Greater Greater Washington

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 84

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-fourth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 29 guesses. Twenty of you got all five. Great work to the winners!


Image 1: King Street

This week, all of the stations featured are stations that are adjacent to active railroad tracks. The first picture was taken along the walkway to the Commonwealth Avenue entrance at King Street. This entrance was added long after the station opened, and it's far enough north that the platform had to be extended. But the extended platform doesn't serve trains (they still stop in the original location), so fences along the tracks keep people back from moving trains.

The presence of this fence, plus the three-track railroad bridge in the background are both clues that this is King Street. Nearly all of you (26) got this one right.


Image 2: Brookland

The second image shows ancillary rooms at the north end of the Brookland platform, viewed from the Michigan Avenue bridge. The main clue here is that the Metro tracks are straddled by a single freight track on either side, which happens only along the Red Line between Brookland and Silver Spring. That means that this could only be one of four stations.

At Fort Totten and Takoma, there's no way to get a view like this, since there are no bridges nearby. At Silver Spring, there is a bridge over the southern end of the station, however, from that bridge, the MARC platforms would be visible, as would many tall buildings, since Silver Spring is so urban.

One final clue is the cleft in the blockhouse at bottom right. That cleft is home to the base of a bridge support from the older Michigan Avenue Bridge. That bridge was still in use when Brookland station was constructed, so the ancillary rooms were built around the bridge support. However, the current Michigan Avenue bridge was constructed and opened shortly after Brookland station opened to passengers. The old base still exists, though.

Twenty-one of you knew this one.


Image 3: Rockville

The third image shows the view northward from Rockville station. Given that many Metro stations are next to railroad tracks, this one was harder to narrow down, but there were some clues. One is the new platform pavers, which are present now at most Red Line outdoor stations, but few stations on other lines.

The buildings around the gentle curve in the distance also may have helped you narrow this down. The one closest to the station is 401 Hungerford, home to Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services. Another clue is the adjacent railroad bridge over Park Road, which is fairly distinctive.

Twenty-one figured this one out.


Image 4: Minnesota Avenue

The fourth image shows a view westward from the platform at Minnesota Avenue. There are a few clues. The most distinctive is probably the bridge over DC 295 at center. That bridge leads to a long ramp down to the station's mezzanine, the top of which is visible as well.

A second clue is the catenary masts with missing catenary. The railroad line between Landover and L'Enfant Plaza (via the Virginia Avenue Tunnel) was electrified just like the rest of the Pennsylvania Railroad between Washington and New York. Back then, not only were passenger trains hauled by electric locomotives, so were freight trains. For that reason, electric wires ran above this freight bypass of Union Station, all the way south to Potomac Yard, where the Pennsy handed off freight trains to the Southern Railway and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P).

Conrail stopped running electric-hauled freights in the mid-1980s, so the wires are long gone. But the supporting masts survive. These wire-less masts run alongside the Orange Line between Cheverly and Minnesota Avenue. So that should have helped you narrow this down.

One more clue that may have helped narrow this down is the parked coal hopper. This stretch of track leads into CSX's Benning Yard, where many of the coal hoppers bound for the Morgantown Generating Station and the Chalk Point Generating Station are stored. Parked coal trains are a common sight on this portion of the Orange Line.

Twenty-two got the right answer (dontcha know).


Image 5: Landover

The final image was taken looking south from Landover station. From this vantage point, you can see the electrified Northeast Corridor. Since it's impossible to tell whether the catenary here is still present (due to the foliage), this could be any Orange Line station between New Carrollton and Minnesota Avenue.

With the Amtrak corridor to the right of the image, this must be a picture looking south. It can't be Cheverly, since that station has side platforms. At New Carrollton, the Amtrak/MARC station would be visible at right and there's a bridge within sight of the southern end of the platform.

Additionally, the southern ends of New Carrollton, Deanwood, and Minnesota Avenue have blockhouses with ancillary rooms (like seen in image 2 at Brookland), so the view to the south is not possible. Minnesota Avenue and Deanwood also have freight tracks on both sides of the platform, which aren't visible here.

That leaves Landover, which twenty-two of you were able to correctly deduce.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Demographics


DC's population is exploding

DC's population is growing, and it's likely to surpass the all-time high in the next decade. It's also getting whiter overall, and seeing more international immigrants and childbirths. These are some of the key takeaways from a population trends study that the Office of Planning published in April.


DC's population growth is forecasted to continue in the decades to come. All images from the Office of Planning.

DC will likely surpass its all-time high population within the next decade

Between 2000 and 2015, the District's population grew by approximately 100,000 people. This meant a reversal of a downward trend in population, which had been happening since the 1950s, when the city's population peaked at around 800,000.

There aren't any signs that population growth will slow down. In fact, the study projects the District's population will exceed the old high of 800,000 within the next ten years.

DC will continue to become whiter and more affluent

Since bottoming out in the 1980s, the District's white population has grown steadily, with a sharp increase around the turn of the century. Conversely, the rate of the black population growth has steadily declined since its peak in the 1970s.

As DC's white population continues to increase, wealth and affluence will likely increase as a corollary. Currently, pockets of wealth and affluence are unevenly concentrated in Wards 1, 2, and 3. By contrast, Wards 7 and 8 contain a disproportionate amount of poverty when compared to the other wards.


As can be seen in the images above, the educated and affluent are primarily white and heavily concentrated in northwest and central DC (Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6).


Median income in the District, 2010-2014.

International immigration and child births fuel population growth

Between 2000 and 2007, more people migrated out of the District than migrated in. Since 2007, though, the migrant population in the District has consistently remained a net positive - more people are migrating into the District than out of it.

It is worth noting that even before 2007, the influx of international migrants remained consistently positive despite the overall trend of people moving out of the District.

When taken into consideration relative to the overall migration trends of the 2000s, international immigration has accounted for a significant portion of the population increase in the city.

As more immigrants move into the District and start or expand their families, they account for an increased proportion of the population growth in the city.


Migration trends in the District since 2001.

The number of school-aged children will boom in the next 10 years

Between 2000 and 2010, a specific subgroup - youths aged 5-10 years old - saw a steep drop off in population, accounting for 36% of the overall youth population loss. But this same group saw a 16% population increase between 2010 and 2014.

The attraction and retention of households with children is projected to grow in the years to come, which means the population of school-aged children will likely continue to increase.


Declines in the District's youth population between 2000 and 2010 have been reversed.

What are the policy implications?

As the District looks to the future, population growth and demographic projections clearly highlight opportunities for more sustainable growth.

Wealth and poverty are distributed unevenly in distinct sections of the city, and policy decisions have the potential to affect a shift in this reality as the District prepares for future population expansion.

With a projected increase in school-aged youth and retention of families, education and housing policy specifically could present a significant opportunity for reversing the trends towards an increased opportunity gap.

Pedestrians


Brookland is getting a new bridge at Monroe Street

By the end of 2018, a new bridge will replace the one that currently carries Monroe Street over the train tracks in Brookland. The project will include new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and traffic signals, all of which should make the area better for walking.


The proposed Monroe Street Bridge

The Monroe Street Bridge was first built in 1931, and the last time it got a repair and partial reconstruction was in 1974; today, the bridge is definitely showing its age. The bridge deck, it turns out, is cracked and depressed, and there is extensive damage and corrosion to the concrete. The District Department of Transportation started preaparing to rehabilitate the bridge back in 2014, and at a May 12th public meeting, a DDOT representative noted that the condition is such that the bridge superstructure will need to be fully replaced.

Construction will happen in two phases, with the northbound side closed and repaired first, followed by the southbound side. Though the bridge will never be completely closed, DDOT is evaluating a lengthy bicycle detour.

When the project is complete, the mostly concrete bridge will be replaced by a new three-span steel superstructure supported by the rehabilitated piers and abutments.

The walk across the bridge will be a lot more pleasant

The new bridge will benefit pedestrians the most. Sidewalks on Monroe between 7th and 9th, and even across 9th where recent construction has caused some damage, will be repaired. The exposed aggregate sidewalk, a type of sidewalk with exposed stone on the surface, will be replaced with full slabs of concrete.


Image from Google Maps.

The sidewalk on the east side of 8th Street between Monroe and Lawrence, which has also been damaged by construction and which has a sizable gap, will also be repaired and completed. Pepco power lines will go below the bridge, meaning the sidewalk won't have power line poles in the middle, and there will be better lighting for people walking.


Image from Google Maps.

Alongside the property on the southwest corner of Monroe and 7th, green buffers between the sidewalk and the street that are currently filled with gravel will get some landscaping.

Finally, the chain link fence that protects the railroad tracks below, will be replaced with an aesthetically more appealing—and harder to climb—plastic barrier.

Though the project area includes a section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail where a trail underpass was once proposed, changes to the trail will be minimal.

For people using the the MBT, the main improvement will be the addition of a timed traffic signal where the trail crosses Monroe at 8th Street. As abutments (the pieces that hold up the ends of the bridge) will not be extensively rebuilt, whatever opportunity that might have existed to run the trail beneath Monroe Street, as originally planned, seems gone.

Links


Breakfast links: Stuck on safety


Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.
Tri-state take two: Regional leaders put together a draft agreement for a new 6-member safety oversight committee to watch over Metro. DC, Maryland, and Virginia legislatures are expected to vote on the agreement later this year or early next year. (City Paper)

Fairfax on SafeTrack: Here's how Fairfax Connector buses will make SafeTrack a little less painful for riders. Manager Nicholas Perfili says with the short turnaround it was important to plan new routes that would be easy to implement and easy for riders to understand. (Post)

Uber ups its carpooling: Uber will expand their carpooling service to more of the region during SafeTrack, but they won't cap surge pricing. (Post)

DC's congressional overlords: The House of Representatives voted to nullify DC's 2013 vote for budget autonomy. Speaker Ryan said that allowing DC to spend local tax dollars without congressional approval would undermine the Constitution. President Obama has vowed to veto the bill if it gets to his desk. (Post)

Big bucks to best MD traffic: For $100 million, Maryland is asking companies to compete to design an innovative solution to I-270's traffic problems. (Post)

Housing buzz words in DC: "Dupont," "Circle," and "Metro station" were the most common buzz words used to attract renters on Zillow in DC in 2015. (UrbanTurf)

2-bedroom rent is too damn high: To comfortably rent a 2-bedroom apartment the US, workers must make $20.30 per hour, but the average hourly wage is $5 less than that. Maryland has the second worst rent gap in the US. (CityLab)

Popular vote for park preservation: Vote to pick which National Park historical sites should get preservation grants. DC's Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain, outside Union Station, is competing for a portion of the $2 million available. (DCist)

A grade for landlords: Toronto is considering a plan to grade landlords on living conditions, and post the grade in building lobbies, similar to New York City's health inspection grades for restaurants. (CityLab)

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Politics


For Arlington County Board: Erik Gutshall

On June 14, Arlington Democrats will choose a nominee for one of the five seats on their county board. We encourage voters to support Erik Gutshall in his efforts to unseat incumbent Libby Garvey in the Democratic primary on June 14.


Erik Gutshall. Image from the candidate.

Erik Gutshall has served Arlington well as a member of its planning commission and wants to bring a forward-looking philosophy to Arlington. He told Saty Reddy, "Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?"

On housing, Gutshall wants to ensure that middle-class residents have opportunities to live in Arlington as well, by adding more "medium-scale, neighborhood-density" housing. Arlington has built many high-rises, but has added no residents in many other neighborhoods.

On transportation, he has committed to finding a good solution to transportation needs along Columbia Pike, for strengthening bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly design. He will make it a priority to identify solutions to Arlington's school capacity problems and supports funding for the county's recently-passed affordable housing plans.

Overall, Gutshall has demonstrated a strong grasp of the challenges facing Arlington and an ability to work with others to find solutions.

Why you should not vote for Garvey

Libby Garvey, his opponent, has not demonstrated these qualities. She is often surprisingly poorly versed on policy issues and has not built consensus toward solutions.

She has said things we like on issues including development and pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. But on other issues, her statements worked as political sound bites but were logically nonsensical.

With Columbia Pike's streetcar now long dead, Garvey continues to promote false choices that obfuscate rather than enlighten.

When Saty Redy interviewed her, she cited Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a possible transportation approach. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, one of BRT's biggest backers, says a BRT line needs to have "at least three kilometers of dedicated bus lanes" to be true BRT. That's not possible on Columbia Pike.

Back when the streetcar debate was raging, opponents continually showed pictures of buses in dedicated lanes like in the suburbs of Eugene, Oregon despite there being no space to fit such things on Columbia Pike. When pressed, they acknowledged that there wouldn't be a dedicated lane on Columbia Pike, but then kept talking about how great BRT is in other cities.

Garvey was at the time not overtly a part of the opposition group, but even now as board chair, she continues to push that same misleading idea. She mentioned Los Angeles' rapid bus system and said 90% of US BRT lacks dedicated lanes. But what Garvey didn't say was that most of LA's buses aren't BRT (only the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley, which has a lane) and that most BRT advocates are really frustrated at how many cities claim their buses are "BRT" but aren't.

It's politically convenient to use a term that sounds great and then build not-great transit. Rail in mixed traffic might not have been so great either, but had other benefits like capacity. Garvey and other opponents were not, and still are not, willing to debate on the actual pros and cons of the issue; instead, they pretended, and now pretend, that there's a magic transit solution out there which only they have the courage to implement.

On I-66 widening, county officials had a solid agreement about what to push for and what the county would give up, and had reached consensus with state legislators. But several Arlington leaders say Garvey then undermined that consensus and Arlington's unified front in direct conversations with delegates. In the end, the legislature pushed through a worse version of the I-66 plan.

Garvey sounded compelling on development in our interview. Saty Reddy wrote, "Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says."

But votes she has made against funding affordable housing are troubling. There's a dangerous trend in Arlington of affluent neighborhoods turning against funding for projects, whether transit, housing, or others, in less-wealthy south Arlington.

Garvey won office in part on the wave of that sentiment, which ultimately drove three of the county board's long-serving members to step down. Those leaders have been attacked unfairly for their efforts to make Arlington a better place.

Even if they made some mistakes, they wanted to move Arlington forward. Garvey has not shown the drive to do this. Gutshall says he will. He deserves that chance.

All registered Arlington voters regardless of party are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary on June 14. Find out where and how to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement. No Arlington County employees participated in any way in the survey, deliberations, final decision, or writing for this endorsement.

Pedestrians


To make streets walkable, empower pedestrians to cross anywhere

To make streets walkable, we need to re-think the basic principles of how people on foot and people in cars share the roadway. This is the fourth and final post in a multi-part opinion series.

To make streets truly walkable, we need to totally rethink how we run them. Crossing on foot should be legal anywhere and anyplace. Traffic lights should be red-yellow-green, with no walk signals.


Photo by Ian Sane on Flickr.

As the previous posts in this series have shown, these simpler streets would be far safer. They could operate with only limited changes in the rules of the road. Drivers would follow traffic signals as they do today—pedestrians would have the right of way when they cross on green, but yield to drivers when the light is against them.

The rule for crosswalks with no signal would not change at all; those on foot would still have the right of way at all times. Elsewhere, foot crossings would be allowed at any location, but pedestrians would have to yield. (This is the current rule in Maryland and DC on blocks that don't have traffic lights at both ends.)

How the rules went wrong

The evolution of roadways over the last century has progressively restricted movement on foot. Traffic engineers have had two goals: to speed automobile travel by getting pedestrians out of the way, and to prevent crashes by separating vehicles from pedestrians.

This approach has long since become obsolete. It's not just that roads designed for fast driving aren't good for city living. Even on its own terms, traditional traffic engineering fails. It doesn't make streets safe. And it's too complex and expensive to be fully implemented.

The poor suffer most from this failure. Declining suburbs, designed for travel by automobile alone, now house many who cannot afford a car. With sidewalks scarce and crosswalks rarely marked, travel on foot in full compliance with the law is a practical impossibility. This opens the way to police harassment of minority pedestrians—a practice whose most famous victim was Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri.

Pedestrians need clear guidance, not complex commands

Effective management of the roadway requires a different philosophy. Users of all types should be empowered to cooperate in sharing scarce street space. Rules must be simplified and decision-making decentralized.

Pedestrians, empowered to cross whenever no cars are in the way, get to share the road more fairly. Walking is no longer delayed by rules set up to move cars. And legalizing mid-block foot crossings, which are unavoidable in many low-income suburbs, eliminates a pretext for police misconduct.

Simpler signals—no walk signs, so that the same traffic lights guide drivers and pedestrians alike—make roads safer. Drivers see what pedestrians see, so everyone knows who goes first. Simplicity also reduces distraction and provides redundant information to those who, inevitably, take their eyes off the signals. When movement begins, on wheel or on foot, anyone not paying attention gets a cue that the light has changed.

With this approach, rules of the road must still govern movement on the streets. Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing with a green light, or at a crosswalk with no signal. Everywhere else, vehicles have the right of way, with pedestrians allowed to cross if no traffic is in the way.

These right-of-way rules are only slightly altered from those in effect now, but they have a different spirit. Rather than telling people what to do, the rules create a framework where individual decisions add up to a collective gain. It's like economics, where markets usually work better than central command. Yet the system can exist only because laws set out basic rules and prevent harmful behavior like monopoly and fraud.

There are, to be sure, traffic problems that pedestrian empowerment cannot remedy. Where heavy foot and vehicle traffic meet, for example—situations like South Capitol Street after a Nationals game, or Times Square and the World Trade Center in New York—full separation of road users is the only way to keep traffic moving. Humans would have to direct traffic, as indeed they often do now in such places.

But a new approach to governing our streets cannot be judged against perfection; it must be compared to today's hazardous mess. The benefits of flexibility and simplicity will far outweigh the dangers created by loss of control.

This non-traffic engineer can only sketch out the needed changes. Details need to be added. Crossing freeways on foot, for example, surely must remain illegal.

New rules by themselves will hardly create safe walking streets. Roadways must be redesigned, and public attitudes must change. But without fundamentally rethinking how we control movement, the streets will never be safe and easy to walk on.

Education


Gentrification isn't the only reason DC's test scores are rising

Student performance in the nation's capital has increased so dramatically that it has attracted significant attention and prompted many to ask whether gentrification, rather than an improvement in school quality, is behind the higher scores. Demographic change explains some of the increases in test scores, but by no means all of them.


Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.

We drew this conclusion after analyzing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the "nation's report card," which tests representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in mathematics and reading every two years.

NAEP scores reflect not just school quality, but also the characteristics of the students taking the test. For example, the difference in scores between Massachusetts and Mississippi reflects both the impact of the state's schools and differences in state poverty rates and other demographics. Likewise, changes in NAEP performance over time can result from changes in both school quality and student demographics.

DC's school demographics have changed substantially since 2005. The NAEP data show that the proportion of white and Hispanic students in DC has roughly doubled, while the proportion of black students has declined. The question is whether DC's sizable improvement is the result of changing demographics, as some commentators claim, or improving quality.

Changing demographics are only part of changing test scores

Our analysis indicates that, based on the relationships between demographics and NAEP scores in 2005, demographic changes predict a score increase of four to six points between 2005 and 2013 (the data needed to perform this analysis on the 2015 results are not yet available).

But the actual score increases have generally far outpaced the gains predicted by demographic change alone. For example, in fourth-grade math, demographics predicted a four-point increase, but scores increased 17 points.

The figure below shows predicted and actual score increases for all four tests for DC schools overall (including charters) and the traditional school district (DC Public Schools). Only in eighth-grade reading scores at DC Public Schools do demographic shifts explain more than half of the score increase.


Graph from the Urban Institute.

To be sure, our analysis does not account for all potentially important demographic factors. In particular, we do not include any measures of family income. Though researchers often use eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch as a proxy for determining income level, changes to who is eligible make this measure unreliable. With the eighth-grade scores, we did attempt to use parents' education as a proxy for socioeconomic status, but our results did not appreciably change: changes in demographics still did not account for changes in academic performance.

The bottom line is that gentrification alone cannot explain why student scores improved in Washington, DC, a conclusion that echoes previous analyses using publicly available data. DC education saw many changes over this period, including reform-oriented chancellors, mayoral control, and a rapidly expanding charter sector, but we cannot identify which policy changes, if any, produced these results.

And despite the large gains, DC NAEP scores still reveal substantial achievement gaps—for example, the gap between average scores for black and white students was 56 points in 2015; the gap between Hispanics and whites was 49 points.

In other words, much work remains to be done.

Here's how we drew our conclusions

Our analysis of student-level NAEP data from DC, including students from charter and traditional public schools, compares the increase in scores from 2005 to 2013 with the increase that might have been expected based on shifts in demographic factors including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and language spoken at home. The methodology is similar to the one used in a new online tool showing state NAEP performance (the tool excludes DC because it is not a state).

We used restricted-use, student-level data from NCES to generate these results. (That means that researchers have to get special permission to access files that have scores on a kid-by-kid (but de-identified) basis, whereas most people would have to use data that averaged for entire states and cities (by subject and year).

We measured the relationship between DC student scores in 2005 and the student factors of gender, race and ethnicity, age, and frequency of English spoken at home. We then predicted what each student's score in 2013 would have been if the relationships between demographics and scores were the same in 2013 as they were in 2005. We then compared the average predicted score of the 2013 test-takers (relative to the 2005 average score) to the actual 2013 score (also relative to the 2005 average score).

We tried model variants that included special education status, limited English proficiency status, and eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch. Including these variables tended to lower the predicted score change (indicating that an even larger portion of the score changes came from non-demographic changes). However, because these variable are also subject to district and school-level definitions (direct certification/community eligibility may have increased the numbers of FRPL-eligible students, for example), we chose not to include these variables in our prediction, and focused only on demographic changes.

Crossposted from the Urban Wire.

Transit


If Metro had been more like Southwest Airlines, it'd have saved a lot of headaches

Last summer, I took my first ride on one of Metro's new 7000 series railcars. They're impressive, but had I gotten my way back in 2006, when I was WMATA's interim General Manager, that ride would have never happened.


Photo by Matt Johnson.

It's not that there's something inherently wrong with the 7000 series, at least no more than there is with any of Metro's other models. The 7000 series is sleek, clean, and efficient. I particularly appreciate eliminating the carpets and the new displays.

The problem is that the 7000 series is yet another kind of railcar that Metro needs to know how to maintain. When that's the case, as opposed to a fleet full of the same kinds of cars, it's a nightmare.

How transit agencies buy railcars

Starting with its first cars, the 1000 series, Metro has bought its fleet in batches, or series. A quick check of Wikipedia can give you the deep dive on the manufacturers, numbers, delivery dates, and the like. The agency has gone back out to market six more time since it bought those first cars, with each successive lot of cars given a new designation: 2000, 3000—you get the picture.

When I was General Manager, we were just finishing delivery of our order of 6000 series railcars. And they had bugs.

Here's the thing about modern transit vehicles: Because each series is bought in a separate procurement, usually after a substantial period of time, the cars' design evolves. Metro then asks a (shrinking) set of global manufacturers to bid for each new design, and once a company gets a contract, it must set up a factory in the United States to construct the order. This factory never gains any economies of scale or long term experience.

The fact is that the best railcar you will get out of this process is the last one delivered. And, frankly, the manufacturers generally just figure out how to build the car when the contract term ends.

Federal Transit Administration regulations require that the agency run a new bidding process to select a new manufacturer every five years. Never mind that the existing manufacturer has the most expertise in building that car they've been building for five years; if a new company comes in cheaper, the agency may have to let that one start building cars, even if that's a surefire way for bugs to come back in.

Many railcars make maintenance harder

One day during my tenure, I was showing a Washington Post reporter, Lena Sun, through a railcar maintenance facility and we met a railcar electrician. He summed up the stupidity of having so many models quite succinctly, waving his hands around his shop and saying, "See all these tools? It is because we have six different kinds of railcars on the system, and each one is just a little bit different. So I need a different set of tools, and parts, and manuals for each one of them."

This is why Southwest Airlines only flies the 737. It is part of their secret to great service, low costs, and high on-time rates. On the corporate side, it increases their bargaining power with suppliers, reduces maintenance cost, increases employee productivity, and streamlines processes.

We wanted Metro to benefit from this lesson by simply continuing to buy the 6000 series. The plan was to negotiate to buy 100 cars a year, every year from that point forward until the fleet was renewed. Then, taper the buys to 50 cars a year to continually renew the fleet.


A 6000 series car. Photo by ExactoCreation on Flickr.

We even had talks with Baltimore and Miami (the two system who use cars that most resemble Metro's) to join in the order and make the volumes attractive enough to keep the manufacturer busy, and drive down costs. We were looking forward to the possibility of jointly training and sharing staff, parts, tools and best practices.

If we had continued on this track after 2006, the system would have all new 6000 series cars by now. But the 7000 series was revived shortly after I left.

Would this have fixed Metro's problems? Not all of them, certainly. But railcar reliability is one of Metro's biggest issues right now, and this could have improved that metric. Also, it could have freed up managers' attention to focus on the track bed, signals, and power systems—the boring parts that have been given a lower priority than the shiny things (literally) like the new car.

Links


Breakfast links: Rape on Metro


Photo by Beth Jusino on Flickr.
Metro doesn't mention crime: Last month, a woman was raped at knifepoint on a Metro train near Glenmont. The assailant was arrested that day, but the attack only became public a month later. Metro has changed its policy to be more forthcoming about violent crime. (Post)

Obama sticks up for DC: President Obama threatened to veto a Republican-backed bill which would repeal DC's budget autonomy while blocking funds for abortions, marijuana legalization, and needle exchanges. (Post)

Presidential neighbors: The Obama family will be moving to Kalorama next year. Obama will be the first president to stick around the District since 1921. (DCist) ... While sensible, the symbolism of Kalorama is unfortunate. (Washingtonian)

Mom is my roommate: 32% of young people live with parents, the highest percentage recorded since records began in the 1880s, according to a new report. The arrangement now beats out living with a partner, which peaked in 1960. (CityLab)

Starter home struggles: The region's supply of entry-level homes continued to shrink dropping almost 14% since last year, according to Zillow. Low inventory and a strong job market, among other factors, may be to blame. (Washingtonian)

The shunning economy: A Virginia man filed a discrimination lawsuit against Airbnb after being denied a room rental. Gregory Selden, who is black, alleges his requests were only accepted after creating accounts with white profile pictures. (WBJ)

District of data: The District's Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development launched the Ward Indicators Tool which provides access to economic data on investment projects by ward. (Technical.ly DC)

Preparing for the surge: Fairfax will operate an express bus service running from Reston to the Pentagon during Metro's planned SafeTrack single tracking next month. Officials are also encouraging teleworking during the safety surge. (Reston Now)

Sidewalk's closed. Now you'll know: Last year Montgomery County passed a law requiring construction sites to post signs when closing a sidewalk, yet not a single sign has been posted. Officials hope to change that by next week. (Bethesda Magazine)

And...: Check out this totally rad "straddling bus" concept being tested in China. (CityLab) ... Shaw's 7th and 9th streets take home the "Great American Main Street Award" for 2016. (Borderstan) ... A new tool from DC's economic development office graphs projects they're involved with in each ward. (DMPED)

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Bicycling


10 big ideas for making Arlington even more bike-friendly

Arlington is one of the best places in Virginia for getting around by bike, partly because the county has been willing to push the envelope on designing streets to be bike-friendly. With the current bike plan up for an overhaul this winter, here are 10 ideas for how Arlington can continue toward building a world-class bike network.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

The current Bicycle Element of Arlington's Master Transportation Plan was written between 2005 and 2007, then adopted in 2008.

These are the plan's four major pieces:

  1. Policies: The current plan sets a number of policy goals, from infrastructure-oriented ones like "complete the bikeway network," to cultural, like "create a community culture that embraces bicycle use as a mainstream travel mode." Each policy includes several actions which provide the high-level guidelines for supporting cycling in Arlington, and they're supposed to guide county staff.
  2. A proposed network: There's a proposed network in the current plan - it lays out all of the streets where bike infrastructure is proposed plus an assortment of recommended routes on quiet neighborhood streets. Unfortunately, it's riddled with gaps, and many of the parts that are contiguous are only that way because they're connected by sharrows. This is a major weakness of the existing plan, as it focused on what was easy and cheap rather than on what would create a robust network. When the going got tough, the street got sharrows.
  3. Specific projects: The plan lists out a series of projects for bringing the network together. But aside from stating a loose time frame (long-term, medium-term, or short-term), the plan doesn't say which should get priority, what the schedule for building them should be, how much they might cost, or where the money to pay for them might come from.
  4. Design standards and a Maintenance Plan: This part of the plan is a product of its time. It outlines how wide bike lanes should be, how trails should be built, what materials to use, and more. The listed standards are state-of-the-art... for 2007. Protected bikeways get no mention because they didn't really exist in the US back then.
It's time for a new plan

Since the plan was written, Arlington has implemented the vast majority of the network that the plan laid out. The Shirlington Connector has gone in beneath I-395, as have many miles of bike lanes as well as signs that direct riders through a bunch of quiet neighborhood bike routes. There's also a completed design of the Washington Boulevard Trail.

But a number of groups have also pushed the county to update its old plan, including several of its own advisory commissions. County staff are supposed to follow the county's plans, and without an updated bike plan, staff are on tenuous ground if they try to proceed with building protected bikeways or adding additional bike facilities beyond the disjointed network that is currently laid out.

In other words, as development projects move forward in Arlington, building bike infrastructure to accompany it is going to be difficult unless the Master Transportation Plan calls for it.

As part of the budget process, the county board has directed staff to report back this fall with an outline of how to update the plan. Here are 10 suggestions could help make Arlington a place where everyone who is interested in riding a bike can feel safe and comfortable doing so.

1. Set tangible goals

The goals set out in the current bike plan are generally vague and include things like being "one of the nation's best places to bicycle." The only concrete goals listed were to double the percentage of bike commuters between the 2000 and 2010 Census and to achieve the League of American Bicyclists' gold level Bicycle Friendly Community status by 2011. The problem with both of those goals is that it was impossible to tell whether the plan was sufficient to achieve either of them (it turns out, it was not).

Tangible and measurable goals would go a long way toward shaping a plan that can achieve its overarching goals. One example might be "A complete, connected, low-stress bike network that extends to within 1/4 mile of every residence and business in Arlington by 2030". That is the kind of actionable goal that you can create a plan around, and use for measuring success.

2. Build a complete, connected network

Arlington's current bike plan proposed a network based primarily on what could be accomplished cheaply and easily. If a street didn't have room for bike lanes without removing parking or travel lanes, the plan recommended sharrows no matter how important the connection was in the overall network. It also glossed over street crossings, often having designated bikeways cross major high-speed arterial streets without any accommodation like a HAWK signal or full traffic signal.

With support for cycling and sustainable transportation growing over the last decade, Arlington's new plan could aim higher—for a network that makes sense, that gets you everywhere you might want to go, and does so efficiently.

3. Use modern, low-stress infrastructure

Protected bikeways aren't mentioned anywhere in the existing plan, largely because they didn't really exist in the United States at the time, or at least weren't popular. The existing plan from the late 00s predates the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Ave protected bikeways in DC, and came together when sharrows were new and exciting infrastructure.

A new plan can incorporate all of the innovation and new research that has taken place around bike infrastructure since the mid-2000s. We now know that it takes more than just paint for people to feel safe on our streets, especially on larger main roads. It could supplement Arlington's existing abundance of quiet neighborhood streets with protected bikeways and additional signalized street crossings to support travel along and across arterial streets.

4. Give cost estimates

The existing plan lays out a list of projects, but with no indication of what each will cost. Going into sufficient detail to get a very accurate cost is likely well beyond the scope of a plan and those estimates would likely change significantly overtime, but there is great value in at least determining the order of magnitude of the proposal's cost. Will a project cost thousands of dollars? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

5. Give criteria for setting priorities

After laying out a proposed network and figuring out what projects are needed to achieve that network, the next step is prioritization. Which projects do you do first? Which will do the most to achieve your tangible goals, and which projects get you the most bang for your buck? This is another reason cost estimates are important.

Every 2 years, the county puts together a 10 year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). This is essentially the county's planned budget for major infrastructure investment—building new parks, buying new buses, repaving streets, replacing water mains and much more. If it's a major capital investment, it gets laid out in the CIP. If it isn't in the CIP, it's not on anyone's radar to get built in the next decade.

Having a prioritized list of bike projects and a clear picture of why those projects are most important would help greatly when determining which projects need to go into the CIP, when they should be scheduled for and how much needs to be budgeted.

6. Have a plan for land acquisition

In many places, it is difficult to achieve a safe, efficient, or comprehensive bicycle network because the county simply doesn't own land in the place where it needs a connection. The Columbia Pike Bicycle Boulevards are a great example of this. They are intended to provide a bike-friendly street that parallels the not-at-all bike-friendly Columbia Pike, but they don't continue as far as they need to to provide a legitimate alternative to Columbia Pike, because the land needed is in private hands.


Land needed to extend bicycle boulevards. Areas in pink cannot be built without additional land. Map from Arlington County, modified by the author.

There currently isn't a defined mechanism for the county to acquire land for transportation purposes. The updated bike plan should determine what parcels are needed, prioritize them and create a mechanism for the county to watch for these to come on the market and acquire them.

7. Include a plan for Vision Zero

Safety is the #1 reason that people don't ride bikes. Building out a low-stress bicycle network is part of addressing safety, but it isn't enough. The updated bike plan should lay out a multi-pronged, inter-departmental plan for eliminating bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries that includes street design, street operations, enforcement, education, and outreach.

8. Focus on equity

Despite the stereotype of rich white men in lycra, many people who bike for transportation do so out of necessity to get to their jobs in a cost-effective manner. Sadly, those voices are rarely heard at planning meetings or in county board rooms. The bike plan should address this problem head-on and ensure that the planning process seeks out those missing voices and that facilities and amenities are distributed in an equitable manner.

9. Include a schedule

If the plan includes tangible goals, a proposed network and a prioritized list of projects with preliminary cost estimates, the plan can also include a schedule for implementation. The process of determining the schedule would bring the community face to face with the realities of budget for implementation vs time to implement the plan, which is a very important conversation to have. Nobody wants to spend six months building out a robust plan around a shared vision and then find out that the budget we've created for implementation means it won't be complete until 2050.

10. Add new trails

In many ways trails are the highways of the bicycle network. They have mode-separated crossings and many of them are long-distance routes that traverse jurisdictions. Arlingtonians love their trails and want more of them. In a recent statistically-valid survey, Arlingtonians listed paved trails as the most important recreational amenity.


Survey graphic by Arlington County.

Despite this, Arlington has built very few new sections of trail in recent memory. The updated bike plan should look for opportunities to expand the trail network, especially when it can add connectivity to existing trails across the region. With the recent release of the National Park Service's Draft Paved Trails Plan, it appears Arlington may have a willing partner for the first time in many years. Now may be the best opportunity we have to build a trail connection to the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge, better connect Iwo Jima to the Mount Vernon Trail, build the long-delayed 110 Trail or even build a better connection from Arlington to the Capital Crescent Trail which is so close and yet so difficult to reach from much of Arlington.

What else?

What are your big ideas for Arlington's new bike plan? What does it need to succeed?

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