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.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Baseball World Series in DC #3: Five lessons for transit

This tweet comments on the transportation issues after last night's World Series Game, making the point that such tie ups wouldn't happen in a "world class city."
heritage fleet, CTA, for Chicago Cubs World Series
As part of its Heritage fleet program, the CTA will be operating its refurbished rail cars on the Red Line before the Cubs’ World Series home games this weekend. (Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority)
. "CTA to Roll Out Vintage Train Cars for Cubs World Series Games," WTTW/PBS.

I had three transportation-related "lessons" in the two previous posts in this series, but perhaps they were overly buried in all the other words.

-- "Baseball World Series in DC as an opportunity for urban planning reflections: #1 | revisiting blog entries from 2005/2006"
-- "Baseball World Series in DC #2: Ten urban planning lessons from the Washington Nationals stadium"

And looking at this a little more deeply, there are two more lessons besides those.

1. In transit cities, don't place stadiums and arenas in locations with service from only one transit line.

Place a stadium where it can be serviced by multiple lines. By contrast to the single Green Line subway serving the Washington Nationals Stadium, DC's Capital One Arena is served by three lines, and is a short four block walk to a direct connection to the other three lines.*

In New York City, Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, Yankees Stadium, and Shea Stadium are all served by both subway and railroad lines. MSG and Barclays Center are located on top of huge transit hubs, with far more connections than even Yankee and Shea Stadiums. More than 50% of attendees to events at MSG and Barclays arrive and depart by transit. (But this leads to the fourth lesson...)

Lesson: Either require stadiums and arenas to be located at sites with multiple transit connections at the outset, or add the connections.

* Note that in "Baseball World Series in DC #2" I did make the point that a lesson with Capital One Arena would be to build an "underground" city walking based connection between Metro Center and Galley Place/Capital One Arena, to encourage people to get the rest of the way to the Arena from Metro Center by walking, rather than transferring to the Red Line to travel the same four blocks.

Subway connections to Barclays Center
Nine subway lines provide service to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  (14 subway lines provide service to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.)

Long Island Railroad (LIRR) connections to Barclays Center
Long Island Railroad (LIRR) connections to Barclays Center.  (MSG is served by LIRR and NJ Transit.)

2. To partially correct for this DC could have built a streetcar line between the Washington Nationals Stadium, the Capitol South Metrorail Station -- connecting to the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines, and Union Station -- connecting to the Red Line, and to regional passenger rail systems for Maryland and Virginia**.

A modern streetcar in Kansas City wrapped in a promotion for the Royals baseball team. Photo: Adam Vogler, Kansas City Business Journal.

It wouldn't have been perfect, streetcars don't carry that many people, but it would have provided alternative routes to other subway lines with the additional potential bonus of connections to railroad passenger services too.

A complication would have been getting through the Capitol Complex, given post-9/11 security considerations.

And to have enough streetcar vehicles to be able to make a meaningful dent for spikes in demand.

One way to have slack capacity would be to get heritage streetcars, see "An idea for Sunday streetcar service in DC: heritage streetcars."

Separately, I've argued that DC should create a heritage streetcar service for the National Mall, between Union Station and Georgetown, even providing service to Rosslyn/Arlington Cemetery.  This system could be extended to provide game day service to the Washington Nationals baseball stadium and the Audi Field soccer stadium.

-- "A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall" (2013)
-- "New DC Circulator route serving National Mall reminds us that we are neglecting connections from west to east and fail to adequately connect Georgetown to the National Mall" (2015)

3. The problem is accentuated by the refusal of the Washington Nationals team to pay for Metrorail to provide late service when games go beyond normal operating hours.

This is less of a problem in the post-season, when other actors, seeking publicity, pay for the service.  But fans blame the transit system, not the baseball team, for the problem.  People boo Metrorail when the Nationals remind fans of the Navy Yard station's closing time.
Digital billboard at Nationals Stadium showing the closing time for the WMATA system/Navy Yard Metrorail station
Digital billboard at Nationals Stadium showing the closing time for the WMATA system/Navy Yard Metrorail station.  Twitter photo, 2016, Ryan J. Allen.

Lesson: put such requirements in the zoning and building regulations and in the contract between the city and the team for use of the stadium

4. If you build a stadium next to a single transit line, in a city with multiple transit lines, rebuild the station to add platform capacity to deal with the extranormal demand generated by stadium events.

Problems with platform crowding have been ongoing since the stadium opened. In retrospect, that was an indicator that capacity needed to be added.

**5.  When building stadiums and arenas in regions with regional passenger service, location decisions should provide access to passenger railroads too.

NYC is the best example, both good and bad.  All of the city's major stadiums have access to subway and railroad service.  But the suburban football stadium in New Jersey is poorly served by both types of transit.

DC's MARC and VRE railroads don't provide much in the way of special train service (MARC used to when there wasn't a team in Washington, and people went to Baltimore Orioles games) to sports events.

But then again, past experience hasn't shown much demand for it.

But if stadiums and arenas were located in ways that took passenger train access into consideration and if the region had a true regional passenger railroad system ("A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland), maybe that would be different.

The Southern California Metrolink system runs a variety of promotions to support people getting to games by rail. While facilities vary in the level of direct access, it happens that the Angels baseball stadium and arena for the Anaheim Ducks are a short distance from Metrolink.

Metrolink train car wrapped to promote the Angeles Express.

If the MARC Penn Line and the VRE Fredericksburg Line were merged ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines") game day special service could be provided more easily.

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At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

"Build the stadium near more transit" is simplistic and unnecessary. The location is fine, the transit access is great. The stadium isn't the problem - it's WMATA's service.

The stadium is close enough to the Blue/Orange/Silver lines. Just walk to Capitol South. Not that far.

Plus, you can't just do that when siting something like a baseball stadium.

"rebuild the station to add capacity"

They did this at Navy Yard. The platforms are fine, they're not the constraint. The constraints are vertical circulation and egress.

Special Train Service - MARC did offer special service from Union Station for the World Series games. Left one hour after the last out.

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The problem is where multiple lines intersect SHOULD be valuable land and not best used for stadiums, etc.

I disagree with Alex, too far to walk to Red line, and I don't know why they don't do bus shuttles to Red lines or L'enfant plaza.

Agree that vertical access in Navy Yard station is really the problem. I think it was designed for a regular baseball crowd, you'll never be able to really handle full capacity.

But yes doing bus wraps or subway car wraps would seem pretty simple. WMATA is doing "Go NATS" on buses signs.

You can't predict a WS run, but you can be prepared. The "MADE IN DC" store is closed for a ABRA permit?

Also as we talked about DC lottery is going some creative work on selling DC - much better than the monument shots which FOX is using. Also why doesn't DC buy ads during the game or get them? Granted it would just be Muriel talking but again a blown opportunity.

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I know Alex B. only comments when he thinks I am violently wrong. But this is not one of those times.

Yes, charlie is right that locations with multiple transit lines are so high value that stadiums are not the best uses.

And I didn't re-discuss in this piece the difference between the arena locations and the stadium locations in NYC. They aren't as centrally located as the arenas, and the arenas make sense in those locations because they are comparatively compact.

By comparison, while still pretty good, the ridership on transit for Mets/Yankees games is at least 1/3 less, compared to arena matches and events.

At 3:52 PM, Anonymous thm said...

They, in effect, do shuttles from Navy Yard to the other lines: when a Nationals game lets out, they run extra trains that start at Navy Yard and terminate at Mt. Vernon Square. Sort of a bummer if your trip goes further north on the Green Line. An eight-car train is the equivalent of about 18 40-ft buses.

Also: Wrigley Field--probably the most urban MLB park--is served only by the Addison stop on the Red Line. Citizens Bank Park is only served by the "nrg" stop on the Broad Street Line.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Also, they do have a shuttle to L'Enfant Plaza - it's the Circulator. It also runs (and is decently used by baseball fans) to get to Eastern Market.

The WMATA/Baseball issue is a Metro problem, not a baseball problem. WMATA is getting better, but they need to make a lot of changes in this regard. I get the sense that they want to do it, but are constrained by board policy and lack a pool of funds.

As it is, their current after-hours strategy of only allowing a few entrances to remain open isn't all that helpful.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

When I said platform, yes, I did mean also "vertical" movement. And this is a problem at other stations that have similar kinds of extranormal needs (like Union Station).

I think I am 100% right about siting decisions and transit. I've made the point for years.

The thing about "WMATA's bad service" that Alex B points out, I think misses the point.

To paraphrase Donald Rumbsfield, "we have the transit system that we have."

By that I mean a set of equipment, switches, an attitude toward service and riders, etc.

Depending on where a station is located, it might be possible to line standby trains up, it might not be.

Remember that Herb Miller was trying to get the city to build the stadium on a platform over the SE-SW Freeway in the vicinity of L'Enfant Plaza.

That would have made a big difference transit-wise, and it wouldn't have underutilized land the way that charlie points out a stadium would normally do in a 1000% location.

When I said siting, I also meant elements like switches already existing in the system.

I am not super technical. E.g., there is a Pedestrian Observations post up now about where to increase development intensity in NYC based on the latent capacity of the subway system.

He points out technical elements such as electricity load, the electricity capacity, and how heavier trains draw more electricity as considerations in how many trains can run per hour.

There are similar issues here. You deal with capacity questions, platform questions, switches, capacity of trains, electric load, etc.

When I was writing about the streetcar concept many years ago, I pointed out that maybe a streetcar could go underground in the vicinity of the Capitol because of surface security issues.

Again, about the transit system we have, and where the stadium is located, maybe you can build in extranormal capacity like switches, but it costs hundreds of millions of dollars. It isn't worth doing for a every 5-15 year demand.

But building it where you can where the capacity already exists (another form of what JJ called "mixed primary uses") means you don't have to pay extra.

Distance to Capitol South = 0.9 miles
Distance to Union Station = 1.7 miles
Distance to L'Enfant Plaza = 1.5 miles

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT ALex B's second set of comments, it would be interesting for you, other experts, WMATA etc. to do an "after action" report and lay out a set of preferred steps.

I have a piece about creating "Public Improvement Districts" around (Metrorail) transit stations as a way to add various vertical and horizontal mobility improvements, urban design elements, etc.

The problem with "the Navy Yard Station" is that it was designed and built a couple decades (more or less) before the Stadium came along, and the way the system is configured it's very difficult to rebuild and expand stations.

The thing about the platform and vertical transportation is more about adding latent capacity to hold passengers while they are waiting.

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

What's interesting to me is the interesting service issues posed by transit stations serving airports, big train stations, arenas, stadiums, etc., and how we don't seem to be codifying and applying that learning.

For 15 years or more, I've commented about vertical capacity at Union Station, how there is a continuous line of people from the MARC platform to the subway station/platform when the trains unload in the morning...

But even simple things in Union Station like having steps and doors between the south exit and entry into the basement level of Union Station, that escalators aren't wider in stations where there is likely to be a preponderance of luggage (train stations and airports), etc.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

A couple of things:

Sure, a stadium near L'Enfant Plaza would've been nice. Except for one small detail: the site did not exist. The stadium we got cost $700 million; building something on a deck over a freeway would've been astronomically more expensive - which is why the idea never advanced beyond the 'dream' phase.

It's not that you're wrong about siting, but 'being right' doesn't matter, because the alternative is impossible.

Same thing can be said of the Ballpark-Union Station streetcar (in a tunnel) idea - that's a tremendously expensive capital project with limited usefulness outside of stadium events. You can't justify that kind of investment just for game day operations - that's bad planning.

Instead, having a more robust long-term transit expansion plan would be welcome, but that's not a position the city or WMATA is in right now.

For the Navy Yard station, there simply isn't a major problem there. They upgraded the station. It does well to handle tens of thousands of people per hour. When the stadium was announced, they made specific changes to the Navy Yard station to add capacity; and it worked! They added vertical circulation. It was paid for my Monument Realty as they developed 55 M Street SE.

The constraints of the existing station is also just fine. WMATA designers were smart to make all the platforms quite wide, increasing their capacity compared to older systems. It's a remarkably robust design. The largest constraint today isn't station design, but service.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

So Alex, you're saying the issue really is more about having the trains ready, then what thm says about letting more of the trains go beyond Gallery Place-Mount Vernon?

This isn't a smart ass query. I'm not there. I'm relying on you (thm, charlie, others) for consultation...

At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

I'm still not sure what the 'issue' is?

If it's late night service (and games ending after Metro closes) that's one thing. If it's crowding and congestion, that's another. If it's the overall level of service and WMATA's approach to special events, that's yet another.

Navy Yard's physical infrastructure is fine. They've got plenty of capacity; lots of faregates, etc. The vertical circulation is also more or less fine.

The bigger issue that comes up with these playoff runs with later games is WMATA's overall late night and off-peak service, which WMATA staff have at least shown an interest in addressing. It's quite clear that their policy of demanding teams pay up on short notice wasn't working. A different mechanism is needed.

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