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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)

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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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Transit


Rapid buses or light rail are coming to Leesburg Pike

Imagine faster, more reliable transit zipping along its own lane without cars down Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Alexandria, connecting thousands of people to jobs, schools, shopping and entertainment. Planners in Northern Virginia are taking a serious look at how to make that happen.


Image from Envision Route 7.

Also called Route 7, Leesburg Pike is a major state road that stretches from Winchester to Alexandria in Virginia. Retail stores and job centers are growing more common along the route, particularly where it hits Tysons Corner. That's brought more congestion, which makes the stretch of Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Alexandria an ideal place for new transit.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which plans and funds transit in the area, has launched Envision Route 7, a study that will look at potential new transit options.

Northern Virginia is expected to see a lot of population and job growth between now and 2040. Route 7, with its old commercial centers, is a place that can handle the growth. Places all along the route like Tysons, Falls Church, Seven Corners, Bailey's Crossroads and the West End of Alexandria are trying to attract more companies and jobs and also make commuting easier. At the same time, they are taking significant steps to improve walking, biking and become more transit-friendly. This new proposed transit service plays a vital role to accomplish these goals.

There are a few options for transit along Route 7

NVTC has proposed three new transit service options. They are:

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which is a faster bus with rail-like features like big stations. It operates on the street, either in the center median or along the curb, and sometimes in its own lane with no cars.

  • Light Rail Transit (LRT), which, like BRT, can operate on the street, either in the center median or along the curb. Most often, LRT has its own lane with no cars. One issue with LRT is that it needs a power source, usually from an overhead electric wire. Also, LRT can carry more people than BRT, but it's correspondingly more expensive.

  • Better bus service, which planners frequently refer to as "Enhanced Bus." That would simply mean additional buses that would replace Metro's 28A and 28x currently serving Route 7

Whatever option ultimately goes in will be a more modern, frequent, and faster way of traveling along Route 7 than what's currently there. Overall, the goal is for it to take a lot less time to get from Tysons Corner to Alexandria along Route 7 than it does now.

For example, the study is looking at the new transit service having daily and weekend service every 10-minutes at peak hours and every 15-minutes during the off-peak, and operating 18 to 22 hours per day. To increase transit's efficiency, there would be kiosks to pay for trips in advance and allow boarding from all-doors, not just the front one.

The actual route new transit takes is TBD

The route the new service will travel is not completely decided yet. In fact, new bus or rail may not travel exclusively along Route 7. There are three different options for the new transit's specific route, each depending on which service (specifically BRT or LRT).

This interactive map shows different potential paths. One of the following routes will be selected:

  • Tysons to the Van Dorn Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metro station. This would work for either BRT or LRT. This route would go from Tysons Corner down Route 7, turn in the City of Falls Church on Lee Highway toward the East Falls Church Metro station, and then continue on to Van Dorn Street station.

  • Tysons to King Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metro station (BRT only); The route would essentially be the same as above, except continue on Route 7 directly to the King Street Metro station.

  • Tysons to Van Dorn Street Metro station (BRT only), staying on Route 7 until Beauregard Street before heading to the Van Dorn Metro station. This route would bypass the East Falls Church Metro Station.

One of the routes could take the transit directly through the City of Falls Church along Route 7 (it's called Broad Street there) in the direction of Seven Corners. This is a residential street. Because Broad Street has only two lanes in each direction, it would be difficult to have transit in a car-free lane. Another uncertainty would be whether this community would ask for additional stops along this segment. Currently, no stops are proposed for this segment.

On the other side of Route 7, between Janneys Lane and King Street Metro Station, the road narrows again with only one lane in each direction, again making it difficult for transit to be in a car-free lane. Similarly, the community could ask for additional stops, which would slow down the travel time of transit.

For these reasons, it would not be surprising if the new transit service route traveled down Route 7, headed toward the East Falls Church Metro Station, returned to Route 7 in Seven Corners and then turn down Beauregard Street toward the Van Dorn Metro Station

What about transit stops and stations?

The number and location of stops also depend on which new service (again BRT or LRT) and route are chosen. The possibilities are:

  • 15 transit stops if BRT or LRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and Van Dorn Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metrorail station. Possible stops include Spring Hill Metro, Gallows Rd, Route 50, Beauregard Street, Mark Center, Duke Street, etc.

  • 13 transit stops if BRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and King Street Metro via East Falls Church Metrorail station. Possible stops include Spring Hill Metro, Gallows Rd, Route 50, Park Center and Quaker Lane

  • 14 transit stops if BRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and Van Dorn Street Metro station (but bypasses the East Falls Church Metro). The stops would be the same as the first one but without East Falls Church.

What's happening now?

The NVTC is making all this information and more available to the public. At this point, no decisions over the type of transit or the route or the stops are final. Everything is still under discussion. In fact, NVTC is holding forums this month to discuss everything about the project, including the transit service and the route. The last forum is on November 18.

But they will also have key ridership information and a better idea of the cost of the new transit service. That is a good thing. Not only should the transit service be good, reliable and robust, who will ride it and how much it costs are important factors in its success.


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Transit


Will the Purple Line appear on the Metro map?

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 might 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 who operates the system, 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.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
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Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
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Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Transit


Hogan will build the Purple Line, not the Red Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced today the state will build the Purple Line, but cancel the Baltimore Red Line.


Photo from the State of Maryland.

Hogan announced his decision to build the light rail line at a press conference at 2:30 this afternoon.

To reduce costs, trains on the Purple Line will come every seven and half minutes rather than every six. The state will not change the alignment, nor the number or location of stations.

The longer headways mean there need to be fewer trains, saving money, and also cutting out the need for one staging area. Hogan also announced that the state would now pay only $168 million, rather than, he said, the original $700 million (but the state's future contribution had only been $333 million). Montgomery and Prince George's would have to pay more, though the exact amount, and whether they can do so, was not yet clear.

The Purple Line has been on the books for decades, and enjoys wide support in Maryland's urban and suburban communities surrounding DC. It was primed to begin construction this year, but Hogan has been threatening to cut it since entering office.

Our neighbors in Baltimore are not so lucky. At the same presser, Hogan announced the Baltimore Red Line will not move forward as currently conceived. Hogan said the line is not cost-effective, and specifically singled out the $1 billion tunnel through downtown. He said the administration is still considering ways to change the project and left the door open to building some sort of transit in Baltimore in the future.

The savings will instead go toward nearly $2 billion in road and bridge projects all across the state, including widening Route 404 on the Eastern Shore, some unspecified "congestion reduction" on I-270, and new ramps to and from the Greeenbelt Metro to accommodate a future FBI headquarters.

This post has been updated and expanded.

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Transit


See the beginnings of the Purple Line in Silver Spring

The Purple Line may still face some hurdles in Annapolis, but Montgomery County is already planning for its arrival. This construction project at the Silver Spring Library is making room for the light rail:


Construction at Silver Spring Library. Photo by Matt Johnson.

The worker on the right is installing a detectable warning surface, which most people know as the bumpy strip that tells a blind person they're about to step into a road or rail line.

Once the surface is complete, it will be very obvious that the space, which connects to a larger public plaza, is part of a transit station.

The station will be one of two in downtown Silver Spring, a major destination for the Purple Line. It will anchor a new mixed-use development going up, which will include a coffee shop, gallery space, and affordable housing for seniors in addition to a new library.


Rendering of the completed station. Image from MTA.

Purple Line rails and trains are still a ways off. Still, it's nice to see the beginnings of such a major project coming together already.

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Transit


San Diego's Trolley is just the beginning of an extensive countywide rail network

Continuing our look at transit systems outside the Washington region, San Diego county has a light and commuter rail network that stretches 117 miles across Southern California.


The San Diego Trolley departing Grossmont station. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The 53.5-mile San Diego Trolley, and its distinctive red cars are the flagship of San Diego's network. The light rail system carries an average of 124,000 passengers every weekday, the fourth most among American light rail systems. It also connects many of region's major destinations including downtown, at least one of the naval bases, and the US-Mexico border crossing at San Ysidro.

The Trolley has three lines, and the segment of the Blue Line between downtown San Diego and the Mexican border that opened in 1981 makes it the oldest modern light rail in the US. The first segment of the Orange Line did not open until five years later in 1986, and the most recent extension came along in 2005.


Map of the San Diego Trolley.

While it covers much of urban San Diego county, the Trolley has its limits. You can't ride to the beach, Hillcrest (a dense urban neighborhood), or popular tourist sites like Balboa Park and the zoo. You also can't take it to University City, a major education and employment center north of downtown, though that will change when the 10.9-mile Mid-Coast Corridor extension opens in 2019.

Two commuter rail lines stretch San Diego's network

At the Santa Fe Depot and Old Town stations, the Trolley shares a platform with the county's Coaster commuter rail line.


Amtrak and Coaster platforms are on the left and Trolley platforms on the right at San Diego's Santa Fe Deport.

The 41-mile line hugs the Pacific coast from downtown San Diego to Oceanside, offering some impressive ocean vistas along the way.


View of the Pacific Ocean from the Coaster. Photo by Matt Johnson on Flickr.

At its northern terminal, the Coaster connects to the county's hybrid light commuter rail line the Sprinter, as well as the Los Angeles region's Metrolink commuter rail system and Amtrak.


A Coaster train at Oceanside Transit Center.

The Sprinter runs between Oceanside and inland Escondido along a 22-mile suburban highway corridor. The line has faced criticism for its low ridership and limited frequency. On weekdays it runs every 30 minutes (even less often on weekends and evenings) and averages about 8,000 riders, despite initial targets of 11,000.


The Sprinter. Photo by Matt Johnson on Flickr.

Criticizing the Sprinter for not being as successful as light rail, though, is a little unfair because it's not light rail. Many commuter rail lines only provide good service at rush hour, and thus often have relatively low ridership compared to all-day light rail. As a hybrid, Sprinter strikes a balance between the two, providing better all-day service than commuter rail like Virginia's VRE, but not as good as light rail.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the area's metropolitan planning organization, both plans and funds transit in San Diego. Funded by a half-cent county wide sales tax, it decides what gets built where and when, leading to transit investments being spread across the region.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) in actually operates the Tolley, and the North County Transit District (NCTD) runs both the Coaster and the Sprinter.

San Diego's centralized planning and funding structure is certainly different from ours. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board handles our region's long-term transportation plans, but it is up to the individual jurisdictions to actual design, fund, and build those projects. This means varying priorities, and projects whose benefits aren't immediately apparent across the region as a whole.

Unfortunately, a centralized planning organization with the power of the purse is unlikely in the Washington region because there are too many governments in play. But San Diego's system is an example of what such an organization can do.

For more on transit developments in other cities, check out GGW's coverage of San Francisco BART's new Oakland Airport connector and Dallas' DART light rail system.

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Transit


Would you have guessed? Dallas has the country's biggest light rail system

Whether it's to gain a little perspective or just for fun, it's interesting to check out transit in other cities. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail system is the country's longest, stretching 90 miles across North Texas.


A DART train at the DFW Airport station. All photos by the author.

DART opened a five-mile extension to Dallas/Forth Worth International airport last August, making for an easy (though long) trip from the airport into Dallas and areas much farther east. The extension, along with the entire system, draws its funding from a 1% local sales tax.


Map of the DART rail system.

Locals do voice complaints about both how long trips take and how often trains run. Riding DART from the airport to downtown is scheduled to take 50 minutes, and according to Google Maps, the same trip can take as little as half an hour by car. Train frequencies range from every 15 minutes to every 20.

But despite these drawbacks, people in Dallas say they like that DART guarantees a set travel time, whereas dealing with the region's traffic takes some guesswork.


A DART train approaches the Bachman station.

Unlike in the Washington region, where walkable, dense development has sprouted up around a lot of Metro stations, land use in Dallas doesn't yet match the rail system. A lot of the stations on DART's Orange Line between the airport and downtown are surround by parking lots and bus bays—one even had a transit-oriented... field.


A field adjacent to the Irving Convention Center station. A highway flanked the other side of the station.

Dallas residents are using DART network more and more, even with its limitations. In 2014, DART ridership increased 1% to 96,272 average weekday riders compared to the prior year, according to the transit agency.

That DART is helping shift some auto trips to transit is a net positive for the North Texas region. Rail transit there continues to expand, and construction is underway on a 2.6-mile extension of DART's Blue Line due to open in 2016. There are also plans for a new 27-mile commuter rail line between downtown Fort Worth and Dallas/Fort Worth airport that could open as soon as 2018.

For more on transit developments in other cities, check out GGW's coverage of San Francisco BART's new Oakland Airport connector.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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