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Posts about Light Rail

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Worldwide links: Is the future in Finland?

The future of urban transportation may live in Finland, Berlin is taking cars off of its most famous street, and light rail won't run from Norfolk to Virginia Beach. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Raimo Papper on Flickr.

"Mobility" has a new meaning Is Helsinki, Finland the home of the future of transportation? The city is testing self-driving buses on increasingly difficult routes and is at the forefront of the "mobility as a service" movement, which essentially would make buying your mobility like buying a phone plan: you'd pay by the month (rather than by the call) for a spectrum of options. (New York Times)

Pedestrians coming soon: Berlin will be taking cars off of its most famous street, Unter Den Linden, which used to be the city's major parade route and is its current museum strip. The move away from automobiles began with the construction of a new subway segment under the street. The route once carried 30,000 cars a day but is now down to 8,000, and it's likely to be one of the first pieces of the car-free central city that leaders envision happening by 2019. (CityLab)

Stop that train: A measure to build a light rail extension in Virginia Beach failed Tuesday evening, leading the state's transportation secretary to ask local transit planners to stop working on the project. The $155 million already set aside for the project will be redistributed to projects based on the state's new transportation investment scoring system. (Virginian-Pilot)

Building more earth: Humans are constantly shifting the earth below them, both as they build and destroy. For example, after WWII, 75 million tons of rubble from bombed out buildings in Berlin was collected and taken to a dumping site that now forms a not-insignificant hill called Teufelsberg. Anthropologists are studying these man-made base levels of cities, referring to them as an earth layer called the Archaeosphere which, in Sweden's case, can mean extracting raw materials left behind. (Places Journal)

Direct route delayed: A rail tunnel linking the current Caltrain terminus to the new Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco will not be complete until 2026. Lawsuits related to the Millennium Tower in San Francisco, which has started to lean, are holding up money for new tunnels. The tunnels are expected to be used by Caltrain and High Speed Rail once they're finished. (SFist)

Quote of the Day

"Regionalism is a Trojan Horse term right out of the lexicon of the 1970s. So-called regionalism was never a compromise. It was always a stealth tactic, an abandonment of the city, which was considered half dead anyway by the city's own leadership. Regionalism was always a ruse to shift resources to the suburbs."

- Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze discussing whether the city's long term health is better off building more suburban transit, or focusing on the core with a new subway line. (Dallas Observer)

Links


National links: Haunting housing

Costumes are one thing, but buildings can be scary too! Also, a look at how we can use design to make life better for everyone, not just some pople, and a question about whether self-driving cars will actually lead to less car ownership. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Casey Hugelfink on Flickr.

Buildings of fear: Gory costumes make for good Halloween fright, but what about architecture and city design? Here's a list of eight movies where the featured buildings and urban design will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Got any scary building stories yourself? Share them in the comments! (Fast Company Design)

Social justice in design: In much of the US, wealthy neighborhoods have been getting infrastructure upgrades like plazas and bike lanes while areas with less economic and political power still need sidewalks and basic safety features. How can we make our investments more equitable? Partly by understanding the different needs of different riders, but also by advocating for others. (Momentum Magazine)

Which road does the future take?: In the future, will people ditch their own cars and share vehicles, or will individual ownership continue to be the norm? Having the former would mean convincing people to forego the most immediately appealing option, which is a tall order. (Transport Politic)

That sinking feeling: San Francisco's Millennium Tower is sinking, but the reason why isn't so clear. Some residents blame the construction of the Transbay Terminal, which is next door, but others wonder why the tower only went up on a concrete foundation rather than going into bedrock. After all, this is earthquake country. (San Francisco Magazine)

First transit, then higher prices? Since the Green Line light rail recently started running between Minneapolis and St. Paul, real estate prices along the corridor have slowly gone up. One bedroom apartments that used to rent for $550 per month now cost over $800. This isn't the neighborhood's first go-round with transportation infrastructure being related to displacement, and while affordable housing is going up, it doesn't seem like it will be enough to stem the tide. (Pioneer Press)

Quote of the Week

University of Southern California urban planning professor Lisa Schweitzer sharing her thoughts on how nobody is doing enough to make climate a priority in land use policy:

"Ever notice that you don't generally see big developers necessarily advocating for broad land use changes, despite being packed on many a city council and zoning board? Instead, they seek variances for their own individual projects. That's because they, too, get a nice rent boost from the constrained housing supply when their projects luck into variances and other developers are kept out."

Transit


Worldwide links: Does Seattle want more transit?

Seattle is about to vote on whether to expand its light rail, stirring up memories of votes to reject a subway line in the late 60s. In San Francisco, people would love to see subway lines in place of some current bus routes, and in France, a rising political start is big on the power of cities. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

Subway in Seattle?: Seattle is gearing up for a massive vote on whether to approve a new light rail line, and a Seattle Times reporter says the paper is, on the whole, anti-transit. Meanwhile, lots of residents haven't forgotten that in 1968 and 1970, voters rejected the chance to build a subway line in favor of a new stadium and highways. (Streetsblog, Seattle Met, Crosscut)

Fantasy maps, or reality?: Transit planners in San Francisco asked residents to draw subway fantasy maps to see where the most popular routes would be located. They got what they asked for, with over 2,600 maps submitted. The findings were also not surprising, as major bus routes were the most popular choices for a subway. (Curbed SF)

Paris mayor --> French president?: Sometimes labeled as the socialist "Queen of the Bohemians", Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has quietly moved up the political ladder, and she's now a serious candidate to be France's future head of state. Hidalgo did the unthinkable by banning cars from the banks of the Seine, and her ability to make change at the local level makes her believe cities are, in many respects, more important than the countries they inhabit. (New York Times)

How romantic is the self-driving car?: In the US, driving at age 16 was a 20th century right of passage. But what happens when we take the keys away? What happens to people's love affairs with cars if cars drive themselves? Does turning 16 mean anything in terms of passage into adulthood? In this long read, Robert Moor wonders how the self-driving car will affect the American psyche, and especially whether older drivers will ever recover. (New York Magazine)

Pushing back on art in LA: Local activists in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, are pushing back against artist spaces they feel are gentrifying the neighborhood. Research shows that the arts aren't necessarily a direct gentrifying agent, but planners do watch art spaces to analyze neighborhood change. (Los Angeles Times)

Quote of the Week

We've had this concentrated population growth in urban areas at the same time that people have been doing an increasing percentage of their shopping online. This has made urban delivery a more pressing problem.

- Anne Goodchild on the growth of smaller freight traffic in urban areas. (Associated Press)

Bicycling


How turning an old train track into a trail helped transform Charlotte

In Charlotte, an emergency access path next to a light rail line doubles as a popular trail. It's a public space that has helped transform the city's identity, and a great example of how to take something old and unused and make it new.


A section of the Charlotte Rail Trail. Image courtesy of Charlotte Center City.

With a little over 800,000 residents, Charlotte is North Carolina's largest city, one of the biggest in the southeast, and the 17th-biggest in the US. But despite this large population the city ranks poorly when it comes to how easy it is to walk around in.

But Charlotte's transportation reputation is changing fast. It opened its first light rail line in 2007 and now has a streetcar as well. Another big change in Charlotte has happened without huge investments in transit technology: the Charlotte Rail Trail, an urban trail in central Charlotte that runs along the emergency access path for the light rail.

The trail, which opened in 2007, runs alongside the tracks for the Lynx Blue Line for 4.5 miles between the city's Central Business District (known as Uptown) and the formerly industrial South End neighborhood.

The Rail Trail has helped transform Charlotte

The Lynx Blue was a great addition to the neighborhood, jump-starting a lot of transit-oriented development (TOD) in the area. But the neighborhood's industrial heritage meant that parks and other public space were in short supply in a rapidly changing place. Part of the construction for the Blue Line included an emergency access path for first responders that is otherwise open to people walking or cycling in the area.

A trio of individuals, David Furman, Terry Shook, and Richard Petersheim, thought that the path could be a lot more than just a way for ambulances and fire trucks to get to the light rail. They envisioned public art, a better way to get around, and trail-side retail— a "linear commons" that would become a destination and public space valued by nearby residents and the city at large.

From there, Charlotte Center City, a business improvement district (BID) that works to promote neighborhoods like Uptown and South End, took over the organizing, working with developers, the city, and other stakeholders to make the trail happen.


Chairs along the trail encourage people to hang out and linger. Image from Charlotte Center City.

Today, the trail is both a great way to get around and a destination all to itself.

According to Erin Gillespie, who works to improve the trail with Charlotte Center City, trail usage has nearly doubled in the short time the trail has been opened. 1250 people per day were using the trail in 2014, and the number climbed over 2000 in 2015 (for reference, the number of people who biked across the 14th Street Bridge on the average weekday in May of 2015 was a little under 2,250).

Surveys of nearby residents say many of them use and rely on the trail in their day to day lives. The trail is busiest in the evenings, when commuters and residents use it to enjoy and explore their city.


Dining along the trail at the Lynx's Bland Station. Image from Charlotte City Center

Along the trail, there's public art and nearby retail. There are also events that get people to stop jogging and to start lingering.

Buildings that would normally avoid putting any entrances close to a rail line are instead building entrances to entice trail based customers. Public art and furniture line the entire length of the trail inviting people to sit and admire the scenery and even participate with special events along the trail. New connections between the street and the trail make it easier for people to get to the trail, which allows more people to enjoy what many have discovered for themselves.


This restaurant faces the tracks and trail rather than the street. Image from Google Maps.

That identity may not always mesh with people's idea of a walking and biking trail. There is not a lot of tree cover, but that's hard to avoid, as much of the South End was developed as an industrial and warehouse district. Because Charlotte Center City has worked with landowners to provide easements for trail access, the trail has actually been able to create more open space than was there before.

Meanwhile, Charlotte does have a separate Greenway program aimed at improving the park spaces and trail network within Charlotte. The Rail Trail will be a part of that overall network but keep its own identity as a place with a lot of activity.

Still, there are challenges to improving the trail from what it is today (here, you can check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's report on common hurdles for projects like this all over the country). Finding the space necessary to develop the Rail Trail in the face of intense real estate pressure has been a constant challenge. Despite its popularity and use, the trail does not have any dedicated funding and is largely improved with small grants.

And while working with developers has yielded great results it has also led to piecemeal improvements. Gaps in the trail do persist, especially when it comes to getting to the trail itself. Local streets and the trail are not always at the same elevation and paths between the two can be inadequate.

Trails like Charlotte's help spur positive growth

Our region is certainly no stranger to trails that run along right of ways from other forms of transportation. The Metropolitan Branch Trail and Custis Trail run right along railroads and highways. One big feature of the Purple Line in Maryland will be its running alongside the Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

We should keep Charlotte's Rail Trail and the excitement it has created in mind when we hear opposition to the Purple Line that says a train next to a trail will keep people from enjoying the area. I asked Gillespie if there had been any local opposition to developing the trail the way it has been, and she struggled to think of concerted efforts to put a stop to things.

She added that the smooth process might be because a lot of the work to build up the trail was done before South End really got comfortable in its identity as a residential neighborhood. There was never a chance for people to hold onto their vision of the neighborhood the way Chevy Chase has with the Purple Line.

The need for space and to negotiate with developers is also reminiscent of NoMa and its struggles to find park space for one of Washington's most rapidly growing neighborhoods. In Charlotte, the Center City BID has been able to help a lot by coordinating and managing all of the stakeholders that have in interest in the city's redevelopment. NoMa is working to do that as well but the big pay off has yet to arrive.

Charlotte is by no means done with redefining itself as one of America's urban places. A rail trail extension is slated to open next year and the Blue Line is getting its own extension as well. Gillespie said she's excited about these improvements because it will mean more people will get to experience the Rail Trail and help cement the path's reputation as one of Charlottean's favorite spots.

If you have recently visited Charlotte and traveled along rail trail tell us what you think in the comments.

Links


National links: More biking in Atlanta

Atlanta's investing a ton of money in bike infrastructure, the negative effects of racist housing policies haven't gone anywhere, and sprawl is costing commuters big time. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Green Lane Project on Flickr.

Bike lanes for Atl: The Atlanta Regional Commission has approved $1 billion dollars for bike infrastructure in the region over a 25 year period. It sounds like a lot, but considering that it's part of an $85 billion plan... is it? (Bicycling)

Redlining the future: Historic housing policies that barred minorities from living in certain neighborhoods. One consequence that's still playing out is that very rich and very poor neighborhoods are increasing in number, and the children in the poor ones tend to make less money in the future and have more mental health problems. These cartoons explain the matter more in-depth. (Vox)

Sprawl Tax: Every year we hear about how much it costs Americans to be stuck in traffic, but what if we framed it as "how much policies that create congestion cause us?" Introducing the Sprawl Tax. In the 50 largest metro areas, sprawling land use costs commuters an average of $107 billion per year. (City Observatory)

Light rail in Austin: Transit advocates in Austin have been pushing for light rail for over 30 years. With the city focusing on mobility and a bond measure possibly going on this fall's ballot, they are hoping that the rail segment will be added to the mix. (Austin American Statesman)

On the edge: A common theme among transit planners is balancing service for an urban core versus the regional edge. It's important not to forget that transit functions as a network, meaning that if gets weaker in one place, it gets weaker everywhere. When we recognize that core improvements can help the edge and vice versa, our conversations are more productive. (Human Transit)

Quote of the Week

"These great shortcuts used to spread by word of mouth, but now they just spread like wildfire" - Traffic Engineer Paul Silberman on more and more cut through traffic directed off of main streets and into neighborhoods by the app Waze. (Washington Post)

Transit


The Purple Line will have America's longest railcars

According to the latest plans for Maryland's Purple Line, it will have the longest transit railcars in America. Each train will have a single 136-foot-long five-segment railcar. They'll practically be open-gangway trains.


A Purple Line railcar compared to Metro and DC Streetcar. Image by the author.

Purple Line trains will be Urbos model trams, built by Spanish company CAF. Urbos trams are modular; you can make them as long or as short as you want. These will be unusually long ones.

At 136 feet long, they'll be 2 feet longer than the closest US competitor: Austin Metrorail's 134 foot cars. But Austin's cars are DMUs, a sort of commuter rail / light rail hybrid, built for longer distance and fewer stops compared to the Purple Line.

The next biggest US light rail cars are Dallas' 124 foot cars.


Dallas light rail car. 12 feet shorter than the Purple Line's cars. Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Longer is better

Having one long railcar rather than multiple short ones has a lot of advantages. There's less wasted space between cars, less expense per rider, and passengers can move back and forth inside the train to find the least crowded spot. Overall, having one long open interior increases the capacity of a train by about 10%, and it costs less.

The downside is you can't pull individual cars out of service if something goes wrong. It's all or nothing. But as long as everything works, long railcars are great.

Since the Purple Line will be operated by a private company that faces penalties if it doesn't meet service requirements, the onus is on them to keep trains in service.


An open interior train on the Paris Metro. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In transit jargon, these open interior trains are called "open gangway," and almost everyone else in the world uses them, except the United States. For the Purple Line to move in that direction makes it a national model.

Using these long trains was one of the changes project officials made in response to Maryland Governor Hogan's demands to reduce the Purple Line's costs. One long railcar rather than two short ones coupled into a train saves money and keeps train capacity high enough to work.

Hogan's other changes made the Purple Line a lot worse. They reduced train frequency, eliminated the direct transfer to Metro at Silver Spring, and reduced the electrical power of the line, limiting its capacity. But the move to longer railcars with open interiors may be a silver lining.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


To save money, Silver Spring's Purple Line station will be farther from the Metro

The winning bidders for the Purple Line project, Purple Line Transit Partners, proposed a few changes that would save the state of Maryland money. One of those changes is to relocate the Silver Spring Purple Line platforms farther away from the Metro.


Concept sketch for the original station location. Image from MTA.

In the original plan, the Purple Line platform was going to be in a a new elevated structure between the existing Silver Spring Metro station and the new Silver Spring Transit Center. The new plan moves the Purple Line platform to the other side of the transit center, closer to the intersection of Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue.


Plan of the new Purple Line station design. Image from PLTP.

This design means that people going between the Purple Line and the Red Line will have a longer walk. However, the new platform will now be level with the top floor of the transit center, giving people a shorter walk to buses, taxis, and the kiss-and-ride. It's also slightly closer to the heart of downtown Silver Spring.

Moving the Purple Line station also consumes a lot of land next to the transit center that was originally set aside for development, though those plans have since fallen through. But the change makes it unnecessary to demolish one building, 1110 Bonifant Street, which the original plan required.

This design includes a large bridge over Colesville Road. As planned all along, the Purple Line will rise over the existing Red Line tracks, the Silver Spring Transit Center, and the large hill behind the transit center, before coming down to ground level near the intersection of Bonifant Street and Ramsey Avenue. At some places, the tracks will be over 60 feet high.


Proposed Purple Line vehicle interior. Image from PLTP.

This plan is part of a large report PLTP submitted to Governor Hogan, which includes drawings, maps, and even renderings of potential Purple Line vehicles. In the coming months, the state will work with PLTP to create a final design for the Purple Line. Construction is scheduled to start later this year and the line could open in 2022.

Links


Worldwide links: Cheap(ish) houses

Cheaper housing is doable, but it's about way more than just construction costs, strict rules are killing Sydney's night life, and a potential light rail line from Brooklyn to Queens. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Hans Drexler on Flickr.

A house, on the cheap: Auburn architecture students have developed a house that costs $20k to build and that, by conventional standards, is very nice. But building costs are only one challenge to affordability; remaining hurdles include formidable zoning codes, trouble securing mortgages, and finding a knowledgable contractor. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

Say goodnight, Sydney: Regulations that restrict alcohol servings and bar hours in some key entertainment districts are killing Sydney's night life. From 2012 to 2015, foot traffic dropped by 84%, and 42 businesses in the night life industry shut down. (Linked In Pulse)

Big Apple transit: New York City is considering a 16-mile light rail line that'd run between Queens and Brooklyn. The Mayor hopes that it will connect places on the waterfront but the idea is getting mixed reviews from residents and pundits. And those on Staten Island wonder when their time for investments will come. (New York Times)

Even on trains, voices carry: Thanks to new technology, it's now less likely that a train operator or bus driver makes an announcement on a transit system, and more likely that it comes from a pre-recorded or even non-human voice. That can mean more consistency, but matters like pronunciation have left some riders unhappy. (Guardian Cities)

Consider the flip side:Do the usual anti-transit suspects make you want to pull your hair out? Jarrett Walker, the author of Human Transit, says its worth considering the good points they make even if they're buried in bad ones. (Human Transit)

Alley cats: Hong Kong's alleyways can be cluttered, messy, smelly... and beautiful. Cleaning them up, says photographer Michael Wolf, can lead to a feeling of "sterilization" that dismisses character and charm. (Smithsonian Magazine)

Quote of the week: "Soon enough, the park could be growing trees from trash and rats would no longer have a buffet of garbage to feast on every night." - Cole Rosengren writing about a future in which vacuum tubes take our compost away. (Fusion)

Transit


2015's greatest hits: Will the Purple Line appear on the Metro map?

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This post originally ran on July 17. Enjoy and happy New Year!

With the Purple Line's future looking brighter, it is finally becoming easier to envision the embattled light rail line becoming a reality. But if the line does become a part of our region's transit network, will it also be a part of the iconic Metro map?


Base map by Peter Dovak, cartoony additions by David Alpert.

While it's called the "Purple Line," WMATA would not be building this line, nor was it planned as a part of the Metrorail system. It's still unclear how well the line would integrate with other lines. There hasn't ever been a decision made about whether, for example, you'll pay a separate fare to ride the Purple Line, as with a bus, or whether it will be part of the same fare structure as all of the rail lines.

Advocates and planners have long shown images of the Purple Line on Metro map to help cement the idea that this new line will become a critical component of the region's rail transit. But it isn't trivial to fit the line into the existing Metro map.


An older diagram of the Purple Line atop the base WMATA Map via Coalition for Smarter Growth.

How can the Purple Line fit?

If it appears on the map, the Purple Line would be the just the second line color to go on the map since the system's inception, besides the Silver Line. Unlike the Silver, though, the Purple Line and its winding route among the branches of the Metro system will force significant changes to fit with the map's chunky, iconic style.

The map's diagrammatic nature distorts the system heavily as the lines spread outside the core. Simply adding the line itself in and making minor modifications to label placement actually works fairly well, but it's tough to squeeze 10 Purple Line stations into the space between Silver Spring and College Park, while there are only three between Silver Spring and Bethesda.

People might assume, from the above map, that the stations east of Silver Spring are very close together, and very far apart to the west. But that's not true. Instead, the two branches of the Red Line are much closer together than the map suggests.

One solution is to shift the Green/Rush Yellow segment north of Fort Totten to the east. While this more accurately reflects the route through Prince George's County, the change would be one of the most significant to the map since its creation in the 1970s, and may perhaps be a controversial one.

Should the Purple Line get equal billing to heavy rail lines?

The Purple Line is not a Metrorail line. It is a light rail line. And WMATA will not even operate it. Arguably, therefore, the Purple Line should appear less important than the six Metrorail lines.

Today's map doesn't even show other rail services like Amtrak, MARC and VRE. They only get logos next to their respective transfer points. But far more people will likely transfer to and from the Purple Line, and it will run much more frequently than commuter rail or Amtrak. Just using icons would not make the Purple Line very visible. On smaller printed or web versions of the map, they may be difficult to spot at all.

The map could display the Purple Line but in a different style. A thinner line, using smaller station labels, or only showing the line itself and not the stations are all possible solutions.


See the Purple Line with: Icons only   Thin line   Small labels   No stations

Most other American cities with multimodal rail transit do not bother to make this distinction, however. Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Boston all operate light and heavy rail (though under the same agency) and display them no differently.

What about other services?

If and how to show the Purple Line will likely depend on its ridership, differences in fares or operating hours, and many other factors. After decades of campaigning, though, many would agree that the Purple Line deserves a spot on the Metro map, but it is still a topic that raises an interesting discussion.

And if the Purple Line is deserving, what about MetroWay, DC Streetcar, or the multitude of planned BRT lines? Should it show commuter rail, akin to Philadelphia and Boston's transit maps? What makes a service deserving? These are questions Metro leaders and the region will have to grapple with if the Purple Line becomes a reality.

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