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This is what school buses looked like in 1934

If you were an elementary school student the 1930s, this Dodge school bus might have been your ride. It carried students in Salem and Roanoke County, Virginia. 

Check out the inside, with its child-sized benches and aisles. Who wouldn’t want to face the middle, or lean back against another kid? 

The bus is on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke. The museum’s fascinating collection also includes this vintage 1945 streetcar from DC Transit. It ran on line 20, from Union Station to Glen Echo. 

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

February 14th, 2017 | Permalink
Tags: bus, history



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Almost every large city in the United States now has bikeshare. Any city without it should count itself way, way behind the curve. There are at least 119 systems nationwide, covering all but two of the 20 largest urban areas.

This map shows every bikeshare system in the country with at least two stations. The 119 nationwide systems together have about 4,800 stations.

The largest networks by far are in New York, Chicago, and Washington. A second tier is led by Minneapolis, Boston, and Miami.

Of the 20 largest urban areas, only Saint Louis and Detroit still lack bikesharing. Unfortunately, Seattle’s Pronto will be the first major US bikeshare system to fail when it shuts down in March, adding a third.

Here are the ten largest systems. Or see the complete list of all 119.

Ten largest US bikeshare systems

Rank City Stations
1 New York 645
2 Chicago 581
3 Washington 437
4 Minneapolis 197
5 Boston 184
6 Miami 147
7 Topeka 138
8 Philadelphia 105
9 Portland 100
10 San Diego 95

There’s so much bikeshare, and its so diverse, that it’s hard to count

It’s been less than 10 years since the first large-scale bikesharing systems debuted in the United States. In that time, bikes have spread like wildfire across the country. This list only includes networks with at least two stations, but bikesharing has become so ubiquitous that individual buildings now offer single-station systems.

Even then, I’ve probably missed a few. It’s become virtually impossible to count them all. If you know of a missing system, mention it in the comments at GGWash.

Furthermore, it’s hard to compare the systems on an apples-to-apples basis. The older and larger bikeshare systems rely solely on stations to dock bikes. But many newer systems don’t need docks, or have simple racks instead of docks that serve as hubs. Comparing “hubs” and “stations” can exaggerate the size of hub-based systems.

That explains Topeka, which clocks in at number seven on the nationwide list with 138 hubs. But Topeka’s an unusual network; it actually has more hubs than bikes. With only about 100 actual bicycles, most of its hubs are usually empty. The network functions uniquely from any other in the country; even other hub-based systems don’t have that kind of ratio.

Topeka’s urban area is about the same population as Frederick, Maryland, so its system is remarkable no matter what. But it’s not actually larger than Philadelphia’s. If Topeka were a station-based network, it would probably have around a dozen stations.

The full 119-station list indicates hub-based systems with an asterisk, so you can spot them.

Thanks to The Bike-sharing Blog for its excellent resources on worldwide bikeshare locations.

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

January 26th, 2017 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation



This momentous weekend launched a new reality. The city, and our battles, are different now

Here we are. Donald Trump is America's president. The largest protest in American history greeted his first day. Welcome to Washington and the USA in 2017.


Saturday’s Women’s March. Image from Mobilus In Mobili on Flickr.

Our weekend was momentous

Two days, two gigantic events.

As inaugurations go, Friday's was noticably small. But even a small inauguration is big enough to change the tone of city life.

Security fences partitioned blocks of downtown, and an army of police forces dominated the streets. Many locals stayed away to avoid the logistical and emotional headaches. Parts of the city became eerily dead, while others burst with unusual life, as Trump supporters descended to hotels and tourist areas around the White House.

Washington became a foreign city, its own residents outsiders to a security and tourist project to which we didn't belong, nor feel healthy within.


Security barriers in an empty downtown.

During the inauguration itself, Metro ran smoothly. Trump presented a bleak picture of America. Protests raged, mostly peacefully, sometimes not. GGWash's own David Whitehead proved that deescalation works

The new administration erased climate change from presidential priorities, and disciplined the National Park Service for reporting meager crowds. Joe Biden took Acela home to Delaware. 

We went to bed, unsure the country we would wake to find.

And then, on Saturday, three times more people attended the Women's March than Friday's inauguration. Nationwide, at least three million took to the streets.

There was grief and humor and defiance. Mayor Bowser chanted "Leave us alone!," DC police donned pink hats, and Metro had its second busiest day ever

In contrast to Friday, Saturday's Washington felt more ours than ever. The city became strangely joyous, as march-goers spread over downtown and the National Mall to reclaim our public spaces, replacing the inauguration's fenced-off security apparatus with revelry lasting well into the evening.

We went to bed with renewed determination.


Image from Andrew Aliferis on Flickr.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump's press secretary brazenly lied, and his counselor hoped to replace the truth with "alternative facts" intended to sow uncertainty and estrange the media.

The policy fights are just beginning

Trump may be the most urban president in history, but his party and his base are vehemently anti-urban. Administration policy seems to be largely under the purview of Vice President Pence, whose small town Indiana roots are decidedly not urban.

They plan dramatic cuts to many federal departments, including the Department of Transportation, where multimodal infrastructure spending will likely decline in favor of tax breaks for construction firms. The Environmental Protection Agency is likely to be gutted, enabling a new round of urban pollution and ending the fight against climate change. HUD raised prices for first-time homebuyers within an hour of Trump's swearing-in. The Department of Justice will no longer pressure police departments over civil rights.


What will the EPA look like in four years? Image from Paul Fagan on Flickr.

Locally, such massive cuts and a proposal to strip benefits from government employees could throw Washington's economy into recession, as jobs bleed out of the city. Or security and military spending could lead to a new boom. Either way, Congress' small government Republicans will override local decision-making in DC.

Nationally, the right is emboldened, while the left is beginning to act like a true opposition.

So, here we are. Donald Trump is America's president. The future of our city and our country is uncertain. We face colossal challenges. But GGWash's mission and values are still worthwhile, and our community is as strong as ever. We'll be here.

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

January 23rd, 2017 | Permalink
Tags: economy, environment, events, government, in general, metrorail, The New America, transportation



This map shows all 23 protected bikeways in the DC region

As 2017 gets underway, there are at least 23 protected bikeways in the Washington region, totaling about 8.5 miles. This map shows them all.


Protected bikeways in the Washington region. 

Or at least, all those I know about. There are so many now that it's becoming hard to keep track. 

The 23 bikeways range from lengthy to minuscule. DC's 15th Street cycletrack is both the oldest in the region and, at about 1.6 miles, the longest. On the other end of the spectrum are microscopic sections of normal unprotected bike lane where a few plastic bollards add a tiny degree of separation for a short stretch. The smallest is at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and U Street, where a mere 60 feet of lane is protected with curb and flexposts.

The District has by far the most mileage of protected bikeway, with about 7 miles and all of the five longest individual bike lanes. After DC, Arlington and Montgomery are in a virtual dead heat for second place, each hovering with almost exactly one mile of protected bikeway, spread across four separate locations in each county.

Prince George's, Alexandria, and Fairfax City each have tiny cycletracks, combining for one-quarter mile. 

For the future, DC has grand plans for a vast cycletrack network, and more jurisdictions are beginning to work on their own. Expect this map to expand in coming years. 

In the meantime, if you know of an existing protected bikeway that's not on this map, leave a comment to let us know. 

Update: This post has been updated to reflect additional protected bikeway segments that were missing from the original map.

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

January 3rd, 2017 | Permalink
Tags: bike, maps, transportation



Newbie’s guide to getting around DC without a car

Do you know a DC newbie who needs a primer on how to get around the city without a car? I wrote one for ApartmentGuide.com. Check it out!


DC bus map, learn to love it to unlock the city.

November 29th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: bike, bus, metrorail, pedestrians, roads/cars, streetcar, transportation



16th Street’s traffic lights are now optimized for buses

While planning for a 16th Street bus lane continues, DDOT has quietly made another important but nearly invisible improvement there: The traffic signals are now optimized for buses.


16th and U queue jump signal. Photo by the author.

33 traffic signals along 16th Street now have Transit Signal Priority, or TSP. TSP holds a green light a few seconds longer, or switches a red to green a few seconds sooner, if a bus is ready to pass through.

Stopping at fewer red lights speeds buses along a line. In particular, DC is using TSP on 16th Street to keep S9 buses on schedule. When one falls behind, the signal priority kicks in so that bus can catch up.

16th Street has so many buses that DDOT can’t give each one priority all the time, or it would gum up every perpendicular street along the line. But keeping buses on schedule is a nice improvement for riders.

16th & U queue jumper

In addition to TSP, at 16th and U there’s now a dedicated signal just for buses, called a queue jumper. It gives buses their own “go” signal a few seconds before cars get their green, allowing buses to jump ahead of a line of waiting cars. By the time cars get their green and start moving forward, the bus is in front of them rather than behind.

The bus signal looks different than a normal light, so car drivers don’t mistake it for one they’re supposed to follow. A horizontal bar means stop, and a vertical bar mean go. It’s the same as the dedicated streetcar signal at 3rd and H, and the same as bus signals along the Crystal City Potomac Yard transitway.

Traffic lights may not be as exciting as bus lanes, but these details matter. Thanks DDOT for making this progress.

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

November 17th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: BRT, bus, transportation



Get a look at 23rd century public transit in the latest Star Trek movie

In the Star Trek universe, transporter technology can instantaneously whiz characters from starships to planets and back again. The latest Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, shows us transporters in service as public transit.


Public transporter booth. Screencap from Star Trek Beyond. Click for video.

Although transit has never been a key element of Star Trek, which is rarely set in big cities, the franchise’s long history does include a few scenes with futuristic transportation.

A few seconds later in that same scene, a high-speed train zips by.

In the previous movie, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, we saw a brief glimpse of a futuristic articulated bus.

And finally, in a 1995 TV episode of Star Trek Voyager, one character emerged from a 24th Century San Francisco subway system called Trans Francisco.

But all those futuristic trains aside, the transporter has got to be the coolest of Trek’s multimodal options.

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

November 7th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: fun, transportation



Why is this MARC train parked in Denver?

If you were in Denver this weekend, you might’ve seen an unusual sight: A MARC commuter rail train parked behind Denver Union Station.


MARC in Denver. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

What gives?

Turns out the train was in Colorado as part of the testing for MARC’s new locomotives. Officials wanted to test the new locomotives with actual MARC rolling stock, to evaluate how the locomotives performed in real-life conditions.

The Federal Railroad Administration has a test track in Pueblo, CO, so off this train went.

The train was in Denver because Amtrak carries the equipment on a regularly scheduled train from Denver to Chicago (#5, the California Zephyr) and then from Chicago to DC (#29, the Capitol Limited).

Thanks to Matt Johnson and Twitter user @kencon06 for helping to solve this mystery.

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

October 5th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: commuterrail, transportation



Why we don’t have world class BRT in the US, explained with one picture

Bus rapid transit lines in the United States badly lag the world’s most high-quality systems. This photo from Buenos Aires shows why: No US city is willing to dedicate so much street space to buses.


Buenos Aires BRT. Photo by exploreadorurbano on Instagram.

Count the lanes dedicated to the busway in that picture. Including the stations, medians, and bus lanes, it totals about eight lanes worth of traffic.

It takes that kind of dedication to fulfill BRT’s promise of subway-like service and capacity. You need all the components: Multiple bus lanes including passing lanes, big stations physically separated from the sidewalk, unmistakable barriers between the busway and general traffic.

Can you imagine any US city dedicating eight lanes to buses on a single street? On most streets we couldn’t do it even if we wanted to. K Street is 10 lanes wide including its medians, but Georgia Avenue and H Street are generally only six. 16th Street is five lanes at the max. Even if we completely banned cars from those streets, we’d lack the width to build Buenos Aires-style BRT.

Admittedly, Buenos Aires is an extreme example. This photo is from Avenida 9 de Julio, possibly the world’s widest city street. Planners there had an incredible amount of space to work with. Bogota’s famous TransMilenio BRT is probably a more instructive example; it takes more than five lanes.

Five lanes is physically possible on many US city streets, including in DC. But physically possible and politically practical are vastly different standards.

We wouldn’t want to anyway

Even if cities in the United States had both the physical space and political will to dedicate five-to-eight lanes to buses, there would be big trade-offs in doing so.

Streets that are too wide or have too-fast-moving traffic are hard for pedestrians to cross, and thus create barriers that can destroy a city’s walkability.

Bogota’s awesome five lane busways are practically highways, accounting for the several lanes of car traffic on either side. And like highways, they’re very good at moving vehicles and very hostile to pedestrians.

About the only way to make such a wide busway work on a city street without creating a highway would be to dedicate the entire street to transit, and not have car lanes on either side at all. Some US cities do have transit-only streets, so that may well be possible. But it would be different than South America’s model.


Arlington’s narrower Crystal City busway.

Smaller busways make sense for the US

None of this is to say that BRT in the United States is hopeless. It’s absolutely possible to build a solid and useful BRT line without quite that much street width. They just won’t be comparable to a subway in speed or capacity without passing lanes and gargantuan stations.

But who says they need to be?

Narrower busways like in Arlington and Ontario still offer tremendous advantages over running buses in mixed traffic. They speed up buses a lot, and are vastly more practical when retrofitting existing streets.

And while it’s true that North American-style busways can never have such high capacity as South American ones, well, that’s what rail is for.

It would be silly to insist one mode, any mode, must on its own accomplish all a city’s needs. Smart planning matches the need to the corridor, and is flexible enough to use the right mode, and the right street design, on every corridor, given the specific issues of that location.

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

October 3rd, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: BRT, transportation, urbandesign



Public reaction to Metro’s proposed cuts proves the need to be vastly more transparent about rebuilding

Metro has a trust problem that’s impeding the agency’s ability to fix its decaying rail system. Riders and city officials don’t believe the agency’s proposed permanent cuts are necessary. To solve this one way or another, Metro must regain rider trust by precisely reporting exactly what its rebuilding needs are, and whether efforts thus far have been successful.

This series of seven tweets explains why this problem persists, and how being legitimately transparent can only help WMATA achieve its goals.

WMATA has tried to explain its maintenance plans, and has occasionally reported on progress, but there’s no single resource available to riders all the time that compiles all Metro’s needs, both SafeTrack and non-SafeTrack, and reports on progress in detail.

For example, how many feet of track must be rebuilt before Metro reaches a state of good repair? Out of that, how many feet has WMATA successfully rebuilt to date? How many feet were fixed in July?

That’s the kind of information that will help decision makers and the public understand what WMATA needs, and thus support informed decision-making.

If possible, still more detail would be even better. How many rail ties have been fixed, out of how many that need to be? How many insulators? How many escalators and elevators? That level of detail may not always be possible to report (WMATA may not know the full needs until they start doing work), but after so many years of frustration, this is the kind of information the public requires to feel comfortable with Metro’s progress. The data should be specific and be listed for each station or between stations, if possible, so passengers can know exactly where work still needs to be done

In Chicago, ‘L’ riders can see a detailed map of slow zones in the system, and New York’s MTA runs video explainers about system problems. These are good examples worth emulating, but WMATA must go further.

If Metro officials hope to get buy-in for extreme measures like permanently cutting late night service, it’s reasonable for the public to demand extreme explanations, and reassurance that sacrifice will result in improvements. Without more frequent and more candid communication about progress, trust in WMATA will continue to erode, political support for sacrifices will be hard to obtain, and the spiral of decaying service will likely deepen.

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

September 18th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: government, metrorail, proposal, transportation



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