Skip to content

Posts from the "Subways" Category

3 Comments

Decades in the Works, D.C.’s Silver Line Opens to Commuters

silver_line_turnstiles

By 10 a.m., more than 9,500 passengers had made trips that started or ended at the five new Silver Line stations today. Photo: @drgridlock/Twitter

Half a century ago, when Dulles International Airport was constructed in the farmlands of Virginia, planners were forming a blueprint for the Washington region’s new Metro system. Back then, they ruled out the idea of stretching the rail line 30 miles beyond the capital through rural counties to connect with the airport. Such a line would serve no purpose for commuters, they said, and would do nothing to help congestion.

But there wasn’t a total absence of foresight regarding the region’s potential explosion. Along with the airport came the Dulles Access Road — and through the center of it, a median reserved for future transit.

The new Silver Line, which officially opened to riders on Saturday after months of delays, runs along that exact path. Ultimately, the 23-mile extension — the largest infrastructure project in the nation – will connect not only to the airport but beyond it to Ashburn, Virginia. The $2.9 billion first phase laid 11.7 miles of new track along five new stations in Tysons Corner and Reston, expanding the Metro system’s mileage by 10 percent.

Today is the first weekday for commuters to try out the new line, which runs east from Reston through the city to Largo Town Center in Maryland. WMATA predicts ridership will be low at first, then eventually reach as many as 25,000 boardings a day. As of 10 a.m. today, more than 9,500 people had passed through the five new stations, the agency said.

It took over five decades for the Silver Line to get here. The last 20 years were particularly contentious, as the project overcame political strife, cost overruns, financing complexities, and construction delays.

Read more…

5 Comments

The Last Mile: How Bike-Ped Improvements Can Connect People to Transit

Whether it’s just a short walk down the street or a five-mile bike ride, the journey between home and station is a major factor in people’s decision to take public transit.

Bike-share can bridge the last mile for public transit. Photo: Flickr/Arlington Country

For the transit officials and livability advocates gathered at the Rail~Volution conference this week, that key piece of the journey is known as the Last Mile. Frequent service and affordable fares, on their own, won’t entice people to make that trip. The route to the station also has to appeal to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Every transit trip is a multi-modal journey, pointed out Alan Lehto, director of project planning for TriMet in Portland, at the start of a panel yesterday. “Everybody who rides transit is a pedestrian or cyclist on at least one end of their trip,” Lehto said. “Getting people to and from the station is fundamentally important.”

But that aspect of transit is often overlooked. In fact, look no further than Portland itself, Lehto said. In a recent study, TriMet evaluated all 7,000 bus and transit stations within the region and found major gaps in bike-ped accessibility. “We realized that 1,500 of those don’t even have a sidewalk,” Lehto said.

Ensuring that transit stations are served by adequate pedestrian infrastructure is the bare minimum required to connect people to transit. Making the Last Mile truly appealing takes more than laying down sidewalks and adding a few bike racks.

Read more…

16 Comments

$36,000,000,000 for Corn. $0 for Transit.

2468200488_fb2da5e5c7.jpgThe House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would provide emergency funding to local transit systems facing simultaneous increases in ridership and fuel costs. The legislation is now stalled in the Senate and the Bush Administration has expressed concern that "transit operators risk becoming permanently reliant upon this type of assistance." Meanwhile, when it comes to subsidizing Midwestern farmers, ethanol producers, and the operating costs of America's fleet of private motor vehicles... well, here's how Michael Daly of the Daily News summed it up in his column yesterday:

New York City has long sent the feds billions more in taxes each year than we get back in services. To give you an idea of one place the money goes, here is what the feds gave corn farmers to tend their fields in a two-year period: $36 billion.

Here is what we got to run the subway: 0

The feds have been reasonable when it comes to helping out with big projects like the new subway and train tunnels that never get done. But, we get not a penny toward the day-to-day cost of transporting 4 million straphangers.

I interviewed Larry Hanley a couple of weeks ago. He's the former Staten Island bus driver (famous for getting up in Rudy Giuliani's grill, among other things) who now serves as a Vice President of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Negotiating contracts across the Northeast, Hanley is seeing smaller transit systems in places like Lancaster, PA and Albany, NY struggling with increasing operating costs at a time when they are also experiencing record increases in ridership.

With New Yorkers facing a pair of fare hikes and a deteriorating transit system, Hanley is arguing that federal funding in mass transit is an investment in local economies, green jobs, the environment and national defense. "We've got a Saudi Arabia's worth of energy savings beneath the streets of New York City," Hanley said. "It's called the subway."

Photo: Crowded bus in Champaign-Urbana by Benchilada on Flickr.

29 Comments

To Lubricate Street Life, Lower the Unlimited Fare

Yesterday around 10 a.m. I got on the number 3 subway line at Bergen Street in Brooklyn, where I easily found a seat. As usual, I noticed that there was space on the baby-blue benches all the way up to 96th Street, where I switched trains to go to Columbia University at 116th Street. Only the last few stops on the 1 train were crowded.

440240296_c9f1e3d6f1.jpg

This almost daily journey of mine up to Columbia, where I've been going a lot lately to research a book, was anecdotal confirmation of what any serious study would probably show you: the city's transit system, while packed at rush hour, has considerable capacity in the off-peak hours.

While I enjoyed my ease in finding a seat, for the city and for its citizens it would be better if the subway lines were more crowded during non-rush hours. The city's transit lines are one of its more expensive and valuable pieces of infrastructure. Having more riders means that the taxpayers, who, lest we forget, ultimately own the subway, are getting more value out of this publicly owned piece of infrastructure.

There's an easy way to do this and that's to substantially lower the cost of an Unlimited Ride MetroCard so that most residents buy them. This is a far more effective way of encouraging off-peak ridership than lower-cost single fares at off-peak hours, which has also been discussed.

Economists talk about the elasticity of purchases, meaning how price sensitive a purchase is. Commuting to work is very inelastic because most people have to get to work and they will pay what they have to to get there. Sure, in the long run they may move to a different neighborhood if commuting costs are too high, but they won't change habits much on a daily basis.

Not so with more optional trips. If you are thinking of stopping for a book on the way home, or trying out a new place for lunch, or even sunbathing in a park, then an extra $2 or even $1 will be a significant deterrent. This is a very elastic commodity. If you have an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, then the cost of an additional trip, once you have committed the "sunk cost," is zero. That's a good thing for citizens' quality of life, and a good thing for the economic health of the city.

Read more...
7 Comments

What $13 Billion Looks Like

planycgrab2.JPG 

With the above chart and these comments in mind, here's some food for thought from the PlaNYC Transportation chapter:
  • Only 4.6% of working New Yorkers commute to Manhattan by car.
  • The vast majority of trips made in New York are not to Manhattan; even among commuters, nearly twice as many outer borough residents work outside of Manhattan as inside -- 1.56 million versus 841,000.
  • Cars and trucks contribute 20% of the City's global warming emissions and a large part of the ozone -- a serious pollutant that can cause respiratory illnesses like asthma -- in our air.
  • New York City has the highest bus ridership in the United States, but the slowest buses. As the city grows and vehicles compete for the same road, buses operate at even slower speeds. Between 2002-06 alone, bus speeds across the city slowed by 4%.
  • Over the last 30 years, even significant improvements in our subway system have not substantially changed the way New Yorkers get to Manhattan. Despite enhancements in safety, efficiency, and aesthetics, the percentage of drivers has remained essentially unchanged.
2 Comments

Sustainable Transportation for NYC: How to Make it Happen

Today on Gotham Gazette, Bruce Schaller outlines how transportation policy could fit in to Mayor Bloomberg's sustainability initiative for 2030. The piece merits a full read, but Schaller frames his argument in terms of three big ideas:

[F]ix the skewed economic incentives to drive, implement targeted transit improvements throughout the city, and make more efficient use of the limited street space in congested areas.

Schaller argues that tightly targeted congestion pricing could find political support in New York. But he adds that it has to be part of a bigger solution:

The main problem with congestion pricing is the tendency to think that this one big idea is sufficient. New Yorkers are actually very sophisticated about the multifaceted nature of the traffic problem. They know that traffic congestion has many causes, and that it's a citywide problem, so congestion pricing by itself is not enough....

The key to making congestion pricing work is to bolster the public transportation system, especially in areas where many people use their cars. That means far better express bus service from outlying areas of the city. It means figuring out how to make the commuter railroads a meaningful part of the city's transit system. It means adding options for drivers such as park and ride lots. And it means spreading pricing strategies outside Manhattan, in particular, through tolled express lanes on outer borough highways.

The growth of the city also means adding rail capacity to handle the additional riders. While the Second Avenue subway and #7 extension will add new track mileage to the system, cost makes system expansion an inherently limited approach. Through technology such as computer-based train control systems, however, the effective passenger capacity of existing lines can be enlarged by increasing the number of trains that can be operated through the system. The MTA is slowly implementing these new train control systems. Speeding up that implementation could expand capacity of overcrowded lines in a matter of years instead of decades.

All of this will take money, lots of money, and that's where the second big idea comes in. The mayor will need to make a grand deal with the MTA and Port Authority on how the congestion fees are collected, who gets them, what it pays for and how the use of the money is guaranteed for the promised purposes. That grand deal would be another Bloomberg legacy.

Schaller goes on to make a strong case for experimentation rather than endless examination of the problems.

Read more...