Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A clear signal of a failure in "metropolitan" transportation planning: a proposal to eliminate a subway station from Dulles Airport

Dulles Airport postcard, back
The caption on the back of this postcard reads, "Dulles International Airport ... is an international gateway to this country through Washington, our nation's capital. It is a jet airport of both beauty and efficiency, offering the most modern facilities to all its visitors.

The report yesterday, " Board weighs eliminating Metro stop at Dulles," in the Washington Examiner that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is recommending dropping the station planned to serve the Dulles Airport site for an alternative farther away, requiring a transfer to a bus and 1.5 miles to the airport is a perfect illustration of failures in the metropolitan area's "transportation planning" process.

From the article:

The airports authority in charge of building the Metro rail extension to Dulles International Airport is considering eliminating the Metro station at the airport.

Instead of stopping at the airport, Metro's new Silver Line would drop airport passengers off along Route 28 in Fairfax County. Riders would then have to ride a bus or a light rail train another 1.5 miles to the airport, according to a proposal discussed Wednesday by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Altering the course of the Metro line, which is already under construction, would shave about $70 million off of a nearly $6 billion price tag...

Despite the fact that there is the Transportation Policy Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which is tasked as the "metropolitan planning organization" for federal transportation planning requirements, we don't really have a metropolitan transportation plan so much as a collection of transportation priorities by the three separate "state" jurisdictions, DC, Maryland and Virginia.

If there were a true metropolitan plan, there would be a master framework for transportation, focused on throughput more than modes, proposals for various types of transportation infrastructure would be subsumed under the plan rather than driving planning, and certain decisions, such as which activity centers to serve, would not be subject to whim or at least capriciousness.

For example, in a metropolitan plan, transit service to airports would be prioritized, and the planning of fixed rail transit service wouldn't be strictly a function of the separate jurisdictions. (I recommend a framework for this kind of process here: Metropolitan Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework.)

The Silver Line planning and construction process has been a Virginia initiative, because in 2003 WMATA devolved responsibility for expansion planning to the separate jurisdictions.

And the planning process doesn't require that the impact of expansions on the core system be addressed simultaneously with expansion. So while it would have been possible to use the Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport as a way to drive forward the "separated blue line" in the core of the region, to provide another northern crossing of the Potomac River, and to provide redundancy and capacity in the core of the system, which is expected to reach capacity in the next decade, this didn't happen.

As far as metropolitan planning goes, it's also an illustration of the failure to plan for the metropolitan area in terms of its role as a gateway to the U.S. and the National Capital. I write from time to time about how the publisher of Monocle Magazine, Tyler Brûlé, writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, and he is constantly writing about how the experience of flying into Dulles from overseas is a substandard one, not becoming to the United States. (For thinking about the region in terms of "nation branding" issues, I recommend Brand America: The Mother of All Brands by Simon Anholt.)

Gate agents screaming for transfer passengers, sniffer dogs and disorganised immigration officers greet travellers in this airport terminal ...

When I finally reach the front and am told what booth to stand in front of, I have to remind myself not to say anything smart as I’m likely to be thrown into detention and escorted back to my Lufthansa aircraft. OK, it’s time to make your guess. Where in the world am I?

You might think I’ve rocked up in some shambolic banana republic or poorly managed police state, but I’m actually at Washington DC’s Dulles Airport late on a Sunday afternoon.

Because no one agency seems to be considering this broad issue, maybe that's another task for the Visitor element of the Federal comprehensive land use planning process managed by the National Capital Planning Commission. (Although it requiring changing the plan to be about the "National Capital" as well as the "National Capital Region," which is among the responsibilities of the Commission.)

But I've argued that how fixed rail transit service to Dulles Airport needs to be planned less out of a focus on value engineering and more according to the Airport's role as a gateway to the region and the the country for awhile...

This has been a problem for awhile. See "Demanding excellence in public projects is too rare a phenomenon: #1 the subway station at Dulles Airport" and "Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning."
Dulles Airport postcard, front
Dulles Airport postcard view. Looks can be deceiving. How you get to and from an airport on the ground is just as important as how the airport looks from the air.

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