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Transit


Alexandria's Metroway BRT: Open and carrying passengers

The DC region's first Bus Rapid Transit line opened this weekend. Metroway runs from Crystal City to Braddock Road, using a transitway along Route 1 in Alexandria.


All photos by Dan Malouff.

The transitway runs down the center of Route 1, with one lane in each direction. Stations are on either side, in medians separating the transitway from the general lanes.

The Metroway buses themselves have a unique brand and paint scheme, but are otherwise similar to other WMATA Metrobuses.

But Metroway isn't the only route that uses the transitway. Any Metrobus route traveling down that stretch of Route 1 can use it.

The transitway stations are more comparable to light rail stations than normal bus stops. They're larger, have better protection against the elements, more seats, raised platforms, and better information. Unfortunately so far they lack real-time arrival displays or pre-pay.

For now, the Metroway is only really BRT for part of the Alexandria portion of its route. The Arlington portion of the transitway is still under construction, so the bus runs in mixed traffic through Arlington for now.

But in 2015, new sections of transitway and dedicated bus lanes will open in Arlington, making Metroway even better.


Metroway initial route (left) and route starting in 2015 (right). Map from WMATA.

Visit the full Flickr album to see more photos.

Transit


Ask GGW: Why do some stations have side platforms?

Have you ever wondered why your Metro station has two side platforms instead of a single island platform? If so, you're not alone. Reader Sam Inman is curious, too.


Images by the author.
Why are some stations (I'm particularly interested in the subterranean stations) designed with the side platform design instead of the island?

Do you know if this is dictated by a topography/cost concerns? Or was there a design consideration that wanted to force passengers to make their decision at the mezzanine level rather than on the platform level?

Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. In practice, the layout can be influenced by a variety of factors, so there's great variation between transit systems. But there are some general rules that influence the layout (though they're not hard and fast).

Economics
In general, island platforms can be cheaper because they require less duplicative infrastructure. However, sometimes other technical factors can make side platform stations cheaper.

With an island platform, the station requires less vertical circulation. For example, Foggy Bottom only needs 1 mezzanine-to-platform elevator, since it has an island platform. But Farragut West needs 2 mezzanine-to-platform elevators, since it has side platforms. Staircases and escalators can do double duty at an island platform, but sometimes need to be duplicated at side platform stations.

Loading can also be an issue. For example, at a station that is very commuter heavy in the morning with passengers all traveling the same direction, a side platform station may have one platform that is very full and one that is completely empty. That's less efficient than an island platform, where the passengers can use the whole platform, even though they're primarily focused on one track.

But oftentimes these considerations take a back seat to the method of construction, which can also influence the station design.

Construction influences
For underground construction, if the line is cut-and-cover, it is often more cost-effective to build side platforms. With cut-and-cover construction, the tunnels are constructed by digging up the street, building the tunnels, and then rebuilding the street.

To build an island platform station with this method, it requires the two tracks be spread apart from each other (to give room for the platform). This requires more excavation than a side-platform station, which only requires the extra width for the length of the station.


The difference in excavation required for side versus island platforms. Graphic by the author.

So when subways are constructed using cut-and-cover, like along I Street around McPherson and Farragut Squares, stations often have side platforms.

On the other hand, when a subway line is deeper, and is bored through the ground, it often makes much more sense to have island platform stations. This is because when lines are bored, the two subway tubes are not directly next to each other. Since the tracks are already apart, when they get to a station, it's much easier to just put the platform between the tracks, rather than to pull the tracks together so the platforms can be on the outside.

This is the case for the deep stations along Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue between Woodley Park and Medical Center.

It's much rarer, but sometimes both tracks are built in the same (larger) subway tube. This is the case for the Red Line between Farragut North and Woodley Park (not including either of those stations). Both tracks are in the same (bored) tunnel, and so at Dupont Circle, it makes much more sense to have side platforms, since the tracks are already right next to each other.

This is also the case for almost the entire Montreal Metro system, where the tracks are always in the same tunnel. As a result, almost every station has side platforms.

There's less pressure for one or the other design on elevated and surface rail lines, since the construction is cheaper than subway construction. However, there are still some influencing factors. For example, when the tracks are running in a freeway median, the road lanes have to spread out in advance of the station anyway, so there's no penalty for spreading the tracks out ahead of time either. So in that case, there's no penalty for an island platform station. For a side-platform station, the only penalty is the duplicated infrastructure.

On an elevated viaduct, it might be easier to have one structure carrying both tracks rather than two separate structures for each track, and therefore side platform stations may be cheaper, like at West Hyattsville. But then again, it's not necessarily better one way or the other, and so sometimes an island platform makes more sense, like at McLean.

Design decisions
Sometimes, though, a transit agency might make an intentional decision that overrides other concerns.

Terminal stations should have island platforms so that the next train can leave from either track. So any station that is planned to be a terminal for any period of time generally has an island platform. When a terminal does have side platforms, generally trains have to go out of service on one platform, go past the station, reverse, and then pull in on the other platform. That's very inefficient. Alternatively, passengers have to wait in the mezzanine and then pick a platform when the train is ready to depart, also inefficient. All of Metro's terminals have island platforms.

Any station that is likely to be a transfer between diverging lines should have an island platform. That way a passenger coming from one branch can transfer to the other branch simply by walking across the platform. This is the case at Stadium/Armory, where a passenger riding from Addison Road to New Carrollton can make an easy cross-platform transfer.

Furthermore, at key stations, certain platform arrangements can be more efficient.

Metro Center, Gallery Place, and L'Enfant Plaza are good examples. With right-side exits on the upper level, there can be multiple escalator shafts down to the island platform on the lower level. If both levels at these stations had center platforms, the only efficient layout would be to have a mezzanine between, which is how Fort Totten is laid out. And that's generally more expensive and less efficient. Though in the case of Fort Totten it works because the lines have such a great vertical separation (the Red is elevated, the Green is underground).

Other design factors
And while we don't have any examples of it in the Washington region, the "Spanish solution" can also be employed to reduce dwell times. The Spanish solution is where the doors on both sides of the train open. This makes it faster to unload and load the train. MARTA's Five Points station has this on both the upper and lower levels.

When looking at express/local configurations, having island platforms between the local and express tracks allow for an easy cross-platform transfer between trains going the same direction. But at some stations where express service needs to stop, but where the agency wants to discourage transferring passengers (because of crowding), the island platform can be placed between the two express tracks and with the local tracks having side platforms. This is the case at 34th Street/Penn Station on the 1-2-3 and A-C-E. That station is important enough that all trains need to stop, but the stations are crowded. The traditional island/island layout is present one stop north at Times Square/42nd Street to allow transfers between locals and expresses.


Graphic by the author.

In systems that have express/local tracks, there are even alternate ways to accommodate local stations. In New York, local tracks tend to be on the outside, so local-only stations have side platforms. The drawback here is that if the local service ends before the express service, it's difficult to turn those trains around, since they have to cross over the express tracks. The Lexington Avenue (4-5-6) Line handles this by having the local 6 train dive under the 4-5 express tracks via the City Hall Loop.

A rarer alternate version is to put the local tracks in the center. In this case, with the express tracks on the outside, the local-only stations have center platforms. This is present on Chicago's north side trunk, with the local Red Line in the center and the Purple Line Express running on the outer tracks.

So, as you can see, the logic is somewhat complicated. Sometimes it's cheaper to do one, sometimes it's cheaper to do the other. Sometimes, there are logistical reasons for doing one over the other. Sometimes, it may just be more-or-less random.

Transit


More households near transit mean more transit riders

Pop quiz! Can you name the 5 Metro stations that have the highest number of households within a half-mile walk?

Here's a hint: More riders walk to those 5 stations each morning than to just about any others in the system.

It's not a coincidence. According to WMATA's PlanItMetro blog, "the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to transitand data across Metrorail stations prove it."

But there's at least one surprise: 3 of the 5 stations with the most households in a half-mile walkshed are in Maryland or Virginia, not the District.


Households and walk ridership per Metro station. Image by WMATA.

Columbia Heights has by far the most households within walking distance. That makes sense. It's one of DC's densest neighborhoods, and the Metro station is right near its center.

But the second most household-rich Metro station is Arlington's Court House. Rounding out the top 5 are Ballston, Silver Spring, and Dupont Circle.

All 5 of the most household-rich stations are also among the top 10 stations with the most riders who walk to the station each morning. The rest of the top 10 walking stations are Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Bethesda.

More riders may be walking to jobs from the downtown stations, or from Rosslyn, but those are the destinations, where riders in the morning are getting off. The origin stations are the more residential ones.

All in all, Metro's stations fit neatly along a trendline that shows a strong correlation between more households nearby and more riders arriving to stations by foot.

Even the outliers tell a story. U Street and Mount Vernon Square have the 6th and 7th highest number of households nearby, but they underperform on walking Metro ridership. One might speculate that Mount Vernon Square is so close to so many offices that more people simply walk. U Street is a little farther away, but it's still close enough to downtown that buses and bicycles may be better options for a large portion of riders.

What else pops out as interesting?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Photo: An actual bus running in the Route 1 transitway

This bus is not in service. But it is running in Alexandria's Metroway BRT corridor, presumably on a test run. It's pretty exciting to see the region's first BRT so close to starting.

The BRT opens for real on Sunday, August 24.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Transit


How do you get people excited about Bus Rapid Transit? Bring a bus to the county fair

Bus Rapid Transit has become an increasingly popular concept for communities in the DC area, but to see it in action, you'd have to travel to Cleveland or Los Angeles. This week, you can get a glimpse of our possible future at the Montgomery County fair in Gaithersburg.


Photo by betterDCregion on Flickr.

Communities for Transit, a local nonprofit that promotes Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan, set up a brand-new bus to display outside the gates of the fair, which began last Saturday and runs through this Saturday, August 16. Visitors can learn about the county's concept for an 80-mile system of bus lanes on major streets like Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, and Columbia Pike, and tour the bus, which will eventually make its way to Denver.

At a press conference yesterday, county councilmembers and County Executive Ike Leggett said they hope to ride BRT here within four years. Getting there will require more detailed studies, which are currently underway, and securing a funding source.


Fairgoers check out the bus while CFT's Scott Williamson explains how it works. Photo by the author.

While the BRT plan faced intense opposition from wealthier neighborhoods like Chevy Chase West and Woodmoor, those at the fair were more receptive, asking Communities for Transit staff and volunteers when it was going to happen. Parents searched a route map to find the closest stop to their jobs, while their kids hopped into the bus driver's seat and pretended to drive.

Most people don't participate in traditional community meetings, meaning a vocal minority can dominate the conversation. That's why there's a bus parked outside the county fair: it brings people into the conversation who otherwise wouldn't get engaged, revealing that public support is actually greater than we thought. And the display vehicle, with its big windows, cushioned seats, and overpowering new smell, may have changed any negative impressions some visitors may have had about riding the bus.

Hopefully, Montgomery County officials will encourage people to ride the Metroway BRT line that will open in Arlington and Alexandria in two weeks. It'll be the region's first chance to actually ride BRT in person, and a prime opportunity to build support and allay some residents' concerns.

Until then, you can see the Bus Rapid Transit vehicle for yourself from 12 pm to 8 pm every day this week through this Saturday at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds, located at 16 Chestnut Street in Gaithersburg.

Transit


DDOT's 5-point plan to improve 16th Street buses

DDOT isn't yet willing to install a bus lane on 16th Street, but the agency is moving forward on a host of other improvements, and will study a bus lane next year.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The 16th Street bus line is bursting at the seams. It carries more than half of rush hour trips on 16th Street. But the buses are slow, and they're so full that riders in the city's close-in neighborhoods often can't board.

Advocates have been pressuring for bus improvements on 16th Street since 2010. ANC Commissioner (and District Council candidate) Kishan Putta has championed the cause. Now, DDOT has adopted a 5-point plan to fix 16th Street.

Here are the 5 points:

Already complete: Signal optimization pilot program: In July 2014, DDOT retimed 44 of the traffic signals along 16th Street to improve their efficiency. After a few weeks of results, it appears to have sped up traffic (including buses). DDOT will continue to evaluate the results the rest of this summer.

August 2014: More articulated buses: Metro will reshuffle its bus fleet, to provide more long "accordion" buses on 16th Street. WMATA will move the articulated buses currently running on the Y series in Maryland to the 70 line in DC, then move the articulated buses currently on the 70 line to 16th Street. The Y series will have shorter buses, but they'll come more often.

Fall 2014: Longer rush hour operations: DDOT is considering extending the hours of rush hour parking restrictions on 16th Street, to keep more travel lanes open up to an hour longer in each direction. That will keep two lanes open to moving traffic, including buses.

Mid 2015: Transit signal priority & full optimization: By mid 2015, DDOT will expand its signal optimization pilot program to the entire corridor, and install new software that instructs traffic signals to hold a green light a few seconds longer if a bus is about to pass through an intersection. That will speed up buses along the route, so they're less likely to have to stop at red lights.

2015-2016: Bus lane study: Beginning in 2015, DDOT will begin a comprehensive study of transit improvements along 16th Street, including the potential for bus lanes and other long-term construction projects. The study will take about a year to complete, meaning 2016 is the earliest DDOT could install bus lanes.

None of these 5 points are new. DDOT has been working on them all for some time. But it's good to have them listed all in one place.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Build protected transit lanes using cycletrack bollards

Simple plastic bollards and slight changes to lanes are enough to turn a regular bike lane into a cycletrack. Could the same trick work for bus lanes?


Bollard-protected bus lane in Washington state. Image from Zachary Ziegler on Vine.

DC's 7th Street and 9th Street curbside bus lanes are famously dysfunctional. Cars use them at will, and pretty much always have. But it doesn't have to be so.

The same tricks that work to protect cycletracks can also work to protect transit lanes. Plastic bollards, also known as flexposts, send a strong message to car drivers to stay out. The Virginia Department of Transportation even uses them on highways.


Flexposts on a Dulles Toll Road bus lane (left) and the Beltway (right). Dulles photo from Dan Malouff. Beltway photo from Google.

Generally speaking, the same complications would exist for bus lanes as exist for cycletracks. Adding bollards takes up a couple of extra feet, parking for cars has to move a lane away from the curb, and you have to find a way to accommodate cars turning at intersections. But mixing zones and other clever solutions have solved those problems for cycletracks, and could work for bus lanes too.

And flexposts aren't the only cycletrack lesson we can apply to bus lanes. Red paint helps transit lanes the same way green paint helps bike lanes.


Green means bike, red means transit. Bike lane photo from Dan Malouff. Bus lane photo from NYDOT.

No matter how many special treatments like bollards or red paint an agency applies, median transitways will still function better than curbside transit lanes. Median transitways eliminate the right turn problem altogether (left turns are less common), and puts the transit lanes out of the way of parked cars, or cars pulling over to pick up or drop off passengers.

But median transitways take up more road space, because the medians have to be wide enough for stations. They simply can't fit on all streets. Where that's the case, tricks like these can help curbside transit lanes work better than the 7th Street bus lane.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


Who needs Metro? Not (as often) Capital Bikeshare users in central neighborhoods

Regular riders of Capital Bikeshare have cut down on their use of rail and bus transit, a new study shows. This is particularly strong for those in neighborhoods a short bike ride from downtown DC.


CaBi's effect on Metrorail ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

In these maps, each circle represents one zip code in which researchers Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen surveyed CaBi users. The number shows how many responses they got in that zip code. Red is the percentage of those people who used that mode of transit less (rail for the map above, bus below). Green is for those who used it more, while yellow is those who didn't change.


CaBi's effect on Metrobus ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

It's not only transit which riders are using less. CaBi users also have cut down on car trips and probably even replaced some walk trips with bikeshare.

This isn't necessarily bad for transit. The places where this effect are strongest also happen to be the places where transit is most congested. On the busy Metro lines at rush hour, the trains are full into downtown DC; it's just as well if fewer people are hopping onto an already-packed train at, say, Foggy Bottom.

And many of the people who ride Bikeshare still use transit some of the time. They might still ride it in bad weather, but at other times avoid it at its most congested, or at times of poor service, like the very long waits on weekends during track work.

One potential danger, though, is that if there is lower demand for service on weekends (thanks to a bicycle alternative), that could make it less likely local jurisdictions want to pay for more frequent transit service at off times, even though not everyone can substitute a bikeshare trip for a transit trip.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis (which has much less rail transit), the study found that many people increased their usage of rail, perhaps because the bikeshare system helps them access transit much more easily.

Eric Jaffe writes in Citylab,

Overall, the maps suggest that bike-share, at least in Minneapolis and Washington, is making the entire multimodal transit network more efficient. For short trips in dense settings, bike-share just makes more sense than waiting for the subwayit's "substitutive of public transit," in the words of Martin and Shaheen. For longer trips from the outskirts, bike-share access might act as a nudge out of a carit's "complementary to public transit."

Honestly, once I started bicycling (first with Capital Bikeshare, and then more and more with my own bike) I personally cut down significantly on using transit. But I live in a downtown-adjacent area where it's a fast bike ride to many destinations; for others, that's not the case, and transit is best for their trips. I also still ride transit some of the time.

Some people in the survey also increased their use of transit. The more transportation options people have, the more they can choose the one that best matches their needs. The road network is already quite comprehensive (though often crowded). We need to offer everyone high-quality transit and bicycling as alternatives so that they can use each when it's the best choice at that time.

Transit


Montgomery and DC officials start talking about working together on transit

DC is designing a streetcar that could end just shy of the Maryland line, while Montgomery County is planning Bus Rapid Transit lines that could dead-end at the border with the District. Can the two transportation departments work together? Officials from both jurisdictions met last week to see if they could build some cooperation.


Image from the DC Office of Planning's streetcar report.

Montgomery and DC leaders recognize that their residents don't consider political boundaries as they go about their daily lives, yet have so far been planning new transit lines in their own silos. New transit lines will be more successful if leaders ensure they serve the right destinations and have integrated schedules, payment, and pedestrian connections.

Will the streetcar go to Silver Spring?

DDOT planners have specified either Takoma or Silver Spring as possible endpoints for the Georgia Avenue streetcar. Jobs and housing density, not to mention the "vast majority of comments" that DDOT has received, point to Silver Spring as the best destination.

Montgomery planner Dave Anspacher said that the county's master plan includes dedicated lanes for transit on Georgia Avenue south of the Metro. But DDOT Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe noted that there would be many challenges. Montgomery County would probably not let DC construct the streetcar into Silver Spring on its own, so any connection would require very close coordination.

Will BRT connect to DC?

Several routes in Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan run up to the DC line, but there are no plans for what to do beyond that. Officials discussed how these lines could reach into the District to either get farther downtown or end at a suitable Metro station.

New Hampshire Avenue: The line for New Hamsphire Avenue could end at Fort Totten Metro, just like the current K6 and K9 WMATA buses that serve that corridor. Zimbabwe said that leaving New Hampshire out of MoveDC "may have been a gap," but also expressed skepticism about dedicated lanes within DC because New Hampshire narrows from six to four lanes at the DC line.


WMATA's K buses on New Hampshire Avenue currently cross into DC to serve Fort Totten Metro. Map from WMATA.

Wisconsin Avenue: Last fall, the Montgomery County Council approved a "dotted line" for the 355/Wisconsin Avenue BRT line to Friendship Heights (and beyond), pending collaboration with the District. The idea, said Anspacher, would be to bring BRT south towards Georgetown to serve the parts of Wisconsin without Red Line service.

Wisconsin Avenue is in fact a "high capacity transit corridor" in the moveDC plan, DDOT officials pointed out, so this connection is a distinct possibility, though potentially far off.


Proposed transit lanes in DC from the moveDC plan.

16th Street: The BRT master plan includes the short part of Colesville Road/16th Street to the DC line south of the Silver Spring Metro for dedicated transit lanes. Anspacher said the county would be willing to explore uses this space to help with DC and WMATA's efforts to improve the overcrowded S bus lines.

There's more work to be done

Arlington and Fairfax counties have worked together on the Columbia Pike streetcar. Arlington and Alexandria are collaborating on the Potomac Yards-Crystal City BRT project. And of course Montgomery and Prince George's have worked together on the Purple Line. These show that cooperation is possible.

At the same time, all of those examples sit entirely within one state, so it may take more work to create a Montgomery-DC transit service. WMATA could also help serve a convening role and has the authority to act as the regional transit planning authority.

Montgomery and DC officials agreed to meet again soon on specific projects, with 16th Street and Wisconsin Avenue as the top priorities. As Montgomery County's transportation committee chair Roger Berliner said, "Every day tens of thousands of commuters clog our roads to get to you, and then clog your roads. We have a mutual interest in solving that problem."

This meeting was a great start, but there will have to be many more at many different levels to truly build the best transit projects and the most effective integrated network for riders and the region.

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