Thursday, May 02, 2013
Montgomery County officials have no intention of letting D.C.'s Metro back out of the Silver Spring Transit Center -- even though the project is two years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Additional morning rush hour service is coming to Metro’s busiest bus corridor in Washington after the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission took commuters’ complaints to the transit authority.
The S bus line on 16th Street NW, a historic gateway into downtown D.C., is struggling to meet ridership demand. Buses are often packed before reaching the southern stretch of the route and cannot squeeze additional passengers aboard, leaving rush hour commuters waiting in long lines at bus stops in Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and near Dupont Circle. Some commuters eventually give up and hop in taxis.
“I went out to the bus stops and I saw taxicabs pull up to the long lines, seeing a business opportunity and offering to take them downtown, because the buses weren’t working for our city,” says Kishan Putta, a commissioner on the Dupont Circle ANC.
Putta tried to solicit commuters’ concerns on Facebook and Twitter but drew his largest response the old fashioned way: he put up posters at bus stops asking commuters to contact him.
“We took those stories and those complaints to Metro and they agreed to meet us,” in January, Putta says. “They had to admit in public this is a big problem.”
Putta provided the following example of a typical commuter complaint about crowding on the S line.
“I actively chose to walk 45 minutes to work during every day this week rather than take the bus despite the temperatures in the teens and howling winds,” the commuter’s complaint said. “On the one day when I decided it would be better for my health and well-being to take the bus I waited at the bus stop for 20 minutes.”
“Just this week it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers,” another complaint said.
Metro has been aware of S line bus crowding for years but its efforts haven’t kept up with growing ridership. In 2009 the S9, which makes limited stops on 16th Street NW, was added during morning and evening rush hours to alleviate crowding.
“Bus ridership remains strong especially with all the new residents moving into the district,” says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “There are new residential units along this corridor and so we want to make sure we are providing service for the folks who want it.”
Stessel says Metro has yet to decide on a name for the new S service, but says it will begin on Monday, March 25. An additional bus will arrive at 16th Street and Harvard NW every 12 minutes from 7:30 to 9:15 weekday mornings. A total of nine additional trips will go down 16th Street, then left on I St to 14th Street. Then the buses will head back to Columbia Road NW. The extra capacity will carry between 400 and 500 commuters on a busy morning.
“This issue didn’t just crop up two months ago. We’ve been working on the S line and broader issues related to the S line for more than a year now,” Stessel says. “That said, the relationship we’ve had over the last two months with the ANC has been nothing but constructive.”
“I will take my hat off to Metro,” says Putta. “They were responsive. We worked together on coming up with possible options.”
Still no answer to 16th Street traffic
Putta concedes that while the additional morning rush hour bus service will help move commuters south on 16th Street, the district faces a bigger task in mitigating the corridor’s notorious traffic congestion.
“As with a lot of these long-term solutions, you would need to do a transition so that you would hopefully get less people driving. And of course, the physical limitations of the road are definitely an issue,” says Putta, referring to the possibility of creating a bus-only lane on 16th Street during rush hour.
Metro’s Stessel says the transit authority is working on a solution.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue that we have not only with DDOT but with all of the jurisdictions,” Stessel says. “A major milestone will be achieved about a year from now when we launch what is true BRT (bus rapid transit) in the region for the first time. That will be on the Virginia side of the river in partnership with Alexandria and Arlington.”
The Route 1 Transitway will run buses every six minutes in dedicated lanes from Braddock Road in Arlington north to Crystal City.
“We hope that will spark other jurisdictions to consider, if not true BRT, perhaps traffic signal prioritization or more bus lanes,” says Stessel. “From a public policy perspective, if you have a vehicle that has 50 people in it, that really should get priority over a car that has one person in it.”
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) says the one-two punch of last year’s fare increase coupled with a temporary lull in a tax benefit is behind a six-percent drop in rail ridership during the last half of 2012.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Metro general manager Richard Sarles said Hurricane Sandy, the federal holiday on Christmas Eve and weekend track work were other factors that contributed to fewer riders -- but said the increase in fares was the most significant.
“You saw that especially in the second half of the year,” Sarles said. “With the federal transit benefit being restored, we are seeing in the first month or two ridership going back up to what we expected. Clearly, the federal transit benefit, when it was cut almost in half, had a significant impact on our ridership.”
The provision allowing for $230 a month in tax subsidies for transit riders expired at the end of 2011, reducing the eligible amount to $125. In January Congress returned the federal transit benefit to $240.
Metro is rehabilitating its aging infrastructure as part of a multi-billion dollar capital improvement program. The track work requires closing some stations and single-tracking at others nearly every weekend, although track work will be postponed for the upcoming cherry blossom festival.
While necessary to repair the transit system, weekend track work is the target of endless complaints, and Sarles says it has scared some riders away. “On the weekends there is a decrease is ridership especially when we close down a set of stations for very necessary work,” he said.
Metro is also tracking ridership swings at individual stations. Dupont Circle saw the largest drop in riders entering the system last year, mostly because the station’s south entrance was closed for months for an escalator replacement. Navy Yard on the Green Line, where Nationals fans disembark to watch their favorite baseball team, saw the most growth, according to WMATA figures.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Metro is starting to familiarize its customers with the service changes that will arrive with the opening of the Silver Line out to Reston, Virginia, a suburb west of Washington, D.C., expected by the end of the year.
The first of three open houses took place in Capitol Heights, Md. on Tuesday. "The first question people ask us is, 'When is it going to be here?'" says Metro's Jim Hughes. As he explains, the first phase of the $5.5 billion project is scheduled to open by the end of the year. "Particularly on the Virginia side, they've dealt with the construction for four years. They want it to happen."
The Silver Line has been a big story for a long time, because it will extend rail west into Virginia, eventually to Dulles International Airport and beyond into Loudoun County once Phase II of the rail extension is completed in 2018. Even so, some folks at Metro's open house who live at what will be the eastern end of the Silver Line — Largo Town Center in Maryland — have heard little to nothing at about it.
"I live in Largo and I know that the Silver Line will have an impact on my community," says 65-year-old Yvonne Alston. "And I just wanted to see exactly when it was opening and exactly where it would go."
Hughes, WMATA's director of intermodal planning, is also responsible for making sure there is enough bus service to get Virginia commuters to the four new rail stops that will open in Tysons Corner, where there will be no new parking lots.
The opening of the Silver Line will come at the cost of other Metro lines. It will reduce Blue Line service during rush hour by two trains an hour, or one every twelve minutes. Hughes expects that change to inconvenience 6,000 to 8,000 passengers per day.
"There will also be less service on the Orange Line between Vienna and West Falls Church, the end of the line, where we are expecting a lot of people to switch over to the Silver Line," Hughes says. "So we don't need as much service between those last couple stops."
Two more public meetings on the Silver Line are scheduled. The first is at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at the Reston Community Center in in Reston, Va. The second is at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 16 at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington.
Residents can find out more about these meetings or submit comments online on WMATA's website.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Metro employees will soon be able to anonymously report "close calls" and other safety hazards.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is working with the federal government to set up a hotline. It's one of the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after a deadly 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80 others. That crash was the deadliest episode in Metro history, and ensuing investigation uncovered rampant safety problems at the transit agency.
WMATA is working with the rail worker's union to establish the confidential “close call” reporting system. The goal is to catch potential safety hazards that would otherwise go undetected by Metro’s usual safety reporting systems. Metro employees would be able to report problems without fear of retribution.
“This is a partnership with our union, Local 689 Amalgamated Transit Union, and we are working out a memorandum of understanding with the union to determine the parameters of the program,” said Andrea Burnside, Metro’s chief performance officer. “It is very important to have it confidential because employees will not be willing to participate in the program.”
Exactly what would constitute a “close call” is being hammered out in negotiations with the union, Burnside said.
Improving safety -- and convincing the public their safety on the rail lines is being taken seriously -- ranks as a Metro priority since the Red Line crash. WMATA approached the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics for help in creating the reporting program.
"Systems that allow confidential reporting of safety violations are an important part of creating a safety culture in an organization," said DOT spokesman Justin Nisly in an email to Transportation Nation. "The Bureau of Transportation Statistics currently operates a similar safety reporting system for rail that analyzes safety issues to identify trends, new sources of risk, and helps develop preventive safety actions to address them. Because of that expertise, WMATA approached the BTS to help set up their close call reporting program."
New Jersey Transit was the first passenger rail system in the country to establish a confidential reporting system, back in 2009.
“We are getting a positive response,” said New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, who said their program is creating a culture where employees are more apt to report problems from the serious to the more routine. “When they see some infrastructure issues they report it to us. They don t have to worry about any type of reprimand,” Snyder said. “Rail yard efficiencies have improved. We‘re getting improved safety in and around our yards as well as operational efficiencies during our morning rush hours and afternoon rush hours.”
Based on New Jersey Transit's program, the U.S. DOT estimates it may receive 400 close call reports each year in D.C. But Burnside cautions that Metro's system is different than New Jersey's, and the definition of what would constitute a "close call" on Metro rail has yet to be determined.
A potential start date for Metro's program has not been established. The "close call" program is part of Metro's long-range strategic plan.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
(Washington, D.C.) The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says miscommunication among emergency responders contributed to the January 30th fiasco on Metro's Green Line that left hundreds of passengers stranded on dark, overheated trains, while others 'self-evacuated' into tunnels.
A formal report on the incident was presented at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday, and it recounts what happens when two packed Green Line trains heading outbound toward the Anacostia station in Southeast D.C. shortly before 4:30 p.m. ran into a problem. A malfunctioning electrical insulator was smoking, so the trains had to be single-tracked around it -- a fairly routine procedure. But what happened next was not.
“Due to a miscommunication between Metro transit police officials and their liaison in the rail control center, police on the platform at Anacostia were unaware of the planned train route, and when they saw the train lights coming in on Track 2 believed there was an immediate life safety threat to the track personnel repairing the insulator,” said Dave Kubicek, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations. He presented a report, entitled "Green Line Incident, Anacostia," (pdf) at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday.
So police shut down the power to the third rail -- causing the two rush hour trains to stop in the tunnel, the first not far from the Anacostia platform. A short time later, Metro was ready to turn the power back on. Except: “They received reports of self-evacuations and determined it was no longer safe to restore power or move the trains,” Kubicek said.
Metro’s report says the last of the stranded passengers were de-boarded at Anacostia an hour and 20 minutes after power was lost -- but not before experiencing hellish conditions. "Several medical emergencies were reported to the operator via the intercom, mostly
related to heat and stress. However, one passenger had a seizure and the operator rendered aid to her," reads a section of the report.
The investigation found that the agency’s response to the trains “was faster than in prior incidents and improvements were evident in several key areas of emergency response.” Some Metro board members said the most dangerous aspect of this episode was the decisions by passengers on both stranded trains to escape and walk down the tunnels against the wishes of the train operators. On the train further from the platform, the report says “one passenger challenged the operator by demanding information about when power would be restored. Against the operator’s urging, this passenger and others began self-evacuating.”
Metro also reviewed its attempts to communicate with stranded passengers during the incident and found many passengers were frustrated with incomplete information. While Metro staff sent out 79 service update Tweets, and one of the train operators was commended, the report also found "Metro officials on the scene who failed to make their presence known to customers throughout the train (and) made inadequate announcements to share information with passengers."
The incident forced Metro’s General Manager to issue an apology to customers via email. Among the investigation’s recommendations is to reinforce proper procedures for transit police after the activation of an Emergency Trip Station, which can shut down third rail power in the area of a mechanical problem.
Read the report here.
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Thursday, January 24, 2013
(Armando Trull -- Washington, D.C., WAMU) Metro transit agency officials are proposing new tunnels to help the system keep up with growing demand. The tunnels are included in a 49-page strategic plan (pdf) presented Thursday to the transit agency's board of directors.
Metro's immediate goals call for measures to improve the existing infrastructure, including adding powering capacity to allow for more eight-car trains and building new pedestrian connections between certain stations.
More ambitiously, Metro says the plans also include the possibility of new tunnels in the core of the system to separate lines that currently share tunnels. It also calls for building express tracks along the Silver and Orange lines in Virginia, as well expanding current lines.
Metro management says an additional $740 million a year would allow the transit agency to take these kind of measures to prepare for growth of the system, and challenged the region's leaders to develop a funding strategy.
The District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government contribute to Metro's operating and capital budgets, which total $2.5 billion.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood expressed optimism a federal loan would be approved to help finance the $5.5 billion Silver Line rail project, funding that would help slow down projected toll rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road.
“This is one of the first [projects] under the new TIFIA loan program that was passed by Congress in transportation bill, which gave us an enormous amount of money, almost $2 billion over the next two years,” LaHood said. “I would say right now things look good.”
Tolls on the Dulles Toll Road are currently set to finance roughly half the Silver Line’s cost.
After swearing in two federally appointed members to the board of directors of the agency that oversees the Silver Line’s construction, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, LaHood praised the authority’s work to overhaul its ethics, hiring, and contracting practices. Last year an audit by the Department of Transportation revealed a litany of shady dealings at MWAA.
“Since then MWAA has done everything that we have asked them to do,” LaHood said. “That included passing new travel and ethics policy for its board and staff, terminated contracts with former board members and employees that are not competitively bid, adopt employment and nepotism restrictions, improve board transparency, began to make quarterly acquisition reports and forecasts to the [U.S. DOT], and approve an amendment to the lease with DOT to give us oversight of MWAA policies and procedures permanently.”
This progress is a factor in determining whether MWAA will receive a loan through the TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) program.
Last year Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly (D) said he expected the loan could amount to 25 to 30 percent of the project’s cost. When asked on Wednesday how large a TIFIA loan would be for the Silver Line, LaHood declined to speculate, and he offered no estimate on when the final decision would be made.
“You’re the only one that would really care about that, and I’m not going to get into the details about the loan application,” LaHood said. “We are working with MWAA on this and as soon as we finalize the work we will announce what percent we’re going to give and how much money it involves.”
Drivers who use the Dulles Toll Road also care about how much funding the Silver Line may receive. Additional funding would bring down the projected toll rates, currently scheduled to rise over the next four decades.
Tolls on the road increased on January 1. The full, one-way toll increased by 50 cents to $2.75. To the commuter who takes the road every day, that will amount to an extra $260 in 2013. The tolls are scheduled to increase again in January 2014 by another 75 cents.
MWAA CEO Jack Potter said he’s also optimistic MWAA would receive the additional funding.
“We are working very closely with the Department of Transportation, Loudoun County, Fairfax County to put our application in and we are very positive of a good outcome,” Potter said. “I’d like to get as much as we possibly can.”
Potter has been lobbying for more state funding. Virginia lawmakers have approved only $150 million for the Silver Line so far. On Monday Potter met Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton as well as a group of lawmakers who control the purse strings in Richmond.
“I am very much focused on output. The output is dollars coming to the rail project,” Potter said. “How the Commonwealth generates those dollars is strictly Commonwealth business. I am strictly focused on the output of $300 million dollars or more that could come to the rail project.”
In a major transportation funding plan unveiled earlier this month, Governor Bob McDonnell proposed using sales taxes revenues to provide $300 million for the Silver Line over three years. That plan, however, is expected to face opposition in the General Assembly among lawmakers who say the rail project should not compete for general fund revenues normally used to pay for education and public safety.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Washington metropolitan region faces worsening traffic congestion and transit crowding as its population and job growth expand over the next three decades, according to a forecast released on Wednesday by a regional planning group.
The forecast by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says large investments in infrastructure and improved land use policies are necessary to reduce the burden on an overtaxed highway and rail system.
“We’ve had a long period of time of inadequate funding for transportation,” said Ron Kirby, the director of the council’s Department of Transportation Planning, whose forecast says transit and roadway congestion will increase despite the expected billions of dollars in investments between now and 2040. It will take even more money, he said.
“The issues of Metro’s rehabilitation are well known but perhaps less well known is the lack of capacity expansion. We haven’t gotten to eight-car trains on Metro rail,” Kirby said, referring to Metro’s ongoing multi-billion dollar rehab project that does not include the addition of rail cars.
If 50 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the forecast says the red, orange, yellow, and green lines will be congested (100-120 passengers per car) or highly congested (120+ passengers per car). Only the blue line would be rated satisfactory. If 100 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the orange, yellow, and green lines will still be congested, according to the forecast, which is an aggregation of statistics and projections provided to the council by its member jurisdictions.
The forecast for the region’s highways is similar. Morning congestion traveling in the direction of the region’s core will worsen along I-95 in Prince William County, I-70 East in Frederick, I-270 South in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, I-66 East in Prince William and Fairfax, and the Dulles Toll Road Eastbound in Loudoun and Fairfax. The inner and outer loops of the Beltway will be more congested in Maryland, the forecast says.
“Carpooling is expected to increase some, because we do have some facilities coming on line,” said Kirby, referring to the just-completed 495 Express Lanes and under-construction 95 Express Lanes. “But there’s been relatively limited new highway capacity. At the same time, we are having very strong growth in the outer jurisdictions where there is relatively little transit. So those trips, whether they are work trips or non-work trips, are very dependent on the road system.”
The forecast says the region’s population will grow by 24 percent to 6.5 million by 2040. Employment is projected to grow by 37 percent, adding 1.1 million jobs.
As people and jobs flock to D.C. and its suburbs, choice of transportation mode will not dramatically change, according to Kirby’s projections. By 2040, 57 percent of all commuting trips will be made by people driving on their own, a four percent decrease from current levels. Carpooling is expected to increase from 11 to 14 percent of commuting trips, transit will remain steady at 24 percent, and biking and walking will increase from four to five percent.
Some lawmakers who sit on the Council of Governments board take issue with the forecast, saying its extrapolations do not account for changes in policy and other factors.
“It would be a mistake to think that’s what the future is going to be,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and proponent of transit-oriented development.
Zimmerman disagrees with the forecast’s projection that employment will grow fastest in the outer jurisdictions of Virginia, although the highest concentration of jobs will remain in D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County.
“The real question is where do you want the growth in jobs and population to be? That’s not a foregone conclusion,” Zimmerman said. “Almost all the growth in this region and the rest of the country is happening in more developed areas because the market is pushing it that way. If land use regulations change in ways that accommodate what the market wants to do, we’ll see an accelerated trend.”
Zimmerman says the future should not be seen as a competition between either cars or transit; transit-oriented development that combines retail, office, and residential properties in close proximity to a Metro station also encourages more walking.
“The reason for doing transit-oriented development is not simply to get more people on transit, but to get more people out of having to use any kind of vehicle for five, six, seven trips a day,” he said.
Zimmerman acknowledges the highway system will always need significant funding for maintenance and improvements, but if a million more jobs are coming to the region by 2040 it makes more sense – in his view – to attract them to places that workers can reach without a car.
Kirby’s forecast says the average number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes by transit will increase from the current 419,000 to 499,000 in 2040, a projection Zimmerman says will change with better land use policies.
Monday, October 22, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) When you sit on the bus or stand on a train platform nonchalantly holding your smart phone inches from your eyes, you are an easy target. Thefts of mobile devices are soaring in major cities across the country with many of the robberies occurring in mass transit systems.
In the District of Columbia, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier estimates 60-70 percent of robberies are cell phone related. Thieves often leave the victims’ wallet or other valuables while demanding – or snatching – a smart phone, said Lanier in an interview with WAMU. Exact robbery statistics are not available but Lanier said they are in the process of being compiled.
In the Metro system, roughly half of robberies involve high-end mobile devices including smart phones and tablets, said WMATA Deputy Chief Ronald Pavlik.
“We’re reminding our customers to be aware of their surroundings,” Pavlik said. “Try not to use it in plain view. Don’t sit near the train doors. A lot of the robberies occur near the train doors. The thief times it perfectly as the doors are opening and closing.”
Anyone who owns a smartphone understands why they are targeted by thieves. Stolen devices can be resold for hundreds of dollars and they store loads of personal information ripe for identity crimes.
“It’s my lifeline, all my numbers, everything,” said Andrea Caulfield as she rode a Green line train Monday afternoon. “I do have it passcode protected. When I take it out I just take it for granted that it’s still going to be there when I put it away.”
In the first nine months of 2012 Metro police reported 314 thefts of mobile devices, a slight increase from the same period last year. Fifty-five additional “thefts” resulted in arrests as a result of WMATA’s “crime suppression teams” that consist of undercover officers holding smartphones acting as decoys in troublesome areas.
More promising is an FCC initiative that takes effect October 31. Smartphone owners will be able to register their devices in a database that police will use to identify and disable it if it’s stolen, rendering it useless for resale on the black market. Both the MPD and WMATA police are partners in the FCC initiative.
Owners will need basic information about their phones to register, according to Deputy Chief Pavlik. “They’ll have to know their own phone number, the serial number, date of purchase, things of that nature,” he said. The database, compiled by wireless carriers, is supported by the wireless advocacy group CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), based in Washington, D.C.
CTIA vice president Christopher Guttman-McCabe calls the database a “key component” of an effort to dry up the black market for stolen phones. He said police chiefs, carriers, and the FCC approached his organization seeking a solution to the rise in cell phone-related robberies.
“The goal is to find a way to take a device and make it valueless after it’s lost or stolen,” he said. “We are also starting a concerted effort to try to get consumers to use PINs or passwords to lock the phone if it gets lost or stolen.”
The Associated Press reported the problem is growing in other major cities, too. In San Francisco nearly half of all robberies involve cell phones. In New York City the figure is forty percent.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
More than two years after its southern segment opened, bicycling advocates are asking District and Maryland transportation officials why there has been no progress extending the 8-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) that is supposed to run between Union Station and Silver Spring, Md.
The southern segment is a completed, off-road bicycle path running straight north from Union Station through Northeast Washington to the Brookland neighborhood, but the remaining three segments are a combination of off-road and “interim routes” that force cyclists to leave the path and crowd onto city streets.
“In a couple of places it actually goes up relatively steep hills. In one place it goes against traffic,” says Shane Farthing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The group is urging the District Department of Transportation to begin work on the northernmost segment inside the district, from Riggs Road to the Montgomery County line.
“We’d like to see DDOT pushing harder on that,” Farthing says.
But starting work on the MBT’s center segment in D.C. is more complicated: there are outstanding land-use issues that have to be resolved by the National Park Service, DC's transit agency (WMATA), and the DDOT concerning federal property around Fort Totten, where the proposed trail makes a sharp left turn in the vicinity of a trash transfer station. That is where bicyclists face the thorniest part of their ride as two-way bicycling traffic has to squeeze into one of the “interim trails,” a one-way street for cars.
“For kids and novice cyclists who might want to try this connection, I do think where you are sent into oncoming traffic it is intimidating,” says Farthing, who gave an interview at the noisy intersection of Fort Totten Drive NE and Gallatin Street NE.
“All of the area around Fort Totten is National Park Service land, and there are certain agreements that WMATA has with rights of use to get the Red Line through. So they have to make sure (that) all those different legal agreements on land use work together to allow for the trail access,” he added.
The partial completion of the MBT is not stopping bicyclists from using it as part of their daily commutes or for recreation. There were 11,503 trips on the MBT last year, a nearly three-fold increase from 2010, according to DDOT figures.
Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s associate director for policy, planning, and sustainability, said funding and land use issues have delayed progress.
“Some of what we face is a challenge of resources and dealing with multiple trail projects moving forward at the same time,” he says, adding that the Fort Totten area “is probably one of the most challenging sections of the trail in terms of dealing with competing needs of the right of way.”
Zinbabwe countered criticism that the DDOT isn't prioritizing the project.
“We don’t feel that we are [idle]. I think that we continue to try to move it forward,” he says. Although Farthing says he believes the entire bike trail could be finished in two to three years, Zimbabwe called that goal “optimistic.”
In Montgomery County, where the proposed trail would end at Silver Spring, there are also outstanding conflicts concerning land use.
The group Montgomery Preservation Inc. is unhappy with a plan to run the trail between its building that houses a B&O Railroad museum and Metro’s Red Line tracks. The plan also calls for building a bicycling bridge over Georgia Avenue that would block views of the historic railroad bridge. The MBT is part of the county’s master plan and the Montgomery County Council has approved funding.
“The county council, county executive, and bicycling community are all interested in completing the design and construction and opening up this important part of this heavily used trail,” says Bruce Johnston, the chief of MCDOT’s division of transportation engineering.
Although frustrated by the slow progress, Farthing looks forward to a day when commuters can ride their bicycles all the way from Silver Spring to Union Station without squeezing past moving vehicle traffic.
“The ability to take your bike on and off Metro, the ability to mix it with bike share, we’ve got a lot of different ways that you can integrate biking into daily life, but it is important to have the trail so the people can do it safely and easily,” Farthing says.
Monday, September 17, 2012
This is the second of a two-part series on the relationship between gentrification and access to transit in Washington D.C.'s rapidly changing neighborhoods. Part 2 examines the Deanwood and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Ward 7. Part 1 examined the Shaw and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods in the Georgia Avenue corridor in Ward 1.
Despite the presence of three Metro stations -- four when counting the station just over the border in Prince George's County -- redevelopment has been slow to take hold in D.C.'s Ward 7. If you take the train east of the Anacostia River and arrive at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station in the Deanwood area, you will arrive in what looks like a different city in one significant respect: while other parts of Washington are exploding with new high-rise apartment buildings and retail space, this neighborhood is only starting to grow.
"We still like the small-town feel of this area, and we have an older population," says Dennis Chestnut, 62. He runs the grassroots community group Groundwork Anacostia. "We like to retain a little bit of that as the growth takes place, so I think that very rapid growth has its drawbacks."
"When you look at this Metro station and all of the space that is available here, there is opportunity here for Metro and transit-oriented retail that could support the community in a lot of ways," Chestnut added.
That section of the city has remained underserved for decades, and developers are now beginning to take advantage of what is fertile ground for real estate projects. At the very busy intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, ground has been broken on the Park 7 development, a $67 million mixed-use real estate project that will include 20,000 square feet of new retail space and mostly affordable rental housing among its 370 apartment units, a key to protecting existing residents from rising property values as gentrification takes root.
"The people who are most vulnerable are renters because their rents can keep going up," says Cheryl Cort, the policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "D.C. does have a moderate rent-control law for older buildings, but there are ways for building owners to get around that, so renters are most vulnerable to rising prices."
In July, about 100 affordable housing units for residents 55 and older opened at Victory Square on Barnes Street NE, a component of the ward's Parkside master plan. Tenants with moderate incomes will pay rents ranging from $775 to $960, according to a statement by the Banc of America Community Development Corporation.
There are at least seven major real estate projects in Ward 7 receiving city subsidies.
New transit and gentrification
Coming changes could cause unintended consequences for the ward's poorest residents. A plan to extend the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line east of the Anacostia River is under consideration. A study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that neighborhoods that get new rail transit systems like streetcars experience a significant increase in housing prices. In some places, renters and low-income households have been priced out.
"A streetcar or light rail can lead to gentrification here," says Peter Tatian, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute. "It has in other places. It brings investment into a community and new people who are attracted by the new transportation. What the city needs to do is think about how it can take advantage of the benefits of light rail as well as mitigating the negatives that might exist, particularly for renters."
While many residents may welcome the streetcar line, Octaviah Holt, a 21-year-old professional, has her doubts about whom it will benefit.
"Who would put a trolley in this neighborhood?" says Holt. "I don't feel as though there is a lot of crime, but a lot of people wouldn't want to ride a trolley, the people that I know. I feel as though it's not for us, the people in the neighborhood. It's meant for the newcomers."
The perception that Ward 7 is not a place where developers want to build or people want to move is fading, according to Tatian.
"People who come out here will see the changes, but the problem is getting the people to come out here in the first place," he says. "There is still this perception that this is not a good place to be, but that is starting to change slowly."
New pedestrian bridge over I-295
One can get a bird's eye view of the traffic roaring by on Route 295 by standing on the old, narrow, poorly lit pedestrian bridge connecting Deanwood to Kenilworth. The latter neighborhood has been isolated from its neighbors since the highway was built through here, Chestnut says.
"This bridge is the only connection for this community to Minnesota Avenue and the Metro," he says. Now that Kenilworth is starting to grow, a new pedestrian bridge will be necessary to accommodate increased foot traffic.
"This pedestrian bridge was built a while ago, and it is time for it to be rebuilt," says Cheryl Cort. "It doesn't feel like a very safe place. We talk to residents and there's a tendency to use it during the daylight hours and take the bus home at night. The new pedestrian bridge will be designed to be a much safer place. It will deter crime."
Preparing for change
Whether the neighborhood Dennis Chestnut has called home his entire life can avoid the negative consequences of gentrification remains to be seen. The addition of affordable housing units amid new apartment buildings will certainly help. He says the late development of Deanwood has also turned out to be "a blessing."
"It wound up being a blessing in disguise for this particular area because of how rapidly it happened in some of the other areas," he says. "On the east side of the city, Ward 8 was one example of how rapidly it took place there. It has allowed the residents here in Ward 7 to witness that and to prepare to some extent. This is where the local engagement has been very important to get involved with the process."
Resident O'Neal Odom, 70, who has lived in the ward for 40 years, welcomes the expected transformation as major real estate projects are realized.
"We're finally starting to get some services," he says. "You know, streets fixed, getting stores, we are getting government. It's becoming a better place to live. I have no problem with gentrification. It's going to change like that anyway. Once they start building new houses and new things like that, people will stop being afraid of us."
For more on how gentrification has affected DC residents, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality."
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
(Armando Trull - Washington, DC, WAMU) The Silver Line to Dulles marked a major milestone Tuesday. Construction crews are fitting into place the final span for the bridges to carry the Silver Line trains.
"This marks the completion of the aerial structure of this project through Tyson's Corner," says Patrick Nowakowski, the executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. "We have over three miles of aerial structure and this is the last span being set into place."
The crews are using a truss longer than a football field to lift and move the 380-ton span, made up of 12 custom-cast concrete segments.
"Obviously when you're picking up anything this heavy and you have workers underneath it, you have to be very careful and do this in a safe manner," Nowakowski said. "We've been at this for several years now, so we've got it pretty well perfected, we take our time and we do it the right way."
When completed in late 2013, the span will carry trains over the Capital Beltway and into the heart of the largest employment center in Virginia -- Tyson's Corner. Eventually, the line will extend to Washington Dulles International Airport.
Friday, July 13, 2012
(Markette Smith -- Washington, DC, WAMU) More details have emerged about the July 3 train car derailment that happened during rush hour near West Hyattsville, Md.
Metro engineers inspected the tracks a day before the derailment, but say they found no warning signs. The following day, a portion of the railing buckled from the pressure of prolonged 100-degree weather. This "heat kink" caused a six-car Green line train to jump the tracks.
Now, Metro officials say the only way to prevent that from happening again is to change the way they install railing system-wide.
Dave Kubecik, Deputy General Manager of Metro Operations, says the likelihood of a track buckling increases when temperatures climb higher than 85 degrees. So now, they're trying new methods of installing rail that can withstand greater exposures to heat.
"Knowing that it's subjected to an environment of 95 and 100 degrees, you're going to have much more movement and energy that's going to have to be released or contracted," says Kubecik. "So by adopting a standard of 95 degrees neutral, basically that means that that infrastructure is designed to take more heat and it minimizes its movement."
This is the second incident of a Metro rail buckling under extreme heat this year.
The incident also prompted the institution of a new safety rule. After the train jumped the tracks, the six-car Green Line train momentarily lost power. The train operator had did not have a cell phone and had to walk to a communications outlet to alert the rail system of what happened.
As a result of the incident, Metro has instated a 5-minute rule. So now, in the case of a communications failure, if managers at headquarters do not hear from a train operator in the field within 5 minutes, then they will automatically send emergency responders.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
After four hours of debate Monday night, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors only inched closer to deciding how to fund its $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport and west into the county, leaving some Metro-to-Loudoun supporters on the board visibly frustrated and raising the probability that a majority of supervisors will decide to opt out of the project when a final vote is held in two weeks.
“I’ve been saying all along it’s 50/50. I still think it’s 50/50,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), a Phase 2 supporter, after Monday night’s marathon work session.
If the county opts out of the $2.7 billion dollar project, construction of the rail link to connect Washington DC with the international airport would be delayed by at least 18 months.
The supervisors met to determine how the county would finance the project but only settled on submitting three options to the board staff for further consideration: creating 1) a county-wide commercial and industrial tax, 2) special tax districts around the two future Metro stops that
would levy taxes on commercial properties, 3) tax districts based on the borders of the county’s planning sub-areas.
“In my view we eliminated too many options from the table. The board took off the table any use of the general fund whatsoever, which I think is a mistake. We could fund the entire project our of general fund revenue with an impact of $98 a year for the average homeowner,” Letourneau said.
On the nine-member board four supervisors are considered “opt in” votes, but it’s not clear if they will be able to sway any of their colleagues to reach the five-vote majority necessary to support Metro rail-to-Loudoun. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) made a show of voting against every financing option, declaring “Metro is evil.” When asked to clarify his remarks by a reporter Delgaudio declined to comment, saying he was “very busy.”
Of the four remaining supervisors leaning toward “opting out,” three signed and submitted just hours before the work session began a list of 21 demands they would like satisfied in order to support the project.
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) initiated the “opt-in consideration” which included proposals outside the Loudoun board’s power. For instance, Higgins is asking the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to seat two additional Virginia board members. When asked how the proposal relates to Phase 2’s financing, Higgins responded, “The [MWAA] board doesn’t have the greatest reputation for openness and the way they have approached things. If it’s no big deal why have they refused to seat those people?”
The board’s three Phase 2 supporters who were present (Chairman Scott York was absent) touted the findings of a new survey conducted by the University of Virginia. Using a sample of 1,000 county residents in mostly suburban zip codes, the survey found that 77 percent want access to Metro rail. In rural areas support is 57 percent; in non-rural areas support rises to 81 percent. However, supervisors who are leaning toward opting out questioned the survey’s methodology, implying that the questions were designed to prompt favorable answers.
"There were no specifics with respect to [supporting rail]… if it means raising your taxes,” said Board Vice-Chair Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). “That’s what this board is grappling with."
The supervisors plan to hold one final work session to determine if they can provide a financing framework before deciding the county’s ultimate participation in a public meeting scheduled July 3. Letourneau said opting out would hurt the county for decades, let alone delay construction by
at least 18 months.
“It is possible the project would get completed to Dulles Airport, but it will stop at Dulles Airport. There will be a rail line behind it which would make it impossible for it to ever be continued into Loudoun County. That’s the worse case scenario for us, where we are paying very high tolls, we are getting no economic benefit, our commuters have no access to the airport station, and they will have very limited access to the station’s in Fairfax County,” he said.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
With time running down to a critical deadline, the Loudoun County, Virginia Board of Supervisors is weighing a range of options to pay for the $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line Metro rail project to Dulles Airport. The alternatives under consideration — and the scant time to reach a decision — are raising questions long asked by the project's critics, who say the multi-billion dollar undertaking is poorly planned and unfair to local taxpayers.
Loudoun County lawmakers have until July 4 to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion project that would complete the rail link between the Washington D.C. Metro system, the airport and beyond it into the county suburbs. Phase 1 of the Silver line will end short of the airport at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.
The Loudoun County Board will hold a work session Monday, June 18 on the proposed funding options, which include creating special tax districts to tax developers around the planned Metro stops, a countywide transportation service district that would provide money for both rail and road improvements and a commercial and industrial tax.
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who is leaning toward voting to opt into the project, released a letter to his constituents on Tuesday in which he laid out the financing options and his reasons for supporting the county's participation in the project.
"Depending on exactly how we finance the project, the amount that we'll have to spend each year is fairly easily absorbed in the budget without having to do anything significant to raise taxes," said Letourneau, who has argued that the county's general fund could possibly cover the Phase 2 costs.
The board would not have adequate time to actually implement any long-term financing plan before the July 4 deadline, but may present to the public a framework of its intentions. Some supervisors say a mere framework is inadequate considering the potential burden on taxpayers for years to come.
"It's going to take a combination of having a dedicated funding for highways, buses, and rail for me to support the project," said Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who is leaning toward voting to opt out. "I would love to have a special tax district. The problem is there are not a lot of tax ratables there to keep the rate reasonable," referring to the current lack of development around the future Metro stops west of the airport, a sentiment shared by Letourneau.
"Frankly, those [tax districts] would not generate a tremendous amount of revenue, especially in the next couple years, because our areas are not developed," Letourneau said. However, as he described in his letter to constituents, Letourneau is satisfied the county can afford the project and should opt in while still figuring out the financing.
Supervisor Reid said the process is backwards. "If you don't get economic development, which is very likely because it is at the end of the rail line, then taxpayers are stuck holding the bag," he said.
Reid also doubts a tax only on businesses would work. "If you tax our businesses only to pay for Metro, it puts them at a disadvantage to businesses in Fairfax, Prince William and other jurisdictions," said Reid, pointing to Loudoun's less densely developed landscape. "The promise of Metro for Loudoun County is not what a lot of people think it will be."
Monday, June 04, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- Armando Trull, WAMU) As we reported earlier today, public transit ridership is up around the country. Some transit agencies are responding to the longer term trend of increased demand by building new lines. Others, like Washington D.C. area Metro is expanding service on their existing routes. Here's the latest from D.C.
D.C. Metro will start expanded rush hour service to reduce crowding and provide new transfer-free travel opportunities in two weeks. Employees were handing out information packets about the new "Rush Plus" service this morning.
The program will add more trains on the Orange, Blue, Green, and Yellow lines during rush hour.
Metro workers at Franconia Springfield station were handing out information leaflets to let riders there know that the station will soon be serviced by both Blue and Yellow line trains during rush hour. Some Blue Line trains become Yellow Line trains.
"It's adding more rush hour service for our customers," said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, who was on hand this morning at Franconia-Springfield. "Here at Franconia-Springfield, people up until now have only seen Blue Line trains. Starting two weeks from now, they'll also see Yellow Line trains for a faster trip into the District without having to change trains."
On the Orange Line, Metro will add three more trains in each direction every hour during rush hour to reduce crowded conditions. The map gets a little more confusing with the rush hour-only service. A revised version of the Metro map, with dashed lines for the new service, is also being posted to explain the expanded service.
Here's the new map or click below for full size:
Friday, May 18, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Subway doors shouldn't open while the train is in motion. But they did recently in Washington D.C. Scary stuff.
D.C. Metro's investigation team was able to replicate the mechanical problem that led to two incidents of uncommanded door openings on a Red Line train this week.
On Tuesday morning, riders told a Metro worker the doors were opening on their Red Line train while it was moving. That car — one of six in that train — was emptied of passengers and closed off. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says the rest of the train was kept in service.
"There was no indication that it was a broader issue," said Stessel. "It was thought to be an issue just with a particular set of doors in that one car."
Later in the journey, the doors on another car in that same six-car train opened en route, and then the entire train was taken out of service. It's not uncommon during rush hour to see people packed right up against the doors of Metro cars. That's why some passengers wonder whether the problem that happened on two 1000 series rails cars could happen again.
Patricia Smith was thinking about it on her Red Line train commute today: "On a morning rush hour, I guarantee you people are packed against that door and it's scary to think it could open on you. That is why I am sitting down."
According to the Metro investigation, they were able to replicate the incident, focusing on a misalignment of the contact head that transfers information between cars. Stessel said this particular train consisted of two 5000 series cars in the front, two 1000s in the middle, and two 6000s in the rear. The problem appeared to stem from the connection between the 5000 and 1000 series cars, which caused an electrical short.
Metro will begin in inspection of all 5000-series cars for similar issues.
No one was injured in either incident.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
(Washington, DC -- Armando Trull, WAMU) You've heard of Kiss and Ride and Park and Ride, but now Metro has opened its first Bike & Ride facility. At least 100 bikes can be stored in a covered, enclosed and secure location.
It's secure because there's steel doors and steel grates. And you can only get in using an electronic card, which is tied to a person's picture ID.
Deputy General Manager Carol Kissle. "It helps us attract riders to our system in a cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable way. That's really important for us, to give riders that flexibility in our system."
By next summer, secured bicycle parking facilities will built at the Vienna and King Street stations. Over the next five years, Bike and Ride will be rolled out in the District as well as more Virginia and Maryland locations.
Rates for Bike & Ride are 5 cents per hour between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight and 2 cents an hour all other times.