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National Links: From Florida to California

Miami is moving forward with big transit plans, Connecticut towns have a unique model for building affordable housing, and many have trouble seeing LA as urban because of how car-centric its past is. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Humberto Moreno on Flickr.

Sunshine State expansion: Six rapid transit projects are now part of Miami's Metropolitan Planning Organization's long range plan. Many of these lines have been in previous plans, but they're now being made top priorities, which bodes well for their future completion. (Miami New Times)

New Affordability, CT: Cities in Connecticut are required to have 10% of their homes be affordable. If that isn't the case, developers can effectively ignore the zoning code as long as they build 30% affordable. This has led wealthier communities pushing for affordable housing. (New York Times)

Dirge for dingbats: The "dingbat," an infamous Los Angeles architecture form that's basically just a box-like apartment stuck on top of an open carport, is slowly disappearing for more aesthetically pleasing, dense, and safe structures. Are they worth restoring and preserving? (LA Weekly)

Edge City redux: Outside of Miami, the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades make it so there isn't space to keep sprawling out, so buildings are going upward. Translation: Urban city centers are going up in the suburbs. (The Economist)

LA through #nofilter: Many still see Los Angeles as an ugly ode to cars and endless concrete, even as the city shifts toward becoming more traditionally urban, dense, and walkable. Why? It's hard for people to see beyond LA's built origins as a car-centric city. (Colin Marshall)

Uber exit: Uber is threatening to leave Houston if the city does not repeal regulations that require drivers get fingerprints taken and go through a licensing process. The company has already left three cities in Texas and is threatening to leave Austin as well. (Texas Tribune)

Tashkent trams: The capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, is shutting down its tram system. Opened in 1912, it is one of the oldest in central Asia. A lot of locals say the city is losing both a convenient and green form of transport, and a piece of its charm. (BBC)

Quote of the Week

"The idea is that by using a cryptographically secured and totally decentralized authority that can work at the speed of a computer, we should be able to keep power distribution, water treatment, self-driving transportation, and much more from ballooning beyond all practical limits as cities continue to grow." Graham Templeton on using Bitcoin Blockchain to run smart cities. (Extreme Tech)

Transit


Lisbon is a rail transit mecca

Lisbon has just about every type of rail transit out there. Streetcars, funiculars, a metro, and commuter rail all provide a dense, interconnected transit system for the Southern Europe metropolis.


A streetcar in Lisbon. All photos by the author.

Lisbon's streetcarstrams, as they refer to them—act as both transportation for the city's residents and a popular way for visitors to see the city, with streetcar line 28 connecting many of the main sights of the city's old city.

Many of the streetcar lines share the city's narrow streets with car traffic. However, some stretches have dedicated lanes, including along Avenue 24 de Julho, next to the commuter rail tracks approaching the Cais do Sodré railway station.


A vintage streetcar in a dedicated lane alongside a commuter train in Lisbon.

Complementing the streetcar network are three funiculars and an elevator that climb some of the city's steep hills.


The Gloria funicular in Lisbon.

The Lisbon metro has four lines stretching 26.8 miles across the city and providing the backbone of the transit network.


A map of the Lisbon metro with commuter rail services in gray.

Lisbon has two commuter rail operators: state-owned Comboios de Portugal (CP) and the private Fertagus line. While more frequent and metro-like than Washington DC's commuter rail services, CP's services are not as extensive as those in most European cities with overlapping lines connecting four terminals in central Lisbon and one south of the Tagus River with five different suburbs.


CP's Lisbon commuter rail map.

Fertagus provides the only commuter rail service that crosses the Tagus River, running on the lower deck of the 25 de Abril bridge.


The 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon.

Lisbon is a good example of how a dense transit network with a variety of interconnected modes can work.

The Washington region is slowly moving towards a similarly dense and varied network, with Metro forming the backbone and other modes like the Metroway bus rapid transit line Virginia, the DC Streetcar in the District and, when it opens, the Purple Line light rail in Maryland filling in the gaps and complementing Metro. However, we have a long way to go to match Lisbon's network.

For more on transit developments in other cities and around the world, check out Greater Greater Washington's articles about Adelaide, Cape Town, Dallas, Hartford, Johannesburg, Oakland airport, San Diego, and San Juan.

Transit


Taking the streetcar is, in fact, way faster than walking

When the DC Streetcar launched in late February, there were a few claims from media around town that it was barely faster than walking. That isn't true, and it's important to set the record straight.


Faster than walking. Photo by Kevin Mueller on Flickr.

"On the day the back-to-the-future transit system launched passenger service," wrote Post reporter Michael Laris just after the streetcar opened, "it took the streetcar 26 minutes to make its way end-to-end on the two-mile line. It took 27 minutes to walk the same route on Saturday, 19 minutes on the bus, 10 minutes to bike and just seven minutes in a Uber."

Media all over the region sang a similar tune about how the streetcar is slow and walking is fast:

The immediate thing to point out with that first Laris article is that of course the streetcar ran slowly on opening day‐ there were hundreds of onlookers at the celebratory kickoff, clogging the streets and the tracks. Times from that day shouldn't be considered typical.

But beyond that, nobody walks from Union Station, where the streetcar route's western edge is, to its eastern terminus at Benning and Oklahoma in 27 minutes! Doing so would require walking at an average of 4.5 miles per hour; the average walking speed is about three miles per hour, while the average jogging speed is about six miles per hour.

I'm an avid walker who lives less than a block from the Oklahoma Avenue station, and I've walked from my house, up Benning and H Streets, then to western the terminus at Union Station, probably 25 times. It usually takes about 40 minutes. Google Maps says it should take 38, which is actually a little generous—stop lights, like at Starburst Plaza (the intersection of 15th Street, Maryland Avenue, and Bladensburg Road) as well as those along H Street, often make trips take longer than mapping apps predict.

As for the streetcar's speed, more recent articles say it's taking an average of 18-20 minutes to get from end to end. In fact, in the inaugural "Running of the Streetcar", many runners couldn't outpace the Streetcar, even when starting with a small lead.

I should acknowledge that I'm writing this slightly after the fact—the articles quoted above came out when the streetcar opened in late February. But this is still important because if we don't correct the inaccuracy, people will keep saying it.

The fact of the matter is that people have underestimated how much time it would take to walk the streetcar route, and overstated how much time it takes the streetcar itself to travel it. Really, taking the DC Streetcar is about twice as fast as walking.

In the inevitable future political battles over the Bowser administration's promise to extend the line both east and west, the public should be aware of the facts, both good and bad.

The mismanagement leading up to the opening of the route has been well documented, which is appropriate. However, now that the streetcar is up and running, we should be aware that it is providing a functional and efficient alternative mode of transportation on one of the city's busiest transportation corridors.

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.

Meta


Thank you for a great 8th birthday party!

Thanks to all of you—our readers, friends, and donors—who celebrated our 8th birthday last week!


Our 8th birthday bash crowd interacting with founder David Alpert and managing director Sarah Guidi as they say "thanks" to everyone at the party. All photos by Aimee Custis unless otherwise noted.

More than 100 of us gathered last Tuesday evening at Vendetta Bocce Bar and Tavern on H Street NE for cake, drinks, trivia and mingling.


Randall Keith Benjamin and Aimee Custis.

We were so excited that the streetcar opened in time for our party! Many of our guests arrived in streetcar style.


The only possible way to roll to a @ggwash meetup on H Street: @DCStreetcar, preceded by @bikeshare.—<wbr>Rob Pegoraro (@robpegoraro)

Thanks to all the local elected officials, agency heads, and planners who came out to support Greater Greater Washington, including DC councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, and Charles Allen, DDOT director Leif Dormsjo, and WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld!


Lynn Bowersox, David Alpert, Paul Wiedefeld, and Dan Stessel.


Shaun Courtney, Jess Zimbabwe, and Karina Ricks.

While the party was on H Street in DC, we had representatives from across the region, like some of our Montgomery County friends including Planning Board chairman Casey Anderson.


Pete Tomao, Casey Anderson, and Joe Fox.

About 20 people participated in trivia. Winners went home with Capital Bikeshare memberships, smart growth books, as well as transit-themed books and mugs. Thank you to all of our sponsors who donated these prizes and made contributions to help keep Greater Greater Washington going strong this year.


Trivia winners went home with awesome prizes generously provided by goDCgo and Capital Bikeshare, Island Press, and Transit Oriented.

If you weren't able to join us for this year's party, we hope you can join us at an upcoming Greater Greater happy hour. In the meantime, thank you for being a part of our eight years (and counting)!

Transit


Here are the answers to whichStreetcar

On Tuesday, we celebrated the opening of the DC Streetcar line with a whichStreetcar contest. Here are the answers. How did you do?

We got 26 guesses. Nineteen got all five. Great work!


Image 1: Union Station/Hopscotch Bridge

The first image was taken at the Union Station streetcar stop. The main clue here is the "no clearance" striping along the barrier wall opposite the platform, which is only present here. The buildings in the background and the hopscotch art also should have helped you get this one.

Twenty-five got it right.


Image 2: Oklahoma Avenue

The second image shows a sign at the end of the Oklahoma Avenue stop. The clue here is the construction in the background, which is the streetcar carbarn. Another clues is the fact that the stop is in the median, which is the case for stops along Benning Road only.

Twenty-four figured this one out.


Image 3: 3rd Street NE

The third image was, coincidentally, the 3rd Street stop. Clues included the "Giant" sign reflected in the streetcar windows and the track switch allowing streetcars to cross over to the exclusive streetcar lanes on the H Street bridge.

Twenty-five got this one correct.


Image 4: 19th Street NE

The fourth image shows the platform at 19th Street. Again, the median location of the platform limits this to a Benning Road stop. The smokestack in the background should have helped you narrow this down to 19th Street.

Twenty-three guessed 19th Street.


Image 5: 8th Street NE

The final image shows a streetcar at the 8th Street stop. Really the only clue here is the Bank of America branch in the background. Using Google Street View could have helped you narrow this down, which may have worked for the twenty-two of you who got it right.

Thanks for playing!

Transit


Think you know transit? It's time for whichStreetcar

On Saturday, DC's newest transit line opened, heralding the return of streetcars after five decades. Let's see how well you know the new line. Can you identify the five pictured stations?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

To help you, here's a map of the line:

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun. Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday.

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Transit


DC Streetcar's exuberant opening day, in photos and video

DC Streetcar is open and carrying passengers, following a festive opening day on Saturday. Enjoy this photo tour reliving the fun, and see even more at GGWash's opening day Flickr group.


Passengers boarding the streetcar. Photo by Dan Malouff.

The party began at a 10:00 am opening ceremony at 13th and H NE, where a huge crowd gathered to celebrate.


The opening ceremony crowd. Photo by Dan Malouff.

After years of delays and frustration with the streetcar, the crowd's jubilant emotion was a sight to see. Supporters waved pennants, the Eastern High School marching band entertained, and at least one awesome kid brought the day's best costume.


Band and streetcar cosplay. Photos by Malcolm Kenton and Dan Malouff.

Mayor Bowser, DDOT's Leif Dormsjo, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and DC Council members Charles Allen and Yvette Alexander all spoke happily about the project.

Most notably, Mayor Bowser declared we "gotta" extend it east and west.


Bowser and Dormsjo. Photos by Brett Young and Dan Malouff.

The crowd was far too big to fit in a single streetcar. But DDOT was prepared. They queued up four trams all in a row, to carry as many riders as possible.

After the speeches, VIPs boarded onto the first two streetcars, and off they went. Cheers erupted as the first passenger trip took off towards Union Station. It was railcar 202.


Streetcars queue, and the VIP-only first trip takes off. Photos by Malcolm Kenton and Dan Malouff.

The third streetcar to leave was the first open to the public. It was car 201, and when it pulled out, the streetcar became officially in service.

Here it is, the first public streetcar, pulling out of the station for the first time.


Video by Kelli Raboy

The GGWash contingent made it on that first public streetcar.


The GGWash contingent, boarding and riding the first public streetcar trip. Photos by Dan Malouff.

One amazing rider named Nathaniel Jordan says he was also on the first-ever Metrorail train, way back in 1976.


Nathaniel Jordan. Photo by Dan Malouff.

The first streetcar wrapped up its first trip at Union Station before turning around and heading back the other direction.

Streetcars approaching Union Station stop midway up Hopscotch Bridge, amid a short section of dedicated lanes.


Hopscotch Bridge / Union Station stop. Photo by Matt Johnson.

Inside Union Station, bright wayfinding signs point the way through the parking garage to the streetcar station. It's a long walk from the station's interior to the streetcar platform, but it's nonetheless an improvement over the X2 bus, which doesn't stop on the bridge at all.


Union Station wayfinding and passageway to the streetcar. Photos by Matt Johnson.

At the other end of the line, at Oklahoma Avenue, the platform is more simple.


Oklahoma Avenue station. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Near Oklahoma Avenue station, union members demonstrated in favor of the streetcar workers. Next door, the permanent streetcar car barn rises under construction.


Union workers and the car barn. Photos by Dan Malouff.

Streetcar trips continued up and down H Street all day, where crowds continued to pack on for the novelty of a first day's ride.


Photos by Brett Young and Malcolm Kenton.


Photos by Matt Johnson and Malcolm Kenton.

It was a great day. Hopefully we'll do it all again in a few years as the system expands east of the Anacostia River and west into downtown. If that happens, DDOT's plans call for a dedicated transitway on K Street.


Proposed K Street transitway. Image from DDOT.

History


DC's first streetcar opened in 1862. Here's what it was like.

The DC Streetcar will start carrying passengers on Saturday, but that won't be the first time we've seen a streetcar's opening day. DC's first streetcar system opened in the middle of the Civil War after taking only six months to build. It ran horse-drawn streetcars along Pennsylvania Avenue, and was an instant hit.


An early streetcar passes the Treasury. All images from antique stereoviews in the author's collection.

I recently wrote about the 100-year history of streetcars in the District in my book, Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, DC. Like my recent post about how streetcars shaped DC's Eckington neighborhood, the following has been adapted from the book.

In the early 1850s, omnibuses—rickety stagecoach-like wagons that could hold maybe a dozen riders—were the only "mass transit" available in Washington. As early as 1852, Gilbert Vanderwerken, an ambitious businessman who owned the city's omnibus company, petitioned Congress for the right to establish the city's first streetcar system, running from Georgetown to Capitol Hill, but it didn't have the political backing to make it through Congress.

Meanwhile, other cities rapidly built streetcar systems: Brooklyn in 1853, Boston in 1856, Philadelphia in 1858, and Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cincinnati in 1859. Finally, in May 1862—one year into the Civil War and ten years after streetcars had first been proposed—Congress agreed to one in DC, passing a law incorporating the Washington & Georgetown Railroad.

The project had a very tight timeline

The charter specified three lines: an east-west route along Pennsylvania Avenue from Georgetown to the Navy Yard; a north-south route along Seventh Street from Boundary Street (Florida Avenue NW) to the Seventh Street wharves in Southwest; and another north-south route along Fourteenth Street from Boundary Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although Congress had dawdled on authorizing the railway, it required the new company to put the first segment of its line into operation within 60 working days of incorporation—an astonishingly short timespan considering that a war was on and no cars, ties, rails, or other materiel were on hand. Nevertheless, luck was on the side of the fledgling railway. Construction began within a few weeks; rails were ordered and arrived in time for a crew of 40 to begin laying them in June 1862.


Original streetcar tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue, circa 1869.

By early July, the first stretch of track, from the Capitol to the State Department building on Fifteenth Street, was nearly done. "This great and inappreciable comfort and convenience, so long desired and so often defeated, has been…completed with great promptitude," the National Intelligencer exulted.

The first two cars for the new railway arrived from the manufacturer on July 11th. They were elegant pieces of craftsmanship intended to entice well-to-do riders who had no previous experience of public transportation. The Evening Star described them in detail: "The seats on the sides are covered with fine silk velvet, and the windows, which are stained and plain glass combined, are furnished with cherry sash and poplar blinds, beside handsome damask curtains. The top of the car is rounded, permitting persons to stand upright without inconvenience, and rods to which loops are attached, are run from end to end."

The Star also described a festive nighttime test run: "The cars were put on the track last night, and at 11 o'clock run up [Pennsylvania Avenue] as far as Willard's [Hotel], having on board a number of gentlemen, cheering loudly as they passed up and being greeted with cheers from the few persons on the street at that hour."

An operating streetcar system shaped up over the course of a summer

July 29th marked the first day of public operation. The company had ten cars by then, all typical streetcars of the day, pulled by two horses with a driver standing on a platform in front and an enclosed passenger compartment that could comfortably seat twenty. A conductor, usually stationed on the rear platform, collected fares. On opening day the cars were packed, at times with as many as forty eager passengers.

The first car was "crowded almost to suffocation" and screeched to a halt at the curve from Pennsylvania Avenue on to Fifteenth Street. An extra horse was added, and the car kept rolling. The Star wrote admiringly that "The cars in use are handsome and commodious, and the smoothness with which they glide along affords an agreeable change from the rough jolting over the pavements experienced in other modes of vehicular conveyance" (referring to the old omnibuses that the streetcars were replacing). The Star's enthusiastic reporter concluded with a wistful "Farewell, old bus, you're nigh played out."

In August the new line was extended to Georgetown, where the old Vanderwerken omnibus stables were located. By early October the complete line from Georgetown to the Navy Yard was in operation. The two north-south lines on Seventh and Fourteenth Streets entered service shortly thereafter, completing the entire system in less than six months.

In October, with all three lines nearly finished, the company's directors donated twenty old omnibuses to the army for use as ambulances. They were much needed for the war effort and apparently served that purpose well.


A horse-drawn streetcar poses in front of the Capitol.

People loved riding the streetcar

Praise for the new streetcars ran high as Washingtonians began shaping their daily routines around them. People from all walks of life took to the new form of transport. "I rode all the way from Georgetown. What a blessing & a comfort," wrote Martha Custis Williams, the great great granddaughter of Martha Washington, who lived at Georgetown's stately Tudor Place mansion.

In July 1863, The National Intelligencer commented on the Seventh Street line, which had opened nine months earlier: "We cannot help admiring the regularity with which the cars on this road now run. There is no detention to passengers whatsoever. The energy manifested by the gentlemanly conductors meets the approbation of everyone who rides them. We cannot help speaking of the politeness of Conductor Steptoe T. Tune. His obliging manners and amiability give him the praise of all who chance in his car."

Once fully operational, the Washington & Georgetown Railroad scheduled cars to arrive on a five-minute headway and charged a five-cent fare with a free transfer between routes. The company had a total of 70 cars and 490 horses, the horses wearing bells tied to their harnesses to alert pedestrians that a car was coming. The railway's original routes would remain the core of the city's streetcar network throughout its one-hundred-year history and are still echoed in the Route 30 Metrobuses that operate today.

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