Posts about WMATA
WMATA thinks talking about reliable buses is boring, asking "Can't we just talk about shoes?" Instead, many riders are talking about how sexist the agency's new ad is.
WMATA placed the ad highlighting its Metro Forward rebuilding campaign at Metro Center. Capital News Service correspondent Lucy Westcott first noticed the ad, which then appeared on DCist. Backlash to it has been fierce, with many Twitter users and anti-sexism group UltraViolet calling the ad sexist and offensive.
A WMATA spokesperson told DCist that "The point of the ad is to get people talking about Metro's massive rebuilding effort by juxtaposing technical facts with a variety of light responses in conversation between friends."
The ad certainly has people talking, but not for the reasons Metro intended.
Yesterday afternoon, subscribers to WMATA's MetroAlerts across the region got an alert advising them of dire service impacts that could affect their commute: a discount on tickets to a basketball tournament.
As you can imagine, many found the spam message irritating, and Twitter lit up with snarky responses. MetroAlerts is, of course, a tool meant to alert riders to disruptions in service. These alerts can be valuable in helping riders choose an alternate route or leave earlier or later to avoid delays. What riders don't expect are spam emails, which have absolutely nothing to do with alerting customers to potential problems, and are a waste of time for Metro's customers.
One of the reasons yesterday's "alerts" message generated some angst on Twitter among riders is probably that many riders, especially on the Red Line, faced some delays during the morning rush. Many riders complained that alerts were slow to come out. And then a few hours later, WMATA sent them an "alert" they didn't need.
No one who visits the MetroAlerts website would expect these spam emails. According to the webpage, MetroAlerts sends out the following information:
- Major Metrorail and Metrobus delays and service disruptions
- Metrobus schedule changes and detours
- Metrorail advisories specific to your line or frequently used stations
- Other changes or enhancements to Metro service and facilities
Why spam riders?
It's not entirely clear what Metro thinks riders get out of this spam. Clearly some MetroAlerts subscribers are basketball fans. Maybe they'll appreciate the discounted tickets to the BB&T Classic. But most riders don't care about the Classic in the least.
These alerts aren't targeted toward anyone, like basketball fans, for example. It's just mass advertising sent out to a large group in the hope that someone will find it helpful.
It doesn't appear Metro gets anything out of it, either. I asked spokesperson Dan Stessel whether the organizations promoted in the alert compensate Metro for the use of their email lists and alert system. He says Metro doesn't get paid for these. According to Stessel, "these are in-kind promotions for the benefit of riders; generally barter only."
Perhaps what Metro ends up getting out of this is some additional ridership. Some of those riders that got the alert that do like basketball might buy tickets (at a discount!) and then take Metro to the event.
But using untargeted alerts like this seems like a very crude way to promote ridership or create value for riders.
After all, what percentage of MetroAlerts subscribers are basketball fans? Even if it's a high number, like 25%, what percentage will actually buy tickets to this event? For the rest of the subscribers, this is an irritant. And it's more likely to make them unsubscribe from MetroAlerts.
I also asked Stessel what discussions Metro staff had about the appropriateness of using the alerts system for promoting unrelated events. He didn't answer directly, but he did point out that people have to opt in to receive the promotions.
It's fairly easy to opt out. Riders just need to log into their account and uncheck the box labeled "promotions." But it's not a matter of opting in. The "promotions" box is checked by default (along with the "alerts" and "advisories" boxes).
Anyone who registered for MetroAlerts before the addition of "advisories" and bus alerts would have registered before Metro added "promotions." Stessel said that subscribers were notified by email of the change at the time.
Alerts are for alerting, not advertising
In the world today, we have many different forms of communication for emergency alerts. Most state departments of transportation have electronic signs, especially in urban areas. They're frequently used to broadcast messages about travel times, traffic accidents, construction, and Amber Alerts. But they're not used to advertise discounted basketball tickets.
Spamming riders with promotions unrelated to Metro service reduces the value of MetroAlerts and it wastes riders' time. It also creates the perception that Metro is out of touch with what riders want. After all, if people liked spam, email services wouldn't have created spam filters.
In the future, transit riders need timely alerts that actually help riders during disruptions so they can have a smooth commute, rather than junk mail.
Following a week of terrible Red Line Metro service, WMATA is offering refunds to riders who were inconvenienced. That's a nice gesture, and perhaps it's appropriate as a special measure when the same customers are hit with so many unexpected delays in such a short time. But in general, refunds are not the answer to Metro's woes.
Yes, customers deserve to receive the service they've paid for, and yes, it's satisfying to hold WMATA financially accountable when it doesn't meet expectations. Those are the arguments in favor of refunds, and admittedly they're compelling.
But if WMATA actually gave refunds every time there was a breakdown (which as we all know is unfortunately frequently), what would the side effects be? As always, follow the money.
For one, it would slow Metro's reconstruction efforts, by diverting funding away from maintenance work. This painful period of single tracking and service interruptions would likely last years longer.
That's bad enough, but consider WMATA's likely response the next time there's an unexpected rush hour breakdown. Instead of allowing thousands of passengers to continue entering the system and paying fares after the breakdown starts, only to be due refunds later, Metro would probably start to simply shut down entire lines. After all, you can't demand a refund if you were never allowed to enter in the first place.
So on days like Wednesday, instead of bad service Metro riders might be left with no service at all. I don't think that's better.
At some point WMATA does need to be held accountable, so perhaps it was appropriate to offer refunds this week. But Washingtonians should neither demand nor expect a refund every time we have to wait for single tracking. Ultimately, improving Metro service back to the point where these delays don't happen so often is what we really want. Frequent refunds wouldn't help that goal.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Every day 33 bus routes converge on H and I Streets in downtown DC, making it the busiest bus corridor in the DC region. According to a WMATA report, a contraflow bus lane on H Street would dramatically improve travel times for both transit riders and car drivers.
At peak times, one bus per minute travels along H or I. At off-peak, it's a bus every two minutes. Today, all those buses mix with car traffic on both H and I Streets, which slows them down. Meanwhile, all those buses make several stops to pick up and unload passengers, which slows down car traffic trying to use the same lane.
Moving all the buses to H Street, which is less congested, and giving buses in the westbound direction a separated lane, would speed up both modes.
Since H Street is one-way going east, westbound buses would need a contraflow lane. There are no contraflow bus lanes in the DC region today, but they do work well in other cities around the US.
In its report, WMATA also studied bus lanes on both H and I Streets, as well as a traffic management alternative that wouldn't provide bus lanes, but would optimize traffic signals for buses. All the alternatives improved bus travel, and all of them either improved or maintained current car travel. But the H Street contraflow alternate provided the best combination of benefits, for relatively low cost.
Ultimately DC owns these streets, so the decision to actually implement bus lanes on them rests with the District, not WMATA. But Metro's report could push DDOT to begin its own study process.
Seems like a good idea.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Arlington County board member Christopher Zimmerman will step down early next year to join Smart Growth America. During his 18 years in office, Zimmerman was an outspoken board advocate for public transportation and smart growth.
Zimmerman will become Vice President for Economic Development at Smart Growth America, a national advocacy group for sustainable transportation and development practices. In a press release, the organization said that Zimmerman will "focus on the relationships between smart growth strategies and the economic and fiscal health of communities."
A board member since 1996, Zimmerman also served on many regional planning boards, such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the WMATA Board of Directors, the VRE board, and the regional Transportation Planning Board. Arlington will hold a special election to fill his seat next spring.
In a statement yesterday, Zimmerman noted that when he was first elected in 1996, now-common ideas in Arlington like traffic calming, bike lanes, and transit-oriented development didn't exist. Two of Zimmerman's signature accomplishments were helping to create the ART bus, which now has 13 routes in the county, and the Neighborhood Conservation Program, which provides money to individual neighborhoods to fund improvements and has brought sidewalks and streetlights to many Arlington neighborhoods.
More recently, Zimmerman has been an ardent proponent of the Columbia Pike Streetcar, part of a the larger Columbia Pike Initiative. That effort established a form-based code to turn the formerly suburban strip into a compact, walkable urban neighborhood, and set greater standards for preserving affordable housing in the area. These helped make Arlington an example for Smart Growth across the region and nationwide.
During his 13 years on the WMATA Board, Zimmerman relentlessly pushed for better service and for more rider-friendly policies. He was the strongest advocate for open data at Metro, which utimately helped convince the agency to publish its schedules, routes, and real-time vehicle locations in open, public formats. He also fought widening I-66 and I-395 and other efforts by the state to push more commuter traffic through Arlington against the county's wishes.
Zimmerman's departure means that's there will be a special election to replace Zimmerman this spring. It's likely that the Columbia Pike streetcar and issues relating to transportation and land use will play a big part in the campaign as they have in previous board races. Whoever hopes to replace them will have big shoes to fill as Mr. Zimmerman's influence will loom large in Arlington and greater Washington for years. Smart growth or public transportation advocates have their work cut out for them if they want to support a candidate in Arlington who is dedicated to those issues as much as Zimmerman has for the past 18 years.
Chris Zimmerman is one of the reasons why these debates happen in Arlington today. Now, we will see if his work at Smart Growth America will make this conversation more prominent on a national level.
During the morning rush hour, Metrobus carries 50% of all of the people traveling on 16th Street NW towards downtown DC, despite using just 3% of the vehicles. However, it still gets stuck in traffic.
It will come as no surprise to regular riders of the Metrobus S1,2,4, or MetroExtra S9, but ridership has grown tremendously in recent years on 16th Street, from just over 16,000 riders per weekday in 2008 to about 20,500 this year. To keep pace, Metro has added lots of new service, most notably the S9 limited stop service in 2009.
In fact, Metro has added so much rush hour service on lower 16th Street that buses headed towards downtown DC now operate more frequently than any transit service in the region, including Metrorail, with buses arriving an average of nearly every 90 seconds.
And these buses move a lot of people. A recent analysis found that at the maximum load point, at rush hour into downtown DC, Metrobus services combine to carry about half all the people through the corridor with just three percent of the vehicles and using only eight square feet of available street space per person. These statistics are all the more impressive considering that buses currently have no priority over cars to improve travel times and reliability, leaving riders stuck in traffic.
By allocating roadway space on 16th Street based on the highest capacity and most efficient modes, dedicated bus lanes could allow bus speeds to increase, improving the travel times for riders. That could attract new riders, further increasing transit mode shares in heavily traveled corridors like 16th Street.
Fortunately, Metro is working with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to develop a new transit signal priority system for 16th Street that will help buses communicate with traffic signals and improve reliability and travel times. Metro will also work with DDOT to investigate the potential for exclusive bus lanes through the development of Metro 2025.
You can also provide your comment on exclusive transit lanes and other priorities through the District's Move DC Plan, which will map out surface transit improvements like these as a part of a long range transportation plan for the city.
Crossposted on PlanItMetro.
The Metro can be disorienting for a newcomer. For a long time after I moved here, I got turned around every time I changed trains at L'Enfant Plaza, and always ended up having to go back and read the signs. Could mosaics of the world above make it easier to navigate?
Mockup of a mosaic depicting the convention center at the Mount Vernon Square Metro station. All images by the author.
Metro's uniformity makes it difficult to navigate. I was describing this for a friend who grew up here, and he knew what I meant. My mother doesn't take the metro at all, he told me, because she can't read. The signs aren't any help to her, so she has to stick with the bus where she can see landmarks through the windows and not miss her stop.
Here I was griping because I had to read the signs to navigate the metro, while my friend's mother, like millions of other American adults, isn't able to use the metro system at all because she can't read the signs. I am a mosaicist, which means I make mosaics. When my friend told me about his mother's situation, it gave me an idea: why not put mosaics in the metro depicting the view on the street above?
Here is a picture of a 4'x4' mosaic I made of my dog, Buddy. Notice how the background in the mosaic meshes with the fence behind it. Imagine mosaics similarly made mounted inside the coffers (those pockets you see on the sides and ceilings of the underground Metro stations) depicting the street view overhead. As a train pulled into a station, you could "look out the window" to see where you were.
The mosaics, especially if illuminated, would help dispel the Metro's gloominess by adding color and "sunlight" to the platforms. At the same time, because they would sit inside the coffers, they wouldn't interfere with the grand vistas of architect Harry Weese, who designed the stations.
This project could engage the community, bringing in neighbors of each Metro station to select the subject matter for their station's mosaics. WMATA could set up a website where residents could offer suggestions for neighborhood landmarks or vote on others' submissions. WMATA could even advertise the submission process as a way to give every DC area resident a stake in "our Metro."
Mosaics could be of recognizable landmarks specific to the area around each station, like the Friendship Arch at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station or the Capitol dome at Capitol South. Or they could be of an interesting view, like the tops of rowhouses, or the entrance of the Thurgood Marshall Academy for the Anacostia station.
Each mosaic would have to satisfy artistic and technical conditions. For example, a mosaic of the skyline wouldn't work because the subject matter is too big to be rendered mosaically with sufficient detail. After passing WMATA review, the local ANC could select a final design from a list of top vote-getters.
The cost could be very reasonable. Each metro coffer is 100 inches wide. If the mosaicist used standard 5/8" x 5/8" ceramic tiles, the rendered mosaic would look very much like the mock-ups depicted here. The cost to complete a station would be less than the $250,000 per station WMATA already has budgeted for public art along the new Silver Line.
Mosaics would be resistant to vandalism, easy to maintain, and easier to clean than the concrete they would cover. They could be made in sections, then installed all at once overnight with no disruption to service. They would also be durable. In my view, one of the primary benefits of installing mosaics in the Metro is that they could be historical windows into our time for future generations of riders.
Visual cues in the Metro system could add interest to every rider's experience. They're especially helpful for visitors and newcomers as well. But for those who struggle with illiteracy or a learning disability, mosaics below ground depicting the street scene above ground could provide life-changing benefits.
- Brookland neighbors ask Metro for development with a side of green
- Topic of the week: You don't have to put on the red light (cameras)
- Could transit over the American Legion Bridge work?
- Potomac Yard Metro station hits a snag
- How would Metro's loop work with an Arlington express line?
- Streetcar arrives on H Street
- DDOT removes traffic calming on Wisconsin Avenue