Tag Archives: Silver Line

They’ve Come Undone: The Demise of the Greater Greater Washington Agenda


Greater Greater Washington’s Fading Dream

Greater Greater Washington (GGW) is one of the Washington metropolitan area’s best and most influential blogs. Geared towards promoting smart growth, it provides a wealth of information. Even people who disagree with their perspective will still find lots of interesting nuggets of information.

But where it leads, Washington isn’t following.

Central to the GGW agenda is the construction of a number of high profile new public transportation projects. Since the high point of the opening of Metro’s Silver Line, however, things appear to have gone off the rails. The area has begun to reject key components of GGW’s vision. Consider:

(1) Arlington has cancelled its two proposed $550 million streetcar projects after an election in which they were front and center. This liberal bastion voted twice for independent John Vilstadt–the first non-Democratic member of the county’s board in 15 years–as a means of saying no to the projects. After the election, the board voted 4-1 to scrap the projects.

(2) Former Washington Mayor Vincent Gray envisioned a 37-mile streetcar network. In May, however, the City Council voted to shift one-half of the monies budgeted for the streetcar to tax cuts. In October, the Council then “radically scaled back” the planned 20-mile streetcar network to just eight miles.

Many wonder whether even the repeatedly delayed inaugural 2.2 mile streetcar line, described as an unworkabletrainwreck,” will ever open. One of the very first decisions of Mayor Muriel Bowser was to delay its opening and review its operational plans. Read: the Mayor wanted to avoid a fiasco in her first month as mayor.

(3) In Maryland, the light rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs and the Red Line in Baltimore are all but dead. In November, the State rejected light-rail proponent Anthony Brown and voted in Gov. Larry Hogan, who would prefer to build roads and is highly suspicious of the costly $2.4 billion Purple Line and $2.9 billion Red Line.

Supporters hold out hope the Governor will build them and Maryland’s new Transportation Secretary says he has an open mind. But it makes zero political sense–Brown’s former supporters will never vote for Hogan and he’ll tick off his own base while reducing his ability to spend money on his own priorities.

In any case, most Prince George’s legislators are far more focused on a hospital and ready to see the Purple Line go. Upcounty Montgomery legislators and the County Executive are increasingly focused on protecting the cheaper and less controversial Corridor Cities Transitway.

Expect the bodies to be carted away once the General Assembly leaves Annapolis and the Governor can avoid a confrontation with legislators as they grapple with the budget.

(4) A core belief of GGW smart growthers is that parking lots are bad, as we should walk, bike, or use public transit. Yet the avowedly pro-smart growth Montgomery County Council is building tons of new parking–particularly in transit-oriented high density developments–in tacit acknowledgement of the reality that they expect most people are still going to drive.

In downtown Bethesda, a spanking new lot with over 750 new public spaces (with additional spaces slated for the apartments being constructed above) just opened. The new high density transit accessible North Bethesda Market (aka as where the Whole Foods across from White Flint is) has plenty of parking. GGW’s Ben Ross has decried a new planned 300-space lot in Wheaton.

. . .

Project after project promoted by GGW has gone by the wayside in some among the most liberal jurisdictions in the country, so it’s difficult to blame the shift on the Tea Party. Moreover, most of these projects have had frequent and unremitting support from the establishment Washington Post.

In Part II of this series, I’ll examine why the GGW “smart growth” agenda has run aground.


Why BWI Beats IAD


Source: Airport Council International

BWI Airport, Maryland’s perennial also ran, is now leaving the juggernaut of Virginia’s Dulles Airport (IAD) in the dust. In 2007, BWI had roughly 3 million fewer passengers than IAD. Reduced traffic at IAD juxtaposed  with increases at BWI resulted in BWI surpassing IAD by 700,000 passengers in 2013.

BWI has blossomed even though IAD has far more land and gates, as the Washington Post revealed:


Why is BWI killing IAD?

1. Architecture. Dulles has Eero Saarinen’s soaring design. But the need to preserve it and the impressive view prevents changes to make the airport more functional. The entry area is a disaster. The island check-in desks force many passengers to play hunt the airline and then to go around to the back.

The space between the counters and the front windows is not wide enough for all of the people to move. In contrast, the unmemorable buildings at BWI are more easily altered for functionality, including the creation of far wider (and modern) spaces in front of the check-in counters that make it easier to pass and a far less miserable experience.

2. Intra-Airport Transportation. I recall when mobile lounges were the height of cool. The AeroTrain designed to replace them cost $1.4 billion (!) but leaves passengers incredibly far from the concourses and doesn’t go to the D Concourse (mobile lounge or walk from C). While Concourses C and D expected to be torn down at some point, it stinks for the forseeable future. You can walk to all the gates at BWI.

Passengers arriving on international flights still have to take mobile lounges to immigration. No one wants to move to the back because that puts them at the end of the customs line, so everyone ends up walking over other people as it gets packed like a sausage for a voyage that takes place at a majestic pace.

3. United versus Southwest. It has taken me a very long time–I must have ridden a mobile lounge–to get converted to the virtues of budget instead of legacy carriers. United and American have convinced me otherwise. They’ve managed to combine passive aggressive service, inefficiency, and pseudo perks with all of the budget airline charges. United has a planned cluster every afternoon at IAD when the international flights are set to depart with not enough agents to handle the traffic.

Southwest loads its planes faster, partly because they don’t charge for the first bag, and most of their employees don’t seem to hate their employer or their customers. They also don’t charge honking fees to change a ticket. (I’m still waiting for the day for when an airline sends me $150 when they change my flight times.) While United accounts for around two-thirds of the traffic at IAD, Southwest has over 70% of the traffic at BWI.

4. Getting There. Like many in southwest Montgomery, I’ve been hesitant to go to BWI because of greater potential for traffic problems. Going to IAD, you know you’re golden once you hit the Dulles Access Road even if you have to spend quality time on the Beltway. However, the Intercounty Connector has created another option to BWI, where parking is substantially cheaper.

The big planned improvement for IAD is the Silver Line. But it won’t attract many from Montgomery because passengers will have to ride downtown first before heading out to Dulles. Like the AeroTrain, it will end up far away from the terminal, again due to difficulties related to the building.