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New buses will run faster on 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue, thanks to good design

The 21 new articulated buses coming to 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue aren’t just prettier than the old buses. They’ll be a little faster, thanks to a more efficient interior layout.

One of the new buses. Photo from WMATA.

Not more buses, but better ones

These new accordion buses replace WMATA’s final remaining old-style articulated buses. When all 21 new ones are running, the last of the old buses with the boxy front will be retired.

Since the 21 new buses replace old ones that are also articulated, don’t expect to see more total articulated buses on 16th, 14th, or Georgia. There will simply be new buses instead of old ones.

But new buses have advantages: They break down less often, so the same number of buses are on the road more often. And their efficient low-floor design speeds up loading and unloading at stops.

Low-floor > high-floor

Riders boarding the old buses have to walk up steps, which creates a bottleneck and slows down service. It takes every able-bodied rider an extra half-second or so to climb bus steps, and less-able ones can take much longer. When a person in a wheelchair comes along, the delay can be significant.

A high-floor bus in Seattle. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

On lines with very high ridership, all those seconds add up. Delays loading and unloading buses are one of the biggest sources of delay on 16th Street, and there’s no reason to think 14th or Georgia are any different.

Low-floor buses are more like trains—you step in, not up. One fluid and quick movement makes the whole process faster for everyone.

A low-floor bus in Denver. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

With these new buses, WMATA’s articulated bus fleet will now be 100% low-floor. That’s legitimately good news.

A lot’s happening in DC’s busiest bus corridor

Every day there are over 75,000 bus riders between downtown DC and Silver Spring. 50,000 of them ride the Metrobus on 16th, 14th, and Georgia alone. Combined, they make up by far the busiest bus corridor in the Washington region.

Getting all those riders through town efficiently is a big task. Buses already come every few minutes on all three streets. In recent years WMATA has added express buses to 16th and Georgia, and DC added a Circulator line to 14th.

Georgia Avenue will get its first bus lanes next year, and tons of improvements are on the table for 16th Street, including maybe bus lanes there too.

All those other things are important. Bus lanes are important. Nobody would suggest low-floor buses solve every problem. But they’re part of the solution, and it’s great to have them.

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

November 10th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation

This transit nerd music video is the best thing ever

Yes, yes there is a music video about transit nerdery. And it’s fantastic.

The video comes from the band TSUB Analysis, an “Americana/Bluegrass/Indie” group made up of transit professionals from Denver.

And yes, VelociRFTA is my personal favorite too.

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

November 3rd, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: BRT, bus, commuterrail, fun, lightrail, metrorail, transportation

See every Metro train and bus on one live map

This map shows the real-time location for every WMATA bus and train in the Washington region. It’s a cool way to see how much transit is out there, and where it’s running right this second.

Every WMATA bus and train. Image from TRAVIC.

The map is called TRAVIC and was produced by the University of Freiburg. The Washington map was made using using open data from WMATA.

Although the Washington map shows only WMATA transit, the same website includes maps for dozens of cities all over the world. You can compare what transit is like in diverse places, from Albuquerque to Paris.

Left: Albuquerque. Right: Paris. Images from TRAVIC.

I’ll be staring at this a long time.

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

October 21st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, maps, metrorail, transportation

America’s biking paradise may actually be in… Michigan?

This is Main Street on Mackinac Island, in Lake Huron, Michigan. It’s a Michigan state highway, M-185, and it’s car-free year round.

Photo from Google.

M-185 encircles Mackinac Island, and forms the main street of the island’s town.

There’s no bridge to Mackinac Island. Visitors access it via airplane or ferry. With a lot of tourists but not many cars, M-185 has been car free since 1898.

I’ve never been there, but it looks pretty impressive in photos.

Have you been to Mackinac? Tell me what you think in comments at GGW.

The density of parked bikes looks like the Netherlands. Photo by Jasperdo on Flickr.

Photo by Jasperdo on Flickr.

Photo by Jasperdo on Flickr.

Bike for rent. Photo by ellenm1 on Flickr.

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

October 19th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, galleries, transportation

Video proof neon clothes don’t stop careless drivers from driving into people

Have you ever seen a traffic safety campaign that reprimands you for not wearing bright colors every time you cross the street? Of course you have. Here’s video proof that’s a load of bollocks.

In this viral video, a careless SUV driver rolls into a neon-clad police officer. There’s no ambiguity as to who’s at fault. The officer was stopped still, in broad daylight, and wearing the holy grail of bright clothes: a reflective vest. The SUV driver simply didn’t stop when he or she should have. Thankfully it all happens at slow speed, so it doesn’t appear the officer was hurt.

But this is a clear illustration of why it’s wrong to lecture pedestrians about wearing bright colors. It’s not reasonable to demand that everyone wear bright yellow every time they’re outside a car. But it is absolutely reasonable to demand that drivers not carelessly drive into people, no matter what anyone is wearing.

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

October 15th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, pedestrians, roads/cars, transportation

Fairfax City will install its first bike lane

There will soon be a bona fide bike lane between downtown Fairfax and George Mason University, the first in Fairfax City.

Fairfax City’s first bike lane, location map and proposed design. Images from the City of Fairfax.

On September 29, the Fairfax City Council approved a one year pilot program to test a three block bike lane on University Drive, the street that connects downtown Fairfax to the largest university in Virginia.

The bike lane will begin just south of downtown Fairfax, and will run south as far as Armstrong Street. There, it will meet George Mason Boulevard, where Fairfax installed its first sharrows a few years ago.

Crews will restripe University Drive this autumn, to change its configuration from having two car lanes in each direction, to having one car lane each way, a central turn lane, and bike lanes next to each curb.

A baby step

This bike lane, and its associated road diet, is a nice baby step for a community that’s never given bikes much thought.

But a baby step it is. Not only did officials promise to reevaluate and possibly remove the bike lane after one year, but they significantly shortened it from the original proposal.

At one point, planners had hoped to stripe the bike lane north through downtown Fairfax, as far as Layton Hall Drive. Unfortunately, that was a no-go.

Map of the approved bike lane, canceled portion, and existing sharrows. Map by the author, using base map from Google.

A natural location

Fairfax City isn’t a big community. It’s located roughly between I-66 and George Mason University, and its historic downtown is one of the more walkable places in Northern Virginia outside the Beltway.

With a walkable downtown and a big university, it’s a natural for better bike infrastructure.

Unfortunately, decades of suburban road design have left most of Fairfax City just as car-dependent as surrounding Fairfax County. Now, that’s beginning to change. But ever so slowly.

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

October 13th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation

Five bus lines everyone in DC should know, love, and use

Metrorail’s six lines are so easy to remember that most Washingtonians have memorized them. Here are five convenient bus lines that everyone in town should know just as well.

Simple map of 5 main DC bus lines. Original base map from Google.

These five lines are among Metro’s most convenient and popular. Buses on them come every few minutes, and follow easy-to-remember routes along major streets.

For the sort of Washingtonian who’s comfortable with Metrorail but hasn’t taken the leap to the bus, these five lines are a great place to start. Unlike some minor buses that only come once every half hour, you can treat these five lines the way you’d treat a rail line, or a DC Circulator: They’re always there, and it’s never a long wait before the next bus.

If you can memorize Metrorail’s Red and Orange Lines, you can memorize these streets:

Wisconsin / Pennsylvania (30 series): If you want a bus on Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, just remember to catch anything with a number in the 30s. Nine bus routes cover this line, each of them with slightly different details, but a similar overall path: The 30N, 30S, 31, 33, 32, 34, 36, and the express 37 and 39. Collectively they’re called the “30 series.”

The other four lines are similar. Each has multiple routes with slightly different details combining to form a family, or series. Within each series some individual routes may come at different times of day, or continue farther beyond the lines this map shows. But the key is to remember the series name.

16th Street (S series): Four routes, each beginning with the letter S: The S1, S2, S4, and the express S9.

14th Street (50 series): Three routes, each in the 50s: The 52, 53, and 54.

Georgia Avenue (70 series): Two routes, in the 70s: The local 70 and the express 79.

H Street (X series): Two routes, starting with X: The local X2 and the express X9. When it eventually opens (knock on wood), the DC Streetcar will beef up this same corridor.

For the Metrobus veterans among you, this is old news. About 80,000 people per day ride these five lines, so they’re hardly secrets. But if you’re not a frequent bus rider, give these a try.

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

October 6th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation

The Silver Spring Transit Center, now open, in photos

All photos by BeyondDC.

More photos at GGW and via Flickr/BeyondDC and Flickr/TheCourtyard.

September 21st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, galleries, transportation

The biggest winners and losers in WMATA’s Metrobus overhaul

Last month, WMATA planners proposed changes to almost 100 bus lines. Some riders will love them. Others won’t. Here are the biggest winners and losers.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Change is hard, but not necessarily bad

In a perfect world, every major street in the region would have a bus line running every 5 minutes. In the world of constrained budgets, every dollar a transit agency spends on low-ridership or redundant bus routes eats into what it can run on high-demand main lines.

Sometimes it still makes sense to run low-ridership routes. But figuring out where to draw that line, who wins and who loses, is incredibly hard. And since every decision a transit agency makes will create some losers, they can only hope to create more winners overall.

Thus, making changes to bus lines is always a difficult business. Changes that benefit one person will often make another person upset. And since existing bus lines have existing customers, changing them can lead to an outcry.

Let’s see how Metro did.

WINNER: MetroExtra

WMATA’s popular MetroExtra buses perfectly illustrate how making some existing riders unhappy can yield big wins.

By skipping over half the bus stops on a line, MetroExtra buses make some riders unhappy, since they have to walk further to get a stop. But the trade-off is buses move a lot faster, making everyone else on the bus happier, and offering more people a reason to start riding.

MetroExtra bus. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Since Metro began experimenting with MetroExtra eight or nine years ago, it’s been very successful, and very popular with riders. So it’s no surprise that just about every time WMATA tweaks its bus routes, they add service to more and more MetroExtra lines.

This round, Metro will add a new MetroExtra line on Veirs Mill Road, to be named the Q9. Veirs Mill connects the two branches of the Metrorail Red Line, from Rockville to Wheaton, and is already one of the busiest bus corridors in Maryland.

WMATA will also add more MetroExtra trips to three of the highest-ridership bus corridors in the entire region: The S9 on 16th Street, the 79 on Georgia Avenue, and the 16X on Columbia Pike in Arlington.

One MetroExtra line will see significant cuts: The 28X along Route 7 in Virginia. There, Metro is offering a choice of either cutting service from every 15 minutes to every 30, or ending the line at East Falls Church, eliminating service west to Tysons.

Route 7 is a natural transit corridor, one that planners envision for light rail or BRT. It’s historically suburban, but is rapidly becoming more walkable. Cuts there are a blow.

LOSER: Early morning trips to Dulles Airport

Metro plans to eliminate its 5A bus to Dulles Airport.

That’s an unpopular proposal. The 5A has been the main bus to Dulles for years, and for riders near its stops in L’Enfant Plaza, Rosslyn, and Herndon, it offers an express trip that’s often the fastest option.

But it’s redundant. The Silver Line Express bus from Wiehle station to Dulles is less expensive to operate since it’s a shorter route, and offers much more frequent service. And since many 5A riders have to ride Metro (or another bus) to get to Rosslyn or L’Enfant anyway, the Whiele bus is a better option than some assume.

While it’s nice to have an express bus from downtown to Dulles, a reasonable alternate exists, and so letting WMATA spend its resources somewhere else will probably help more riders, more often.

Except early in the morning.

The 5A makes a couple of early morning runs to Dulles before Metrorail opens. These are crucial runs, since the 5A is the only transit service to Dulles at those times. Even if early morning ridership is low, that’s an important cog in the regional transit network that ought to be there for people when they need it.

WINNER: Greenbelt Sundays

Buses will begin running on Sundays in Greenbelt on the C2, G12, and G14. This is a big win for a part of the region that’s had absolutely woeful weekend transit for a long time.

Yellow lines are bus routes with new Sunday service. Base map from WMATA.

LOSER: Low-ridership routes

WMATA is completely eliminating more than 20 low-ridership bus routes.

In most cases, they’re eliminating spurs and converting those trips to main line trips. For example, the 1Z will go away, but its trips will simply become 1B trips.

That will inconvenience a few riders who used the spur part of the 1Z, but the majority of 1-series riders would rather use the 1B, and they’ll get more buses.

WINNER: Colesville Road

The Z-series, which runs along Route 29 northeast from Silver Spring towards White Oak and Burtonsville, will have buses every 15 minutes on Saturdays, instead of every 30 minutes.

That’s the kind of frequent service that riders can use without worrying about consulting a schedule. Jumping up to that level is a huge win for eastern Montgomery County.

TOO SOON TO TELL: The Georgia Avenue leg of the Veirs Mill line

WMATA’s Q-series on Veirs Mill Road is one of the most important bus lines in Maryland. That’s why it’s getting MetroExtra service.

But one of the biggest cuts in Metro’s proposal will truncate the Q-series buses, ending them at Wheaton where Veirs Mill Road terminates, rather than having them continue south on Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring.

Q-series buses will stop at Wheaton. Base image from WMATA.

On the one hand, this is a major loss. The Wheaton-to-Silver Spring leg of Georgia Avenue is packed with bus riders. Cutting service there hurts one of the most productive parts of the Metrobus network.

But on other hand, there’s a lot of transit service on Georgia Avenue even without the Q-series. The Y-series runs every 10 minutes on Georgia Avenue, and the Metrorail Red Line runs directly below in a subway. Y-series buses are packed, which may be why WMATA is offering a rail fare discount between Silver Spring and Wheaton.

And there are benefits to a shorter Q-series. Buses come more often on a shorter route, and are more likely to stay on schedule. Ending the Q-series at Veirs Mill will likely improve the reliability of buses, and possibly reduce how long riders have to wait at stops.

Losing Q buses on Georgia Avenue is clearly concerning, but if it helps the rest of the line, if the new Q9 is a hit, and if other transit on Georgia can pick up the slack, things may end up better overall. It’s going to be an experiment, and it might fail. But it’s worth a shot.

Public hearing tonight

WMATA is hosting a public hearing on these proposals tonight, at 6:00 pm, at 600 5th Street NW.

If you have an opinion, attend and let them know.

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

September 17th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation

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.

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

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



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