It shows how hugely popular bicycling can be as a mode of transportation, even in the United States. What’s more, this data actually undercounts bicycle commuters by quite a lot.
It’s originally from the US Census’ American Community Survey, which only counts the mode someone uses for the longest segment of their commute. People who bicycle a short distance to reach a Metro station, then ride Metro for the rest of their commute, count as transit riders rather than bicyclists.
How snow exacerbates the weaknesses of suburban road design
A lot of people had awful commutes last night, thanks to snow. And a lot of people had fine ones. One explanation for the difference: Suburban roads are far more susceptible to catastrophic breakdown than urban street grids.
Traffic congestion on snow night. Image from Google.
Snow storms like last night’s highlight how easy it is to completely shut down suburban-style transportation systems. And conversely, how comparatively resilient are more urban systems.
Cities beat suburban areas on snow resiliency in two big ways: Multimodalism and network connectivity.
First and foremost, with transit, walking, and biking more convenient options, cities are simply much less reliant on having clear roads. Metrorail worked like a dream yesterday, and pedestrians had a lovely commute.
It simply didn’t matter how bad the roads got for a significant percentage of DC’s travelers, because they simply weren’t on the roads while they traveled.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
But that’s not all. Even for car drivers, urban street grids are more resilient than road systems focused around large highways, because of how they’re laid out.
The great thing about interconnected grids is that if one street becomes blocked, there’s another perfectly good street one block over. And another one block down.
If a wrecked car or fallen tree or whatever blocks the street you’re on, you just take a different street. There might be some additional turns involved; it might not be quite as direct. But for the most part 28th Street isn’t all the different from 29th Street.
Contrast that with suburban-style systems where all traffic in a particular area funnels onto one big highway. If that one highway becomes impassible, everyone in the area is stuck. Or, at best, they have to drive miles out of their way to find the next big highway.
This illustration shows how that works. If the “Collector Road” gets jammed, people in the top half of the image can still move around. People on the bottom half can’t.
Suburban-style roads vs urban street grid. Image from USDOT.
That’s part of what happened last night. There were a lot of crashes. If they happened on arterial highways with no parallel roads, which a lot of them did, that road would succumb to gridlock.
Urban places aren’t immune, but they’re better off
To be sure, this storm was bad for roads all over the region.
Streets in Northwest DC were just as dangerous as those elsewhere, and DC’s plowing response was bad. And buses were every bit as stuck in it as cars.
But there’s no doubt that people who could travel via Metro or foot had a much better time, and there’s no doubt that drivers who could use parallel streets were able to bypass some of the congestion on arterials.
America’s most bonkers bikeway is in Clearwater, Florida
What do you do if you have active freight rail tracks running down the middle of a downtown street? Add bike lanes, of course!
East Avenue, Clearwater, FL.
This is East Avenue in downtown Clearwater, Florida. It’s one of America’s most unusually multimodal streets.
On the left: A normal one-way general purpose lane with normal car traffic. In the middle: Freight rail tracks. On the right: A major regional two-way bikeway, the Pinellas Trail. What could go wrong?
Actually, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Freight traffic on those tracks is relatively light, and extremely slow-moving. The train in this photo was moving maybe five miles per hour. And unlike cars, trains don’t suddenly change lanes. There’s zero danger of a CSX right hook.
In fact, the rail tracks are effectively a buffer between the bikeway and car lane. They make a bigger buffer than normal buffered bike lanes get. In a weird way, the tracks are a sort of protection.
See Metro Center when it was still under construction
In the mid 1970s, Metro’s first stations were under construction and on track for their 1976 opening day. This historic photo shows Metro Center station while it was under construction, circa 1975.
Metro Center circa 1975. Photo source unknown.
In the photo, the basic form of the station is in place. The vault is done, the track bed looks good, and the station’s lights are on. But there’s clearly a lot of work left to do, including most of the finishing touches.
It’s an interesting 40-year-old look at one of our region’s most important transit hubs.
64 years ago, the world’s first driverless parking garage opened in DC
On December 5, 1951, the world’s first “park-o-mat” driverless parking garage opened on K Street NW, between 14th and 15th Streets. The building doesn’t exist anymore, but this newsreel is a neat look into one of history’s previous attempts at driverless transportation.
The original park-o-mat buildling was just 25 feet by 40 feet, but at 16 floors and with two elevators, it had room for 72 cars.
As downtown DC developed and the city’s height limit began to limit land availability, property values eventually made it impractical to keep using this building as parking. Today, a a normal building full of people replaces it.
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.
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.