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Transit


If Georgetown had a Metro station, it would be one of the system's busiest

Georgetown didn't get a Metro station when the original system was built, for a variety of reasons. But if it did have one, how would it perform? The short answer: Georgetown would immediately be in the system's top 10 highest stations for boardings in the morning peak.


The relationship between residents near a Metro station and ridership. Image from WMATA and edited by the author.

PlanItMetro recently posted about the relationship between ridership and the number of households within a half-mile of a Metro station. This got us at the Georgetown Business Improvement District wondering how a Georgetown Metro station would perform if the downtown loop proposed in Metro's Momentum plan were built.

Georgetown has 4,187 households within the half-mile radius from Wisconsin and M streets NW, which we will use as the theoretical point for a Metro station entrance for the purpose of this analysis . Simply plotting this number of households on PlanItMetro's trendline provides a good starting point for an estimate, suggesting approximately 2,000 boardings during the AM peak.

But this is just the start. 2,000 boardings per hour is likely a floor estimate, rather than a ceiling. First, let's look at where Georgetown residents work.


Map from the Georgetown BID.

People who live in Georgetown tend to work in a distinct corridor that stretches across from the West End to Penn Quarter. This corridor aligns almost perfectly with the existing Red, Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. If a downtown loop line were completed, residents of Georgetown would have a rapid transit option to reach these locations.


Metro's proposed loop. Image from WMATA.

If Metro access were available, we suspect that more than 2,000 Georgetown residents would use it to reach their place of employment. Just for comparison, 13.9% of Georgetown residents already take Metro to work, which includes people who ride and walk from Dupont, Foggy Bottom, and Rosslyn.

An additional 10.1% of Georgetown residents take a bus ride to work, placing overall transit use at 24%, which is below the District-wide average of just under 40%. With a Metro station in closer proximity to people's homes, we would expect transit ridership among the residential population of Georgetown to match or exceed the District-wide average.

Meanwhile, there are over 18,000 households living within one mile of Wisconsin and M. While we don't know how many of these people would take Metro to work, Georgetown's historic pattern of walkable streets and its dense street grid make it easier and more enjoyable to walk long distances, suggesting that there might also be a considerable number of potential riders in this area. These are all the ingredients for a well-used Metro station.

That's not the end of the story. Unlike some of the stations within the top 10 which are primarily employment centers, Georgetown is as much a commercial and retail destination as it is a residential neighborhood. Workers from within the business improvement district's boundaries come from all over the metropolitan region, and most of them have some degree of access to existing Metrorail stations.


Where workers in Georgetown live. Image from the Georgetown BID.

We would expect a large portion of Georgetown employees to start using Metrorail once it opened there. Likewise, Georgetown is a major destination for both locals and tourists attracted to the retail district, trails, park spaces, and cultural amenities. Between residents who work near Metro, workers who live near Metro, and tourists, students, and day-trippers who frequently come in and out of Georgetown, a Metro station here would instantly place Georgetown in the system's top destinations. That would be the case both during normal weekdays when people travel for work, and on weekends when retail and tourist travel peak.

Some of the busiest existing Metro stations, like Dupont Circle, have a high number of boardings and alightings all day because they're in areas with housing, jobs, retail, and nightlife. Georgetown's theoretical Metro station would perform very well at all hours for both boardings and alightings, making full use of Metro's capacity in both directions.

There are many other positive effects that Metro can bring, but one that could convince city leaders to develop a funding plan is the potential economic windfall. At $41/square foot, Georgetown's office lease rates are about 18% lower than the Downtown average of $50/square foot. Most commercial brokers attribute this discount to the lack of rapid transit options in Georgetown. A Metro loop connecting Georgetown to the regional rapid transit network could increase rents, boosting tax receipts to the city.

Georgetown is already a vibrant regional destination for work, shopping, and tourism, but a lack of rapid transit access prevents it from reaching its full potential. Bringing a Metro station to Georgetown isn't just good for this neighborhood. It would be a boon for the entire region.

Transit


MetroExtra could come to Columbia Pike in Montgomery County

Columbia Pike between Silver Spring and Burtonsville is one of the region's busiest bus corridors, but is prone to delays and crowding. Metro is studying improvements that could make the service faster and more reliable, making it a trial of sorts as Montgomery County considers Bus Rapid Transit for that corridor.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

The Z Metrobus lines, made up of the Z2, Z6, Z8, Z9, Z11, Z13, and Z29, travel between Silver Spring, Burtonsville, and Laurel along Columbia Pike and Colesville Road, also known as Route 29. It is the second-busiest line in Maryland, though 85% of the ridership is in a short segment between the Silver Spring Metro and White Oak.

Metro planners and their consultants presented potential solutions at two public meetings this month, including, additional evening and weekend service and a new, limited-stop MetroExtra route along Route 29. They plan to release their recommendations this November.

Limited-stop service a stepping stone to BRT

Common issues with the Z line include bus bunching and crowded buses, especially outside of rush hour when buses are less frequent. Riders say that some stops are unsafe because of traffic or poor lighting, and that entire neighborhoods are left without service on the weekends, when the Z6 route (which carries over a third of the line's riders) does not run.

As with Metro's other bus corridor studies, planners are considering introducing MetroExtra service along Route 29, with ten stops about every mile apart between the Silver Spring Metro and Castle Boulevard, an area known for growing poverty and long commutes.


Map of potential MetroExtra service on Route 29 from WMATA.

Buses would run every 15 minutes in both directions during rush hour. To free up resources for the new route, Metro would consolidate two existing express lines, the Z9 and Z11. Initially, the route would only run as far as Stewart Lane in White Oak, with an extension to come later as funding permits.

Enhanced limited-stop service will be a welcome change for residents who currently face a 40-plus minute trip just to reach the Metro station. But it could also provide an interesting test of how a Bus Rapid Transit line on Route 29 might work. It's one of 10 corridors in the county's plan, and is slated to be one of the first to get built, along with Route 355. The county's plans include dedicated lanes along the corridor, which would speed up buses by getting them out of traffic.

County officials have long promised that BRT service will add to and not take away from existing Metrobus and Ride On service. Interestingly, proposed MetroExtra service does not include stops in Montgomery's BRT plan at Franklin Avenue and Fairland Road, but adds others in White Oak and Briggs Chaney, where ridership is higher.

More frequent service, new lines

The project team also addressed crowding on the Z6 and Z8 routes, which are local services. The proposed remedies included adding short trips on both lines between Silver Spring and White Oak, and restoring weekend service on the Z6 line.

One of the proposals involved running the Z6 once per hour on weekends, which violates Montgomery County's requirement that a bus must run every 30 minutes, or not at all. Others had it and the Z8 running more frequently, which would be more expensive.

Metro planners are also exploring a new route, the Z10, to connect the Briggs Chaney park and ride with Laurel, addressing rider concerns that they had a hard time getting to shopping areas in Laurel.

Another idea was that the Z2 bus, which runs between Olney and Silver Spring via New Hampshire Avenue, run additional mid-day trips from Olney to White Oak, where riders could switch to other buses. Ridership has dwindled on this line, which carries an average of less than 10 riders per trip north of White Oak.

Minor recommendations included updates to bus stops such as more shelters and signs, schedule adjustments, and placing supervisors at various places along the route to reduce bus bunching.

Can these proposals get funding?

Bus Rapid Transit is a significant part of the White Oak Science Gateway plan, which envisions a town center around the Food and Drug Administration campus there. The plan requires the county to find a funding source for BRT lines on Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue before most of the development can go forward.

But it's unclear where funding for BRT, or even a MetroExtra line, would come from. While WMATA recommended MetroExtra service on the Q and Y lines in Montgomery County, the Maryland legislature has already denied requests to fund them.

Will both of these services be implemented at roughly the same time? Will either one be implemented at all, or will one service try to be all things for all people and fulfill the aims of BRT and the local enhancements Metro is considering? It all depends on how they're funded. The Route 29 corridor is one that Montgomery County is focusing on for economic growth, but it may also be a bellwether for what our transit future will look like in the decades to come.

Transit


On Car-Free Day, residents yearn for the Purple Line

Yesterday was Car-Free Day. For many residents of Montgomery County, it will be a lot easier to make important trips without a car when the Purple Line is built.


Proposed UMD Campus Center stop. Image from Maryland MTA via the Washington Post.

University of Maryland student Sareana Kimia live-tweeted her two-bus commute from Rockville to the College Park campus and compared it to what her commute would be like with the planned light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

That night, she and Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal co-hosted a Twitter chat about the Purple Line with the Action Committee for Transit and Montgomery County Young Democrats. Her commute exemplified many of the challenges that transit riders face.

Like so many commuters, she began her trip desperately hoping to catch her busand in need of accurate, live time transit information.

Her bus was 10 minutes late. In contrast, the Purple Line will run every 6 minutes in rush hour.

Sareana takes the RideOn 5 to Silver Spring to pick up the UMD Shuttle. Delegate Al Carr suggested what might be a faster route, and Sareana explained the economics behind her transit choices:

When Sareana arrived in downtown Silver Spring, she related a standard bus riding nightmare:

Although she made her UMD Shuttle, Sareana was still 12 minutes late for her 9 am class, despite having begun her commute 1.5 hours earlier. She would have arrived 39 minutes earlier via the Purple Linewith a smoother ride.

Her afternoon commute once again illustrated the importance of frequency in making transit convenient.

Her afternoon commute also demonstrated how horrible traffic can be in this area, even when the weather is perfect:

At 6 pm, she joined Councilmember George Leventhal on Twitter to discuss the Purple Line. Leventhal shared how the Purple Line would improve his commute from Takoma Park to Rockville.

Marc Korman quizzed Leventhal on the Public Private Partnership process that will build the Purple Line.

Korman also asked about state and county cooperation.

Leventhal discussed a "Purple Line Compact" being developed by the Purple Line Corrider Coalition, that would "ensure residents know what to expect from" the Purple Line. It is based on compacts drawn up in Denver, Minneapolis and Baltimore, among others, before light rail lines are built.

The goal is to release the Purple Line Compact by the end of the year.

The Silver Spring Transit Center Twitter account made a poignant contribution during the chat:

Leventhal noted that the Montgomery County Council would get an update on the Purple Line next Tuesday, September 30. He ended the chat on an upbeat note:

Transit


Red paint keeps drivers out of San Francisco's bus lanes

San Francisco is a crowded city with great transit ridership. To prioritize buses and streetcars over cars, they've set aside dedicated lanes for years. But now to send a signal to drivers to keep out, they've painted some lanes red. The data shows it's working wonders.


Church Street, south of Market in San Francsico. Photo by the author.

This is Church Street, a north-south street that carries trolleybus line 22 and the Muni Metro light rail J line. The central transit-only lanes have been there for several years. But they were only painted red in the early months of 2013.

Less than two months later, San Francisco's transit operator, SFMTA, reported that travel times on the 22 and the J were down 5% and on-time performance for those lines had increased 20%.

That's a big improvement for the some 15,000 riders who use these lanes each day. Especially considering the painted lanes only stretch for three and a half blocks.

Painting the lanes red sent a signal to drivers that "bus lane" stenciled on the pavement didn't seem to send.

Building on the success of the Church Street red lanes, SFMTA has been rolling out more red paint across the city, and has plans for still more in coming years.

New York has also been painting the town red with lanes for its Select Bus Service. Other American cities, including Seattle and Chicago have plans to introduce red lanes in the near future.

While the Washington region doesn't have very many bus lanes today, there's been talk of installing more. But they'll only work if drivers stay out.

Red paint, much like the green paint DDOT is now using to mark bike lanes at conflict points, could go a long way to keeping DC's bus lanes free of scofflaw motorists.

Transit


This German city's monorail redefines river transportation

A suspended monorail in one German city proves that transportation infrastructure doesn't have to obstruct access to parks and rivers.


Photo by the author.

The Schwebebahn is a suspended monorail that runs 8.3 miles through Wuppertal, a city laid out linearly along the River Wupper in western Germany. Though the monorail may seem futuristic, the first segment opened in 1901 and the full line was finished in 1903.

The western end of the line, about 1.8 miles, is suspended over a few of the main commercial streets in the Vohwinkel neighborhood of the city. The rest of the line, about 6.5 miles, runs high above the Wupper to the center and eastern end of the city.

Some cities are tempted to deck over their rivers since these waterways provide one of the few linear paths unobstructed by private property through existing cities. Covering a river to build a highway or a railroad may eliminate the difficulty of razing neighborhoods, but doing so eliminates public access to the river.

Twenty years ago, Providence removed the world's widest bridge to daylight a river and create Waterplace Park, one of the city's main attractions. A decade ago, Seoul removed an elevated freeway above the Cheonggyecheon and created a popular riverside park.

Since Wuppertal's Schwebebahn is already suspended from a relatively thin monorail superstructure, it is one of the few transportation systems that runs over a river without limiting access to and enjoyment of the natural resource. In fact, a riverside park near the eastern terminal is popular spot for families to play in the river as Schwebebahn trains pass overhead.


Families play in the river as the train passes overhead. Photo by the author.

Transit


Richmond will have BRT by 2018

Bus rapid transit will come to Richmond in 2018. The long-planned Broad Street BRT project won a federal TIGER grant this week to cover half its cost, allowing the project to move forward into final design and construction.


Rendering of Broad Street BRT. Image from the Greater Richmond Transit Company.

Broad Street is Richmond's most successful transit corridor, and main bus spine. It runs through or near most of Richmond's densest urban neighborhoods and most important central city hubs. It's the natural place for rapid transit.

The BRT project will run from the Willow Lawn shopping center in suburban Henrico County, through Virginia Commonwealth University and downtown Richmond, all the way to Rocketts Landing on the city's east side.

It will use a mix of dedicated curbside bus lanes and a median busway through the busiest sections of the central city, with mixed-traffic operation on either end.


Map of Broad Street BRT. Original image from the GRTC.

Projections say the BRT line will carry about 3,300 riders per day. That's low compared to the standards of a transit rich metropolis like DC, but it's huge for a place like Richmond, where there are only about 35,000 total daily bus riders in the entire region.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


DC Circulator is such a great brand it's expanded to Ohio

Earlier this year Columbus, Ohio launched CBUS, the Columbus Circulator. It's a special overlay bus route running along the main street through the city's densest, most urban neighborhoods. It comes every 10 minutes, has a low (actually free) fare, and limited stops. Sound familiar?

Oh, and here's a photo:


Photo by Darius Pinkston on Flickr.

Look familiar? That sweeping line, the destinations labeled on the side, "CIRCULATOR" in a modern sans-serif font right in the middle. It looks nothing like Columbus' standard bus livery, but it is all very reminiscent of the DC Circulator.

In fact, Ohio transit advocates had the DC Circulator in mind during planning for CBUS.

Columbus isn't alone, either. "Circulator" is spreading as an increasingly common brand choice for short-distance, high-frequency buses in mixed-use areas, especially near DC. There's a Bethesda Circulator, a Tysons Circulator, and a Baltimore Circulator.

Just how far will this brand spread?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit pulls into Gaithersburg

Bus Rapid Transit is years away in Montgomery County, but residents got a preview when Action Committee for Transit and Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended brought a bus rapid rabbit transit bus to the 76th annual Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade.


County Executive Ike Leggett at the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade. Photos by Tracey Johnstone.

ACT's Tina Slater and Bee Ditzler conceived of, designed, and built the bus, which traveled the one-mile parade route in a rapid 45 minutes. It sports drawings of rabbits riding the bus, making this not just Bus Rapid Transit, but Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit.

In addition, a dance team performed a routine ably choreographed by the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn to the sounds of the Hollies' Bus Stop, the Fatback Band's Do the Bus Stop, and the Four Tops's bus stop song.

But don't feel bad if you missed it. ACT is already planning its second year of marching in the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade. If you have ideas or want to join, please visit ACT's website and get in touch! But don't delay, because the big day is only 11 weeks away.

Transit


A $1.50 fare isn't holding back the Tide

Norfolk's Tide Light Rail opened in 2011, and has exceeded its initial ridership projections. But the Virginian-Pilot newspaper recently called for Hampton Roads Transit to slash Tide fares to increase ridership. Are fares holding back ridership, or are other factors at play here?


Photo by VDOT.

Local media jumped on the news trying to
figure out
whether the arguments in Norfolk for free fares apply in the DC area for projects like the Columbia Pike Streetcar.

Do free fares encourage new ridership?

Simply put, yes. The editorial notes that for a 10% decrease in fares, ridership generally increases about 3%. The real question is whether the additional subsidy required to operate a free (or cheap) transit service is worth the cost.

But for all of its problems, it's probably not the fares that are keeping people from riding the Tide.

The Virginian-Pilot argues that the Tide's problem is low demand, and points to falling ridership on the line. This ignores that ridership has fallen on the area's bus routes as well, and in Hampton Roads a bus fare is the same as the fare on the Tide. Maybe the whole system should be free. That would probably increase transit ridership.

Other cities either have (or have experimented with) free fares but there's not a lot of evidence that the prospect of a free ride leads to a big increase in ridership. Besides, there may be better ways to increase ridership.

What does the Tide actually need?

The editorial does make some suggestions that would also benefit the Tide. The first is an acknowledgement that the system needs to grow. Norfolk wants to expand the system within its own borders to the Naval Base and the Airport. Meanwhile Virginia Beach wants to take advantage of the existing railroad right of way and extend the line all the way to the Atlantic waterfront.

This would automatically put the system closer to a great number of people and jobs, and could even have state-wide benefits with the ability to take Amtrak to Norfolk and then light rail to the beach.

The editorial also notes that the Tide was meant to jumpstart a wave of transit-oriented development (TOD) that hasn't happened yet. In the DC area we know how long it can take TOD to arrive even for an extensive system like Metro. The Pilot does seem to get that TOD will increase ridership. But instead of arguing for zoning and policy changes, it assumes the free fare itself will be enough to generate the TOD.

Development centered around transit will very likely increase ridership, though those land use changes will take decades. And people will not decide just to locate next to a transit line because it's free or cheap. They'll only move there if they find the line useful. If it doesn't go where they're going, they won't ride it, even if it is free.

That's why it's important for Hampton Roads Transit to build a larger transit network and why it's important for the local governments to encourage development (the places people want to go) near transit.

The city of Norfolk's goal (building TOD and reducing traffic) is notably different from Hampton Roads Transit's, whose goal is to make sure it can provide service without running into any large budget problems. If Norfolk ends up agreeing with the newspaper and makes the Tide free, maybe the city can pay the difference so the additional subsidy requirement won't harm other transit services in the region.

It's good that the Virginian-Pilot wants the Tide to be successful and recognizes that transit is an effective way to reduce or mitigate the effects of traffic congestion and how it can be a tool that allows lifestyle and urban form changes. But just focusing on fares is a narrow solution that will have less impact than a more balanced approach.

The same can be said for transit in the DC region. Free fares may be a good thing to consider, but we should be considering many factors when discussing how to increase ridership.

Projects like the Columbia Pike Streetcar will have ridership whether or not the cost to ride is free. The proposed line will connect dense, diverse neighborhoods along the Pike to the Pentagon and the Metro system. It will also likely encourage more development in the corridor over time, which will have a positive impact on ridership. Making fares cheaper may increase ridership, but transit-oriented development and service improvements (faster trips, more frequent trains) will make the line more useful, and that will have a much larger impact on ridership.

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