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I don't care what some people say: DC has great transportation options.

SafeTrack is pretty much Exhibit A when it comes to how frustrating the transportation options in the Washington region can sometimes be. But as my recent move to Orlando reminded me, problems like SafeTrack are somewhat of a luxury—you have to have a rail network to even have them. My message to the DC region: it's really not so bad!

X2 Bus. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

In the Orlando region, there's a fixed route bus system and new commuter rail line that provides reliable service for millions in Central Florida. And I just happen to live and work in a more transit-accessible area than I did in DC. But that is uncommon. Wait times between buses and trains are often an hour, and real-time traveler information isn't available throughout the entire system.

I recently spoke to some Greater Greater Washington contributors about my newfound appreciation for what DC does so well, asking if there's anything here that they're particularly thankful for. I really liked what Alex Baca had to say:

Metrobus arrives on time, consistently, and the frequency on the notable crosstown lines (90, X2, S buses, 50s) blows many, many other systems out of the water. I left DC for San Francisco and am now in Cleveland (car-free!). In both cities, it is a struggle to find a bus that arrives when it's scheduled. I know that the switch from NextBus has caused some consternation as far as real-time arrivals, but at least DC's buses arrive when their paper schedules say they will.

I was in New York recently and a friend warned me that "the buses aren't like DC here," so I would have to give myself a 15-minute window for my bus from Prospect Heights to Williamsburg, in case it was early or late. In Cleveland, the bus that stops outside of my apartment (a "high-frequency" line on a major route to downtown) is routinely four (four!) minutes early and only runs every 15 minutes—when I first moved here, I missed the bus several times and waited a whole headway for another, which, of course, was often late.

I left DC in 2014 but am back as often as I can be. I always, always take Metro from National or MARC from BWI, then Metro and Metrobus as needed. Often, I'm lucky to have a bike, but sometimes I don't. I don't want to undercut WMATA's problems with Metro, but even as a hot mess it's a better system than most other cities in America have to offer, and I will say that I was utterly miserable biking for both transportation and recreation in San Francisco, a city that is ostensibly one of the country's most bike-friendly. BART's role as a commuter system is even starker than Metro's. I rarely used it to get around the city in the way that I used Metro, just to get to the airport and the East Bay.

DC's transportation is comparatively incredible across the board. This is a great thing. It's also a depressing indicator of the state of transportation in the US.

In a word, Alex is right.

The Washington region has tons of options, from bikeshare to trails. Wait times between buses aren't bad when you compare them to other cities, and we've got apps that give us real time information. We've also got good wayfinding.

Capital Bikeshare in action. Photo by fromcaliw/love.

Capital Bikeshare adds to its 370 stations monthly, it seems. In just a few years, the system could have nearly 500 stations.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by TrailVoice.

Bike commuting is easier with the region's extensive trail network, linking downtown to the suburbs. When Metro closed for a day in March, the MBT experienced a 65% increase in cyclists. That's a testament to how easy it is to bike in the area.

Wayfinding. Photo by Dylan Passmore.

Across the District, blue signs point you towards neighborhoods, Metro stations, and other points of interest. A person new or unfamiliar to an area can find their way to the Smithsonian museums or the zoo pretty easily.

Tell us your thoughts: what have you seen or experienced while traveling or living elsewhere that made you particularly thankful for the region's transportation network?


College Park recreated Paris's "bus stop of the future" on the cheap

Four years ago, Paris made headlines for its bus stop of the future, a bigger and better bus stop with amenities like bikesharing and a book-sharing library attached. Now College Park has a bus stop with some of the same amenities, but using inexpensive, off-the-shelf pieces.

College Park's bus stop of the future. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Paris' bus stop of the future

In 2012, Paris's transit agency tried out a luxurious new bus stop design. In addition to the normal sign, bench, and shelter, the stop had electric bikes, bookshelves, wifi, and stylish architecture. It looked great and it made waiting for the bus more enjoyable, but it was expensive and took up a lot of space.

Paris' concept was a neat idea, but wasn't ultimately practical for mass production.

Paris's bus stop of the future. Image from RATP.

But some of the ideas from Paris's attempt make sense. Locating a bikeshare station next to a bus stop makes it convenient for more people to use both. And book-sharing can be a nice amenity, if it's easy and inexpensive to manage.

College Park's version

Enter College Park, where rather than design a custom building, the city simply added some of those components to an existing bus stop using their standard off-the-shelf pieces.

They started with a normal bus stop sign and shelter, then added a standard mBike bikeshare station. To help with maintenance, the city chained a bike tire pump to the station sign.

For the library, they staked to the ground a Little Free Library, a pre-fab wood box for people to take and give away free books. There's no librarian and no library cards; it runs on the honor system, and relies on people donating as many books as they take.

A similar Little Free Library in California. Photo by Michael R Perry on Flickr.

The stop is at the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Muskogee Street, in front of the Hollywood shopping center, just one block south of College Park's first protected bikeway. The stop serves Metrobus lines 81 and 83, which are among the busier lines in Prince George's County.

It's no grand Parisian bus station, but that would be overkill. For a bus stop in a relatively low-density suburban area, it's pretty darn nice.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Exit Metrobus using the rear doors and more station name signs! These are two more MetroGreater finalist ideas.

Last week we announced the MetroGreater finalists and opened voting. Between now and August 26th, when voting closes, we want to tell you more about each finalist idea. Today's featured finalists: a campaign to exit Metrobus using the rear door and more station name signs for Metrorail.

Photos by pinelife and mirsasha on Flickr, respectively.

Exit through the rear doors: A campaign for improved Metrobus egress

There were many MetroGreater submissions that offered improvements to boarding and disembarking from Metro. One of those ideas is a campaign to encourage Metrobus riders to exit the bus from the rear doors. It became one of the finalist ideas.

Photo by pinelife on Flickr.

Here's the original submission:

Customers should exit MetroBus using the rear doors when possible. This will expedite the onboarding/off-boarding process at bus stops because onboarding customers in the front will not need to wait for off-loading customers coming out the front door.

The message to "exit from the rear" can be messaged through on-bus advertisements, pamphlets, social media, etc. The Portland, OR, are TriMet has instituted and marketed this policy for years and it is quite successful.

This proposal will significantly reduce the average wait time at bus stops for customers onboarding and off-boarding.

Alex L. submitted this idea and notes that "getting people to exit through the rear door might sound like a minor change (and it is!), but it's an important issue that transit planners and academics actually think about." Alex shares how surprised he was when he moved here, after living in many other cities, to discover "that DC bus riders are just as likely to exit through the front doors than through the rear doors. How could a population that has so perfected the behavioral norm of 'stand right, walk left' on Metrorail escalators be so indifferent about "enter front, exit rear" on Metrobus?"

Seattle's brochures and New York's recorded announcements are two examples Alex offered for how Metro could roll out such a campaign here in the Washington region.

Tells us what you think about this idea by voting at Or, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More station name signs

Another finalist idea focused on more signage to help passengers traveling by rail know which station they're arriving at.

Photo by mirsasha on Flickr.

Here is the original submission:

Right now, it can be difficult to see from inside the train what stop you are at. We should have more signs to the station so people in a train car can see what station they are stopped at.

I think we should have more signs on the wall, saying the name of the station. The pillars with station listings only use two sides--the other two could say what the stop is. You can print out giant stickers and put them on the pillars. Even if you can't do the wall signs, the pillars should be cheap and easy.

Several commenters support Hester G.'s idea. Amanda says "Great idea! I want to vote for more station name signs." Rick also thinks this is a "great idea and a no-brainier. Especially with cars packed to the brim and packed station platforms, more station name signs are definitely needed."

What do you think? Would more station name signs improve the experience for Metrorail riders? Vote today at!

And, ICYMI, check out the two finalist ideas we profiled yesterday.


Here are the MetroGreater finalists! Vote for the gold now!

The Olympics may be in full swing in Rio de Janeiro, but we've got our own nail-biting competition going on here in the Washington region. Here are the 10 finalists for the MetroGreater contest, to devise quick ways Metro can improve the rider experience. Which are your favorites?

Photo by Asten on Flickr.

People submitted over 1,300 ideas to improve the rider experience on Metrorail, Metrobus, or MetroAccess. Eligible ideas are ones that Metro could implement in six months or less and for no more than $100,000.

The MetroGreater jury met last week and selected an exciting slate of ten finalist ideas. From bus to rail, art to parking, we think you'll find at least one idea you think should be the MetroGreater winner.

Starting next week, we'll feature finalist ideas in Greater Greater Washington posts to tell you a bit more about each. In the meantime, take a look at the finalist ideas below, then cast your vote!

More direct priority seating signsMore station name signs
Install split stanchions in trainsCompass rose decals at station exits
Kojo on Metro: Recorded rail announcements by local personalitiesExit Metrobus using the rear door campaign
System map decals for ceilings of rail carsFeature local artists' work in stations
Make the sign post maps more color-blind friendlyReverse commuter parking passes

Congrats to our finalist submitters: Mathew F. of Washington, DC; Hester G. of Cheverly, MD; Peter D. of Arlington, VA; Ryan W. of Washington, DC; Janet S. of Alexandria, VA; Jennifer S. of Chevy Chase, MD; Robert B. of Falls Church, VA; Diana B. of Dunkirk, MD; Alex L. of Washington, DC; and Dennis E. of Bethesda, MD!

Cast your vote by Friday, August 26

Voting is open and you can cast your vote starting today at! Anyone can vote, but only once, between now and 11:59 pm next Friday, August 26th.

To vote, you'll rank the finalist ideas. You can rank all 10, or just your top choice. Votes will be tallied using the instant-runoff voting system. That means we will eliminate entries that get the fewest votes and apply those votes to the next-highest one that's still in the running. Instant runoff voting is used to elect legislators and presidents in Australia, India, and Ireland.

Honorable mentions

The jury also identified 12 honorable mentions. These are ideas which the jury really liked, but for one reason or another could not be implemented safely, successfully, in six months or less, and for no more than $100,000.

Some are ideas which Metro staff really liked and could work on in the future with the luxury of more time and/or money, and we hope they will. Others are actually being done already.

We will be following up with more detailed information on the reasons each of these could not be finalists in posts on Greater Greater Washington after the voting ends.

What about the rest of the ideas?

As we've kept you updated on the MetroGreater contest process, several commenters have requested that we share more than just the 10 finalist ideas. In addition to the honorable mentions above, you can now see the semifinalists here, and can see all of the submitted ideas here.


Thanks to Metro and its business partners, the grand prize winner, the remaining 9 finalists, and the people who submitted "honorable mention" ideas will receive a prize!

The grand prize winner will receive a paperweight made from a piece of historic Metro rail removed during SafeTrack as well as a personalized $100 SmarTrip card. Additionally, he or she will get to choose two packages of experiences donated by the Reston Association, Extraordinary Alexandria, Pike & Rose, Spy Museum, National Building Museum, Washington Capitals, Arlington, Big Bus Tours, Washington Wizards, the Washington NFL team, and Downtown DC.

Finalists will each get to choose one of the remaining packages and will also each receive a $25 SmarTrip card.

People who submitted one of the honorable mention ideas will each get a token of appreciation from WUSA9, Metro, Rockville Town Square, Main Street Takoma, or the Smithsonian Zoo.

You make Metro greater

Thank you to everyone who submitted an idea! Whether your idea made it through to the final stages or not, your participation demonstrates riders' commitment to making Metro greater.


If Metrobus asked me to redesign its info brochures, I'd make them look like this

I've lived in DC and used Metrobus here for 14 years. I'm also a designer, and I have a few ideas about how to make the bus timetable brochures clearer for people using them to understand the system.

Metrobus brochures could included a map like this to give riders a sense of where they are even if they've never heard of the specific places.

Some of the brochures' most important information, like where bus lines run and which bus stops have Metrorail stations nearby, isn't shown at all. And if you aren't familiar with the bus line numbers or street names, you won't have the context you need.

Mockup from the author based on the original Metrobus brochure.

While many people have smartphones to get their information in other ways or know what apps to download, visitors to the city often don't. And many low income travelers either don't have a smart phone nor money for data plans.

Here's my new design:

I designed a new brochure that I think would help readers know where they are even if they don't understand the geography of the District.

Redesigned Metrobus brochure by the author.

In short, I think Metrobus brochures should give users a visual understanding of where they are rather than assume riders know street or neighborhood names and that they should provide further information on how they can connect with Metrorail.

Do you see any other ways to make my new brochure better? If you have ideas, post them in the comments!


At this park & ride, buses and bikes get the spotlight

Renovations to Fairfax's Stringfellow Road Park and Ride just finished up, and they're largely focused on buses and bicycles. This means the park and ride will function more like a multi-modal transit center than just a place for commuters to leave their cars.

New waiting area and bike racks. Photo by Adam Lind.

The park and ride is in Centreville, close to Fair Lakes and I-66. There is a special HOV-only exit that makes it popular with commuters who want to either join a slug line or catch the bus.

Image from Google Maps.

It will be easier to catch a bus

New buses will service the park and ride, while existing routes will run more often, seven days a week. At rush hour, buses will run between Stringfellow and the Vienna Metro every 10 minutes.

A Fairfax Connector store will have resources for riders, as well as a place to wait for the bus. Also, more bus service is likely to come in the future thanks to Transform 66. That project will build HOT lanes between Haymarket and Falls Church that will be used by a number of express buses, which may originate or stop at Stringfellow Road.

There's a great option for storing your bike

Bicycling also gets a big boost thanks to the arrival of the county's second secure bike room. This facility will be similar to the now-popular bike room at the Reston-Wiehle Metro station.

The bike room is a great option for cyclists: the fact that you need a membership pass makes it much less likely for your bike to be stolen, and the shelter keeps your bike out of the elements. Some parking is available for bike trailers or other over-sized bicycles as well.

Inside the secure bike room. Photo by Adam Lind.

Adam Lind, Fairfax County's bicycle program coordinator, said that Fairfax has plans to provide secure bike parking at any regular parking garage built or funded by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. This includes garages built at future Silver Line Metro stations. He also said that members will be able to use any garage in the county's growing network.

Lind expects that biking to the Stringfellow Park and Ride will become even more popular since Transform 66 will many making bike and pedestrian options in surrounding neighborhoods better. One example: plans to extend the Custis Trail.

While the big transit news in Fairfax usually deals with Tyson's Corner and the Silver Line the new amenities at Stringfellow Road show that improvement is happening all over the our region's most populous jurisdiction.


❤ Georgia Avenue's new red-surface bus lanes

DC's first bright red bus lanes now adorn four blocks of Georgia Avenue, near Howard University. DDOT crews added the red surface earlier this month.

Georgia Avenue's new red carpet for buses. All photos by the author.

The bus lanes run along both curbs, from Florida Avenue north to Barry Place. They speed Metrobus' busy 70-series line through what was the slowest section of Georgia Avenue north of downtown.

The bright red color is a strong visual clue to car drivers to stay out of the lane. It's a stark contrast to the Gallery Place bus lane a dozen blocks south, which is so poorly marked that many car drivers legitimately don't know it's there. For these four blocks, drivers will have no excuse.

Anecdotally, the red surface seems to be working pretty well. Most car drivers seem to stay out. To find out for sure, DDOT is in the process of collecting actual data, comparing the car violation rate now to the rate from before the red surface was added.

Nitty gritty

Cyclists and taxicabs are allowed the use the lanes in addition to buses. Signs along the street spell out the exact rules.

Since the lanes are along the curb, cars can enter them to turn right. Dashed white lane markings show where cars can enter.

To avoid wear-and-tear and to make the bus lanes safer for cyclists, the "red paint" is actually a gritty surface coating. If you walk along Georgia Avenue now, you can still see some of the leftover grit along the curb.

❤ the transit red carpet

By adding these lanes and marking them clearly, DC is taking an real step towards prioritizing street space for transit. At only four blocks long they're are a humble start, but a start nonetheless.

The "red carpet" is an increasingly common part of the street design toolbox in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. It's great that DC is getting on board too.

With more transit lanes in the works for K Street, H Street, and 16th Street, this humble start will hopefully soon become a trend. A red surface would probably help them all.


Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Check out Montreal's transit network

In Montreal, the subway system has video screens that display more than just train arrival times, and stations double as art galleries. Thanks to low-cost measures like these, commuting in Montreal is a world-class experience.

Montreal's Société de transport de Montréal metro system. Image from STM.

Montreal has a subway called the the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) and a central train station called Gare Centrale, which is fed by six Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) regional rail lines and long distance rail (Via Rail and Amtrak), and an extensive network of traditional bus, electric bus and long distance bus.

There is also a central bus station, Gare d'autocars de Montréal, located adjacent to Berri-UQAM (a Metro transfer station where the Orange, Green and Yellow lines intersect), from which several of the local bus lines (including the 747 to the Montreal airport (YUL)) and the regional and long distance bus services originate/terminate.

AMT map—click for a larger version. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

STM's stations are a bit more lively than Metro's

Montreal subway stations vary widely in terms of design. At Station Lionel-Goulx, for example, which opened in 1978, DC riders feel at home because the orange-red tile and cement walls are reminiscent of the brutalist FBI building. But beyond that, STM stations are distinct from anything you'd find in the DC system in a number of ways.

The differences often begin right at the entrance. Given Montreal's northern location, the entrances to the city's subway are butterfly/diner-style doors that hinge at the middle—these protect against the elements, and are easy to open despite the changes in air pressure thanks to trains coming and going below.

The Mont-Royal station. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

The most obvious difference is in the central convenience store, Couche-Tard, located in the center of the platform. Couche-Tard is a regional chain, much like 7-11. Imagine a miniature 7-11 in the center platform of the lower level of Metro Center.

A Couche-Tard store in Station Lionel-Goulx. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Another obvious difference are the platform stickers indicating where to stand while waiting for passengers to exit from the train that is found at nearly every station.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In Montreal's view, stations don't gave to be grey

The Montreal metro views itself as an art gallery and takes its stewardship responsibility seriously. The STM partners with Art Public Montreal to increase awareness of Montreal as an international public art destination, and artwork is literally incorporated into station designs. Here, you can see stained glass incorporated into the walls at Champ-de-Mars:

Image from STM.

Another example of stained glass in station design, this time at Berri-UQAM:

Image from STM.

But it's not just the art that brightens up the space, it is the actual design of the stations themselves. Below is Station McGill, near McGill University. Notice the white columns, lighter materials used in the walls and ceilings, and, perhaps most strikingly, the video projector displays:

Station McGill. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Less glamorous measures also help the system run smoothly

Metrovision, a private company run in conjunction with STM, first appeared in the Montreal system in 2004. It uses LCD display screens and video projectors to show news, weather, the time, and train arrivals.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Image from Transgesco.

Montreal's subway also has older displays similar to Metro's PIDs, which simply show the next arrival time. The Metrovision displays, however, could teach WMATA a thing or two about about communicating with riders, along with how to make some additional revenue in the process.

After finding that more than half of the more than 1,000 delays in 2012 were caused by passenger actions, including holding open doors or pulling the emergency brake upon missing their stop, Montreal beefed up its enforcement of the law that says people can't keep a train from departing.

Image from STM.

Every train door has a sticker warning passengers that blocking the door when it is closing is a criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Image from Reddit user 4011Hammock.

There are also signs reminding people to be polite riders:

Image from STM.

Take a look at Montreal's hardware

Recently, like Metro, STM began receiving new train cars. Theirs are called Azur. Montreal's system is a bit different from Metro in that the trains consist of nine-linked cars trains that use rubber tires. The new Azur cars have full width walkways between cars, which increases the capacity of each train by 8%.

Image from STM.

The 747 is a bus line linking Trudeau Airport running through downtown to the Gare de Autocars de Montreal. It runs 24 hours a day, typically every 10-15 minutes during peak travel times, taking about 45-60 minutes to arrive downtown depending on highway traffic.

The 747 is limited stop, stopping on major cross streets downtown near hotels. Busses are equipped with wi-fi and the $10 fare includes an unlimited 24 hour day pass that you can use throughout the STM system.

The 747 route. Image from STM.

Montreal is getting some important new rail projects

Five new stations are planned for the east end of the STM's Blue Line, a move that's likely to add an additional 80,000 new daily riders to the system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who ascended to the Liberal Party leader as a Member of Parliament representing a riding (Congressional District) in Montreal, has promised to fund the extension, estimated to cost $1.8 billion.

The extension would add an additional 5.5 kilometers to the system. This is no Silver Line—it would go in dense urban neighborhoods and would serve an area desperately in need of additional transit options.

The Blue Line extension. Image from AMT.

Montreal is also getting a new light rail system. On April 22, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, a pension management Crown corporation, proposed building a new $5 billion light rail system which would connect the transit-neglected West Island, North Shore, South Shore and the Montreal Trudeau Airport with downtown Montreal.

The new system would be fully automated, extend 67 kilometers and encompass 24 new stations.

Image from CDPQ.
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