We still don’t have word on a start date for WMATA’s new Silver Line service to Tysons Corner, but more and more signage for the service is appearing in the rest of the system.
New signage, complete with (SV) bullets at Federal Center SW Station. Photo by the author.
This signage is from the platform pylon near the base of the escalators at Federal Center SW.
Via Twitter, Dan Malouff (@BeyondDC) took note of the new (SV) bullets on one of the narrow pylons used for Metro’s side platform stations, wondering if the bullets are using a different typeface from the rest of WMATA’s signage:
The answer is: sort of. The graphic standards (which I stumbled across via googling for this post) for the Rush Plus signage changes note that the bullets use Helvetica Bold, while the rest of the text uses Helvetica Medium.
Cranes. CC image from Daniel Foster.
The latest state-level population estimates show another year of 2%+ growth for DC, bringing the city’s estimated population to 646,449. Former Mayor Tony Williams set a goal in 2003 of adding 100,000 new residents to the city back when the city’s population growth was essentially nil, following decades of population decline.
Even in the relatively short history of this blog, nearing the symbolic 600k threshold prior to the 2010 Census was a big deal.
Of the growth in the most recent estimates, about 1/3 of the gains are from natural increases in the population (births minus deaths), while 2/3rds are from net migration (more people moving into the city from elsewhere than moving out).
Explanations for DC’s recent growth spurt that focus on Federal government spending are tempting, but misleading. The region’s overall growth rate since World War II is fairly consistent; what’s changing now is how that regional growth is allocating itself within the region. Chris at R.U. Seriousing Me shows how DC’s share of the regional population decreased from 1950 to 2010. The region’s growth trajectory has been upward, while the District’s population declined. However, if you assumed that DC maintained the same regional share of that growth throughout the last half-century, you’d find a DC today with 2.6 million people inside the city limits.
The counterfactual scenario is intriguing: assume a DC population of 2.6 million still governed by the federal height limit, and suddenly the comparisons of DC to Paris (low-rise with high population density) aren’t so absurd. Chris notes that for those opposed to even modest changes to the height limit or the construction of by-right buildings, the kind of development needed to accommodate 2.6 million people “must sound apocalyptic.”
Leaving the apocalypse aside for the moment, the 2.6 million resident scenario illustrates that you must not only have demand for growth, but allow that growth to happen – that is, allow the city’s housing supply to increase. Again, a comparison to Paris is illustrative: the Paris region has continued to grow, while the city’s population has somewhat declined and flattened out. It’s not hard to see why; the city’s legal and regulatory constraints on development do not provide room to grow within the city.
Mayor Gray, like Mayor Williams, set an ambitious goal for growth the District’s population: adding 250,000 new residents by 2032. Unlike in 2003, it’s not hard to see the demand for city living – in fact, we’re on pace to meet that goal right now. If the city were to continue to grow by 13,000 per year (as it has over the past three) over twenty years, DC will hit that mark.
Demand is only half of the equation, however. Michael Niebauer notes that the population gains justify the increased development seen around DC, and more will be needed to accommodate increased demand for living in the city. If city does not add supply, the demand will continue to put pressure on housing prices.
This week, WMATA awoke to a nice present sitting under the tree. The first of the 7000 series railcars is here. These new cars will expand the fleet, increase the system’s capacity, and replace the oldest railcars in the system. All worthy ends and all goals that the 7000 series will help meet.
However, like the economists pondering the economic inefficiency of Christmas, I can’t help but wonder what the 7000 series could look like if the gifts under the tree exactly mirrored what you wanted. In that regard, the 7000 series design falls short. The good news is that there will be more railcar procurements in the near future.
Likewise, the key shortcomings of the 7000 series are not technical (yet! we will need to see how they perform once in service), they are based on policy and assumptions about what a WMATA railcar is. Engineering-driven technical changes include a slight repositioning of the door locations and improved car body crash energy management. At the same time, the assumption is to avoid changing the fundamental WMATA rail car concept (three doors per car, lots of seating for a commuter/metro hybrid). This means that the aesthetic changes to the 7000 series aren’t just about the end of Metro Brown. The altered door spacing and adherence to the original concept (three doors per car, three windows between each door) makes for awkward proportions – all in the name of leaving the original concept unexamined.
The good thing about assumptions is that they’re easy to change – once you change your mind. In California, BART struggles with the same hybrid rapid transit/commuter rail legacy. Despite the shortcomings of BART the planning/construction agency, BART the operating agency is moving in the right direction. Their new rolling stock makes a couple of big changes, such as adding an additional door per car, that embrace the rapid transit reality for the system. Contrast those changes to the most recent railcar procurement in Chicago, where the biggest changes are in the technical systems and seating layout.
I outlined some key ideas for the 8000 series in a previous post, but I wanted to put some numbers together to make the case for one of the most visible changes: wider doors, and more of them. The chart below summarizes the key dimensions from a selection of railcars:
A Google docs spreadsheet with the above data is available here.
I chose the cars on this list for a variety of reasons. I mentioned RATP’s MP-05, used on the now fully automated Line 1 in Paris, and Toronto’s Rocket in a previous post. BART’s inclusion shows both old and new cars, demonstrating what can be gained from change. Using BART as a comparison point for WMATA is also useful due to the similar age and history of the two systems. And, as a counterpoint of traditional mass transit, I included examples of relatively new cars from New York’s A and B division.
All of these examples are somewhat pragmatic; I wanted to include others but could not easily find online specifications on door opening widths. Basic dimensions on car/train length is easy to find, but door opening width is harder. Transport for London is one exception, with excellent online information from the agency itself, rather than from third parties. London’s new S7/S8 cars would be a good example to include, but TfL has not yet updated their rolling stock information sheet to include them.
The table shows the impact of both the total number of doors, as well as the width of the doors. WMATA’s 50 inch doors are relatively narrow; all of the other examples are at least a few inches wider. The one exception is New York’s R160, but the R160 makes up for those narrow doors with overall numbers: Four door openings per 60′ rail car, compared to WMATA’s three doors per 75′ car. Each door on the MP-05 in Paris is 1.65 meters wide, showing how wide you can go – wider than WMATA by more than a foot.
The big reason to add doors is to improve station dwell time. The rightmost column illustrates the benefits of many wide doors. When an 8-car WMATA train arrives at a platform, passengers must squeeze into 16.67% of the train to board/alight. Contrast that to the MP-05s used on Line 1 in Paris, where 32.9% of the train is available for passengers to pass through from train to platform. To put it another way, if WMATA wanted to offer that same permeability between the train and platform without changing door width, they would have to double the number of doors.
Line 1 is an exceptional case, where RATP is attempting to squeeze every last bit of capacity out of century-old tunnels. In the traditional rapid transit cases, each of the New York examples is greater than 25% door width to platform length. Toronto’s Rocket shows what WMATA would need to do to get to that standard: four doors per car, and modestly widen the doors to ~60′ per opening.
BART’s new rail cars won’t achieve the 25%+ of Paris, New York, or Toronto; but adding the third door to their new rail cars will beat WMATA at 19.3% and offer a substantial increase from the two-door model.
A simple re-evaluation of what WMATA’s assumptions about what a rail car is can go a long way towards the goal of maximizing the capacity of the existing system.
As WMATA prepares to take control of the first phase of the Silver Line from MWAA (with the exact handover date yet to be determined), signage for the new service is starting to pop-up around the system. WMATA is trying to raise awareness about the new service and new track with a dedicated website; you can see a presentation to the WMATA Board on their Silver Line activation plan here.
Some rail stations include strip maps on the station wall signage and on platform pylons. Others include backlit strip maps located above the on-platform map/advertising panels. In several stations, these maps have been updated with new Silver Line information:
Backlit westbound strip map above one of Metro’s platform ad panels at the Federal Triangle Station. Photo by the author.
Backlit eastbound strip map at Federal Triangle, including Silver Line to Largo. Photo by the author.
In recent months, WMATA has installed new wall signage in Blue/Orange stations. The signage included awkward spacing for the lines/destinations, preserving space for the future inclusion of Silver Line services:
New wall signage on the westbound track at Eastern Market, with room for Silver Line information below OR and BL. Photo by the author.
The current signage makes for an odd asymmetry, where the westbound signs clearly preserve space for a future (SV) bullet and destination below the current Orange and Blue line termini. The eastbound signs, however, looked more evenly spaced, perhaps anticipating the end of Orange Line ‘Rush Plus‘ service to Largo, to be replaced by Silver Line service. The revised sign will include a similar look to the eastbound strip map spotted at Federal Triangle.
The demise of at least some of the difficult-to-read striped Rush Plus bullets can’t come soon enough.
Eastbound wall signage at Eastern Market with ‘normal’ spacing; OR ‘Rush Plus’ service to Largo likely to be replaced with an SV bullet. Photo by the author.
The biggest drawback to any surface transit line is the inherent conflict at the surface with other modes: cars, bikes, pedestrians, etc. This is an inherent element of competing for the same real estate as other priorities. When space on the surface is simply overtaxed or too contested, urban transport networks can add layers – but usually with great expense. With their tramways, the French manage to blur the lines between upgraded legacy street-running tram networks and the American conception of light rail as a kind of rapid transit.
In France, transport planners work to maximize the efficiency of surface transit operations to provide cost-effective transit network expansion. Standardization and relatively low costs allow a wide range of cities (including the Paris region) to afford investments in new services.
Two of the Paris tramways illustrate the flexibility of the mode and the opportunities for efficient surface transit: The T2, operating on a repurposed rail right of way; and the T3, the first modern tramway in the city since the 1930s.
T2 at the Belvedere station. Note the alignment within the old rail right of way; La Defense skyscrapers in the background. CC image from Wiki.
Community gardening spaces in unused right of way adjacent to the Belvedere T2 station. Photo by the author.
The T2 Tramway makes use of old SNCF rail right of way, but uses trams to allow for surface-running extensions at both ends of the line. The old suburban rail line closed in 1993, with the replacement tram service beginning in 1997. The line has since been extended in 2009 (into Paris) and in 2012 (north of La Defense).
The line’s regular and frequent service has proven to be popular, carrying 115,000 riders daily. After blowing the initial ridership projections out of the water (as well as the ridership for the old suburban service that ended in 1993), the offering of frequent service along the same line (4 minute peak headways) shows what a difference a solid, frequent service plan can bring. In 2003, RATP had to lengthen the platforms (to 65m) to accommodate double-length trains.
Between the dedicated, mostly grade-separated right of way, platform/train length, and train frequency, the level of service comes as close to the Paris Metro (most Metro station platforms are 75m long, save for the busiest lines and key transfer points) as you can get while remaining on the surface.
Looking across the T2 platform to a Transilien train at Puteaux. The fence forces passengers to use the faregates to get on a Transilien service. Photo by the author.
The line’s heritage as a mainline railway is on display at the Puteaux station, where a cross-platform transfer is available to the L and U Transilien services. A fence along the platform forces those wishing to transfer to use faregates, meshing the tramway’s proof of payment system with the faregates found on the Metro, RER, and many of the suburban train stations.
The 2009 extension of the T2 brought the line into Paris, proper (incidentally, connecting to the T3 at Porte de Versailles, one of the areas of Paris slated to allow taller buildings), leaving the old SNCF right of way in favor of running on city streets. True to the standards established with other tramways, the trams are always given their own, dedicated right of way (often with grass tracks, both as a nice urban design touch and as a way to keep cars and trucks out).
Paris T3, showing street section with grass tracks. Photo by the author.
At Porte de Versailles, riders can transfer to the T3 line. The modern tramway takes advantage of wide Parisian streets. Station platforms provide ample space compared to the legacy platforms in Amsterdam; two lanes of traffic in each direction move freely; sidewalks are wide with ample space for walking. Unlike the T2, the construction of the T3 involved removing car capacity in favor of transit.
Stop spacing is fairly close by American standards, but not for Paris – 500m on average. Similar to the T2, trains operate every 4 minutes during peak hours. Compared to the previous bus service along the route (averaging 15 kph), RATP claims the T3 is faster, averaging 19-20 kph (about 12.5 miles per hour). By comparison, almost no WMATA bus routes in the core of DC get above 10 mph average in the AM rush hours, and the PM rush is worse.
Not only does the T3 represent an improvement in speed and reliability over previous bus services, but it also adds capacity over bus. Like the T2, the T3 is also popular, exceeding ridership estimates. Riders strain the system, and operating along the surface, adjacent to traffic presents risks to speed and schedule adherence, despite signal priority for transit. Perhaps fewer stations with wider spacing would provide for faster average speed, but aside from that kind of change, it’s hard to see how you could squeeze more out of surface transit than the T3.
At the same time, the T2 shows the flexibility of tramways, allowing for mixed operation on surface streets as well as dedicated, grade-separated right of way. Where well-placed existing right of way (like the T2) isn’t available, there is also the option of pursuing a Premetro strategy, taking advantage of incremental implementation of full grade separation. The same vehicles can be used in both schemes; allowing flexibility not usually available to a Metro system or suburban rail.
As impressive as the European subway and mainline rail networks are, recent expansions and improvements to surface transit networks are also noteworthy. Examples include upgrading legacy tram networks and building new networks on existing streets, as well as new uses for old mainline rail rights of way. Each example shows different methods of providing priority for surface transit.
In Amsterdam, the challenge is to provide priority for high-capacity modes along constrained city streets. The methods of providing surface transit priority complement efforts to create a pleasant walking environment and to preserve the city’s urban design and historic canal network. Together, these policies present a virtuous cycle – prioritizing transit, biking, and walking makes each of those modes more efficient and thus a better alternative to driving; which in turn lowers opposition to limiting the role of the car, making it easier to implement priority for surface transit.
Not all of this prioritization is the result of active choices; Amsterdam’s city streets vary tremendously in width. The city’s canals limit available street space, providing a natural limitation on cars within the historic city. Unlike other cities, Amsterdam largely did not remove its pre-war network of trams. Thus, the city retains the benefit of the old infrastructure network, but does not have the option of easily recrafting large rights of way with entirely modern tramways, as we see with modern tramways in France. Today, the network is extensive both inside and outside the historic city core.
Center-running tramway in Amsterdam. Photo by the author. Image links to Google Streetview of approximate location.
Within the historic core, many services often converge on a core trunk line located along the broad avenues without canals. In the case above, the trams use a dedicated, center-running transitway (many of Amsterdam’s older trams do not have doors on the left side of the vehicle). Passengers load from side platforms on islands in the street.
The remainder of the street cross-section (visible on the far side of the above photograph, and in Google Streetview) includes one travel lane and a bike lane in each direction. In the tree zone, several parking and loading spaces are included along the street. I witnessed several loading vehicles double-parked in the travel lane, but the physical divider between the transitway and the general traffic lane is low enough that a car can easily navigate around a loading vehicle; car traffic in general is low enough that this does not greatly congest traffic or transit.
Gauntlet track in Amsterdam’s Tram Network. Image from Google Streetview.
Other links in the network run perpendicular to the city’s rings of canals; old narrow streets sometimes require gauntlet track. These streets represent the Dutch movement towards shared environments; the rails and pavement tell pedestrians where the trams run, but pedestrians walk all along the street and move out of the way as trams pass. Car traffic is allowed, but generally limited to service/delivery vehicles without limiting transit service – an outcome possible due to the general limits on car traffic.
Amsterdam tram in mixed traffic, with floating bike lane and on-street bike parking. Photo by the author.
Other streets involve streetcars in mixed traffic. The example above shows the tram platform ‘floating’ away from the curb to allow the bike lane passage along the street (at the expense of sidewalk width). On the far side of the street, there is a painted bike lane (red/maroon) and extensive in-street bike parking. An older Google Streetview of the same location shows that space used for on-street car parking; it also shows the wider sidewalk (with enough room for two-seat tables in sidewalk cafes), thanks to the trams in the other direction utilizing a station just around the corner.
Dedicated tramway near the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Note the allowed taxi usage of the transitway. Photo by the author.
Where the space is available, trams are given dedicated right of way. This example, near the city’s Museumplein, features a center-running transitway, landscaped buffer, general traffic lanes and bike lanes differentiated by color. The image also demonstrates the city’s policy of allowing taxis to make use of transitways to speed the journeys of shared-use vehicles.
On-street parking is available, but it isn’t really on the street – parking occurs by the car mounting the angled stone curb in designated areas. In the immediate foreground of the image above, you can see the outlines of an empty parking space (designated by gray pavers). Thus, when not in use, the empty parking space becomes part of the sidewalk rather than part of the street.
All of these different kinds of prioritization (along with the famous Dutch investment in cycling infrastructure) come together to influence the city’s transportation behavior. One of the key slides in this presentation from Rene Meijer, deputy director of traffic and transport in Amsterdam, shows not just the city’s mode share, but also the varying mode share based on the distance of travel:
Mode share for Amsterdam residents, both pre trip and per km.
As you might expect, most trips are shorter trips; longer trips will require modes suited for longer trips (rail; transit; car). Walking comprises 24% of all trips, while only accounting for 2% of the distance covered.
Amsterdam Mode Share by trip distance.
Breaking trips into reasonable distances, you can see how each mode has strengths in certain distances. The white bars show walking dominating short trips (up to 1km), where biking then explodes. For longer trips in the window of 5km to 20km, transit (with priority) and car travel both grow. Also, while intercity rail and transit are presented as separate modes here, actual behavior may involve similar kinds of trips, thanks to the integration between the two modes within the Dutch rail network.
The chart does not differentiate between destinations; I would hypothesize that transit performs better for trips to destinations that are well-connected to the transit network, and the same is true for auto trips. The Netherlands have good highways, but they wisely do not penetrate the historic city core, nor would one volunteer to drive along Amsterdam’s canals when so many better options exist. Even at very long distances, the difference between trains and cars likely depends on differences in origin/destination: the kind of land use, the ease/difficulty of auto/transit access, and so on.
Just as the Dutch have invested in bikes and unsurprisingly end up with strong bike usage, the same can be said of transit. While the optimal distance of effectiveness for bikes and transit likely overlaps a great deal, Amsterdam shows ways to meet both goals.
While visiting Europe, I missed most of the local debate on potential changes to DC’s federally imposed height limit (see – and contrast – the final recommendations from the NCPC and DC Office of Planning, as well as background materials and visual modelling, here). But I sure didn’t actually miss any tall buildings; I saw lots of them in just about every city I visited (several of which are documented in NCPC’s selected case studies).
Some thoughts on three of the cities I visited:
Tall buildings emerging out of the City of London. Photo by the author.
London’s appeal for height is obvious, with skyscrapers emerging within the City of London. London has a sophisticated plan for managing heights, as explained by Robert Tavenor (transcript – slides) at NCPC’s event on building heights in capital cities (video available here), balancing London’s interest in quality of life, history, and the desire to maintain London’s status as a primary capital of the global world.
All of this planning effort focuses on the City of London, building upon the already existing transportation infrastructure while preserving specific view corridors, and ensuring that tall buildings that do break the existing skyline include high quality design and are clustered together in designated districts. Other such clusters exist outside of London’s center, such as Canary Wharf – more akin to the kind of cluster of tall buildings along the city’s periphery, as seen in La Defense outside of Paris.
View towards La Defense, from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Photo by the author.
View of the flat skyline of Paris from atop the Pompidou Center. Photo by the author.
Paris features a suburban cluster of skyscrapers, while the central city skyline remains almost uniformly flat. However, in recent years, the city has allowed taller buildings in the outer arrondissements. Socialist city officials pushed for additional height as part of a plan to increase housing supply and address housing affordability.
Comparing Paris to DC is superficially appealing. Paris’s almost absolute 37m limit (approx 120 feet) is similar to DC’s limit. NCPC’s summary of case studies highlight their lessons learned from Paris:
Paris demonstrates that restrictive building height controls can coexist with significant residential density. Among the case study cities, it has the greatest population density per square mile.
While this is true, it only highlights what is possible with a Parisian-style limit on height; it does not address what is required to achieve such residential densities. Payton Chung offered these comments on this blind spot in DC-Paris comparisons:
One oft-repeated line heard from the (small-c) conservative crowd is that height limits have worked to keep Paris beautiful. That comment ignores a lot of painful history: the mid-rise Paris that we know today was built not by a democracy, but by a mad emperor and his bulldozer-wielding prefect. As Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning said in a recent WAMU interview, “Paris took their residential neighborhoods and made them essentially block after block of small apartment buildings… if we were to do that in our neighborhoods, we could accommodate easily 100 years’ worth of residential growth. But they would be very different neighborhoods.”
That path of destruction is why most other growing cities in this century (i.e., built-out but growing central cities, from London and Singapore to New York, Portland, Toronto, and San Francisco) have gone the Vancouver route and rezoned central industrial land for high-rises. This method allows them to simultaneously accommodate new housing, and new jobs, while keeping voters’ single family houses intact. By opposing higher buildings downtown, DC’s neighborhoods are opposing change now, but at the cost of demanding far more wrenching changes ahead: substantial redevelopment of low-rise neighborhoods, skyrocketing property prices (as in Paris), or increasing irrelevance within the regional economy as jobs, housing, and economic activity get pushed further into suburbs that welcome growth.
Another superficial point of comparison is in the effective height limit. While Parisian heights are capped at 120 feet and DC heights commonly max out at 130 feet, the exact mechanism for calculating those hieghts matters a great deal. The DC method, based on street width (height and street width in a 1:1 ratio, plus 20 feet), makes use of the extraordinarily wide streets provided by the L’Enfant Plan.
Paris has similarly broad avenues, but those avenues were carved through the existing cityscape (people often forget that the 1791 L”Enfant plan pre-dates the Haussmann renovations of Paris by half a century), and the absolute nature of the height limit allows for max-height buildings along the city’s narrow, medieval streets – with building height to street width ratios far in excess of DC’s 1:1 +20′.
Narrow streets on the Left Bank in Paris. Photo by the author.
Tall buildings emerging adjacent to the Utrecht Centraal rail station. Photo by the author.
Utrecht Centraal is the busiest rail station in the Netherlands. Thanks to the city’s location in the center of the country, frequent and fast rail connections are available to all points in the country. For pedestrians, the only connection to the medieval center of Utrecht is by walking through the 1970s-era Hoog Catharijne shopping mall. The entire station and adjacent areas are currently in redevelopment, upgrading the rail station to handle increased passenger volumes, restoring a historic canal, and providing room for new, tall development adjacent to the station.
Utrecht is not the only city in the Netherlands pursuing such a strategy. In Amsterdam, the Zuid and Bijlmer Arena stations feature substantial development and tall buildings; Rotterdam’s Centraal station is also a hub for a massive redevelopment project.
According to the Utrecht station area master plan, large areas around the station provide for a base height of 45 meters, with towers up to 90 meters (~300 feet), including the Stadskantoor pictured above. Even with that height, you rarely get a sense that such tall buildings exist. The city’s narrow streets (even with short buildings) constrain view corridors. Within the medieval city, the views you do see are mostly of the 368 foot tall Dom Tower, not of the buildings of similar height closer to the train station.
At some point in 2014, WMATA’s newest rail cars, the 7000 series, will enter service. These cars will depart from the same basic design of all of Metro’s current rolling stock in a couple of ways. However, despite the accolades of the new designs from Metro, the 7000 series design misses some key opportunities to squeeze extra capacity out of the system and run the trains more efficiently.
While the ship has sailed for the 7000 series, all is not lost. WMATA will need to eventually expand the fleet and replace the remaining older rail cars; and will do so with the yet-to-be-designed 8000 series. (WMATA current has four cars with 8000-level numbers from the 1000-series, comprising the money train.) Depending on the source, design work on the 8000 series could start between 2018 and 2020; the lead time for developing a new rail car is long; note this article on the 7000 series (again, set to enter service in late 2014) dated from January, 2008.
The 7000 series has potential to improve reliability and operate efficiently: WMATA’s contract holds the builder to meet or exceed a standard of an average of 150,000 miles between failures (WMATA’s current fleet achieves just over 60,000 miles between failures; 150k represents an improvement, but still shy of NYC’s fleet average, yet alone the performance of NYC’s newest railcars).
Efficient and reliable systems will be an important improvement, but they don’t address some of the broader elements of a good rapid transit system. With an eye towards improving the 8000 series, and after riding modern rolling stock in other cities around the world, I’ll offer some suggestions for future railcars in DC.
Maximize the number of doors: While riding Line 1 of the Paris Metro under crush loads, one thing that amazed me was the consistently short station dwell times. As a train pulled into a station, large numbers of people would board and disembark within a matter of 10-15 seconds, and then the train was on its way. Contrast that against WMATA during peak hours at one of the key transfer stations (Metro Center, L’Enfant Plaza, or Gallery Place): I’ve often seen train operators start to close the doors after 20-30 seconds, but people were still getting off of the car, to say nothing of those waiting to get on.
Metro’s current rolling stock features only three doors on each side of a 75-foot long rail car (New York gets four doors to fit on a 60-foot long rail car; Toronto’s new cars feature four doors on a 76 foot long car) Increasing the number of doors on each train makes the exchange of passengers from train to platform easier and faster, particularly with large crowds. The added ease also improves the reliability and consistency of station dwell times. Wider doors are also an option; the MP-05 trains in Paris operating on Line 1 feature three sets of wide doors per side of each 50-foot long rail car.
Paris Metro MP-05 train with wide doors. Note the lack of a cab due to fully automatic operation. CC Image from Wiki.
Despite pleading from train operators, when the dwell times are not long enough for passengers to board/alight, they will hold doors open. This introduces the potential for delay, both by degrading WMATA’s schedule adherence, but also by risking a door malfunction that will take the train out of service. WMATA’s procurement documents for the 7000 series sought a “proven linear door drive system” to improve reliability; however, changing the system’s design (by adding more doors) has the opportunity to improve efficiency and reliability above and beyond the technical systems.
Open gangways: More doors improves passenger flow between the train and platform; removing the doors within the train allows passengers to move along the entire length of the train. This increases capacity and improves the passenger experience, allowing them to naturally balance the load and move along the train if one car is too crowded.
Looking through the open gangway of new S-stock in London, and at the floorplate in the gangway going around a curve. Photos by the author.
The most compelling reason is additional capacity. In Toronto, the new ‘Rocket’ subway cars increased capacity by 8-10 percent. London’s new Sub-surface rolling stock features open gangways between cars, as does the MP-05 stock in Paris. New York is considering open gangways for future railcar procurements.
When asked about why the 7000 series did not include open gangways, Metro cited vague concerns about safety where a suspect might roam throughout the entire train. Yet, in New York, politicians have cited the inability to move between cars as a threat to safety. Both arguments rest on dubious assumptions, but appeals to a vague sense of safety cannot trump the obvious boost of an additional 10% capacity.
Seating arrangements: During discussions about the 7000 series, WMATA opted to keep the current seating arrangement, dominated by forward/rear facing seats, rather than sideways-facing seats that maximize standing room. In WMATA’s own mock-ups, the loss of seated capacity is minimal (about 8 seats per married pair, or 4 seats per car on average). While bench-style seating is common in Europe, is is not used exclusively – though all of the newer railcars make a strong effort to increase standing room and improve passenger flow within the car.
Interior layout of MP-05. CC image from Wiki.
For example, consider the option of using forward/rear facing seats as singles instead of doubles. WMATA’s transverse seating is usually arranged 2+2, with a fairly narrow aisle. The MP-05 rolling stock in Paris uses a 2+1 combination, in addition to substantial center-facing seating. London’s S-Stock offers a variety of options, as does Toronto’s Rocket. Extensive use of flip-down seating adds flexibility for a variety of users, offering seats when necessary, but providing additional standing room during peak hours.
Passenger information: One of the most obvious improvements for passengers on WMATA’s 7000 series will be “next stop” displays (noted for the prototype’s typos), similar to the ‘FIND’ system in some of New York’s subway cars. These displays offer a strip map of the line, showing the next stations. However, more is possible. In Paris, the digital displays in the MP-05s not only display the upcoming stations, but the time to the end of the line, as well as major upcoming transfer points.
Above-the-door strip map for Line 8 in the Paris Metro. Photo by the author.
Digital displays offer flexibility to the operator to use trains on any line. However, many operators nonetheless use old-fashioned, route-specific strip maps.
Even though it’s not a subway or rapid transit application, the in-train displays from the Netherlands are impressive. The screens show the current route, next stops, scheduled arrival time and track. When arriving at a station, the in-train displays will show platform information for connection trains, allowing passengers to head directly to that platform. In the event of a delay or change in the schedule, the displays update immediately.
Blurry photo of info screen inside an NS InterCity train, with arrival and connection information. Photo by the author.
Overall: I’ll note that none of these are new or unique ideas; Matt Johnson (open gangways; more doors) and David Alpert (transverse seating) both suggested similar changes for the 7000 series. I’ve offered suggestions in the past, as well.
Toronto Rocket technical drawing. Image from Bombardier.
You don’t even need to look overseas to see many of these ideas in action. As mentioned above, Toronto’s new Rocket subway cars incorporate most of these ideas. WMATA has the same opportunities. Toronto’s Rockets feature permanently married 6-car trainsets (the maximum length for Toronto’s system), four doors per 76-foot long car, and lots of standing room without removing all transverse seating – something to aspire to for WMATA’s next railcar procurement.
Paris, 7th Arrondissement. Photo by the author.
Over the past two weeks, my fiancee I had the opportunity to visit friends and family in Europe – my first trip in far too long. Our itinerary included London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Utrecht. I hope to include photos and observations on the cities and their transportation systems in several posts over the long Thanksgiving weekend. I’ll start with some general and quick observations here.
On public transit: As you might expect, this trip included lots of transit. In London, we made extensive use of the Underground, as well as the Gatwick Express upon departure. In the Netherlands, we made extensive use of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen rail system, mostly using the InterCity trains between our home base in Utrecht to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Schipol. In Paris, we used both Metro and RER, as well as RATP’s modern tramways – a chance to see the lessons of modern streetcars applied in person.
The networks are all impressive, as were the levels of service and efficiency. It’s difficult to get a true sense of how the systems work for regular riders on a day-to-day basis when you’re just visiting. For example, a local laughed at my admiration for the NS rail system (admittedly based on a small sample size), complaining about frequent delays and never-ending construction. The grass might always seem greener on the other side, but complaints from the locals aside – I’m pretty sure it actually is greener in this case.
On high-speed rail: We traveled to Paris via the Thalys high speed train, using NS to meet the Thalys in Rotterdam. This was my first experience on true high-speed rail (sorry, Amtrak). While our return journey was delayed in departing due to a previous malfunction fouling the schedule, the overall experience was excellent – easy integration with public transit on both ends of the journey, no hassles in boarding the train or accessing the platforms - just check the display for your track, and check on the platform for where exactly on the platform to stand:
On-platform display at Rotterdam Central, showing platform locations (letters) for first class and second class coaches for the Thalys high speed service to Paris. Photo by the author.
On walking: Of all the places we visited, Paris was by far the most pedestrian-friendly. Between the ample pedestrian infrastructure (not necessarily at the expense of the cars, given the wide Hausmann streets) and the excellent, ped-friendly city-scape, travel via foot was easy. While London’s urban design is extraordinarily ped-friendly, far more of the street right-of-way is devoted to car uses. Addtionally, the traffic culture (perhaps some combination of legal and cultural reasons – or maybe just my failure to adjust to looking the other way when crossing the street) clearly prioritizes vehicular movements.
In the Netherlands, particularly in Utrecht, the threat to peaceful pedestrian strolling is not from cars, but from bikes. With narrow cartways along canals and amid old, medieval street grids, the mixing between cars, bikes, and pedestrians is amazing – but it doesn’t necessarily allow for the Parisian-kind of urban strolling.
On tall buildings: There were lots of them. Didn’t seem to be a big deal.
More to come…
Suburban Apartments and Estates – Now Renting. CC image from moominsean.
Call it gentrification, call it renewal, call it anything you like. Intense demand for city living is putting tremendous pressure on urban housing markets. Meeting that demand with new development reshapes the physical fabric of the city, but preserving the physical status quo in the face of that demand leads to rising prices in the existing housing stock.
David Byrne issued an ultimatum to New York: if gentrification from the 1% stifles the city’s creativity, he’s “out of here.” At the same time, Ed Glaeser remarks that New York should celebrate it’s ability to attract the rich – this kind of agglomeration of skills and talent is what makes cities special places. It’s not the fact that the rich are coming back to the city that’s problematic, but that the city isn’t still able to provide opportunities at all price points. David Madden notes that gentrification’s current pace is not trickling down to the middle and lower classes.
All the demand for urban living presents the ‘good problem to have.’ But good problems still represent problems.
Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of San Francisco based non-profit SPUR, stepped into the fray with an essay for Atlantic Cities on the failure to relieve the demand-side pressure and the resulting consequences: his friends keep moving to Oakland because they can no longer afford San Francisco:
A great quality of life and a lot of high-paying professional jobs meant that a lot of people wanted to live here. And they still do.
But the city did not allow its housing supply to keep up with demand. San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the “character” that people loved…
Whatever the merits of this strategy might be in terms of preserving the historic fabric of the city, it very clearly accelerated the rise in housing prices. As more people move to the Bay Area, the demand for housing continues to increase far faster than supply.
Metcalf expanded on the idea in an interview with SFGate.com:
Now, should there be places for middle-income folks to live? Absolutely. But it can’t be done with the existing housing stock. Smart new places will have to be built.
That includes high-density buildings, micro-units and new construction. It also means getting a grip on the incredibly complex and restricting planning process that stalls every development. The whoa-on-growth movement began in the early ’70s, and there’s a direct corelation between that and higher prices.
“Up until the mid-’70s,” Metcalf says, “our housing prices tracked right at the national average.”
Over the past 20 years, Metcalf says San Francisco has produced an average of 1,500 new housing units a year. Compare that with Seattle, which is averaging 3,000 units a year with a smaller population. And even that wouldn’t be enough.
Increasing density and allowing the market to meet the demand for new space is part of the solution. In a high-demand place like San Francisco, it’s probably best characterized as a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition. Part of the challenge is that center cities can liberalize their zoning regulations a great deal and still not seem to make much headway in affordability. The regional nature of housing markets, spanning across multiple jurisdictions with multiple regulatory structures, makes it difficult for any one jurisdiction alone to make a dent in the supply.
Consider the case of Long Island: a September New York Times article on Long Island’s lack of available apartments looks to a recent report from the Regional Plan Association to underscore the challenge:
According to a new report from the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and policy group, 55 percent of all 20- to 34-year-olds on Long Island still live with their parents, which is up 11 percent in a decade and appears to be one of the highest rates in the country.
But while some may actively choose to sleep in full view of their teenage posters and trophies, most are there because there are few other places they can go.
The article closes with an anecdote that illustrates the assymetry of demand in the housing market and the regional impacts it can have:
Peter Ottaviano, 24, who graduated from college two years ago, has been living at his parents’ home in Cold Spring Harbor and working for a public relations firm in Great Neck. He looked at some Long Island apartments, but said he wasn’t impressed by the offerings. He signed a lease this month on a two-bedroom in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where he and a friend will live for about $2,000 a month, and reverse-commute.
For Mr. Ottaviano, it came down to a paradox: young people aren’t likely to put down roots on Long Island until there are more young people on Long Island. “I want to be where my friends are, where there’s a lot going on, in the middle of everything,” he said. “That’s why I’m moving to New York.”
Long Island – home to the kind of mass produced suburban housing that provided the market-rate affordability for American cities in their suburban booms is now facing the same kinds of challenges that older places encounter.
As the 24-year-old Ottaviano’s housing decision shows, part of the question is if the suburbs can develop the kind of quality places that will attract a broader demographic, rather than just a release valve for housing demand. Outside of DC, Montogmery County is explicity looking to attract younger residents – and while reform of the county’s liquor laws alone won’t likely do it (or help the County chase the nebulous “hip” demographics), it can’t hurt.
But still need to build the additional density. Proposals for efficiency apartments in Fairfax County face strong opposition (including an elected official insinuating that affordable housing will bring gang violence and sexual predators); a transit-oriented, mixed-use apartment project was recommended for rejection by staff due to (among other things) having too little parking (a still-generous 161 spaces for 141 units) for the County’s taste – despite sitting a stone’s throw away from the Huntington station.
At the same time, we have substantial evidence of the benefits that affordable suburban apartments can bring. David Kirp in the New York Times celebrates the ten year anniversary of suburban New Jersey apartments built under the Mount Laurel doctrine:
“I wish other places could learn from our example,” says Mr. McCaffrey, the former mayor, but that hasn’t happened. Affordable housing is still too rare in suburbia, as zoning laws continue to segregate poor and working-class families. Despite the track record in Mount Laurel and the promise it holds for neighborhoods around the country, it’s hard to imagine that the suburban drawbridge will be lowered anytime soon.