Tag Archives: Dr. Gridlock

Hogan Approves Purple Line

In a surprise move, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he is ready to move full-speed ahead on the light-rail Purple Line that will travel from Bethesda to New Carrollton in suburban Washington. The Baltimore Sun reported:

“Working closely with Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, we have discovered the means to reduce costs substantially,” said Gov. Hogan at an early morning press conference. “If we eliminate frills, I am now confident that it can be built in a cost-effective manner that will bring business to Maryland.”

Hogan explained that a major barrier has always been the price of the light-rail cars, which are expensive and have to be imported from Ostrava in the Czech Republic:

We have cut unnecessary extras. Seats provide no benefit to the taxpayer, so they have been eliminated from the redesigned trains. Indeed, we have now also done away with walls and the ceiling to go with a sleek, modern flatbed design.

Purple Line Project Manager Mike Madden applauded the move:

I appreciate the governor’s support and leadership on the project. Eliminating not just doors but walls will make it easier to board and to exit the train, thus reducing time spent at stations and increasing speed, resulting in an estimated increase in ridership of 31.7%.

When asked for the documentation on the increased ridership, Madden described the information as “proprietary” but also reassured the public on their accuracy: “They were calculated by the same high-quality experts who designed the Silver Spring Transit Center that will open later this year.”

Hogan’s decision to simplify cars was hailed by former Action Committee for Transit President Ben Ross:

This new design is in touch with the simplified lifestyle preferred by Millennials. Let’s face it: seats are emblematic of the bourgeois Lexus lifestyle. I’m glad that Maryland and Montgomery County have said “yes” to our smart growth future by embracing open plan light-rail.

Similarly, Montgomery Council President George Leventhal congratulated Hogan on WAMU for “finally following his lead” and said “The open plan is an excellent forward-thinking idea. I think of it as a moving Capital Crescent Trail. It will be a first-class system.”

Not all of Leventhal’s colleagues were so sanguine. Council Vice Chair Nancy Floreen said to the Washington Post:

Heck, I never thought the Governor would invest so much money in areas that will never vote for him. Now, I’ll have to come up with all the money that Montgomery County promised when I’m Council President next year. I don’t see why I shouldn’t just run for Congress instead.

But Robert Thomson, better known as Dr. Gridlock, reassured the public in an online Post discussion: “I have every confidence that the Purple Line will light a fire under small business in Langley Park just as the DC Streetcar has sparked long quiet H Street.”

Former Carroll County Commissioner Republican Robin Frazier denounced the move. Appearing at a “Help Save Maryland” rally, she said that it would only help “homosexuals and illegal aliens get around so that they can use bathrooms in more places.”

 

 

Bethesda is on the Red Line But Still Another Example of Metro Blues

They’re shutting down the Bethesda Metro Station on Saturday and Sunday as part of the escalator reconstruction. But you probably wouldn’t want to ride anyway because trains will leave Shady Grove only every 20 minutes due to another project downtown. This is now par for the course for Metro weekend “service.”

Dr. Gridlock also reports that the escalator work, which has been going on for some time, will continue for another two years. This seems incredibly slow:

Replacing the three escalators at the Bethesda entrance is a major undertaking for the transit authority. The Bethesda escalators are the second-longest in the Western Hemisphere, second only to those at the Wheaton station, on the other side of the Red Line.

They must be removed and replaced one by one. That’s part of the reason this job, which began in the fall, is more complicated than the original installation of the escalator bank more than three decades ago. . .

The project could take about two more years to finish.

Dr. Gridlock communicates the idea that this is all normal because it’s a tough project. Except that other transit systems–visit the London Underground sometime–seem to manage to keep their very long escalators in better service. Yes, they have problems too but not at our scale. Even when Metro escalators are supposedly fixed, they’re often not, as the experience of users of the reopened Dupont South entrance discovered.

Part of the problem here seems increasingly to be the normalization of a level of service quality that should be accepted and always blamed on lack of funds even as we’re wondering what they did with the money already allocated.

Riders are voting with their feet and abandoning the system despite significant population increases–a real indication that all is not well despite those who minimize its problems, which have not been ongoing for years. People don’t want to ride unreliable transit systems.

At this point Metro needs an intervention to get it back on track and start tackling real problems in a way that earns trust, increases reliability. But I increasingly have little confidence that additional money would help much unless the problems are more directly addressed. Meaningful reform needs to be in place in order to merit more money–and ought to be a top transit priority.

Traffic Keeps Growing, So Why Has Greater Greater Washington’s Agenda Stalled?

Metro Declines

Declines in Metro Ridership (Source: Unsuck DC Metro)

While Part I (“They’ve Come Undone: The Demise of the Greater Greater Washington Agenda“) overviewed the recent collapse of many plans to build new streetcar and light-rail lines across the region, today I look at why this happened.

Metro

The Metro system used to be Washington’s pride and joy. It is clean, well-designed and feels not just less dangerous but a cut above most other systems. The National Airport stop is easy and a dream location. It rightly became a key part of the identity of what it means to be a Washingtonian for many.

But Metro’s once sterling reputation now lies in tatters. While it’s still clean and well-designed, it is no longer reliable–the critical element for any transit system. The litany of complaints is well known. The escalators are perpetually broken–I can’t recall the last time they were all simultaneously working in Bethesda.

Single tracking on weekends is now the norm, so many are reluctant to ride it during these periods. Dr. Gridlock seems to oddly celebrate when only a few lines are doing it. Even during normal service, trains increasingly don’t keep to their schedules. The tragic 2009 train collision and recent death from smoke inhalation of a woman trapped on a train stopped in a tunnel have heightened safety concerns.

The key problem, however, for streetcar and light-rail proposals is that the situation is not getting better. All of the concerns outlined here have persisted for years. Twitter feeds and blogs like Unsuck DC Metro that would have once been unimaginable now have very large followings that naturally take a more jaundiced view of new transit projects proposed by Greater Greater Washington.

People are voting with their feet. In Silver Spring, average weekday boardings in 2014 were down to 13% from 2008. They’re also down 14% in New Carrollton, though decreased less at 8% at Shady Grove and even in Bethesda. Metro ridership is down so much despite strong population increases that it will be below its high point even with the addition of new Silver Line stops.

People wonder not just why we are building new transit lines when the old one needs fixing but why we should trust our local governments to run and to manage them. These new proposals would be in much better shape if Metro worked.

Cost

Streetcars and light rail are very expensive and governments have many transportation needs. Arlington’s cancelled street car would have cost $550 million. In Maryland, the proposed light-rail Purple Line is $2.4 billion and the Red Line clocks in at $2.9 billion.

Moreover, the costs keep rising in manner that makes many (rightly) suspicious and leery. As Metro has taught us, these projects have to be both operated and maintained.

While some may want to kill off all public transit projects, others seem reluctant to apply reasonable cost-benefit analysis to these projects in their eagerness for the project. Critics have homed in on these problems. In DC, the (permanently?) delayed streetcar was projected to carry 1500 people per day–even as it slows down the buses on a similar route that already carry 12,000.

More in Part III.