our region, including housing, where low-wage households living farther out spend more time and money traveling than wealthier ones closer in. A new report quantifies these problems and recommends reforming zoning to build more housing, as well as expanding subsidized housing.


Photo from the report.

The report, from The Commonwealth Insititute, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and Maryland Center on Economic Policy, looks at many ways the recent economic growth in our region has helped higher-income individuals and families more than others.

The gap between the low-wage and high-wage jobs is greater than the national average and getting worse. Jobs for people without college educations have gotten scarcer, while jobs for people with college educations (particularly with advanced degrees) has grown even faster than the number of people with those degrees. And black residents and young people have been hit hardest.

Meanwhile, it's become more expensive to live in most of our region.

The inner jurisdictions, except for Prince George's County, have the smallest share of families making $50,000-200,000, though DC and Alexandria still also have more lower-income households than elsewhere.


All graphs from the report.

Many households pay more than 30%, or even more than 50%, of their income toward housing. For renters, this effect is worst in outer jurisdictions like Stafford, Calvert, Charles, and Spotsylvania counties.

It's worse for renters than homeowners. It seems likely this is because many homeowners have owned for a number of years with fixed-rate mortgages, meaning their property values (and, often, tax burdens) have risen but their housing payments have not. Renters don't have that long-term stability, and are also more likely to have moved in more recently.

Overall, for both renters and owners, housing costs are lower farther from the core, but so are incomes. That means that the proportion of "housing burdened" households is about the same closer in and farther out. This makes a certain sense, since people will naturally gravitate toward areas where they can afford the housing.

However, that doesn't tell the whole story. If a lower-income household is paying a similar share of income to live in an outer jurisdiction, those residents also likely face longer commutes than a wealthier household in a central location. Low-wage workers are becoming more likely to commute 50 miles or more than high-wage ones.

The report says:

In Fauquier, Spotsylvania, Frederick, and Prince George's counties, the average housing and transportation costs exceed 45 percent of those counties' median incomes. That means the average housing and transportation costs in the county are considered unaffordable for the median household.

Three of these four localities are in the outer suburbs, where high transportation costs are responsible for the lack of affordability, despite median home values and rents generally being more affordable there than in the core and inner suburbs.

In Prince George's County, low median family incomes mean that even with relatively low housing and transportation costs, the median household income is insufficient to cover those average costs.

I would add that Prince George's has poor Metro accessibility compared to Montgomery and Fairfax, making commute times and costs higher. Also, with most jobs having shifted to the west side of the region, it's not quite as close to as many jobs as its distance from downtown DC might suggest.

The report notes that Prince George's had twice as many foreclosures in 2011 as the region generally; its rate is comparable to that in hard-hit outer Virginia counties and neighboring Charles County.

What's the solution? Besides increasing incomes, helping people build skills, and expanding access to health care, a big one is taking steps to make housing more affordable. The report says,

Increasing opportunities for affordable housing for working families through zoning reform (such as removing restrictions on building more apartments close to metro stops) and housing subsidies can help working families live close to their jobs and reduce stress on families and communities.
Many reports on inequality from social justice organizations in the past have not included zoning among the policy tools to deal with housing affordability. It's great to see TCI, DCFPI, and MDCEP agree that we need to do both: add more housing (and lots of it), and also explicitly ensure that some of that housing in all jurisdictions goes to people at many points along the economic spectrum.

Transit


Join us to ride the first Silver Line train

The first Silver Line train taking passengers on the new tracks will leave at noon on Saturday, July 26. Let's ride together!


Photo by wfyurasko on Flickr.

We'll be congregating at the new Wiehle-Reston East station leading up to the noon train. Since this spot is not Metro-accessible at that time (but will be after), we've set up this form to organize carpools as well as get a count of how many people to expect.

We'll ride the train from Wiehle to East Falls Church together. Then you can keep going back to your part of the region, or turn around and head back to Wiehle. If you want to see the new Tysons Corner stations, part of the group will be getting off the train at each of those stations, then exploring the station until the next train arrives.

So mark your calendars and RSVP here!

Fairfax County is trying to determine what buses could take you from a Metro station to Wiehle that morning. The Fairfax Connector 505 bus currently runs from West Falls Church to Wiehle, but won't anymore after the Silver Line opens, and Fairfax is switching the bus schedules at the start of the day. According to Nick Perfili of Fairfax County, officials are working on planning how to have some service to Wiehle that morning. We will post the information when it's available.

Then, do a pub crawl!

Also, Payton Chung is organizing a Silver Line-based pub crawl beginning at 4 pm (with a clever Old West theme):

The long awaited RAIL-ROAD linking the NATION'S CAPITAL to the Province of FAIRFAX to its West has at long last been completed!

The "SILVER ROUTE" will see passenger trains leave LARGO through WASHINGTON to RESTON.

To celebrate this Most Momentous Occasion, a PUB CRAWL shall call upon the Most Esteemed Saloons located along the new "SILVER ROUTE."

Gathering within the Prosperous Village of EAST FALLS CHURCH at 4 P.M. at Chasin' Tails, 2200 Westmoreland St., overflowing next door into One More Page Books. Then, in a scant 12 Minutes, avoiding the Dangers of the Road, arriving at 6 P.M. at Clyde's, 8332 Leesburg Pike, near GREENSBORO. After a Short Stroll through the "Walkable, Sustainable, Urban Center" of Fairfax, the Crawl will conclude at 8 P.M. at Wasabi Sushi, at the heart of the dazzling TYSONS CORNER Center.

Come One, Come All!

See you on the 26th!

Transit


Which Metro stations are physically "walkable"?

Anyone who's seen the area around a variety of Metro stations knows that some are very walkable and some are not. Is there a scientific measure of that? Metro planners crunched the numbers to find out.

Metro rider surveys have shown that most people are willing to walk up to about a half mile to get to a Metro station. Research in other cities also has settled on the half-mile zone.

But the land within a half mile of a station is not the same all across the system. You can't walk in any direction; there are things in the way, whether buildings, rivers, or highways. Where there is a good grid of streets near the station, it's possible to reach a lot by walking up to half a mile. Elsewhere, most of that half-mile radius circle actually requires a longer walk.

Landover, for instance, is right next to a highway. There is only one road leading to the station's parking lot, and no connection over the highway to the nearest residential neighborhood. At Takoma, on the other hand, the street grid lets riders reach many commercial streets and neighborhoods with a half-mile walk.

Metro planners calculated the percentage of land within a half mile you can reach by walking a half mile. It's little surprise that the worst stations are mostly in Fairfax and Prince George's, two jurisdictions that did not try to locate their stations in walkable areas or, during Metro's first few decades, work very hard to plan transit-oriented development around them.


Images from WMATA.

Which stations and jurisdictions fare best and worst?

The worst stations in DC appear to be Fort Totten, a station in the middle of a federal park, and Rhode Island Avenue, a station hemmed in by strip mall development and lacking a good street grid on most sides. (The pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the railroad tracks to the Metropolitan Branch Trail may improve that station's score once it opens.)

In Arlington, it's National Airport (no surprise there; you can't walk on most of an airport) and East Falls Church (but the county has a plan for that area). The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, most of DC (especially in the L'Enfant city) and Montgomery County (particularly inside the Beltway) fare well.

Alexandria is very mixed, with two stations hemmed in by the Beltway and in areas with weaker grids. Prince George's stations are generally more unwalkable than walkable, with College Park the biggest exception. In Fairfax, only Huntington gets anywhere close to a good score. It will be interesting to see how the Tysons stations rank once they open, now and in the future.

The planners also found that the walkability rank correlates very strongly with a station's morning peak ridership. This makes sense, because at the vast majority of stations, even when there is parking there is not that much compared to all the capacity of the trains that pass through. The stations which get a lot of use are those with many people living or working nearby.

There's more to walkability

It's important to note that this is one of several measures of walkability. This analysis computes the size of a station's "walk shed," or how far you can physically get by walking. That is a necessary first step to making a place walkable.

While the Metro planners excluded highways, this analysis still treats roads the same, even though some have no sidewalks, or are multi-lane high-speed roads that are intimidating and unsafe to walk on. But since most of the time good street grids go hand in hand with safer streets to walk on, that shouldn't affect the results much.

More significantly, when people talk about walkable neighborhoods, they are generally thinking beyond just the literal ability to walk. Walkability also includes whether there are amenities such as stores, parks, and more that you can reach by walking. The WalkScore tool computes these in its scores for an area.

Some Metro stations are in places which are physically walkable, but where there isn't much to walk to except for the houses immediately nearby. Glenmont or Forest Glen might be good examples. On the other end of the scale, Prince George's Plaza has a terrible walk shed, but there are lots of stores right near the station.

Regardless, this analysis says something important, and something that's most directly under government planners' control. If jurisdictions want their Metro stations to thrive, a critical first step is making sure people can get to them from the immediate area without having to drive and take up a scarce (and expensive) parking spot.

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