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Category — Metro

Bringing Streetcars back to DC, part 2

Part 1 of this series looked at the beginnings of the DC government’s effort to expand the transit network. We left off in the Spring of 2005, having been to several meetings and having received several newsletters.

The study finishes

The final project newsletter, Fall 2005, and an “Executive Summary” of the whole project were presented to the public at a final meeting, held September 29, 2005. For transit enthusiasts following the project, the end results were disappointing and frustrating. Instead of a visionary transformation of mobility in the District, the final recommendations proposed a meager streetcar buildout that, despite its modest size, would take 25 years to build. The report was frustrating because it relied on tortured reasoning that bordered on downright dishonesty, it used self-contradictory and mutually inconsistent reasoning, and offered little more than poorly-defined chimeras wrapped up in wishful thinking.

Added to the project was “Rapid Bus,” as a lower-class technology mode, joining streetcars and “bus rapid transit.” Modes were assigned to routes. The newsletter used separate streetcar and “bus rapid transit” assignments, while the executive summary lumped these together as “premium transit.” In the newsletter, streetcars got a handful of routes: the crosstown Georgtown to Minnesota Avenue route; the north-south Georgia Avenue route, which would end at K street; a Union Station to Anacostia via Eastern Market route; an M Street SE/SW route, and a short Bolling AFB–Pennsylvania Ave route. A bit of “bus rapid transit” was added: mainly Woodley Park to Eastern Market via Florida Avenue, while the rest of the 50-mile route structure developed over the course of the study was designated “rapid bus.”

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November 9, 2008   1 Comment

Brompton: report on the commute

The short answer is that my new Brompton has substantially improved my commute. The combination of Brompton and Metrorail is by far the fastest way for me to get to work without a car. It gives me more freedom than the all-Metro commute, in which I was tied to the (unreliable) bus schedule. And it isn’t as grueling as the all-bicycle commute.

The one part of the commute that is longer is the first part, taking my son to his day care. It’s on the way to the Metro, but instead of simply pushing him in his stroller, I have to push his stroller and haul my bike at the same time. I’ve become somewhat adept at the one-handed stroller push, so that I can walk my bike with my other hand. It’s faster than leaving my bike at home and going back for it, but slower than just pushing the stroller.

On the return trip, though (my wife picks up Matthew in the evening), cycling the 3/4 mile between the Metro and our house is much faster than walking, or calling home to get a ride.

As folding bicycles are rather rare, I am frequently asked about it. A friend of mine once observed that Americans, in particular, have a tendency to ask how much you paid for something: this is certainly true of the Brompton. Complete strangers are often most interested in how much it cost me and have no hesitation about asking. I’m also asked where I got it, and I’ll go into a little spiel about going to New York City to buy it, and that College Park bicycles says they carry it but never have any in stock but they do have other, cheaper brands, and a new place in Vienna [Virginia] now carries them. I really should print up a bunch of cards listing the stores to give to others who might be interested in folding bicycles.

Although it’s certainly easier to wrangle than a full sized bicycle, the Brompton is more “luggable” than portable, so it’s as awkward as any other piece of luggage on the Metro. As such, my seat preferences have shifted. On the red line, I used to try to get a window seat with a view of the Amtrak yards; now I prefer to be at the ends of the car. Going home, I’ll try to board last, so I can stand near the doors. The doors open on the right at Gallery Place, and at the next stop (Judiciary Square), which tends to have very light traffic. After that, the doors open on the left all the remaining stops, including Brookland, so I can stay out of everyone’s way near the left-hand door.

I take different routes going to work and coming home. The natural Metro stop would be Anacostia: this is where I caught the A4/A5 bus that took me to work, and it’s a short and flat trip to the northern entrance of the swath of government facilities through which I ride. When I ride home, I ride to Anacostia, a 3.8 mile trip. But for the trip to work, I’ve come to prefer to ride one more stop to Congress Heights, for a slightly shorter 3.5 mile bike ride, which includes a long downhill stretch (which would, of course, be uphill on the way back). The first two weeks of the Brompton, I alternated between these two routes to work, and I think it’s about 4 minutes faster to ride to Congress Heights.

The all-bicycle commute is 10.2 miles: at this distance, one really wants to wear separate cycling clothes, and probably shower at the end of the ride. On the way to work, this just shifts the shower to the health club at work, but on the way back it would add to the trip, but in any case even changing clothes adds time. The three and a half miles from Metro to work is short enough so that I don’t feel a change of clothes is necessary.

The steps of my commute are now:

  1. unfold bicycle
  2. ride to Brookland Metro
  3. fold bicycle
  4. lug bicycle through faregates to platform
  5. wait for train
  6. ride to Gallery Place
  7. lug bicycle to Green line platform
  8. wait for train
  9. ride to Congress Heights
  10. lug bicycle through faregates outside
  11. unfold bicycle
  12. ride to work
  13. park bicycle

I include many of these steps, which might take a minute or two, to emphasize the fact that they do add up: five steps that take two minutes each means ten minutes. In a sense 10 minutes isn’t a terribly long time, but psychologically the difference between a 45 and a 55 minute commute is huge.

The other point with all the steps is that I don’t have any big contiguous block of time along the trip, so (say) trying to read is really not feasible. When I did Metrorail and Metrobus, I’d usually pick up the Washington Post Express and work the Sudoku, and listen to podcasts on my iPod. No time for the Sudoku now, and I have much less iPod listening time, so I’m down to a handful of podcasts.

Folding or unfolding the bike takes less than a minute, unless someone has asked about the bike and I’m sort of narrating the process and giving a demonstration.

Step 12 above is reliably 20-25 minutes, depending on the wind, traffic lights, how much air is in my tires, how heavy my bag is, and how willing I am to work up a sweat. I’ve done the ride in less than 20 minutes, but during much of the summer I prefer not to. According to WMATA, step 6 above takes 8 minutes, and step 9 takes 12 minutes. 

All total, the whole trip–office to front door–can be done in 50-55 minutes. I think that 45 might be possible, if I have a tailwind and no red lights, and have no waits for trains. But I’ve found, though, that I’ve become a much more relaxed commuter. No longer worried that I might miss a bus by a minute or two, which would mean I’d have an extra 20 minute wait, I don’t feel as compelled to rush for trains as I used to. And especially in the summer, I’ve found that a leisurely pace ensures that I feel comfortable without a change of clothes.

September 21, 2008   8 Comments

We believe that hope can change

I earned my “I voted” sticker today by going to vote in the “Potomac Primary,” the day in which DC, MD, and VA all held their presidential primaries.

Perhaps the most apt description of the primary contests so far is that while Democrats wish we could have an “All of the above” choice, the Republicans wish for “None of the above.”  A rare combination of political energy and deep political networks has given us a Democratic primary season in which my vote actually means something; the nomination is still very much in play.

As has happened everywhere else, turnout has been much higher than anyone can remember for the Democratic side. The Post is reporting that the high turnout led to chaos at the polls, such that an hour and a half after the polls have closed we still have no results. But a statistic that warms my heart, which captures a story that’s been repeated in our region and nationwide: In Virginia, a state not known to be blue, Hillary Clinton, finishing second with only 36% of the Democratic vote, still had more votes than either John McCain or Mike Huckabee. Barack Obama got 20% more votes than were cast for all the Republicans combined.

I wish to see a Democratic presidential victory as much as anyone. The turnout is only one facet of a whole country yearning for change: the breathtaking political energy is fueled by an army of volunteers, many making their first foray into political work. But not me: of course there’s the baby at home, which means I don’t have any free time (although on the other hand, it’s his future that’s at stake here). I discovered two years ago that I really, really don’t like politics.

Or perhaps I should say, I really, really don’t like the stuff that matters in politics. Of course I stay up later than I should watching election results, and plugging them into spreadsheets. A fair share of my websurfing time is spent reading DailyKos. But my own personal transformation from informed voter to political junkie doesn’t make a bit of difference to any election outcome. Neither would it matter if I filled this blog, or any other, with posts about this candidate or that one.

I did do a lot of work on a political campaign two years ago, helping to re-elect the most progressive member of the DC City Council. I learned, doing this, that I don’t like making political phone calls from a voter list. I don’t like knocking on doors, even if the candidate is doing all the talking. I hate confrontational political messages, especially in multi-candidate forums. I don’t like asking people to sign nominating petitions. I hate the uncomfortable amalgam of cordiality and confrontation that happens when the opponent is campaigning at the same place my candidate is, especially when my candidate shows up late.
But this, I’ve learned, is the stuff that matters. There’s not even much need for mundane tasks like envelope stuffing or flyer labeling: that’s all automated now. All together there isn’t much need for behind-the-scenes work (at least in city council elections), not in comparison to the monumental task of connecting with voters.

The only thing I enjoy1 is handing out flyers at Metro stations during rush hour. A stack of flyers and a direct tagline and even the people supporting the other candidate are in too much of a hurry to argue with you.

So, although I’m somewhat sympathetic to the notion that those who care deeply about the results of an election ought to be on the ground working for their candidates, I don’t know that I’ll get involved in this presidential contest.

  1. I might do okay at fundraising, but as a Federal employee, I’m prohibited by the Hatch Act from asking anyone to make any contribution to any partisan political candidate, even the DC city council, nor can I even have my name listed on an announcement for a fund-raising event. []

February 12, 2008   1 Comment

Spontaneity on Metro

When asked if the Washington Metro is “safe,” this is how I’ve responded:

Yes, absolutely. Inside the system–on trains and in stations, generally anywhere inside the faregates, the system is safe for everyone at all hours. I even consider the station platform areas to be safe for those stations that are in neighborhoods that tend towards rough. The system was designed and built in the 1970s, and has a much cleaner, space-age, modernist feel than the older systems of New York, Chicago, or Boston. The stations are open and airy, creating far fewer places for hoodlums to hide. Almost all the entrances and exits are supervised at all times by a station manager: there are no cage-like revolving door exits and no lonely staircases framed by rusting steel girders. On the trains, its very rare to encounter a bum or panhandler or street preacher or some sketchy guy selling socks and batteries.

Metro’s first general manager was a retired army general, Jackson Graham, whose military background contributed much to the culture that grew around Metro. Metro is safe and comfortable, and clean and uniform, and slightly dull. There are no abandoned stations or little-known gems or interesting or historic artwork. Metro is straightforward: unlike New Yorkers, who can have endless discussions about the most efficient way to get from one part of Manhattan to another, Metro riders have little lore to learn and share. Riding Metro is, generally, uneventful.

So we were pleasantly surprised today when a talented accordionist boarded our Metro train and played as we rode. Like most Washingtonians, it took me a while to realize how fortunate we were, and what a joyous addition to an otherwise cold and gloomy day his music was. (Read Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s brilliant social experiment, to see how Washingtonians react to a busking Joshua Bell.) (See also the followup discussion, which describes the unimaginative intransigence of Metro in preparations for the experiment.)

The accordionist rode a few stops, by which point I’d lost any unexpected-event-induced grumpiness, and I happily contributed when he came by with his outstretched hat. He was very gracious, smiling at our son and playing a few notes for him. While he was playing, I took a picture.

Accordionist on Metro

December 16, 2007   3 Comments