Tag Archives: Transportation

New Metro Silver Line, like other Metrorail lines, won’t run express trains

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Has Metro considered an express option for the Silver Line, or any other line where service duplicates that of another line?

For example, could the Silver Line (when it finally opens) offer local service through theTysons Corner stops to where it merges with the Orange Line, and then go to express mode until, say, Foggy Bottom?

Silver Line riders needing stops in Virginia could switch at the merge, but those bound for the District could — in theory — save substantial amounts of time. As the Silver Line extends farther into western Fairfax and Loudoun counties — and even for those boarding in Reston — this could provide a needed incentive for single-occupant vehicles to park and ride.

— Jeff Wiese, Reston

No express service for the Silver Line or any other line. Neither the original system nor the new 11-mile extension to the Reston area was built with an extra track, which would allow trains to skip stations and bypass local trains.

This is not an unusual design for a U.S. subway system. These things aren’t cheap or easy to build.

Metrorail’s original construction costs and the disruptions of neighborhoods often threatened its completion. With the Silver Line, cost was a constant concern. In 2008, theFederal Transit Administration threatened to withhold funds because of the Silver Line’s cost.

A third track for the Silver Line would be real nice. So would a tunnel through McLean and Tysons Corner. So would an underground station near where the airplanes are at Dulles International Airport. None of those things are happening, because the cost was deemed too high.

Still, it’s easy to see Wiese’s point about the benefits of express trains. Wiese, who lives a long walk from the temporary end of the Silver Line at the Wiehle-Reston East station, expects to find many people coming in from western Fairfax and Loudoun counties as they transfer to rail for the last part of their D.C.-bound commute.

Metro and Fairfax planners also expect to see that. The garage at the Wiehle Avenue station, which can accommodate 2,300 cars and 150 bicycles, is the only one built for the five new stations.

Many bus routes will be adjusted to funnel travelers into the Wiehle Avenue station. Metro will halt its Rush Plus service on the Orange Line and shift those peak-period trains to the Silver Line so that the Silver Line can operate every six minutes during rush hours.

But Metro calculates the normal travel time between Wiehle Avenue and Metro Center at 41 minutes. That’s a fairly long time on a train. Shady Grove to Metro Center is 36 minutes. Vienna to Metro Center is 29 minutes.

The Silver Line travel times reflect the varied missions of this project. Among them: Move commuters, offer a one-seat transit link between the region’s center and the airport and provide focal points for transit-oriented development. They’re all important, but they don’t always mesh smoothly.

An air traveler bound for the District would prefer an express from Dulles to the District. A commuter who boards at Wiehle Avenue and works at the Pentagon or Crystal City wants a stop at Rosslyn for a switch to the Blue Line.

Neither of those riders will be interested in the four stops in Tysons Corner, each stop two minutes apart.

The service plan that Metro developed over the past several years is consistent with the Silver Line’s environmental impact statement, which dates to 2002. That document previews the shifting of Orange Line trains to the Silver Line, with the resulting decline in rush-hour service between Vienna and West Falls Church.

It does not make a case for express trains. Even if that could be done within Metro’s existing structure, it would require a significant cut in service for commuters waiting at stations from Ballston through the District.

As Metro’s planners look ahead to 2025 and beyond, they’re still not thinking of express tracks along existing lines, as travelers find on the New York subway. But they are looking at several other possibilities that would help move people across Northern Virginia and into the District.

A key element in the 2025 plan is a proposal to either add a track at Rosslyn to create a new link between the Blue Line and the Orange and Silver lines or open a second Rosslyn station for the Blue Line. In either case, transit staffers say, it would allow Metro to push more trains through Rosslyn and cut waiting times.

Either one would cost about $1 billion.

Beyond that, the planners are talking about the possibility of creating an inner loop of stations to add capacity in the region’s core by 2040. That would include another Potomac River crossing for trains at Rosslyn.

Add many billions more for that plan, if it someday gets approved by the region’s governments.

This is why our big plans progress like our train rides: one stop at a time.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or
e-mail .

Metro beats driving for the morning commute

Metro subway during a morning commute in Washington. (REUTERS)

In the Feb. 2 Commuter Page feature “Franconia to D.C.: Go!” Robert Thomson and Mark Berman compared taking Metro to driving on a trip from Franconia to the District. Both needed roughly the same amount of time en route, but their “final thoughts” mentioned the value of enjoying the comfort of one’s own car (albeit in slow-moving traffic), rather than waiting on a chilly platform for a Metro train.

In fact, the quality-of-life differences between the two commutes are far more stark than that. Riders who board Metro at the end of the line (i.e., Franconia-Springfield) are likely to get a seat for the whole ride. Unlike drivers, Metro riders waste no mental energy attending to stop-and-go traffic or asking a GPS for an alternate route. The long-distance Metro passenger is free to do a crossword puzzle, read, check e-mail or even take a nap — arriving at one’s destination potentially less stressed and fresher.

As our region continues to grow, providing our residents with less stressful options as they move around the region is good for all of us. More transit riders mean fewer cars on the road.

Mary Hynes, Arlington

The writer, vice chair of the Arlington County Board, is a member of the WMATA board of directors.

Metro weekend track work: Red line station closures, delays on orange and blue

WASHINGTON (AP) – Riders will have to wait longer some Metro trains this weekend and into Presidents Day.

Metro says beginning Friday night and continuing through Monday, trains on the blue line will operate every 20 minutes. Orange line trains will operate every 10 to 20 minutes.

On the red line, buses will replace trains between Woodley Park and Metro Center. Trains between Shady Grove and Woodley Park will operate every 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and every 15 to 20 minutes at other times. Red line trains between Glenmont and Metro Center will operate every 15 minutes.

The green and yellow lines will have normal weekend service.

On Monday, Presidents Day, the system will operate on a Saturday schedule. It will open at 5 a.m. and close at midnight.

Metro general manager responds to riders’ complaints about WMATA service

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles answered two dozen questions from riders duringmy online discussion Monday, but there were scores more we didn’t get to. After the chat, I picked out five that are among the most frequently asked.

Here are those five questions and Sarles’s answers.

Q. Why doesn’t Metro enforce rules about not closing doors while customers are still entering or exiting trains? A couple of weeks ago I was caught in a Metro train door. It closed on both my upper arms as I was just stepping out of the train. It was very painful. There were others still moving in and out of the car. When I complained to the station staff at Pentagon City, their response was the drivers have schedules to keep and I should step back when the bells sound.

A. I am not aware of such a rule. Train operators do their best to provide enough time for boarding and alighting, while not excessively dwelling at any one station to prevent train congestion. We never want to see anyone get injured, which is why we have posters and announcements advising riders that train doors don’t work like elevator doors. When you hear the chimes, the best advice is to step back and wait for the next train.

Q. Why run escalators at closed stations? A few weekends ago, Dupont Circle station was closed because of Red Line track work. Somebody had barricaded the station entrances but decided to keep the escalators running and running all weekend to a closed station. Does Metro now have unlimited resources to keep closed escalators wastefully running, not to mention the unnecessary wear and tear?

A. While Dupont Circle station may have been closed for passengers, inside the station was a beehive of activity, with several dozen workers installing new lighting, upgrading station equipment, cleaning and performing maintenance. The majority of the station escalators were turned off during this time; however, at least two of the long escalators at each entrance were kept in operation to facilitate the movement of workers to and from the station.

Q. Weekend track work. I have been a regular weekend rider of the Red Line but have had a much harder time justifying it ever since the massive off-peak fare increase that brought it in line with the peak fare structure. I wouldn’t mind paying the higher fares for normal weekend service (e.g., Red Line trains every six minutes on Saturdays and every eight minutes on Sundays), but I cannot justify paying so much more for trains that run every 24 to 30 minutes.

I think the best idea would be to have two separate off-peak fare structures, one for normal off-peak service, and one for the greatly reduced service levels when trains are running less than half of normal frequency. This is the only way I can see Metro retaining any customer loyalty through this long but necessary period of intense track work.

A. Working intensively on weekends is the only feasible way for us to catch up on the backlog that developed over many years of inadequate maintenance, and I recognize that longer waits are a burden shared by our riders. Metro is no longer a new system. While the intensity of work and its impact on riders will diminish as we advance Metro Forward [the transit rebuilding program], weekend work — although less intense — is a fact of life from here on out, for as long as there is a Metro system. Off-peak fares are intended to take into account the reduced frequency of trains, including times when track work is in effect.

Q. Refund on delay. If I enter a station , for example, West Falls Church, and upon paying my entrance fare notice a significant delay that’s not posted on the board, why can’t I just exit the station and get a refund? Having to pay for services not even rendered is unfortunate.

A. Metro’s current fare system, which is based on 1990s technology, does not allow for this. To learn about delays before entering the gate, it’s important to sign up for MetroAlerts atwmata.com or check the digital screens at all station entrances that turn red when there is a delay message.

Also, we recently awarded a contract for a new fare payment system, including the eventual replacement of our current fare gates and vending machines. The new system will give riders additional payment options, including using chip-based credit cards, key fobs, smartphones and federal ID cards. It will also give us the flexibility to consider new fare rules in the future.

Q. Parking on weekends. Have you considered charging for Metro parking on weekends? I think casual users (instead of commuters) should pay for parking, too. Why should we take the brunt of all the increases?

A. I am not aware of any local jurisdictions that have considered this. My personal belief is that offering free parking on weekends is a good way to keep Metro competitive with driving at times when traffic is lighter and street parking might be easier to come by.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail .

Report: Speed cameras reduce crashes, injuries in D.C.


WASHINGTON – A new report from the D.C. Department of Transportation finds that speed cameras are doing a good job at reducing accidents, injuries and slowing drivers down.

DDOT teamed up with engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to study 295 speed camera locations within the District of Columbia. These include existing, planned and proposed locations for the cameras. According to the executive summary findings, total crashes dropped 16.83 percent and the number of injuries 20.38 percent after cameras were installed.

“Using the analysis results from the speed data analysis and the crash data analysis, as well as reviewing the field assessment results, the team was able to determine the nexus between traffic safety and the speed camera at most locations,” the report finds. “Overall, all of the results supported the nexus between traffic safety and the speed cameras at all 295 existing, planned and proposed locations.”

DDOT Chief Traffic Engineer James Cheeks, who co-authored the report, says the 100 block of Florida Avenue NW is a perf ect example. A camera was installed there in November 2011.

“We noticed people, prior to putting that camera there, would speed to try and go through the signals along that roadway. Now they’re more cognizant of the fact that there’s a park there, kids are crossing, parents are taking their children, there a lot of elderly people walking in the area. So drivers are being more cautious as they drive through that area,” he says.

At each location, engineers compared the number of crashes and the overall speed of drivers to determine the safety impact. Cheeks says drivers do slow down for cameras.

“Speeds were 10 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. We put in cameras and we saw the speeds one to five miles over the limit,” he says, although he wishes people would slow down more.

John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs, applauds DDOT’s detailed analysis.

“Given what has befallen the Baltimore automated traffic enforcement programs and the speed camera program in smaller jurisdictions in Maryland, such as Fairmount Heights and Morningside, this report delves into a salient and essential rubric. The nexus between crash sites and incidents data and speed camera location, and most of all, safety for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, school children, seniors and joggers,” he writes in an email to WTOP.

Townsend says he hopes people in Morningside and Fairmount Heights and other small Maryland jurisdictions will read this report and make their goal about safety, not raising revenue.

However, if you look closer at the 3500 Massachusetts Avenue NW speed camera, you’ll notice mixed results bring up an issue hotly debated in automated traffic enforcement. The report finds that while drivers are now traveling much slower than the speed limit, the number of crashes have increased since the camera went up in January 2010. In particular, a spike in the number of rear-end collisions.

Critics point out that such crashes often spike at red light and speed camera locations, when drivers slow down to avoid a ticket, forcing the driver behind to slam on his breaks. The critics add that when you increase rear-end collisions, such cameras are not improving traffic safety.

However, the authors of the report did not come to the same conclusion here.

“The increase in the number of crashes after the installation of the speed camera suggest an outlier and a more detailed safety analysis is needed to determine the cause of an increase in collisions,” says the report .

And yet the conclusion seems to back up the camera.

“The speed data analysis showed the mean and 85th percentile speeds to be lower than the posted speed limit, and the crash data analysis showed elevated number of speed-related crashes at this location. Due to the analysis results along with the specific site characteristics and pedestrian generators, there is a nexus between traffic safety and the speed camera at this location,” the report says.

Critics also point out that while drivers slow down when passing a camera, they often just speed back up once they pass it. So while 85 percent of drivers at 3500 Massachusetts Avenue NW went 12 mph in the 30 mph zone, drivers likely sped up short after passing the camera.

Nonetheless, Cheeks thinks the camera works and hopes that the new stop sign, pedestrian and intersection cameras recently deployed will help make roads safer.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

Flyover bridge unveiled in Southeast D.C.


WASHINGTON – A new flyover bridge on Interstate 695 was quietly unveiled by the District Department of Transportation on Friday in Southeast D.C.

The new bridge provides a smooth connection between the eastbound Southeast Freeway and the outbound span of the 11th Street Bridge.

The 11th Street Bridge Project, the District’s largest road improvement project to date, is more than halfway complete. The new configuration sets the outbound side of the road in its final alignment on its approach toward the Anacostia River.

Additionally, a new on-ramp from 8th Street SE, pictured right, will allow traffic from the Barracks Row to merge onto the new bridge in the coming weeks.

Prior to Friday, eastbound drivers relied on a temporary traffic pattern, using a newly constructed inbound bridge. The inbound bridge is now closed. From the 11th Street Bridge, inbound drivers will continue to use an older flyover ramp to access the westbound Southeast Freeway.

DDOT hopes to have this ramp open within four to six weeks.

Chronic delays caused by the temporary traffic pattern have plagued morning commuters since the project began several years ago. By March, crews hope to have the freeway in its final alignment with a total of six lanes open to traffic.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

Far Beyond Rush Hour: The Incredible Rise of Off-Peak Public Transportation

Far Beyond Rush Hour: The Incredible Rise of Off-Peak Public Transportation

Take a look at the above photo of a New York City subway platform and guess what day and time it was taken. If your snap glance absorbed only the crowd, you probably guessed a weekday rush hour. But look more closely. You don’t see grey-haired men in flannel suits with solemn faces, you see All The Young Dudes in jeans just kind of slouching there, dude-like. You don’t see businesswomen striding for the stairs, you see ponytails and a lime green T-shirt that wouldn’t fly even on the most casual of Fridays.

This is not the picture of a platform at morning or evening rush on a weekday in Manhattan. It’s the picture of a platform at half past one. In the morning. On a weekend. In Brooklyn. It’s also a sign of things to come.

The growth of midday, evening, and weekend transit use is not unique to this particular stop on the New York City subway. More critically, the rise of off-peak ridership is not unique to New York City or to subway systems, either. Metropolitan areas across the United States — whether their primary mass transit system is a metro rail or a commuter train or a bus network — are recognizing that city residents can’t get by on great rush-hour service alone. They need frequent, reliable transit all hours of the day and long into the night.

“The growth in transit ridership is happening in the off-peak hours,” says transportation planner David King of Columbia University. “It’s strange. You get on a train at five o’clock in morning and it’s jammed.”

Take the New York City subway in a broader sense. Since 2007, ridership on the weekends has grown at a much greater rate than ridership on the weekdays. During the period from 2007 to 2012, weekday ridership grew at just under 7 percent. During that same stretch, weekend ridership grew at just over 10 percent. A planning director at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told the New York Times in 2011 that to find a similar explosion in weekend subway use you’d have to go back to a time when people worked six days a week.

“The New York City subway has seen tremendous growth on the weekends over the years,” says MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. “Weekend growth has outpaced regular growth.”

Now head to the Midwest and take the bus system in Minneapolis-St. Paul. There, too, off-peak service demand has outpaced rush-hour growth along some bus corridors. In response, the Metro Transit agency in the Twin Cities expanded evening and weekend service last summer. Some off-peak frequencies have tripled — down to a bus every 20 minutes instead of one every hour. That puts service ahead of where it was even before the Great Recession. In other words, this isn’t just the economy recovering, it’s ridership surging.

“There’s many routes where the off-peak ridership is growing faster than the peak ridership,” says John Levin, director of service development at Metro Transit. “We’re always going and finding where we can free up resources and where we need to add resources, and it tended to be that we’ve seen the most need during the off-peak, in terms of the overall scale.”

And go to Los Angeles, where even commuter rail — the transport mode created specifically for rush-hour riders — has seen an off-peak and weekend bump in some metro areas. Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten says weekend ridership in May 2013 hit 21,315, a jump of nearly 30 percent on the year before. He says that while weekday ridership is steady, weekend growth has been in the double digits. In response to this off-peak demand, Metrolink began promoting weekend rides and recently doubled some Sunday service.

“Certainly commuter-based travel is always going to be a core component of overall ridership, but people who have recreational trips … they’re taking advantage of the system on the weekends,” says Lustgarten. “Generally speaking, people are looking for alternative means of getting around town.”

Looking for it on a weekend. In spring and summer. In Los Angeles.

•       •       •       •       •
Transit experts have been making the case for off-peak service expansion for years. It’s oftencost-efficient. (Many drivers needed for rush hour get paid to sit around during the midday hours.) It’s always great for society. (Lower-income people use off-peak transit at much higher rates than wealthy people; a 2003 study found that 60 percent of off-peak riders made under $40,000 a year.) And there’s enormous growth potential. (Two-thirds of transit trips are notwork commutes, as the Commuting in America, 2013 chart below shows, making them strong candidates to occur outside rush hour.)

“There’s long been a recognition here that frequency improvements — especially off-peak frequency improvement — more than pay for themselves in terms of ridership,” says Metro Transit’s Levin. “When we doubled the frequency on one of our core routes a few years ago, we more than doubled the ridership.”

Best of all, the benefits of full-day service create a cycle that perpetuates more transit use across the board. That’s the main takeaway of a recent off-peak service analysis made on the Pascack Valley line of New Jersey Transit commuter rail. The agency introduced non-rush hour trains on that line in October 2007 — seven inbound and six outbound where there’d been no off-peak service before. In June 2010, Devajyoti Deka of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center began conducting surveys and on-board focus groups with off-peak and peak riders alike, to see how the service change had influenced their behavior.

Without question, the addition of off-peak service on the Pascack Valley line took cars off the road. In a recent issue of Transportation, Deka and coauthor Thomas Marchwinski of NJT report savings of at least 12 million vehicle miles a year. More fascinating was the way off-peak trains affected rush-hour ridership. Roughly 5 percent of surveyed riders started using more peak trains once the off-peak service was introduced. And of all the passengers who said they’d go back to driving if off-peak service were cancelled, three in five were peak riders.

Deka believes that there’s a psychological element to off-peak service that transit agencies fail to appreciate. If people know a train can take you back anytime you need, they’re more willing to take the train in during rush hour in the morning. “They have this thing in the back of their mind that if they have to come back early they can come back early, or if they have to stay late they can stay late,” says Deka. “So there is this indirect benefit which you will not notice in ridership data.”

(As for that ridership data, Pascack Valley weekend ridership was up more than 20 percent in the first quarter of 2013 over the year before, while weekday was up 8 percent [PDF]. That trend held true across the whole NJT system: weekends up 12 percent, weekdays 3 percent.)

Considering the rationale for off-peak service has been around for years, the big question is why transit agencies are only now seeing enough fresh demand to do something about it. Some agencies point to changing travel habits among Millennials. Some experts see a broader but related shift in American auto dependency, with an increasing number of urban households living car-free. That’s true even in places without great transit systems — Detroit experienced a 5 percent increase in car-free households from 2007 to 2012 — suggesting economic roots.

Immigration might play a role in off-peak demand, too. Last year, Governing reported that immigration had surpassed domestic population growth in 135 U.S. metro areas, according to Census data. Such demographic shifts could have a big influence on the nation’s transport network, because low-income immigrants are much more likely to commute off-peak than their American-born counterparts (see evening rates below), says planning professor Michael Smart of Rutgers, who studies immigrant transportation patterns. They’re also more likely to use transit for the types of non-work trips that often occur off-peak; for instance, says Smart, they’re five times more likely to take transit to get groceries.

“It’s definitely true that immigrants are more likely to be using transit to get to work in odd hours,” he says. “But even more than that, they’re much more likely than the U.S. born — particularly low-income or low-skilled foreign-born people — to use transit for things that are not about a job.”

Then there are changing work patterns themselves. The rise of telecommuting means people traveling at non-traditional times for both labor and leisure. Such shifts, in turn, mean service workers must travel at off times to get to their jobs. The result, says David King, the Columbia planner, is a bifurcation of the labor market in which neither high-skill nor low-skill workers are tethered to a 9-to-5 workday — or a 9-to-5 transit system — as strongly as they used to be.

“That will dramatically change how we travel,” says King. “What that means for future investment priorities is also important.”

•       •       •       •       •
Bay Area Rapid Transit is already weighing what off-peak demand might mean for tomorrow’s transit investments. BART has long been considered a hybrid commuter rail and metro core system: serving downtown San Francisco but also the suburban Bay area. The plans for 2025 and beyond, dubbed “Metro Vision,” call for tipping this balance toward the core end [PDF]. That means trains running every 15 minutes or better middays, late nights, and weekends — true “show up and go” service.

“That gets us less out of the commuter rail mindset and more to the metro mindset of frequent service for 18 hours a day, rather than just frequent service during the peak,” says Tom Radulovich, head of the BART board of directors. “Metro Vision, just the name of the project implies that at least the BART planners think we’re more of a metro than commuter rail. And this is what metros do — run frequent off-peak service.”

The ridership trends certainly point in that direction. Off-peak ridership on BART has grown steadily since mid-2011, often outpacing rush-hour rates. In October 2012, for instance, peak ridership grew 10 percent on the year before while weekday off-peak grew 14 percent, Saturday grew 21 percent, and Sunday grew 13 percent. The agency made off-peak expansions several years ago only to cut them during the recession, but it’s started making them again on what Radulovich calls the “shoulders of the peak.” Those first few trains after rush-hour service ended were just too crowded.

Radulovich sees a number of reasons for the rise in off-peak demand. Tech companies keeping unusual hours. Service workers returning to the job market on swing shifts. A declining rate of car-ownership among riders. Perhaps above all, a rise in residential and business development in and around BART stations — and not just those located downtown. Altogether it amounts to a culture of residents less reliant on the automobile for whatever trip purpose, at whatever trip time.

“I think those folks are going to want BART to run more frequently and be more convenient at more hours of the day,” he says. “They’re going to be interested in off-peak trips, they’re going to be interested in Saturday and Sunday frequency, they’re going to be interested in evening frequency, they’re going to be interested in late-night service, in a way that our traditional park and ride suburban constituency is not.”

Of course, if it were easy to build a full-scale all-day transit system, more cities would have done it. The challenges generally break down into money and politics (what doesn’t?). On the economic side, there’s a reluctance to shift resources away from rush-hour because that’s where ridership, and thus revenue, is more certain. Off-peak service means new operating costs, in the form of drivers and maintenance, and perhaps even new capital expenses. Since most fleet maintenance is done on weekends and nights — in a word, off-peak — some systems will need more vehicles to expand service into those periods.

At the cultural end, the low-income riders who stand to benefit most from increased off-peak service often have the weakest political voice. Some politicians carry a vehicle bias: they will see empty midday buses and trains and blast off-peak expansion as wasteful, even as they endorse highway lanes full of single-occupancy cars. Others have a rush-hour mindset: they come to work at that time, so everyone else must, too. These counterarguments aren’t always off-base. Most people do drive most places, and the biggest commute shares do occur at the peaks [PDF].

“The peak tendency has been amazingly consistent,” says Steven Polzin of the University of South Florida, co-author of the Commuting in America, 2013 series on commute trends. “One of the intriguing things is there’s been a decline of the ‘peak of the peak’ commuting, but not a lot.”

What that means is that the early adopters of tomorrow’s all-day transit systems are likely to be big agencies in major cities. That’s not to say smaller areas lack the popular demand or the institutional desire to go off-peak. Just recently Jacksonville, North Carolina, population 70,000,expanded bus service to the shoulders of the peak so more commuters could get to and from work. It’s more to say that “somebody has to change the tradition,” as Deka puts it, “and the big agencies are in a better position, I think, to change the tradition.”

Top image: Nolan Levenson courtesy Rudin Center / NYU.

This article is part of ‘The Future of Transportation,’ an Atlantic Cities series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

AAA: Prices may rise at the pump

The Valero refinery works glow in the dusk light in Port Arthur, Texas. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

AAA warns that after hitting a 33-month low in November, gas prices are going to rise. The automobile club, which monitors gas prices nationwide, says that historically, prices tend to fall in February when snow hits the Northeast and Midwest. Prices typically rise with the daffodils, but the upswing is occurring earlier this year,

Nationally, the average price per gallon could reach $3.55-$3.75 per gallon, AAA said. Last year, the national average soared 49 cents per gallon over 41 days before peaking at $3.79 per gallon on February 27, the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report shows. Similarly, gas prices leapfrogged 56 cents per gallon in the spring of 2012. They skyrocketed 86 cents per gallon spring 2011.

“Although gas prices are 26 cents cheaper than they were at this time last February, that might not last too much longer,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “Winter weather, weak demand and sufficient supplies have kept gas prices relatively low recently, but this trend is unlikely to last much longer. Filling up at the pump will be a lot more frustrating as prices spike due to refinery maintenance.”

In the District, regular gasoline currently costs $3.52 per gallon, which is only lower than five states. Since 2011, the District has recorded 126 days of gas prices at $4 or more. Across the region, prices are averaging $3.31 per gallon, compared to $3.58 at this time one year ago. A projected half dollar per gallon price increase would cause area consumers to pay in the neighborhood of $3.87 by springtime. Maryland drivers could see spring prices as high as $3.83 (it’s $3.33 a gallon now). Virginia motorists may pay as much as $3.64 per gallon.

By late June the national average could drop to $3.30-$3.40 per gallon,  AAA forecasts. By October, gas prices should start a decline towards the end of the year as demand weakens.

“Unexpected developments and events overseas could change AAA’s price outlook considerably, but there is little doubt that gas will cost more than most of us would like in 2014,” Townsend said. “The best advice for dealing with another tough year is to follow simple gas savings tips such as shopping around, maintaining your car and driving the speed limit.”

Why reporting a broken parking meter may not help you


WASHINGTON — Every parking meter in the District of Columbia has a sticker on it that tells drivers to report a broken meter by calling 311, but one man tells WTOP Ticketbuster that operators aren’t properly trained and drivers need to beware.

Patrick LaFontant is a retired naval officer, serving from 1987 to 2010. He was honorably discharged and now works with former Navy colleagues for a company that helps disabled veterans and the Department of Homeland Security.

On Sept. 20, 2012, LaFontant parked his car on the 600 block of D Street in Southwest for a meeting, got out and discovered the meter wasn’t working. According to records obtained by WTOP, LaFontant called 311 at 12:53 p.m. and spoke to an operator named Sumie Coleman. At 1:10 p.m., Department of Public Works officer Derrick Hartsfield cited LaFontant for parking at an expired meter.

“I put several quarters in the meter and no time registered. So I thought I would be a good Samaritan and call DC 311 to report the issue to the city,” says LaFontant.

“I spoke to an operator. I got her name [and] a reference number and I took the serial number of the meter. No other information was provided to me than the reference number. So we went to the meeting, got our government badges, and then returned to find a ticket on my car. I thought it was no problem because I had the operator’s name and a reference number; the ticket should be quickly dismissed,” he says.

LaFontant appealed the ticket to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which adjudicates tickets in the District of Columbia. Four co-workers in his vehicle provided sworn statements to the DMV.

“I was happy to write the letter because I saw that the meter was, in fact, broken. We weren’t trying to cheat the system or anything like that. [LaFontant] really wanted to do the right thing and report it, rather than go into a spot that was not legal,” says co-worker Denise Richards, who has also served in the Navy.

In October 2012, Chief Hearing Examiner Cassandra Claytor ruled against LaFontant.

“In response to the respondent’s claim of a broken meter, DMV Adjudication Services initiated a service request for a meter check with the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT), which is responsible for installing and maintaining parking meters in the District. The outage history of the meter was checked for any complaints, outages or repairs during the time period the violation occurred. A review of the meter data did not reveal an outage during the time period of the violation,” the ruling states.

According to records obtained by WTOP, a technician checked the meter at 600 D Street SW on Sept. 24, 2012, and found that the meter was working properly.

LaFontant says while he understands, he is upset that the 311 operator never told him that he should move his car. He says that information was vital and should have been communicated.

“Ms. Coleman should have provided more information. I only learned from [WTOP] that it is a District requirement that if you park at a broken parking meter, you are required to move because you are getting free parking. The operator didn’t tell me that. So how was I supposed to know that just getting a reference number wasn’t sufficient?” says LaFontant, who says he would have moved his car.

Technically, you can park at a broken meter in the District of Columbia. Under DC Municipal Regulation Code 50-2303.5 (a) (2) a legal defense to a parking violation is, “The relevant parking meter was inoperable or malfunctioned through no fault of the Appellant.” But in order to assert that defense, a technician has to find the meter was, in fact, broken.

DDOT Spokeswoman Monica Hernandez and DC 311 Spokeswoman Wanda Gattison say that operators are trained to tell drivers not to remain at a broken meter. When a driver calls 311, DDOT does not traditionally answer the call. A 311 operator takes the information, then passes the information to DDOT staffers.

Pothole causes problems on Clara Barton Parkway

tire pothole (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON – Drivers Monday morning encountered what they didn’t expect in the rain — a huge pothole on the Clara Barton Parkway near Glen Echo, Md.

At least seven drivers ended up with flat tires as they hit the pothole, which is close to the pump station, just north of the Maryland-D.C. line.

Drivers described the pothole as “huge” to WTOP.

One cab driver, who was taking a passenger to Georgetown University Hospital, said he couldn’t see the pothole. He gave up waiting on a tow truck and opted to change his tire in the pouring rain.

The pothole was about 1 1/2 feet wide, 15 feet long and 6 inches deep, according to WTOP’s Kathy Stewart, who was on the scene.

Police have blocked off the pothole with a police cruiser and a cone.

Drivers are urged to use caution along the Clara Barton Parkway.