Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Daily DC Item: I-66 Gets Wider

"Traffic" courtesy Flickr user mvjantzen

"Traffic" courtesy Flickr user mvjantzen

When I was growing up in Massachusetts I always hated Route 3. It was a two lane  North/South highway that connected New Hampshire and the suburban region where I lived with Boston. It was often packed during rush hour but was much emptier on the weekends.

Moving to Arlington I had the same feelings about I-66- except it’s always in a state of congested. This past weekend I was driving out to Tyson’s Corner and had to sit through the jam packed stretch from Arlington to Sycamore St. Looking at how many cars were out there I know I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t happy with the commute.
So you can imagine how happy I was to see that there has been some steps taken towards a widening of I-66 westbound. Yesterday I read a Washington Post article on the Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s decision to reverse their original stance and allow phase one of a three phase widening of I-66 to go forward.
Now don’t get too excited, it looks like a completed project is years away but I was happy to hear that somebody is actually trying to do that.

I am a big fan of widening efforts- when that Route 3 road back home added a lane it made a huge difference to traffic. While I don’t think it’s the absolute answer I hope it does make some sort of impact to weekend and non-peak traffic.
What do you think? I’m interested in hearing some of the arguments against.

Time, space, and urbanity

There has been a fair bit of press this week discussing a report from the Urban Land Institute called Beltway Burden: The Combined Cost of Housing and Transportation in the Greater Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.  This is an interesting and well-researched look at balancing our cost of living and quality of life.  As you might guess, if you have a long commute, you pay less for housing and more for transportation.  If you have a short commute, it’s the other way around.

Any analysis like this, however, is all about where you “draw the box” and this report leaves a lot of things out of the equation.  Yes, it costs substantially more on average in both dollars and pollution to live in Loudoun County than the District, but these are substantially different lifestyles.  I was disappointed that the many things that are traded off in the housing decision are mentioned only anecdotally. So many factors are impossible to quantify– the health benefits of walking more and driving less, the everyday delights of cultural diversity, or the proximity of friends and family. It would be great to have a tool that could put a value on things like convenience to amenities, square footage, social life, schools, green space, beauty, noise, and many other parts of the work/life balance, and could help us understand all factors in order to find a better societal and personal balance. 

The authors seem to believe that people buy houses on price alone, and if only they would count the time, cost, and hassle of commuting, they would buy a house closer to the city center.  As we all know, it’s not that simple.  While it is true that traffic is bad across the metropolitan area (and it’s only going to get worse), middle class folks who want a big house and a suburban lifestyle and are going to put up with it.   The ULI thankfully stops short of telling people they shouldn’t want whatever American dream that’s in their heads. 

To the good, the ULI very sensibly recommends improving mass transit, building affordable in-fill housing, and increasing telecommuting.  It’s my opinion, though, that these stop well short of addressing the issues.  They don’t mention the need for better soundproofing technologies for dense housing, for public parking throughout the city, for innovative designs in small houses, for better designs in shared green space, and a hundred other things that could tip the balance for a lot of people. 

I choose to live in the densest neighborhood in DC for a lot of reasons; energy efficiency is only one of them.  And I’m always curious why people choose to live where they do– I’d love to hear your reasons for choosing your home, your neighborhood, and your city.

Inauguration 2009: Escape From Virginia

Remember that movie The Siege? The one with Danzel Washington and that guy from Monk?

Well a scene I’ll always remember from that film is the part where crazy Bruce Willis seals off NYC and puts troops on the bridge. Well right now I feel like one of the New Jersey people looking in. Hey at least I’m not one of the crazy people caught up in the mess just past that bridge.

Well as I write this a week from Inauguration I realized I’ve been writing about the big event however I have still not yet thought through my own plans for the weekend, which is only a few days away!

Ok well allow me to think out loud as I fill you in on the latest news.

So let’s approach Inauguration from a weekend standpoint. It’s going to be a crazy long weekend from Friday – Tuesday. Unfortunately I have a hot date with a play I’m helping to stage manage on Friday and Saturday morning, so my weekend starts that night. (more…)

Inauguration 2009: Inauguration Estimates Cut In Half

"Clinton_inauguration_1993_crowds" courtesy of Flickr user dpape

Did estimates of up to 5 million people scare you from coming out to see the Obama Inauguration?

Well how about 2-3 million? Does that number sound more appealing to you?

Inauguration officials are now revising earlier estimates of Inaugural attendees by half. According to the Washington Post, “turnout could easily reach 2 million, officials said, far outstripping the 400,000 who attended the 2005 inauguration of President Bush.

It doesn’t surprise me that only 400,000 people came out to see Bush swearing in again. I wonder how many of them were protesters.

The WP article notes that 5 million people may come into the DC Metro area, but it seems unlikely that the entire 5 million will actually make it to The Mall and parade route. So does that mean that a fallback plan of watching the festivities at a local pub may not be smart? Trying to fight through the other 2 million that came into town but didn’t want to go the extra mile to be there in person may make leaving my house a nightmare no matter what I do.

I also wonder if this story will entice even more people to try and see the events in-person. Next thing you know we really do have 5 million people in DC because they thought, “5 million people? No way! But 2 million people… maybe I will try and make it in…”

Now for some more Inaugural news.

Obama’s playing the part of Lincoln very well

"Lincoln Bible" courtesy of the Presidential Inaugural Committee

So the Obama’s got the Lincoln train ride thing down. He’s also kicking off Inaugurapalooza with a concert at the Lincoln memorial. And of course we all know Obama’s from the “land of Lincoln.”

He wants to make sure we get the whole Lincoln metaphor down with his decision to use the Lincoln bible to take his Inaugural oath. The bible hasn’t been used in over 150 yearsm since- you guessed it- Abe Lincoln used it. With the announcement the Lincoln bible came out for a little photo op and CBS has some video of it on display.

More Inaugural Weekend Details

It looks like the Inaugural committee has released some more details on the events that weekend, here’s the latest details from the Presidential Inaugural Committee:

Sunday, January 18th
No new details on the welcome event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial except that it will be in the afternoon

Monday, January 19th – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The President-elect, Vice President-elect, and their families are going to honor Dr. King through various community service activities. The earlier reported youth concert at the Verizon Center will be held that evening.

Tuesday, January 20th – Inauguration Day

"the president's own" courtesy of Flickr user happy via

The festivities will start at 10 A.M. but officials say that if you have tickets that you should try and get into the areas around 9. Remember that there’s no overnight camping on The Mall and that you can’t stake a parade spot til 7 AM.

Musical groups to perform include The United States Marine Band, Aretha Franklin, The United States Navy Band “Sea Chanters”, The San Francisco Boys Chorus, and The San Francisco Girls Chorus. John Williams will conduct an ensemble including Itzhak PerlmanYo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill.

Here’s a the current rundown of the ceremony:

  • Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks: Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Invocation: Dr. Rick Warren
  • Musical Selection: Aretha Franklin
  • Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will be sworn into office by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the Honorable John Paul Stevens
  • Musical Selection: John Williams, composer/arranger with Itzhak Perlman, (violin), Yo-Yo Ma  (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet)
  • President-elect Barack H. Obama will take the Oath of Office, using President Lincoln’s Inaugural Bible, administered by the Chief Justice of the United States, the Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • Inaugural Address
  • Poem: Elizabeth Alexander
  • Benediction: The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery
  • The National Anthem: The United States Navy Band “Sea Chanters”

President Obama will escort President Bush to a departure ceremony then attend a luncheon in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

The Inaugural Parade will march down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. Here’s a preliminary list of parade participants that have been invited.

Wednesday, January 21st
No new news on the prayer service that will take place that day.

How cushy is an Honorary Co-Chair role?

The committee has also announced their Honorary Co-Chairs which include former President Carter, Clinton, and Bush (the first one.)  Mayor Adrian Fenty and Colin Powell are also on the list. While I don’t know what exactly an Honorary Co-Chair does at the Inauguration- I bet he/she will have really good seats.

Talking about seats I was showing a friend around DC last night and we visited the White House where we saw the VIP Grandstand still under construction.

The work looks top notch and there’s a round frame at the top- probably for the Presidential Seal. I also noticed glass partitions installed in the front and center rows. I bet those are probably bullet-proof. There’s also another grandstand structure opposite of this one. That’s probably as close as  I’m going to get to the parade- or anything Inaugural for that matter.

More Inauguration Links

The Inauguration Committee on Twitter: http://twitter.com/obamainaugural

Volunteer for the Inauguration: http://www.pic2009.org/page/s/volunteer2

Inauguration 2009: The Inaugural Rush-Hour On Metro

"dc united fans" courtesy of Flickr user jamescalder

Mass transit- it’s transportation for the masses.

The very definition of the word is going to be realized during Inaugural Day weekend when the millions of people that is expected to come out will try out the city’s Metrorail system to get to and from places. It goes without saying that you might experience some delays. I’m not talking about delays that happen when there’s a Nationals game and a Wizards game occurring at the same time- I mean delays that may just may make you dodge the Metro system altogether.

While preparations are being made which includes rush hour service for 17 hours (4 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Inauguration Day) lines are expected to be long. General advice includes spending more time around the city so everyone isn’t rushing the system at once; and if you live within 2 miles- just walk. Doesn’t it sound scary when mass transit advises you not to use mass transit?

Well for those that are planning to take the Metro should prepare for fees- WMATA has announced that they will be charging rush-hour rates while providing extended rush hour service. For those that want to park can expect a $4 fee. Typically fares are reduced and parking is free on Federal holidays- however this is clearly not a typical Federal holiday. WMATA is raising the fees in order to cope with increased costs that will be expected with Inauguration.

In other news my excitement over DC’s decision to extend bar serving hours to 5 AM has waned with the D.C. Council’s decision to roll it back to 4 AM. The amended bill now only extends the alcohol serving hours to match similar hours done during New Years. Also the law does not supersede agreements bars may have with local neighborhoods– so that means not every bar will be able to stay open late if they have a deal to close sooner with the neighbors.

I’m not too too disappointed- I mean who is really going to be out drinking til 5 AM? I think those that are should be able to cope with the extra hour of sleep this bill now gives them. I can see myself going out til 3 AM- then getting out of there before things get too dodgy.

Earlier I wrote about the Newseum being open for Inauguration and noting it’s advantageous location. Well it appears that now word has spread and the Newseum is now sold out of tickets for Inauguration Day. Looks like you going to have to find another museum to haunt before your 12 hours of drinking.

"DC: Lincoln Memorial" courtesy of Flickr user wallyg

Another item I wrote about earlier was the Inaugural Kick-Off which is now revealed to be a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There will also be a Children’s concert at the Verizon Center. Both events will be free- check out the Committee website for more information.

With all these events shaping up- where will you go to the bathroom? Well it looks like that there will be over 5,000 Porta-Potties on the mall ready to relieve the masses. While most people would be worried about bathrooms on The Mall- I want to let everyone know that WMATA has also decided to close all their bathrooms during the Inauguration and will also be setting up Porta-Potties where it can outside stations.

I don’t know what will be more chanllenging- finding a way to get there or finding a place to pee?

Inauguration 2009: Should You Take The Obama Way Into Town?

"Acela train sign" courtesy of Flickr user Savannah Grandfather

"Acela train sign" courtesy of Flickr user Savannah Grandfather

We all know that Joe Biden takes the train from Wilmington to Washington DC every day– if you don’t then you’ve been living under a rock.

If you have been you’ve also missed a whole lot more than that.

If you haven’t read my friend’s post from yesterday it looks like President-Elect Obama is taking a page out of his running mate’s playbook. The Inauguration committee has just announced that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will kicking off the inauguration with a series of events being held in Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. The two will travel by train and will end their pre-inaugural rock tour in Washington D.C. After all, there’s nothing like a little train ride to hype up the already hyped Inauguration. I do however like the idea of spreading Inauguration out beyond the borders of Washington D.C. I wonder if this means the millions of people that will descend upon D.C. this year will try and hit up Baltimore on their way down. They could use the support.

Whether or not you decide to follow Obama on tour before the Inauguration, the only place you can’t be before Inauguration is The Mall. Several Federal officials have announced that overnight camping will not be allowed on The Mall. Also if you are going to try and stake out a spot for the Parade you will not be allowed to do so until 7 AM that morning.

While we are talking about things we can’t do- I just found this Washington Post article that discusses transportation options around Inauguration. It’s a good guide to refer to for anyone thinking about coming out for the swearing in. I’m very disappointed to hear that bicycles will not be allowed within the security cordon that has yet to be determined. That was going to be my strategy for avoiding the Metro. It seems as if walking is the best way to get anywhere- even in and out of the city. I can see it now, a scene straight out of Cloverfield, thousands of people trying to find an open bridge to walk across to escape DC.

One Day I’ll Fly Away

Taken, on Iphone, between Crystal City and the Airport.  Yellow Line to Huntington, Doors Closing.

I hope you’ll forgive the Moulin Rouge inspired title, but it fits.

How do I know tomorrow is a holiday?  I mean other than getting the day off and, you know, being passingly familiar with a calendar?  Well-

Most workday mornings involve me getting on Metro at the Crystal City stop and “reverse commuting” to Old Town.  This ensures not only an empty seat, but usually enough room to lay down and play scrabble against someone else on the floor.  Not that I would. 

This morning?   The height of travel frenzy (at almost 10am by the way!) as those using the Ronald Reagan/Washington National Airport were making their way (bags and all) to stand in line to get on a plane and fly home. 

I actually had to stand on the way to work.  If I wanted to do that, I would work in the District!  :-P

All of this by way of saying-safe travels and happy holidays from me (and probably all of the DC Metblog crew).

Random Bag Searches on Metro

Metro’s new Red and White Signs indicating you are in a “we can look in your bags” zone.

According to The Washington Post, Metro announced it intends to conduct random bag inspections of passengers using the system.  Five to eight Metro Police officers (along with a bomb sniffing dog) are now fully trained and ready to show up and start looking in the bags of Metro Rail and Bus users.  The checks won’t happen at all stations or happen all the time but only “when transit police determine that circumstances- such as an elevated threat level- warrant heightened vigilance.”

I, for one, have some serious concerns about this program.  Truthfully, my thoughts on all security check-points can be mostly summed up by George Carlin’s discussion of “Airport Security” (Lots of foul language by the way)-but I’m not a complete idiot.  I realize that we live in a post-9/11 world and that there are people who would like to do some serious damage to our Nation’s Capitol.  But:

  • There are only eight officers ready to go.   Even assuming one officer can handle a station on their own (which is doubtful) that’s 8 rail stations/Bus stops out of…well… a whole lot more than eight (there are a 12,216 bus stops and 86 stations.  You do the math.  I can’t).  How effective could this possibly be?
  • Let’s pretend someone wanted to blow something up and they were going to use Metro to deliver their explosive device.  Let’s even pretend that Metro knows what this person wants to blow up and where they are likely to get on the train.  The real pain about Metro for these inspections?  It’s all connected.  If the target is the Pentagon and the bomber lives near me between the Airport and Pentagon City Mall-It’s just as easy to walk to Crystal City as it is the Pentagon City Metro.  It wouldn’t be much more difficult to take a bus down to Braddock Rd. and get on the train down there.  So if you’ve got eight people at the gates of even three Metro stops-they can’t get to what is already on the Metro from a point further out.
  • Inspections only concern those people who actually ride the Metro.  You can (and should be able to) refuse the bag search so long as you don’t mind not getting on the train/bus.  Well at least at that station anyway…or at least until Metro Police leave.  They won’t detain anyone who refuses a bag check either-which might come in handy if you happen to be carrying anything else that you wouldn’t want Metro to find-not necessarily just a bomb.  (You know in case you’re like me and smuggle breakfast on to the train each morning…)
  • I’m not a big believer in the 5-10 second bag search by the way.  Even at baseball games (where at least they search everyone and not just every Nth person a la the Metro system) they do this kind of half assed “make sure nothing is obvious” search.  Maybe I don’t understand the mind or a terrorist/violent person but if I’m planning on perpetrating some violence on Metro I think I would take the time to hide my bomb a bit better than to stick it at the bottom of my briefcase.
  • Inconvenience.  I’m willing to forgive a lot of things, including some hassle at the train station, if it will make DC safer for everyone.  I just don’t really think this will-so the idea of me getting stuck behind the tourist family taking 20 bags to Reagan to fly home for no good reason really…ugh.

This of course is just one view.  Maybe I’m missing something?  Agree?  Disagree?  What do you think about Metro’s new Bag Searching Policy?

Metrobus Gets A Facelift

I’m not a bus person.

Neither was Ludacris in the film “Crash”. Growing up in suburban New England, the bus was never a big part of my life and I’m more of a Metro person now that I live in the city. I do occasionally enjoy the DC Circulator when my friends drag me on it (thanks Cynthia.)

However lots of people do ride the Metrobus and this past week people riding on the U8 line might have noticed an upgraded ride taking them to their daily grind. According to the Washington Post, the new sleek buses will be outfitted with amenities like vandal-resistant seats (cause I hate it when I have to sit on a gang symbol) and handhold straps (in case the vandal-resistant seats do get vandalized.) Right now WMATA is phasing them in slowly and hopefully we can see them in action on the 5A route that runs between L’enfant and Dulles.

I think the busses look really great and maybe it’ll make riding the bus cool enough that maybe I’ll even do it. Has anyone out there seen the new busses yet?

BWI Smart Garages

So I have been traveling an awful lot lately and I recently had to take a flight out of BWI instead of my usual airport of choice, Reagan National. Pulling into the garage at BWI I noticed that the facility was wired to show how many spaces were free and where. I was impressed with the lighted sign at the entrance telling you how many free spaces were on each floor- I was shocked to see they even had row indicators to point you directly to free spots. I noticed there were overhead sensors underneath every space that communicates with the garage within seconds of a car parking. When I parked my car I saw the sensor change from green to red- and I saw the number of free spaces shrink by one.

As someone that loves to drive around DC but is not a fan of finding spaces in parking garages; I couldn’t enjoy parking at BWI anymore than I did at that moment. I am absolutely in love with the SmartPark system- and I know I’m not the only one.

I know that the garages in Montgomery County have a similar system but wouldn’t it be great if more garages in the district had this technology?

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