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D4 Mixed Signals

Late last year the D4 Metrobus was modified into a Trinidad to Franklin Square line. This re-route added new service to K Street through the Mount Vernon Triangle.

The bus is a positive addition as K Street was underserved by Transit – but what’s with keeping the parking meters in the space occupied by the bus stop?

Westbound D4 Bus stop in front of Busboy at 5th & K

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Snow Day!

Those who work for the Federal Government (or who’s employer follows the Federal Government’s leave policy, AKA me) are lucky to have been granted a 3-day weekend as of early last night. In addition to the Federal Government’s closing, the Circulator will be running a limited route (although it will be free for all passengers!), Metro rail is running limited underground service, and Metrobus is also running select routes only.

We Love DC posted some lunch specials that you can take advantage of today. While I hope to enjoy lunch out of the house, I actually do have some work to do from home, plus I’m planning on getting to the gym.

It looks to be a beautiful day outside…how do you plan to spend it? Or are you among the few that have to go to work?

UPDATED: The National Weather Service is calling for another 10-20″ over the period of time starting 12 noon tomorrow through 7 pm Wednesday! Be safe everyone!

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Smart Bike Expansion

In mid March DDOT announced that they would be expanding the Smartbike program from 10 stations to 50 stations.

“We are already seeing that the vast amount of usage is commuting,” DDOT Director Gabe Klein tells WTOP. “This will be a pretty drastic expansion of the program, and this is what we set out to do when we launched it.”

“You want the bike stations to be relatively close together so that if a rack is full, you can ride to another one and drop it off,” says DDOT spokesperson John Lisle. “We will fan out from the center of the city in concentric circles.”

With the focus on expansion of the program at the city center the Mount Vernon Triangle and surrounding area may have a chance to land one of the new 40 stations. John Thompson recently posted on the MVSNA blog about this possibility and has been in direct contact with Jim Sebastian of DDOT.

I think there is near unanimity that the Mount Vernon Square/Conv Center metro station should land a station in this round of expansion. Could an additional station also be supported? If so, where?

SmartBike_DC - 29

Farragut Square station from flickr user Pedal_Power_Pete

In the long run, after streetscape improvements, K Street seems like a great eventual destination for a station. However present day only the streetscape along City Vista is complete and could support a station this summer. I struggle to identify the perfect location at City Vista. Considering the wide plaza area in front of Busboys is slated for a very large art installation I don’t see it as an option. You could make a case for the area in front on Safeway on L Street.

After mulling it over myself I think the best option is to stay on Mass Ave. My choices would be the pocket park at 5th and I or Chinatown Park. DDOT cited that Smartbikes have been utilized heavily for commuting. These parks are in locations with marginally more residential density and greater proximity to office buildings. Additionally, Mass Ave being much closer to build out and featuring more complete streetscapes could serve as a less chaotic location for bicycles.

What are your thoughts?

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Perfect Score

Last summer Front Seat upgraded their Walk Score product by issuing rankings and heat maps for major cities across the United States. These new features were covered heavily in the D.C. blog-o-sphere and there wasn’t much for me to add to the story. Besides, at the time only Fifth Street Hardware was open and contributing from City Vista to our neighborhood’s Walk Score.

Fast forward to today with Busboys, Safeway, Results and Chevy Chase Bank open and the corner of 5th and K (inputted as 1025 5th St NW) now has a perfect Walk Score of 100.

Walk Score for 5th & K

Walk Score is still a little wonky. Inputting 475 K Street, only a few hundred feet from the corner, gets a noticeably different score. The tool also does not recognize Safeway as being within close range of Madrigal Lofts.

Transit time from 5th & K

Front Seat continues to evolve its products. The newest addition, in beta release, is a Transit Time heat map that combines metrorail data with the company’s Walk Score technology. WMATA only made their data feed publicly available last Monday so Metrobus data is not yet integrated but should be in the plans.

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DC Circulator hours don’t extend here

Last night at about 9:40 I saw a couple waiting at the 5th and Mass DC Circulator bus stop (Map). Unfortunately I had to bear the bad news and explain that after 9pm the Georgetown to Union Station Circulator shortens its route to Farragut Square (17th and I) to Georgetown (Whitehaven).

Circulator! What a fun bus name.

Image from flickr user tom.arthur

Maybe one day the extended hours can serve the full route.

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Profile of Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar

Below is my profile on Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar. Because the intended audience was Greater Greater Washington, where it is crossposted, it wades deep into the details. The District is currently in the planning stages for a streetcar in Anacostia. If the district could settle the overhead wires issues I think streetcar routes down H Street NE and 7th Street NW could be outstanding catalysts for revitalization.


During a recent trip to Seattle, I fed my transit craving by examining the city’s fledgling South Lake Union Streetcar. There is more depth to this new streetcar system than just a crass acronym

The South Lake Union Streetcar, with the Space Needle in the background.

Seattle built a streetcar here largely because of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who heavily invested in the South Lake Union neighborhood through his venture capital company, Vulcan Inc. Allen pushed for the line to jump-start revitalization of the area.

With support from Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Seattle created a public-private partnership finance the $52 million project. Service began on December 12, 2007 after 15 months of construction.

The route, stations, and maintenance facility. View larger map

THE ROUTE
The South Lake Union streetcar is a 2.6 mile, eleven stop loop, connecting downtown to the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods. The majority of the route follows Westlake Avenue, which is a wide two-way avenue with two lanes in each direction and metered parking on each side of the street. The Westlake segments are primarily at-grade tracks in each direction along the right-hand lane of traffic.

Sidewalk bulb-outs at the stations keep metered parking between the tracks and the curb, though there are exceptions. A four-block segment of the northbound route breaks off Westlake to follow the parallel Terry Avenue. Due to Terry’s one way traffic pattern, stations appear on the left hand curb on Terry.

The Westlake and Terry Avenue tracks meet again at a dedicated ROW and station stop along the 12 acre waterfront Lake Union Park. Upon leaving the park, the route returns into mixed traffic. The line continues to its northernmost point along Fairview Avenue with a station stop in the median. When in mixed traffic, the tram travels slightly slower than cars or buses and waits at traffic lights like other vehicles.

The streetcar takes about 10 to 15 minutes to traverse the route. Fares are $1.75 for adults and $0.50 for children and seniors. A single ticket gets you unlimited travel in a two-hour travel window, rather than a single trip. The streetcar uses the honor system for payment, with the possibility that a fare inspector may ask for your ticket. One tram operates in each direction throughout the system’s operating hours (6am to 9pm Monday through Thursday, 6am to 11pm Friday and Saturday, and 10am to 7pm Sunday).

At downtown end of the route is Westlake Center, a twenty-five story office tower and four story shopping center that also adjoins the southern terminus of the Seattle Monorail. Beneath the mall is a Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, which accommodates the city’s metrobuses and eventually light rail. Within blocks of this station is Pacific Place, the Emerald city’s version of Gallery Place, and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

As the route proceeds down the Westlake Avenue corridor, it travels through the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods that are both brimming with potential for economic development. Along the way a stop at Westlake & Denny Way serves the most impressive Whole Foods Market I’ve ever stepped inside of and the city’s oldest park (Denny Park).

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The streetcar project is part of a larger transformation for the area north of Seattle’s downtown.

The Denny Triangle, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Denny Way and Olive Way, has historically been a traffic funnel and sea of surface parking lots. Development has begun to seep from downtown into this underutilized land over the last decade. In 2006 the city council approved downtown rezoning south of Denny Way (map) that increased base height limits and outlined incentives for height bonuses (up to 500 ft) for developers that meet affordable housing and LEED standards. The rezoning placed intense development pressure on the area.

A big beneficiary of the rezoning is Clise Properties, which has amassed 12 contiguous acres that represent nearly all the land bordered by Denny Way and Fifth and Westlake avenues. Clise has changed directions and is looking to sell rather than build. Imagine a project with three times the land of Mount Vernon Place and about four times the height limit! Al Clise told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,

“[The full potential is] a thriving world-class development on par with New York’s Rockefeller Center or London’s Canary Wharf. We’re a small, privately held company and for us to do it ourselves would be a very difficult task. I don’t think we could do it in the time frame it needs to be done.”

The potential for a downtown site this large is enormous, but it will require deep pockets in a climate where capital is tough to come by. It will be interesting to watch and I hope they don’t settle for fracturing it into tiny projects.

For decades South Lake Union had been a light industrial and auto services oriented district with residences only in the Cascades section (east of Fairview). Paul Allen has worked with the city for infrastructure improvements including not only the streetcar, but a new substation, multi-space parking meters and street lighting. In return, his Vulcan Real Estate is transforming the area into a 24/7 mixed use community with office, residential and retail. Vulcan has put a special focus on making the corridor a biotechnology hub; tenants include Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Zymogenetics, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and University of Washington Medicine. In December of 2007 online retailer Amazon announced that it will consolidate its vast Seattle operations into an 11 building urban campus spanning six blocks Vulcan has broken ground on the Amazon development and one can see cranes galore along Terry Avenue.

STREETCARS & INFRASTRUCTURE
The city purchased three 12 Trio 3-segment articulated trams from the Czech based Inekon company. The Inekon website features photo galleries inside the tram manufacturing facility and one dedicated to the Seattle Streetcar that includes snapshots from inside the maintenance facility on Harrison Street.

The trams have 3 doors on each side and a low floor base for easy boarding in the middle section of the car. A drivers cabin is placed on each end of the tram to support two way use. At the end of lines drivers simply transfer from one cabin to the other. The cars feature air conditioning, an on board payment kiosk, stop request straps, and sparse seating. An on-board passenger information system provides audible announcement and digital displays of real time arrival information.

Stations are glass and steel overhangs roughly 12 feet wide equipped with LCD’s that state time until the next tram will arrive. Benches are no where to be found but riders do have the convenience of a route map and payment kiosk at each station. The trams are powered by overhead wires that are seemingly about 18-20 feet above the street. Aesthetically this was not much of a leap for Seattle as they have fleets of hybrid buses that use overhead lines.
Seattle Streetcar Thumbnails

Visit the entire Flickr photo set.

RIDERSHIP & SAFETY
Each streetcar can fit 140 riders (29 seated), which is more than double the capacity of the articulated buses in King County’s standard fleet. Presently ridership has been exceeding the city’s estimate of 950 riders per day or just 7.5% of the 12,600 capacity per day. In fact, the streetcar surpassed the estimated ridership for the first year (347,000) three months ahead of schedule. I believe those statistics are independent of the ridership from the inaugural first month when fares were free (video).

I explored the streetcar during the mid afternoon of a lazy Thursday. Traffic was light and cyclists few and far between. According to KUOW radio (audio link), five cyclists have raised litigation against the city because of accidents related to bike tires snagging on the street car tracks. Seattle has provided a bike lane on the parallel 9th street to address the concern. Lawyer Bob Anderton claims that the city was negligent to the risk the tracks impose on cyclists and that the city should have aligned the tracks in the left hand lane, leaving the right hand lane safe for bikes.

That would force all stations on two way streets to be in the median. Ethan Malone, streetcar program manager from SDOT, says that is a possibility for future lines. What do you think about this issue? I’m sure few care about the impact to automobiles of placing the tracks in the left hand lane, but what about forcing pedestrians/riders to the median strip? Another consequence of streetcars traveling in the left hand lane along the median is that it pushes the overhead wires further out into the street, often creating a nest effect.

CONCLUSION
Overall, I was impressed with the streetcar. It was a reliable, clean, safe and predictable form of transportation. The passenger information system that displays the wait time for the next tram was a tremendous asset. However, with a one way distance of just 1.3 miles, it doesn’t span much pavement and at the moment is more of a people mover than great transit. It’s a first step. This line needs to be extended to the University District while Seattle plans and prioritizes the rest of the network.

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Joe Biden: Amtrak commuter

The Daily Kos points recent Democratic ticket Joe Biden‘s history of support for Amtrak.

  • Commutes to work each day from Wilmington,DE to DC on Amtrak
  • Original co-sponsor of the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill (National Defense Rail Act), S.104, introduced on January 7, 2003
  • Amtrak president George Warrington presented Biden with a “Champion of the Rails” award in June 2001
  • The American Passenger Rail Coalition (APRC), a national association of railroad equipment suppliers and rail businesses, presented him its “Rail Leadership Award” in March 2002.
  • Son Hunter Biden is on the Amtrak board.

From Treehugger; Joe Biden on a bus in 1976 and in 2004 on a train

I don’t want to create a political debate free for all. Simply wanted to point out that the Obama/Biden ticket is mass transit friendly. The Triangle has very close proximity to both Union Station and downtown proper which will continue to be *THE* hub of metro and most future transit projects such as possible light rail or streetcars.

UPDATE (8/28/2008 8:40pm): Added the photo from Treehugger.

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Poll recap: Most frequent transit option

The answer breakdown was as follows:

The response to this question will naturally be linked to a) which transit option gets you where you want to go and b) which transit station is closest? The Gallery Place Metro has the natural advantage in that it is served by 3 Metro lines. It is also clearly the closest station to the Triangle’s largest fully occupied condo building (555 Mass).

I personally use Judiciary Square metro most frequently. On my morning commute using metro I’m all about efficiency in getting to the Red Line ASAP. Distance wise my building is nearly the same distance from Gallery Place’s 7th & H entrance and Judiciary Square F Street Entrance. I’ve simply found Judiciary Square to be a quicker walk.


Why does it feel quicker? To walk to either station I’d cross Mass Ave and H Street at the 4th Street intersection. After that point the path to Gallery Place requires crossing 6th and 5th Streets. Over half the time at these two intersections I need to wait for the crosswalk signal which can take 30-50 seconds. However, on the walk to Judiciary Square, the streets are so devoid of traffic I barely need to pause at either G Street or F Street before crossing. That breaks the tie for me. After work, when time and efficiency are no longer paramount, I use either Gallery Place or walk from Metro Center back to the Triangle and take in the scenery. Anyone have a story/rationale behind their choice beyond pure proximity?

It will be interesting to ask this again after the Dumont and City Vista fill out.

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Blue Line in I-395 right of way?

As a followup to yesterday’s post, David Alpert suggests reusing the segment of I-395 in a future separated blue line metrorail.

The separated blue line is part of Alpert’s vision for metro in 2030. As gas prices have risen Metro has been breaking ridership records. WMATA’s core capacity study, conducted in 2001, did not anticipate ridership to surge past 850,000 riders per day until 2014 yet we’re already there. The Silver Line expansion to Tyson’s Corner and Dulles will continue to feed in new riders to the system. But having the Silver, Blue, and Orange lines share one set of tracks from Rosslyn to Stadium Armory would likely choke capacity at the core. A separated blue line, while an expensive venture, would increase core capacity and connect Georgetown into the Metro system. WMATA included Alpert’s system map in a May 22nd press release.

Images from GreaterGreaterWashington.org [double click to enlarge]

This vision is long term and a Blue Line separated in this manner would not arrive until after 2020.

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