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Notes from Europe: Off to Paris

I’m off for 10 days in Europe. Each weekday until my return there will be a brief post about some interesting urbanist or transportation feature of the city I’m planning to visit that day.

I’ll be spending most of time in Paris, but will also be stopping in a few other places.

Today, enjoy this view down the Avenue de la Grande-Armée, from the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris. Photo by Cameron Wears on flickr.

March 13th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: urbandesign

Metro railcar plays double duty as pedestrian bridge at National Airport

There’s good news and bad news at the Reagan Airport Metro station. The bad news is an elevator is out of service, leaving one of the train platforms without elevator access. The good news is WMATA came up with a delightfully clever solution: Park a Metro railcar on the extra track between the two platforms, and use it as a pedestrian bridge to access the platform with the working elevator.

Metrorail “train bridge” at National Airport. Photo by Lily Monster on flickr.

The Metro station at Reagan National Airport has an unusual layout, with three rail tracks instead of the more normal two. There are two outside tracks, plus a third middle track. Two island platforms flank the middle track, each of them providing access to both the middle track and one of the outside tracks. West Falls Church has a similar layout.

The middle track is not actually necessary for day-to-day operations. So Metro parked a railcar on it and opened its doors, allowing passengers waiting on one of the platforms to use the railcar as a bridge to reach the other.

Thus passengers who need an elevator can access one. There’s no need to detour them to another station and make them wait for a shuttle.

WMATA is sometimes criticized for being overly bureaucratic, rigid, and slow to solve problems. But they deserve credit for this, a nimble and inexpensive solution that genuinely makes riding the system a little easier.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

March 12th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: metrorail, transportation

The story behind Fairfax’s weird cycletrack

The City of Fairfax isn’t a place that usually comes to mind when discussing cycletracks. But Fairfax does have one, and it’s bizarre. It runs 270 feet along the back side of a strip mall parking lot.

Fairfax’s cycletrack, behind the parked cars. Photo by Google.

The cycletrack is part of Fairfax’s Mason to Metro Trail, an assemblage of sharrows, sidewalks, and dedicated bikeways that runs from George Mason University to Vienna Metro station.

The cycletrack portion is just north of Fairfax Main Street. It curves around the back side of the Main Street Marketplace strip mall, using a cycletrack through the parking lot, and a simpler buffered bike lane through the loading dock.

It’s no 15th Street, but it’s something.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

March 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, transportation

Fun on Friday: Play the Mini Metro game

Update: More tips & tricks are now listed at the bottom of this post! - 3.8.2014, 12:45 pm

Mini Metro is a fun browser game that simulates a transit network.

Stations representing different types of destinations pop up, and you have to connect them with metro lines that take passengers where they want to go.

Screencap of the game, with components labeled.

The game starts off easy. You get one square station icon, one triangle, and one circle. Connect them with a single transit line and you’re all set.

But after a few moments more stations start to pop up. You have a limited number of metro lines to work with, and each line only gets one train. So the more stations appear, the longer it takes for a train to traverse the line, and the more passengers build up.

Ideally you want each transit line to cross at least one of every station type, to minimize transfers, but that soon becomes impossible when different types of stations begin to appear, like crosses and gemstones.

The game ends when too many waiting passengers build up at a station. The highest score I’ve gotten is about 500, but most of my games end in the 300s or 400s.

I’ve noticed certain types of stations seem to represent certain types of land uses.

Squares are employment centers, like downtowns. You start off with only one square, and you have to get quite deep into the game before a 2nd appears.

Circles are the most common station type, so they probably represent residential areas.

Triangles are the 2nd most common. I think of them as shopping areas, but they could be schools or parks.

Other symbols are rare, usually only appear once, and represent specialty land uses. I think of them as hospitals, airports, or universities.

How high can you score?

More tips & tricks:

  • A hub and spoke layout works great in the early game, but once your score reaches about 350 you need to start moving to more of a grid.

  • 6 stations is about the maximum any one line can accommodate before it gets overcrowded.

  • You can pause the game by clicking on the clock.

  • At key points in the game, pause the game to delete-and-redraw entire lines, along more efficient routes. Key points are typically when you add your 5th line, 3rd tunnel, and when the 2nd square appears.

  • The order in which I usually use bonuses:
    1. Light blue line
    2. Longer/faster train
    3. Green line
    4. 3rd tunnel (sometimes sooner if the river is unfavorable)
    5. Bigger station
    6. Light rail (I’ve not seen this, but rumor says it appears next)

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

March 7th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun, transportation

Donate to GGW to keep it strong & limit ads

Donation link

Greater Greater Washington wasn’t the first blog about urbanism or local policy-making in Washington, DC, but it’s the one that changed the discussion. It’s the one that brought arcane subjects like zoning and transit planning into the city’s mainstream.

By the time I first discovered Greater Greater Washington, I’d already been writing BeyondDC for many years. I was one of a cadre of bloggers writing about development and transportation, along with people like Richard Layman, and DCist’s Ryan Avent,.

But we were few and far between, and most of us either had other jobs or split our writing with other subject matters. DC’s online urbanist community, such as it was, had no home base and no leader. We were a niche network of geeky wonks, great at expressing opinions but not so good at building broad support.

Greater Greater Washington changed all that.

When David Alpert showed up, with his mountain of energy and dedication, that was a game-changer. David had the skills and time to do what the rest of us couldn’t. He went to public meetings, he drew maps, and he wrote, and wrote, and wrote. All of it was accessible to anybody. All of it was interesting, and exciting. All of it elevated the public discussion about what Washington could be.

And the readers poured in. Then some of the early readers started writing too, and the whole thing grew exponentially.

At first, I admit, I was a little jealous.

But it took me about 3 seconds to realize what was happening. A mere blog was becoming a community, and that was too wonderful a thing to pass up. I had to be part of that.

And become a community Greater Greater Washington did. With more writers and more readers, we started to have an impact. Not only on other policy wonks, not only on the editorial pages of other media, but on the tone of the discussion itself, and later on elected officials.

Now, everyone in town knows the practicality and benefits of car-free or car-light living. We can swing budgets, and change construction plans,.

Thanks to Greater Greater Washington, urbanists in the DC region are a political force. We’ve gone mainstream, and we’re making a difference.

Please help us keep making a difference. Please donate what you can to GGW, so our community will still have the strong voice it needs.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

March 5th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: events, site

Elevated supertrain for 1/3 the cost of light rail? Yeah right

A startup maglev manufacturer that’s never built a functioning transit system is stirring up controversy in Virginia Beach, claiming they can build a levitating, elevated high speed maglev from Norfolk to Virginia Beach for 1/3 the cost of surface light rail.

Yeah right. And if you believe that, they can probably sell Hampton Roads a couple of bridges, too.

Unfinished maglev at Old Dominion University. Photo by withvengeance86 on flickr.

Elevated rail is more expensive than surface rail. New technologies are more expensive than proven ones, and maglev in particular (on which trains levitate above a magnetic field rather than glide on tracks) has been super expensive wherever built. And since Norfolk already has light rail, you’d be forcing a transfer unnecessarily.

Oh, and this same company tried to build a maglev at Old Dominion University in Norfolk years ago, and never finished.

This is all reminiscent of the California hyperloop proposal. They’re both completely unrealistic, almost certainly built on either faulty assumptions or outright lies, and serve no purpose but to strip support away from actually practical transit options.

I hate to be a closed minded curmudgeon. Maglev trains are cool and can work. Absent the claim that this could be done for 1/3 the cost of light rail, it might be worth exploring. But we have enough experience with other maglev proposals to know this one smells fishy.

March 4th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: lightrail, transportation

Why grids are better for walking, in 1 simple graphic

This graphic shows how much ground a pedestrian can cover walking along street sidewalks in a gridded Seattle neighborhood, versus a nearby suburb. Although both maps show a one-mile radius, there are far more destinations within that radius in the gridded neighborhood.

Seattle and Bellevue maps from sightline.org.

Both maps show neighborhoods that are primarily single-family detached houses: Greenwood, Seattle and Eastgate, Bellevue. But the similarities end there.

In Bellevue trips are indirect and circuitous. Not only are far more residential streets accessible in Seattle, but also more commercial streets (in purple on the map). Both neighborhoods have plenty of parks (shown in green).

Granted, the two maps appear to be at slightly different visual scales, population density is probably higher in Seattle, and pedestrians in Bellevue can probably cut through yards to get places a little faster. But the overall point remains true that far more destinations are within easy walking in Seattle, which – surprise – is why more people walk there.

For the record, the key isn’t a strict rectilinear grid; it’s interconnectivity. Boston’s medieval web of streets is just as good, and maybe even better. The real key variable is the density of intersections, not the straightness of streets.

February 28th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: land use, maps, pedestrians, transportation, urbandesign

NFL stadiums belong in the suburbs

Should Washington’s football team relocate back to Washington? The DC Council is considering replacing RFK with a new stadium, hoping to lure the team back to DC, from Maryland.

It’s a terrible idea.

FedEx Field and its acres of parking. Photo by the US Navy.

Some people will no doubt oppose this idea simply because it’s expensive. But that’s not the problem. Stadiums are cultural amenities that people want, so it’s appropriate for cities to subsidize them sometimes.

This is a terrible idea because football stadiums specifically don’t fit well in cities. NFL stadiums are only used for 8 home games per year, and need large surface parking lots to accommodate the tailgating culture ingrained into football fandom.

The RFK site may not be in the middle of a walkable neighborhood, but surely there are better uses for it than a rarely-used stadium and vast parking lots.

I’m glad we have an NFL team in the region, but let’s leave their stadium in the suburbs.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

February 26th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, government, urbandesign

DDOT lays out its plans for new bikeways in 2014

It may be snowing today, but spring is approaching. With construction season therefore around the corner, DDOT has released its list of planned bike projects for 2014.

Map of 2014 bike projects. Image from DDOT.

Most exciting, the highly anticipated M Street and 1st Street NE cycletracks are listed as “ready to go”.

Also ready to go are contraflow bike lanes on G, F, and Eye Streets NE, and standard bike lanes on 13th Street NW, F Street NE, I Street SE, and New Hampshire Avenue NW.

Several other bike lane projects are still in planning, although it doesn’t appear DDOT is actively moving any other cycletrack projects, following completion of M and 1st Street.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

February 25th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, 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.


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



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