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Transit


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.

Transit


❤ 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.


Yay!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


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.

Transit


Maps of late night bus service are nice, but effective late night bus service would be even better

With Metro's weekend service now stopping at midnight, many will turn to buses for their late night transportation. PlanItMetro recent posted maps of all the bus service that's available in our region after midnight. They're a great step toward giving riders the information they need, but they also highlight some of the ways our night bus network falls short.


Our region's bus service between midnight and 1 am. Maps from WMATA.

There are three maps in all: One showing service from midnight to 1 am, one from 1 to 2 am, and one from 2 to 3. On top of Metrobus, the maps show routes offered by Arlington's ART, Montgomery County's Ride On, the DC Circulator, and the Fairfax Connector.

How thick a route is on the map indicates how long the wait between buses should be, with the thickest lines meaning the headway should be less than 20 minutes.


Service between 1 and 2 am.

PlanItMetro notes that the maps are missing some existing routes, like the Z8, which is a major line in Montgomery County; the maps should be updated soon. The maps also include some routes with such low frequency (once an hour or less) that it's debatable whether they're useful at all.

Most importantly, though, there's very little late night service after 1 am aside from what WMATA offers (other than some Fairfax Connector service), and most of that is designed to feed into or out of the Metro system—which isn't running past 12 anymore.


Service between 2 and 3 am.

Two of the most frequent routes between 2 and 3 AM (running every half hour) are the 16E and 82. However, the 16E is completely unconnected to DC, running only from Metro stations in Alexandria and Arlington west to Annandale. When the Metro is shut down, this route is a lot less useful—though at least it does connect with some other bus routes.

Even worse is the 82: it runs between Rhode Island Avenue Metro station and Mount Rainier, but without the Metro there is no way to reach this route via transit.

Compiling these routes is an important first step toward providing solid late night bus service, and it highlights where the network could get a lot better. Hopefully the maps can be improved, made more user-friendly, and placed on the WMATA website for riders to access them more easily.

And ideally, we can then start to take concrete steps to fill in the significant gaps in the area's night bus network.

Transit


Big parts of the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines are about to shut down for two weeks

Starting on Saturday and lasting through July 3rd, Metro is fully closing the tracks from the Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue stations to Eastern Market, along with those between Rosslyn and Arlington National Cemetery. This phase of SafeTrack is likely to be much harder on riders than the first, which wraps up today.


SafeTrack Surge 2 service reductions. Image from WMATA.

According to a Metro presentation on SafeTrack, almost 300,000 riders will feel the effects of the Surge 2 closures each day. That number includes both riders that use the segments of the Orange, Silver, or Blue Lines that will have no service as well as those who use the lines in places that will simply see fewer trains.

Blue Line trains from Franconia will only run as far as Arlington Cemetery, trains from Largo will only to Benning Road, and trains from New Carrollton will stop at Minnesota Avenue. The shutdown will effectively cut the the Blue Line in half. Instead of traveling through Rosslyn to get to DC, passengers will have to take the Yellow Line up through L'Enfant Plaza and transfer to another train for the rest of the trip.

Metro is offering up shuttle bus service between the affected stations that will run every 5-10 minutes depending on the location. The single bus shuttle between Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery, however, will only run every 12 minutes, and only operate midday.

Metro will be increasing some bus service on some routes, including the T18 and the X9. Arlington is also upping buses on its ART 43 route, and around 40 buses will be running Metro's shuttle bus service during the shutdown. But a single train car holds 100 or more people, and many more people ride the trains than will be able to fit into the available buses.

WMATA's website has very thorough information about alternative transportation, including lists of all the bus routes that service each closed station as well as Rosslyn and those east of Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue.


Metro's estimates on per-car crowding during Surge 2.

Metro officials have asked and continue to ask for riders on the affected lines to take alternate transportation if at all possible so that those for whom it is not can ride trains. The presentation slide above shows that if all Metro passengers took their normal routes, trains from McPherson Square to Metro Center would pack almost 200 people per car—Metro considers a car with 120 people to be crowded, and it's likely not physically possible to fit 195 (or even 147) people into a single rail car without massive effort.

During the disruptive 16-day Surge 2, passengers are recommended to stay calm and prepared. Carry a towel, in other words, and find the best way to travel that you can.

There are numerous rider tools that can be used to stay on top of the delays, and being informed will be critical to getting through this with your sanity in check.

Bicycling


Just blocks from the White House... new bike and bus lanes?

A new protected bikeway could go in along Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House, along with a contraflow bus lane on nearby H Street. DDOT is launching a study to review these possibilities, and is seeking public input.


DDOT is studying how to make this area more pedestrian, bike, and bus-friendly. Image from Google Maps.

The area that the Downtown West Transportation Planning Study is looking at, outlined in the image above, is basically the area immediately north of the White House. It includes Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 17th Street and Washington Circle, and H Street NW between New York and Pennsylvania Avenues.

When the 12-month study is over, DDOT will compile a few options for making travel by bike, walk, and travel by bus in the area safe, more efficient, and more inviting.

Pennsylvania Avenue Reconfiguration

Not unlike its counterpart between the White House and the US Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House is primed to be reimagined and repurposed.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks May 1995, vehicle traffic was permanently banned along the 1600 block immediately in front of the White House (between 15th and 17th streets). Since the closure, Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House has been less of a major vehicle artery because drivers heading downtown have more efficient alternate routes (such as K Street, H Street, and Constitution Avenue).

The DDOT study will evaluate alternative ways of setting up the western segment of Pennsylvania. Each build alternative will address changes to the existing right-of-way, in which approximately 80 of the 130 feet available is currently dedicated to vehicular traffic.

New options will focus on protected bike lanes, and an enhanced streetscape to make the corridor more inviting for foot traffic. In addition, stormwater retention infrastructure will be put in place as part of plans for a full rebuild.

As the western segment of Pennsylvania Avenue falls within the Golden Triangle BID, the BID has taken an active interest in enhancing the corridor. The BID recently partnered with KGP Design Studio to develop conceptual designs for enhancements to the streetscape.

The conceptual designs are independent of DDOT, but the BID hopes DDOT will take them into consideration.


Pennsylvania Avenue how it is now, contrasted with a conceptual design provided by the Golden Triangle BID/KDG Design Studio.

In addition to fundamental transportation enhancements, the BID sees potential to make the western side of Pennsylvania Avenue a world-class destination. It connects directly to the White House, is home to many international organizations (IMF, the World Bank) and is home to a top-tier university (George Washington). Yet the current space is barren, uninviting, and underutilized.

The conceptual designs provided by the BID/KGP include fewer traffic lanes and more dedicated and protected bike lanes. The designs also present a focus on building fully integrated and connected green spaces, which would make the area more welcoming to foot traffic while also serving to better manage stormwater runoff.

Ultimately, the Golden Triangle BID envisions an enlivened boulevard that can capture and celebrate the global scope of western Pennsylvania Avenue's iconic geographical positioning.

A new bus lane on H Street

In 2013, WMATA conducted a study to evaluate options for improving bus throughput on the heavily-trafficked corridor along H and I streets west of New York Avenue. There are approximately 3,000 daily bus trips along this corridor, carrying 62,300 riders. Frequent and efficient service is extremely important.

WMATA recommended a dedicated contraflow bus lane traveling west on H street, and DDOT will consider that option as it conducts this study.


Image from WMATA.

What's next?

DDOT is hosting a public meeting Wednesday, June 15th to share draft goals and objectives, and solicit public feedback. It's from 6-8 pm, with the presentation starting at 6:30, in Room A-5 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street NW.

For further details, refer to the Downtown West Transportation Planning Study website.

Transit


Let's learn from how Montreal does night bus service

With SafeTrack underway, Metro now closes at midnight every day—it used to stay open until 3 am on the weekend. With so many people needing a way to get around at night, it's as clear as ever that there's something missing from our region's transit services: effective late night bus service. Montreal has a model for how to pull it off.


A night bus in Montreal. Image from STM.

Montreal's Metro opened a decade before DC's Metro. Its operator, STM, also operates an extensive network of 220 daytime and 23 nighttime bus routes covering the Island of Montreal (population: nearly 2 million), serving almost 1.5 million riders on an average weekday.

There are, of course, some big differences:

  • The dense parts of the Island of Montreal are much denser than DC, and Montreal's residents are generally more inclined to take transit than those in our region.
  • The Montreal Metro is smaller than the DC Metro (about 3/4 as many stations and 1/3 as many track miles as the DC Metro), but runs more frequently and has nearly twice the average weekday ridership.
  • While there are plenty of jurisdictional areas in the Montreal area, STM is generally the only transit operator within the Island. That's certainly not the case in DC.
But Montreal's night bus service in particular can provide some pointers for how we could complement our rail network with great night bus service.

Montreal's current night network is relatively recent, the result of many incremental improvements like a slight retooling in 2011. These are the most important characteristics:

  • Service every night of the week, for all hours when the Metro is closed.
  • Even in the dead of night, buses are at most 45 minutes apart on all routes.
  • The routes are long, designed to require no transfers.
  • On an important central corridor with lots of bars and restaurants, headways are 15 minutes all night.
In Montreal, late night bus service isn't an afterthought

These routes aren't just a stopgap measure for some hours when the Metro is closed; they are designed to be an integral part of the transit system and provide meaningful, frequent service all night long. While at some hours headways lengthen to 30 or 45 minutes, the routes are designed to take people where they need to go without transfers.

Also, information about these routes is readily accessible; a map of the night bus network is freely available, and when riders look up the operating hours of Metro lines, they see very clearly that complementary night bus service operates at other hours:


Table from STM's Metro info page for the McGill station.

Taking the bus at night here requires too many transfers

By contrast, the DC area has no bus lines operating at all hours when Metro is closed. Those that do operate for some of the time after Metro closes often stop at jurisdictional lines, or are designed with the assumption that passengers will transfer to Metro lines that actually aren't running that late at night.

For example, going from Rockville to Friendship Heights is an easy trip when the Metro is running, but once the last train leaves Rockville at 11:30, the trip requires two (!) transfers on night buses.

Requiring transfers when there are long late-night headways severely limits how useful these buses are. Because of this, our region's night service generally isn't seen as an effective alternative to riding the Metro. This is why, for example, pizza restaurant Pete's announced that all area locations will now close at 10 PM on Friday and Saturday, since workers don't have reliable transit options for getting home after midnight.

WMATA has surveyed nighttime riders and learned that there is significant interest in improved service, and some potential changes came out in an April 2016 report. However, WMATA's proposed solution is overly complex and confusing to riders. It relies on riders' willingness to transfer buses late at night, and doesn't form a coherent network with consistent hours and headways.


Proposed Metrobus late night network from WMATA's 2016 study. Image from WMATA.

Montreal shows us that it doesn't have to be that way. As a first step, WMATA (in conjunction with other area transit operators) should compile all of the bus routes that operate after Metro closes. This would make unmet needs even clearer.

Next, WMATA should propose an incremental plan to create an effective, easy-to-use late night bus network modeled on the basic principles of the Montreal system: all-night service complementary to Metro, assurance of reasonable headways, and routes designed to minimize transfers. Of course funding is an issue, but the impact of SafeTrack on businesses, workers, and residents has reminded us that effective transit at all hours should be a priority for the region.

Transit


The DC Circulator isn't a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, some argue it's too cheap.

Is the DC Circulator, the District's red bus that plies central DC corridors (and a few other spots), a bad deal for taxpayers? Washington Post columnist Colbert King argues as much in a recent piece, but here's the thing: for a bus, the Circulator is actually cheap, and some of the other things people criticize are consequences of using the lowest bidder.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

King criticizes how DC's latest budget adds funding for Circulator capital needs and operating costs, which have grown as the Circulator system has grown. He writes:

From 2011 to 2016, the District has funded the D.C. Circulator Operating/Capital Budget to the tune of $152.9 million (2011, $16.7 million; 2012, $12.6 million; 2013, $14.5 million; 2014, $27.2 million; 2015, $33.1 million; and 2016, $48.7 million).

A recent audit of the Circulator fleet found examples of neglected maintenance, engine defects, windows that wouldn't open and other safety problems. So, the 2017 budget passed by the D.C. Council this week provides $34.5 million for Circulator buses and fleet rehabilitation.

The financial impact of the Circulator on D.C. wallets is a head-turner.

Is $48.7 million a lot or a little?

Can you name the operating cost of any other bus line? No? If not, do you have any idea if this number is high or low?

Too often, news stories and headlines present dollar figures for public works in a vacuum, devoid of context. To many people, 8-figure numbers just sound really high, whether or not they really are.

King also suggests that DC taxpayers are getting a bad deal because the District, rather than WMATA, owns the buses. But what he doesn't say in the column is that DC saves money by not using WMATA.

The cost DC pays for Circulator service in 2013 was $83.20 per "revenue hour" (each hour a bus is running when it can carry passengers) in 2011. Metrobus's cost per revenue hour in 2011 was somewhere between $93 and $142 per hour.1

This is a big reason why DC isn't the only jurisdiction to run its own buses alongside Metro's; just about all of them do.


Photos by Dan Malouff.

It's cheaper because the contractor is stingier

So why is WMATA more expensive? Some of the cost may be inefficiencies from a large bureaucracy, but there's also cost savings from stingier paychecks and skimpier benefits at First Transit, the contractor DC uses.

There's been a lot of criticism of labor practices and poverty wages there. Labor-aligned groups have argued that Circulator drivers made far below a living wage for the Washington region. And a damning audit found major problems with the buses' maintenance, as King points out in the excerpt above.

Drivers said First Transit was forcing them to take buses out with safety defects, a practice which is now prohibited in a new contract. The drivers also got a pay raise.

The company also recently came under fire for a policy against hiring ex-offenders. King mentions this as one criticism of the Circulator. (WMATA has some rules against hiring ex-offenders too, though I haven't seen a detailed comparison of the hiring rules between the various companies.)

This situation isn't just a coincidence. DC bid out operations for the Circulator, and paying less and cutting corners are some of the ways operators like this cut costs to get lower bids.

King criticizes First Transit for employing more Marylanders than DC residents. But if cost is such a major concern, it's worth considering that hiring more DC residents would certainly drive up the cost of the contract. This is an instance of public policy where we can't have it both ways—both lower costs and more DC hiring.

Yes, it would be better for more bus drivers to live in the jurisdictions where they drive, but to do that, DC will first need to add housing, including affordable housing, so more bus drivers can live in DC.

Expanding to more neighborhoods made the price go up

King also suggests that it's wrong for the Circulator to stay in DC's core (mostly). He writes, "most D.C. taxpayers, from Tenleytown, to Shepherd Park, to Woodridge, to Fort Lincoln, don't know" the District owns the buses.

At the same time, his list of annual Circulator costs makes it looks like the the price tripled. But that's at the same time DC expanded service to more areas. Some of those cost a lot more than the core lines. Here's a graph of the farebox recovery rate by line for March 2015-February 2015 (the latest 12 months where the Circulator dashboard has data):

By far, the two lines that recouped less of their costs were Union Station to Navy Yard and Potomac Avenue-Skyland. The latter was a largely political move to ensure the "Circulator" went east of the Anacostia. While neighborhoods east of the river deserve better bus service, the Circulator probably wasn't the right kind of bus service (Metrobus is).

That doesn't mean other neighborhoods shouldn't get better bus service. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie recently fought for a new express bus along Rhode Island Avenue, which is great for residents of that corridor. Good for him. He was also right to not ask for it to be called the Circulator. Not everyone needs their bus to have the same name. What they all need and deserve is good bus service.

Why is the fare only $1?

A more reasonable argument from the column is about the fare. The Circulator costs $1. Metrobus costs $1.75. King criticizes this disparity, and I agree that's not really fair. Why should neighborhoods with "Circulator" have a cheaper bus than neighborhoods with "Metrobus"?

Some lower-income people take the Circulator instead of a Metrobus because it's cheaper, even if it's not as convenient. It's not sensible to push people to take one bus over another in this way. Though raising the Circulator fare wouldn't help those folks, of course.

King also argues that tourists or more affluent people could afford to pay more. That's true, and in the past there have been proposals to raise the fare (and I even agreed with some of them). But making it a clean buck also makes it easier for people to have the right change, which is good for a bus that does attract some folks who don't have SmarTrips.

This is a discussion worth continuing. Unfortunately, King's ultimate recommendation is to move Circulator buses to other neighborhoods (bad from both a budget and planning perspective) or sell them off; he doesn't make a concrete proposal about the fare.


Image from the DC Circulator.

"There's no free ride"

The column relays a lot of other misconceptions, which I'll try to respond to in the future. But it's important to remember the maxim, "you get what you pay for." While government sometimes is very wasteful (as are private companies), doing things well also costs money and is worth supporting.

The headline on the article begins by saying, "There's no free ride." That's true. The region can debate (and in transportation circles, has debated) whether government should be spending more for better service and to better compensate bus drivers, who have a tough job.

Some come down on one side of that debate, some on the other. What this column does is simultaneously criticize the Circulator for what it doesn't do, and simultaneously, claim it's not financially worthwhile because of those gaps. That's just misleading.

1 The National Transit Database lists Metrobus's cost per revenue hour as $142. This includes things like transit police, which don't get charged for the Circulator but DC has to pay for elsewhere in its budget.

According to Jim Hamre of WMATA, the better figure is about $106 per hour, and incremental service costs only $93 per hour by piggybacking on fixed costs like bus garages that Metro's already spent. If a local government wants to "buy" bus service, Metro will change $116 per hour.

Transit


A bus between National Harbor, the MGM casino, and Alexandria? It could happen.

With Metro's help, Prince George's County and Alexandria are testing a bus route from National Harbor to a number of key commuting spots in Alexandria. The NH2 would link new Prince George's developments and would make it easier for workers and visitors to get across the Potomac.


Route and service details of the proposed NH2 bus from Virginia to National Harbor. Image from WMATA.

The route would run from National Harbor to the soon-to-open MGM Casino, then to the Oxon Hill Park and Ride and across the river to the Huntington and King Street Metro stations. It'd run every half hour between the above locations, from 6 am to 1 am daily.

If the WMATA board subcommittee that's considering the proposal approves it, the pilot would last from October 2016 to June 2017, after which WMATA staff would evaluate whether the route was worth keeping around. If they think the route is worth keeping, it would become a regular part of the Metrobus network. That could happen as soon as July 2017, at the start of Metro's FY2018 budget year.

The test is expected to cost around $2.175 million, which would be covered by bus fares, a mixture of money from Prince George's County, Maryland's Department of Transportation, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, and $500,000 from National Harbor's developer, the Peterson Group.

A full year of service would cost closer to $2.9 million, which would be covered by the same pots of money as the pilot.

The proposal document up for review on Thursday says the jurisdictions expressed interest in creating the cross-Potomac service, which could ultimately bring more people (and their spending money) to both areas.

The NH1 is the only bus currently serving National Harbor, although several others have stops nearby. The route connects National Harbor to Southern Avenue Metro station (and then served Branch Avenue instead for a time before being restored following an outcry). Both would service the Oxon Hill Park and Ride.


Existing NH1 bus route to National Harbor from the Southern Avenue Metro station.

This pilot isn't the first time Metro has experimented with bus service connecting National Harbor to the region's transit network. Back in 2013, Metro proposed rerouting the NH1 line to run across the Woodrow Wilson bridge to Old Town Alexandria and serve the King Street station, as Matt' Johnson wrote back in 2013, somewhat similar to what's now being proposed. However, that proposal didn't move forward at the time.

However, the NH2 route is being proposed now with a large casino expected to draw in thousands to the area, which means the ridership numbers could be significantly different. The MGM development expected to open later in November will have two convention centers, the casino, a hotel, restaurants, and a 3,000-seat theater.

Transit


New bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes could connect Columbia Heights and Brookland

People want more ways to get around by foot and on bike in the corridor that runs from from Columbia Heights to Brookland, and they want them to be safer. After receiving that message, DDOT drafted potential plans for making it happen.


The study area. All image from DDOT.

DDOT's Crosstown Multimodal Transportation Study focuses on an area defined by Kenyon and Harvard Streets between 16th and Park Place; Irving Street and Michigan Avenue around the Washington Hospital Center; and Michigan Avenue from the hospital center to South Dakota Avenue. Cars in the area zip along Irving and Michigan, but for people on bikes and foot, there isn't a safe or easy way to get around (a fact compounded by the congestion once drivers get to either side of the hospital).

Also, the area's transit isn't great. Both the H2 and H4 bus routes connect the Columbia Heights Metro Station, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Brookland Metro Station along the Irving/Columbia Road-Michigan Avenue corridor. However, Medstar also provides shuttle service on the same route between the hospitals and the Columbia Heights Metro every 10 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes during other times. This service largely duplicates WMATA's service and adds additional traffic to already congested streets.

After the first public workshop about the study, nearly 700 people commented on how to address all of these issues. Back in April, DDOT unveiled three concept plans for the corridor. Here's a summary:

A new street grid

Each of DDOT's proposals suggests removing the Michigan Avenue overpass and creating a street grid west of the hospitals. Doing so would go a long way in making the area safer for people on foot and bike, as it'd get rid of unnecessary high-speed ramps and car lanes; it'd also mean chances to add new green space. How many surface streets are in that grid depends largely on where bus and bike lanes need to be.


One of the options for a new street grid.

More options for bike riders

Those who gave DDOT input were clear that they'd like to see more bike connections, and that those connections be made made up of space that's only for bikes. The proposals include a few options for doing that, from protected bikeways that run in both directions to off-street lanes next to pedestrian walkways.

Around the hospitals and toward Columbia Heights, the stronger proposals would create bike lanes in one of the existing travel or parking lanes. With one exception in one proposal, bikes and buses would not share the same lanes, and west of the hospitals, bike lanes and bus lanes would not be on the same streets.


One option is to add a bike lane along Michigan Avenue.

Dedicated bus lanes

The plans aim to improve bus service (shorter trips, specifically) by creating dedicated lanes for buses. While the extent of dedicated lanes varies among the concepts, they all suggest dedicated lanes on either Irving Street, Columbia Road, and/or Harvard Street west of the hospitals. This would be accomplished by using one lane currently used during rush hour and parking during off peak hours.


The dark blue lines are dedicated transit lanes.

No more cloverleaf

None of DDOT's three options would do away with the North Capitol Street overpass. All of them, however, would replace the freeway-style, cloverleaf-shaped ramps that run between North Capitol and Irving with more direct connections. Doing so would make it much easier to keep car speeds down and control traffic flow.


The cloverleaf is on its way out.

DDOT has scheduled its third Crosstown Study workshop for June 9th at Trinity Washington University. You can give input on the potential plans there.

In addition to the third workshop, DDOT will have two Public Engagement Events on Saturday, June 11: one in Brookland, at the Monroe Street Farmers Market (716 Monroe Street NE), and one on the west side of the Columbia Heights Metro station (3030 14th Street NW).

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