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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An I-95 Train?

I've always wonder what DC would have looked like if they had built all the freeways that had been proposed in the '60s. I'm glad they didn't, but I do have fun driving on urban freeways like the BQE in New York, the Mass Pike in Boston, or the Southeast-Southwest Freeway here in DC. I gripe about how in DC (and Baltimore, for that matter) Freeways basically dead end in the city, dumping ridiculous volumes of automobile traffic in concentrated areas that ought to be more geared toward pedestrians. Either connect them, or get rid of them.

What is now I-395 was supposed to have connected along the Metropolitan Branch train line and connected to the stub at the I-95 interchange in College Park. Instead, it dead ends on New York Avenue, dumping thousands of cars onto what was intended to be a grand boulevard with vistas to the White House. Many of the funds from those abandoned highway projects were ultimately diverted to Metro. But the highway system proposed was far more in-depth than Metro today. Why didn't we match that ambition with trains?

Frankly, I don't care if the Shirley Highway is backed up. That highway is about six lanes wider than it ought to be anyway. I say, get rid of all those HOV lanes in the middle and add another Metro line, perhaps a light rail. Make it useful. Start it in Dale City, and have it run all along 95 and then 395 in the center lanes, all the way up toDC where it can connect underground to L'Enfant Plaza. Virginia commuters would then have the option to eschew the traffic on the freeway with a different kind of high occupancy vehicle: transit. Those giant empty spaces in the middle of highway exits? Throw parking garages in there. Giant park and rides taking tens of thousands of cars off the road every day.

I am curious to see what a study would say might happen if those HOV lanes were replaced with perhaps a light rail track with seamless connectivity to Metro stations (Franconia, Pentagon, and L'Enfant, perhaps).

Maybe this new line could even fight its way through the city and connect to I-95 in College Park, then head on up to Columbia. Sure it would be a long line, but it would do what ambitious freeway planners wanted I-95 to do: connect the region. Only this would be a far more responsible way of doing so.

Normally, I don't believe transit lines should run completely on freeways. I think freeways stifle the ability to place transit-oriented development around stations. I think a rail running along Rt. 1 in Maryland is far superior to one running along I-95, a parallel freeway a few miles west with no chance for promoting the same kind of good urbanism. But the Virginia portion of the above proposal would ostensibly replace a freeway, the one-way HOV lanes from Woodbridge to DC. Could trans move the same number of people during rush hour? They certainly would move people faster, considering they wouldn't have to suffer through Mixing Bowl traffic... they'd just speed right past it.

I wonder, has this proposal ever been thrown out there? Have such studies been conducted? Could a light rail move as many people as the HOV lanes, or would it have to be Metro, or something of even higher capacity?

Moving on from highways is going to take a plan as ambitious and extensive as the plan that put them here in the first place; a plan that can equal or best the largest public works project in human history. Why not start with superfluous lanes on a highway bringing thousands of people into the city every day?


Cavan said...

Please, no more trains in the medians of highways. It does not promote good urbanism. It can't no one wants to live next to a highway, not matter how nice the building it.

I think the most stark example of this is the Virginia portion of the Orange Line. In Arlington Co., the Orange Line is not in the median of a freeway. Therefore, the good urbanism that now exists is possible. Conversely, the Orange line in Fairfax Co. is in the median of I66. It will therefore forever be limited as a park and ride commuter rail.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

Far far better would be trains along Route 1 in Virginia and Maryland.