IS THERE MetroLite IN DC'S FUTURE?This chapter was written in 2002 as the possibilities of supplementing Metrorail and Metrobus with other forms of surface transportation became more serious. Three years later, additional events are taking place which deserve review, and these are presented first:
In the summer of 2006, DDoT together with Metro, announced their intention to add "rapid" bus service to the Georgia Ave arterial, and requested comments from the public. From the data provided, NARPAC has no idea whether it will help or hinder the city's evr-growing traffic congestion problems;
In late 2005, the Director of DC's DDoT gave a talk which quite clearly outlines their current mindset , which NARPAC finds starkly inadequate for the nation's capital city:
A new DC Transit Alternatives "Analysis" is out for final comment, which essentially dictates that Metrorail will be allowed to atrophy while additional bus and trolley service is added to DC's already crowded streets;
A separate "Great Streets Initiative" has also been decreed in late 2005. It will take revenues raised from advertising in renovated bus stop shelters to upgrade the "streetscapes" at various yet-to-be-determined segments of major arteries. The stated objective is to encourage local economic development in relatively disadvantaged areas. NARPAC doubts such an effort will be successful, and may well have deleterious effects on essential traffic;
Finally, NARPAC's formal comments for the public record . are reproduced here to record the extent of our disagreement with both the content of, and the methodology for pursuing, these quite possibly counterproductive uses of limited transportation funds.
This chapter was originally inspired by emerging interest in 2002 for "Light Rail Transit" in the DC Metro Area for a variety of different reasons, some valid, and some emotional. It includes major sections on:
o The State of American Urban Transportation as gleaned from available data and publications on gthe various modes and systems throughout major US cities;
o A summary of an ongoing DC Transit Development Study underway in the first half of 2002, specifically looking at the possible utilization of a light rail system independent of both Metrobus and Metrorail;
o A brief summary of a 2001 GAO Mass Transit Study entitled "Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise", comparing current bus and light rail systems in six different US cities;
o An extensive NARPAC Commentary on differing city and Metro priorities, the potential impact of 9/11 on future transit system design, and the need to begin to separate urban transportation components between below-grade, at-grade, and above- grade;
o A new French-designed BRT system called the "CIVIS" Bus was demonstrated in DC in February, 2003. NARPAC found it has some good innovations, and some not so good;
o NARPAC frets over the increasing evidence of DC's Trolleymainia, and offers negative testimony at an Anacostia public hearing on a planned test/demonstration program there.
o but provides a series of constructive comments that will hopefully improve the early planning for a K Street Busway from Union Station to Georgetown.
o NARPAC also finds too narrow the results of an ongoing DC truck traffic study which fails to visualize important opportunities to find means to raise revenues from the inevitable traffic which benefits both business and residents.
o and the foregoing two analyses led to the preparation of formal testimony for the DC Council relevant to these issues.
RAPID BUS IS COMING TO GEORGIA AVE: Good or Bad?
While NARPAC has no objection to the idea of adding "express buses" to heavily traveled bus corridors, we cannot find any indication that any of the various transportation "systems" issues have been addressed. From the materials provided and the questions answered, we have no way to assess whether this proposed addition will end up with either a significant net gain or a significant net loss in total flow along this key artery. DC's long-range city and transportation planners do not appear to have a credible grasp of the basic role of a robust regional/urban transportation infrastructure in guiding and insuring the future growth and prosperity of our nation's capital city. We think they lack any vision of the real problems of keeping major American cities viable over the next hundred years or so, and the need (and opportunity) for DC to lead the way.
With considerable fanfare, DC's Department of Transportation, DDoT, together with the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority, WMATA, announced their intentions to add a "rapid bus" service to the existing Metrobus service on Georgia Avenue. It would originate at the multi- modal Metrorail/bus station in Silver Spring, MD (one of DC's largest "edge cities"), and travel directly south into DC on Georgia Avenue (USRt29), crossing the zigzagging Metrorail Green Line at the Petworth station, and further down again at theShaw/Howard University station. Georgia Avenue becomes 7th Street somewhere in the Shaw neighborhood and continues down thru Mt. Vernon Square past the New Convention Center, and Gallery Place (with its Verizon Sports Center) and terminates at the National Archives/Navy Memorial Metro Station at Constitution Avenue (see chart below):
Georgia Ave/7th St comprises almost exactly 8 miles of DC's 92 miles of "principal arterials", and carries very heavy traffic of all kinds. It is a major 24/7 truck route into the city as well as a major commuter route. At its most congested points, it was carrying over 24,000 vehicles on a typical weekday, as well as some 22,000 bus riders. DC's new draft comprehensive plan rates Georgia Ave as "over capacity" both now and in 2025, despite planned improvements in both "Traffic System Management" (better traffic lights) and Traffic Demand Management (get people out of cars). Planners optimistically, if not deceptively, expect TSM and TDM together to increase average vehicle ridership from 1.37 in 2005 to 1.70 in 2025. No added lane-miles are planned for DC's road system, and no added track-miles are planned for its Metrorail system over the next twenty years.
On the other hand, Georgia Ave is only one of several essentially parallel north/south routes to downtown. DC needs to decide the distinctive functions that differentiate the primary purpose of each major north/south street/avenue east of Rock Creek in this "corridor" (16th, 14th and13th St, Georgia Ave, and North Capitol St.). . We find the implied concept of mixing all transportation modes on all of these available rights of way to be totally unrealistic. This rapid bus innovation appears to be proceeding independent of other potential upgrades on other primary arteries.
There are currently 54 bus stops between Silver Spring and the National Archives and the current buses, running at 8-10 minute intervals, require on average 58 minutes at rush hour to cover the 80-90 city blocks. The rapid buses, also running at ten minute intervals, will make only 15 stops, and are expected to take a whopping nine minutes (16%) off the travel time. (Metrorail, by comparison, stops nine times requires two changes, and must, we guess, make the trip in less than 40 minutes.) The new, short, low-floor, (clean) natural gas buses will start operating during rush hours in the Fall of 2006, and grow to full-day service by the Fall of 2007.
In the most controversial plan of all, the bus enthusiasts are planning by 2008 to extend sidewalks out into the bus travel lanes (in a few places), thus stopping/blocking other vehicular traffic sharing the rights of way. These have been designated "bulbout" bus stops. NARPAC can find no rational reason for this traffic preemption, or even for its odd name.
During July, 2006, DDoT and WMATA held "community workshops" and asked the (few dozen) attending public to address several basic issues. Since the new buses have been ordered and service is to start within three months, it is surely not clear what purpose will be served. Nevertheless, NARPAC takes very seriously the failing transportation systems in and around DC, and provided the staffs and ever-present consultants with words similar to the following:
Will the proposed bus service benefit DC ?
1. The national capital metro area, with DC as its unique core city, is already falling victim to globally-embarrassing transportation gridlock.
2. Expanding public surface transportation system use and productivity on existing vehicular arteries can contribute positively, if modestly, to providing needed future transportation capacity.
3. Buses are clearly superior to fixed-rail systems because of their lower investment costs; greater adaptability to changing mobility demands; and lower vulnerability under emergency conditions. Upping bus productivity is good. Pushing "choice" (i.e., "a little of everything") is nonsense.
4. Other forms of vehicular transportation must share these routes and their productivity must be increased as well. It is shortsighted to propose improvements in one element of a very complex "system" if, in fact, it lowers the effectiveness of others.
5. No information is provided on why people do or do not use buses as their primary choice for transportation. Whether whittling seven minutes off a hairy, uncomfortable, three-quarter-hour ride will attract more passengers, or simply shift existing passengers to the newer (hairier?) buses, seems problematic.
6. We have no reason to dispute favorable anecdotal experience from elsewhere, but a 40% increase (as claimed for similar service in Los Angeles) would surely depend on comparability in several primary factors. On the other hand, the 4-page DDoT flier boasts that "local bus riders will immediately notice less crowding" which certainly implies some degree of swapping.
7. There seems to be a tacit assumption that the present 54-stop 70/71 bus route design is just right for the foreseeable future. We don't think there are 80 full blocks between Constitution and Eastern Ave. What are the 10-20 least used stops and why not eliminate some of them? We have no idea whether buses are still crowded as they pass into Maryland, cross East-West Highway (Rt 410), and head down the home stretch for Silver Spring (in the distance below)
8. The "stovepipe" focus on adding faster buses, without noting other planned changes on the same route (even to other buses), makes it impossible to judge their net impact. Is DDoT also planning a traffic-choking "gateway" at its terminus? Are on-street bike lanes coming as well? Is Georgia Ave to be turned into a grand strolling boulevard with more curbside attractions, more traffic-limiting decoration? Isn't it also to be declared one of DC's major 24/7 heavy truck routes? This section of Georgia Avenue abutting Howard University (and sloping down into the topographic bowl) may look peaceful on Sunday, but there surely isn't much room for distractions on a weekday rush hour during the college year!
9. Nothing was said about curbside- or double-parking controls. Far more metered off-street parking should be installed by the city, particularly in blocks including bus stops, or other bus- hindering obstacles. Revenues from parking can/should become a major source of municipal income.
10. The claim that these express buses can somehow avoid/overcome/leap-frog "bunching" on heavily trafficked routes seems very dubious. Practical methods to improve and enforce the operating protocols of the slower "local" buses must be developed and adopted at the same time. Why not require and enforce a no-parking, bus-only curbside lane (in the rush-hour direction) during rush hours for the slow buses, while rapid buses leap-frog them in the second traffic lane?
11. Little quantitative information is provided on just how much 'mobility quotient' would be added by this new capability. What shares of Georgia Ave's traffic productivity is in public vs private vs commercial transport? In fact, just how much people-moving capacity will be added to the bus component, and why only at rush hour? Are there really 22,000 daily riders on 70/71 now, and what is their pattern? That number doesn't track well with only 28 bus trips down Ga Ave now during the 4-hour morning rush.
12. If there are 22,000 daily riders on this one route, there have to be a great many riders who travel only a short distance and are replaced by other riders. If this distribution is skewed towards one end of the route, then the "express buses" may not make much of a difference. Quantitative data are apparently very difficult for "outsiders" (like NARPAC) to get. There is a very modern "multimodal" Metrorail and bus station at Georgia Ave/Petworth (shown below), but no available data on how much transfer traffic there is here.
13. We doubt this rapid bus will add more than a few percent to the total "volume" flowing on this artery now. If, perchance, this rapid bus causes a 2-5% drop in car-flow (by blocking lanes or slowing other vehicle speeds), those new buses providing that new experience could reduce arterial flow. It must be treated as a systems problem, not a hobby horse.
What specifically do we like about the proposed Rapid Bus Service?
1. It may be a tiny step in the right direction, but is it the beginning of anything bigger?
What features of the proposed Rapid Bus Service would we change?
NARPAC has yet to see a "systems approach" to urban mobility. We suggest using more modern system technologies, and anticipating more in the future. We don't see any "leading edge technology", and no attempts to incorporate, or simulate, features normally seen as favoring trolleys.
We question the following features:
o Why use CNG rather than a more efficient, CNG/electric hybrid with all-steerable wheels to
provide a better ride and better "berthing"?
o Why not offer express service all day from the outset to draw more people "downtown" during off-peak hours, and when the time differential should be significantly greater?
We think the following potential features are missing:
missing from the buses:
o a computer-synthesized ride-quality closer to that favored on steel-on-steel trolleys;
missing from the bus stops:
o Get rid of any thoughts of adding "bulb outs" into moving traffic lanes. Surely DDoT won't
recommend putting "bulbouts" here on 7th Street, approaching Mt. Vernon Square (with the new
Convention Center on the left):
o properly indent curbs (+ smart-bus steering) to eliminate protruding (lane-blocking) bus
NARPAC believes tasteful but "dramatic" visible reminders should be added that "principal arterials" demand special attention and strict, automatically-enforced, urban driving disciplines. These could include:
o larger signage to identify cross-streets, bus-stops, and off-street parking availability;
It should be abundantly clear to everyone using a "principal arterial" that "This may not be a freeway, but it surely isn't your ordinary cozy, people-friendly, fun-loving, bike-riding, local neighborhood city street either. We mean business here." While NARPAC's resident artist did not quite pull off what we wished to visualize here, the sketch below indicates what might be achieved by emphasizing the importance of the public transit, and traffic discipline on this principal arterial:
missing off-street parking technologies:
New (prefabricated, modular?) "robotic parking" technologies can substantially increase the density of off-street parking in/above/below the alleys and lots behind the row houses and commercial buildings facing the avenue. Their development should be pushed/underwritten by public transit advocates.(See NARPAC chapter on automated parking).
missing considerations of alternate Bus Stop Uses:
Bus stops should be made available during off-peak hours (for a fee!) for other urban transportation-related functions by vehicles generally matching bus physical characteristics. Mail and package pick-up and delivery, and certain kinds of well-containerized bulk product delivery and removal come to mind. (See NARPAC suggestions for the K Street Busway).
While NARPAC has no objection to the idea of adding "express buses" to heavily traveled bus corridors, we cannot find any indication that any of the various transportation "systems" issues have been addressed. From the materials provided and the questions answered, we have no way to assess whether this proposed addition will end up with either a significant net gain or a significant net loss in total flow along this key artery. DC's long-range city and transportation planners do not appear to have a credible grasp of the basic role of a robust regional/urban transportation infrastructure in guiding and insuring the future growth and prosperity of our nation's capital city. We think they lack any vision of the real problems of keeping major American cities viable over the next hundred years or so, and the need (and opportunity) for DC to lead the way.
Collectively, these authorities with primary local and regional transportation infrastructure responsibilities are:
a) failing to belly up to the severity of the impending crisis or the need for federal/regional
One of our national capital city's most bizarre and future-threatening developments revolves around two myopic plans for enhancing the city's transportation capacity over the next 25 years. One long-range plan is now being touted as the final word for how to add more public transport to DC's already crowded streets and arteries. The second is supposedly "just starting" but it is set for completion within a few months. It will add, over time, more sidewalk attractions as "local destinations" along those same crowded streets. This section will provide short summaries of the content of each plan, plus a summary of a recent speech by the "maverick" head of DC's Department of Transportation which provides some clues as to the city's current bureaucratic mindset.
the current DDoT mindset
As summarized by the executive director of the "Washington Regional Network", and locally based advocacy group for "smart urban growth", DDoT's enthusiastic young bike-riding, trolley- loving director made the following comments (in regular type) which NARPAC finds odd (in italics) to say the least:
o "We are victims of our own success" because we have traffic congestion, crowded Metro trains and buses, and high parking demand, indicating that DC is not a declining city. It also indicates DC did not plan for growth, and that the growth has come mainly from the suburbs since its own population has dropped;
o "DC needs to integrate land use and transportation planning." Indeed it does, but under the aegis of professional urban planners, not small-time transportation enthusiasts.
o "37% of DC's households do not have a car", but the vast majority of those households are below the poverty line and cannot afford them;
o "DC has the lowest parking rates of any major city", which means it is losing valuable revenues and incentives to use public transit;
o "The best commuting alternative is to get more residents to live in the city", which totally misses the net-revenue-generating capacity of commuters; the synergies in accepting the basic underpinnings of metro area, or the socioeconomic preferences of free Americans. Surely it is not up to the director of DDoT to deny access to commuters, in or out.
o "DC's extensive street car network that equaled the track miles of the Metrorail system is a place to look for guidance in the future." Why not look to the Metrorail system instead of a trolley system that was given up 40-odd years ago because of their conflict with cars, on a street system that has not grown more robust in the past 60 years when the city had 100,000 less cars?
o "Metro was designed primarily for commuters, now we should focus on re-connecting neighborhoods". Not true, or it wouldn't have replaced the trolley lines. Most of Metrorail's stations are within DC (and it needs more). Just how did neighborhoods get disconnected? There are bus routes on virtually every earlier trolley track aren't there?
o "Improved bicycling connections (and other things) are important parts of transportation planning".
Surely less than 0.1% of DC's mover-miles are by bicycle, including recreational uses;
o "Walking is a huge part of transportation and needs to be made safer And even more fun." As well as helping pigs to fly;
o "The mission of transportation planners is to move people, not cars." Transportation planners in a democratic/capitalist society should facilitate the movement of whatever the city and metro area's residents, businessmen, tourists, visitors, and voters want to move;
o "Transportation is not about mobility, but about connecting people to their destinations." Yes, by the transportation mode and destination of their choice or need. Sound a lot like mobility;
o "Transportation planning should help create places to stop, not just pass through." Now it's the Department of Destinations? How does this improve people' ability to get to their existing destinations? Will more destinations lower demand for transportation services?
o The director is passionate about improving bus service, noting that nearly as many people ride the bus as ride Metrorail." And apparently equally passionate about letting Metrorail atrophy.
o "....curbside management/parking (is) an important part of balancing the system to give people travel choices and manage competing uses". Curbside management/parking is important, but giving people real travel choices and managing competing uses should certainly include the continued modernization and expansion of Metrorail, the city's obviously primary signature urban transportation system;
To the extent that this accurately represents the guiding principles driving DC's transportation planning and objectives, NARPAC believes it explains the current thrusts of DDoT and its director, and provides bulletproof justification for its re-orientation and his replacement.
P.S. And to the extent that increasing the number of "travel choices" is a valid justification for spreading scarce transportation funding across the full spectrum of transportation modes, then where is the discussion of taxis (land and water), stretch limousines, motorcycles, helicopters, segways, canoes, gondolas (both cable and canal), and for DC's many history buffs, the horse and carriage, the favorite form of transit before the paved street and the trolley? The carriage and travelers shown below are an item in one of DC's long-standing summer parades:
This $6 million study conducted over the past two years follows on other more broad-based "plans" and "visions" for increasing the extent of public transit in DC, all of which stress the desire for more surface transportation, and play down the expansion and modification of Metrorail. DC's signature subway system is on the verge of self-strangulation, a true victim of its own success, and certainly the single greatest facilitator of our capital city's remarkable downtown economic growth (other than electing a fiscally honest mayor).
This new "analysis"is billed as a joint effort between DDoT and WMATA (the regional Metro transit authority), but it is difficult to understand why the latter would be an enthusiastic supporter of a effort to hide the dire conclusions of its own looming capacity limitation studies. This "analysis" starts with the answer and spends most of its (federal?) funding designing a trolley demonstration project along an "Anacostia Corridor": one of the several parts of town not properly served by first-class public transit.
The DCTAA flier purports to "develop a concept of introducing a third transit mode to bridge the gap between Metrorail and Metrobus. This third mode surface rapid transit using either rail or bus technology will be a complimentary addition to the transit system, providing a network of efficient, high-quality, high-capacity surface transit across the District to provide additional connections between communities, commerce, and Metrorail, -- bringing economic development opportunities to every corner of the City, and further enhancing the quality of life enjoyed by DC residents." (wording favored by federal transportation authorities).
No expression is given to the necessity for additional surface transit (rather than underground or elevated), or to the need or desirability of a third mode somehow characteristically different than bus or heavy rail. But a trolley demonstration program has advanced into the design phase, and three of the four favored solutions run on fixed guideway tracks on existing streets. Furthermore, all of the proposed 33 miles of new service are currently covered by buses or, to a lesser extent, Metrorail, and do not begin to cover many "corners" of the city. Even the most populous parts of Wards 7 and 8 (where car ownership is a luxury) are not "connected". Most of the routes (but not all) continue to pass through the most congested parts of the city, and none of the routes enhance "connection" to the prosperous, commuter-heavy suburbs in Virginia or Maryland (from whence come most of DC's upscale workforce. The DCTAA summary sets forth four worthy, but very incomplete, goals:
1. Improve access and mobility (whoa!) for District residents and businesses, including neighborhood and "activity center" connectivity, and access to "regional centers";
2. Encourage community and economic development;
3. Enhance system performance, in capacity, transit efficiency, and cost-effectiveness;
4. Promote environmental quality, by limiting adverse impacts and supporting benefits (aha!)
Perhaps most surprising, there is no mention of how much additional people- (or vehicle-) moving capacity is likely to be needed as a function of time; no reference to anticipated regional or city- only growth in commuters, residents, businesses, vehicle-ownership, vehicle and truck usage; no specific references to the impending congestion-limits of existing modes, or the means to alleviate them; and no references to several already-operational new technologies for a broadening class of "personal transport systems", for higher density parking, or for vehicle ID, location monitoring, traffic regulation/enforcement, or usage fee gathering.
Equally serious, there is virtually no mention of other DC land-use and economic development planning responsibilities and documents from the DC Government's Offices of Economic Development and Long-range Planning. It is as if the city's DDoT marches only to its own drummer striking a beat attuned only to its own idiosyncratic ears. And with the active, tacit, or uniformed approval of an analytically-challenged Council.
There seems to be an unspoken goal to decrease, or at least inhibit future growth in Metrorail use. There is NO mention of public transit issues such as:
selecting the routes
The "analysis" then undertakes a supposedly rigorous three- (or is it four-?)step "screening" process in which the less likely modes and routes are winnowed down to DDoT's preferred options. The seven optional new modes for use on existing highly traveled routes include:
Then, by George, in a further detailed screening, light rail and light diesel trains are ruled out because of their size and (impact on?) "adjacent structures", even though they meet some criteria (unspecified in available literature) for "traffic", "parking", "capacity", and even "community support"!
As a further refinement, two subordinate considerations are then developed: first, the selected routes are divided between those deserving really first class upgrades (i.e., dedicated-lane buses or trolleys) as opposed to just better bus service, and second, a two-phase development effort, which first upgrades existing bus service on all the routes, and then at some later date adds "premium" bus or trolley service without specifying which, or when. Presumably, this latter stage can be subject to review by some later, and hopefully more rational, incarnation of DDoT.
Having now pronounced the general venue for the Third Mode (existing crowded surface streets), and narrowed down the Third Mode itself (bigger, faster buses and trolleys), all that remains is to pick the existing streets and avenues to be so blessed. And not surprisingly, the same old DC streets and avenues pop up (most of them included trolley lines fifty years ago):
the big winners (eventually):
* Near Southeast, from Woodley Park via Capitol Hill, H Street NE, and Adams Morgan
* Fort Totten from Friendship Heights
One thing clear from this listing is that virtually every enhanced public transit route goes smack through the middle of downtown, except the three marked with asterisks, and only one of those gets labeled a "premium route". What this has to do with "connecting neighborhoods" escapes NARPAC's skeptical analysts, although DCTAA points to better access to Skyland (!), Adams Morgan, Georgetown, Capitol Hill, "and others". To NARPAC, it offers ten better ways to get stuck on downtown streets, and only three ways to better "connect" other parts of the city.
Note also that there is no improvement in the means to get from the near suburbs to other than downtown locations, such as: from Upper Northwest to Arlington/Alexandria, VA or Montgomery County, MD; from Chevy Chase to anywhere; from Alexandria or Arlington to, say, the new baseball stadium; from Arlington to Anacostia; or to National Airport directly from almost anywhere except downtown.
And there are no means to move roughly parallel to any of DC's borders, such as between Congress Heights and Capitol Heights, between Fort Lincoln Park and Fort Totten; or between Upper Northwest and Silver Spring.
bicycle wheel vs spider web
Furthermore, there is no attempt to circumnavigate downtown by a conscious "inner circle line" like that in London to skirt around the most heavily trafficked areas. It would be a serious effort to shift from a outdated "Hub and spokes" layout, to what might be the start of a "spider web" layout. NARPAC has often proposed an inner loop starting clockwise from Georgetown, say, heading up and over to Adams Morgan, over and down to Trinidad/Ivy Town (at the intersection of H Street and Benning Road); down to RFK stadium and around back to the new baseball stadium and to the new SW Waterfront; thence across the Potomac to Alexandria; back up to Arlington, and directly back across the Potomac to Georgetown. Such an inner ring (which NARPAC believes should be a new Metrorail line), could make it possible to get from anywhere to anywhere without going through cluttered downtown.
Finally, and almost a NARPAC afterthought, it does not appear that transportation planners have given much thought to providing improved transportation to DC's public middle or high schools, its universities, or even to its "mal-distributed" hospitals. There is no hospital centrally located in the areas where residents most need public transportation. As a consequence, the needy are currently agitating for an expensive new hospital, which almost certainly would not pay its own way, rather than for improved transportation access, which might improve both their health, their education, and their economic quality of life.
The analysis presents some indications of the amount of time to be saved on various sample routes. DCTAA estimates that only 2-3 minutes would be saved on the more heavily traveled albeit longer routes such as the 41-minute ride from Friendship Heights to Mount Vernon Square or the 45-minute ride from Silver Spring to M Street SE, but as much as 12 to 15 minutes on the less traveled routes such as the 49-minute ride from Brookland to Tenleytown, or the equally long current ride from Georgetown to Minnesota Avenue. These savings result from predicted increases in average route-speed from 8-9 miles per hour to 12-14 miles an hour. These surface route speeds remain, of course, substantially lower than those for the high-speed as well as high- acceleration underground Metrorail system.
Somewhat more perplexing (particularly in the absence of any quantitative measures in the DCTAA summary document) are the assertions that the among the "potential positive effects", besides "enhanced mobility" (whoa!), a) there will be a total increase in daily transit ridership of only some 25,000 new riders, but b) a 23-32% increase in peak hour capacity of DC's total transit network, accompanied by a 27% reduction in peak-hour crowding on certain Metrorail and Metrobus routes.
Lacking any available quantitative substantiation, NARPAC finds these numbers very suspicious and wonders if they are the product of some obscure multi-path model. However, if they are credible, then the major "benefit" of this large investment in on-street transit would not be connecting neighborhoods, but adding surface congestion rather than improving off-street capacity at an almost negligible increase in total transit ridership.
The achievable "flow rate" (i.e., capacity) on major city streets and arteries is not a function of those using public transit, but of all those movers not using public transit. Hence the validity of these claims depends on the anticipated growth in everything that needs or wants to move in the city over the next 25 years. Surely this is orders of magnitude greater than the expected 25,000 new transit riders, and all of them will apparently be vying for space on existing streets. Those drivers, not the public transit riders, will dictate how soon the nation's capital city strangles on its own idiosyncratic transportation decisions.
cooking the mobility books with preconceived solutions
In the time-honored tradition of perverting rigorous analysis to serve the demands of a pre- conceived solution, this study ranks right up there among DC's recent winners, such as the GAO analysis of DC's phony "structural imbalance", the CFO estimates of the net costs of hosting the nation's (and world's?) Capital; and the Brookings (Rivlin) rationale for drawing 100,000 kid-rich residents into the city that almost certainly would not pay their way in terms of added city revenues over added city expenditures. Unfortunately there are no penalties for cooking the analytical books, and few watchdog agencies devoted to exposing fraud outside the narrow field of financial accounting. NARPAC considers municipal commitment to the wrong future transportation systems for the District to be tantamount to crippling the city's future growth, economic competitiveness, and global stature.
Arising quite suddenly in DC's FY2006 budget proposal is a new initiative also trying to link DDoT spending to the city's away-from-downtown economic growth. While this new project can be described in far fewer words than the DCTAA above (mercifully, it is not based on any analysis at all), its aim is consistent with DDoT's view of the urban world. It apparently springs /from the willingness of the DC Council to approve advertising at DC's many bus stops, and to use the quite lucrative proceeds first to improve the bus stop shelters, and second to help satisfy other unfilled DDoT needs.
On this basis, DDoT expects to clear $100M over the next 8-10 years, and has chosen to undertake an ambitious program to rebuild and "beautify" the curbs, sidewalks, benches, litter cans, parking meters, street lighting, trees, and median strips along various segments of major roads. The major beneficiaries are clearly not intended to be those moving on these streets in either public, private, or commercial vehicles. The improvements are intended to attract new local businesses and attractive neighborhood "destinations" along the routes. It should be noted that these sidewalks are part of the streetscape under the control of the city, and hence DDoT, rather than the owners of the properties abutting them. It is thus not unreasonable for city officials to devise means to do their share to upgrade struggling neighborhoods.
The success of a three-block, $8M "sidescape" renovation along 8th Street, SE, just outside the entrance to the Marine Corps Barracks, is being used as justification for establishing 10-15 more along various major city streets. This project, completed about three years ago, has attracted some 30 new shop owners, as well as encouraging existing shop owners to dress up their shops. But a similar project in the more blighted downtown Anacostia a few years back apparently brought no such economic revival
. In the case of Barracks Row, however, not far from Capitol Hill, several restaurants and sidewalk cafes have also opened up, and keep the lights burning into the evening. One source estimates that 200 new jobs have been created, and most of these local jobs may be near minimum wage which has its advantages in a high-poverty, high-drop-out city. A different source claims that the city is generating $80,000 annually in new sales taxes from the five blocks (the sixth is the Barracks itself), but that would indicate only $1M in gross sales, and could not possibly support 200 minimum wage jobs (at well over $10K each). NARPAC has made its own guess that the new business establishments are providing the city with as much as $80K in new property tax revenues from each of the five blocks, but again it is not clear that the shop owners can long afford that.
The public kick-off session for this Great Streets Project was held in early September, 2005. It promises to involve seven wards, 50 individual neighborhoods, countless separate ANC's and (very small sections of) some 22 miles of major city streets. Not surprisingly, the same old streets turn up yet again, including Georgia Avenue, 7th Street, H Street and Benning Road, Minnesota Avenue, Pennsylvania Ave SE, Martin Luther King Avenue and South Capitol Street. The only newcomer on the list is the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in the eastern-most corner of the city. And it is also one that hasn't made the "already at or above capacity" list, the 24/7 truck route list, or even the DCTAA upgraded public transit list. Seldom has a project struck NARPAC as more blatantly featured "pork". And it is totally in keeping with the recently approved 7-year federal highway bill which is similarly larded.
But there are several unknowns in the equation of trying to replicate this success at least a dozen times more for an investment of $100M in areas further from upscale Capitol Hill, and without the beacon of the one and only historic Marine Corps facility with its regular evening parades. The project overview provides the following qualities of "great streets", (or presumably, great short segments of ordinary streets):
These "destinations" should "facilitate interaction of people and promote commerce". They should be "comfortable and safe, with "easy orientation" and "light and shade". People should be able to "walk with leisure", providing "harbors and havens" and convenient "seating". These destinations should be "memorable" of design; "interesting" in "diversity of activities, purposes, and people"; and "representative of the place".
To NARPAC, this sounds more like the definition of a great shopping mall, a great park, a great promenade (for pedestrians), or a great cruise ship. We believe that any definition of a great street would refer in some way to its ability to move vehicles and people efficiently and safely. So we might suggest the following:
Great streets should provide a smooth ride with good traction and good drainage; good illumination; clear signage and well timed signals; bi-level intersections where possible; well- disciplined curbside behavior; clear access to off-street parking; fully automated curbside parking systems; full separation from pedestrians and personal transport systems; distinct turn lanes; variable lane direction to accommodate shifting daily traffic flows or serious emergencies; intelligent use of one-way streets; no risky bicycle lanes; no fixed-track, hard-to-move public conveyances to block lanes when disabled; individual street designations for local, commuter, heavy truck, and leisure travel; disincentives for crime; and minimum congestion from sidewalk distractions such as movie houses, sports venues, saloons and night clubs.
NARPAC does not presume to have extensive sociological insights into the behavioral patterns of those living near the poverty line in or near blighted neighborhoods. But we find it difficult to accept the notion that these mom-and-pop "destinations" will easily spring to life in disadvantaged neighborhoods, based either on the actions, interests, and economic status of those living in/near these neighborhoods, or on a sudden influx of revelers from more distant neighborhoods. In many of these marginal corridors, the neighbors stay off the streets to avoid being vandalized. Our collective mind is boggled by the vision of a vibrant sidewalk caf‚ on a summer's evening, filled with laughing, happy, free-spending single moms and light-hearted, jobless, single fellas with rap sheets, all enjoying those smokey,60-ton, diesel trash-removal trailer trucks rumbling by.
If on the other hand, these Great Segments turn out to be resounding economic successes, then the great streets they straddle are almost certain to develop traffic-impeding aneurisms which will slow traffic, decrease safety, and ultimately generate disaffected travelers.
DC's Great Streets Program looks to NARPAC like a pork-laden waste of funding needed for more vital transportation upgrades. It almost surely portends a lose-lose situation. If the sought- after local economic development does not occur, run-down crime- and vagrant-attracting relics will be left in their wake. If they are highly successful, they will further degrade the traffic capacity of some of the city's busiest, and most economically-vital, urban arteries in the nation's capital.
And there is a more serious issue at hand: is it better to spread more little "destinations" around with dubious economic justification, and other hidden costs (such as more police protection), or is it better to enhance the accessibility of current destinations whose economic viability has already been established? hopefully DDoT's planners have a necessarily narrow purview, since they can only re-decorate the sidewalks of the main arteries, but wouldn't these destinations be greater a block or two off the 24/7 truck routes?
NARPAC proposes that a serious effort be undertaken to determine the best possible uses for a $100M revenue windfall that enhances the vital transportation capacity of the nation's most important city.
These comments responded to DDoT/WMATA's invitation for comments concerning the "completion" of "DC Transit Alternatives Analysis" conducted by DDoT and WMATA over the past two years. NARPAC addresses DC's problems from outside the city ("Ward 10") to evaluate how such plans will impact on both the image and realities of the District as the nation's capital city, and the core of the nation's capital metro area. We advocate for Americans everywhere, not DC neighborhoods".
We hope this request is genuine and that responses will be read, even though the results of this effort were clearly ordained and directed some time ago (viz., the 2004 "Vision" report, the Great Streets choices; and the use of most of the $6M DCTAA study funds on the Anacostia trolley line). Like similar efforts, this "analysis" seems mired in the traps of faulty initial assumptions and dubious municipal agency objectives.
Overstated for emphasis, NARPAC does NOT believe that:
o The city is, and should be, a clearly distinguishable entity separated by real discontinuities from its immediate suburbs and the region for which it is, but need not remain, the unique hub;
o It is more important to DC's future to focus on an "inclusive city" than an "inclusive region";
o "Neighborhoods" are the prime stakeholders in the DC's development, regardless of their ability to raise the revenues for the services they demand, or the special needs of national/global respect;
o Commuters are free-loading, invading hordes that degrade the city, and are not a major source of "net revenues", even though they use few of the expensive services needed by DC residents;
o Metro area (DC in particular) residents and businesses are more interested in greater access within their own jurisdictional confines than in "connecting"with their neighboring resources;
o DC must have the space to attract many more taxpaying residents, because it once had a much higher population, with the same household demographics and equivalent income;
o "Transportation choices" are, per se, a more important urban feature than minimizing required mode transfers to get from origin to desired destination. Lots of cities have subways and trolleys;
o "Don't build it, and they won't come" is a valid slogan and objective for transportation planning in the core city of the national capital region. Never mind that their money won't come either;
o Most of the DC households without cars wouldn't buy them if they could afford them, do not consider cars part of the American dream, and are just the ones needed to improve DC's tax base;
o Regional households will decide where to live based on transportation availability above other qualities of life like schools, crime, health, blight, car ownership, environment and infrastructure;
o DDoT's mission is to encourage area residents to live in DC regardless of means, and to create more "destinations" for city travelers even at the expense of getting people to their current ones. Nightmare traffic on M Street/Georgetown, and Columbia Road/Adams Morgan are not relevant;
o The nation's capital deserves new "signature transportation systems" because its Metrorail system doesn't qualify as one of the nation's best nowadays, and is already atrophying;
o Metrorail was mainly designed for those commuting/visiting free-loaders and should not be expanded to meet the city's robust evolving needs even if it could be done on the cheap;
o The underground system is already approaching saturation. Therefore capacity should be added to existing roads, despite their already evident limitations, and new emergency requirements;
o There are no relatively minor additions to underground Metrorail that would substantially increase its robustness and redundancy, and relieve its looming downtown choke points;
o Metrorail expansion is forever "too expensive", and this judgment can/should be made by local neighborhoods or DDoT, not federal authorities for national capital infrastructure purposes;
o Any new DC Metrorail extensions must be underground, not aboveground (despite cost savings and rider appeal), even if elevated options abound along high-density commuter/truck/rail routes;
o Additional lane demands for surface roads can be taken from current curbside parking/delivery lanes without including the real costs or practicality of relocating those parking/loading spaces;
o DC should return to on-street trolleys because they worked pre-WWII on the same roads when DC households owned at best two-thirds as many cars as today, and commuters were rare. o Most new-system riders will be transplants from one-rider cars, vans, and trucks rather than either a) newly attracted local riders, or b) converts from existing public transit systems;
o Vehicular traffic in and across the city is, per force, a substantial net drag on the city's quality of life and "net revenues" that cannot pay for itself or add urban character and dynamism;
o There is no interest or need to gradually develop an "Inner Circle Line" of public transit to increase access around , rather than across the expanding "central Washington", nee "downtown";
o The new "premium routes" should be linear (back-and-forth), not loops (return another way);
o A large share of the proposed new capacity should duplicate current Metrorail routes, and pass through, rather than circumnavigate, well-known vulnerable downtown choke points;
o There is no need to differentiate the character and use of various roadways by their primary functions, such as "commuter", "trucking", "evacuation", "neighborhood", or "leisure" routes;
o New surface public transportation components should use current rights of way rather than develop new and specialized routes of their own (such as the Maryland bike trails, CSX RoWs);
o This analysis should be endorsed without knowing if the "premium routes" will add trolleys or BRT, since they are interchangeable and do not have uniquely different virtues (see final bullet);
o This analysis should be endorsed without knowing if the dedicated lanes of the new systems will be at curbside (for rider convenience and safety) or on street centers (for speed);
o Any congested truck, commuter, and evacuation routes can be transformed into major revenue- and job-generating leisure destinations by better lighting and sidewalks "just like Barracks Row";
o Significant, rather than marginal, economic growth can be achieved in depressed areas by bringing local businesses to more attractive sidewalks along busy commercial/industrial routes;
o These decisions need not be compared with other transportation uses for up to $1 billion for this and the Great Streets initiatives (viz, off-street parking, off-grade intersections, Metrorail growth);
o No consideration need be given to the "evacuation potential" (if any) provided by these or other alternatives for DC transportation system updates;
o The city's 24/7 heavy truck routes and evacuation plans need not be designated before these preferred transportation alternatives are endorsed;
o Substantial increases in net local "retail" revenues can be had by tapping only local residents "along the line", without attracting a larger regional customer base even across the Anacostia;
o It is proper to further constrain the volume and flexibility (like lane-reversals) of major arteries in order to gain islands of trees, bike lanes, etc;
o The "new" BRT and trolley technologies are more productive than the advent of automated parking (to increase parking volume density) and fare setting/collection;
o The "new" BRT and trolley technologies are more valuable than 'RFIDs' (EZ-Pass devices) to control and profit from all vehicles moving, parking, or just crossing, the city;
o The "new" BRT and trolley technologies are more important than addressing sidewalk/curb changes dictated by "personal hauling systems" (carriages, towed baggage); "personal transport systems" (bikes, segways); and/or "curbside transfer systems" (deliveries, garbage removal):
o No consideration is needed to relocate some "users" of busy streets/arteries above or below the ground plane, such as pedestrian and personal transport systems which pre-empt vehicular space, and seriously slow vehicular and pedestrian progress at intersections;
o This analysis should be endorsed without knowledge of the alternatives that were rejected, or the major quantitative objectives that must be achieved to meet expectations;
o This analysis should be endorsed without acknowledging that the parts of town earmarked for lower capacity bus/trolley options, and no through-connections to other jurisdictions (like Anacostia), are being condemned to lower economic development expectations for many years;
o Sub-optimization below the broader alternatives is justified to satisfy the federal agency that may provide the funding, and to avoid presenting the true, but higher, costs of a first-rate system;
o It is sensible public policy to ignore major issues and more expensive options which would require informing and gaining the endorsement of top federal government officials;
o This analysis should be endorsed without having a complete, officially approved, set of pro's and con's for various bus and trolley variants. Such comparisons would not lead to preferred options and/or alternate alignments for characteristically different systems:
* passenger appeal
NARPAC disagrees with all the assertions listed above and implicit in both the conduct of these studies and DDoT's limited vision of the city's future needs
Increased interest in new modes of public transportation in the DC metro area has led NARPAC to look briefly at the usage and characteristics of the four major modes, based on data readily available from the American Public Transportation Association .
Usage: The majority of riders on public transportation are commuters going to and from their jobs on a daily basis. There are almost 150 million round-trips to jobs (or employment offices) per weekday. Less than 10 million of them involve public transportation, and the vast majority of those are by bus. The rail systems serve only two dozen or so larger metro areas. Here is how the four major transit modes stack up against each another:
The Ubiquitous Bus: There are 2,262 different bus systems in the US, and together they account for almost 64% of all weekday riders and 70% of all "revenue miles". There are 75,000 buses in use with an average age of about 7 years. Almost 6000 new buses are produced per year at an average cost of under $300,000. Vehicle costs are well over half of total system capital costs. They are primarily diesel-powered and contribute to urban smog, though newer ones are switching to cleaner fuels. DC is currently buying 164 new buses powered by liquid natural gas for roughly $325,000, but that also includes newly required support and refueling equipment. "Your typical American bus" carries over 75,000 people a year with a trip length of 3.7 miles at an average speed of 12.8 mph. The average fare is 77 cents, but the average trip costs the bus company about $2.86, requiring a substantial subsidy. DC bus fares cover only 35% of their costs, according to Metro officials. There remain a few "trolleybus" systems which take their electric power from overhead wires, but run on rubber tires. They are environmentally much cleaner, but constrained, of course, to follow the wires.
Poor-mouthing Buses:Despite the broad national use of buses, they suffer from a poor image, varying from a rough ride (in heavy city automobile and truck traffic with exasperated, often-inconsiderate, drivers), to their use as a last resort by people with very limited means. They are also demeaned by environmentalists for everything from noise and pollution to a lack of bicycle racks. But cities are working to improve their buses' image and to accord them some of the benefits claimed for, but not necessarily unique to, streetcars and other light rail configurations. Seven substantial innovations include: much lower floor height and more doors for easier (quicker) entry and exit; longer, articulated, higher capacity units; much cleaner fuels; more substantial "stations" instead of ill-defined "stops"; dedicated rights of way (now called "busways"); preferential treatment at traffic signals; and common farecard systems. Can better drivers be far behind? In fact, future buses could also be "drive-by-wire" like almost all modern transport aircraft, to smooth out jerky driver-induced steering and braking motions.
DC's Metro system will at long last provide common farecards throughout its 348 bus routes, and 83 metrorail stations, by the end of 2002). One major new "busway" system is evolving on The Silver Line of Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. It will provide significantly improved public transit service between downtown, the airport, and other outlying stations. Boston, some older readers may recall, was where (according to musical legend) some luckless passenger was "condemned to ride forever on the MTA". A purloined photo of the latest low- floored, articulated, 55-foot, 4-doored, 164-passenger Mercedes-Benz diesel bus is shown to the left. It is similar to those adopted in Boston.
Commuter Trains: At the other end of the spectrum, there are some 19 cities with good old fashioned passenger trains, carrying almost 1.5 million riders per weekday. There are about 5,000 passenger cars in use, with an average age of a bit over 20 years, and only about 100 new ones appear annually. They use the biggest cars, averaging 85 feet long, but carry only a few more passengers per year (81,000) than the average bus. Cars cost closer to $4 million each, including ancillary capital equipment, not the least of which is (generally diesel) locomotives. As might be expected, they have much longer average trip lengths (almost 23 miles), and with fewer stops, can average 28.5 mph. They obviously require their own dedicated rights of way. The average fare is $3.32 and the average trip cost to the railroad is $10.82. Unlike cars, trucks, and buses, of course, they are directly responsible for the maintenance and safety of their dedicated rights of way, often shared with other major rail systems. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE trains are important and growing components of the Washington metro area's public transit system, linking well to Metro buses and subways.
Heavy Rail requires a specific definition to differentiate it from "Light Rail" (below):
"A transit mode that is an electric railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic. It is characterized by high speed and rapid acceleration passenger rail cars operating singly or in multi- car trains on fixed rails; separate rights of way from which all other vehicular and foot traffic are excluded; sophisticated signaling and high platform loading."
This of course, adequately describes DC's outstanding 106-mile Metro System which involves both underground, surface-level, and elevated rights of way. The US currently has only 14 heavy rail systems in operation. Subway cars tend to be somewhat shorter (60-80 feet) than commuter rail cars, the average trip length is 5.3 miles at an average speed of 22.5 mph. The average fare collected across the US is 94 cents, and the average total trip cost is $2.58. In DC, 75% of the costs are recovered in fares, way above the national norm. There are some 10,000 heavy rail cars in service nationwide with an average age of over 22 years, and an annual production of only about 100 cars, at a total capital cost of about 2.5 million each. US heavy rail carried about 8.7 million riders in 2000, and an average of almost 250,000 passengers per year tromp thru the average car.
Light Rail is the natural evolution from the once-common "trolley" (or more properly "tram"). (There is an outstanding exhibit at DC's National Building Museum in 2002 of the evolution of mass transit in DC.) The APTA definition states that light rail consists of:
"Lightweight passenger rail cars operating singly (or in short, usually two-car, trains) on fixed rails in rights-of-way not separated from other traffic for much of the way. Light rail vehicles are driven electrically with power drawn from and overhead electric line via a trolley (sic) or a pantograph. Also known as "streetcar", "tramway", or "trolley car".
Three typical contemporary light rail systems are shown below in low-grade reproductions shamelessly photocopied and cropped by NARPAC from DC's only copy of the 2000-2001 Jane's Urban Transport Systems in the Library of Congress, as suggested by Boston's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. They are, from left to right in Buffalo, Denver, and Dallas.
The 6.4-mile, 14-station, 27-vehicle Buffalo system actually runs mostly underground. It carries about 23,000 riders per day at an average speed of 21 mph and a maximum speed of 50 mph. The 14-mile, 22-station Denver system is almost entirely at street level, and carries some 34,000 riders in 31 vehicles daily at an average speed of 25 mph and a maximum of 55 mph. The 23-mile Dallas system has 22 stations, three miles of tunnels, and one mile of elevated track. It carries 39,000 riders daily in 95 vehicles at maximum speeds of 65 mph, but still averages only 20 mph.
NARPAC thinks the Light Rail Transit Association offers a somewhat more enthusiastic and broader definition than APTA's, and there are some 25 cities with light rail systems, and more are expected. There are only some 1500 individual cars in use, costing about $1.25 million each, with less than 70 new units being produced annually. Current vehicle age is just under 18 years. The cars tend to be longer (73 feet, nom) than the subway cars, but used in much shorter trains. The average US trip length is 4.2 miles at an average speed of 15.3 miles, generally with more frequent stops than subways, and conflicted less than buses with other traffic on surface routes. Light Rail systems currently carry a bit over one million riders per day, and each car hosts a little over 200,000 passengers per year. Light rail is normally compared to bus travel, not heavy rail, and enjoys greater rider appeal, due in part to a smoother ride, more comfortable access and egress, and lower initial costs. Such competition will eventually be a benefit to existing bus systems (see above).
Comparative Data Table:
This material was used to provide background information for NARPAC's commentary on DC's new transportation study DC Transit Development Study below.
Sometime in 2001, the DC Office of Planning and the Division of Transportation within DC's DPW (to become a separate Department of Transportation by Spring, 2002) decided to undertake a Transit Development Study with three objectives (emphasis added by NARPAC):
o Identify corridors where potential transit expansion may be advantageous first, for residents, employees, and visitors in DC and second, for the larger regional transit system (based upon a select number of corridors presented to WMATA for analysis by DC);
o Make suggestions for potential transit options on appropriate corridors, beginning with light rail, that if feasible may provide greater mobility within DC; and
o Recognize potential corridor and route issues and options that may proceed to a more detailed level of planning.
Four months later, the WMATA group had identified a number of issues regarding the applicability of light rail. These included: a) the need to better consider regional connections to make some routes worthwhile, b) better analysis of potential employment growth based on current real estate trends; c) the need to widen streets for "at-grade" light rail lanes and stations, in some cases requiring buildings to be moved; d) a substantial need for replacement and enhancement parking; and e) the need for extensive community involvement due to significant changes in parking and the addition of overhead wiring. In fact, the WMATA study did not appear very encouraging, though the light rail proponents decided to persevere at least through a series of public meetings currently (March 2002) underway.
The initial nine routes are shown on the WMATA chart to the left. They show an interesting diversity of routes, many of which are similar to NARPAC's own primitive suggestions for Metrorail extensions, and concerns for the need to get away from the original "Hub and Merged-Spokes" approach. NARPAC was particularly pleased to see new routes East of the Anacostia one of which would parallel the river and serve a developing riverbank (#4, purple + #6, orange), and the other a radial reaching out towards Andrews Air Force Base ((#5-light yellow). Those chart colors are not related to current Metrorail line colors. There was also another line stretching north from Georgetown to Tenleytown (#9, yellow).
Three Potential Routes
Whether these will turn out to be practical applications for light rail, or acceptable to the neighborhoods involved, remains to be seen. Each was judged to have high "boardings per mile" and good "connectivity", but crude cost estimates ranged from $80 to $100 million per mile. On the other hand, each was judged by WMATA engineers to present very difficult problems in fitting light rail in "at grade level'. Light rail needs from 18 to 24 feet in width of dedicated right of way, not including "stations". If in fact substantial tunneling is required, then the marginal costs of extending heavy rail instead would be small, and the rationale for using light rail almost non-existent. Perhaps the study is just a sop to the several well-placed light rail advocates within the DC government (and DC Council), some with a romantic attachment to DC's earlier line. The pictures below show the widely-used old "PCC" car, still in service in San Francisco, and compared to a typical city bus (left), and a more modern two-car CAF unit currently in use in Madrid (right):
Nevertheless, the issue of whether there is a place for light rail (MetroLite) in the Washington metro area's future has been raised, and deserves objective consideration. It is also important because two suburbs are now considering light rail as well: Arlington County is considering it to run down Columbia Pike toward the Pentagon (a corridor some Arlington planners thought should have been made part of the initial Metro heavy rail development). At the same time, Montgomery County has been wrestling with some "interconnector" between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and doubts they can support a heavy rail system for that application. Moreover, they have an abandoned railroad right-of-way that might be used (over neighborhood objections). In both cases, the routes may be suitable for "less than the densest", most expensive, system. In fact, the major difference between "light" and "heavy" rail seems to be the maximum anticipated volume of flow, not the weight of the rolling stock itself.
To NARPAC, the real question seems not to be heavy vs light rail, but light rail transit (LRT) vs. bus rapid tranist (BRT), using equivalent modern technologies. In September, 2001 the GAO published their own analysis of the newly coined "Bus Rapid Transit" systems, which apply some of the same preferential treatments in lanes, signaling, and stations normally accorded to the rail systems. Federal support for BRT projects may come from several different sources, including the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)'s New Starts, Bus Capital, and Urbanized Area Formula Grants programs. The GAO concludes that BRT "shows promise", even though many transit officials repeatedly claimed that "buses have a poor public image" despite their preponderant use in 2262 American cities (See NARPAC's State of American Urban Transportation above). The Congress asked the GAO to:
GAO surveyed six very different cities where both systems now exist: Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and San Jose. Some use "busways", others HOV lanes. Their conclusions include:
o Certain restrictions placed on subsidies for bus systems may constrain their application to BRT systems, unless Congress changes the rules to accommodate this newer approach;
o BRT systems generally had lower capital costs per mile than LRT, but the spread was very large: from $7M to $55M per mile for "busways", compared to $12M to $119M for LRT. It is not clear that GAO considered the costs of relocating street parking where it was rfequired;
o BRT systems generally had lower operating costs, but not necessarily in costs/mile (again due to large variations between cities, but inconsistent with current national norms);
o BRT systems showed generally higher operating speeds as well as greater flexibility in routing, but officials cited poor public image for buses and the "permanence" of LRT routes as a potential influence for focused economic development. In DC, of course, this latter point is the major rationale for its current heavy Metrorail system.
DC studies, on the other hand, showed 25% higher operating speeds for LRT, as well as almost twice the hourly rider capacity primarily by assuming four-car trolley trains compared to single buses, and also by assuming that LRT would get better preferential signaling. These appear to be biases that might be changed by further analysis. Further, the question of dealing with the external electric power requirements for LRT are glossed over in both the GAO and the DC studies. Overhead wires are specifically banned in DC at present, and alternative underground third rails presently seem dubious at best.
NARPAC is at once intrigued by the possibilities for light rail transportation in the metro area, and discouraged by the lack of organized long-range planning for solving already existing transportation problems. The overall problem may be best illustrated by using two diagrams from the 1999 WMATA bus study. The first chart indicates where most people live in the immediate Washington metro area, as indicated by "households per acre", with the darkest color representing more than 15:
Clearly, there are many more households outside the city limits (black
line) than within. And although the build-up around Annapolis to the East
is missing, it is also clear than Prince George's has not enjoyed the
population growth on Montgomery County to the North, and Fairfax and Arlington
Counties to the West. The trouble, of course, is that people do not work
or shop where they live. Hence there is an enormous daily migration from
home to work and back. (Note that the long side of the DC boundary is
exactly ten miles.) Where people work is shown on the companion chart
Here again, the darkest color is the few areas in which there are more than 40 workers per acre (in most cases, way more than 40 workers). Again, it is clear that the distribution of jobs in no way correlates with the distribution of homes. The great puzzle for WMATA, of course, is how to get the greatest number of commuters and shoppers to use public transportation, while relegating their automobiles to infrequent family trips to lower density places.
An Attractive Nuisance
There are few more descriptive terms than "attractive nuisance" as it applies to places and things that have an enormous appeal to many people of all ages, but can result in unintentional harm if not somehow discretely fenced off. Light Rail systems may indeed fall into this category. Some of the modern systems are appealing in looks, may have some sentimental or entertainment value, and could in some places provide a pleasant convenience. A surface trolley system from Georgetown to RFK stadium via the Convention Center along DC's widest "boulevard", K Street, might be a great addition to the city. So might a "circulator system" including the National Mall and eventually the entire Anacostia Waterfront Parks and related attractions on both sides of the river. Such a system could be built almost entirely on available parkland away from current major roads.
But the use of a light rail system to extend or fill in the current Metrorail and Metrobus systems for commuters (within or beyond DC city limits) seems more likely to be a serious distraction by delaying, preempting, or confusing the expansion of the more standard systems. The current neighborhood briefings concerning this study bring out other ambiguities in the proposal. Some enthusiasts emphasize its lower cost (relative to HRT, not its higher cost relative to BRT), but then offer to put it underground if existing roads aren't wide enough. They brush aside concerns for overhead wiring by invoking emerging technologies, and the substitution of off-street parking for current on-street parking.
Furthermore, there seem to be tendencies to exaggerate the differences between these competing systems rather than stressing their similarities. Many of the features currently considered to be disadvantages to good old fashioned buses can be reduced or eliminated by the equivalent application of new technologies. (See NARPAC's State of Urban Transportation above.) Various hybrids designs are already in use. Some "trolleys" became "trolley buses" by exchanging steel wheels and fixed track for rubber tires, while keeping the overhead electric wires for power. Buses have become longer by incorporating articulated sections, and are now experimenting with cleaner engines which could eventually include the hybrid designs now being introduced for better automobile mileage and air cleanliness. In NARPAC's view, the new double-articulated trolleybus shown below in use with raised platforms in Sao Paulo, Brazil, may be the most appealing design to emerge so far. All it needs now is self- contained power:
As NARPAC has frequently expressed elsewhere, the long-range development of DC depends critically on the continued evolution of a robust transportation network throughout the region and particularly inside its city limits. DC's socioeconomic growth and evolution depends on far better utilization of its limited and, unfortunately, still largely decrepit land. One of the problems with the current DC Transit Study is that it seems to ask "where do we need better public transportation for the city's current layout", instead of asking "where is new transportation needed to help the city grow socially and economically stronger?". DC must not allow itself to become strangled by the inadequacies and hardening of its own arteries. NARPAC sees at least five top priorities:
o High Density Development: The city has one of the nation's finest HRT (subway) systems, yet it has yet to attract or even permit high density residential and commercial development around many of its current stations. This is an extraordinary waste of the regional capital investment already made.
o Downtown Metro Bottlenecks: There is a substantial risk that Metro's outdated "hub-and-merged-spoke design" will severely clog the total achievable flow through the system. It is essential that each major line eventually end up on its own separate tracks with its own stations and exchanges.
o Station Utilization: Many current Metro stations have limited access: too few entrances and exits to well serve their neighborhoods, and in a few cases, no passenger walk- through tunnels to connect nearby stations (e.g., Farragut North and West; MetroCenter and Gallery Place). Furthermore, there may be opportunities to use small "people-movers" or "moving sidewalks" to extend the reach of existing entrances.
o Parking: The city has generally failed to come to grips with its multiple parking problems which makes for very inefficient use of its naturally limited city streets. It has been slow to take advantage of federal assistance in the development of "intermodal" parking facilities (the first may evolve as part of the Southwest Waterfront Renovation program). And it has surprisingly few one-way streets.
o Route Expansion inside DC: There are virtually no plans to extend the HRT network to parts of the city currently excluded from convenient Metro access, either in Georgetown, upper Northwest, or most of the areas East of the Anacostia. All three areas deserve full HRT service to avoid being limited to "second-class" LRT service. But in particular, DC must accept the need to focus on the socioeconomic development of the entire area east of the Anacostia for its eventual financial security.
WMATA, Metro Priorities
The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has surprisingly little authority. It can only take on projects approved by the vote of its Board, all drawn from elected officials of the various affected jurisdictions. Far more serious, it has no taxing authority, and is limited to annually approved appropriations from its member jurisdictions. This hand-to-mouth existence and need to satisfy all its constituent members on a regular basis detract from its ability to make many important decisions. Its currently projected programs demonstrate the dangers implicit in this approach. It is adding 24 miles of track to the West to serve Tyson's Corner, Dulles Airport, and Loudoun County in Virginia. It is reaching out 3.1 miles to the northeast to the Beltway at Largo in Maryland. But there is no new track and only one new in-fill station underway inside DC. Furthermore, Metro now has three contending priorities:
o Current Infrastructure Rehabilitation represents a growing demand as substantial parts of the current system reach "middle age" on current escalators and rolling stock. This will require at least $10 billion over the next 25 years from reluctant contributors that might otherwise have gone to modernization and expansion;
o Access and Capacity of the current system must be improved to keep the system from becoming prematurely constricted or otherwise underutilized. Lack of parking, lack of external canopies over escalators; lack of cars to make longer trains; need for faster fare collection through current turnstyle plazas all place capacity constraints on the system. And the Green Line North and Green Line South have already reached "crowded" status of 40,000+ riders per day little more than a year after opening. 192 new cars have been ordered and a few are now undergoing "shake-down" (with mixed success). That will bring all trains up to 6-car length, still short of the design platform capacity of 8 cars:
o System Expansion will have to make do when the first two priorities are adequately funded. Hence Metro spends a considerable amount of time exploring different routes, station configurations, etc. at the behest of its board members and participating Departments of Transportation, but very few of them turn into concrete projects. Some of the pressures to adopt LRT segments appears to come from board members, but it is not clear that they have the long range interests of the entire system in mind. In retrospect, it seems ever more miraculous that the original Metro system is as good as it is.
In any event, the shortness of funding for WMATA, particularly in the wake of the recent mini- recession, and the bursting of the "dot-com bubble", are joining to make future system expansion more difficult to achieve. The pressures to cut corners or look for cheaper solution may well favor LRT at the expense of the long range future of the system and its metro area.
The Impact of 9/11
The full impact of the newly recognized threats from terrorism have yet to be reflected in the redesign of America's vulnerable urban areas. Inescapably, the nation's capital city will have to become particularly sensitive to the needs of sudden emergencies. Whether it is rushing towards or away from the scene of some unexpected disaster, transportation systems are going to have to take emergency preparedness into consideration. DC's Metrorail system worked remarkably well during 9/11 and made it possible for large numbers of people to leave the city in a relatively short period of time.
Like it or not, however, this may raise a serious limitation on adding fixed track systems to existing streets. Mechanical break-downs; collisions with other vehicles; blocking cross- traffic; closed streets; obstructions by emergency vehicles responding to various crises; loss of central power; etc could all make the light rail systems less flexible and more of an obstacle course than self-powered, rubber-wheeled vehicles which, even with some inconvenience, can be temporarily rerouted to other streets. It may also spawn some other useful developments such as centrally controlled, computerized traffic signals. This could also improve the efficiency of urban transit systems and even control temporary one-way traffic flows.
Embracing the Third Dimension
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) predicts that the metro area will grow in population by 1,400,000 people in the next 25 years, while DC itself will grow by over 100,000. It is safe to predict that the expanse of DC streets will grow very little if at all probably not as much as individual vehicles will grow in physical size in the same time period. Like many other American inner cities, the streets are simply saturated with public, private, and commercial vehicles, to say nothing of pedestrians and cyclists. DC's Metro took the first major step in adapting to the third dimension by going underground. Many new under-building parking garages are now doing the same thing. Some planners are even thinking about underground loading docks in the vicinity of the White House. Greater use of one-way traffic may also be helpful. But surface congestion will not be relieved by any of these trends.
Sooner or later the movement of people and things is going to have to shift above grade to accommodate faster movement on streets and sidewalks. Some cities such as Miami have already installed elevated "Metromovers", similar to the "people-movers" at a few large airports. But more steps in this direction will be required to separate 'through' from 'local' traffic, be they people, bicycles, cars, taxis, whatever. Elevated sidewalks, perhaps moving (as in airports), might prove useful in congested downtown areas. Monorails might be acceptable in other situations. But residents are going to have to get used to the idea that a certain amount of movement must be elevated above ground level. In these cases, there may be room for some Very Light Rail Systems in urban planning. As yet, none have materialized.
In February, 2003, a demonstrator model of a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) design paid an unsolicited call on DC, with slick brochures and a test ride across town for local officials. It is called the "CIVIS" bus, and is a product of the French firm Irisbus, with a distributor in New Jersey. A picture of this bus at curbside (shortly after a DC snowstorm) is shown below, and perhaps unintentionally shows one of its apparent weather-related limitations:
The articulated three-axle version is shown above. It is 8.5 ft wide and some 60 ft long with a capacity of about 40 seated and 60 standing. A double articulated, four axle version is also available with a capacity of 140 passengers. Its proportions look a bit odd because it is both closer to the ground, two inches narrower and 14 inches higher than a typical DC articulated bus of the same length. This version has four wide doors for faster entry and exit. This assumes that fare collection is done at curbside "stations" rather than aboard the bus, presenting some problems of its own. It has several other features which NARPAC finds noteworthy.
First, the system includes an automatic steering function that follows dashed white lines painted on the road. One wonders whether this feature will be sufficiently reliable, particularly in inclement weather.
Second, the bus is built awkwardly low to the ground , unintentionally giving it the appearance of a parade float, and also presenting problems in snowy, and heavy rain conditions. The advantage of wheelchair access seems to be offset by the fact that it will make more difficult the problem of providing secure curb-level "stations" for fare collection. NARPAC would assume that such stations will be more practical if elevated so that access is more controlled.
Finally, and of greatest interest to NARPAC, is the use of special wheels with wider tires, each driven by a hub-mounted 80 kva electric motor. This permits regenerative braking and the use of virtually any "powerplant du jour". On-board electric generators can be driven by gasoline engines, diesels, natural gas, hydrogen, fuel cells, or whatever comes along. The sketch to the right shows the Irisbus powered wheel design, and is copied from one of their brochures, also available on the Irisbus web site.
It appears that Arlington County has reached a preliminary decision
to use BRT units on their Columbia Pike corridor, and perhaps along the
Jefferson Davis Highway Corridor. Though this use is highlighted in CIVIS
literature, Arlington County officials indicate they are nowhere near
a decision on any particular design, nor do they have the necessary authorities
to formally adopt BRT. Some Montgomery County officials are also beginning
to show a serious interest in BRT over Light Rail, but they have made
no decisions whatsoever. Stay tuned!
The combined forces of the Federal Transit Administration, WMATA (Metro), and DC's Department of Transportation combined in October, 2003 to give "light rail" a giant push forward as the next new transportation system in the nation's capital. With a latent objective of adding some 33 miles of surface light rail to DC's current labyrinth of overcrowded roads and underground tunnels, they have proposed to build a prototype trolley system highlighted by NARPAC some three years ago along the abandoned CSX spur running parallel to I295 through Anacostia.
A public hearing was held in an Anacostia public school, ostensibly to comment on the environmental assessment for the proposed demonstration. The briefing explained the need to "test the technologies" involved in both diesel and overhead electric trolleys. Local residents expressed delight that some new form of transportation would be tried in their neighborhoods first, and were very disdainful of inputs from outsiders beyond their locale. It will not be surprising that this under-served part of town will be supportive of such a local, rather than regional, innovation, and even if the technology has been around for decades..
The proponents of these "fixed guideway" surface transportation systems point to the fact that they are a growing rage in other cities both in the US and around the world to compliment their heavy rail subway systems. They also point to what appears to be an inescapable conclusion that the ride on such rail systems is far more attractive than on the lurching, bumping, swaying motions of standard buses, no mater how much the "busways" may be improved and separated from other vehicular traffic on major roads.
NARPAC, on the other hand, sees this as a means to foist off a second-class, locally-oriented system on the area East of the Anacostia that sorely needs more first class Metro service to assure its full economic development. We are also concerned that a strong endorsement in Anacostia along a totally separate right of way (albeit including surface level intersections with road traffic) cannot be rationally extrapolated to lines running on the major city streets such as Georgia Avenue, or K Street downtown. We are concerned about adding inflexible rail-bound vehicles that can block streets, require overhead electric power lines, and complicate emergency evacuations (as we have detailed a prior section).
But NARPAC's greatest worry is that by filling in certain gaps with a unique transportation system, the expansion of the real metrorail will be curtailed. In an earlier analysis of the impending constraints on future growth, it has become apparent both to Metro and others that there are growing bottlenecks in the "hub and spoke" systems where two or three different lines converge in the same stations. These will, within a decade, saturate the system and limit further growth. This will require the development of by-passes for through-traffic that does not need access to those hubs. Several of the routes now suggested for light-rail essentially pre-empt their later use for heavy rail. It seems inconceivable that once a surface light rail system is installed that it will soon thereafter be replaced or duplicated by extending metrorail itself, either underground or elevated. This is particularly troublesome for the Anacostia area itself, which eventually needs a through-put system from Virginia to Eastern Maryland (such as Annapolis) without having to change systems in the middle.
The diagram used by the light rail proponents below is remarkably indicative of their current focus on local, intra-urban mobility. As shown on the chart below to the left, The planners portray their local surface lines as broad-brush bands, while the basic first-class, regional metro system is depicted by insignificant dotted lines. Not surprisingly, NARPAC prefers its crude rendering to the right which favors the regional lines (in brown) and their missing redundancy links (in green dashes). To NARPAC, the key challenge is to be able to get from any one ugly brown arrowhead to any other one without going through any of the three down-town choke points. Those dotted green lines (or any other more rational set) should not be pre-empted by incompatible transportation modes.
In a lame effort to attract attention to these other issues, NARPAC presented the following abbreviated testimony to dramatize what we feel is an impending step (if not a leap) in the wrong direction, and all under the guise of an "environmental assessment":
TRIFLING WITH THE FUTURE OF THE NATION'S CAPITAL CITY
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Our non-profit organization, NARPAC, exists for only two reasons: we want Americans everywhere to be aware of , and help improve, DC's national image; and we want DC residents everywhere to accept their obligations to improve DC's national image. We are not running for office or trying to make friends We do hope to influence key people.
Two key problems produce our capital city's embarrassing image across the US and the globe:
1) DC's inability to break the cycle of poverty among its abnormal concentrations of disadvantaged citizens, the root cause of its shocking socioeconomic statistics; and
2) DC's inability to grasp the fundamentals of urban smart growth and the key role played by public transportation as the precursory structural framework for it.
We have read the assessment report. As outside observers, NARPAC has far different standards for an adequate environmental assessment. We are satisfied that DC and WMATA can provide the porta-potties, preserve the archeological relics, and control noise and vibration. We are not satisfied that four broader environmental issues have been recognized or addressed at all. These include:
o the national environment, involving DC's role as the proud symbol
of American hope and progress;
For brevity -- and shock value -- let me exaggerate our concerns by concocting a dozen "Headlines NARPAC Would Hate to See", and trust that the obverse will be self-evident.
Tinkertoy Projects Overshadow Huge Long-Range Transportation Infrastructure Needs
US Capital City Plans Radical 3-yr, 2-mile Test on 100-yr Old Technology
DC Tips Hand on Limiting Smart Growth in Nation's Capital
Moves Intended to 'Sell' At-Grade Light Rail Downtown While Heavy Rail Expands in Suburbs
Smart DC Move to Buy Old CSX Right-of-way Offset by Dumb Use
Suburban Growth in National Capital Metro Area Cripples Core City
Area DoT Authorities Favor Variety Over Standardization/Redundancy
DC Trolley/Train Acceptability Test Better Run by Neighboring States
Fear of Lethal Gridlock Should Favor More Adaptable Public Conveyances During Crises
But Not a Nickel Into Improved Bus Design/Service or High-Density Robotic Parking
DC Plans to Buy Valuable Abandoned CSX Urban Right-of-way
In December of 2003, a joint study by WMATA (Metro) and DC's Department of Transportation (DDoT) was unveiled for public comment, describing the potential development of a K Street Busway that would extend from M Street in the heart of Georgetown, across, past the newly opened Convention Center, and down Massachusetts Avenue to Union Station and the northern edge of the Capitol complex. NARPAC not only supports this development in principle, it chooses to believe it helped recommend its location on K St. rather than L St. (see prior section on DC Transit Development Study. The study's preferred route plan is reproduced (poorly) below:
The plan essentially calls for redesigning these major avenues to accommodate two "dedicated" Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes down their center with "islands" separating the "busway" from regular vehicular traffic on either side. While NARPAC has generated substantial comments on this study, it believes the basic concept and route are appropriate.
These two artists' renderings show a close-up of a loading platform on one of the '"islands", as well as a birds-eye view of the busway somewhere along K Street. Subsequent NARPAC commentary will suggest an alternate location for the busway lanes for a combination of reasons, and suggests that the Georgetown terminus might be better accommodated under the Whitehurst Freeway in conjunction with parking and a bus turn-around center (dotted black line on route plan above).
NARPAC Commentary on K-street Busway
This section provides NARPAC's comments on DDoT's proposed K Street busway study. NARPAC believes that such busways are desirable additions to the metro area mass transit spectrum and offer both more flexibility and less susceptibility to jamming than at-grade light rail. That said, we think several other considerations might help optimize the design/layout for K Street, and other future routes.
Can buses be made to ride more like trolleys for greater acceptability?
There seems to be general agreement that rail systems ride smoother than tires on pavement. If not already available, the average motions of light/heavy rail should be properly documented and buses re-engineered to ride more like trolleys when they can take advantage of busways. Such changes could include adjustable spring constants, tire pressure, acceleration and deceleration rates, and steering controls as well as converting to a diesel-electric drive system (as described in the prior section on the French Irisbus.
Lost parking must be accommodated (and expanded) somewhere.
It is essential to get people out of their cars downtown, but not by trying to get Americans to give up their second most desired possession. Instead, safe, convenient parking must be provided near the busways. The study briefing charts show a potential loss of almost 100 parking spaces along K Street. Modern automated parking can provide over 300 spaces in a cube 100x100x50ft (500K cuft). Such facilities should be provided at least at the Georgetown and Union Station termini, with parking rates sufficient to help defray the busway costs.
Two possibilities are suggested. First, there is a very large volume of unused 'air-rights' under the Whitehurst Freeway (but above K/Water Streets) in Georgetown (over 2,000K cuft?), as shown in the photo to the left. There is an equivalent volume of 'dirt rights' that could be exploited under the park west of the Washington Harbor development (see below). At the other end of the proposed busway, perhaps 3,000K cuft of 'dirt-rights' could be exploited under those ugly surface parking lots bounded by North Capitol St, Louisiana Ave, and Massachusetts Ave. facing the Union Station semi-circle.
Daytime commercial deliveries are a fact of life
We see no way to enforce nighttime deliveries other than for bulk items to major stores. FedEx, UPS, USPS, taxis, repair/servicemen, florists, etc., will continue to need daytime curbside access to city buildings. New "smart curb" designs could selectively accommodate only these larger vehicles. Curbside indentations and other special "loading zone" designs are needed. In addition, "freight buses" or a "freight-trailers" could be developed to follow or be towed by passenger buses, but optimized for stand-up riders (vertical stanchions only) with bicycles, segways, or package carts in tow.
Should the busway avoid M Street?
Although it is vital to provide better public transit options for Georgetown, it is by no means clear that M Street can sensibly accommodate a two-dedicated lane busway. It is a center of youthful exuberance and nightlife, as well as providing a major commuter route across Key Bridge to Arlington. NARPAC would like to suggest a novel alternative arrangement under the current Whitehurst Freeway, an elevated by-pass roadway above the continuation of K Street, which becomes Water Street. This Freeway is under scrutiny by long-range planners for possible removal. NARPAC believes it can be given an important new life by raising the ground plane below it to make room for underground parking. It would also reduce the steep drop in the M Street cross streets after crossing the Bamp;&O Canal. Were it not for that steep slope, it would be an easy and attractive two city block walk from the vibrant M Street. The "before" and (synthesized) "after" photos below could disguise parking for over 1000 vehicles:
The plan also proposes to extend the busway west onto Canal Road past the Key bridge to reach a major new access road to Georgetown University. Washingtonians who have struggled for years with heavy traffic on that road are unlikely to want the busway terminus there. Alternatively, there is a large open air parking lot at the western end of Water Street that could be modified to become a turn-around (and garage facility?) for the busway. More work needs to be done in this area by planners smarter than NARPAC.
Saturating the two-dimensional surface space:
Cities are running out of surface-level space, and will eventually have to turn to the 3rd dimension ('air rights' above ground, or 'dirt rights' below-ground) to satisfy urban mobility requirements. Hence any new arrangement of the surface space should be amenable to later expansion (probably overhead), and extraneous use of dividers, sidewalks, trees etc. should be minimized.
For instance, it is not obvious that the busway should occupy two adjacent lanes in the center of the avenue, with two special loading dividers as well. The width of those two dividers is more than one more lane. There are good arguments for having all regular traffic lanes next to each other so that the direction of one or more lanes can be changed with morning/evening rush hours, and various emergencies. Equally good arguments can be made for separating those traffic lanes from the temptations of the curb.
Minimizing bus stop time is also important. The artists' sketches do not show either multiple bus doors for quicker ingress and egress or facilities for the associated curbside ticketing. Shifting to such a practice requires a longer protected curbside passenger zone than sketched in the current brochure.
"Dedicated" busway lanes may not need to exclude all other relevant traffic. Almost every built- up block on each side of K Street has access to alley or underground parking. Sharing the busway with cars headed to or from parking facilities might be practical. Some delivery vehicles might also be "certified" to use otherwise inaccessible curbside loading zones. Modern tagging technologies (based on the "E-Z Pass" approach) can provide new levels of identification, monitoring and even enforcement. Bus drivers might be empowered to issue tickets and summons using the current remote traffic camera practices.
Pedestrians are a major nuisance
If any transportation mode should leave the ground plane, it is probably "through-pedestrians" traversing several intersections. They may well jeopardize the successful use of variable signaling for the busways on avenues as broad as K Street. Furthermore, the number of required busway stops is undoubtedly related to the number of hazardous street crossings between passenger offload points and their destinations: fewer street level crossings, fewer stops. Locating narrow passenger platforms between two streams of traffic also seems undesirable. Riders are likely to be at risk dashing for a bus, and the resulting railing requirements will be an eyesore.
In a different vein, pedestrians are on the verge of adopting "personal transportation systems". These "segways" may well seriously complicate sidewalks, curbs, public transit racks, and "parking" outside stores, restaurants, etc. Even escalators may eventually have to redesigned for them. Currently, segway designs vary from the 'e-series' weighing 95 lbs, with a $5500 price tag and a 3.5 sqft footprint, down to the newer 70-lb 'p-series' with a 2.4sqft footprint and a $4000 price tag. It is none too soon to contemplate how to absorb this new transportation mode.
Sidewalks are now used inefficiently due to the narrowing caused by curbside trees with their root grates, etc. Why not consider elevated pedestrian/bike/segway rights of way ("express trails?") directly above the busways? They would reduce the need for surface-level sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks, and could also provide de facto height limits on downtown trucks. The trick, of course, would be to make the elevated pathway design attractively "light". Such "trails" could help extend the "reach" of individual metrobus and metreorail stations. Eventually, they might also lead to second floor "gang plank" building entrances, and even generate new means of loading and unloading trucks over the sidewalks instead of across them.
Finally, why not increase the functionality of the little used sidewalk spaces between the inevitable trees? NARPAC sees several uses for those areas. "Smart curbs" could be indented in some places (like many current bus stops) for a variety of specialized, monitored parking, delivery, waiting, and trash removal zones. Other segments could be used for more functional bus stop shelters, vending stalls, and stairs, ramps, escalators, or elevators to the "express trails" above. NARPAC's rudimentary schematic of this alternative K Street redevelopment usage is shown below. If nothing else, it has the advantage of not requiring closing and rebuilding the major traffic lanes.
A K Street intermodal parking facility
There is one particularly interesting opportunity for the K Street development to serve several purposes. There is a natural confluence between K Street, Whitehurst Freeway, Virginia Avenue, Rock Creek (and Potomac) Parkways and Route 66. These streets all converge within a few hundred feet of the Blue/Orange Line metro tunnel from/to Rosslyn. A new "Rock Creek" or "Thompson Point" Metro station could serve the Kennedy Center to the southeast via the planned Potomac riverbank improvements and, via the busway, westward to Georgetown's M Street.
This node would be a major access point for the new riverbank pathway from Washington Harbor all the way around and up the Anacostia River to the National Arboretum. It would also provide access for joggers and bikers to the C&O Canal path running west of Washington Harbor and joining the Maryland "Crescent Trail" (which loops all the way around to Silver Spring, MD).
Equally important, there is undeveloped city-owned (?) land (2500K cuft?) where Rock Creek itself empties into the Potomac (see photo, left). This could eventually be used for an urban deck (of the style planned for the Kennedy Center) with a large intermodal parking facility beneath it, similar to one we envision under a raised K Street/Water Street, beneath the Whitehurst Freeway. This would be one good destination and holding area for DC's ever-present tour buses, similar to the one being considered under Bannecker Point on the Southwest Waterfront.
NARPAC believes the initial K Street Busway plan is a good start, but that there are many innovative ways to make it a far more functional and futuristic addition to the nation's capital.
In early January, 2004, DC's DDoT gave the public an opportunity to comment on a draft study with the daunting formal title of "Motor Carrier Management and Threat Assessment Study" funded with Homeland Security dollars, and carried out by the Federal DoT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (VNTSC) in Cambridge, MA. Its primary interest dealt with threats presented by heavy trucks (over 80,000 lbs) to the security of the nation's capital, but it was "bent around" to also explore the broader aspects of how both these heavy trucks, and their more ubiquitous and double-parking cousins, the package delivery vehicles, congest the city.
The project's stated purposes include:
a) developing a comprehensive understanding of DC's major trucking operations;
The draft report identifies the major trucking routes and suggests a three-tiered designation system for limiting truck use, proposing that six roads be classified TR-I , including Wisconsin; Georgia; Nebraska-Military Road-Missouri-South Dakota Avenues; New York Avenue; and I- 395 and I-295. These roads would be open to heavy truck traffic 24/7. The report notes problems with loading and unloading and suggests tighter short-term and long-term parking regulations (!). It goes on to delve into various security concerns associated with congestion, and, more important the use of new technologies in the nasty business of licensing, searching, tracking, and monitoring the trucks; identifying and checking their drivers; and enforcing the performance of both. Most important, perhaps, is the study's recommendation that DC's DDoT should take on a Motor Carrier Office to coordinate all trucking problems.
NARPAC devoted some effort to preparing comments for the study sponsors and performers, and offers them here primarily because it believes that dealing with truck problems is inseparable from other traffic problems, and probably deserves broader treatment. Hence, most of its comments relate to the narrowness of the study. The report seems to lack a "systems approach". Given the funding source, it is clearly a "partial derivative of DC's traffic problems with respect to heavy trucks with a significant threat component on existing roads". Thus NARPAC bundled its comments by somewhat broader categories:
1. Truck Definitions:
The report's focus appears to be almost exclusively on heavy trucks and UPS-sized delivery vehicles, although the complete gamut of trucks down to and including the now-ubiquitous SUVs present a security danger as well as a traffic-stalling threat. Clearly, any vehicle with a driver that can carry a 1000-pound load (any 6-8 passenger vehicle) is the equivalent of a precision-guided missile. And many small female drivers of big SUVs have turned narrow two-lane city streets into one-laners. The full gamut of trucks, surely including trash removal, must be considered and managed together, particularly because of the potential trade-offs between them. Commercial vs private vehicular use also seems underplayed.
2. The Economics of Urban Commercial Vehicles:
There seem to be no studies quantifying the importance of commercial vehicles to urban growth and quality of life. It seems clear many urban businesses are almost totally dependent on daily deliveries, most of which cannot be made in the dead of night, just as most DC businesses depend on daytime commuting employees for their operations. But two different consequences result: a) continuous traffic flow is not a luxury but an economic necessity; and b) assuring that flow has a high value which can clearly become an important source of municipal revenues.
Cities like DC, which whine over their (dubious) 'structural imbalance' and the need for external subsidies, can turn to commercial transportation as an important additional source of scarce, city-specific income to pay for the congestion it causes. A 'congestion tax' has a nice ring to it.
3. Major Route Uses:
TR-I,-II,-III categories appear to neglect other prime uses including commuters with their increasingly long peak hours, emergency vehicle and evacuation routes, and possible additions of busways, lane-direction changes, and cheap, fixed guideway trolley tracks. The need to gradually develop alternate truck rights of way cannot be ignored.
An equally interesting study could be conducted with relation to under-used, under-maintained, under-modernized urban railroad rights of way, bridges, etc. They not only provide little economic value nowadays, but also contribute significantly to urban blight. One might also look at the potential use of Metro underground rights of way for transshipment of containerized bulk products during off peak hours on specially designed railroad cars between some specially designed stations, perhaps related to current underground sidings (?).
Equally important, the lack of major cross-town (East-west) streets and avenues is not only a problem for trucks but for the city's economic development and for leveling its city socioeconomic disparities. The Rock Creek barrier must eventually be lowered, or bridged over, for both public transit, commercial, and private "interconnection".
4 Curbside Parking:
Control of curbside parking has clearly become a major national urban issue, including its conflict with public transit which deserves highest curbside priority. It is time to add some intelligent design to the combination of sidewalks, tree/landscaping strips, delivery points, building and parking entrances, and selective-access bays. As NARPAC has discussed in its recent analysis of the proposed K Street busway, "smart curbs" can surely be designed to selectively admit authorized vehicles and prohibit unwanted vehicles. For instance, landscaping strips could be changed to well-spaced landscaping islands, with special-use (no backing up required) parking bays between them. Access to parking bays can be limited to vehicles above a certain ground-clearance, below a certain height, or with registered "clickers" to lower parking barriers, and can be monitored by signal alarms and remote cameras for violators, and so forth. This should be a a natural area of exploration for VNTSC.
5. Off-Street Parking:
Those vehicles displaced from curbside parking must find other venues. It is foolish to try to ban parking by simply making it unavailable. NARPAC strongly recommends automated, or "robotic", 3-D parking . We believe parking density in all-new parking facilities can be tripled, but also increased perhaps 50% in existing garages. It should be a simple matter to require parking garages to provide 'x' new spaces for short-time or all-day delivery vehicles (near the elevators), and higher density mechanical parking 'inserts', particularly for smaller, urban-friendly, vehicles. Parking system technology is another natural for VNTSC.
6. Revenues from Urban Vehicles:
It seems intuitively obvious that cities can make a virtue out of necessity, and very significantly raise the cost of entering, standing, parking, delivering, and keeping vehicles within city limits, particularly those that are urban-unfriendly. DC has relatively low parking rates compared to other cities, probably charges too little for SUV-type vehicle registration and temporary permits for construction-related heavy trucks. It charges nothing for regular downtown delivery and service-related commercial vehicles (such as a sticker, or tag, fee). To NARPAC's knowledge, there is also no fee structure that favors adoption of hybrid or electric vehicles for in-town delivery use, and no surcharge for deliveries to specific traffic-congested downtown areas, such as within the "Golden Triangle" downtown BID.
The report does not touch on opportunities and incentives to keep the really big, heavy, semi-trailer delivery vehicles out of downtown. I am unfamiliar with any analysis of how many of these deliveries (which cannot avoid double-parking) are inescapable v. the shipper's choice. Proper fee structures could generate another specialized urban business (like the bike-deliveryman) for "retail delivery services" using suburban transshipment centers, and urban, curbside-friendly vehicles (perhaps even ones that could share busway lanes at certain off-peak hours).
7. The Application of "New" Technologies:
The report points up the potential use of electronic tags (1990's E-Z Pass era) or bar codes (1970's RR boxcar technologies) for security purposes, but not for economic benefit, monitoring, route or parking enforcement. The US is on the verge of permanently tagging just about everything that moves, from cancer cells, pets, parolees, and school kids, to purchases, packages, passports, and vehicles. There is an enormous potential here to track, charge, monitor, allow, and deny vehicles and their owners by elapsed time, time of day, mileage, route, dwell space, payload weight, vehicle type and size, gas consumption, registration, and even by type of business: all by a chip on a license plate. We may possibly keep Big Brother out of the bedroom a little while longer, but we surely won't keep him out of our public transportation infrastructure and the vehicles that use them. This presents an enormous opportunity for Homeland Security enthusiasts to develop "dual-use" technologies and applications for both security and commerce (as is often rationalized by federal spin-doctors for defense and space spending). A major field for study by VNTSC.
8. One-Axle, Two- Wheeled Trucks:
As a final aside, the new "personal transporter", the segway, is likely to take over from the bicycle and wheelchair as the heavy truck of the sidewalks. It is none too soon to figure out how to accommodate this new form of pedestrian transport in terms of their speed, parking needs, and carriage on public transit.
It is also probably only a matter of time before more deliveries and trash removal adopt mechanized off-loading and carrying carts, yet another burden for sidewalks, building entrances, and elevators. Overhead transfer systems between truck and building second floors are overdue.
9. A Motor-Carrier Office: the Wrong Name?:
Some sort of office, somewhere in the DC government is probably needed to address a great many issues concerning heavy and increasing commercial traffic. We believe, however, that the use of some old-fashioned-sounding label such as "Motor-carriers" is both inappropriate and too narrow to cover the gamut of problems now confronting the city. How about a "Commercial Transportation Office" which would cover all aspects of commercial vehicle usage in DC?
10: Regional Cooperation
Though listed last, there are only a few areas (such as "poverty-sharing") where regional cooperation is more essential than in the transportation development game. DC remains the (steadily dwindling) economic hub of the region, but the traffic problems and their solutions clearly require regional cooperation and creative thinking for commercial, revenue, and security reasons. Traffic problems are no less within DC's abutting "edge cities", or even those further removed from downtown. In fact, many federal transportation grants, including those for RDT&E, should be funneled through regional channels rather than competing local political jurisdictions. The future growth of America's ubiquitous metro areas depends on regional participation in transportation issues as well as many others. US DoT should enforce it.
Based on the work of the prior two sections, NARPAC decided to present informal, written, testimony to the DC Council on the needs and opportunities concerning DC's surface traffic problems:
The attention of DC's Department of Transportation and Department of Public Works to the city's day-to-day problems continues to be outstanding. That said, and sincerely, I would like to address quite bluntly some longer range aspects of DC's transportation needs and opportunities.
My small non-profit group was incorporated (in Maryland) with the primary goal raising local and national awareness of what it will take to make DC the best national capital city, and best national capital metro area, in the world. We are primarily interested in improving the foundations for DC's future pre-eminence. We want the city to lead the way in important national improvements in urban socio-economics. The yawning gap between our haves and have nots is a far greater threat to our national fabric and future than any desert radical idiot fringe.
NARPAC is also convinced that our national capital city, a territory initially delineated to protect the seat of American government from the vagaries of surrounding jurisdictions, can pay its own way without unique hand-outs or subsidies from the Federal Government. Congress has allowed DC to develop and prosper residentially, commercially, and, albeit more slowly, politically. We do not endorse any of the recent, seriously flawed, analyses claiming DC is a financial basket case just because it is located next to the throne of world power, wealth, political freedom, and envy.
Urban traffic: life blood or life-threatening
Unresolved, in fact worsening, traffic problems are one of DC's major embarrassments, though certainly not its worst or most unique. Nevertheless, neither the Council nor the Executive is doing enough to address future transportation needs and opportunities, of either the regional, the inner suburbs, or the municipality. I want to address primarily urban congestion although it is clearly linked to metro-wide failure to shape transportation growth. Clean-flowing traffic is the life blood in urban arteries and veins that keeps the city alive and well, but is also the source of imperfections that drain urban vitality, such as noise and air pollution. That traffic runs the gamut from 16-wheelers delivering puppy-chow to Georgetown and 8-passenger SUVs driven by a lone commuting occupant, all the way to pedestrians and drunks weaving their way home on segways.
NARPAC has no interest in arbitrarily curbing the ownership of private and/or commercial vehicles, or their presence on city streets when needed. We have great interest in assuring that their use is productive and urban-friendly through incentives, enforcement, and free will. Various emerging technologies and innovative policies can serve this purpose as they now do elsewhere.
Multi-spectrum sensors, and the huge variety of tags they can sense, have become commonplace. Radio frequency identification now promises to be the most prolific. Computers can identify and correlate the information on the tag (or bar code) , take any action specified from sounding alarms at store exits to deducting money from an E-Z pass user's bank account. Robotics have taken over thousands of menial and truly sophisticated operations from assembling cars to parking them. Automatic position location has now been made nearly perfect, and cheap enough to put in cell phones. Systems analysis routinely merges the interests and capabilities of a variety of inputs to achieve a variety of coordinated outputs. The same systems that measure speed, read license plates, and issue tickets can be expanded to control traffic, enforce violations, and identify all manner of abnormalities. Together, they can automate repetitive delivery and pick-up systems, and monitor and track both packages and vehicles.
The key to keeping DC's arteries and veins young is to eliminate plaque (curbside parking) and aneurysms (double parking). Curb lanes must stop being vehicle storage zones and become a dynamic part of "intermodal transfer" in its broadest sense, such as getting off a bus, picking up the mail, or delivering restaurant supplies. Cities must embrace the concept that the business of movement has value, and its interruption has consequences. This value can be used to generate revenues through significant fees, and its dilution through substantial fines.
There should be automatically-collected fees for trucks entering the city, charged automatically by the hour, size, and probably fuel consumption. Fees can be determined by reading a tag on the vehicle itself, embedded in its regular license plate or city-permit placard. Fines can be levied for those lacking suitable registration by reading their license plates. Similar systems can be used for collecting fees at designated curbside parking locations, and for fining unauthorized poachers. It must regularly cost more to double park, for instance, than to use urban-friendly delivery systems stopping in authorized spaces. Violators should be reported by sensor/reporting/fining systems complete with GPS position locators added to city vehicles (buses, emergency vehicles, and perhaps mail vans, or even meter-maid bicycles!) , as well as to next-generation parking meters.
Fee structure is as important an element in shaping traffic evolution as signal lights and no parking areas. More so if it strongly induces shifts to urban-friendly designs. DC's registration fees and parking fees for SUVs designed to truck fuel consumption standards are a fraction of what they should be, and the incentives to operate smaller, fuel efficient hybrids are virtually non-existent. Licenses for temporary standing at "curbside transfer points" should generate delivery fees by the hour, and encourage development of (or transfer to) compatible/synergistic curbside delivery systems. Big box, and trailer trucks should enter and leave the city through E-Z Pass gates, and also be charged by the hour inside the city (or downtown) limits.
Many common vehicle categories are becoming environmentally obsolete with the advent of "clean gas" buses (which could be adapted to curbside package delivery vehicles) and hybrid cars (that could become mail or local service vehicles. Cities should be able to place surcharges on classes of non-compliant vehicles, including those operated by federal and local governments.
parking is key, and lucrative
Eliminating curbside vehicle parking does not mean eliminating vehicles but rather a) finding other places to store them, and b) making them easier to store. Robotic parking opens up all kinds of otherwise inaccessible volumes. Every city is awash in unused volumetric space, above and below ground level, and among existing structures. For instance, if St. Colletta's special school is going to pre-empt more revenue-productive uses of the proximate land at the Stadium-Armory metro site, then require that 4-6 floors of robotic parking be provided under the whole parcel (i.e., "dirt rights"). In fact, schools and parks all over DC could be sitting on top of underground, revenue- producing parking facilities. If we need eleven lanes of surface-level interstate approaching the capitol grounds from the south, build an urban deck over I395 with three levels of automated parking, topped by an appropriate monumental park to "reconnect" the city.
Parking is apparently a lucrative business for commercial entrepreneurs, even though they pay 12% city taxes. It should be more lucrative if the city owned and operated some of them (or perhaps through Metro). There are apparently conflicting laws or regulations on DC's books that discourage city ownership and operation of such facilities, and these should be reviewed by your committee, Ms. Schwartz. Furthermore, parking rates in DC are surprisingly low compared to many other congested American cities, and include no graduated provisions for temporary "standing", air quality friendliness, or resident-ownership. Residents and businesses in the city surely have the right to own vehicles, and surely have an obligation to pay their costs to the city. For instance, residents who regularly park on public property (i.e., city streets) should pay more than those who devote part of their property-taxed lands and homes to driveways and garages.
railroads, a forgotten asset
The forgotten realm of railroad yards and rights of way around the city needs highlighting too. While DDOT has wisely picked up on adapting the CSX right of way just east of the Anacostia for a useful, if second-class, public transit system (NARPAC would have preferred an elevated metrorail extension to all the way to Alexandria), there are other lines and yards using scarce DC land very inefficiently. The rights of way are a deeply embarrassing eyesore, if not a security threat. There has been no concerted effort to find new uses for bulk transport by rail (such as wholesale removal of garbage or the import of fuels and road treatment materials). There is no concerted effort to exploit 'air rights' for various relatively anti-social commercial ventures (viz., those windowless, unmanned switching centers, or trash transfer stations) or 'dirt rights' for various productive underground uses (such as commercial or municipal parking, storage, and maintenance facilities). Full development of such shared property could easily produce up to $1M in revenues under the tracks, and up to $3M over the tracks, per acre. Railroads remain important urban assets, and to many, a fascinating and dynamic component of the urban landscape.
revenue generating potential
Let me indicate some order-of-magnitude revenue opportunities associated with aggressive transportation planning that can help keep the city's life-blood clean, and its blood pressure low:
o charge big trucks (40,000/day) $1 per hour (5h/day) inside DC's electronic toll gates: $50M
o charge $1 per package/crate/case (100,000) delivered per day into the city: $25M
o increase average auto fees for city parking from $13 to $20 (viz., LA): $50M
o raise parking tax to 15%, own 20% of city parking facilities: $80M
o scale up vehicle registration fees to penalize space-hogging fuel-guzzlers: $10M
o charge residents for "garaging" on public streets: $10M
o Stiffer fines for broader range of automated traffic violations: $50M
o productive use of 'air/dirt rights' over/under railroad yards, rights of way: $50M
This is not an exhaustive list, nor can you take our back-of-the-envelope numbers directly to the CFO. But they suggest substantial revenue potential for planning transportation innovations with revenue-production in mind as well as traffic alleviation. Summed together, they add to $325M, exceeding the current budget of both DPW and DDot, which, Madam Chairman, ain't hay.
grappling with the whole problem as a system, and an opportunity
Finally, we would like to comment on the Volpe NTSC suggestion that DDOT establish a Motor Carrier Operations Office. We fully agree that dealing with these large vehicles and their impact on the city is necessary, (and somewhat more so because of current worries du jour about terrorism). But such a title is not sufficient to deal with all the contributors to urban congestion as a single, interrelated system of moving and stationary parts, modern technology, and the financial productivity of both the public and private sectors.
The region, Madam Chair, the region needs to underwrite a Metro Area Transportation Operations Systems Center, and each major jurisdiction needs to contribute a sub-center related to its peculiar needs, constraints, and assets, but all agreeing on the underlying analytical parameters such as technological feasibility, unit construction and operating costs, etc.
We need to think big and systematically about the future of transportation in the nation's capital metro area as well as our capital city. And this committee, under your leadership, needs to initiate and nurture it. You might consider holding separate hearings on DC's longer range plans to systematically modernize all aspects of keeping essential traffic flowing, and how to turn this unavoidable necessity into a lucrative virtue.
Thank you for letting me present our views on one aspect of making DC a better national capital city.
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