Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Bus Priority

Transit


The DC region lost 60 miles of bus lanes. It's time to get them back

Prior to 1976, the Washington region had at least 60 miles of bus-only lanes, with even more proposed. This map shows where they were.


Image from WMATA.

On the map, from PlanItMetro, the red lines show existing bus lanes as of 1976. Blue and black lines show proposals that never materialized. The network reached throughout DC, Northern Virginia, and into Maryland.

Unfortunately, all the bus lanes were converted to other purposes after the Metrorail system was built.

It's no coincidence or surprise that some of the old bus lanes were on the same streets where they're now proposed again, like 16th Street and H and I Streets downtown. Those are natural transit corridors, with great need for quality service.

Will we ever get this system back? The region is off to a good start, with moveDC's 25 miles of proposed transit lanes, and the upcoming Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. But the 60-mile system from the 1970s shows we still have a lot of work to do.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


DC lost out on $22 million by dawdling on bus priority

Back in February of 2010, it looked like projects to cut down on bus delays were imminent. Our region had received federal stimulus grants to make bus service better and reduce delays. But four years later, they still haven't gotten done.


Photo by hamster! on Flickr.

We've been frustrated at how low a priority DDOT seems to place on bus service and projects to streamline it. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who oversees transportation, and her staff are similarly "disappointed," "frustrated," and "displeased," according to the committee report on the budget.

The report takes DDOT to task for inaction on the projects. It points out that they were estimated to save $5.6 million a year, so if DDOT had actually completed the projects, it could have saved $22 million by now. (And, with a more significant project like a full bus lane on 16th Street, DC could save even more money.)

The money was part of the TIGER grant program in the federal stimulus package, aimed at getting the economy moving quickly by funding "shovel-ready" projects that could create jobs immediately. For the District, the US Department of Transportation approved funding for some queue jump lanes, real-time bus displays at busy stops, and signal priority, along 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, Wisconsin Avenue, and along two routes from Potomac River bridges to downtown, 14th Street and 18th/19th Street.

Cheh's report points out that "In 2010, DDOT received $12.3 million in federal TIGER grant funds for bus priority improvements along six transportation corridors in the District. Four years later, little progress has been made and 79% of the funds remain unspent." The report lists these budget figures for each line:

Project NameNumberTotal AllotmentsCurrent BalanceOperating Savings
14th St. Bridge to K St. Bus PriorityAF088$3,717,346$2,526,732$1,000,000
16th St, NW Bus PriorityAF083$565,000$463,060$1,000,000
Georgia Avenue Bus PriorityAF084$3,685,598$3,097,680$300,000
H St./Benning Rd/ Bus PriorityAF085$154,000$153,863$400,000
TR Bridge to K St. Bus PriorityAF087$3,853,057$3,205,962$900,000
Wisconsin Ave. Bus PriorityAF086$345,000$276,018$2,000,000
Total$12,320,001$9,723,315$5,600,000

The idea of a bus lane on 16th Street gets particular attention from Cheh (and DDOT's inaction, particular scorn):

[T]he Committee remains displeased with the absence in the Mayor's proposed budget of identified funding to improve bus travel on 16th Street. Traffic congestion and bus ridership on 16th Street continue to increase. Although signal prioritization and increased parking enforcement may provide temporary assistance, the District must consider all possible options to remedy this issue.

The Committee recommends that DDOT work with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to conduct a comprehensive study regarding the potential implementation of a bus lane on 16th Street and other possible service improvements, such as off-bus fare collection.

In their responses to oversight questions, DDOT officials explained what hadn't been done yet, without really explaining why it has taken so long. For the signal priority, it has taken local governments many years to agree with WMATA on what technology should go on the buses and the signals. DDOT is transferring the real-time screens over to WMATA.

Bus lanes on a few blocks of Georgia Avenue have gotten through design and are starting procurement "late this spring"; the construction will happen over a year after the contract is awarded (which can sometimes take a while), but will definitely happen before fall 2016, the final deadline for spending the money.

Besides spending millions more than necessary on bus operations and forcing riders to spend more time traveling, DDOT could be hurting its chances to get future federal grants by taking so long.

When the first TIGER grants came out, there were rules letting USDOT reallocate money from jurisdictions that didn't spend and create jobs quickly to those that did. Then-DDOT Director Gabe Klein talked about being ready to snap up some of that money. Instead, the agency he once headed has become one of the laggards.

Transit


DC pulls back on the one bus lane it was actively planning

The snail's pace of progress on speeding up DC's busy bus routes has taken another step, but a step backward: A dedicated bus lane east and west across downtown has moved from being on the list of projects to build in the near future back to the purgatory of projects in planning.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Elected leaders and transportation officials have been talking for several years about designing dedicated bus lanes for H and I Streets past the White House, which carry some of the highest volumes of bus traffic in the region. Numerous routes all converge there to travel east and west.

In 2011, staff from then-transportation chair Tommy Wells' office, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and WMATA were talking about how to move forward on bus lanes. Wells was really pushing the city to do more for bus riders, and WMATA had recently issued their "Priority Corridor Network" vision that recommended bus lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, and more to maximize the region's large investment in bus service.

There was a consensus at the time around starting with one really high-quality bus route with dedicated lanes, real enforcement to make the lanes work, signal priority, and more. This demonstration project would go in a corridor where there are enough buses to make such a project really improve travel times for a lot of bus riders. Folks at the time agreed that a good place to start was H and I.

DDOT started collaborating with WMATA on a study about how to design these lanes. It also added a bus lane project for H and I onto the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP), a regional mechanism for DC, Maryland, and Virginia to assemble their lists of transportation projects and ensure they comply with federal air quality rules.

Momentum stalls, and DDOT stops being supportive

The study took a long time to get through procurement, and there were other bureaucratic obstacles that slowed things down. Still, by late 2012 WMATA was close to having options ready to go. Instead, DDOT basically pulled out of the study.

In June of 2013, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy sent a letter to WMATA planning head Shyam Kannan, which we have been able to obtain. The letter says DDOT wasn't interested in pursuing the option of two-way buses using a contraflow lane on H Street, which is what the study ended up recommending.


Potential H Street contraflow bus lane. Image from WMATA.

This year, DDOT removed the bus lanes from the CLRP, and is listing them as a study rather than a project to actually happen. Councilmember Mary Cheh asked about the project this spring in preparation for the annual oversight hearing, and DDOT's response is a classic engineer non-answer saying, in effect, that there are a lot of technical details to work out, and maybe they will work them out sometime in the future, but not now.

What's going on? Mostly, DDOT couldn't do this and the streetcar on K Street at the same time. According to Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's Associate Director in charge of planning, building the K Street dedicated lanes for the streetcar will likely require moving buses temporarily off K, rerouting traffic, and more, although DDOT has not decided the details this time. DDOT may need the flexibility to configure H and/or I in various ways during construction on K.

The agency is also concerned about operational issues, such as how driveways into parking garages and deliveries would work with the lane. As DDOT's responses to Mary Cheh show, the agency also wants to look at fixes identified by the WMATA study that don't involve a lane, such as ways to reduce bus dwell times at stops or prohibiting right turns at some intersections during rush hours.

Sources who participated in internal bus lane discussions, and insisted on remaining anonymous, also say that during the study, DDOT was going through environmental review for the K Street streetcar, and having better bus service on H and I would have reduced the apparent benefit of investing in the streetcar.

Will bus lanes take a generation?

DDOT is still keeping this project on its list of projects under design, and the moveDC long-range plan still shows bus lanes here. But it's clear that, perhaps because of staff turnover or political priorities, DDOT has gone from trying hard to build a bus lane to thinking of this as a low priority at best.

There's more momentum at the moment for a 16th Street bus lane, and maybe that can be the first example instead of H and I. But any lane will need a detailed analysis that could take a year or more, and would have to go onto the CLRP. The H and/or I Street concept had already surmounted at least these obstacles, and could have become reality more quickly.

Even if DDOT has good reasons to wait on H and I, there are always reasons to slow down or not to move forward. Over the years, there has also been plenty of off-the-record finger pointing between DDOT and WMATA about which agency is not doing what needs to be done. Ultimately, it takes courage and commitment to actually work through all of the issues, problems, and community concerns and build something, just as DDOT is now doing with several streetcar lines.

The streetcar is a good project, but there will still be many bus lines serving large numbers of riders. The streetcar will attract a lot of transit riders and drive growth in corridors like H Street, but without dedicated lanes (and in most places, there won't be), it won't be a speedy way to get from one part of the city to another. There also won't be streetcars everywhere in the city, and definitely not Metrorail lines, which are extremely expensive.

Buses move a lot of people today, and if they could spend less time in traffic, could move a lot more without more expense, or save a lot of money. (On 16th Street, for example, the delay around not having bus lanes adds $8 million a year in costs that either could go to more bus service or other city priorities.)

The reasons are clear, and many opportunities are available if and when the transportation department wants to pick up on them. It will just require leadership that's interested in actually making it happen.

Transit


On 16th Street, the cost of not adding bus lanes is $8 million a year

The Metrobuses on 16th Street NW carry half of all traffic during peak hours, using only 3% of the vehicles. But buses share street space with cars. If they had their own lane, WMATA could save close to $8 million a year.


Photo by Damien [Phototrend.fr] on Flickr.

It goes without saying that it costs money to run buses. But it's less obvious that the speed of a bus is directly related to the cost of providing the service. Simply put, if we double the speed of a bus, we can provide the same service for half the cost. Or for the same cost, we can provide twice as much service.

Bus lanes are one of the tools we can use to make buses move faster and be more efficient. On 16th Street, since buses carry such a large proportion of the users of the street, bus lanes are a perfect tool. Talk of a bus lane has even made it into the mayoral race, though it's not entirely clear how strongly each of the candidates would support it.

Saving time

WMATA's Priority Corridor Network study looked at several corridors, including 16th Street. It determined that, if nothing changed, by 2030 a bus would take about 40 minutes to get from Silver Spring to McPherson Square. However, if there were a bus lane, buses in 2030 would be able to cover the same distance in just over 20 minutes.

That means a bus lane would cut transit travel time in half. It would also mean that a bus rider could cover the distance between Silver Spring and downtown DC faster than a motorist, which would make transit more competitive.

But even with one fewer lane, estimates show that motorists' travel time wouldn't increase significantly. With the bus lanes, a 2030 car trip would be 4 minutes longer than without them.

Saving money

Right now, it costs $16.1 million dollars each year to run the 16th Street buses, the S1, S2, S4, and S9. Bus lanes could cut those costs in half. And that means there's an opportunity cost of not installing the lanes. That cost is about $8 million dollars a year.

Of course, because the 16th Street Line is a regional route, that money wouldn't all go back to the District's coffers. It would go back to all the jurisdictions. DC would save about $3.3 million, Prince George's would save about $1.4 million, and Montgomery and Fairfax would save about $1.1 million each.

The District should support bus lanes on 16th Street not only because it's good for transit users. They should also support the bus lanes because they represent a more efficient use of the space (remember, buses move 50% of the people on 16th Street already). But just as importantly, the District should support bus lanes because there's a real monetary cost to the region for not supporting them.

Politics


A bus lane for 16th Street? Which mayoral candidates agree?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transitpeople have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?

Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)

Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we're successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.

The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can't say, let's widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.

We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.

Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We've not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It's really the last thing they do. They've had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritizationwhich means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It's about as basic a technology as possible. And they're a bunch of Neanderthalsnot to insult Neanderthals. ... It's ridiculous that we can't expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.

Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it's his transportation agency that's put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.

I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.

I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.

We've got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that's going to take time as well.

We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We're increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn't exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.

Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,

I don't know [about the lane], and I've said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There's been really no proposal that's been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.

Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes. Where it doesn't make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.

What I've been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.

Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it's more efficient. We can't put a Metro stop everywhere. We can't put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I'm very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.

Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:

What you'd have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it's a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn't do it all the time. You'd have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there's a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it's something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, "I think it's a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea."

Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.

You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Evans:

Shallal:

Transit


CSG explains Metro Momentum in new video

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has just released a video supporting Metro Momentum, WMATA's plan to increase Metrorail and Metrobus capacity, and a web tool to contact your local elected officials in support of funding Momentum.

Momentum is WMATA's strategic plan to increase capacity in the Metro system to keep pace with job and population growth in coming decades. The Momentum plan has two partsMetro 2025 and Metro 2040.

Metro 2025, which is the core of the plan, calls for upgrades to all facets of our existing transit systems including running all 8-car trains at rush hour, restoring service on the Blue Line to pre-Rush Plus levels, and running more Red Line trains all the way to the end of the line to leverage as much as we can from a system that is already very popular. There are 7 main components of Metro 2025:

  1. 8-car trains: Metro will run all 8-car trains during rush hour, making room for 35,000 more rides per hour through the system's core.
  2. Station improvements: Metro will build pedestrian walkways between Gallery Place and Metro Center, and between Farragut North and Farragut West to ease transfers and reduce platform crowding. Metro will also integrate new station entrances and changes to elevators and escalators in high-ridership stations.
  3. Metrobus Priority Corridor Network: Metro will improve bus service, travel speeds, and reliability on 24 regional bus corridorswhich serve half of Metrobus riders.
  4. New Blue Line Connections: Metro will work to unclog the bottleneck at Rosslyn station to restore Blue Line service to pre-Rush Plus levels.
  5. Rider Communications: Metro will install a new PA system, better real-time information for riders, and more.
  6. More Buses: Metro will expand its bus fleet, putting 400 more buses on the streets.
  7. Pocket Tracks: More crossover and pocket tracks throughout the system will make it easier to turn trains around, making more flexible service possible.
Sexier improvements, like the "Metro Loop" and a new station in Rosslyn, are pieces of the Metro 2040 part of Momentum.

These are all good things for the region and many of the proposals are familiar to public transportation advocates, but now it's time for those advocates to begin educating others, and for the public to contact their elected officials to tell them that in order for DC region to grow more sustainably we must expand transportation options to all of the region's commuters and travelers.

Transit


Heavy rail, streetcars or BRT? Transit isn't "one size fits all"

The District is building a streetcar system while also studying the potential for express bus lanes in key areas. Montgomery County is looking at building a bus rapid transit (BRT) network. Arlington and Fairfax are planning a streetcar on Columbia Pike, while a BRT line is under construction in the Crystal City-Potomac Yard area.


Photo by Ian YVR on Flickr.

It's easy to get confused about the differences between these various transit projects. Moreover, it's easy for opponents of certain projects to use this confusion to misdirect residents when comparing different types of transit projects.

Two weeks ago, for instance, Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey wrote in an op-ed that she opposes a streetcar on Columbia Pike and instead favors what she calls "modern bus transit." Unfortunately, nowhere did she define this term, which isn't a real name for a type of transit. Personally, I favor "Star Trek"-style transporters on Columbia Pike, which would be far faster than any car, bus or train, but those are just as nonexistent.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Transit


Circulator will go to Mall, bus priority gets funding

The DC Circulator bus will add service to the National Mall by 2015, and Mayor Gray has added funding to the budget to improve bus service elsewhere in the city, Mayor Gray and Councilmember Mary Cheh just announced in a press release.


Photo by JLaw45 on Flickr.

The Circulator service would not be the same as the old loop around Constitution and Independence Avenues, which DC discontinued in 2011. That line ran without any cooperation from the National Park Service (NPS), which wouldn't even mention it on signs, claiming that their concession contract with the Tourmobile prohibited even telling people about other, cheaper forms of transportation.

When NPS terminated the Tourmobile contract and updated its concession agreements to be more flexible, officials began working with DC to prepare for Circulators that could offer transportation within NPS land and to and from adjacent neighborhoods.

Multiple sources have said that the District expects to get much of the operating funding for the Circulator from the National Park Service and/or Mall visitors. A Circulator on the Mall primarily benefits tourists, though with easy transportation to and from nearby neighborhoods, it could also help encourage tourists to spend some money at local shops and restaurants.

That funding might come from Circulator fares, parking meters on the Mall (where on-street spaces are now free and thus usually nearly impossible to get), or other sources. Specific details are not yet public and, based on the press release, may not be yet worked out between DC and NPS.


Circulator Phase 1 expansion. Image from the Circulator plan.

This is the diagram of proposed Circulator routes from a recent plan from DC Surface Transit, the public-private partnership that runs the Circulator. According to the press release, funds in the coming fiscal year will fund planning the actual routes, which might or might not be the same as some of these.

New fund supports bus priority around the city

In addition, Gray has added a $750,000 annual capital fund to support projects that improve bus service and reduce delays. This could presumably fund dedicated bus lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, off-board fare payment or other projects that make buses a quicker and more appealing way to travel.

DC won a TIGER grant way back in 2010 to improve buses on several corridors, but 3 years later we've seen few if any changes. According to an email forward to me from DDOT, they are planning to use the money to optimize traffic signals downtown and install backup traffic signal power.

The TIGER money will also fund 120 real-time digital displays in some bus stops, "some minor bus stop improvements on 16th Street, Wisconsin Avenue, and Georgia Avenue," and "some bus stop safety features" on H Street and Benning Road, the email says. For a grant which was supposed to fund "shovel-ready" stimulus projects in the immediate term, though, it's taken quite a long time.

Finally, DDOT is working on a short bus lane on Georgia Avenue between Florida Avenue and Barry Place, a spot where buses get significantly stuck in traffic.

There is also an ongoing WMATA study looking at potential bus lanes on H and I Streets in the area north of and around the White House. This would be a more complex project, but it's important for DC to take some big steps that speed up buses significantly, in addition to small and easier steps like new signals.

Neighborhoods still benefit from performance parking

Another new fund creates a pool of money for neighborhood improvements in areas that adopt performance parking. The original performance parking law dedicated some of the extra money to neighborhood-specific projects, and around the ballpark, it has already funded new trash cans, benches, bike racks, and signs for a historic heritage trail.

Gray's budget eliminated the dedicated funding, but to make up for the loss, this new fund will let neighborhoods with performance parking still have some say in local fixes. This fund will have $589,000 for the rest of this current fiscal year and $750,000 a year in future years.

Sustainability


Gray aims high with sustainability plan; can agencies deliver?

Last week, the Gray administration unveiled its sustainability plan, which sets some very ambitious, yet very important objectives for 2032, like attracting 250,000 new residents and making 75% of trips happen by walking, biking, and transit, along with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, more access to healthy food, cleaner water, and much more.

This plan is perhaps the boldest statement yet by a mayor about the city's future. Some plans equivocate and promise everyone what they want. The sustainability plan does not. Our future is more walking, biking, and transit, and many new residents who aren't driving, says the mayor. Period.

To achieve these goals, agencies will have to push forward not just on their existing laudable initiatives, but go beyond. To shift the numbers of transit, walking, and bicycle trips, DC must do more than just build the streetcar and incrementally grow bicycle infrastructure. The administration also should set intermediate goals to push agencies to make significant progress each and every year.

Many specific actions are important steps forward

Strong policy statements like this make a big impact. When agency heads and employees look at a potential action, they'll know they should consider it through the lens of these policies. That doesn't mean people won't keep doing other things that confound the goals at times, but one group inside one agency can use these statements as ammunition to argue for policies that support the goals.

The plan also lists a number of specific actions agencies can take in a number of areas, from waste to building energy efficiency to parks and trees. The land use section includes the most significant (and controversial) parts of the zoning update, reducing parking minimums and allowing more accessory dwellings.

In the transportation section, there are a few promising new steps. Most are things DC already plans, such as streetcars, more bike lanes, and expanding performance parking.

Notably, the plan also suggests exploring a regional congestion pricing system. That's entirely speculative at this point, and the plan says that unless Maryland and Virginia agree, it'd be almost impossible to set up any sort of congestion pricing system. But just putting it in the plan is a meaningful step.

Another significant policy statement calls on DC to "Program crosswalks and traffic lights for improved safety and convenience of pedestrians and cyclists." That's right, it says that pedestrian and cyclist safety should take precedence over vehicle speed. It also suggests timing lights along major corridors for traffic, as groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade repeatedly ask, but notably recommends timing such lights for motor vehicles and bicycles, not just the former.

To reach goals, agencies will have to do even more

Many of these statements commit DC agencies to go beyond what they have done to date. But is it enough to achieve the even more ambitious goals, like 75% of trips by transit, walk or biking, 250,00 new residents, and cutting in half citywide unemployment, obesity, and energy use?


Transportation goals from the plan (page 12). Click for full plan (PDF).

On land use, the zoning update takes a significant step, but still an incremental one. There are many conditions that will limit accessory dwellings. Reducing parking minimums may make some housing cheaper and make some buildings feasible around the margin, but it does not add to the total amount of potential housing.

According to Planning director Harriet Tregoning, DC could add enough housing for 250,000 more residents just under existing zoning, but that assumes building up to the zoning limit across most of the city. Wholesale redevelopment of neighborhoods is not what anyone really wants.

Rather, it would be better to focus more new housing near Metro stations, streetcars, and high-frequency bus corridors. To do that, though, some administration will have to modify the Comprehensive Plan and zoning to create denser areas somewhere, or even revisit the height limit in some parts of the city.

The Office of Planning also backed away from earlier proposals to also set thresholds where a new development has to set up a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan. That now only applies to parking lots over 100,000 square feet, not large garages in many buildings which will contribute to more traffic and inhibit reaching some of the mode share goals.

Can DC reach 75% non-auto mode share?

The transportation section aims to increase public transit's share of trips ("mode share") to 50%, and walking and biking to 25%. There isn't actually data on total trips today, but the plan shows a breakdown of commute trips (which the Census asks about). There, transit had 38% share in 2010, walking 12%, and "other means" (since bicycling isn't a specific category) 4%.


Image from the plan, page 80. Click for full plan (PDF).

That means if we use commute data and count all "other" in the walking and bicycling group (since it's probably fine to also count rollerbladers and Razor scooter riders), transit has to gain 12 percentage points and walking plus biking 9.

Implementation steps include DDOT's current plans to add some more bike lanes and Capital Bikeshare stations, build out the streetcar system, plus recommendations to improve transit connections such as better service for low-income riders and later hours, set up a dedicated source of funding for transit, and make transit systems "resilient" to intense heat and storms that we'll see more often thanks to climate change.

Will this get 12% of commuters to switch to transit, though? Especially while the vast bulk of DDOT spending is still going to projects like big racetracks on South Capitol Street, which will add more car capacity to Saint Elizabeths rather than boosting transit connectivity.

If congestion pricing actually comes about, that could drive the mode shift, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Meanwhile, though, DDOT could meaningfully improve transit by building a network of dedicated bus lanes that make the bus truly an appealing alternative for residents from Glover Park to Fairfax Village to Woodridge.

DC won TIGER grants for bus priority projects from 2009, but those still haven't yielded anything on the ground. Last year, Mary Cheh set up a fund for DDOT to pay for bus projects, but it hasn't done any. H and I street bus lanes are on the long-term regional transportation plan, but if DDOT is making any concrete progress, it's pretty covert, and most of all isn't anywhere in the plan.

DDOT also needs to step it up on bicycle infrastructure. The plan laudably calls for 200 more Capital Bikeshare stations (so far, DC has committed to 87, and 100 miles of "connected" bicycle lanes, compared to about 50 (and not all connected) today, "prioritizing" ones east of the Anacostia.

But as WABA noted in its action alert at the end of 2011 about anemic progress in bike lanes, DC had installed 4-8 lanes per year from 2006-2010, which if continued should put the District at 130-210 by 2032 rather than just 100. Gabe Klein's Action Agenda set a target of 80 miles by 2012, so only 25% more than that 20 years later seems a bit underwhelming.

MoveDC is key

Tregoning, who spearheaded the overall plan while working with individual agencies on the specific proposals, said that these sets of actions aren't supposed to be an exhaustive list of everything to do in the next 20 years. Among other reasons, they wanted to actually publish the plan, not spend endless years tinkering with the listsa worthy impulse indeed.

On transportation, in particular, the MoveDC citywide transportation plan is the opportunity to create a more detailed list of everything DC has to do. Gray's 50%-25%-25% targets provide a perfect frame for that plan. If a proposed piece of MoveDC moves us toward the targets, it should go in; if it pushes the other way, it should come out.

The 50%-25%-25% also gives MoveDC a high bar to hit. We'll all need to ensure MoveDC is more like the sustainability plan, with clear and aggressive goals, and less like some other plans which try to give everybody what they want and end up meaning little.

Intermediate goals are also necessary

How can we avoid getting to 2032, looking back on this plan, and seeing these great targets but having only moved imperceptibly toward them? The administration could set intermediate goals and really hold agency heads' feet to the fire to reach them.

What can we do to boost transit at least 0.6 percentage points in 2013 (1/20th of the way to the 12 point growth in the plan) and walking and bicycling 0.45 (1/20th of 6 points)? What can we do to get recycling up, obesity down, more buildings retrofitted for energy efficiency, and more parks not just by 2032, but by 2014 and then 2018?

To really hit these goals or at least come close, a next step needs to be a set of intermediate targets, perhaps one for the end of Mayor Gray's current term, and for every 4-year mayoral term thereafter. We should also ask mayoral candidates, in the 2014 race and future races, if they are willing to commit to these targets, both the long-term and intermediate ones, and ask their agency heads to do the same.

At the press conference, Gray noted that this plan's 20-year horizon certainly extends beyond his administration, whether or not he runs for or wins reelection. But, he said, this is a product not just from him but from his agency employees, many of whom still may be around that long. They can reach these targets as long as this and future mayors continue to send clear messages that the objectives in the plan are not just nice words on a paper but a real vision for the future of DC.

Transit


WMATA plan: Not $26 billion, not mostly about tunnels

New Metro tunnels in downtown DC sound really cool (and expensive), but they're not what's most important about the "Momentum" strategic plan WMATA planners showed their board on Thursday. Rather, the crux of the plan is the smaller, yet very important, projects Metro needs for 2025.


Photo by woodleywonderworks on Flickr.

The capital improvements in "Metro 2025" come to about $6 billion, and include these 7 items:

  • 100% 8-car trains ($2 billion)
  • More capacity at core stations, including pedestrian tunnels ($2 1 billion)
  • Fixing the bottleneck at Rosslyn ($1 billion)
  • More places to turn trains ($500 million)
  • Next generation communications infrastructure ($400 million)
  • Speed up buses on priority corridors ($600 million)
  • More buses and new garage to grow bus system ($500 million)

The Momemtum plan also talks about some downtown tunnels in a future phase, "Metro 2040," but Tom Harrington, Director of Long-Range Planning for WMATA, emphasized in an interview that WMATA has not made any decisions about where specifically such tunnels would go, or which they want to build.

Rather, those sections are more general placeholders than anything else. While it's likely Metro needs at least one new tunnel to add capacity, WMATA can't even begin to plan for those tunnels until the elements of the 2025 plan get funding.

Given how long it takes to design, build, and fund transit in the United States, it's not too early to start talking about and building support around the elements of the 2040 plan. But what's more important now is laying the groundwork to enable those plans to go forward. That's the 2025 plan.

Harrington added that the $26 billion figure in the Washington Post's headline, which most other reporters subsequently focused on, isn't really the price tag for WMATA's plans. Rather, that covers the total cost of all transit projects the region's governments hope to build as well as future projects for WMATA.

As we discussed on Thursday, the plan also contains a lot of priorities for WMATA to improve its own operations. They include finishing repairs on the system, ensuring it's safe, devising better plans for communicating disruptions, making the system more "self-service," lowering costs and increasing efficiency, environmentally sustainable practices, and more.

The plan is not very detailed about these, and we look forward to hearing and discussing them more when there's more to understand.

Meanwhile, let's look more at the 7 capital items:


Photo by erin_johnson on Flickr.
100% 8-car trains: The original system's designers anticipated having trains of 8 cars, the full length of each platform. However, the system didn't need such long trains at the start, since the designers knew demand would grow over time.

They didn't build enough power stations and yard space to house all of those cars, anticipating that as the system grew, the local, state, and federal governments would fund the system's growth. That investment didn't continue much after the initial system was built, however. Today, Metro is overcrowded in many places, and needs the longer trains.

Core station capacity: The main transfer stations (Metro Center, Gallery Place, and L'Enfant Plaza), plus Union Station which is a transfer point between Metro and commuter rail or Amtrak, are jammed during rush hour. Metro needs to expand key spaces inside the stations and increase the numbers of escalators, elevators, and/or stairways between the different levels of the stations.


Image from WMATA.
WMATA's proposal includes pedestrian tunnels between Farragut North and West, and Metro Center and Gallery Place. The Farragut tunnel would reduce loading on the Red and Orange Lines where people have to currently ride to Metro Center to transfer, and the Metro Center-Gallery Place tunnel would let people avoid riding the Red Line one stop to transfer there.

Fix Rosslyn: This is the system's biggest bottleneck. We'll talk about this in part 2.

Turnbacks: Many subway systems have places where "gap trains" can wait to enter service in a busy section if trains get delayed, or places to push a disabled train out of the way. The Momentum plan isn't clear on where these would be, and Shyam Kannan, Managing Director for Planning, said WMATA is finishing up a study on this now.

In the past, WMATA planners have talked about adding pocket tracks north of Fort Totten and east of Eastern Market. A pocket track north of Fort Totten would also make it possible to run Yellow Line trains to Fort Totten during rush. Here's an explanation of why it's not possible to do that today; basically, they turn around on the main tracks, which takes too long to avoid delaying other trains at rush frequencies.

Communications infrastructure: The current "PIDS" screens in rail stations use very old technology dating back to Metro's early years. According to Kannan, during a service disruption, someone has to manually modify the information in the computer system to get the PIDS to work properly. They want to replace this whole system with a more modern one that doesn't have the flaws of the old.

This project also will involve systems to help riders get real-time bus and train predictions, Kannan said. Metro would like to place large screens, perhaps 4 by 6 feet, in many rail stations and busy bus stops to tell riders about the locations of trains and buses, as well as information about other modes like commuter rail and commuter buses. Better apps for smartphones and tablets, as well as open data to help other developers make their own tools, are also part of this piece of the strategic plan.

Bus priority corridors: Let's not forget buses. As we've talked about many, many times, making the buses more efficient, with features like "queue jumpers" to bypass congested areas, is an inexpensive way to improve transit and could even save money. If a bus can travel its route more quickly, you can have the same bus frequency with fewer buses and drivers, or more frequent service with the same numbers.

WMATA has identified a set of corridors ripe for optimizing bus service, but it needs more cooperation from local jurisdictions, which control the roads, signals, and bus stops, to make it happen. Some early elements are in the works; DC is planning bus lanes on H and I Streets past the White House, for instance.

More buses and a bus garage: A lot of bus riders wait longer than they should have to. We should beef up service on busy lines and in key places, like east of the Anacostia, which need better connectivity.

Also, WMATA needs to replace its aging garages in DC with a new one somewhere; Walter Reed was a promising spot, but Muriel Bowser and Vincent Gray blocked the idea; most recently, they have apparently been eying the Armed Forces Retirement Home, at North Capitol and Irving.

These are not in the region's plans today

These 7 items are extremely important for mobility in our region. They aren't just things that would be nice to have, but necessities if we don't want terrible overcrowding and delays.

However, these items are still not in the Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP), the list of transportation projects each jurisdiction gives to the Transportation Planning Board to staple together into a regional plan. (DC just proposed adding the I Street bus lane, and already had H Street in there).

As the TPB explains:

The CLRP (Financially Constrained Long-Range Plan) includes all "regionally significant" highway, transit and High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), bicycle and pedestrian projects, and studies that the TPB realistically anticipates can be implemented by 2040. Some of these projects are scheduled for completion in the next few years, while others will be completed much later.
That means without action by regional leaders, we could get to 2040 and still have no more 8-car trains, the same and even worse Rush Plus crowding problems, terrible jams at transfer stations, buses stuck in even more traffic, and no room to park buses to expand service.

These improvements are basically necessary to keep Metro running efficiently over the next decade and to set the stage for future expansion. But it will not be easy to build these projects unless regional leaders are able to work together to secure funding for Metro's future.

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