Metrorail Silver Line phase two opening this week
Advance coverage ("Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport opens at tough time,"WJLA-TV; "Silver Line’s second phase was to be different. It fell into the same trap," Washington Post), reminds me that some of my earliest substantive blog writings concern WMATA and the Silver Line.
First, Virginia's focus on privatization, which is why the Silver Line was not built by Metro ("Silver Line delays: maybe the real lesson is that contracting out construction to the private sector doesn't always work so well," 2014).
This led WMATA to get rid of its long range engineering and construction unit, and losing decades of experience in building and running the system ("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).
Second, how DC never seized leadership to leverage the Silver Line as the way to create "the separated blue line" in DC which would have added service to Georgetown, a more eastern line in DC, another line to Union Station, and service out H Street ("Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success," 2006, "If DC had visionary elected officials and planners it could use the new WMATA "BOS" study to push through the development of a separated Silver Line in DC (and Northern Virginia)," 2019).
DC does not understand its "unique selling proposition" or "core competency" is being transit- and sustainable mobility-centric.
But the failures in planning extend beyond DC ("Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning," 2011).
Third, was the pro-tunnel effort, which failed, and the desire to have a better connection to the Dulles Airport Terminal, more comparable to National Airport ("Winners and losers with the Dulles subway project," 2007).
Fourth, that average pundits didn't understand the point of the Silver Line, which was to repattern land use in its transit shed for the 21st century ("Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC," 2011, "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County," 2015, and "Without the right planning "controls" you can't stop change: Loudoun County and rail service in Northern Virginia," 2012).
Fifth, that activists and elected officials sure didn't understand how to be proactive ("The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed," 2014). You don't complain about system problems when it opens, but before.
Sixth, and belatedly, that the Silver Line taxed the system's infrastructure in ways that have made degradation of service quality standard practice ("More
on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail
failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016).
Complementary transit network improvement program for NoVA. A few years ago, in line with the writings about how to leverage the Purple Line as a way to drive complementary improvements across the transit network ("Codifying the complementary transit network improvements and planning initiatives recommended in the Purple Line writings"), I wrote a similar piece on the Silver Line, "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?," which listed 2 system planning and 27 network improvements, for a total of 29.
But it's really a broader program than could be accomplished in the time frame of constructing the Silver Line.
More network improvements. After that post was written in 2017, I continued to have related ideas: (1) a Tysons surface rail streetcar system, (2) extending the Blue Line further south (spurred by a conversation I had with a guy who lives near North Capitol Street and the Washington Hospital Center, who had lived in Virginia previously), and (3) dealing with ferry services, would make a total of 32 items.
Plus, somehow I missed extending the Purple Line from New Carrollton to Alexandria and Springfield in Virginia. So that's 33 items.
Yet another, but more from the standpoint of thinking of Metrorail as a commuter railroad, at least in the distant suburbs, would be extending it to Leesburg. That would be 34 items. Paul and I talked about it, but I never wrote anything about it.
Fantasy planning and the Paul Meissner maps. The concept of "complementary transit network improvement planning" was triggered in part by work I was doing with Paul Meissner, in creating a map showing the various rail services as an integrated system and a separate map with ideas about expansion beyond existing services.
It was a mutual process. I wanted elements he didn't and vice versa. But a key organizing principle was including items that had been officially recommended at some point.
Unfortunately, we weren't in a position to improve the map(s) iteratively as I expanded on some of the principles.
Adding a Tysons tram system to that list. Later, I realized that along the lines of thinking about transit as a network operating at different scales
that Tysons needs a surface level streetcar/tram/light rail system to really be able to create "a city."
-- "A thought about an intra-district transit network for Tysons," 2020
-- "Tysons (Corner) 10 Years after the plan to make it more walkable: the necessity of implementation mechanisms," 2020
-- "Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transit planning, 2011
-- "Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service," 2016
Models would be how Bilbao added a surface tram network, complementing the subway, to provide better service to major attractions like the Guggenheim Museum between subway stations ("Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain"), surface transit in Toyama City, Japan ("Brief follow up to intra-district transit proposal for Tysons: Toyama City Compact City initiative (Japan)"), and a proposal to extend transit service to a part of Ottawa, Ontario by extending the proposed light rail for Gatineau, Quebec, across the river.
Flickr photo by Clagmaster of the Bilbao Tram leaving the Guggenheim Museum.
I feel even more strongly about that now, especially in response to the Post article, "After Silver Line, Tysons makes progress in becoming less car-centric," because Metrorail in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties doesn't operate at the right spatial and service scale necessary to drive on-the-ground urban design, sustainable mobility, and placemaking improvements in a substantive way ("Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning").
The Silver Line has station spacing more like commuter
railroad--4 miles or more between stations,. By contrast, DC and
Arlington have strings of stations--3 to 4--over a 2 to 2.5 mile
distance. At the larger scale, urban design and placemaking benefits from transit are minimal.
Blue Line to Potomac Mills/Quantico. Something we missed in the Meissner/Layman transit expansion map was an extension of the Blue Line south in Virginia. Although we did send the Yellow Line down that way, but not as far, to Fort Belvoir.
To deal with this planning wise, it's important to think about intra-district versus inter-county transit service. To plan both for connection to the center city, but also how can the benefits be captured within Prince William County (the same conversation as for why I suggest a Tysons tram).
Ferry service. Another element that could be included, in terms of comprehensiveness, is ferry and water taxi services, even though they are pretty niche ("Metrorail shutdown south of AlexandriaNational Airport would have been a good opportunity to promote ferry service," 2017).
There's been some use of ferries in response to the recent Yellow Line shutdown south of National Airport ("Alexandria looks to bicycles and boats to help replace Metro during shutdown," AlexNow).
But the Potomac River "isn't well situated" vis a vis activity centers to make ferry services foundational in the way that they can be in more port cities like Seattle, Sydney, or San Francisco, or when rivers are well situated in places like New York City and London (in other words those cities developed around their rivers while DC did not).
But there should be planning for it now, especially from New Carrollton to Virginia ("Backwardness of transportation and land use planning: National Harbor, Prince George's County, Maryland | Why isn't high capacity transit access required from the outset?," "Prince George's County's newly announced transit oriented development program for the Blue Line," 2022).
Extending the Silver Line to Leesburg. It's about 8 miles from Ashburn, the end of the line of the Silver Line to Leesburg, the county seat for Loudoun County. From the standpoint of "heavy rail" transit service, it makes no sense, but after Reston Town Center, the Silver Line Metrorail is more of a commuter railroad, so it's reasonable to consider, the same way it can be reasonable to extend the Blue Line to Quantico.
Note: these writings are all pre-covid. The centrality of the center city as the foundation of the transit network is changing.
Improvements recommended in the original Silver Line program blog entry
1. Create the DMV Transport Association ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association ")
2. Create regularized transportation funding mechanisms for the metropolitan area and region that transcend individual operators like WMATA ("DC area transit commission board member thinks he has a brilliant idea on how to fund Metrorail: sales taxes," 2022)
Network improvement program
1. Separating the Silver Line from the Orange Line by extending the line south to Rte. 50 and then east along the street to Rosslyn. That would provide six new stations: West Street; Falls Church; Seven Corners; Arlington Forest; Ashton Heights; and Fort Myer. Continuing the Silver Line from its endpoint at Ashburn to Leesburg should be considered also, which isn't depicted on the above map.
(There would be plenty of benefits for DC, discussed here, ""If
DC had visionary elected officials and planners it could use the new
WMATA "BOS" study to push through the development of a separated Silver
Line in DC (and Northern Virginia)," 2019).
2. Extending the Orange Line west, adding four stations: Fairfax City/GMU; Fair Oaks; Fair Lakes; and Centreville.
3. Extending the Yellow Line south on Rte. 1 to Fort Belvoir, adding four stations: Beacon Hill; Hybla Valley; Mount Vernon; and Fort Belvoir. (This should have been done as part of BRAC planning, something I first suggested in 2005.)
4. The map also acknowledges the planned infill Potomac Yard station on the Blue and Yellow Lines, and proposes an infill station, called East Potomac Park, serving the west side of the National Mall near Jefferson Memorial, within DC.
5. A new Pink Line rapid transit line (subway) is proposed serving Northern Virginia in the Columbia Pike corridor, with service to DC, adding eight stations in Northern Virginia.
6. Integration of various Bus Rapid Transit improvements into a unified network (shown on the map as green lines).
7. Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the integration of the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line into one combined railroad passenger service line ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").
8. Introduce bi-directional railroad service between DC and
Fredericksburg in association with the combination of the MARC Penn and
VRE Fredericksburg Lines into one integrated service.
9. Integrate the Crystal City railroad station into the ground transportation system of National Airport ("A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service").
10. Integrate VRE/MARC fares into the SmarTrip/ CharmCard fare media system.
11. Extend the Purple Line light rail from Bethesda to Tysons, using dedicated right of way, including on the American Legion Bridge.
12. Consider a redesign and rebranding of the the metropolitan area's bus systems into an integrated family of transit agencies linked by a common graphic design treatment, comparable to that of GoTransit in the Raleigh-Durham area.
13. Implementation of a full-fledged integrated Night Owl bus network for
the DC metropolitan area.
14. Provide integrated train arrival information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations.
15. Provide integrated bus arrival and departure information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations and bus-only transit stations.
16. Incorporate quantum improvements in bicycle facilities across the mobility network in association with the launch of the Silver Line and Purple Line ("Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale")
17. Rearticulate transportation demand management programming and services including a unified network of "customer information centers"
18. WMATA should upgrade its Metrorail station bus shelters (I know this happened at Springfield).
19. Create sustainable mobility districts and corridors as appropriate, complementing the transit network improvements, especially in the Tysons area, which is planned, but far behind in implementation. (See the writings on Silver Spring in the Purple Line series.)
20. Railroad improvements are dependent on reconstruction and expansion of the Long Bridge (which is happening, "An early look at plans for new rail, pedestrian bridges over the Potomac," Washington Post).
21. I would add a heritage streetcar service for the National Mall including service to Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall" and "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").
22. Georgetown BID's gondola proposal connecting Georgetown DC with Rosslyn in Arlington County, Virginia (Although I'd rather focus on a separated silver line)
23. Adoption of the City of
Alexandria wayfinding signage system as a regional best practice, and
porting the system to other jurisdictions.
24. Incorporate the proposed VRE system improvements plan into this program.
25. Incorporate transit services associated with the I-66 project, Transform 66, into this program.
-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Outside the Beltway: FAQs
-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Inside the Beltway
26. Improve funding for local transit in Prince William County ("With sustained reduction in gasoline prices, will suburban transit systems lose ridership and revenue?")
27. Integrate the long distance commuter bus network into a unified system.