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I'm thankful for train service

On Wednesday, traveling from my office at Farragut North to the Ashland, Virginia train station near my mom's house was a breeze, and it was all via public trains. I'm thankful for that.

A view of the Potomac from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train, taken on a trip home the day before Thanksgiving. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

I paid $59 for my ticket on the Northeast Regional 95, departing out of Union Station at 2:30, when I bought it a week into November. The same trip is usually only $34, but considering I waited until just a few weeks prior this time, I don't think that price was too bad.

Greater Greater Washington's offices officially closed at 2 pm the day before Thanksgiving, but I ducked out five minutes early so I could get to Union Station in time. I walked downstairs and caught the Red Line and was at the station before 2:15. It was pretty clear that I wasn't the only one headed out of town for the holiday.

Union Station on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Dennis Jaffe.

I've made this trip a few years in a row now, and I remembered Union Station being packed, with barely any room to walk without bumping into someone. This year it was definitely crowded, but it didn't feel anything like the sardine can I was anticipating. Part of the reason is that there were extra workers in the Amtrak concourse asking people what train they were taking and directing them on where to wait so that lines didn't sprawl all over the place.

Union Station was busy, but not out of control.

At 2:25, the door to the tracks opened up and the line started moving down toward the train. A few minutes later, I was in my seat and ready to roll. I took a few minutes to enjoy views of the Potomac as we departed, and once we hit Alexandria, I had opened my laptop and logged onto the free WiFi (to make up for those last five minutes of work, of course!).

Check out the sign on the right. You can go to a lot of places on Amtrak.

Our quick stop in Alexandria.

It was smooth sailing from there. The train waited an extra few minutes here and there at the stops we made along the way, but there weren't any serious delays. There was, however, plenty of scenery to take in. Whenever I make this trip, I love taking in views of my home state.

I was scheduled to get to Ashland at 4:22 and wound up getting in closer to 5, but given the alternative, I was pretty happy to have traveled the way I did.

I also know that Amtrak did have issues on Wednesday. And, going back to the start of my trip, as GGWash's staff editor, I'm certainly no stranger to Metro's woes. But still, overall, my trip was easy, fast, and relatively cheap, and a network of train systems and the people who run them are largely to thank for that.

Home, sweet home.

Making this trip is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. I'm looking forward to doing it again at the end of December.


Three ideas to make it easier to bike to and from the Mosaic District in Fairfax

Merrifield is a growing part of Fairfax County with a number of bike routes. I've got three ideas for making them easier to use.

Merrifield is getting better for walking, but it's still not very easy to bike around. Photo by Dan Reed.

Merrifield is an area of Fairfax County located between the independent cities of Fairfax and Falls Church. Older residential neighborhoods, suburban strip malls, and light industry are still prevalent in the area, but newer mixed-use development has sprung up close to its Dunn Loring Metro station on the Orange Line. This includes the Mosaic District, one of the region's newest town centers outside of the urban core, similar to Reston Town Center or Kentlands in Gaithersburg.

Gallows Road and Lee Highway, the main "local" roads, are both very wide and can be intimidating to cross or bike along, even on the sidewalk. Both roads were also widened to make room for new exits along I-495's HOT lanes, which can mean long waits to cross the road on foot.

Merrifield. Photo from Google Maps.

But the area also has some great bike infrastructure. Two very popular trails, the W&OD and the Cross County Trail (CCT), run close to or through Merrifield. There are also existing low stress and bike-friendly options, which are routes and streets that cyclists tend to use because they feel safer or calmer riding on those streets compared to others.

The issue is that riding a bike to those trails and other routes is not all that easy. Not many people know the most direct routes, some of the streets are more dangerous than they need to be, and there are places that don't connect to trails that they could easily could connect to.

Signs, road diets, and some new connections would easily stitch the area's pedestrian and bike network without the need for huge capital projects.

One easy way to make biking in Merrifield easier: signs

Merrifeld has a number of great bike routes, but unless you study a map, there's really not a way to know about them. For riding a bike to be a viable option, people need good signs, and signs that make sense for people traveling by car aren't necessarily sufficient.

The Cross County Trail, which runs north to south across Fairfax County, passes through Merrifield. The Mosaic District is less than two miles from the trail at its closest point, and from there it is only a little farther to the Dunn Loring Metro or the W&OD Trail's intersection at Gallows Road. It's far easier to get to those places from the CCT by cutting across an easy-to-miss side trail through a parking lot and then going through a few neighborhoods, but a lot of people simply don't know that.

A few signs pointing pointing people from the CCT toward the Mosaic District or the Metro (or a number of other destinations, like the hospital on Gallows Road) would instantly make biking a reliable way to travel.

Simple and direct signs can be a big help for cyclists looking for the best routes. Photo by Dan Malouff.

When SafeTrack began on the Blue and Orange Lines, a lot of new signs went up around Fairfax and Arlington telling new bike commuters where to go for the best routes around town and across the Potomac. The same should be done wherever we can to help people easily bike without having to rely on maps or trial and error to find the best routes.

Some roads could be a lot more bike-friendly

Another thing Fairfax could do with no new infrastructure is look at where existing roads could be resized to encourage more cycling in the area.

Merrilee Drive/Eskridge Road parallels Gallows Road through the area, but fewer people drive on them since the two roads do not actually leave the area. That makes them ripe for more cyclists, especially people who are "interested but concerned" when it comes to riding a bike.

Below is a shot of what Merrilee Drive looks like today. Parking is actually allowed along the street but it is never very busy, and the lack of lane markings can confuse drivers and encourage speeding.

Merrilee Drive today.

There's more than enough room for bike lanes and parking, or a turn lane. Adding these in would create a bike connection between Mosaic and Dunn Loring that's nearly arrow-straight. Paint can make a big difference in how people use a road; in this case, it could help people know that there are actually two lanes. Also, painting bike lanes themselves can really help cyclists without totally reconfiguring the road's layout.

The current road is around 40 feet wide. That's plenty of room for two driving lanes, two bike lanes, and a parking lane. The sidewalks along the curb would not even need to be touched.

What Merrilee Drive could look like. Image/design from Streetmix

New trail connections

Some new connections between Merrifield's current bike routes and its nearby trails would make biking easier as well. These would require some capital spending and other steps like acquiring permission to use certain rights of way for these connections, so they're the hardest of the options I'm putting forward.
But even then, the key word here is "connections". These are not brand new trails that go on for miles and miles. These would be localized improvements aimed at improving the existing network first.

One big connection would be a proper pedestrian bridge across I-66 at the Dunn Loring Metro. There are sidewalks across the Gallows Road bridge but there are no bike lanes until you are farther down the road. A pedestrian bridge would make it easier for people to get from the Metro to the neighborhoods north of I-66, and existing trails could be extended to link up with a new bridge.

The maroon line is a potential place for a pedestrian bridge across I-66, near one of Merrifield's low-stress bike route (the blue line). Image from Google Maps.

Another bridge might be explored for crossing Arlington Boulevard near Gallows. There, you have existing park space that is close to the road, but the road itself is hard to cross. Plus if the Arlington Boulevard Trail is completed between Washington and the City of Fairfax then a bridge would be a great addition to a third major trail in the area along with the W&OD and the Cross County Trail.

The maroon line is a potential place for a crossing over Arlington Boulevard. Image from Google Maps.

Finally, there could be a connection between the Cross County Trail and Highland Lane which leads to Williams Drive and Eskridge Road, both of which travels through the Mosaic District. That would be a much straighter shortcut than the existing route via Beverly Drive which twists and turns.

The maroon line is a potential connection from the Cross County Trail (in green) to Highland Lane. Image from Google Maps.

Together, these kinds of changes could have a big impact on helping knit together neighborhoods and destinations throughout Merrifield. That would help people identify with the area and discover that there are options to getting around that do not always require getting in a car.


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)


How much of a workout would you get walking from one Metro stop to the next? This map shows you.

How realistic would it be for you to walk rather than take the Metro? This map of the DC Metro system includes number of miles between stations, how long it'd take to walk that distance, and the number of calories you'd burn if you did:

A zoomed in look at Wells + Associates' map. Here, you can see the short distances between some stations and the longer ones between others. Images from Wells + Associates.

The map, created by Wells + Associates, with data from Google Maps, tells commuters just how realistic it might be to leave a station and walk rather than take a train.

Between each station, there are three numbers: the first one, which is blue, says how many minutes it'd take to walk; the middle one, which is purple, says the distance between them in miles; and the third one, which is green, says how many calories you'd burn if you made the walk.

If you're using Metro in downtown DC or in Arlington, where many stations are less than two miles apart,making the final leg your commute by foot or bike may just save you time, reduce stress, and burn off a few calories before you settle down at your desk.

In other places, like on the far east end of the Green Line where the Suitland and Branch Avenue stations are 2.8 miles and a 55 minute walk apart, and on the west end of the Silver Line, where the distance between the Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations is a whopping 6.9 miles apart, that isn't exactly a realistic choice.

In cases like these, if driving isn't an option, biking or waiting might be the only feasible option.

Would you be less likely to wait out that final 8, 10, or 20 minutes for the next train if you knew your destination was just a few blocks away?


Tuesday is election day. Here's a recap of our endorsements.

Tomorrow is election day, one of our single biggest opportunities to make the Washington DC region even greater. Please vote! If you didn't vote early and are headed to the polls tomorrow, here's a recap of our recommendations on how to vote.

Photo by Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin on Flickr.

Where to vote

Not sure where your polling place is? Plug your home address into Google's voting tool, and it will tell you your polling place, your voting and ID requirements, and a pretty good roundup of what will be on your ballot:

Our (non-ANC) endorsements

Over the past several weeks, GGWash has released its official endorsements for a number of races. Per reader request, here they all are again, in one easy place to reference (or share).

We recommend area voters choose:

  • Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for President
  • David Grosso and Robert White for DC Council at large
  • Mary Lord for DC State Board of Education
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton for DC Delegate
  • For DC's statehood referendum
  • LuAnn Bennett and Don Beyer for Congress in Virginia
  • John Delaney and Jamie Raskin for Congress in Maryland
  • For the Prince George's at-large council seat proposal
  • Against Montgomery County term limits
Read our rationales and more details on these races here.

ANC endorsements

Are you a DC resident but unsure of which race you vote in? Use to find out.

To determine this year's ANC endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

A note about ANC candidates noted as write-in: because they completed our survey long after we began to publish our endorsements (with the exceptions of Eve Zhurbinskiy and Nicole Cacozza, who submitted in early September), candidates had the opportunity to review our analyses before submitting their responses. While they had that advantage, we do believe our endorsed candidates would make for great commissioners and deserve your write-in vote.

ANCs Ward 1


ANCs Ward 2


ANCs Ward 3


ANCs Ward 4


ANCs Ward 5


ANCs Ward 6


ANCs Ward 7


ANCs Ward 8


Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts. This is especially true for write-in candidates, whose biggest challenge is simply getting enough people to remember their name when they go to the ballot box.


Could a gondola from Georgetown to Rosslyn work? A study says yes.

Getting from Georgetown to Rosslyn, or to any Metro station, isn't easy. An aerial gondola across the Key Bridge could provide the missing connection, say leaders of the two neighborhoods, and a new study looks at how to make it happen, what it will cost, and where stations would go.

All images from the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Feasibility Study.

The idea for the gondola—cable-operated aerial trams, not the Venetian boats—first came up in 2013, when the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) included it in its 15-year action plan. The goal is to fill the public transit gaps between Georgetown and Rosslyn, most notably the lack of a Metro stop.

In May 2015, Greater Greater Washington contributor Topher Mathews wrote that yes, this idea was at least worth looking into. While he said there were valid reasons to be skeptical of a gondola, like it being too expensive, or a distraction from more practical transit options, or just a shiny new toy, he also noted that "we won't know that for certain without the study."

Topher went on to note that gondolas are relatively cheap compared to, say, rail, that a quick ride from Georgetown to the Metro would be ideal, and that more bus lanes between Georgetown and Rosslyn really weren't politically feasible.

In July, both the Georgetown and Rosslyn BIDs, along with DC, Arlington County, Georgetown University and a number of businesses in the neighborhood, and a group of developers began studying the possibility in earnest.

The findings of the study came out today. Here are some of the details:

Where might stations go?

The study considered several station locations on either side of the river. The report said the top preferences are the the Exxon Station/36th Street right-of-way site in Georgetown (just north of M Street, near the "Exorcist steps") and North Lynn Street adjacent to Central Place in Rosslyn. Putting stations here would not require an angle station to re-direct the cables (in other words, the route would be a straight shot), and it would provide access to both Georgetown University and M Street.

The Exxon site would require private land acquisition (which could be tough given a recent proposal to build condos there). The study says the site would allow easy access to both M Street (below the Exorcist steps) and Prospect Street above, meaning it'd be less than a 10 minute walk from both the retail corridor and the lawn fronting the Georgetown campus.

The other Rosslyn site that's under serious consideration, Fort Myer Drive, would require an angle station, as would another proposed site in Georgetown, 3401 Water Street (just below the C&O Canal).

In both of these images, the Georgetown station is at the Exxon site. The image on the left shows the Rosslyn station on Fort Myer Drive, and on the right it's on North Lynn Street.

Proximity to Metro is a huge piece of the puzzle

Connecting to Metro is a critical piece of the entire gondola idea. In fact, Georgetown BID CEO Joe Sternlieb said the "goal is to make this the equivalent of the Georgetown Metro station."

In Rosslyn, both the North Lynn and Fort Myer sites are half a block and a block from a Metro entrance, meaning it could take as little as two minutes to transfer from the gondola, according to Sternlieb.

The report proposes building a new "vertical connection" between Metro and gondola station for the Fort Myer site, while using the new elevators built as part of the Central Place development to connect Metro to the North Lynn site.

According to the report, the gondola would put a lot more places within a 30-minute transit commute: you could take the gondola and then metro further west along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor as well as to Pentagon City and Crystal City in Virginia, and you could also go east into the District toward L'Enfant Plaza, Mount Vernon Square, and Penn Quarter. (As counterintuitive as it seems, Georgetown workers and residents could take the gondola to Virginia and then Metro back into the District.)

Here, the dark colors represent the places that are currently within a 30-minute transit ride of Rosslyn and Georgetown. The lighter colors show how a gondola would expand those options.

Federal approval is key

The National Park Service has jurisdiction over the river and the C&O Canal National Historical Park, both of which a gondola would have to cross with a visible set of wires and towers.

Due to the multi-jurisdictional nature of the project and the fact that it would cross federal land, a number of agencies and entities—including the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts—would have to approve the project. The consultants conducting the feasibility study did meet with NPS, NCPC, and CFA representatives.

Also, the Federal Aviation Administration has to approve tall buildings that go up in Rosslyn because it's so close to the flight path into DCA. A real consideration with the gondola cables is that airplane wings can create vortices that might lead to dangerous turbulence.

Costs, projected ridership, and potential economic benefits

At a projected cost of $80-90 million, the gondola would be significantly cheaper than the $1.5 billion for a Georgetown Metro tunnel and station laid out in the Metro 2040 Plan. It's even cheaper than building a Metro station alone.

The report estimates that between 6,000 and 15,000 people would ride the gondola each day. The project could replace several existing bus routes, cutting nearly 100,000 Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle and DC Circulator bus trips over the Key Bridge per year.

Organizers also see economic development benefits, especially for hotels in Rosslyn—increased occupancy and rates would boost local business and tax revenue—and restaurants and retail on both sides of the Potomac. Rosslyn officials also see the potential for more Georgetown workers to live in Rosslyn, potentially boosting rent and property tax revenue.

The study says that the development community is "generally supportive" and that the gondola could contribute to vitality and "buzz" for both neighborhoods with respect to office, retail, and residential considerations.

Could this happen anytime soon?

The feasibility study is only the latest step in making a gondola happen. Future phases would involve more public input and details on funding, which would involve multiple jurisdictions. The feasibility study found that the approval process could take 3-4 years, with an additional two years for construction.

The Georgetown and Rosslyn BIDs will host a public meeting tonight at the Georgetown Theater (1351 Wisconsin Avenue NW), featuring a presentation of the feasibility study findings and questions from the audience. Doors open at 6 pm. You can find more details here.

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