The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Streetcars

Transit


National Links: Seattle is all right

When Seattle shut down a major highway that runs through the city, congestion didn't get worse. How come nobody clamors to close roads after traffic deaths? Kansas City just got a streetcar, and Milwaukee is going to expand the one it has. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

No doom today, Seattle: Some predicted doom and gloom would follow Seattle's closing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct—one traffic data company, Inrix, expected 50% more traffic. After a week, however, and there wasn't been a problem, which is what other local traffic engineers say they expected. (Crosscut)

Shut down the roads!: Roads have always been far more dangerous than riding Metro, but you don't hear any public officials clamoring to shut down roads until all drivers are safe. The disparity between fatality rates on Metro versus those on American roads is so big that the idea of closing down Metro due to safety concerns is worth satirizing. (City Observatory)

America's new rails: Kansas City has finally opened its streetcar line. Officials expect the 2.2 mile line to attract 2,700 riders a day and be the first segment of a much larger system. At the same time, Milwaukee announced that the extension to the system they are currently building will have dedicated lanes and run without wires. (Kansas City Star, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

London's transportation transformation: Even when Transport for London came upon the money needed to build transit projects, it stalled on taking action. Arguments about how transit leads to social inclusion, however, along with ones saying transit can help centralize important business operations, got the ball rolling on London's Crossrail. (Eno Center for Transportation)

California code: California has a development problem. Much of which stems from constant updates and additions to local development codes. Mark Hogan argues that to fix the issue, we need a complete rewrite of the system that governs development in the state. Only then will we be able to address the housing and climate change emergencies threatening our wellbeing. (Boom Journal)

Street data: An app called Strava allows cyclists, runners, and walkers to trace their routes using GPS. As more and more people use the app, planners are starting to use the data in transportation and city planning. While some believe there are limitations based on the demographics of users, the company says users made up 5-10% of all bike movements in London. (Guardian Cities)

Quote of the Week

"They removed the immediacy of their own experiences from the world and looked at how the environment affected human perspectives. They found that mankind's centuries-old suspicion that architecture, for instance, effects decision making is likely true." Jon Carmichael in Inverse on a recent research paper that comes to the conclusion that our built environment alters how we think.

Transit


DC Streetcar ridership is... actually not bad

The DC Streetcar is drawing a decent number of riders, so far. Compared to other US light rail and streetcar systems, it ranks near the middle in terms of riders per mile of track. It's slightly above average, neither horrible nor spectacular.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

According to DDOT's latest streetcar ridership report, the H Street line carried an average of 2,285 passengers each weekday in April. It carries more on Saturdays, but weekday ridership is the standard measuring stick nationwide.

In raw terms, 2,285 riders per day is pretty low. But for a line that only carries passengers for 1.9 miles, it's actually not bad.

Middle of the light rail pack

Obviously, the 1.9 mile DC Streetcar isn't going to carry nearly as many passengers as, say, the 90-mile-long Dallas light rail system. And if you rank all US light rail and streetcar systems by total ridership, DC's 2,285 passengers per day is indeed near the bottom, at 31st out of 37. Dallas is 7th with about 105,000.

But to get a sense of how successful these lines are at attracting riders, we need to compare them on an apples-to-apples basis. To do that, divide the total daily ridership by the number of miles, to get ridership per mile.

And in those terms, DC Streetcar's 1,203 riders per mile is a respectable 18th out of 37. It's just barely in the upper half nationally. And it doesn't even go downtown yet.

Dallas is actually lower at 1,164 riders per mile. Other regional light rail systems that are lower than DC Streetcar include Baltimore (691 riders/mile), Norfolk (784), Sacramento (1,056), Saint Louis (1,035), Pittsburgh (850), and Cleveland (467).

On the other hand, DC is far below the number one system on the list: Boston's Green line light rail, which carries a whopping 7,126 riders per mile. Other systems near the top include San Francisco's Muni Metro (4,370 riders/mile), Minneapolis (3,275), New Jersey's Hudson-Bergen light rail (2,852), and the Portland streetcar (2,075, which is interestingly higher than Portland's MAX light rail at 2,048).

Compared to H Street's X2 bus

What about buses?

In terms of raw riders, the X2 bus on H Street is the 3rd busiest bus line in the WMATA system, with 17,400 riders per day as of 2015. The X2 is almost exactly 5 miles long, pegging it at 3,480 riders/mile.

So the streetcar is attracting about one third as many riders as the X2 was before the streetcar started, mile for mile.

But the X2 is a tall order to match. If it were light rail or a streetcar, the X2's 3,480 riders/mile would make it the third best system in America, after only Boston and San Francisco. That's one of the reasons a bigger and nicer vehicle makes sense there in the first place.

Plenty of room for improvement, but riders are there

Clearly the streetcar isn't perfect. Getting it open was a saga, and its lack of dedicated lanes or traffic signal priority continue to hurt. Future lines absolutely need to be better, and can be better.

And who knows what will happen if DDOT ever starts charging a fare. Atlanta streetcar ridership plummeted when it went from free to $1, but Portland's streetcar ridership remains high despite adding fares after 11 years of free rides. So that's hard to predict.

But in terms of attracting riders, DC Streetcar isn't doing particularly badly.

You can help make sure the next extensions are indeed better by attending upcoming planning meetings, May 17 for the Georgetown extension, and May 19 for Benning Road.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Links


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.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC