Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Video


Santiago shows a low-cost way to solve Metro crowding

When passenger crowding becomes problematic, many transit agencies look toward expensive engineering solutions. But sometimes, the situation can be improved with some low-cost techniques and education. That's the approach Santiago took at one of its transfer stations.

Tobalaba station is a transfer point between two lines in the Santiago Metro. The layout of the platform is that the transfer exit is in the middle of the platform, and the direct street exit is at the "head" of the platform, toward the front of the train.

The problem is that some transferring passengers riding in the front half of the train head toward the middle to transfer, while some exiting passengers riding in the back half of the train head toward the front, and the two groups collide, causing significant congestion.

The real issue for the transit agency is a reduction in capacity. Due to the platform congestion, the next train can't be platformed until the platform is clear. That had resulted in a train througput decrease from the 24 trains per hour (TPH) design capacity to just 22 TPH.

So, instead of opting for an expensive engineering solution, agency officials decided to try education. They installed a staffed gate midway along the platform. Anyone who is in the front half of the train must exit. There is no access to the rear half of the platform. Anyone who exits from the rear half of the train can only proceed to the direct exit after the platform has cleared.

As a result, people who exit from the front of the train can head for the direct exit unimpeded. People who exit from the rear of the train headed for the transfer are unimpeded as well. And everyone learns which part of the train to be in.

More importantly, the interval between arriving trains has dropped from 2 minutes and 40 seconds to 2 minutes and 10 seconds. The carrying capacity of the line has increased by 15%, or 4,000 more passengers per hour.


While an approach just like this might not work on Metro, it does show that innovative low-cost solutions can help. Gallery Place has severe crowding problems, especially on the narrow Shady Grove-bound platform. The Green/Yellow platform isn't centered under the Red Line, instead being located at the far eastern end of the Red platforms.

As a result, passengers crowd under the crossvault, and especially when 6-car trains come in, waiting customers rush along the platform toward the end of the train, colliding with people exiting Red Line trains to transfer to the Green and Yellow Lines downstairs.

WMATA does nothing to encourage people to move down the platform. At Gallery Place and other transfer stations where exits aren't optimally situated, like Fort Totten and Union Station, signage, announcements, or other solutions could reduce dwell times and increase customer satisfaction.

Of course, given the growing crowds at Gallery Place and the narrow platforms, an engineering solution is likely to be necessary in the future anyway. But WMATA could easily take steps to more evenly distribute customers now.

Public Spaces

Weekend video: The beauty of Open Streets

The Alliance for Biking & Walking and Streetfilms have teamed up to produce a new video celebrating the growing popularity of "Open Streets" initiatives around the world, where cities temporarily shut down a street to motorized traffic so that people can enjoy it on foot and on bicycles.

Despite the start of Bicycle Sundays in Seattle in 1965, and the spread of similar Open Streets events across the country, DC has yet to really join the momentum. We've come close, but not quite, by closing Rock Creek Park's Beach Drive weekly to non-motorized recreational uses and with the annual "Feet in the Street" in Fort Dupont Park.

As Gil Peñalosa notes in the video, "When people are creating Ciclovías or Open Streets, there is always some resistance. And the better the city, the more resistance because sometimes it is more difficult to go from good to great than from bad to great." The time has come to take the District from good to great when it comes to sharing the streets; the time has come for our first "DCiclovía."


See Washington area traffic pulse throughout the week

MapBox animated a map of Washington-area traffic for the week of Thanksgiving, using data from INRIX.

On their blog, Eric Fischer writes, "I was expecting the greatest congestion to have been on the Wednesday evening before the long Thanksgiving weekend, but it looks like Tuesday was when the roads were actually the busiest."

I'm not sure this is actually so unexpected; the roads in this map are all ones commuters use heavily. Tuesday was a regular work day for many people, plus a lot of people would be traveling out of town on top of that. Wednesday the federal government dismissed early and many people just take the day off or their employers don't expect them to work.

It would be interesting to see a similar map of roads between metro areas and whether the same pattern held or not. Or how the Tuesday in this animation compared to the Tuesday before. Within a metro area, does commuting (where most people are going somewhere within a few hours) actually dwarf holiday travel?

What else do you notice on the animation?


Zoning Commission grills AAA on parking minimums

We don't know yet if the DC Zoning Commission will go along with proposals to reduce parking minimum requirements, but some commissioners certainly seemed skeptical about a few arguments to keep the old rules from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

Many residents testified on the proposal at a hearing on Tuesday. So many people had signed up that there's an overflow hearing this coming Tuesday (and you can still sign up to speak!) 33 residents spoke in favor of reducing minimums, while only 7 opposed the reduction.

Many supporters echoed a theme about housing affordability. Since underground parking can add $30,000-50,000 per space to the cost of construction, that forces buildings that would provide more affordable market-rate or below-market units to charge more and/or create fewer units.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson John Townsend was one of the opponents, and he took issue with this approach. Earlier in the night, outside the hearing room, he personally apologized to me for the insulting remarks he made about me to Aaron Wiener of the Washington City Paper, which I accepted. He also said he wasn't going to be testifying, which is odd since he very quickly thereafter did.

Townsend argued that reducing parking minimums would have "a deleterious impact, not only on the District and its residents and its businesses and its houses of worship, but its restaurants and its citizens." He said that parking is a problem, and we know it is because DC wrote more than 1.8 million parking tickets last year, Townsend said, a practice he called "a hidden tax on people who only want to do one thing: to enjoy the nation's capital."

He also claimed that the affordability argument was a "myth," and asked for empirical studies proving that reducing this cost actually cuts down on the cost of housing. Instead, he said, there is not enough parking and it's too expensive. "It drives people out of this city. It makes housing more unaffordable," he said, especially "the one-third of the population below the poverty line that has been edged out and edged out of the social fabric" of the city, as well as tourists.

Later, in response to questions, he also brought up the Washington area's heavy traffic as another reason to believe there is a problem and mandate more parking in zoning.

Some members of the Zoning Commission, who will actually decide the zoning code, weren't buying Townsend's arguments. Dupont resident and Zoning Commission vice-chair Marcie Cohen talked about her own experience with housing finance.

Cohen: I almost thought you were arguing two sides of the coin. Basically, if we suffer the greatest gridlock in the country, then it seems to me you would want to encourage people to use alternative transits, and that the more parking you have, the more you are encouraging people to park in those spaces within buildings. ... You seem to be saying that we have a problem and the way to solve that problem is to add parking spaces. ...

I do believe, strongly, because I did finance for 20 years, housing throughout the country, that parking, especially underground parking, does contribute to the cost of housing.

Townsend: What I said was, where are the real world empirical studies that say that the developers will pass on the cost, the savings if you were to jettison the parking minimums? Where is the real-world, economically-based, research-based empirical studies that they will pass on these costs to homeowners? That, in our worldview, is not a reality.

Cohen: Yeah, we've heard from witnesses who are expert in this area, and my own experience, which I mentioned is over 20 years of financing housing, is it does happen. It's passed along. I can't cite a particular study except the testimony we've heard tonight plus my own experience in financing housing. And, in affordable housing, we attempt to reduce the requirements so that they won't be burdened by these costs.

Peter May, the representative from the National Park Service and a Capitol Hill resident, grilled Townsend on some of his points. May also challenged Townsend on the argument that since we have a lot of traffic, we need more parking. "We have the worst gridlock in the country," said Townsend. May replied, "So, if there are more parking spaces available, and theoretically it's cheaper and easier to get parking, wouldn't that increase gridlock?"

Ultimately, that led to an entertainingly barbed exchange. After Townsend cited a number of statistics on DC's growth, May said, "So, uh, can you answer my question?"

Townsend: "I did answer your question."

May: "No, you didn't. I asked whether the availability of parking has an effect on gridlock, and you told me that there's an increase in the number of people living in the District and the number of jobs."

May also probed Townsend's claim that DC's high number of tickets relates to parking policy. People probably get tickets, May suggested, because they're trying to avoid paying a higher garage rate, not necessarily because there's no garage at all. It quickly became clear May wasn't buying Townsend's argument.

May: So, the people who are getting parking tickets here are all doing it because they can't find another place to park? It's not because they're not willing to pay $25 to park?

Townsend: Yes, that's what I'm saying. It's symptomatic of the fact that you have a pernicious parking problem in the city already. That's what it means.

May: I think you can look at the same set of facts and come to a different conclusion about why people are getting parking tickets. A lot of times people are getting parking tickets because they're not willing to walk an extra block, or not willing to pay 25 bucks.

Townsend: "It comes down to whether we perceive that parking is a public good or a private good. And by that I mean, the city has a role to play in this and to make parking part of the social and economic fabric of the city.

This exchange actually illuminates a great deal about why AAA is advocating so hard on this issue. By one argument, why should it matter to them? They provide services to drivers (including at least 3 members of the Zoning Commission, as those members themselves noted at the hearing). However much parking there might be, those people who want or have to drive will probably want to sign up with some kind of towing and lockout protection service like AAA. Why alienate so many residents with their divisiveness?

But if you view parking as part of a culture clash, where car-owner culture is fighting for dominance within the city with non-car-owner culture (walking, biking, taking transit, using Zipcar and car2go and taxis and Uber), then the very idea of allowing more car-free residents doesn't fit into that vision or might even seem like a threat.

For most of us, drivers and non-drivers alike, parking is a necessary evil. Cars will be a part of the transportation mix, and (until they become self-driving and need not park) there has to be space to store them near many of the homes and the jobs and the stores. But parking spaces drive up the cost of housing, create pedestrian dead zones, and otherwise interrupt the city's historic, walkable character.

Lower car dependence isn't really a serious business risk for AAA, since cars won't be going away. But it's certainly possible that, as the city grows, more and more residents have many available choices for transportation, and cars and parking become just one in the crowd. Alternately, AAA would like cars to be more than just a tool, but a part of our very soul, the "social and economic fabric" of the city.

Public Spaces

How to make better streets, quickly and cheaply

Changes to our urban landscape can seem daunting at times. But reader thm points us to this TED talk in which New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan shows how New York quickly and cheaply changed its streets, sometimes with only some paint, to improve the experience for all users.

Some of these changes we already have here, such as bike sharing and parking-protected bike lanes. Others, like BRT, are in the planning stages. But are there places in the DC area that could benefit from conversion into a pedestrian plaza?


Watch NPR and OK Go move with downtown's edge

When NPR moved its headquarters in April, the music division had little fun with the trip. They called up the band OK Go to make an episode of the Tiny Desk Concert series. The results are pretty cute:

Being a Greater Greater Washington contributor, I couldn't help but notice all of the recent construction and development! You get a great look at the variety of the city as they move from Mt. Vernon Square to North Capitol Street.

NPR's real estate history matches Washington's economic changes over the past 40 years. When it was founded in 1971, its offices were at 16th & I Streets, next to the brutalist First Church, which was the core of DC's declining downtown.

It's first purpose-built offices were on M Street in the West End, which lasted until NPR moved to the then-dilapidated Mt. Vernon Square in 1994. Now that downtown real estate prices spread north and east, they've relocated to a building in NoMa, designed by DC-based firm Hickock Cole.


Progress on new Metro railcars

Metro's new 7000 series railcars are making progress at their factory in Japan. On Wednesday, WMATA posted this video of a new train moving under its own power.

7000 series cars will begin arriving in 2014.


Video: Early days of Metro

While some of us can't imagine living without Metro, at one point in time not all that long ago it was brand new. This 1976 promotional video, via PlanItMetro, shows the system's earliest days:

Some areas have drastically changed since Metro arrived, like Rhode Island Avenue, which was surrpunded by parking lots and is now the site of mixed-use, transit-oriented development.

The video also features 2-car trains, which seems unimaginable in our era of 6- to 8-car trains.

What do you notice?


Animate Google Street View in "hyperlapse"

New technologies continue to make it possible to see things in creative, new ways. A group of people at Teehan+Lax created a program to allow users to create videos animating Google's Street View. This demo video shows an awesome "hyperlapse" across various settings.

You can make your own videos, too using their software. What areas would you be interested in animating to create an awesome video?

Right now the system doesn't let you link to an animation or export it to video, nor can you select a specific route, but if you could do these things then something like Hyperlapse could be a great way to graphically show people driving, biking, or walking directions, or create video tours, or otherwise show people about places online.


Another great Capital Bikeshare visualization

Starting at 12:06, Greater Greater Washington contributor Veronica Davis, WABA head Shane Farthing, and Arlington bike planner Chris Eatough will talk about bicycling in DC on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. Listen live or catch the archived audio once it's posted this afternoon.

They also posted this video which visualizes a few days of Capital Bikeshare trips:

This is yet another consequence of Capital Bikeshare's excellent decision to provide anonymous trip data. People have done all kinds of useful things with the data, like MV Jantzen's similar video and interactive visualization tool.

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