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Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 25

It's time for the twenty-fifth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

The answers will appear on Wednesday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for you.

Transit


Topic of the week: What's next for WMATA after Sarles?

WMATA General Manager/CEO Richard Sarles will retire in January. Has he left WMATA better off than he left it? What should the agency look for in a successor?

We asked our contributors for their input. Also, I talked about these questions with Jennifer Donelan on Channel 8's NewsTalk Friday:

As I said on the show, I think Sarles provided a stability and a focus on safety that the agency desperately needed to regain confidence from both riders and public officials after the crash. He's put the system back on a solid footing.

Metro has to keep being safe, for sure, but also has different challenges going forward. WMATA needs public support to get the funding it needs for eight-car trains and a new Rosslyn station. It has to win support for roadway changes to improve bus service. All of these require relating to people and working with leaders outside the walls of the Jackson Graham Building.

Winning public support also will require doing more on customer service, including actually beefing up service as well as reducing problems between employees and riders. As Donelan noted in the interview, Sarles is not a highly-visible public figure, and WMATA may need someone who is more comfortable talking to the press and to the public.

Michael Perkins pointed out that many challenges face WMATA. He said tasks over the next decade include:

  • Receive the 7000 series railcars and integrate them into operation
  • Implement the [next generation] electronic fare program
  • Test and integrate [Silver Line] phase 2
  • Plan and sell the region on some sort of core infrastructure improvement
  • Continue to sell the region and riding public on the Metro rebuilding program
  • Implement signaling repairs and upgrades on lines other than the Red Line
  • Manage a substantial capacity upgrade in bus operation (possibly constructing new bus garage sites or expanding existing sites?)
  • Work with jurisdictions to deliver bus route improvements like dedicated lanes, off-vehicle fare payment, or signal priority
  • Operate the 2nd largest heavy rail transit system in the US
  • Operate one of the largest bus systems in the US
  • All while dealing with more than four funding jurisdictions in a widescreen public fishbowl.
Dan Malouff pointed out that while the system has gotten needed repairs, weekend service in particular has really suffered. How can the agency balance these?
Sarles accomplished a lot, but also had some weaknesses. On the one hand, he got Metro's rebuilding on track, and seemingly solved the safety problems that plagued WMATA during John Catoe's time as General Manager. On the other hand, Sarles often seemed more concerned with trains and tracks than with providing good transit service to riders. Thus, transit service and ridership plummeted whenever track work has been necessary, which seems like pretty much all the time except rush hour.

Hopefully Metro's next GM will continue Sarles' great progress on rebuilding and safety, while doing a better job to remember that better customer service is the whole reason rebuilding is important in the first place. WMATA needs a GM who's committed to minimizing disruptions to riders, to putting out the very best transit service practical, and to fully explaining to customers why and when less-than-stellar service is necessary.

Bottom line: Sarles revolutionized Metro's maintenance and safety cultures. The next GM needs to revolutionize its customer service culture.

What skills and priorities do you think WMATA's next head needs?

Transit


If Georgetown had a Metro station, it would be one of the system's busiest

Georgetown didn't get a Metro station when the original system was built, for a variety of reasons. But if it did have one, how would it perform? The short answer: Georgetown would immediately be in the system's top 10 highest stations for boardings in the morning peak.


The relationship between residents near a Metro station and ridership. Image from WMATA and edited by the author.

PlanItMetro recently posted about the relationship between ridership and the number of households within a half-mile of a Metro station. This got us at the Georgetown Business Improvement District wondering how a Georgetown Metro station would perform if the downtown loop proposed in Metro's Momentum plan were built.

Georgetown has 4,187 households within the half-mile radius from Wisconsin and M streets NW, which we will use as the theoretical point for a Metro station entrance for the purpose of this analysis . Simply plotting this number of households on PlanItMetro's trendline provides a good starting point for an estimate, suggesting approximately 2,000 boardings during the AM peak.

But this is just the start. 2,000 boardings per hour is likely a floor estimate, rather than a ceiling. First, let's look at where Georgetown residents work.


Map from the Georgetown BID.

People who live in Georgetown tend to work in a distinct corridor that stretches across from the West End to Penn Quarter. This corridor aligns almost perfectly with the existing Red, Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. If a downtown loop line were completed, residents of Georgetown would have a rapid transit option to reach these locations.


Metro's proposed loop. Image from WMATA.

If Metro access were available, we suspect that more than 2,000 Georgetown residents would use it to reach their place of employment. Just for comparison, 13.9% of Georgetown residents already take Metro to work, which includes people who ride and walk from Dupont, Foggy Bottom, and Rosslyn.

An additional 10.1% of Georgetown residents take a bus ride to work, placing overall transit use at 24%, which is below the District-wide average of just under 40%. With a Metro station in closer proximity to people's homes, we would expect transit ridership among the residential population of Georgetown to match or exceed the District-wide average.

Meanwhile, there are over 18,000 households living within one mile of Wisconsin and M. While we don't know how many of these people would take Metro to work, Georgetown's historic pattern of walkable streets and its dense street grid make it easier and more enjoyable to walk long distances, suggesting that there might also be a considerable number of potential riders in this area. These are all the ingredients for a well-used Metro station.

That's not the end of the story. Unlike some of the stations within the top 10 which are primarily employment centers, Georgetown is as much a commercial and retail destination as it is a residential neighborhood. Workers from within the business improvement district's boundaries come from all over the metropolitan region, and most of them have some degree of access to existing Metrorail stations.


Where workers in Georgetown live. Image from the Georgetown BID.

We would expect a large portion of Georgetown employees to start using Metrorail once it opened there. Likewise, Georgetown is a major destination for both locals and tourists attracted to the retail district, trails, park spaces, and cultural amenities. Between residents who work near Metro, workers who live near Metro, and tourists, students, and day-trippers who frequently come in and out of Georgetown, a Metro station here would instantly place Georgetown in the system's top destinations. That would be the case both during normal weekdays when people travel for work, and on weekends when retail and tourist travel peak.

Some of the busiest existing Metro stations, like Dupont Circle, have a high number of boardings and alightings all day because they're in areas with housing, jobs, retail, and nightlife. Georgetown's theoretical Metro station would perform very well at all hours for both boardings and alightings, making full use of Metro's capacity in both directions.

There are many other positive effects that Metro can bring, but one that could convince city leaders to develop a funding plan is the potential economic windfall. At $41/square foot, Georgetown's office lease rates are about 18% lower than the Downtown average of $50/square foot. Most commercial brokers attribute this discount to the lack of rapid transit options in Georgetown. A Metro loop connecting Georgetown to the regional rapid transit network could increase rents, boosting tax receipts to the city.

Georgetown is already a vibrant regional destination for work, shopping, and tourism, but a lack of rapid transit access prevents it from reaching its full potential. Bringing a Metro station to Georgetown isn't just good for this neighborhood. It would be a boon for the entire region.

Transit


When WMATA restores automatic train operation, here's what it will mean for riders

Jerky Metro rides are on the way out (on the Red Line, anyway). The bad news is that trains will keep stopping at the end of the platform. Automatic door opening is also not returning for now.


Photo by the author.

As we discussed on Monday, after five years of manual operation, Automatic Train Operation (ATO) will return to the Red Line as soon as March 2015. I spoke to WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel to get some details about the shift.

Both 6-car and 8-car trains will be able operate in automatic mode thanks to upgrades that will stop trains more precisely. Prior to the Fort Totten crash in 2009, this upgrade was still underway, and Metro operated all 8-car trains in manual mode.

One thing that won't change, however, is that 6-car trains will continue to stop at the 8-car marker at the head of the platform. Many riders had hoped the return to automatic operation would mean the end of that practice, since it exacerbates crowding at many stations, especially at Union Station and Gallery Place.

Why do trains pull to the end of the platform?

The policy of requiring trains to pull all the way to the head of the platform instead of stopping in the center stems from a spate of events in 2008 and 2009 where the operators of 8-car trains forgot they were operating 8-car trains and stopped at the 6-car marker. This meant that the last car was still in the tunnel.

After this happened a few times, Metro only required operators to pull all the way forward on days when large numbers of 8-car trains were in operation (like for the Cherry Blossom Festival). After the system went to 100% manual operation in the wake of the Fort Totten collision, the practice became standard.

Most trains could have eight cars soon, anyway, making this moot

I asked Dan Stessel why Metro would continue the practice once ATO was turned back on. He says that for one, the other five lines will continue to operate under manual control, and some operators move between lines. Additionally, from time to time trains will be operated under manual control, so the agency wants to keep the practice standard.

Metro hopes to exercise its option for additional 7000-series railcars soon (assuming the contributing jurisdictions pony up the funding). If Metro succeeds at getting more railcars, by the time ATO returns to the rest of the system in 2017, Stessel says, Metro may be close to operating 100% 8-car trains anyway.

Why the computer can't open the doors

This is basically still necessary because Metro doesn't have a failsafe to keep forgetful operators from opening their doors when some cars are still off the platform. Without one, the agency doesn't feel safe trusting operators to know where to stop their trains.

There used to be a system that prevented operators from opening doors in the wrong place: they didn't usually open the doors at all. As recently as early 2008, Metro train doors opened immediately and automatically when a train was properly berthed in the station. But power upgrades created electromagnetic interference that disrupted this system, making doors occasionally open on the wrong side, so Metro had to turn it off.

To open the doors manually, the operator sometimes had to walk across the cab, adding some delay, but not that much. Unfortunately, some operators still occasionally opened the doors manually on the wrong side, leading Metro to require them to wait an extra five seconds and adding even more delay.

Return to ATO isn't fixing everything, but it's a good step

Without the auto-door feature and operators still stopping trains at the end of the platform, automatic train operation will be less of a victory than some had hoped for.

Still, the return to ATO will mean smoother rides for customers, less wear and tear on the railcars, and less energy consumption. It's also more efficient and generally quicker, which means that riders may see faster and more reliable trips in some cases.

The fact that Metro feels confident bringing back automatic trains on the Red Line is good for one very important reason beyond the customer experience, though: safety.

The underlying cause of the Fort Totten crash was a failure of the track circuit system that keeps trains spaced apart. Metro built a backup system to check for wrong-side failures like the one at Fort Totten, which reduced the probability of another crash. But all the track circuits and modules needed to be replaced to ensure that the crash circumstances couldn't recur.

That has now happened on the Red Line, and is about halfway complete on the rest of the system. It's a major step forward for the safety of riders on the system.

Transit


Metro's Richard Sarles announces retirement

WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles announced at today's board meeting that he will retire, effective January, 2015.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The move comes as a surprise, since in 2013 Sarles agreed to a contract extension that would have kept him on the job until 2016. But not too much of a surprise: He's 70 years old and has always said he didn't intend to stay at WMATA long.

Sarles took charge of WMATA in 2010 and oversaw a significant rebuilding and safety-related overhaul of the transit system.

WMATA board chairman Tom Downs says the agency will conduct a nationwide search for Sarles' replacement.

Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 24

On Monday, we posted our twenty-fourth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got just 15 guesses. Two people got all 5 correct. Great work, Peter K and Chris.


Image 1: Union Station

The first image shows the Massachusetts Avenue entrance to Union Station Metro. The distinctive feature here is the central entrance between the escalators. The escalators lead up to the portico of Union Station. The central passage goes directly into the lower level food court of the station. One commenter noted that the steps seem to be an ADA violation, but since this mezzanine doesn't have an elevator, it's not an issue.

With 14 guesses, all but one of you knew this was Union Station. It was, by far, the most recognized image this week.


Image 2: Wiehle Avenue

This image shows the art in the north entrance plaza at Wiehle Avenue station. The building under construction in the background is part of the TOD growing around the new Metro stop. Several of you guessed NoMa or Navy Yard, which also are seeing new construction. But the art here is the clue. Only five of you got this one right.


Image 3: Georgia Avenue/Petworth

The third image shows a public art installation at Georgia Avenue/Petworth station. I actually collected this photo for possible inclusion in Week 4's art set, but it didn't make the cut. This art is just outside the faregates, and greets customers as they turn from the entrance corridor into the train room. With only two correct guesses, this image was the hardest this week.


Image 4: McLean

This image proved to be a little trickier. It shows the new Silver Line viaduct approaching McLean station. The picture was taken from the entrance to the north side of Route 123. The primary clue here is the watercourse, Scott's Run. The other clue is the light color of the concrete, which distinguishes it as new construction. Five people correctly guessed McLean.


Image 5: Greenbelt

The final image depicts a pair of old B&O Railroad "CPL" signals from the platform at Greenbelt. These signals are very distinctive, and were unique to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (the MARC Brunswick and Camden lines run on former B&O lines). Unfortunately for fans of the historic signals, the congressional mandate for Positive Train Control means CSX is currently replacing all their CPLs with a "Darth Vaders." These signals guard the ends of the station tracks at Greenbelt MARC. It's the last place in the Metro system where you can see a CPL from a platform. Seven of you got this one right.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Transit


MetroExtra could come to Columbia Pike in Montgomery County

Columbia Pike between Silver Spring and Burtonsville is one of the region's busiest bus corridors, but is prone to delays and crowding. Metro is studying improvements that could make the service faster and more reliable, making it a trial of sorts as Montgomery County considers Bus Rapid Transit for that corridor.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

The Z Metrobus lines, made up of the Z2, Z6, Z8, Z9, Z11, Z13, and Z29, travel between Silver Spring, Burtonsville, and Laurel along Columbia Pike and Colesville Road, also known as Route 29. It is the second-busiest line in Maryland, though 85% of the ridership is in a short segment between the Silver Spring Metro and White Oak.

Metro planners and their consultants presented potential solutions at two public meetings this month, including, additional evening and weekend service and a new, limited-stop MetroExtra route along Route 29. They plan to release their recommendations this November.

Limited-stop service a stepping stone to BRT

Common issues with the Z line include bus bunching and crowded buses, especially outside of rush hour when buses are less frequent. Riders say that some stops are unsafe because of traffic or poor lighting, and that entire neighborhoods are left without service on the weekends, when the Z6 route (which carries over a third of the line's riders) does not run.

As with Metro's other bus corridor studies, planners are considering introducing MetroExtra service along Route 29, with ten stops about every mile apart between the Silver Spring Metro and Castle Boulevard, an area known for growing poverty and long commutes.


Map of potential MetroExtra service on Route 29 from WMATA.

Buses would run every 15 minutes in both directions during rush hour. To free up resources for the new route, Metro would consolidate two existing express lines, the Z9 and Z11. Initially, the route would only run as far as Stewart Lane in White Oak, with an extension to come later as funding permits.

Enhanced limited-stop service will be a welcome change for residents who currently face a 40-plus minute trip just to reach the Metro station. But it could also provide an interesting test of how a Bus Rapid Transit line on Route 29 might work. It's one of 10 corridors in the county's plan, and is slated to be one of the first to get built, along with Route 355. The county's plans include dedicated lanes along the corridor, which would speed up buses by getting them out of traffic.

County officials have long promised that BRT service will add to and not take away from existing Metrobus and Ride On service. Interestingly, proposed MetroExtra service does not include stops in Montgomery's BRT plan at Franklin Avenue and Fairland Road, but adds others in White Oak and Briggs Chaney, where ridership is higher.

More frequent service, new lines

The project team also addressed crowding on the Z6 and Z8 routes, which are local services. The proposed remedies included adding short trips on both lines between Silver Spring and White Oak, and restoring weekend service on the Z6 line.

One of the proposals involved running the Z6 once per hour on weekends, which violates Montgomery County's requirement that a bus must run every 30 minutes, or not at all. Others had it and the Z8 running more frequently, which would be more expensive.

Metro planners are also exploring a new route, the Z10, to connect the Briggs Chaney park and ride with Laurel, addressing rider concerns that they had a hard time getting to shopping areas in Laurel.

Another idea was that the Z2 bus, which runs between Olney and Silver Spring via New Hampshire Avenue, run additional mid-day trips from Olney to White Oak, where riders could switch to other buses. Ridership has dwindled on this line, which carries an average of less than 10 riders per trip north of White Oak.

Minor recommendations included updates to bus stops such as more shelters and signs, schedule adjustments, and placing supervisors at various places along the route to reduce bus bunching.

Can these proposals get funding?

Bus Rapid Transit is a significant part of the White Oak Science Gateway plan, which envisions a town center around the Food and Drug Administration campus there. The plan requires the county to find a funding source for BRT lines on Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue before most of the development can go forward.

But it's unclear where funding for BRT, or even a MetroExtra line, would come from. While WMATA recommended MetroExtra service on the Q and Y lines in Montgomery County, the Maryland legislature has already denied requests to fund them.

Will both of these services be implemented at roughly the same time? Will either one be implemented at all, or will one service try to be all things for all people and fulfill the aims of BRT and the local enhancements Metro is considering? It all depends on how they're funded. The Route 29 corridor is one that Montgomery County is focusing on for economic growth, but it may also be a bellwether for what our transit future will look like in the decades to come.

Transit


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 24

It's time for the 24th installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday.

Transit


Muriel Bowser calls for "Vision Zero," more equity, Metro investment, and new task forces for transportation

On the heels of the release of David Catania's detailed platform, his rival for mayor, Muriel Bowser, has put out her own platform. Here are key parts of the transportation section.

Road safety: Muriel will lead the District's effort to join other cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York in adopting "Vision Zero," a transportation safety approach that focuses on key areas including engineering, education, enforcement, and policy formulation, to eliminate dangerous behavior on our roadways, in all communities.


Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Transportation equity: From Capital Bikeshare and the Circulator to the DC Streetcar, the District continues to invest in innovative efforts to link our vibrant neighborhoods. Unfortunately, some efforts and policies have failed to address the needs of certain neigh­bor­hoods, particularly in underserved parts of the District.

Muriel Bowser will designate a senior District Department of Transportation (DDOT) official to be the agency's Transportation Equity and Inclusion Officer. This official will ensure that the agency's policies and plans address the needs and concerns of all residents, particularly those in the District's most underserved communities. This official will also coordinate with other agencies to ensure that all city services include accessibility as a priority.

Bus service: Muriel Bowser will continue to focus on strengthening options for residents that utilize Metrobus by improving transportation services provided to individuals with disabilities, adding capacity to underserved transit corridors, and encouraging the use of dedicated lanes, traffic signal priority, and real-time arrival screens at stops.

Metro: While Metro continues to be one of the highest quality transit systems in the United States, it faces ongoing challenges due to a lack of dedicated funding. As Mayor, Muriel Bowser will seek additional investments from local, regional, and federal partners to ensure that the system's infrastructure can effectively serve the region's needs today and into the future.

Streetcars: District residents have been rightfully concerned about the [streetcar] project's excess costs and delays. As Mayor, Muriel Bowser will lead a comprehensive assessment of the DC Streetcar project to learn from missteps made, correct planning and operational deficiencies by reforming the District's procurement apparatus, and responsibly and confidently move forward with an expansion of streetcar service in a way that meets the needs of District residents and visitors.

Bicycle infrastructure: Muriel Bowser will continue efforts to expand bicycle lanes throughout the District to ensure that bicyclists have a safe space to ride and pedestrians and drivers alike have more predictable streets and traffic patterns.

Muriel will also expand the Capital Bikeshare program to more neighborhoods, including those that have been historically underserved by public transit, increase educational outreach to promote bicycle safety, and dedicate the appropriate resources to complete the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT).

Parking and congestion: While the District is committed to long-term strategies that make it easier to travel the city without a car, many District residents continue to rely on their cars as a primary mode of transportation.

Muriel Bowser will create a Parking and Congestion Task Force to identify and recommend legislative and regulatory solutions to ease congestion and address the long-term parking needs and concerns of District residents and visitors. (e.g. accommodating parking near city churches).

Governance: Muriel Bowser will convene a cross-agency team of government officials to review the District's model of transportation governance, with the goal of identifying potential savings and/or efficiencies that could be realized by increased collaboration or consolidation.

Innovation: Muriel Bowser will encourage and promote transportation innovation by convening a working group comprised of transportation policy experts, thought leaders, inventors, and local residents, to identify efficiencies and technologies that can be utilized to expand and improve transportation access [w]ith a broad focus to include mobile application advances, roadway design, and the expanded use of electric vehicles, among other things.

Traffic cameras: Recent studies have shown that the [Automated Traffic Enforcement] program has resulted in fewer collision-related fatalities and injuries, and it has reduced speed-related traffic collisions across the District, even as the city's population has increased. Nonetheless, a recent Office of Inspector General report found that the program needs to be re-focused on public safety, with less emphasis on potentially unfairly profiting from District citizens.

Muriel Bowser will improve the administration of the program by preserving the utilization of speed enforcement cameras deployed in a manner that is supportable by data showing a reduction in driver speed and an increase in pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist safety.

In the platform, Bowser also says she wants to "appoint an experienced, energetic, innovative leader to run DDOT," which echoes one of Adrian Fenty's leadership practices of trying to find outside-the-box choices to run agencies. In his cabinet picks, including for DDOT, Mayor Gray tended to just elevate a number two or other insider at many agencies.

How do you think this compares to David Catania's platform?

Transit


Computers will start driving Red Line trains again

Starting in early October, Metro will turn control of six non-peak Red Line trains over to computers. If all goes well, every Red Line train should be under computer control by March 2015.


Photo by Jesse Alexander on Flickr.

This marks the first return to automatic train operation on Metro's original system since WMATA switched all trains to manual control following the 2009 train crash.

Since then, WMATA has fixed the faulty electric systems responsible for the crash, but only on the Red Line. Fixing the rest of the system will take another three years.

When it works, automatic train operation runs Metrorail more efficiently and smoothly as compared to manual control. That means fewer delays, faster trips, higher passenger capacity, and more comfortable rides.

This is great news to riders who have suffered from motion sickness on manually-driven trains. And it's an important step forward in Metro's long, painful rebuilding process.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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