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Split stanchions in rail cars? A reverse commuter parking pass? Here are two more MetroGreater finalist ideas.

Last week we announced the MetroGreater finalists. Between now and August 26th, when voting closes, we want to tell you more about each finalist idea. Today's featured finalists: Install split stanchions in (some) rail cars and create a reverse commuter parking pass.


Photos by Shanan and thisisbossi on Flickr, respectively.

Install split stanchions in some rail cars

This finalist idea proposes to increase the amount of surface area on the vertical poles, or "stanchions," in Metrorail cars, allowing more people to hold on to the pole at the same time.


Photo by Shanan on Flickr.

Here's the original submission:

Seen in many new subway train models, these poles are split into multiple handles so that more people can hold onto them at the same time, and also prevents one rude leaning passenger from obstructing the entire pole.

I believe that split stanchions would be a significant benefit for riders, especially in crowded conditions. Most older railcars have clusters of three vertical stanchions at the ends, which makes navigating through them a bit tricky and often discourages riders from evenly distributing through the car. Replacing these with one or two split stanchions would free up walking space without losing surface area for riders to hold.

Split stanchions also solves the issue of one rude rider leaning against a pole, preventing anyone else from holding on.

These poles are an increasingly common sight on new and future railcars, including Montreal and San Francisco.

Peter D. knew that the MetroGreater contest was looking for "relatively simple ideas that would have a noticeable impact for riders" and thought the idea of switching out some of the vertical handrails fit the bill. Noting that "most older railcars have clusters of three vertical stanchions at the ends, which makes navigating through them a bit tricky and often discourages riders from evenly distributing through the car," Peter thinks replacing a few of these with split stanchions "would free up walking space without losing surface area for riders to hold."

Volunteer contributor Steven Offutt wrote a post about split stanchions after noticing them in a Barcelona subway car back in 2010. He noted then that "while the top and the bottom of the stanchion are a single pole just like in DC, the center section splits into three, allowing more people to comfortably hold on in the same amount of space. This appears to be a solution that could be retrofit into existing cars by cutting out the center of an existing stanchion and welding on these midsection portions."

When the jury nominated this ideas a finalist, they recognized that to implement this idea in under six months and $100,000, Metro would have to start by doing this as a pilot in a few trains only.

What do you think? Should Metro test these out? Vote at MetroGreater.org or share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Reverse commuter parking pass

Another finalist idea offers a solution to "reverse commuters," people who live in the District, but work in suburban areas of the region. Many of them could use Metrorail to get most of the way to work, but need a car to get from the station to their jobs. A reverse commuter parking pass would allow these folks to leave their cars overnight at a Metro stop near their work during the week and even through the weekend.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The original submission provides an example:

I think there are a number of individuals who would actually use metro to reverse commute but have the issue of "the last mile". If Metro allowed this individuals to purchase a parking pass that would be valid for overnight parking they could then use the Metro rather than driving the entire way.

For instance, if I lived in DC but worked in Gaithersburg or Germantown, I could take the Metro to the Gaithersburg station pick up my car and then go to work. Because of the time these spaces would still be available for regular commuters. They could use the same permit process."

Dennis E. found Metro's guidance on overnight parking confusing for people who may want to use station lots for reverse commuting. So he thought, "why not clear up the issue while creating a marketing-campaign which could promote the idea of reverse commuting and making it work for those individuals who don't work near a Metro Station or bus route?"

Dennis acknowledges that some of the other finalist ideas would impact a greater number of people, but he envisions several benefits of a reverse commuter program:

  • Raise awareness of reverse commuting using Metro and increase the number of riders who reverse commute by Metro.
  • Free up on-street parking spaces in DC and eliminates the headache of trying to find a spot for reverse commuters.
  • By parking overnight, reverse commuters reduce traffic congestion and reduce wear and tear on their vehicles.
What do you think of a reverse commuter parking pass? Even if you wouldn't use it, is it a worthwhile program to invest in? Tell us with your vote at MetroGreater.org!

And, ICYMI, check out the other finalist ideas we've profiled here and here.

Transit


At the King Street Metro, parking is out and a pedestrian plaza is in

At Alexandria's King Street—Old Town Metro station, there's a whole lot of space dedicated to cars and buses and not much for people on foot. But the station's parking lot will soon become a pedestrian plaza with wider sidewalks and more parking for bikes.


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Today, when you come out of the Metro at King Street, you walk into a parking lot with 30 spaces and six bus bays. Contributor Gray Kimbrough noted that that's a lot of space devoted to cars, but also that the station is tough for walking around:

The station has Old Town in its name, but it's not at all obvious how to walk out of the station in the direction of Old Town. And all of the roads around the station seem to share the problem of missing or inconveniently placed crosswalks.
Joanne Pierce added:
The parking lot is not proportional. There is not enough parking to make it worthwhile for commuters but because it's a popular drop off/pick up spot (which Metro apparently never intended to be the case) there are more moving vehicles during rush hour, creating congestion and lots of pedestrians have to avoid the cars and the buses. There are no stop signs for the cars, either.

There are two station exits but one is much more heavily used. If I recall correctly, there isn't a tourist-friendly map outside of the other exit, nor are there signs telling tourists where they should go from the other exit. This means more tourists are using the main gates and then cross the parking lot to reach King Street or cross the bus lane to get on the King Street bus trolley that shuttles riders directly to the waterfront.

I myself will add that when you're coming up King Street, it is not immediately evident how to access the station entrance. I often find going to the north entrance, which is not immediately obvious to pedestrians, is often easier.

A plan to replace the parking lot with a pedestrian plaza and to add four new bus bays to the existing six could be the first step toward the station becoming more walkable, and it gained approval last week.

The reconfigured plaza will make it easier to get to the station by walking as well as accommodate WMATA's plans to increase bus service in the area. WMATA has also said there will be more bike parking, but there aren't yet any details beyond that.


Planned layout of the new bus and pedestrian plaza in front of the King St station. Image from the city of Alexandria.

The project will cost $11.7 million, and has been planned since at least 2012.

A public hearing is planned for the fall with final approval expected by the end of the year, WMATA board documents show.


The current King St station plaza includes 30 parking spaces and six bus bays. Photo from WMATA.

More improvements are coming to the King Street station

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is also working on improved access to the King Street station. Design is more than halfway done on a new pedestrian tunnel linking Alexandria Union Station and the adjacent Metro station, a Northern Virginia Transportation Authority project update from July shows.


The planned pedestrian tunnel from Alexandria Union Station to the King St Metro station. Image from VRE.

The authority awarded VRE a $1.3 million grant for the tunnel in 2014, however, the agency has yet to identify funding for the balance of the roughly $11.3 million project.

The tunnel is currently scheduled to open by the end of 2017.

Parking


See where DC issues the most parking tickets

Whether you think we have way too much parking or believe homeowners have a God-given right to on-street parking right outside their front doors at all times, parking—and its enforcement—is an important part of how any city works. This map shows where in DC the most tickets were issued in June 2015.


Photo by Adam Froehlig.

Created by Greater Greater Washington contributor Adam Froehlig with help from a handful of others, the map shows where the 148,707 parking tickets issued in June of last year were distributed. The data comes from DC.gov's Open Data portal.

You might discover some interesting patterns, but the big pieces of information probably align with what most people would expect: the most tickets were issued closer to downtown, and in the District's densely-populated, higher-income residential neighborhoods and entertainment areas.

Enforcement is most concentrated in areas like Logan Circle/14th Street and Georgetown—even more so than in downtown.

Overall, the higher amounts of tickets were issued in the District's core—downtown, Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle—while more spread out in residential neighborhoods like Upper Northwest and areas in the eastern part of the city, near the Maryland border.

Where in the District parking tickets are issued might tell us something about where people are driving, and—more importantly—where it's appropriately difficult to park because there's a high demand for parking.

Transit


Here's a closer look at what's in store for Union Station

Plans for renovating and rebuilding parts of Union Station are well underway, the aim being to better connect train, bus, pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic to accommodate a surge in ridership over the next 25 years and beyond. On Wednesday, the public got a closer look at some of the possibilities.


Photo by David Jones on Flickr.

Union Station houses DC's busiest Metro station, is the hub for both of the region's commuter rail systems, MARC and VRE, and is both the second-busiest intercity train station in the country and the second-busiest station in Amtrak's system. In anticipation of rising demand, planning started last year for a $10 billion, four-year expansion project that could triple station capacity.

Several hundred people attended a Wednesday night meeting to hear what the Federal Railroad Administration, which owns Union Station, has in mind for the overhaul. While plans for expanding the area where passengers wait to board trains surfaced Wednesday morning, this meeting was about telling the public about the need for renovating and rebuilding virtually the entire complex, from parking areas, bus terminals, taxi stands, and train platforms to the original station building and the space above the tracks just north of the station.


Image from the Federal Railroad Administration.

With Union Station being in its 109th year of service, some of the project's literature refers to the project as the "Second Century Plan."

Here are some of the functional features the project team said it's looking to bring to Union Station:

  • A more efficient way for taxis and car services (including ridesharing programs) to pick up and drop off passengers. Taxi drivers typically have a 30-45 minute wait in the taxi queue at the station today.

  • A more bike-friendly environment. There's currently too little capacity for both bicycle parking and bike sharing to meet even current demand.

  • Wider train platforms, as the ones there now aren't compliant with ADA standards, and also do not meet standards for an emergency evacuation. Widening the platforms will actually mean a decrease in the number of tracks at the station, from 20 to 19. But planners also emphasized that intercity rail capacity will increase because the platforms will be significantly longer-- nearly a quarter mile in some cases.

  • Larger, more open concourses that can handle the expected tripling of passenger demand by 2040.

  • A safer bus terminal, where there's less of a chance that people and buses will need to use the same space. Also, a more visually appealing bus terminal.

  • A complex that meshes well with the H Street Bridge, which will be rebuilt in the next several years.

Architecture, parking, and air space

One thing the FRA is putting significant emphasis on is the aesthetic appeal of the new station. The current building is on both the National and Washington DC Register of Historical Places, and its key features, such as the great hall, will remain unchanged. Presenter Paul Moyer reviewed examples of other stations around the world that are both functional and attractive, to use as an example.

While demand is maxing out for just about every mode of transportation that passes through Union Station, there's one mode where it's not: driving. Usually, only 70-90% of the parking spaces Union Station's garage are full at peak times, and nearly a quarter of those are leased out on a monthly basis, meaning they're likely used by workers in surrounding offices not directly tied to the station.

Rather than increasing the number of parking spaces, the planners are simply looking to make a more visually appealing parking facility. An architecturally renowned garage in Miami was cited as a possible inspiration.


Image from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Also, having empty railyard just blocks from the US Capitol is not the most economically stimulating use of space. Therefore, the air rights over the tracks were sold to Akridge, who will develop a project called Burnham Place, a mix of offices, retail, hotel, and residential that will sit above the tracks. Because the air rights begin at the current height of the H Street Bridge, designers will not be limited to a claustrophobic experience like what travelers experience at New York's Penn Station.

As you can see in the graphic above, the Federal Railroad Administration (and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation), Amtrak, Akridge, DDOT, WMATA, and the National Park Service all own different portions of the affected site, and will need to sign off on the plan, as will various historical review boards and federal interests.

Community engagement

While at least some of what was presented is very likely to happen, nothing is a done deal yet. The official purpose of the meeting was to solicit input from the community before developing formal proposals.


Image from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Community members were shown a scale map of the study area (roughly, the current station footprint, including the parking garage, plus the tracks as far north as L Street), and asked to place cardboard templates representing possible concourses, bus terminals, and other features in various places on the map, to gather feedback on possibilities.


Photo by the author.

The strongest sentiments at both this meeting and the last one, which was in December, were about how the Union Station project will affect surrounding neighborhoods.

The business community is looking for better intermodal connections (between Metro, Amtrak, bus, and streetcar), and local residents is looking for better connections to the neighborhood itself, such as through the long neglected entrance off of H Street, and to have many of the nearby Metrobus routes actually stop at the station, rather than blocks away.

Because the projects are dependent on one another, both local residents and the business community asked that the required environmental reviews for Burnham Place and the rest of Union Station will be done at the same time. This is not guaranteed, because the process for each project is different.

If you would like to view the presentation from the FRA, it is posted here, and comments are still being accepted on the site. The next public meeting, where project alternatives will be presented, is scheduled for this summer. Once the project is approved, construction is expected to last about four years.

Parking


Roll Call recently made a great point about the Capitol's parking problem

In a recent post about cleaning up after Snowzilla, Roll Call, a blog newspaper that covers Congress, published a graphic showing that if you combined all the parking lots on the Capitol Grounds in need of plowing, they'd cover the National Mall. That's a crazy amount of parking.


Imagine if some of Washington's best locations for parks or buildings were parking lots! You don't have to! It's like that today. Image by Roll Call's Sean McMinn and Jia You.

Acres of surface parking lots surround the Capitol and its accessory buildings, and the question of whether they should even be there has long been a sore spot for those paying attention to land use in the District.

That amount of parking is particularly disheartening when you consider that all of these lots used to be blocks of apartments and offices that were very welcoming to people. The McMillan Commission imagined monumental office buildings surrounding the Capitol. In the 1920s, Congress expanded that vision dramatically, adding the open spaces to the north and buying up the lots to the south for future office buildings.

Now, they're parking lots, or parks on top of parking lots. Here's a map of all the surface parking on the Capitol Grounds:


The Capitol Grounds and the surface parking lots. Graphic by the author, with a map from DC GIS.

Congress gets a lot more parking than the rest of the government

The branch of the government that manages the land, the Architect of the Capitol is holding onto the land for now. It likes providing ample parking spaces for legislators, staff, and employees. The AOC won't say exactly how much parking, but a 2005 master plan allotted 5,800 spaces to the House of Representatives alone. Depending on how much the Senate, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and support staff get, the number is probably far higher.


There are federal rules about how much parking there can be for federal employees. Image from NCPC.

Because Congress writes the rules, they've never been subject to review by the National Capital Planning Commission, which sets the parking regulations. The AOC's independence and access to funding has led to a bad reputation, from architecture critics to Congress itself.

To be fair, the AOC does plan to eventually spruce up their properties. Their 2011 Master Plan aims to eliminate all surface parking lots by 2026. But that master plan is short on details for how they'd do that, and it's not clear whether they'd bring the amount of parking in line with the rest of the Federal Government's limits on parking.

Given the sheer volume of parking at the Capitol complex, along with the possibilities for how we could otherwise use the land, the matter of how to scale it back deserves more thought.

Correction: This post originally referred to Roll Call as 'a blog that covers Congress.' While the article at hand was filed on Roll Call's blog, it's more accurate to call the publication a newspaper. Also, it has been clarified to note that the 5,800 figure for parking spaces is only for people who work at the House of Representatives.

Transit


National links: No more grocery stores

Walmart has turned many towns into high-dry food deserts, Nashville is considering its transit options, and Uber had to get creative to get insurance. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Alison & Orlando Masis on Flickr.

Walmart's small town shuffle: Walmart is closing shop in a number of small towns despite only recently arriving and putting other grocery stores out of business. Residents say the effect is devastating. (Bloomberg)

Music City moving: Nashville's transit authority is working to put forward a plan for developing transit. The most robust possibility would build new light rail, streetcars, and bus lines, and would cost $5.4 billion. The smallest plan, at $800 million, would focus on buses and the existing commuter rail line. (Nashville Tennessean)

Uber insurance: Uber as a ride hailing service might not exist if not for one of its employees convincing insurance agents to cover drivers. There's a lot of grey area in how to insure someone who is waiting for the app to connect them with a customer. (Buzz Feed News)

Build up for cars: As soon as cars came on the scene in cities, residents and businesses needed places to put them. In dense places, people put cars on elevators and stored vertically. These pictures show how that technology evolved from the 1920s to 1970s. (Mashable)

To live and ride in LA: Transit ridership has gone down in Los Angeles by 10% from the high reached in 2006. Officials are wondering how to attract more high-income riders, and whether they should stick with current plans to build more bike and bus-only lanes. (Los Angeles Times)

Cities as testing grounds: Gridlock at the US Capitol and in state houses nationwide has liberal leaders testing new laws and ideas at the municipal level. The hope is that cities will prove certain laws work, which will lead to change at state and federal level. (New York Times)

Quote of the Week: "The government is one group that doesn't get to choose its customers. We want to make it work for everyone." Jennifer Pahlka, who started Code for America to help cities work better with their citizens. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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