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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed

Yesterday WJLA-TV did a story ("Metro wait times in Northern Va. could worsen after Silver Line debut") about the Silver Line and how extension of the system will "increase congestion" because no additional crossings between Virginia and DC were constructed as part of the "expansion" of the system.

This was in response to a meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which discussed the issue, a roundtable convened by US Senator Tim Kaine ("KAINE DISCUSSES REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION NEEDS AT NORTHERN VIRGINIA ROUNDTABLE," press release).

The story quotes Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay making the point that without adding crossings and adding to the capacity in the core, more trains will result in congestion:
"I think this is exposing a systematic problem.... You can add as much extension as you want to the Metro system, but if you don't fix the capacity issues there's only so many trains you can get across the river at one time."
For what it's worth, in 2006 I wrote a blog entry ("Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success")pointing out that this problem was baked into the creation of the Silver Line, and that the way that WMATA devolved expansion planning to the separate jurisdictions in 2003 was problematic, because Virginia and Maryland were given a pass on responsibility for how extensions would impact the core system.

The Silver Line should have been used to bootstrap the creation of a separated "blue" or "silver" line with an additional crossing between Arlington County and DC being built as part of the construction of the extension ("Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning," 2011 blog entry).

But that was never part of the "remit" of the Dulles Corridor Transit Partners, and for whatever reason, the WMATA Board and the other jurisdictions, especially DC, didn't step in to raise the issue.

That the NVTC is talking about this in 2014 is somewhat pathetic...

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At 12:41 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

If you look at the new sales price data on Arlington as well as the CRE vacancy rate, I think people are voting with their feet on problems with the orange/blue line.

The Silver line, in the long term, should put arlington residential property on an upward trend as it makes tysons and dulles far more accessible. But in the short term, it is going to make commuting into DC more painful.

I am not convinced that Arlington CRE has any advantages over a Tysons or Dulles location.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

it's higher priced. So Silver Line enables a transit-enabled commercial office space sprawl, and lower rents, which competes successfully against Arlington specifically, and somewhat against DC.

From that standpoint alone, and I don't how the WMATA board works exactly, DC should have not gone along with the extension without a commitment to dealing with the core.

At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are right Richard- but the DC govt has zero vision and does not even think about these things as you do- they cannot even support the streetcar program- Grey was actually against it as a councilman. His support has been superficial- just enough to not kill it but keeping it in limbo and on hold. A better mayor would accelerate transit not squash it

At 10:16 AM, Anonymous rg said...

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it boggles my mind that DC's elected officials have not made construction of a second Potomac River tunnel and crosstown subway a priority. Not using the Silver Line to leverage progress on such a project can only be viewed as a massive failure of leadership and imagination on the part of our elected officials.

But, it's not surprising.

Most of them drive everywhere for everything.

Therefore they do not realize how central Metro (what you correctly dub the 'primary transit network') has been to DC's reversed fortunes. Sure, the trend toward urban living might have led to the revitalization of some DC neighborhoods absent Metro, but Metro was the keystone that united and buttressed all the various factors that led to DC's reversal of fortune.

Their autocentrism is also why they have missed the fact that a solid majority of DC residents commute by something other than a car. They and most of the people they associate with on a daily basis are part of the car commuting minority. They do not understand how important a robust transit system is to the daily lives of a huge number of their constituents. That can be the only explanation, short of depraved indifference, why they stood by and did nothing during the years of deferred maintenance on Metro. Sure, Metro is an independent agency and 'not their table', but given the importance of Metro to DC in terms of economic competitiveness and basic, everyday quality of life, they should have been treating deferred maintenance and the resulting deterioration and reliability of the system as a major crisis worthy of major attention and

It's really kind of a bummer. Imagine if over the past 15-20 years we had had leaders who recognized the importance of Metro and of transit in general who had been willing to lead and push hard for a second crosstown subway to improve the primary transit network and a streetcar system (running largely in dedicated lanes) to create a solid secondary transit network. We might have already started construction on on a separated Blue Line and have several streetcar lines up and running. Even if we find such leaders now, groundbreaking on a second Blue Line would not happen for at least another decade or two.


At 2:46 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

rg -- I'd like to post your comment in full in another entry with a brief comment. OK?

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous rg said...

Sure, though on second thought "depraved" might be a bit strong. :-)

At 5:42 PM, Anonymous rg said...

I should add that their autocentrism also explains why they are so reluctant to support dedicated bus lanes on 16th Street and why they are so half-assed about other transit improvements such as streetcars. I am pretty certain that most of them have no idea what the average DC commuter who uses the S buses or the X2 bus or who transfers at Gallery Place or Metro Center goes through on a daily basis.

Compare that with the relative speed and efficiency of the massive expansion and gold plating of the 11th Street Bridges, which will mostly benefit suburban commuters.


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