Monday, July 28, 2014

Washington’s Silver Line Open for Business!

New metro lines don’t open very often in this country, so it’s exciting to have a major addition to one of our most successful systems.  The Washington Metro Silver Line started revenue service on Saturday, with its first weekday operation today (story here).  The route runs through suburban Virginia, linking up with the existing Orange Line to carry passengers into Washington DC.  Ultimately the Silver Line will reach all the way to Dulles Airport (the older, closer-in Reagan National already has a Metro stop) but the big achievement for this segment is bringing rapid transit to Tysons Corner, a massive complex of shopping malls and suburban sprawl.  Both the developers and planners have decided that Tysons Corner needs to have a new lease on life – more mixed-use and more transit accessible.  If it works, this could be an iconic turnaround (watch for upcoming Norristown High Speed Line access to the King of Prussia mall complex in suburban Philadelphia in a few years).
There are some unresolved issues with the Silver Line.  Some of the stations are plunked into low-density areas that need a lot of work before they reach anything like the concentration we see at Ballston or Bethesda or Silver Spring.  More critically, at a system level, the Silver Line essentially serves as a branch of the Orange Line.  Not a problem for most Orange Line riders, but those beyond East Falls Church will find service drastically reduced.  The long-term solution (hopefully medium-term) is a new tunnel under the Potomac, bringing more capacity to the core area and relieving congestion on the Orange and Silver lines (see Greater Greater Washington’s story on the proposed “loop” line here.)

Congratulations to Rich Sarles and company for (so far) a smooth rollout of a major Metro line!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Good opportunity for TOD in Florence (no, not Italy)

NJ TRANSIT’s River Line light rail service is a bit of an oddity.  Conceived for reasons immersed in New Jersey politics, connecting Trenton and Camden along a 35-mile route, it is more like the “interurban” lines of a century ago than the usual urban light rail. 
The River Line continues to grow in ridership and, after a slow start, is beginning to show signs of encouraging the sustainable economic development we want to see.
The opportunity for the future?  Transit Oriented Development.  And in some locations (thanks to the Center for Neighborhood Development for the term) Cargo Oriented Development.
The photo below shows the Florence River Line station, which is located in the middle of a growing industrial park.  Putting transit and industry together can work (see story here).  The ideal combo?  A planned center with multimodal goods movement, high-tech 21st century manufacturing, road/rail/water accessibility, and transit access.  Oh yes, and electrified local delivery vehicles to further reduce carbon footprint.
It can happen in Florence and Roebling and some other places along the River Line, and at potentially many locations in the northeast and rust belt. 

Don’t expect a branch of the Uffizi to locate here though.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oldest Potholes Known to Man? (Roman asset management?)

This story from the southwest of England may not actually record the oldest potholes known to man, but it does remind us of how pervasive the Roman roadway network was, and how sophisticated it was in design.  Those of us who are infrastructure aficionados will have no difficulty appreciating the importance of that network in supporting a level of travel, economic wellbeing, and quality of life not seen again in Europe for 1500 years or so after the fall of the Roman Empire.  I suppose one could also draw conclusions about the failure of the Roman roads and their linkage to the fall of the empire, but for now let’s just be reminded of the remarkable story of Roman technology, new chapters of which continue to be revealed by archaeologists on a regular basis. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mermaids, Penguins, and Pedestrians: KC’s Country Club Plaza

The Country Club Plaza – Kansas City’s classic and elegant shopping district – has some charming pedestrian spaces, with fountains, murals, brick sidewalks, riverside walks, and yes mermaids and penguins (see below).

Unfortunately, as I noted on a recent visit, automobiles rule the streets, and pedestrian signals are so inadequate and confusing that people seem mainly to dart across the pavement whenever and wherever they spot an opening.  Some “complete streets” planning would move the Plaza up a notch in quality of life!  (Also missing: rapid transit. See here.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

KC Country Club Plaza: Next Train Arrives in ……………….?

Construction has at last begun on a starter segment of the Kansas City streetcar line (website here).  The good news is that at least something approaching modern transit has been started in one of the nation’s largest metros lacking rapid transit.  Unfortunately, it’s not nearly what’s needed and even this half-measure is controversial and may fail (background to controversy here).  And although there are many high-quality activity centers along the route (Union Station, Crown Center, Country Club Plaza, UMKC) the streetrunning cars will only come close to many of them and will travel slowly, in mixed traffic.
Country Club Plaza is a terrific urban, mixed-use, transit-ready destination, but the streetcar will be a critical few blocks away from the center (below).  And who knows when it will come?  It’s not on the starter segment.

At least it’s a start.  Good luck KC!