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.
Metro’s inefficient info displays worsen train crowding
By prioritizing elevator information rather than train arrivals on its platform displays, WMATA forces riders to make bad decisions. The result: inefficient use of sparse train capacity.
Not the best use of this technology.
Picture yourself in this scenario
Imagine you’re descending into a Red Line station. You hear a train approaching and rush to the platform. The train pulls up and you see that it’s full.
You glance over at the real-time train arrival display, hoping there will be another train a minute or two behind. If so, you’ll wait for it rather than crowd on now. Maybe you’ll have just enough time to move down the platform to a less crowded spot.
Alas, the display is cycling through elevator outages on the Orange Line in Virginia. Who knows how long until the next train arrives. You’d better crowd on now.
Prioritizing less important info results in badly informed riders
Scenarios like that play out thousands of times every day all over the Metrorail system. It happens because Metro’s PIDs, the Passenger Information Displays that show how long until the next train arrives, are programmed to also cycle through each elevator outage in the entire system.
Cycling through elevator outages often takes a long time, making it difficult for riders to get the real-time train arrival information that the displays were invented to show.
In turn, badly-informed riders can’t use the system efficiently, and exacerbate overcrowding. Without good information, riders push onto full trains when an empty one is a minute behind, and rush into the nearest door rather than move down the platform to a less crowded one.
WMATA displays elevator outages on the PIDs because it’s crucial information for a small minority of riders: the wheelchair bound, and others who can’t use escalators or stairs.
For those groups, having plenty of advanced notice about which elevators are out is absolutely necessary. Removing that information from stations would therefore be an unacceptable trade-off.
But that information doesn’t have to be on the same screens as train arrival information. In fact, trying to display multiple elevator outages on the PIDs, where there’s only enough room to scroll through them one by one, is a remarkably bad way to provide that information.
A better way, in Chicago. Photo by Matt’ Johnson on Flickr.
Displaying elevator outages on the PIDs requires riders who need that information to wait and watch an entire cycle, even if a train they could take is on the platform now.
It would be far more efficient to display that info on a separate screen that can show several outages at once, like the larger more advanced screens at station manager kiosks.
Or even a low-tech dry erase board, the preferred solution for Chicago’s CTA.
By trying to satisfy two entirely different sets of needs with one limited screen that runs on decades-old technology, WMATA isn’t getting as much out of the PIDs as it could.
By 2019 it will have taken 34 years to build the Silver Line
Given how much Metrorail can transform a community, it’s little wonder communities want it to reach them. But planning and building new Metro lines is so politically and technically complex that it takes decades. Consider the Silver Line:
Slide from WMATA.
This slide showing a timeline of Silver Line planning and construction comes from a presentation WMATA planners Allison Davis and Kristen Haldeman gave at StreetsCamp this past Saturday.
The timeline begins in 1985, when the idea of a Metro line to Dulles Airport went from vague concept to serious planning initiative following a study that determined it would be feasible.
Planning (yellow on the timeline) and environmental work (green) took the next 21 years, until 2006. It took another 3 years for officials to finalize funding (blue) before construction (purple) could begin in 2009.
By the time the last segments open in 2019, it will have been 34 years.
Worth the wait, no doubt. But there’s bad news for other communities:
Silver Ln was the easiest possible line to build. Only in VA, above ground & we already had right-of-way. Still took decades. #streetscamp
Plopping a rail line down the middle of a gargantuan suburban highway with a capacious median is easy compared to putting one virtually anywhere else. Almost any other potential Metrorail expansion imaginable will be harder to plan, fund, and build.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. But it’s definitely going to be hard.
When Metro’s busiest pinch point shut down today, what did you do?
Metro riders at Rosslyn this morning. Photo by @ABouknight on Flickr.
Thousands of commuters faced gridlock at the peak of rush hour today when smoke at Foggy Bottom station forced Metro to close the crucial Rosslyn tunnel. With trains shut down and many alternatives overwhelmed by the flood of Metro riders, how did you cope?
Around 8:00 this morning, an insulator along the third rail between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn Metro stations began giving off heavy smoke. From around 8:15 until about 11:15, WMATA suspended all Orange and Silver Line service between Virginia and DC. Blue Line trains diverted to the Yellow Line bridge.
The good news is nobody was hurt. The bad news was a hellish morning commute.
The Rosslyn tunnel is one of DC’s most crucial transportation pinch points. It’s one of the worst places for Metro to have to shut down service. And this morning’s event happened at the worst possible time, at the peak of rush hour, too late for WMATA to plan adequate backups, or for many commuters to seek alternate routes.
With no trains, and with buses, bikeshare, taxis, and roads overwhelmed by cast-off Metro riders, it was a particularly bad day.
How did you get to work?
My office is in Court House and I live in DC. Bikeshare wasn’t an option for me this morning, so my first thought was to take Metrobus 38B, aka the “Orange Line with a view”. But when I heard reports of how long lines were for buses, I figured the 38B would be uncomfortable at best.
Instead, I Metro-ed down the Yellow Line to the Pentagon and took ART 42 from there to my office. Happily, it was running on time and there were plenty of seats.
By the time I arrived at work, I’d been traveling an hour and a half. Bad, but not nearly as bad as many others.
How did you get in? Head over to the GGW version of this post and leave a comment.
San Francisco street lights will animate subway trains below
A public art installation on San Francisco’s Market Street will add animated lights following the movement of subway trains running directly below.
Image from Illuminate The Arts.
The project is called “LightRail,” and according to its sponsors it will be the world’s first “subway-responsive light sculpture.”
Two LED strings will stretch above Market Street for two miles through downtown San Francisco. Using real-time arrival data, the strings will visualize movement of BART and Muni trains directly underneath the street.
Sponsors hope LightRail will open in 2015, and will remain in place until at least 2018. If it proves popular, officials may decide to keep it up longer.
Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest public art projects I’ve ever seen.
The “Route 606″ station is inside the Sterling zip code. The “Route 772″ station is inside the Ashburn zip code. Done. No more thought needed. Those names are perfect.
Names like “Loudoun Dulles North” and “Loudoun Gateway West” are not descriptive and they won’t engender any sense of place. Metro station names need to be as short and obvious as possible. “Sterling” and “Ashburn” meet that test, while the other options don’t. The KISS principle absolutely applies.
The only real criticism of Sterling or Ashburn seems to be that the center of Sterling is a little further north than this station. So what? Reston Town Center is a little further north of what will become Reston Town Center station. Vienna station isn’t actually in the Town of Vienna. And Branch Avenue station is actually on Old Soper Road. It doesn’t matter because these names are supposed to be general. They’re supposed to roll off the tongue and be easy for riders to remember.