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Beyond Earth: The solar system’s total available land

Someday, unless humanity descends into a dark age, we’ll colonize space. Here’s how much land we’ve got to work with, within our solar system.


Image from xkcd.

This chart (it’s not really a map) is to scale for area but obviously not shape. Except Earth’s continents, the shape of the borders are fully the creative license of the illustrator. This simply shows how large each solid planet & moon in our solar system would be, if they were all combined into a single huge continent.

July 3rd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun, maps



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



How do you fix Ballston mall? Make it less like a mall

Problem: The Ballston Common Mall isn’t working very well. Solution: Open the mall up to the surrounding streets, so it becomes the center of a lively community rather than a walled-off separate place.


Concept for Ballston mall renovation. Images from Forest City.

Ballston is one of the smallest malls in the region. It can’t compete well against bigger centers with more stores, like Pentagon City or Tysons Corner. Instead, the mall generally only draws customers from a small area nearby, and thus makes less money than other, bigger malls.

Meanwhile, being an enclosed mall that serves mostly local traffic, it saps sidewalk retail away from Ballston’s neighborhood streets. Stores that would otherwise be on the sidewalk are instead bottled up in the mall.

To fix this, developer Forest City plans to face more stores to the sidewalk, and give them more inviting storefronts. It will replace nondescript mall doors with open-air plazas that naturally extend the street into the mall. Capping the building will be a new 29-story residential tower.


Concept for open-air plaza.

Forest City still needs to work with Arlington County to finalize and approve plans. For now, these are just concepts. But if all goes well, the 1980s-style Ballston Common Mall will transition to become the contemporary Ballston Center in 2017 and 2018.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 1st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, urbandesign



View from a high-rise: Rosslyn & the National Mall, from Courthouse

I Wish I’d had a better-quality camera last week when I got to enjoy this fantastic view of Rosslyn, the US Capitol, and the Washington Monument. Alas, a cell phone snap is as good as it gets.

June 30th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun, galleries



New camera lets you watch Earth from space in real time

The European Space Agency recently began broadcasting a real time feed from its Earth-facing camera onboard the International Space Station. You can follow it here, or use the tracker for geographic orientation.


Real-time view from the International Space Station. Live streaming video from Ustream.

June 26th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun



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



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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