Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Ask GGW: Why is there a Metro tunnel in Tysons?

Several years ago, as the Silver line was being planned, there was a debate about whether to build the line underground through Tysons Corner. Eventually, the elevated option was selected, but there's still a tunnel. Reader Dennis McGarry wants to know why.


The tunnel portal. Photo by Dan Malouff.
Why is there a short tunnel on the Silver Line with no underground stops? Why not just build the entire track above ground? It seems like such a huge undertaking with little payback.
There are two short tunnels in Tysons (one for each track). They run about 1700 feet between Tysons Corner station and Greensboro station. The reason they exist is to cut through the highest point in Fairfax County, at 520 feet above sea level.

The tracks through Tysons are already high above the streets, and the climb between McLean and Tysons Corner is noticeable, especially from the front of a westbound train. Because trains are limited in the grade they can ascend, crossing this hill with an elevated viaduct would make the stations at Tysons Corner and McLean obscenely high.

In addition to the engineering and aesthetic challenges that a super-high viaduct would have caused, trying to keep the line elevated would have probably been much more expensive. So it was probably cheaper for the contractor to build these short tunnels than it would have been to keep the line elevated over the hill.

As a result, riders at McLean get a soaring view of the Tysons skyline (and in fact, you can see Bethesda, too), but a few minutes later, they find themselves riding underground, ever so briefly.

Pedestrians


Many Silver Line riders have no way to safely reach their offices

Tysons now has four Metro stations, but workers trying to get from those stations to nearby offices often have no choice but to cross wide, high-speed roads without any crosswalks.


The south side of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. Photo by the author.

I saw several Tysons Corner workers walking across streets with up to 9 lanes of traffic in order to take the Silver Line this morning, due to the continued lack of crosswalks in Tysons. It's a matter of time before a Silver Line rider is struck by a car in Tysons Corner.

At the Tysons Corner station, the entrance north of Route 123 (the side with most of the offices) is on the west side of Tysons Blvd between 123 and Galleria Drive. There's no legal way to walk east on Galleria Drive, because there are no crosswalks on the south or east side of the intersection of Tysons Blvd and Galleria Drive.


There are no crosswalks from Tysons Corner station for workers walking east along Galleria Drive. Base map from Google Maps.

Many Silver Line riders therefore walked across nine lanes of traffic on Tysons Boulevard.


The south side of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. Photo by the author.

My company's office is at 7900 Westpark Drive along with dozens of other tech companies. The main topic of conversation around the office this morning was the safest places to jaywalk to get to the Silver Line.

I've endured the lack of crosswalks in Tysons Corner for years as a pedestrian, but assumed that Fairfax County would add crosswalks before the Silver Line began operation. The county needs to create safe pedestrian pathways immediately, rather than waiting until someone gets hurt or killed.

Roads


After a crash, a dangerous Four Corners intersection could become safer

Where Colesville Road (US-29) passes through the Montgomery County neighborhood of Four Corners, it's a six-lane divided highway, but residents need to be able to cross the street on foot to access homes and businesses. Unfortunately, that can be very dangerous, as Greater Greater Washington contributor Joe Fox found out recently.


The crosswalk. All photos by the author.

Fox was crossing the road with his four-year-old daughter. Fox had just picked her up from daycare after a severe thunderstorm knocked out power. With a light rain falling, they approached this crosswalk, which has no traffic signal, to get to the bus stop on the other side of the road.

After waiting for several minutes and seeing no gap in traffic, Joe waved a book in the air to try to catch the attention of passing drivers. As one slowed to a stop, Joe stepped gingerly into the crosswalk, carrying his daughter tightly.

Fox wrote,

A large SUV (a Yukon or Suburban) in the left lane had stopped, and a small SUV following it rear-ended it with enough force that it folded its hood, and pushed the larger SUV more than 50 feet straight ahead."

If I had been crossing either the middle or left lane (I would have, at a normal walking pace after the right lane car stopped, but I waited, seeing what might happen), one or both of us would have sustained very serious injuries.

Because I had my daughter still holding on, I could not cross (again) back to the northbound lanes to see if she (the driver) was okay. I did not see her emerge from her car for the several minutes I was there. All I could do was call the MCPD and ask them to help.

This crosswalk gets frequent pedestrian traffic, as it is the only convenient way to walk between the neighborhoods of Indian Spring and North Hills of Sligo. To reach the closest signalized crossing, someone would have to walk a half mile out of the way.


The area, from Google Maps. The blue dotted line shows the route to cross the street with a detour to the nearest signalized intersection.

The bus stop which Fox was trying to reach is served by six heavily-used bus routes which travel to and from the Silver Spring Metro. The crosswalk also connects residents with community facilities and parks such as the Silver Spring YMCA, Indian Spring Recreation Center, and the popular Sligo Creek Park.

The crosswalk is a few hundred yards south of the Beltway interchange, along a stretch of Colesville Road with 40 mph speed limits. Here is a video of one attempt to cross. Note how drivers in some lanes do not stop even once I am in the roadway.

Making it even more dangerous, the road crests a hill just south of the crosswalk. That means a driver headed north coming over the hill may not see a pedestrian with enough time to stop.

A HAWK signal would make this intersection safer

This would be a good location for a HAWK signal, which stops traffic when a pedestrian asks to cross. This can let pedestrians cross safely without affecting drivers as a regular signal would.

There are pedestrian-activated signals on nearby University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, so there is ample precedent for one on a six-lane highway like Colesville Road.

Those signals are less-efficient "firehouse style" signals. The below video shows one in operation. Notice how a car runs the red light 10 seconds after it turns red, and just before a grandmother and her grandchildren cross the road.

If officials agree to use a HAWK signal here, as activists are requesting, this would be the first on a Maryland state-maintained road.*

Thanks to the efforts of Joe Fox and elected officials he reached out to, this dangerous crosswalk on Colesville Road may get fixed before anyone else is injured. According to local activist Jeffrey Thames, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), which controls this road, is currently studying the idea of a pedestrian-activated signal at this location, and expects to propose a solution within 90 days.

* The original version of this post said that a HAWK would be the first in the state. There is a HAWK on Gude Drive in Rockville, for example, but this is a county road. The State Highway Administration (SHA) has not installed any HAWK signals to date.

Links


Breakfast links: Riders make changes


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.
The Silver Line's weekday debut: Over 24,000 passenger trips began or ended at the five new Silver Line stations on Monday and Wiehle-Reston East was the 12th busiest morning-commute station in the system. But it appears that many of those riders used to ride the Orange Line, with ridership at West Falls Church down 66%. (City Paper, Post)

Plenty of (car) parking: Fears that the Silver Line would cause a parking nightmare appear to be overblown, at least for now. Parking lots at stations didn't fill up, but bike racks did. Many people found bicycle routes to the stations, though Fairfax can do a lot more to make the area better for cycling. (Post, FABB)

Bus change woes: The Fairfax Connector changed nearly 40% of its service on Saturday. 16 new routes were added and others changed to accommodate new Silver Line connections. But many commuters struggled to adapt to the new routes. (Post)

McMillan will get tweaks, not more: The DC Zoning Commission still has a few concerns about the McMillan project, like height of one building and the amount of transit, but won't substantially cut back development as opponents wish. (WBJ)

St. Elizabeths needs direction: Five companies have expressed interest in developing St. Elizabeths East Campus, but it's not the expected, big development firms. Did mixed messages from the city hinder interest in the site? (City Paper)

New bill could help cyclists: A new bill from David Grosso would eliminate contributory negligence for automobile-bicycle crashes, meaning a cyclist could still collect damages even if he or she were a small amount at fault in a crash. (DCist)

Why so few black cyclists?: African-Americans are less likely to bike commute than other groups. This could be because of fears about driver hostility and a view of cycling as a sign of poverty. (Streetsblog)

Breakthrough for bikeshare: New York's REQX Ventures may acquire Alta Bicycle Share and expand Citibike (and raise membership prices). It could also break the logjam blocking expansion in Washington and elsewhere. (WSJ, Streetsblog)

Friendlier fed streets?: The Federal Highway Administration now supports an urban street design that features bike lanes, bus lanes, and narrower travel lanes. Could federal approval of these designs mean more city-friendly streets? (Streetsblog)

And...: Federal hiring is at its lowest level in ten years. (WBJ) ... DC's first food boat started serving boaters and kayakers this weekend. (PoPville) ... For now, the Silver Line makes a trip to Dulles Airport only a little more convenient. (UrbanTurf)

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Bicycling


Who needs Metro? Not (as often) Capital Bikeshare users in central neighborhoods

Regular riders of Capital Bikeshare have cut down on their use of rail and bus transit, a new study shows. This is particularly strong for those in neighborhoods a short bike ride from downtown DC.


CaBi's effect on Metrorail ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

In these maps, each circle represents one zip code in which researchers Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen surveyed CaBi users. The number shows how many responses they got in that zip code. Red is the percentage of those people who used that mode of transit less (rail for the map above, bus below). Green is for those who used it more, while yellow is those who didn't change.


CaBi's effect on Metrobus ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

It's not only transit which riders are using less. CaBi users also have cut down on car trips and probably even replaced some walk trips with bikeshare.

This isn't necessarily bad for transit. The places where this effect are strongest also happen to be the places where transit is most congested. On the busy Metro lines at rush hour, the trains are full into downtown DC; it's just as well if fewer people are hopping onto an already-packed train at, say, Foggy Bottom.

And many of the people who ride Bikeshare still use transit some of the time. They might still ride it in bad weather, but at other times avoid it at its most congested, or at times of poor service, like the very long waits on weekends during track work.

One potential danger, though, is that if there is lower demand for service on weekends (thanks to a bicycle alternative), that could make it less likely local jurisdictions want to pay for more frequent transit service at off times, even though not everyone can substitute a bikeshare trip for a transit trip.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis (which has much less rail transit), the study found that many people increased their usage of rail, perhaps because the bikeshare system helps them access transit much more easily.

Eric Jaffe writes in Citylab,

Overall, the maps suggest that bike-share, at least in Minneapolis and Washington, is making the entire multimodal transit network more efficient. For short trips in dense settings, bike-share just makes more sense than waiting for the subwayit's "substitutive of public transit," in the words of Martin and Shaheen. For longer trips from the outskirts, bike-share access might act as a nudge out of a carit's "complementary to public transit."

Honestly, once I started bicycling (first with Capital Bikeshare, and then more and more with my own bike) I personally cut down significantly on using transit. But I live in a downtown-adjacent area where it's a fast bike ride to many destinations; for others, that's not the case, and transit is best for their trips. I also still ride transit some of the time.

Some people in the survey also increased their use of transit. The more transportation options people have, the more they can choose the one that best matches their needs. The road network is already quite comprehensive (though often crowded). We need to offer everyone high-quality transit and bicycling as alternatives so that they can use each when it's the best choice at that time.

Transit


How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 16

It's time for the sixteenth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

Don't be discouraged if you find it a little hard at first. Reflect on your answers, and I'm sure you'll hit a home run.

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

Development


In White Oak, the region's east-west divide becomes an urban-suburban one

The DC area has long faced an east-west divide, with more of the wealth going to the west side. Increasingly, investment is also heading to urban areas over suburban ones. For struggling suburban areas on the east side, the only answer is to take on more urban features.


All photos by the author unless noted.

One of those places is White Oak in eastern Montgomery County, where the County Council will vote tomorrow on a plan to create a new town center. Local residents are eager to have more jobs and amenities close to home, but civic and environmental groups want to limit the amount of density in White Oak because it's several miles from a Metro station and roads are already congested.

But the kind of compact, dense development proposed for White Oak could allow residents to access jobs, shops, or other amenities by walking, biking, or simply driving a shorter distance than they would otherwise. It would generate less traffic than the alternative: more of the sprawling, car-oriented development that's currently allowed in White Oak, plus additional sprawl farther out.

Residents say it's East County's turn

East County has experienced little of the prosperity that more affluent parts of Montgomery County take for granted. One reason is the county's traffic tests, which prohibit development when roads reach a certain level of congestion until more roads are built. This standard led to a 20-year development moratorium in East County that ended in 2004.

Development simply moved to the western, more affluent side of Montgomery County or farther out to Howard County while East County roads remained congested. Today, White Oak consists largely of aging strip malls, office parks, and industrial brownfields surrounding the Food and Drug Administration's new headquarters near New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29, which will eventually hold 9,000 workers.


LifeSci Village rendering courtesy of Percontee.

The White Oak Science Gateway plan, which councilmembers will vote on tomorrow, would allow them to transform into urban, mixed-use neighborhoods with up to 8,500 new homes and 40,000 new jobs. Much of this development would occur at LifeSci Village, a concrete recycling plant that the county and developer Percontee want to turn into a research and technology center.

Local residents say it's their turn, speaking out in favor of the plan at two public hearings. At a public forum last fall, community members called the White Oak plan their highest priority for economic development.

Traffic tests won't solve traffic

But the Science Gateway plan would still fail the traffic tests. County Executive Ike Leggett and some councilmembers have recommended excluding Route 29 from traffic counts, arguing that it's a regional highway that would be congested no matter what.


An abandoned office building in White Oak.

As a result, some civic associations and environmental groups around the county have criticized the plan, arguing that urban development shouldn't be allowed away from a Metro station. They say Montgomery County should follow its own rules and stick to the traffic tests.

But the traffic tests can't really fix congestion if their required solution is always to build more roads, which is proven to cause more traffic. And East County residents know that they haven't solved congestion, since they have to travel longer distances for work, shopping, or other things they can't find closer to home.

That's not to say that White Oak doesn't need better transportation. Councilmember George Leventhal has asked Leggett to put together a financing plan for Bus Rapid Transit within two years, so the county can figure out how to fund and build it as development moves forward.

East County's future depends on having a town center

More development doesn't have to mean more driving. Montgomery County added 100,000 residents over the past decade, but the rate of driving actually stayed the same. That's because as the county grows around Metro stations, more people can get around without a car. But even in town centers away from Metro, like what's proposed at White Oak, people would have more transportation options than they do otherwise, whether that means walking, biking, taking the bus, or even driving a shorter distance.


It's possible to create urban places away from Metro stations, like Shirlington in Arlington County.

We know that people increasingly want to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods. We've seen businesses gravitate to more urban locations in the region, like Choice Hotels, which moved from an office park near White Oak to Rockville Town Center.

For decades, there's been a growing divide between the east and west sides of Montgomery County. East County increasingly lags the rest of the county when it comes to new town centers like White Flint, Crown in Gaithersburg, and even Germantown. If we're going to close the east-west gap in Montgomery County, White Oak can't stay a land of office parks forever.

Transit


The Silver Line's opening day, in 41 photos

Metro's new Silver Line is officially open and carrying passengers. Enjoy this photo tour of the new line and opening day festivities.


All photos by Dan Malouff, Matt Johnson, and Malcolm Kenton.

Metro's star-studded ribbon-cutting ceremony featured US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and seemingly every other dignitary in Northern Virginia.


Left: Anthony Foxx, Terry McAuliffe, and Sharon Bulova. Right: The ribbon-cutting.

Once the gates at Wiehle station opened, riders rushed in to catch the first train. Cheers erupted as the "doors closing" chime sounded for the first time, and the train sped forward.

The first train took off from Wiehle-Reston East station shortly after noon, and moved east through Tysons on its way to Largo. GGW's troop of partiers exited at East Falls Church to double back and tour each of the five new Silver Line stations individually.

McLean station

The ride between East Falls Church and McLean station offers a champion view of the Tysons skyline, and McLean station itself.

Metro's tracks swoop gracefully into McLean station.

The station is elevated over Capital One Drive, and features an angular starburst-shaped platform canopy. The mezzanine is one level below the tracks. The sidewalk is one level below that.

Construction transforms the landscape outside the station, except a lone ball field.

Looking west, the growing skyline around the Tysons Corner station looms.

Tysons Corner station

Tysons Corner station is situated between Tysons' two gargantuan shopping malls and its tallest buildings (so far). The platform canopy is a futuristic gambrel-like shape.

Tysons Corner station uses the gambrel roof instead of the starburst because the mezzanine is above the tracks, rather than below. That same pattern repeats at other stations along the line. Mezzanine below tracks gets a starburst, while mezzanine above gets a gambrel.

The mezzanine commands an impressive east-facing view.

On the north side, Tysons Boulevard runs perpendicularly under the station. It's so similar to how Colesville Road runs under Silver Spring that it's easy to imagine Tysons Corner one day being just as urban.

On the south side, Chain Bridge Road is a highway that most people will use a bridge to cross.

At sidewalk level below the station, it's reminiscent of Silver Spring.

The south facade includes a prominent public art piece.

Just past Tysons Corner station the Silver Line enters a brief subway tunnel, to pass under the crest of a hill.


Subway portal.

Greensboro station

The next station west is Greensboro, which also uses the gambrel-like roof.

High walls block out noise from car traffic on Leesburg Pike, to either side of the station.

Like all new Silver Line stations, Greensboro sports updated WMATA branding: More colorful signage and silver fixtures, rather than Metro's original 1970s-era brown.

Looking west, there's a great view of Leesburg Pike and the next station, Spring Hill.

Spring Hill station

Spring Hill uses the starburst roof, like McLean.

Spring Hill is the final station in Tysons. From there, it's a five-mile ride through the Fairfax County suburbs to Wiehle-Reston East.

Wiehle-Reston East station

The terminal station feels like a nicer-looking twin of Vienna, set in the median of the Dulles Access Road instead of I-66.

The gambrel-style roof looks great here.

One key difference from Vienna is that Wiehle's commodious mezzanine includes publicly-accessible restrooms. All five new Silver Line stations have them.

South of the station, a pedestrian bridge crosses the Dulles Toll Road and lands in an unassuming bus depot, with office building parking lots beyond.

North of the station, impressive transit-oriented development is already sprouting.

On the north side, the station entrance is set in a plaza atop the roof of a parking garage. The ground floor of the garage is Wiehle's main bus depot, taxi stand, and bike parking room. To access the garage, go through the glass house.

Beyond Wiehle, the Silver Line will eventually extend to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County, but for now it's just a bit of train parking and construction staging. For a tour of the six stations that will make up Silver Line Phase II, check back in 2018.

Links


Breakfast links: And we're off!


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.
"The work of generations": The Silver Line began operation on Saturday, carrying passengers from Reston to Largo. The line will shorten travel for many while enabling transit-oriented development in Northern Virginia. Did you ride it? (Post)

All you need to know: Another guide to the Silver Line details how to get to the new stations and what buses may help Blue Line riders. (WTOP)

What next?: Will the Silver Line finally bring residents to Tysons and catalyze for new jobs? The line could also be a boon to bars and Google Bus-like employee shuttles as car-less visitors and employees arrive in droves. (Post, WAMU, WTOP)

Black homeowners fall behind: Despite stricter enforcement of discrimination laws, African-Americans are more likely to lose their homes. The Great Recession, foreclosure crisis, and predatory lending have reversed gains since the 1970's. (CityLab)

Two legs good, four legs better: In Fort Worth, multi-modalism also includes horses. Riders have the same rights as cyclists, but are also stereotyped as lawless. Could other cities also someday see a return of horseback riding? (WSJ, Dave G)

Catania opposes stadium deal: DC mayoral candidate David Catania spoke against the land swap that underlies the potential DC United stadium as undervaluing city property. With Bowser also skeptical, will the project move forward? (WAMU)

Katrina still stymies transit: It's been nearly a decade since Hurricane Katrina, but transit service has yet to recover. High operating costs and low revenue are helping prevent expansion. (Human Transit)

And...: Follow a New York Citibike over a day, as it carries 17 riders across the city. (The Guardian) ... A photographer asks Washington-area prisoners: "If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?" (NYT, Sam Feldman) ... Which DC building most symbolizes the city's revitalization? (PoPville)

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Photography


Places to go in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.


National Airport. Photo by wolfkann.


Mt. Pleasant. Photo by ctj71081.


Photo by J Sonder.


Georgetown. Photo by Michael Cisneros.


Ben's Chili Bowl. Photo by Clif Burns.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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