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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Imagine A Seperate Green and Yellow Line

Naturally, there has been much written about the terrible Metro crash on the Red Line earlier this week. Had this been a nasty pile-up on the Beltway, we might have heard about it by by this point, we probably would have stopped talking about it by now, and it certainly never would have been international news. It is out of the ordinary, tragic, and was a failure of public infrastructure, unlike traffic accidents, which are usually the failures of individual drivers (we'll forgo the argument that fault may lie in road design). The fact that service disruptions continue on the Red Line is another reminder of this horrible accident. After all, these disruptions have a far greater impact on Metro than a bad traffic accident has on area highways.

If there is an accident on US-29 in Montgomery County, I can drive on Georgia or New Hampshire Avenues. But the stations that were shut down the past couple days isolated eastern Montgomery County from the rest of the Metro System. Originally, I tinkered with a map showing a separated Yellow Line for the sake of greater capacity and more geographic coverage for the Metro System. This week's accident has shown that adding redundancy to the system can be just as valuable as adding capacity.

Realizing the need for more redundancy on the system in the wake of this tragic crash is not an original idea. The Purple Line would obviously create alternate routes throughout the system. The Purple Line is both necessary and long overdue, however separating the Yellow and Green Lines would add capacity to existing track, much like separating the Blue and Orange Lines. In the case of the Yellow Line, it would allow for increased capacity on its Potomac River Bridge. If separated, the entire Green Line and the Yellow Line north of Pentagon would have the same capacity as the Red Line.

Here's what I would do with a separate Yellow Line:

View Separate Yellow Line in a larger map

This alignment is not 100% original either. Bringing Metro to North Capitol Street and Georgia Avenue is in no way a new idea. In these cases, however, people seem to want it for the geographic coverage, and not the additional capacity or system redundancy. Coverage is good, it brings transit to a new area. Capacity and redundancy, however, improve the entire system.

Perhaps I added a few too many stations, but they are just suggestions. While this would add service to the North Capitol Street and Georgia Avenue corridors, it would add redundancy to both the Green and Red Lines via Silver Spring, Georgia Av/Petworth, Union Station, and L'Enfant Plaza.

If this line existed already, the station closures on the Red Line might only have meant an additional transfer for Montgomery County commuters instead of the shuttle services to which Metro resorted after the crash.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Car Trip Back in the US, I Witness a Bike Accident

My first day back in the United States, the very first car trip I take (after jump starting my car, God help you if you don't drive them for 60 days) Just as I am acclimating myself back to American roads, I slammed on my breaks. The Ford Mustang driver in front of me had hit a cyclist. I did not see exactly what happened, but I did note that it occurred as the driver of the Mustang was pulling his car onto 198 from a curb cut entrance to an apartment complex.

The boy was okay, a couple nasty legions, but the bike was ruined. I offered my phone number and got the heck out of there, partly because I was in a hurry, and partly because I didn't want to take anyone's side int this one. After all, I didn't actually see what happened. The Mustang operator was polite and offered assistance, but when they you (probably about 19 or so) wanted to call the police, both occupants of the Mustang and another driver who had stopped after the incident insisted that the cyclist was at fault.

Again, I did not see the actual accident, but I can tell you for sure that on MD-198 in Laurel and Maryland City, the planners of the road were probably at fault. 198 is a six lane highway wrought with curb cuts. The sidewalks are widely traveled, but are only about four feet wide. And, in typical Prince George's and Anne Arundel County fashion, there are no bicycle lanes.

Ironically, as I was driving down the road, I was thinking about the best way to write about my recent travels in Europe and how easy it is to get around without a car. This was a sobering reminder of where I live, and how unwelcoming a place it can be. unless, of course, you are in your car.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Back In the States

I have returned from Germany (the university town of Darmstadt, to answer previous inquiries) with a renewed sense of appreciation for the cities of both Europe and the United States. I will probably have several tales to tell about my travels on the Audobahn, local tram system, high speed trains, and airports.

The E-25 in Belgium. Photo copyright Dave Murphy.

It dawned on me that today marks a year of running this site (although there have been several obvious periods of lull) I have been most fortunate to have a good number of followers and I wanted to take the time to thank them, even the ones who don't often agree with me. This has been a fun and worthwhile extra curricular activity for me.

Naturally, while in Europe, I took advantage of the walkability and the ample mass transit. But what really surprised me was that I fell in love with the freeway system. I didn't drive often, mostly only on day trips to neighborhing cities, but Germany's Audobahn and European freeways in general are fun and exciting to drive. One thing in particular I noticed was that the expressways, often only two lanes in each direction, have much smaller footprints than interstate highways, and much less traffic. They are generally straighter and flatter than interstates, which allows the carriage lanes to be slightly narrower and the travel speeds to be higher (unlimited in Germany!). It made me wonder, for example, if the Beltway through Montgomery County might be able to survive with three straight, flat lanes instead of four lanes curving and weaving along Rock Creek.

Another thing I liked about the expressways were the ample underpasses. In the rare few areas where the expressways traversed an urban area or even a small town, the street grid was not sacrificed to make way for the new freeway. In Luxembourg, I noticed that it was common for freeways to tunnel underneath entire towns, something probably more affordable in a country as affluent as Luxembourg. The parts that run through forest or farmland are more engaging to their surroundings, making the drive much more scenic and pleasurable than say driving I-95 between Washington and Baltimore. Often in wilderness areas, bridges of vegetation would go over the roads to allow wildlife to pass across the highway. I know these exist in the US, but they were seemingly ubiquitous in the Ardennes Forest. In addition to being functional, they ad a bit more scenery to the highway.

Expressways rarely run through cities, however. They are connected by arterials that cross the freeways outside the cities. In the center cities, there is usually little if any vehicular traffic at all. Most cities that I visited have large pedestrian-only areas, but areas that are on the street grid. In Darmstadt, the main two streets drop below the center of town and intersect underground at a stop sign, a rather exotic layout by American standards. All of this made way for various layers of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit routing, roads often sharing all four modes of transportation.

Driving in general is not as dumbed down. driving through towns or even on the expressways is not quite as intuitive as it is in America. It makes American roads seem overengineered, oversigned, and generally dumbed down for drivers. Interestingly, Germany has far lower incidence of fatalities on the road compared to the US. The entire time I was in Europe I only saw a single traffic accident, whereas it is not uncommon for me to see two while driving the six miles from my house to work here in Maryland. Anecdotal evidence that our overengineering of roads results in drivers paying less attention to what they are doing.

Another great design of European Freeways: they focus your attention at a point on the horizon. Naturally, the narrower streets, usually lined with three storey buildings, direct attention straight ahead. But the expressways were often flanked closely by trees. One Expressway in the Netherlands is lined by 100-foot tall rows of trees, almost like a grand hallway welcoming you onto the freeway. In addition to looking nicer, I believe that this focuses the eyes forward and therefore makes driving that much safer on the road.

I found getting around Germany, France, and the Low Countries to be very easy on all modes of transportation. I was quite surprised to be so taken with the highway system. More posts will come as I get settled back in to the groove here at home. Thanks again for making the last year of blogging so enjoyable.