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Copenhagen proves bikes can work in the suburbs

One common criticism of bicycling is that it’s all well and good for dense core cities, but isn’t a serious transportation option in suburban areas. Suburbs in other countries prove that’s wrong.


Bike parking at Friheden Street transit stop in suburban Copenhagen. Photo from Google.

The photo above is from Friheden Street station, in suburban Copenhagen. And look at all those beautiful bike racks. How did they get there?

One of the most important uses for bicycles is as a last mile tool, to get from one’s home to a transit station, or from a transit station to one’s final destination.

Anywhere you have a transit station with a lot of other buildings a mile or two away, bikes can help connect one to the other. That includes suburbs.

If you provide the necessary infrastructure, and treat bicycling like a serious option, people will use it.

Yes, that’s a suburb

Unlike central Copenhagen, which is dense and difficult to drive a car through, the area around Friheden Street is suburban and relatively low density. Actually it looks a lot communities around the Washington Beltway.


Residential Friheden. Photo from Google.

Compare these two aerial photos, taken at about the same scale. The first image shows the area around Friheden Street station. The second shows Kensington, in suburban Washington.


Suburban Copenhagen. Photo from Google.


Suburban Washington. Photo from Google.

They look pretty analogous. Not exactly the same, to be sure; Friheden has a few apartment buildings sprinkled in, and its S-train station offers better service than Kensington’s MARC station. But they’re not so dissimilar as to be completely alien. They’re siblings, if not quite twins.

I admit I’ve never been to Friheden Street. I’ve never even been to Denmark. Frankly I have no idea if it’s a pleasant community, or what the less desirable things about it may be. I’m sure there are trade-offs to it, compared to an American suburb.

But I happened to be on Google Earth looking at Copenhagen, which is famously a bike paradise, and wondered what its suburbs look like. I turned on Google’s transit layer and started looking at the areas around suburban stations. Friheden Street just happens to be one I zoomed in on.

And look at all those beautiful bike racks.

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August 31st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation



If car commercials were honest, this is what they’d look like

A sporty coupe glides joyfully along a seaside highway, all by itself. It’s heaven for the anonymous driver. That’s the standard, ridiculous car commercial.

This video shows what car commercials would look like if they were actually honest.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 25th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: fun, roads/cars, transportation



Huge Metrobus overhaul will change nearly 100 bus routes

Metrobus planners are proposing to change bus service on almost 100 routes, all over the Washington region. If the changes happen, many routes will see better service, others will face cuts, and some will go away completely, including the popular 5A bus to Dulles Airport.


Every WMATA bus route. Thick blue lines are route families that will change. Thin blue lines are families that will not. Sketch map from the author.

WMATA’s proposal generally aims to increase service on routes with a lot of riders, and decrease it on ones with fewer riders. According to WMATA, the changes will “improve overall on-time performance and customer satisfaction, increase ridership, and improve cost recovery.”

To get feedback on the idea, Metro has an online survey and will run a series of public meetings. If the WMATA board approves the changes this October, they’ll take effect in stages beginning in December 2015 and rolling out through mid 2016.

Greater Greater Washington hopes to analyze these changes and report back in a future post. For now here’s a list of every proposed change. For more details, including route maps and more detailed descriptions of changes, see Metro’s page for the project.

Changes to routes in DC:

  • 5A: Eliminate all service.
  • 34: Eliminate route 34 on evenings and weekends.
  • 54: Shorten route by eliminating segment between McPherson Square and L’Enfant Plaza. Improve frequency between 14th & Colorado and Takoma Station.
  • 63: Add one AM peak trip.
  • 64: Add one AM peak trip and one PM peak trip, and increase scheduled running time.
  • 79: Add four AM peak trips and four PM peak trips.
  • 80: Shorten route by eliminating service between McPherson Square and Kennedy Center. See D4 below for replacement service.
  • 81, 83: Eliminate route 81 and convert its trips to route 83 (contingent upon adding Sunday service on the revised C2 line).
  • 82: Eliminate two AM and three PM trips.
  • 90, 92, 93, 94: Eliminate route 93. Add trips on routes 90, 92 and 94 to compensate.
  • 97: Add one AM peak trip
  • A2, A6, A8, A42, A46, A48, P6: Eliminate routes A42, A46, A48. Replace with additional trips on routes A2, A6, A8, and P6.
  • B8, B9: Eliminate routes.
  • D1: Shorten route by eliminating segment between Franklin Square and Federal Triangle. Reduce service hours.
  • D3: Eliminate entire D3 route.
  • D4: Extend route D4 from Franklin Square to the Kennedy Center to replace cut segment of route 80.
  • E2: Increase scheduled running time.
  • E4: Increase scheduled running time.
  • G8: Shorten some AM peak trips to start at Brookland Station. Add three AM peak trips. Add some PM peak trips between Brookland Station and Avondale. Increase scheduled running time.
  • H6: Reroute in Fort Lincoln via Costco.
  • N3: Eliminate entire N3 route.
  • S9: Add two AM peak trips and one PM peak trip.
  • U8, W4: Extend some peak U8 trips to Congress Heights. Reduce peak trips on the W4 route. Improve combined U8/W4 frequency between East Capitol & Benning and Congress Heights from 10 minutes to 7.5 minutes. Increase scheduled running time for the W4.
  • X1, X3: Shorten X3 route to end at Duke Ellington Bridge. Increase scheduled running time.
  • X8: Add one AM and PM weekday round trip; add one PM Saturday and one PM Sunday round trip.
  • X9: Add two AM peak trips and two PM peak trips. Increase scheduled running time.

Changes to routes in Maryland:

  • 81, 83: Eliminate route 81 and convert its trips to route 83 (contingent upon adding Sunday service on the revised C2 line).
  • B29, B31: Eliminate route B31. Convert existing B31 trips to B29 short trips between New Carrollton Station and Bowie Park and Ride.
  • C2, C4: Restructure service. Turn around half of C4 trips at Wheaton rather than running all trips to Twinbrook. Operate C2 at reduced frequency between Greenbelt station and Takoma Langley. Add additional C4 trips. Add Sunday service on route C2 between Greenbelt and Takoma Langley.
  • F4: Improve Saturday schedule reliability.
  • G12, G13, G14, G16: Eliminate routes G13 and G16, and convert their trips to G14. Shorten G14 to eliminate service on Aerospace Road. Add Sunday service to G12 and G14.
  • K11, K12: Eliminate route K11, and convert its trips to run as K12.
  • J12, J13: Eliminate route J13, and convert its trips to run as J12.
  • Q1, Q2, Q4: Discontinue route segment between Wheaton and Silver Spring stations during Metrorail operating hours. Add special rail fare discount between Wheaton, Forest Glen and Silver Spring Stations to reduce the number of bus trips needed on this segment.
  • Q9: Add new route: Limited‐stop Metro Extra on Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton stations. Service would operate on weekdays only, every 15 minutes between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • R3: Eliminate entire line.
  • V14, V15: Eliminate route V15 and convert its trips to run as V14. Improve Sunday service by running the full V14 route and expanding service hours to match Saturday service.
  • W19: Transfer route operations to MTA Commuter bus. Eliminate service south of Bryans Road. Reduce service frequency to every 30 minutes. Reduce hours to being later in the morning and/or end earlier in the evening.
  • Z6, Z8: Add Z6 Saturday service between Silver Spring Station and Castle Blvd. Reduce Z8 Saturday frequency to coordinate with new Saturday Z6.
  • Z9, Z11, Z13, Z29: Restructure service to combine routes.

Changes to routes in Virginia:

    1A, 1B, 1E, 1Z: Eliminate 1E and replace with ART service in Dominion Hills. Eliminate route 1Z and convert its trips to 1B. Restructure route 1B to bypass Seven Corners Shopping Center and eliminate 1B service on certain holidays.
  • 1C: Improve schedule reliability.
  • 2B: Add hourly Sunday service.
  • 3T: Shorten route by eliminating service between West Falls Church Station and East Falls Church Station. Eliminate
    supplemental trips on certain holidays.
  • 4A, 4B: Eliminate all Saturday service on route 4A. Eliminate supplemental trips operated on route 4B on certain holidays.
  • 5A: Eliminate all service.
  • 7A: Eliminate all trips after 1 AM on Friday and Saturday nights
  • 7H, 7X: Eliminate route 7H. Shorten route 7X by eliminating service between Lincolnia Road and Arbor Park.
  • 7Y: Terminate alternating trips in the District, bypassing the Pentagon. Terminate remaining trips at the Pentagon without service into the District. For trips entering the District, re‐route using 14th Street Bridge to access the District, and eliminate service between 18th and I Streets NW and the Convention Center.
  • 9A: Eliminate entire line. See 10A restructure to replace missing coverage.
  • 9A, 10A, 10R, 10S: Eliminate 9A, 10R, and 10S completely. Convert some trips to 10A to compensate. Restructure 10A service to provide coverage to Powhatan Street and Huntington Station lost by eliminating the 9A line. Would eliminate service connecting Alexandria and Crystal City to Rosslyn.
  • 10B: Improve weekday peak frequency from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes, and Sunday frequency from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
  • 15K, 15L: Improve weekday schedule reliability.
  • 15M: Eliminate entire line.
  • 16H: Shorten 16H route by eliminating segment between Crystal City and Pentagon City.
  • 16X: Extend 1 AM and 3 PM weekday peak‐period trips to Culmore.
  • 18E, 18F, 21A, 21D: Eliminate entire 18E and 18F line. Restructure 21A and 21D to cover Bren Mar Park, and transfer route operation to Alexandria DASH.
  • 23A, 23B, 23T: Split off‐peak and weekend service to match weekday peak‐period route pattern, to improve frequency between Shirlington and Ballston.
  • 26A: Improve weekday peak frequency from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
  • 28X: Reduce frequency from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, OR reroute to terminate at East Falls Church, thereby not serving West Falls Church or Tysons.
  • 29N: Improve weekend service frequency from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
  • 38B: Eliminate supplemental trips on certain holidays.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 18th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation



MD & VA commuter rail look great together on one map

Maryland’s MARC train and Virginia’s VRE are very similar regional rail systems. This map shows what they might look like as a single integrated regional network.


Map from Peter Dovak at Transit Oriented.

Although MARC and VRE are so similar, they operate totally independently of each other. Riders on one may not even be aware the other exists. This map would help solve that.

The two agencies will probably never merge, but it might someday be possible to integrate their operations to work more like a single system. MARC trains might run across the Potomac into Virginia, and VRE trains might one day continue north into Maryland. It would be difficult but possible.

In the meantime, this map from Peter Dovak at Transit Oriented is a nice unofficial first step. And it’s easier on the eyes than the current official MARC or VRE maps.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 12th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: commuterrail, maps, transportation



DC can save the Olympics, if Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all help

Boston has backed out of its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, and officials are begging DC and other cities to try and host the games. But fewer and fewer cities want to. What if, instead of picking one host city, the entire country pitched in, with venues spread out in several cities coast to coast.


Don’t pick one. Pick them all. And add 10 more. Image by the USOC.

The Olympics have a big problem. Virtually no democratic cities anywhere in the world want to host them anymore. The combination of sky-high costs for new facilities, and the inconveniences put upon the populace by way of construction and tourist traffic, have made the Olympics too much for one city to bear.

But why should one city have to?

To save the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup offers a compelling alternate in which countries host instead of cities.


Brazilian host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Image from Wikipedia.

Different events would take place in different locations, hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. No single city would have to shoulder the burdens of more than one or two events.

With a whole country to choose from, organizers could find existing facilities for virtually every event. Much less new construction would be necessary. Many fewer one-time-use buildings would become abandoned after the games end.

And with fewer athletes and visitors in any one location, existing infrastructure and hotels could accommodate more of the influx of guests, with less disruption to residents. Hosting a single Olympic event would be more like hosting a college football bowl game, or the baseball All Star game.

In short, everything would become easier.

And although it’s true that some World Cups suffer from overspending too, certainly the problem is less acute when it’s spread over an entire nation.

The downside

This would admittedly be a drastic change to the culture of the games. It would be difficult for anyone to attend more than one event in person. Athletes would no longer live and socialize in a single Olympic Village. Something about the in-person experience of being in a city dedicated completely to the Olympics would be lost.

Without that complete dedication, it’s unlikely urban politicians would find the will to use the Olympics to upgrade infrastructure.

But that overwhelming experience is part of why so many cities don’t want to host the Olympics anymore. For residents whose lives are put on hold, it’s a bug, not a feature.

Meanwhile, the opening and closing ceremonies would still provide glimpses of that invigorating everyone’s-here feeling. It would be a trade-off, but perhaps a worthwhile one.

What role would DC play?

If Olympic officials spread the wealth/burden, what events might DC be fit to host?

A look at the possible venues for DC’s 2014 bid shows what facilities already exist, and therefore might be a good fit.

We probably wouldn’t get the opening ceremony. That needs an NFL-sized stadium, and our only options are either too old or too isolated. They’d work in a pinch, but some other US city can probably offer something more appealing.

Weightlifting could occur at Constitution Hall. The convention center could host table tennis, handball, or badminton.

The marathon could follow the path of the Marine Corps marathon. Rowers could set off from Georgetown.

And of course, the Verizon Center would be a killer spot for basketball. Or really any gym sport. How about gymnastics?

How would this change your opinion of the games? Would readers who oppose a DC Olympiad support a US games, with only one or two venues in DC?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 10th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: events, in general, proposal



The secret park by the White House could be great, if people knew about it

Pershing Park is one of DC’s most unique and potentially pleasant public spaces. Unfortunately, few people have ever enjoyed it, because the park’s best elements are hidden from view behind an uninviting raised embankment.


Pershing Park as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo by Google.

It’s nice on the inside

I like Pershing Park, at Pennsylvania and 15th Street NW. I wish it worked better.

The inside of the park is a terraced wetland garden that, when it’s in good condition, is absolutely lovely.


The pleasant interior. Photo by pcouture on Flickr.

There are ample shady seats, a duck pond to dip your feet in, and climbable concrete terraces that make the park feel like an adult-size jungle gym.

It’s fun, and pretty, and unlike anything else in DC.

Or at least, it was fun and pretty a few years ago. The park has fallen into disrepair lately. The pond is dry. Orange cones litter the open plaza. It’s abandoned and depressing.

Part of Pershing Park’s problems are simply neglect. Better maintenance could fix the pond and the concrete.

But there’s one big problem, and it may well be unfixable.

People can’t see it

Most people don’t know the park is there. You can’t see it from the street. From three sides, the only thing visible is a grassy embankment straight out of a suburban McDonalds parking lot. The fourth side is literally a parking lot.


Pershing Park from above. Image from Google.

Good urban parks draw pedestrians in from the surrounding sidewalk. When you’re standing outside Dupont Circle, you can see and hear interesting things happening inside the park there. The activity and people inside Dupont make you want to enter it yourself.

Pershing Park is the absolute opposite. It’s plain and boring from the sidewalk. There are interesting things there, but you can’t see them so they don’t draw you in.

Most people just ignore it; the park blends into the background and they don’t give it a second thought.

Those who do look closely see a bunker, a hostile sloping hill with few entry points. From busy Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park more closely resembles an 18th Century military stockade than an inviting civic space.

Until that problem is solved, Pershing will never be a good park, no matter how pleasant it is on the inside. Until that’s solved, Pershing will always be an afterthought.

Let’s fix it

What to do with Pershing Park is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue. One group wants to redevelop it as a national World War I memorial. Kriston Capps at CityLab takes a preservationist bent and says we should restore it.

Either way, the park is falling apart and needs work.

Would it be possible to save the pleasant interior and radically change the bunker exterior? Maybe, maybe not. The park occupies sloping terrain that any design will have to work around. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid a retaining wall somewhere. At least not if we want to keep the terraces.

But retaining walls don’t have to be so plain or uninviting. There are better examples elsewhere in the city.

It would be a shame to lose such a unique space. If designers can find a way to restore Pershing Park’s terraces and pond while altering the park’s exterior to be more inviting, that would be an ideal solution.

But if not, tear the sucker out. A downtown park that nobody uses isn’t a useful downtown park.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 5th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: parks, urbandesign



Metro’s inefficient info displays worsen train crowding

By prioritizing elevator information rather than train arrivals on its platform displays, WMATA forces riders to make bad decisions. The result: inefficient use of sparse train capacity.


Not the best use of this technology.

Picture yourself in this scenario

Imagine you’re descending into a Red Line station. You hear a train approaching and rush to the platform. The train pulls up and you see that it’s full.

You glance over at the real-time train arrival display, hoping there will be another train a minute or two behind. If so, you’ll wait for it rather than crowd on now. Maybe you’ll have just enough time to move down the platform to a less crowded spot.

Alas, the display is cycling through elevator outages on the Orange Line in Virginia. Who knows how long until the next train arrives. You’d better crowd on now.

Prioritizing less important info results in badly informed riders

Scenarios like that play out thousands of times every day all over the Metrorail system. It happens because Metro’s PIDs, the Passenger Information Displays that show how long until the next train arrives, are programmed to also cycle through each elevator outage in the entire system.

Cycling through elevator outages often takes a long time, making it difficult for riders to get the real-time train arrival information that the displays were invented to show.

In turn, badly-informed riders can’t use the system efficiently, and exacerbate overcrowding. Without good information, riders push onto full trains when an empty one is a minute behind, and rush into the nearest door rather than move down the platform to a less crowded one.

Those are increasingly important problems given Metro’s capacity limitations.

Wheelchair users need elevator info

WMATA displays elevator outages on the PIDs because it’s crucial information for a small minority of riders: the wheelchair bound, and others who can’t use escalators or stairs.

For those groups, having plenty of advanced notice about which elevators are out is absolutely necessary. Removing that information from stations would therefore be an unacceptable trade-off.

But that information doesn’t have to be on the same screens as train arrival information. In fact, trying to display multiple elevator outages on the PIDs, where there’s only enough room to scroll through them one by one, is a remarkably bad way to provide that information.


A better way, in Chicago. Photo by Matt’ Johnson on Flickr.

Displaying elevator outages on the PIDs requires riders who need that information to wait and watch an entire cycle, even if a train they could take is on the platform now.

It would be far more efficient to display that info on a separate screen that can show several outages at once, like the larger more advanced screens at station manager kiosks.

Or even a low-tech dry erase board, the preferred solution for Chicago’s CTA.

By trying to satisfy two entirely different sets of needs with one limited screen that runs on decades-old technology, WMATA isn’t getting as much out of the PIDs as it could.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

July 24th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: metrorail, transportation



Twelve out of 33 DC Streetcar fixes are complete

Earlier this year, outside experts identified 33 issues for DDOT to address before the H Street streetcar can open. According to DDOT spokespeople, 12 of those 33 have since been completely fixed. The remaining 21 are in progress.


Workers modify 19th Street station following an APTA review of the DC Streetcar.

According to new DC Streetcar Launch Manager Timothy Borchers, workers are making significant progress towards satisfying the 33 recommendations from this spring’s APTA review.

Borchers himself is one of the solutions. DDOT hired him this spring, following an APTA recommendation that DDOT bring on more experienced project managers. Borchers worked for years on the world’s largest streetcar network in Melbourne, Australia, and helped launch the new Atlanta Streetcar in 2014.

Progress report

During an interview with reporters last week, Borchers didn’t supply a specific list of exactly which 12 of the 33 total items are complete. But he did outline DDOT’s recent progress.

Among the items that are complete: Crews have repaired the three cracked tracks, several new staff people have been hired (including Borchers himself), DDOT has finalized its pre-revenue operations plan, and crews now track all streetcar work using a single master matrix.

As for the rest, all 21 remaining items “are in some stage of completion,” says Borchers.

Platform modifications

The most visible work in progress now is retrofitting the 19th Street station to meet disability accessibility standards. The slope of the concrete in the original platform was a few degrees off from federal requirements. Therefore, crews are now re-leveling the platform.

Workers may soon begin modifying other platforms, to prevent streetcar doors from scraping against the platform edge. Although Borchers was careful to note that DDOT is still in the process of determining its exact solution to the scraping problem, he says it’s being caused by the streetcars’ self-leveling system, hydraulics that keep streetcars level with the platforms at stations.

Workers may only need to fine-tune the streetcars’s self-leveling system, but it may also be necessary to adjust some of the platforms.

Meanwhile, engineers are working on a new design for a set of stairs near the streetcar railyard, where the narrow landing between the bottom of the stairs and the edge of the streetcar tracks is potentially dangerous. The new design will add a “pivot,” so the stairs empty onto a landing parallel to the tracks rather than leading directly into them.


Existing stairs leading straight to the streetcar tracks. Photo from DDOT.

Streetcar vehicle fixes

Inside the car barn, changes are underway to the streetcar vehicles themselves.

After one of DC’s streetcars caught fire in February, analysis determined the cause was inadequate insulation on the pantograph—the electrical mechanism connecting the streetcars to the overhead power wires.

Although it was a DC streetcar that caught fire, the problem was with the railcar’s design. Thanks to lessons learned from the DC fire, all streetcars nationwide manufactured by United Streetcar are now being retrofitted with improved insulation.

If you spot a United Streetcar on Benning Road, its retrofit is complete and its pantograph is safe.


A retrofitted United Streetcar (left), with a Czech-built streetcar (right) on Benning Road, on Thursday, July 16.

Another change coming to the railcars is rear-view cameras. The APTA review recommended replacing rear-view mirrors with cameras in order to narrow the profile of the railcars, to help avoid side collisions with parked cars.

As of Thursday, the cameras have been installed but the mirrors have not yet been removed.


The white attachment at upper right is the new rear-view camera.

No fences for Benning Road

One APTA recommendation that DDOT has decided to only partially implement is the suggestion to add fences to H Street and Benning Road, in order to cut down on jaywalking.

Borchers explained that while fencing can be appropriate for rail lines in other types of environments, it’s inherently incompatible with a busy main street where there are lots of pedestrians. DDOT will install a short segment of fencing on the Hopscotch Bridge, but otherwise H Street and Benning Road will remain fence-free.

Instead, more signs and pavement markings will warn pedestrians to watch out for streetcars.

Next steps

According to Borchers, DDOT workers will continue to power through the remaining 21 items this summer, working towards final certification from DC’s safety oversight office.

When everything is finally ready to go, the streetcar will enter a final pre-revenue operations phase, simulating the exact operations of passenger service.

Since DDOT already performed significant pre-revenue operations in the waning days of the Gray administration, they’ll be able to follow a reduced timeline on this second go around. Once it begins, that will likely take two to three weeks, if everything goes well.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

July 21st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: streetcar, transportation



Smaller stations, fewer dedicated lanes for Gaithersburg BRT

As designs for the Corridor Cities Transitway BRT line solidify, officials are revising plans to try and cut costs and ease approvals. Among the changes: Smaller stations, fewer dedicated lanes, and fewer grade-separated street crossings.

>Original two-bus station design (left) and smaller one-bus design (right). All images from Maryland.

Smaller stations

According to initial designs, all transitway stations would have been 150 feet long, large enough to comfortably accommodate two articulated buses in each direction.

The revised plans reduce six of the transitway’s ten stations down to 65 feet long, and the other four stations down to 125 feet.

The 125-foot stations will still be able to squeeze in two buses at a time. The 65-foot stations will only fit a single bus. All stations will be designed so they can expand to 125 feet later if necessary.

With buses scheduled to come every six minutes at peak times, single-bus stations could cause delays if buses begin to bunch together.

Dedicated lanes at the Belward property

The Corridor Cities Transitway will be, for the most part, true BRT. It will have a dedicated running way for most of its length. But now officials are proposing that it run in mixed traffic for a 1.1 mile detour around the Belward property, aka the last farm in Gaithersburg.


Original alignment through the Belward property (left) and proposed mixed-traffic realignment around it (right).

This change isn’t to save money, nor is it to avoid upsetting car drivers. It has to do with the historic farmhouse in the middle of the property.

Under federal rules concerning historic preservation, the state cannot build the transitway through the farm unless the property is disturbed by development first. But Montgomery County’s master plan does not allow for development on the farm until after the transitway is up and running. It’s a chicken and egg problem.

Thus Maryland’s new plan: Buses will detour around Belward farm on existing roads, in mixed traffic.

It’s not clear whether the detour plan is supposed to be temporary or permanent. It could be the state will operate the detour at first, long enough to allow development at Belward, and then retrofit in the dedicated transitway once development is underway.

Or it could be the state will never correct this problem, and buses will run in mixed-traffic around Belward long after buildings have replaced the farm. Time will tell.

At-grade street crossing

Another major cost-saving change is coming where the transitway crosses MD Route 28, Key West Avenue.


Transitway crossing of Key West Avenue.

Initial plans called for an underpass below Key West Avenue. Buses never would have had to stop for a red light. New plans show a surface crossing, meaning buses will have to contend with traffic signals.

And although the state webpage does clearly say that an at-grade crossing will have minimal “effects on general traffic flow through the intersection,” it doesn’t say anything about how this change will affect transit travel time.

Questions about cost

Montgomery County official Glenn Orlin recently revealed that costs for the transitway are climbing.

The most recent state cost estimate, from 2012, was for $545 million. Officially that’s still the estimate. But Orlin says a new estimate is forthcoming and will be “in the $700-800 million range.” If true, that’s a troubling increase, and could explain some of the state’s moves to reduce costs.

On the other hand, Orlin also indicated the new estimate is in year-of-construction dollars, while the old estimate was in 2012 dollars. If so, inflation could account for the lion’s share of the difference. Until the actual estimate comes out, it’s impossible to know.

It may not matter anyway, as the transitway remains unfunded, and prospects for funding under Maryland Governor Hogan appear slim.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

July 14th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: BRT, master planning, transportation



33 things DDOT must fix to open the DC Streetcar

The long-delayed H Street Streetcar has been shrouded in secrecy for months. But now DDOT has released a report detailing the exact causes of the delays, and what they must do to fix them.


Red stripes next to streetcar tracks indicate where it’s unsafe to pass stopped cars. They’re installed wherever the tracks cross traffic lanes. Photo by Sean Emerson.

The complete list of 33 fixes is detailed below.

The list comes via an independent report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The recommendations are a mix of back-end organizational issues and physical problems with the line’s construction.

The final report confirms the APTA’s preliminary finding from this spring, that none of the problems are fatal flaws. All 33 items on the list are fixable.

DDOT has been working on fixes for months

DDOT has yet to comment on the status of fixes, but it’s clear the agency has been working on them.

For example, one item on the list notes that streetcar doors scrape against some station platforms when they open. Last month, DDOT began modifying platforms to correct this problem.

Another example is the thick lines of red paint that DDOT added at key locations along H Street this spring. The paint is a visual warning for when the streetcar tracks swerve across travel lanes (like when they shift from the left lane to the right lane at Benning Road and Maryland Ave). If a car is inside the painted area at the track crossing, the streetcar doesn’t have room to pass safely.

The complete list

The full 33-item list comes in two parts: The first 18 items are from the preliminary findings that came out in March. Following that, there are 15 new items.

Here they all are:

18-item preliminary list

  1. In conducting safety certification, the DC State Safety Oversight office should allow flexibility in resolving problem issues. Workarounds that adequately resolve safety issues may be considered acceptable as temporary fixes, provided DDOT identify a plan for permanent solutions.

  2. Hire a qualified chief safety officer.
  3. Hire additional technical staff with more experience in light rail / streetcar construction and operating.
  4. Repair breaks in the streetcar rails at three locations.
  5. Ensure the six railcars are all in a state of good repair, including railcar #202 which caught fire in February, 2015.
  6. Investigate why streetcar doors scrape at stations, and fix the problem.
  7. Add more prominent pavement graphics indicating where streetcars stop at stations, and add pavement graphics at switch points and passing locations to indicate to streetcar operators when it’s safe to pass another streetcar.
  8. Ensure all on-board radios are working.
  9. Add additional lighting at streetcar stations.
  10. Complete a new safety assessment.
  11. Hire an independent expert to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, have this expert review and if necessary correct the design of the rumble strips at station platforms.
  12. Train maintenance staff more thoroughly, so they’ll catch problems such as rail cracks sooner.
  13. Develop a pre-revenue operations plan, and do additional streetcar testing after all right-of-way and vehicle issues are resolved.
  14. Add heaters to rail switches, so they can melt snow pack.
  15. Resolve items from the previous safety & security reports.
  16. Develop a centralized tracking system for managing and resolving problems. DDOT’s current system is decentralized and results in oversights.
  17. Review documents describing operating & maintenance procedures, and correct inconsistencies and incomplete sections.
  18. Develop an opening day operating schedule.

15-item followup list

Items 19-26 all deal with recommendations for back-end reorganization of DDOT’s streetcar office. Most notably, APTA recommends DDOT appoint a single dedicated project manager with authority to make decisions, and delegate additional specific decision-making authorities to other designated staff. Currently all decisions are being elevated to the DDOT director, causing delays and leading to a lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for fixing problems.

  1. Conduct team building exercises to help streetcar staff work together better.

  2. Replace streetcar side mirrors with rear-facing cameras, reducing the width of the streetcars and thus reducing the risk of scraping parked cars.
  3. Ensure pedestrians on the south side of the Hopscotch Bridge have a safe and clearly-marked path. At the time of the APTA review, construction of Station House DC was blocking the sidewalk and stranding pedestrians.
  4. Add additional protection for pedestrians at the foot of the stairway at the Benning Road entrance to the streetcar carbarn, where a stairway terminates directly into the streetcar tracks.


    Photo from DDOT.

  5. Install a fence or landscaping along the street to prevent jaywalking.
  6. Add larger signs and additional on-street stencils warning car drivers to park inside the white line.
  7. Add bigger streetcar speed and signal signs. Current signs are too small for streetcar operators to see.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 9th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: streetcar, transportation



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