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Nothing to say about the Arlington streetcar

In case anyone is wondering, as an Arlington employee it’s not prudent for me to blog about the Arlington County board’s decision to cancel the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars.

Greater Greater Washington has excellent coverage of the issue, though.

November 21st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: events, government, streetcar, transportation



Build protected transit lanes using cycletrack bollards

Simple plastic bollards and slight changes to lanes are enough to turn a regular bike lane into a cycletrack. Could the same trick work for bus lanes?


Bollard-protected bus lane in Washington state. Image from Zachary Ziegler on Vine.

DC’s 7th Street and 9th Street curbside bus lanes are famously dysfunctional. Cars use them at will, and pretty much always have. But it doesn’t have to be so.

The same tricks that work to protect bike lanes can also work to protect transit lanes. Plastic bollards, also known as flexposts, send a strong message to car drivers to stay out. The Virginia Department of Transportation even uses them on highways.

Flexposts on a Dulles Toll Road bus lane (left) and the Beltway (right).
Beltway photo from Google.

Generally speaking, the same complications would exist for bus lanes as exist for cycletracks. Adding bollards takes up a couple of extra feet, parking for cars has to move a lane away from the curb, and you have to find a way to accommodate cars turning at intersections. But mixing zones and other clever solutions have solved those problems for cycletracks, and could work for bus lanes too.

And flexposts aren’t the only cycletrack lesson we can apply to bus lanes. Red paint helps transit lanes the same way green paint helps bike lanes.

Green means bike, red means transit. Bus lane photo from NYDOT.

No matter how many special treatments like bollards or red paint an agency applies, median transitways will still function better than curbside transit lanes. Median transitways eliminate the right turn problem altogether (left turns are less common), and puts the transit lanes out of the way of parked cars, or cars pulling over to pick up or drop off passengers.

But median transitways take up more road space, because the medians have to be wide enough for stations. They simply can’t fit on all streets. Where that’s the case, tricks like these can help curbside transit lanes work better than the 7th Street bus lane.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 7th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, BRT, bus, lightrail, streetcar, transportation



It’s a huge weekend for US transit openings

Mid summer is prime time for big transit openings, and this weekend is a doozy. Three big projects around the US are opening today or tomorrow.


Silver Line. Photo by Fairfax County.

Denver Union Station. Photo by Ryan Dravitz for DenverInfill.com.

Tucson streetcar. Photo by Bill Morrow on Flickr.

By now, probably everyone in the DC region knows the Silver Line opens tomorrow, Saturday the 26th.

The same day, Denver’s gloriously updated Union Station opens its final component, the renovated historic main hall. Other portions of Denver’s Union Station opened in May.

But Tucson beats both DC and Denver by one day. Their Sun Link streetcar opens today, at 9:00 am Mountain Time (11:00 am Eastern Time). Sun Link uses the same streetcar vehicles as DC’s H Street line, built by the same company, as part of the same production run.

Speaking of the H Street streetcar, although it’s not opening this weekend, it is nonetheless making visible progress. The final streetcar vehicle has finally arrived in DC from the factory. Four streetcars are now on H Street for testing, plying the route on their own power. And pylon signs are starting to appear at streetcar stations.

All these projects have been a long, difficult road. It’s great to see them starting to pay off.

July 25th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: events, intercity, metrorail, streetcar, transportation



The Potomac Yard transitway is looking good

Construction on Alexandria’s Route 1 transitway is coming along, in anticipation of its August 24 opening. These pictures show the station at Route 1 and Custis Avenue.

While Alexandria’s transitway is just about ready, the second phase of the same project, in Arlington, is still a grassy strip. But preliminary construction work started earlier this year, and Arlington officials will host an official groundbreaking on Friday, July 18, at 9:00 am.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 14th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, galleries, streetcar, transportation



Photographic proof bikes and streetcars work together

Despite the fact that streetcar tracks can be hazards to cyclists, bikes and streetcars are great allies.

They both help produce more livable, walkable, less car-dependent streets. It’s no coincidence that the same cities are often leaders in both categories. In the US, Portland has both the highest bike mode share and the largest modern streetcar network. In Europe, Amsterdam is even more impressive as both a streetcar city and a bike city.

With that in mind, here’s a collection of photos from Amsterdam showing bikes and streetcars living together.

Of course, it doesn’t just happen. It’s easy for bikes and streetcars in Amsterdam to avoid one another, and to interact safely, because each one has clearly delineated, high-quality infrastructure.

Chalk it up as one more reason to build good bike lanes.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 8th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, streetcar, transportation



BRT comes to Northern Virginia on August 24

The first bus rapid transit line in the DC region will officially begin service on August 24.

The “Metroway” route will run from Crystal City to Braddock Road, partly in mixed traffic and partly in a dedicated transitway. A later phase to open in 2015 will extend the route to Pentagon City, and shift more of it into dedicated lanes.


Route 1 Transitway under construction in Alexandria. Photo from Alexandria.

Metroway is a joint project between Alexandria, Arlington, and WMATA. Alexandria and Arlington are building the transitway in two phases, and WMATA will operate the buses.

For now, only the Alexandria phase is ready. Arlington’s phase just began construction and should be finished next year.

But rather than wait until 2015 to start service, WMATA will begin running buses in August, and simply run in mixed traffic through Crystal City until Arlington’s phase is complete.


Metroway initial route (left) and route starting in 2015 (right). Image from WMATA.

Metroway will run every 6 minutes at peak times, dropping to every 12 minutes at midday, and every 20 minutes on weekends.

Arlington will eventually convert its portion of the route to streetcar.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 2nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, streetcar, transportation



Silver Line will beat DC streetcar to opening, but Tucson shines a streetcar light at the end of the tunnel

When Metrorail’s new Silver Line opens to passengers on July 26, it will soundly beat DC’s H Street streetcar in the unofficial race over which opens first. But one day earlier, a sister project to the DC streetcar will have its day in the sun.


Tucson’s Sun Link streetcar. Photos by Bill Morrow on Flickr.

At 9:00 am on July 25, less than 30 hours before the Silver Line opens, Tucson’s Sun Link streetcar will carry its first passengers.

Although Tucson is 2,000 miles away from H Street, their streetcar project is related to DC’s. Manufacturer United Streetcar built the railcars for both DC and Tucson, and the same factory delays that have slowed delivery of DC’s streetcars also mired Tucson’s.

Sun Link was originally supposed to open in October, 2013. Its 10 month late opening is just as frustrating for Arizonans as the late transit openings are for us in the DC region.

But frustrations aside, the impending opening dates for the Silver Line and Tucson streetcar are also a light at the end of the tunnel for H Street. Overcoming the obstacles of a big new infrastructure project is hard, and takes a long time, but these projects do eventually open.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 23rd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: metrorail, streetcar, transportation



China may have figured out wireless trams

This December, wireless streetcars will start carrying passengers in Guangzhou, China. The new trams will run using supercapacitor batteries instead of overhead wires.


Guangzhou’s wireless tram. Photo from China Central Television.

Cities around the world, including Washington, have been increasingly interested in wireless streetcars ever since Bordeaux, France started using them in 2003. But Bordeaux’s trams use an underground third rail that’s proven too expensive for widespread use.

The Guangzhou system will use batteries that automatically recharge from an underground power supply at passenger stations. One recharge takes 10-30 seconds, and powers the tram for up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).

And a similar system is in the works for another Chinese city, Nanjing.

That’s good news for DC, where laws prohibit overhead wires at key locations near the National Mall. Streetcars like Guangzhou’s could solve that problem.

It’s not clear how much extra this type of wireless tram would cost. Expense doomed the Bordeaux method, so that is a serious concern. But if the price is right, the technology finally seems to be there.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 20th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: streetcar, transportation



Four big questions for a Georgia Avenue streetcar

As DDOT begins to crystallize plans for a north-south streetcar, four big questions will drive what the line ultimately looks like: How will the line snake through the center of the city, will it reach Silver Spring, where will there be dedicated lanes, and is there any money to actually build anything?


Four route alternatives under study. Dedicated lanes could potentially fit on the purple and light blue sections. Image from DDOT.

DDOT’s planners are still months away from settling on final details for the North-South Corridor. But at a series of public meetings last week, these big questions came into focus.

How will the line snake through the center of the city?

DDOT’s latest report focuses on four potential alternate routes, but project manager Jamie Henson says DDOT could still mix and match components of multiple alternates to create the final path.

North of Petworth, DDOT has settled on a Georgia Avenue streetcar alignment going at least as far north as Butternut Street.

The line could run south from Petworth down Sherman Avenue as far as Florida Avenue, or it could stay on Georgia. Georgia is wide enough for dedicated lanes and is lined with shops instead of houses, so it would probably attract more riders, but Sherman would offer a more stark contrast to the route 70 Metrobus.

South of Florida Avenue things get really interesting.

The route could stay on 7th Street through downtown DC, but that duplicates Metrorail’s Green Line, and 7th Street isn’t wide enough for dedicated lanes. Or it could travel on 14th Street, where population density is most concentrated and where it’s a long walk to any Metro stations. But 14th Street is already booming; a streetcar might help more elsewhere.

11th Street and 9th Street are intriguing possibilities. Infill and commercial development have lagged there relative to 14th Street. Would a streetcar bring a 14th Street-like boom? Meanwhile, both 11th and 9th are wide enough for dedicated lanes.

9th Street is already home to one of DC’s only existing bus lanes. Though the bus lane is lightly used and poorly enforced, that might make 9th a particularly easy place to add streetcar lanes.


Existing 9th Street bus lane.

To traverse the National Mall, the line could either turn onto F Street through downtown and then use 7th Street to go south, or it could turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue and then use 4th Street.

The F Street to 7th Street option seems to be a path of less resistance, could fit dedicated lanes, would be more central to the National Mall, and would directly serve The Wharf development at the Southwest waterfront. On the other hand, 4th Street would better serve the existing Southwest neighborhood.

Will it reach Silver Spring?

Silver Spring is a natural end point for this corridor. It’s big, dense, and already one of the DC region’s largest multimodal transit transfer points.


Silver Spring.

Around 4,000 DC-bound passengers board WMATA’s route 70 Metrobus in Silver Spring every day, with still more boarding the parallel S-series routes. There’s tremendous opportunity for the streetcar to reach more people and have a greater impact by ending in Silver Spring instead of DC.

But for that to happen, Maryland and Montgomery County have to step up with plans of their own. DDOT has neither authority to plan nor money to build outside the District’s boundaries.

So for now, DDOT is keeping its options open. But eventually they’ll need to make a decision. At this point, it’s on Maryland to come to the table.

Where will there be dedicated lanes?

Whether or not the streetcar will have dedicated lanes depends on two factors: Is there adequate width on the street, and is there enough political support to repurpose lanes from cars?

The first factor is easy. This chart shows potential street cross-sections, color-coded to match street segments along the route alternatives maps.


Potential street cross-sections, color-coded to the map above. Image from DDOT.

Streets color-coded as either purple or blue are wide enough to potentially fit dedicated lanes. Streets coded as green, yellow, or orange are not.

The political factor is harder. Depending on the location, providing dedicated streetcar lanes might mean eliminating or reducing on-street parking, pushing truck loading onto side streets, or any number of other trade-offs.

DDOT’s ridership forecasts say shaving 5 minutes off streetcar travel time would boost ridership 11%. If true, that suggests thousands more people would ride a streetcar with dedicated lanes than without.

And of course, the inverse is true too: Without dedicated lanes, many riders who could be on the streetcar might instead opt to drive.

At public meetings last week, representatives from the Georgia Avenue business community voiced strong objections to dedicated lanes, fearing that loss of parking would hurt their stores. But if dedicated lanes add more streetcar riders to a block than they remove parking spaces, the reverse could very well be true.

Is there money to actually build anything?

Thanks to Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council cutting streetcar funding in the latest budget, DDOT lacks funding to build this line.

It’s possible the council could add more money in future budgets, or DDOT could seek alternate funding options like the federal New Starts program. But for now, this line is unfunded and there’s not yet any apparent strategy to change that.

In the meantime DDOT will continue to plan, with the next step being an environmental study. But all other details pale next to the overarching and unanswered question of how to fund whatever the studies recommend.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 19th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: streetcar, transportation



Bike racks inside a bus? Speeds up loading, but trades capacity

On San Antonio’s Primo BRT buses, cyclists bring their bikes inside the bus rather than lock them to the front. This speeds up loading and unloading, but reduces Primo’s overall passenger capacity.


Bike racks on Primo bus in San Antonio. Photo by Stuart Johnson on Flickr.

Primo carries about 6,000 passengers per day, compared to over 20,000 per day on DC’s 16th Street line. So for Primo, the speed versus capacity trade-off tilts to speed.

In DC, our busiest bus lines generally won’t have that option. Although it may make sense in some places, like Montgomery County’s proposed BRT network.

For DC’s more crowded lines, where we cannot justifiably sacrifice limited bus capacity to bikes, rail’s greater spaciousness is an increasingly important advantage. With longer vehicles, we get both the speed advantage and the capacity advantage.

Of course to really speed up buses or trams, give them a dedicated lane. But even in places where that’s not practical, improvements like longer vehicles, more doors, interior bike racks, and off-vehicle fare collection can make a difference, regardless of mode.

June 17th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, streetcar, transportation



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