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, June 07, 2013

Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed

People in one of the three taxicab lines at National Airport, around 12:30 a.m., Monday June 3rd, 2013.

Along with my trek walking from National Airport to Capitol Hill last Sunday because the subway had closed and the three lines for cabs were very long and the number of cabs paltry and I hate waiting, the very great GGW entry by Matt Johnson, "A Metrobus Sunday map: Where the service isn't," reminded me that from time to time I have written about night-time transit issues and the need to expand service.

1.  The GGW entry calls our attention to how the transit service in Houston (Harris County) publishes special maps for weekend service, separate maps for Saturday and Sunday, which compared to service during the week, is significantly reduced.  Matt put in the effort to create a similar map for the WMATA system.  And yes, transit service on Sunday is significantly reduced compared to the other days.

This section of the 1946 Capital Transit map for Washington, DC shows how into the late 1940s, weekend bus service was provided in East Potomac Park to make it easier for people to recreate.  There is no bus service to that area now, except by the National Park Service during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

2.  And the issue has to do with whether or not your community wants to support a livable-walkable lifestyle that doesn't require automobile-dependence.

And as far as late night transit service goes, if you want a 24-hour city--really an 18-hour city maybe, but that 18 hours timeshifts for various segments of the population, one person's 18 hour city might start at 6 am and end at midnite, while another's 18 hour city ends at 4 am.  The various customer segments should be served as much as possible, which means providing close to 24-hour service within the transit shed.

3.  This relates to the point I make about how planning for transit service, especially in terms of network breadth and depth, should be done by the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the local jurisdictions, rather than the transit operator because the transit operator will always satisfice service because of budget.  See "Metropolitan mass transit planning: more thoughts."

Instead if the MPO/jurisdictions mandate a particular service structure, that puts them on the hook for providing the money (not unlike how DC passed a law requiring Sunday service on the part of the library system--see the past blog entry, "Another example of setting global service standards for local government services (libraries)") to the transit service to get the level of service that they call for in master plans.

4.  In response to some good articles in the Post last summer about burgeoning demand on the S bus line (16th Street NW), WMATA and DC responded by providing more service ("Washington Post article on the demand for night-time bus services").  On that line, the issue wasn't the hours of the service footprint, but needing to add more bus capacity.

5.  Besides adding service to more lines on an as needed basis, I suggest from time to time that WMATA provide a Nite Owl Bus Service along the various subway lines, during the time when the subway is closed (other than for maintenance) so that people can still get to and from stations and around the metropolitan area.  See the past blog entry "Overnight transit service." In the US, only New York City provides 24-hour subway service.

Note that in DC on the main buslines (30s--Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Avenues; S--16th Street; 70s--7th Street and Georgia Avenue; 90s--Florida Avenue, 8th Street, Southeast DC; X--H Street and Benning Road) service is provided 22.5 to 23.5 hours per day.  And in the suburbs, some Metrobus lines provide almost as much service.  But in many areas transit service ends when subway service ends.

Night owl bus service that complements subway lines when they are closed is provided in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as well as in the part of the San Francisco Bay served by BART, in the hours between 1 am and 5 am when BART doesn't run.  There, it's called All-Nighter Service.

One of the hindrances to Nite Owl service in some jurisdictions are provisions in labor contracts that call for double-time wages during overnight hours.  (I don't know if that provision is in the contracts here, I doubt it.)  See "Survey on MBTA late-night service draws thousands of responses," "Closing time: the chaos of last call," and "Opinion: 7/16/2010: Reviving the night owl" from the Boston Globe.

6.  At the very least, bus service between the airports should be provided during the hours that airplanes arrive and depart, when that period extends beyond the hours of the subway.  During the week, the B30 to BWI runs 16 hours, the 5A to Dulles runs 18 hours per day.  These buses run a bit fewer hours on the weekends (the B30 is tied to the subway service schedule as it departs from Greenbelt station).

Right: a draft version of the WMATA map that will be introduced when the Silver Line opens in August 2013.  See the WMATA blog entry, "We are down to the final two! Based on your comments last month, we made additional changes. Please compare the two maps and let us know which one you prefer."

It will be a few years before the Silver Line is extended to Dulles Airport, and I imagine an additional bus route from the last station of the line--Wiehle/Reston East station--will be added to provide service to Dulles Airport as well.

7.  And bus service between National Airport and the jurisdictions should be provided during the hours that the subway is closed.

Currently, there is no Metrobus service for National Airport with one exception (see the next paragraph).  But there should be the equivalent of the Nite Owl for it, especially in the period before Nite Owl service along the subway lines would be instituted.

Note that to serve employees before the subway starts running on Saturday and Sunday, WMATA provides 2-3 bus runs per day (13F/13G) per direction from and to National Airport from certain locations in DC, serving the Pentagon and Crystal City as well, between the hours of 6 am and 7 am. 

Nite Owl Service inset map, from the 1946 Capital Transit map.

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At 10:10 AM, Anonymous rg said...

I'm impressed! I have briefly considered just walking after facing a similar National Airport taxi line at midnight, but I have always just sighed and gotten in line. The only time I take a taxi home from National Airport is late night after Metro is closed, but those taxi lines can be daunting, especially after a tough business trip and a long flight.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was the timing of your walk? Metro runs till midnight now during the week, and National Airport is not supposed to be having night time arrivals. (Unless there's been a change in the last few years that wasn't broadly made public.) So, how could there NOT be a Metro available when you landed?

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the call for Night Owl bus service. Berlin (a late-night party city if ever there was one) has a night owl service that follows the subway lines after they close (which around 11pm-midnight) on weeknights (the subway stays open all night on Friday and Saturday nights). It is easy to use because the line follow the subway line, and there are signs on the street above subway stations showing where the night buses arrive.

At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

National has plenty of flights that land close to or after midnight. It is only certain types of planes that are prohibited after 10:00.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The last train leaves at 11:44 pm on Sunday. Check the station page. At least one no passengers train passed by as I was leaving the grounds. You probably can't tell but it's pictured in the last photo on the bottom of the entry, before the nite owl map.

And because of what ANON@1pm writes, it's why transit service to the National Airport needs to be reconsidered. I seem to recall in the old days, flights after the subway closed were extremely rare.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(oops! commented on my own adventures in this realm in the wrong place--see above.)

Over the last two years during the week, I have been spending lots of time in the Friendship Heights depot waiting for 30s busses back down to Foggy Bottom later in the evening. On weekends and holidays (when the E6 doesn't run), I drive to and from Foggy Bottom via Rock Creek Parkway to Knollwood (Oregon and Nebraska), usually in 20 minutes door to door.

Recently, as I wait at Friendship for my return bus to FB, I have been musing if it would be possible to improve the appearance (and thus the experience) of that incredibly dull and depressing space.

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

I don't know how much it would help but I am desultorally preparing a post on active cultural interpretation of transpo infrastructure, including the two trolley turnaround structures that still exist. The one you mention and the one on 14th St.

I got outbid for an amazing 1962 special section of the Washington Star on the end of the streetcars. I hope they have it at Washingtoniana.

Unfortunately, the amount of $ I have to acquire this kind of ephemera is minimal.

The idea would be to have interpretative boards showing old maps, transfers, stories, old images, bus schedules of linking services, etc.

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMHO, these would be great ideas for a transpo museum of some sort but my thinking was more along the line of basics--like keeping it clean and trash free; making the atrium area pigeon-free so that there is not bird crap in a wide radius around the stairs up to Indique II; one thing I enjoy if I'm stuck up there for a while is watching the changing light display at the Needless Markup store that is catty-corner to the depot. More on this later.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous thm said...


I got outbid on that one too.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

we'll have to cooperate. I probably would have won had I not been too eager, and bid with 10 seconds left instead of 30 seconds. Not enough time to rebid in less than 30 seconds.

I do want to see if Washingtoniana has one and it can be scanned.

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