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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



See the view from a Silver Line train with this video

Can you barely wait until Saturday to ride the Silver Line? Get a sneek peek of the new line with this video from WMATA.


Video from WMATA. The video has no audio.

This shows the view from a Silver Line train as it travels from Ballston to Wiehle-Reston East.

Silver Line trains began running simulated service over the weekend. Trains carry passengers from Largo to East Falls Church under an Orange Line banner, then offload and continue on to Wiehle without any passengers.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 21st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: metrorail, transportation



Eight-car Metro trains equal widening I-66 by 2-4 lanes

Lengthening all Metrorail trains to 8 cars long would add as much capacity to the I-66 corridor as widening the highway by two to four lanes.


I-66. Photo from Bossi on Flickr.

If Metro lengthened all trains to 8 railcars, it would increase capacity on the Orange/Silver Line through Arlington by 4,740 passengers per hour per direction. Comparatively, one new highway lane would be able to carry 2,200 cars per hour.

Even assuming two passengers per car (likely higher than the real average), a new highway lane would only carry 4,400 passengers per hour. Still fewer than 8-car Metro trains.

Then, to account for the reverse direction, double all calculations. Bidirectional Metrorail capacity would increase by 9,480 passengers per hour, equivalent to 4.3 lanes full of single-occupant cars, or 2.15 lanes full of cars with two passengers each.

Eight-car trains would also be cheaper and carry passengers faster than equivalent new highway capacity, according to WMATA’s PlanItMetro blog.

Clearly it’s time to think longer, not wider.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 15th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: metrorail, roads/cars, 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



Fun on Friday: Transit door chimes around the world

Whoever made this video compilation of “doors closing” chimes from metro lines around the world is a transit geek after my own heart.

After watching the video, I have a fresh appreciation for WMATA’s comparatively pleasant choice.

June 20th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun, lightrail, metrorail, transportation



If stars align, the Silver Line might open as soon as July 28. But everything’s not perfect yet

WMATA still has not announced an official opening date for the Silver Line. But if crews can work out remaining construction problems quickly, the new Metro line could, potentially, maybe open for passengers as soon as Monday, July 28.


Greensboro Metro Station. Photo from Stephen Barna of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

That’s if workers complete all remaining construction as quickly as possible, and there are no hiccups during equipment testing or training, and the weather is good. So far, the last bits of construction aren’t quite on target to wrap up so soon.

The union is ready for a July opening

According to WMATA’s union president Jackie Jeter, Metro has instructed train operators to begin scheduling Silver Line shifts for “simulated service” starting on July 20.

Simulated service is the last step before opening for passengers. It’s a training and testing phase, during which Metro will operate the Silver Line as though it were open, but without carrying passengers.

Simulated service is supposed to take a week, so if it does begin on July 20, and there are no last minute problems, everything could be done and ready to go by the 28th.

This would be a month early, and it may still not happen

According to WMATA’s official schedule, final construction and testing could last through the end of August. To actually finish it all in July would be early, per that timeline.

Will they make it? During WMATA’s weekly conference call with reporters yesterday, Metro deputy general manager Rob Troup not only declined to confirm the July 20 date, but also cautioned that work crews are behind schedule on some of the last tasks.

Most of the remaining issues are minor. Tasks include painting hand rails and checking the public address systems, among others. The largest remaining task may be to correct water drainage problems on the station platforms.

So the July 28 date is by no means guaranteed, and it’s really not a delay if opening slips to August, or even September.

Thanks to good communication, we know what to expect

This timeline jives perfectly with what Troup said when Metro accepted control of the Silver Line on May 27. At the time, he said Metro budgeted 90 days for final testing and construction, but that they might not need the entire time.

WMATA gave the public a realistic range for how long this will take. Now that more detailed rumors are flying, we have the necessary knowledge to evaluate them. We know that July 28 is an achievable but optimistic timeline. We know that if it’s not met and opening comes a month or two later, that’s not a problem.

We know that dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” on a complex infrastructure project like the Silver Line is impossible to completely predict. But we know the Silver Line is getting really, really close.

So I’m tempering my expectations, but I’m still excited.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 10th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: government, metrorail, transportation



MoveDC plan proposes more cycletracks, transit, and tolls. Will it actually happen?

The latest draft of DDOT’s citywide transportation plan, moveDC, calls for a massive expansion of transit and cycling facilities throughout the District, plus new tolls on car commuters. If the District adopts it, the plan will become one of America’s most progressive.


The moveDC plan summary map. All images from DDOT.

DDOT released the latest version of moveDC last Friday, launching a month long public comment period in anticipation of a DC Council hearing on June 27. Following that, the mayor will determine any changes based on the comment period, with final adoption anticipated this summer.

What’s in the plan

Amid the hundreds of specific recommendations in the plan, three major proposed initiatives stand out:

  • A vastly improved transit network, with 69 miles of streetcars, transit lanes, and improved buses, plus a new Metrorail subway downtown.
  • A massive increase in new cycling infrastructure, including the densest network of cycletracks this side of Europe.
  • Congestion pricing for cars entering downtown, and traveling on some of DC’s biggest highways.

Transit


Proposed high-capacity transit network (both streetcars and bus). Blue is mixed-traffic, red is dedicated transit lanes.

The plan proposes to finish DC’s 22-mile streetcar system, then implement a further 47-mile high-capacity transit network that could use a combination of streetcars or buses. That includes 25 miles of dedicated transit lanes, including the much requested 16th Street bus lane.

Although the proposed high capacity transit corridors closely mirror the 37-mile streetcar network originally charted in 2010, there are several new corridors. In addition to 16th Street, moveDC shows routes on Wisconsin Avenue, both North and South Capitol Streets, H and I Streets downtown, and several tweaks and extensions to other corridors.

The plan endorses WMATA’s idea for a new loop subway through downtown DC, but explicitly denies that DC can fund that project alone.

MoveDC also shows a network of new high-frequency local bus routes, including Connecticut Avenue, Military Road, Alabama Avenue, and MacArthur Boulevard.

Bicycles

MoveDC also includes a huge expansion of trails and bike lanes, especially cycletracks.


Proposed bike network. The pink lines are cycletracks.

Under the plan, DC would have a whopping 72 miles of cycletracks crisscrossing all over the city. From South Dakota Avenue to Arizona Avenue to Mississippi Avenue, everybody gets a cycletrack.

Meanwhile, moveDC shows major new off-street trails along Massachusetts Avenue, New York Avenue, and the Anacostia Freeway, among others.

Tolls for cars

Congestion pricing is clearly on DDOT’s mind, with multiple proposals for new variable tolls in the plan.


Proposed downtown cordon charge zone.

The most aggressive proposal is to a declare a cordon charge to enter downtown in a car. This idea has worked in London and has been discussed in New York and San Francisco, but so far no American city has tried it.

Meanwhile, some of the major car routes into DC would also be converted to managed lanes. Like Maryland’s ICC or Virginia’s Beltway HOT lanes, managed lanes have variable tolls that rise or fall based on how busy a road is.

MoveDC proposes managed lanes on I-395, I-295, New York Avenue, and Canal Road.

What will the council think?

DDOT has produced a very strong plan, but is it going anywhere? The DC Council will discuss moveDC on June 27, at which time we’ll find out if the same people who pulled the rug out from under streetcar funding are interested in progressive policy-making, at least.

Even if DC does adopt this plan, whether the council will actually provide the funds necessary to build it is anybody’s guess.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the DC Council will approve or deny this plan. Authority to approve it actually rests solely with the mayor.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 2nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, BRT, bus, government, lightrail, master planning, metrorail, roads/cars, streetcar, transportation



With Metro’s latest step, the Silver Line’s grand opening may be less than 3 months away


Image from WMATA.

Yesterday morning WMATA took control of the Silver Line from construction teams, declaring the line has reached “operational readiness.” Metro now begins a 90-day testing and training period, prior to opening service this summer.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) owns the Silver Line and has been in charge of construction. Yesterday’s action officially transferred day-to-day control, management, and operations of the line to WMATA.

Following testing, opening day for passengers should come a little before or after the 90-day period runs out. The WMATA Board will set the exact date. If testing goes well, August seems the most likely bet.

The Silver Line was originally intended to open in December 2013, but construction delays and technical adjustments have pushed it out to this summer.

But now Metro officials think the delays are over. According to Metro Deputy General Manger Rob Troup, “We would not have reached this [point] if we were not confident of being able to do the testing within the time frame.’’

May 28th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: metrorail, transportation



Fairfax’s answer to neighbors’ transit plans: Light rail, streetcars, and BRT

Not to be outdone by its neighbors’ aggressive plans for rail and BRT networks, Fairfax County has an impressive transit plan of its own.


Fairfax County’s proposed high quality transit network. Image from Fairfax.

DC has its streetcar and moveDC plans, Arlington and Alexandria have streetcars and BRT, and Montgomery has its expansive BRT network, plus of course the Purple Line.

Now Fairfax has a major countrywide transit plan too, called the High Quality Transit Network.

Fairfax’s top priorities are to finish the Silver Line and the Bailey’s Crossroads portion of the Columbia Pike streetcar, but that’s not the end of their plans.

County planners are also looking at several other corridors, including Route 1, Route 7 (both east and west of Tysons), I-66, Route 28, and Gallows Road/Dolly Madison Boulevard.

Both rail and BRT are possibilities for all those corridors. Some may end up light rail or streetcar, others bus. Route 1 and I-66 could even include Metrorail extensions.

In addition to all that, Fairfax County Parkway is slated for HOT lanes, which could make express buses a more practical option there.

As the DC region continues to grow, and demand for walkable, transit-accessible communities continues to increase, these types of plans are crucial. If our major arterial highways are going to become the mixed-use main streets of tomorrow, transit on them must significantly improve.

Fairfax is undeniably still spending a lot on bigger highways. Planners’ inability to calm traffic on Routes 7 and 123 through Tysons, for example, indicates roads are still priority number one. But it takes a plan to change, and this is a strong step forward. So good on Fairfax for joining the club.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 22nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, land use, lightrail, master planning, metrorail, roads/cars, streetcar, transportation



Lipstick can help the Tysons pig, a little

Fairfax County is considering dressing up the Silver Line’s mammoth concrete pylons with murals. The idea could help animate the otherwise bleak, gray structures.


Mock up of a possible Silver Line mural. Image from the Tysons Partnership.

Ideally the Silver Line would’ve been underground through Tysons Corner. But federal rules that have since changed prevented that, forcing the Metro line above ground, onto a huge elevated structure.

That wasn’t the end of the world, but it did condemn Tysons to some unnecessary ugly.

So why not dress it up? Murals can unquestionably make big gray structures more colorful and interesting. They’re easy to implement, don’t cost very much, and help a little. There’s not much down side.

Murals are, however, still just lipstick on a pig. They don’t solve the underlying deadening effect of bare walls. For example the Discovery building mural on Colesville Road in Silver Spring is surely better than bare concrete, but shops & cafes would’ve been better still.

And Tysons’ murals won’t be as effective as the one in Silver Spring. Colesville Road is basically urban, basically walkable. The block with the mural is the weakest link on an otherwise lively urban street.

But in Tysons, the Silver Line runs down the middle of Leesburg Pike, one of the most pedestrian-hostile highways in the region. If murals are added to the Silver Line, they may become the best and most interesting part of the streetscape, as opposed to the worst.

So by all means, Fairfax County should absolutely do this. Murals are a great tool to cover any large blank structure. But what Tysons really needs is walkable streets with lively sidewalks.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, metrorail, transportation, urbandesign



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