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, February 21, 2020

A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for the Metrorail Blue Line

This piece is sparked by today's Post article, "Metro Blue Line extension into Prince William? Virginia lawmakers want a study," where Virginia legislators are looking to appropriate $2 million to study the extension of the Blue Line from Springfield in Fairfax County to Quantico in Prince William County.


1.  Go along with Virginia legislators desire to extend the Blue Line to Quantico, even though this is normally too long a distance for heavy rail.

In return for:

2.  Accelerating the creation of a second tunnel at Rosslyn crossing into DC; and

3.  Leveraging the project to create a Separated Blue Line in DC, resurrecting a long abandoned plan that was raised in 2001 and scuttled in 2003.  This would provide service to Georgetown and along M Street, another subway connection at Union Station, and service to H Street NE.

And doing it starting "now" not in 10 years...

Circa 2001 Metrorail expansion planning.  I have written many times of the old plan to build a "separated Blue Line" WMATA Metrorail line.

This would have created a second crossing under the Potomac River at Rosslyn and continued into Georgetown, perhaps along M Street to Union Station and then further east along H Street NE.

When this graphic accompanied a Washington Post article ("Crowds Could Derail Decades of Progress," 3/25/2001) about the proposal, just as a group of us were working on H Street revitalization matters, it was electrifying.
Proposed changes for the WMATA system, 2001 (separated blue line)

2003 Recession: WMATA drops expansion plans.  But in 2003, during a recessionary period for Greater Washington, WMATA dropped expansion planning in its entirety ("Metro Construction Projects Creak to Halt; Economic, Political Changes Cancel Expansion Plans, Spur Job Cuts, Early Retirements," Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post, July 13, 2003. pg. C.01), deferring responsibility for expansion planning to the separate jurisdictions.

Silver Line planning not affected.  Virginia continued on with its planning for the Silver Line, which it was pursuing separately anyway.  Insanely, they were allowed to do so without having to pay for capacity expansions in the core.  They said it wasn't their responsibility, even though the expansion would challenge system equilibrium.
Routing map, Silver Line WMATA

Washington DC didn't take the opportunity to leverage the Silver Line as the way to create a separated blue line.  Only Arlington kept hopes alive for a separated blue line in its Master Transportation Plan.

I started writing about the likely problems from this in 2006.

-- "The "Downtown" Circulator and Rosslyn, Virginia," 2006
-- "Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success," 2006
-- "Winners and losers with the Dulles subway project," 2007
-- "Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning," 2011
-- "Ultimately, WMATA blue line riders have been dissed by the State of Virginia, not WMATA," 2013
-- "The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed," 2014

Ten years later, WMATA starts expansion planning again.  With evident problems forecast concerning capacity in the core, WMATA has refocused on expansion planning.  They've gone through a couple iterations, one the Momentum plan ("Metro proposes $26 billion overhaul," Post, 2013), including more recent releases which I haven't written about.

The major element of the newest plan is to add a crossing at Rosslyn, which they hope to do by 2030 ("Metro Looks At Building New Lines To Address Tunnel Congestion, But What’s Realistic?," WAMU/NPR).

I've never been pleased with this planning program, because it satisficed proposals based on what they could get all jurisdictions to agree to, rather than advocating for the best outcomes.  It adds capacity within the current footprint but nothing beyond it.

We all know how the Silver Line worked out: badly.  The subway lines had already been stressed by failures in the signalling system, culminating in the Fort Totten crash in 2009, which killed 9 people.  But the addition of the Silver Line made things worse, crashing the system overall.

-- "Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016

Fantasy planning and the Paul Meissner maps.  The redundancy post made many arguments, including the problems that result from "inter-lining," which rather than containing problems when they occur, spreads them to other lines.  It called for making many changes to the Metrorail system, focused on separating the lines.  The main concept was a separated Silver Line, instead of a separated blue line.

From that, I connected with a GGW reader and commenter, Paul Meissner, who agreed to create a couple maps, one showing the current rapid rail system, including railroad services, and an idealized fantasy map, based in part on previous plans and proposals.

Conceptual Future integrated rail transit service network for the Washington DC National Capitol Region. Design by Paul J. Meissner.  Concept by Richard Layman and Paul Meissner.

There was push and pull.  He was the graphic designer, which gave him  more say in the process (i.e., "possession is nine-tenths of the law") and output so the ideas were a mix from both of us and I had to compromise.

I've referenced the maps in a couple pieces, including:

-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success," 2017, a multi-part series
-- "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?," 2017

In the map development process, rather than suggesting an extension of the Blue Line, we proposed extending the Yellow Line, terminating at Fort Belvoir.  There, the idea was to capture and promote density along Route 1 and service to the military base, which was expanded as a part of the 2005 BRAC closure process.  To be frank, this should have happened as a result of that process, which I suggested back then.

A couple months after Paul finished the project, I realized we could have also proposed a separate Blue Line extension to Woodbridge and Dale City, not thinking about an extension as far as Quantico, which is almost 12 miles further.

Extension vs. intensification in transit planning. We need to distinguish between extending the system outward, or intensifying the system by adding capacity in the core, because these types of extensions have different impact. It's the type of expansion that matters, not expansion generally.

Adding capacity in the core improves reliability while extending service outward, especially without increasing core capacity, degrades service. Eliminating expansion in general limits the opportunity to improve system reliability.

Note that in some instances, system extension serves important purposes (e.g., such as to Fair Oaks in Fairfax County, extending the Orange Line, or to Fort Belvoir, which could be reached by extending the Yellow Line) but it shouldn't occur without simultaneously addressing how extension impacts the core system.

While normally I would argue that an extension of this length is nonsensical, it's worth considering if it can be leveraged to bring about the separated Blue Line in DC.

Transformational Projects Action Planning and the Blue Line.  TPAP is a concept I've developed which proposes to seed master plans with a set of anchor projects as the "transformational projects element" as a way to drive the plan forward in substantive, visionary, transformational, and beneficial ways ("A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland" and "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning").

I think that the Virginia legislative initiative ought to be leveraged to do three different things:

1.  Extend the Blue Line to Quantico (which will get support to do the two other elements).

2.  Add the second crossing at Rosslyn to Georgetown and the expanded transfer station.

3.  Create the separated Blue Line in DC, along the same lines as the original 2001 proposal, but with a couple twists.

-- The DC routing would add redundancy and capacity in the core, and provide a second subway connection to Union Station, which is necessary for support of railroad passenger expansion plans there.  At Mount Vernon Square it would provide another subway line connection to the proposed Maglev rail service.

-- It would add 8-10 new stations within DC, although the section between Georgetown and Mount Vernon Square is already pretty developed, so it wouldn't necessarily add a lot of new development capacity, which is the normal way to pay for the cost of such infrastructure expansions.

-- It would eliminate the need for a gondola transit connection between Rosslyn and Georgetown.

-- After Union Station the line should go out H Street, and then at Oklahoma Avenue, cross through the RFK campus, but underground, to RFK station and continue to the end of the line at Largo.

-- Undergrounding the lines here will add development capacity to the RFK campus.

-- The Orange/Silver Line would similarly go underground at RFK to pick up the current Orange Line routing from RFK to New Carrollton.

4.  This means no longer focusing on a separated Silver Line, but pairing the Silver and Orange Lines.  Frankly they could both be termed the Orange Line but with two branches.

-- Virginia should also consider an extension of the Orange Line from Vienna to Centreville as outlined in the Meissner map above.

5.  An extension of the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir should also be studied as part of the planning, using a routing in the Route 1 Corridor.  Such a routing could extend from Fort Belvoir westward to connect to the Southern Blue Line extension.

-- if the Yellow Line were also to be extended, the addition of an infill Yellow Line station serving the National Mall in the vicinity of the Jefferson Memorial should be added to the program ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall").

Separated Blue Line or bust. Note that without the commitment to the second crossing and the Separated Blue Line in DC, I would argue that DC should vote against such an extension thereby dooming it to failure, since a unanimous vote is required.

Speaking of a unanimous vote, this program provides little additional benefit to Maryland.  Perhaps there is a way to do so.

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At 1:25 PM, Blogger scratchy said...

Rather than blue line WMATA service to quantico, Extend the yellow line to Ft Belvior, using the ex rail right of way and near Rt1 .
Since the new long bridge would go in service way before an additional metro rail line, use it as a chance to create a RER like service from quantico to to greenbelt, in addition to MARC train service to Alexandria.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Very good alternative. If you have more ideas, please put them in.

I will make your alternative a separate, short blog entry.

FWIW, while we didn't talk about RER or S-Bahn type of service in the original Meissner map, I think that's what we were thinking. There was the VRE line on the map and a Yellow line extension to Ft. Belvoir.

I don't know if you know about my posts over the years about merging MARC and VRE.

Before I wrote the PL series in 2017m, I had a foundational piece on the MARC-VRE concept about just merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines to start it off.

I haven't yet written about the recent VA initiatives on train service.

It's time.

And if you have any ideas about VA and trains, comparable to my post on a TPAP for Maryland train service cited in this post, please comment.


Oh, I guess the way to position this is in terms of a corridor approach, not necessarily leading by choosing a particular mode.

But while you're right, I do want that separated line in DC...

At 7:41 AM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Your "deal" sounds great! How do we make it happen?

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I never got involved in stuff til around 2000, but I read incessantly.

I actually sent a "complaint" letter to the Post after the first of what became the Dr. Gridlock column. It was probably in 1989 or 1990.

I wrote that the piece called for a commuters lobby was really calling for an automobile lobby, and I listed something like 10+ other items that would be ignored by a focus on cars.

(The first Dr. Gridlock was much more oriented to the car than was the second, who used to read my stuff.)

One of the points I made was that WMATA kept saying -- think back to 1989 or 1990 -- that they wouldn't do any expansion planning til they finished the original system. But that it took 10-15 years for a line to be planned and constructed at a minimum, so we wouldn't see much of anything happen new for decades...

That's still the case, obviously.

I can try to write an op-ed. I've had a few in the Washington Business Journal, but only a letter or two in the Post.

Although sparky is right. A train is the best solution for Quantico.

However, I am willing to satisfice if it would get DC off its a** to push the blue line separation through.

2. I haven't mentioned it yet, but your comments on the piece mentioning taxes, but where you specifically referenced Mount Rainier property prices, made me think of doing a follow up piece on PG and transit.

Years ago I pushed the idea of streetcar service on Rte. 1 as part of DC streetcar planning, and Dan Tangherlini did support that and a line was added.

It turns out MTA studied it in the 1990s wrt the creation of the Gateway Arts District.

At a Gateway CDC meeting maybe in 2007, I mentioned this and one of the board members said rather than starting/stopping at Rhode Island Metro, continue to Dupont Circle.

I did write that up.

But besides bus improvements, and the Purple Line, I didn't include something about Rte. 1 in my writings over the past couple years.

Although the fantasy map suggests a separated Green Line out New Hampshire Ave. and a separated Yellow Line (not on the alignment I preferred which is up Georgia Avenue and then out Colesville Avenue in MoCo). But both would help MoCo more than PG.

Your comments made me think that it would be worth doing a subway line out Rhode Island Avenue. But rather than stopping at Dupont Circle, maybe it should go up to Wisconsin Avenue.

There is tremendous intensification value and opportunity.

And as far out as Laurel? (The problem with doing intensification along the Camden MARC is that it isn't well placed to serve higher density areas, a problem also with the Baltimore Light Rail line in much of Baltimore County.)

That would provide additional benefit for Maryland, but it would have to be a parallel but separate program to the Separated Blue Line.

But now writing this, we could bundle Separated Green Line and a new Rhode Island line.

+ PL extension from New Carrollton.

+ figuring out transit connection to National Harbor

+ it still makes more sense to move the football stadium to National Harbor

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The first time I saw the Purple Line as a concept was a cover story by Mark Jenkins in a December 1987 issue of the City Paper.

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

The entire idea is based on a deal that a) won't happen, and b) wouldn't deliver what the deal is premised on.

The Blue Line extension is silly. Virginia just announced a massive investment in rail transit, enabling the transformation of VRE into true regional rail, running at rapid transit frequencies - and the solution here is to extend Metro into the exact same corridor? It's absurd.

There are plenty of VA corridors for Metro investment that should come well before one that already follows VRE.

Second, the reason this 'deal' won't ever happen is because of the tri-party nature of Metro. If you want to structure a deal here, then you need to bring Maryland into the deal. If not, then there's no Metro deal to be had, but instead some other form of funding. WMATA has already advanced some planning on adding new core capacity via new tunnels, and they'll continue to work on that as the regional priority it is.

Also, the Silver Line is fine. That's not a planning failure. It did, however, expose the wobbly foundations of Metro's operating and maintenance culture. But, now that those are improving, the Silver Line basically works fine.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

As far as the tripartite benefits, I have an outline for that in a following post.

2. To be clear, for the same reasons you outline in terms of Virginia's recent expanded commitment to rail, I agree this isn't the preferred course.

I plan to do a separate follow up on corridor planning, which when done right, is a multi-modal approach.

3. But regardless, it's worth pursuing some significant extension to the Blue Line if it can bring about the separated blue line forward in DC.

For example, there is value in extending the Blue Line as far as Dale City.

But one problem with this kind of extension is the secondary transit connections. Because ideally you want it to spark a greater use of transit more generally, beyond the subway line.

Such connections aren't likely to be strong in these "suburban" areas, which are almost exurban.

4. WRT the Silver Line as a planning failure, I disagree somewhat for three reasons, but on the general one of line operation/existence you're right.

First, it shouldn't have been allowed to proceed without addressing its impacts on the core system, to wit at the very least, a second crossing. (The turnback at RFK could have been upgraded, but maybe it doesn't matter that it just runs to Largo).

WRT using it as a way to jump start a separated blue line in DC and adding 8-10 stations and more transit density in DC, that was a planning failure too, but of omission and vision and definitely had nothing to do with Virginia.

The other planning failure, which I discussed but didn't adequately define, was one of operations.

And yes, the system has managed to catch up to and address the operational stresses and problems the addition "caused" (which it wouldn't have caused if they had been adequately addressed ahead of time, again, it should have been charged to the Silver Line development as an expense).

But the extension in and of itself as a heavy rail line isn't a failure, excepting its example of furthering the polycentric nature of the system rather than promoting intensity of development, it continues to promote outward expansion and "sprawL" even if a more intensifying version.

You could say because it is not having the kind of ridership that was forecasted it is a failure. I don't think that's fair. As I have written about the Metrorail system, it took 20-30 years to begin to see substantive impact of the system outside of Downtown.

Given the nature and organization of land use in the area served by the Silver Line (+ that it isn't yet finished) it makes sense that it will take some time to see "quantum" effects.

But it is, once again, a lesson that a number of complementary initiatives (like walkability improvements in Tysons), stronger TDM programming, etc., should have been made simultaneously in order to increase ridership more quickly once the line began revenue service.


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