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Tennessee’s BRT feud shows even modest projects face opposition

Often when a new city proposes its first rail line, opponents who don’t like spending money on transit call for BRT instead. So it’s tempting to think cities might have an easier time implementing new transit lines if they simply planned BRT from the start. Unfortunately, BRT often faces the exact same opposition.

Two projects that have faced major opposition, the Nashville BRT (left) and Cincinnati streetcar (right). Images from the cities of Nashville and Cincinnati.

Nashville is the latest city to face strong opposition to its first BRT project, called the Amp. The Tennessee state legislature recently passed a bill blocking the line.

The debate mirrors one going on a few hundred miles north, in Cincinnati. There, opponents tried to kill that city’s first streetcar line. The state government even tried to block it.

Both Nashville and Cincinnati are among America’s most car-dependent and least transit-accessible large cities. Nashville’s entire regional transit agency only carries about 31,000 passengers per day. Cincinnati’s carries about 58,000.

For comparison, Montgomery County’s Ride-On bus carries 87,000, never mind WMATA.

In places like Nashville and Cincinnati, authorities have ignored transit for so long that any attempt to take it seriously is inherently controversial, regardless of the mode.

Arguments may fixate on rails, dedicated lanes, or overhead wires, but for at least some opponents those issues seem to be simply vehicles for larger ideological opposition.

That may sometimes be true even in places with stronger transit cultures. Arlington’s streetcar and Montgomery’s BRT network are both controversial themselves. Both have plenty of detractors who say the plans are unaffordable or would get in the way of cars.

Ultimately there are many reasons a city hoping to improve transit might choose BRT or rail. The two modes are both useful, and smart cities use them both based on the specific needs of the location.

But either way, expect similar tropes from opposition. It’s inescapable.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 9th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, streetcar, transportation



Map spotlights busiest bus stops for 16th, 14th, & Georgia Avenue lines


Map from DDOT.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.

The map shows where riders are going on WMATA’s busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

It’s a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC’s densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It’s not surprising then that 16th Street’s riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It’s easy to see why DDOT’s streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

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



Construction progress at Gaithersburg’s two new town centers

Gaithersburg’s collection of walkable new urbanist neighborhoods is growing, with impressive construction progress at both the Crown development and Watkins Mill Town Center.


Ellington Boulevard in Downtown Crown, seen from the north.

Both neighborhoods are planned around future stations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, which will someday connect a whole string of walkable neighborhoods in upper Montgomery County to Shady Grove Metro station. But with rapid transit service still years away, construction is working from the outside in, focusing first on sections farther from planned transit stations.

Crown

At the Crown development, construction progress is focused on Phase 1, the western half. A mixed-use town center surrounds the corner of Ellington Boulevard and Crown Park Avenue, with blocks of rowhouse neighborhoods to the side.


Ellington Boulevard, seen from the south.


Crown Park Avenue, perpendicular to Ellington Boulevard.

It’s clear that serious work and expense went into the architectural details.


Downtown Crown.


Downtown Crown.

To the east, the rowhouse neighborhoods are taking shape as well.


Rowhouses on Hendrix Avenue.

Decoverly Drive marks the boundary of Phase 1, as well as the future route of the transitway. Crown’s original plans show an even larger town center surrounding the BRT station along Decoverly. But following actual construction, it appears density has been reduced around the station, and rowhouses line the Phase 1 edge instead.

One wonders if Phase 2 will make Crown a truly transit-oriented place, or if transit will merely run through it.


Decoverly Drive.

Watkins Mill Town Center

A few miles to the northwest, adjacent to the Metropolitan Grove MARC station, Watkins Mill Town Center is taking shape.


Watkins Mill Town Center.

At Watkins Mill, the rowhouses and lower density portions are nearing completion, but the downtown section has yet to begin construction. As a result, a huge field separates the MARC station (and future BRT stop) from the constructed portions of the development.


Urban Avenue, not quite urban yet.

Someday, the Corridor Cities Transitway could make Gaithersburg a second Arlington, a string of walkable communities knit together by transit. Whether that actually happens or not will depend the State of Maryland getting the transitway built, and the City of Gaithersburg insisting on truly transit-oriented places.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

February 24th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, BRT, development, master planning, transportation



Here’s how bus lanes might fit on 16th Street

Transit advocates want bus lanes on 16th Street, and DDOT’s latest moveDC plans call for them, but at a recent meeting, Ward 4 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser expressed skepticism that they’re possible.

Here’s how they might be able to work.


Image created using Streetmix.

Yes, 16th Street really is that wide

16th Street is 50 feet wide, curb to curb, for pretty much its entire length. But those 50 feet are arranged in three different configurations, depending on the location.

North of Arkansas Avenue, 16th Street has two lanes in each direction with a raised median down the middle. The presence of that median makes this section the hardest to change.

Between P Street and W Street, 16th Street only has four lanes and lacks a median. But it’s still 50 feet wide. The four lanes are just excessively wide.

Between Arkansas Avenue and Park Road, 16th Street’s same 50-foot width is split into five 10′ lanes. This section is the most informative, and illustrates how a bus lane might fit in.


Image created using Streetmix.

Flexible lanes are the key

There are many demands on 16th Street. Residents want on-street parking. Drivers want two lanes open for cars in each direction. Transit riders want bus lanes.

Ideally we could accommodate all that on one street and still keep it pedestrian-friendly. But with exactly 50 feet to work with, compromises are necessary.

At off-peak times, both car and bus traffic on 16th Street moves pretty well with just one lane in each direction, leaving the curbside lanes for on-street parking. It’s only at rush hour that more lanes are really necessary.

The solution so far has been to restrict parking at rush hour, allowing the curbside lane to carry traffic at peak times. But north of Arkansas Avenue and south of W Street, where 16th Street is configured with only four total lanes, that solution leaves out a dedicated bus lane.

Using the five lane configuration, however, allows the curbside lane to become a bus-only lane at rush hour, while leaving the center reversible lane as a 2nd general traffic lane. For the most part, everybody gets what they want.

Theoretically, DDOT could apply this configuration to the existing five lane stretch of 16th Street more or less immediately. And although the median north of Arkansas Avenue is hard to change, restriping the four lane section south of W Street should be relatively easy.

And while a peak-period bus lane between P Street and Arkansas Avenue might not be as great as a full busway all the way from Silver Spring to K Street, it would still be one heck of an improvement over current conditions.

Will this actually happen?

Of course, what’s theoretically possible and what’s practically achievable aren’t always the same. DDOT would need to study this much more closely before implementing it.

One potential holdup is that 10 feet is awfully narrow for a bus lane. Usually bus lanes are 11 or even 12 feet wide. But 10-foot lanes seem to be working now between Park and Arkansas, so why not further south as well?

A pilot project on the existing five lane section might help determine if this is a workable configuration.

Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta suggested a pilot project in December. According to Putta, DDOT staff “said they were interested.” That’s certainly encouraging.

As for Bowser, she sent this statement in an email to Ken Archer, who had tweeted about the news:

“I never said I don’t support bus lanes. As I recall, I believe I said I don’t think it would work on 16th Street; though I was not responding to any specific proposal. My response was based on my many years of observing traffic patterns on the corridor– but not actual data. I went on to say, which has unfortunately not shown up in your tweets, that signal prioritization is a strategy on the books, with funding that needs to be implemented. As I mentioned to you, I’m happy to review and consider an actual dedicated bus lane proposal that proves to help the most people.”

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 23rd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, transportation



Yes, there are new mixed-traffic streetcars in Europe

In an attempt to discredit the concept of streetcars, some opponents erroneously claim that other first-world countries don’t build mixed-traffic rail. So let’s set the record straight: Yes they do. Plenty.


Mixed-traffic tram in Manchester, UK, opened in 2013.
Photo by Howard Pulling on flickr, used with permission.

I’m not an expert on European transit, but it takes about 5 minutes on Google to find numerous examples of recently-built mixed-traffic European trams.

Here’s a (most likely partial) list. The dates in parentheses are either the year trams were reintroduced to the city in question, or the year the specific mixed-traffic segment pictured in the link was built.

That’s actually longer than the list of US cities currently running newly-built mixed-traffic streetcars. As of this writing, that list is exactly two cities long: Portland and Seattle. Granted, it is about to explode, but over the past decade Europe has unquestionably built more mixed-traffic streetcars than the US.

Of course, all transit functions better in dedicated lanes. It’s completely true that many mixed-traffic streetcars in the US would benefit greatly from dedicated lanes, and will only lack them for political will. It’s also completely true that Europe is better at providing transitways for their streetcars more often than the US. None of that is in dispute.

But the fact is, many European cities have indeed recently added new mixed-traffic lines, because whether streetcar opponents care to admit it or not, there are many benefits to rail transit aside from where it runs.

But wait, there’s more

In addition to the true mixed-traffic streetcars listed above, Europe also has an entire category of trams that often run in mixed-traffic that’s completely absent from the US.

Guided tire trams run on rubber tires like a bus, but have a single in-ground track to guide them, as well as overhead wires. They’re a middle ground between buses and streetcars, and are present in mixed-traffic arrangements in multiple cities in France and Italy, at least.

It’s not exactly fair to call guided tire trams streetcars, but neither is it fair to exclude them from a discussion of mixed-traffic European trams.

If a US city wants to prove it’s serious about providing a rail-like BRT experience, they might experiment with one of these. So far, none have done so.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

January 13th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, streetcar, transportation



MoveDC calls for more transit, dedicated lanes

In the latest draft of DDOT’s MoveDC plan, the 37-mile streetcar network originally planned in 2010 becomes a 69-mile “high capacity transit” network.

The new 69-mile network would include DC’s initial 22-mile streetcar system, plus 47 more miles of either streetcar or BRT.

37-mile network from 2010, and latest MoveDC 69-mile proposal. Base maps from Google.

The 47-mile network, shown in red on the map, would include 25-miles of dedicated transit lanes, regardless of whether those lines are eventually built as bus or rail. The dedicated lanes would be on 16th Street, North Capitol Street, I-295, M Street SE & SW, and I and H Streets downtown.

Curiously, the proposed streetcar line on Rhode Island Avenue from the 2010 plan isn’t carried forward into MoveDC.

The new plan shows the 14th Street streetcar shifting over to 7th Street, although the details of that line are still in flux. It could still end up on 14th.

Finally, MoveDC also notes several potential extensions to Maryland and Virginia, anywhere a proposed DDOT line approaches the District boundary. Perhaps most notably, there are potential connections across Long Bridge into Arlington, down I-295 to National Harbor, and to Silver Spring.

For Metrorail, MoveDC includes WMATA’s proposal for a new loop subway line through DC, connecting Rosslyn on one end and the Yellow Line bridge on the other.


Map from BeyondDC, using base map from Google.

Overall this is a progressive and ambitious proposal, although the removal of Rhode Island Avenue raises questions. It’s still a draft, so you can comment via the WeMoveDC website.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

November 22nd, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, master planning, streetcar, transportation



Notes from Seattle: The subway

I’m in Seattle this week for the Railvolution conference, along with about half of GGW’s editorial team. Since I’ll be too busy geeking out at transit nerd nirvana to blog, each day this week there will be a brief post about some cool transportation-related thing here in Seattle. Today: Their unique bus/rail subway.

The Seattle Transit Tunnel is a 5-station subway that forms the core of Seattle’s transit network. It started off as a bus-only subway, but became a joint bus/rail tunnel when Seattle’s Central Link light rail line opened in 2009.

Each station is different, but one, Pioneer Square, would look particularly at home in DC:


Pioneer Square subway station.

Tomorrow: The famous Monorail.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 21st, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, lightrail, transportation



It’s going to be an exciting 6 months for DC area transit

When the new Rosslyn Metro entrance opened earlier this week, it became the first in what will be an exciting string of big transit projects opening in the DC region. Still to come: Metro, MARC, streetcars, and BRT.


From left to right: Alexandria’s BRT, MARC, Silver Line, DC streetcar.
BRT and Metro photos from Alexandria and Fairfax County.
MARC and streetcar photos from BeyondDC.

The next big event will be on December 7, when MARC trains begin running on weekends between DC and Baltimore. MARC’s transition from a commuter railroad to a more general-purpose transit system will open up Baltimore and other parts of Maryland like never before.

After that come streetcars. Sometime in late December, or possibly January, DDOT expects to start running streetcars along H Street.

Then in February the Silver Line will open, and begin carrying passengers to Tysons Corner and Wiehle Avenue.

Finally, sometime in the spring of 2014 Alexandria will open its Route 1 transitway, marking the beginning of the first bona fide bus rapid transit line in the region.

All together, it’s the most exciting time for transit openings in the DC area since the early 1980s, when Metrorail was opening new segments every few months.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 9th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, commuterrail, metrorail, streetcar, transportation



Northern Virginia picks transportation projects to fund

click to enlarge
Almost $20 million will go to new VRE railcars.

For years, leaders in Northern Virginia have been asking Richmond to let Northern Virginia raise its own money to spend on its own transportation priorities. They are finally getting the chance.

When the Virginia General Assembly passed a broad new transportation funding bill earlier this year, it included a section for Northern Virginia to raise and allocate hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Those new taxes began rolling in on July 1, with the beginning of Virginia fiscal year 2014.

On Wednesday night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) officially approved its first set of projects. The authority allocated about $210 million, split roughly evenly between transit and roads.

The largest projects include the Silver Line’s Innovation Center Metro station, new VRE railcars, and widenings along Route 28.

NVTA also approved a bond validation lawsuit that will preemptively ask Virginia courts to rule on NVTA’s legality. That process should take 6-9 months, and NVTA will have to wait until it’s over to actually start spending money. Taking the suit to court now means NVTA won’t have to spend years fending off other legal challenges.

The project list is shown below. For more details, see the project description sheets on NVTA’s website.

Project Funding
in millions
Location
Transit and multimodal projects
Innovation Center Metro station $41  Fairfax Co.
VRE railcars $19.8 Regional
VRE Lorton station 2nd platform  $7.9 Fairfax Co.
WMATA buses  $7  Regional
WMATA Orange Line traction power upgrades for 8-car trains  $5  Regional
DASH buses  $3.3 Alexandria
Potomac Yard Metro station environmental study  $2  Alexandria
Crystal City multimodal center bus bays  $1.5 Arlington
VRE Gainesville extension planning  $1.5 Regional
VRE Alexandria station pedestrian tunnel & platform improvements  $1.3 Alexandria
Herndon Metro station access improvements (road, bus, bike/ped)  $1.1 Fairfax Co.
ART buses  $1  Arlington
Leesburg park and ride  $1  Loudoun
Loudoun County Transit buses  $0.9 Loudoun
Route 7 Tysons-to-Alexandria transit alternatives analysis (phase 2)  $0.8 Regional
Falls Church pedestrian access to transit  $0.7 Falls Church
Duke Street transit signal priority  $0.7 Alexandria
PRTC bus  $0.6 Prince William
Alexandria bus shelters & real-time information  $0.5 Alexandria
Van Buren pedestrian bridge  $0.3 Falls Church
Falls Church bus shelters  $0.2 Falls Church
Road projects
Rt 28 – Linton Hall to Fitzwater Dr $28  Prince William
Rt 28 – Dulles to Rt 50 $20  Fairfax Co.
Belmont Ridge Road north of Dulles Greenway $20  Loudoun
Columbia Pike multimodal improvements (roadway, sidewalk, utilities) $12  Arlington
Rt 28 – McLearen to Dulles $11.1 Fairfax Co.
Rt 28 – Loudoun “hot spots”  $6.4 Loudoun
Chain Bridge Road widening  $5  Fairfax City
Boundary Channel Dr interchange  $4.3 Arlington
Rt 1 – Featherstone Rd to Mary’s Way  $3  Prince William
Edwards Ferry Rd interchange  $1  Loudoun
Herndon Parkway intersection with Van Buren St  $0.5 Fairfax Co.
Herndon Parkway intersection with Sterling Rd  $0.5 Fairfax Co.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 26th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, commuterrail, funding, government, lightrail, metrorail, roads/cars, transportation



Gaithersburg may start its own bus network

Gaithersburg is interested in starting its own local bus network, and will soon begin a feasibility study to consider whether that makes sense.

Gaithersburg has a number of walkable areas, but they’re poorly connected by transit. Most of the bus lines are designed to get riders to Shady Grove Metro station, and they don’t come very often. A new system would be more oriented towards circulation between Gaithersburg’s own nodes.

click to enlarge
Unofficial concept of what a Gaithersburg bus might look like. Image and cheesy name by BeyondDC.

The State of Maryland is already planning to build the Corridor Cities Transitway BRT line through Gaithersburg, and Montgomery County is considering a line on Frederick Avenue as part of its BRT network planning, but those projects are still years away from completion. Even when they’re done, Gaithersburg will still need better bus service on other corridors.

One particularly important destination might be Gaithersburg’s historic downtown, which has a MARC station but won’t have stations on either BRT line.

Gaithersburg’s local system could be operated by WMATA as part of Metrobus, or by Montgomery County as part of Ride-On, or it could be something else, like the Bethesda Circulator. The study will presumably look into what would work best.

With its own system, Gaithersburg would have more control over routes and schedules as compared to WMATA or Ride-On. Its own system would also be more recognizable, and could potentially be cheaper to operate. On the other hand, it would be more difficult to set up.

The Metropolitan Washington Transportation Planning Board approved the study at its meeting yesterday, as part of its Transportation / Land Use Connections planning assistance program.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 18th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, transportation



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