Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bill providing $1.7 billion in funds for transit agencies on the House Floor

This bill, designed to allow transit agencies to keep from raising fares and to increase services, is very important, and likely to pass.

Of course, $1.7 billion is far from enough, and they need to provide more money to build & expand rail systems. In areas with fairly extensive rail and bus systems, like the DC metro area, they are now having capacity problems.

Trains are full at peak commute hours, and they simply can't get more trains for a while, even if they ordered them immediately.

While companies can, at least to some extent (and Metro is encouraging them), spread out work hours to create several peak travel times, and move Metro ridership from 500,000 on weekdays to 640,000 on weekdays, freeing up more money to, for instance, provide welcome extensions to the Metro system.

Here's to hoping that, at the very least, the federal government will help out Metro. I'm working 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. days. Although such a late day is unlikely to work well for most people, I expect that there's a decent range that wouldn't be all that bad for people, and of course, most transit systems already run more frequently at peak ranges.

For instance, consider the bus I take to work, the NJ Transit 606 from Princeton Shopping Center through Trenton to Mercerville's 5 Points (usually with extensions to the Princeton Care Center and Hamilton marketplace).

In the Princeton direction (full route and every stop not done by every bus)
It first runs at 5:25 a.m.. Then from 5:50 to 7:20 [to accomodate the poorer people who live in Trenton but work [presumably relatively low-wage jobs] at the University or in town or other places; we actually do reverse commuting here] it runs every fifteen minutes. It then runs every half hour until 9:20, at which point it begins running in 40 minute intervals until 1:15, at which point it runs in half hour intervals till 2:50, when it runs 20 minute intervals until 4:20. Then it runs half hour intervals until 6:15, one 40 minute interval, then hour intervals until 11:40.

In the Trenton direction (again not every stop)
It runs first at 5:15, again at 6:45 and 7:27. At that point, it runs at twenty minute intervals until 9:10, at which point it runs at 9:40, then every 40 minutes until 2:20. Then it runs at 2:50 at 3:10, then runs in half hour intervals until 4:40, where it runs 20 minute intervals for the evening commute till 5:20, then at 5:50, then 40 minute intervals till 7:40, then hourly intervals until 1:00 a.m.

Of course, the ridership isn't close to as heavy as in more urban areas, and New Jersey is great because (although admittedly, it works better in NJ than it would in states with less core metro areas) the system is statewide, and in much of the state it runs not only in (and usually through) the central city (Trenton, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, New Brunswick, Edison, Paterson, Passaic, etc.) but it also runs a lot of intercity buses.

Granted, the system is far from perfect. When I worked for the Educational Testing Service in Ewing in 2006, I had to take the 602 to Ewing and then transfer to the 606 to get home, which was an hour and a half trip. Since I had to be there by 8:00 a.m., I just couldn't do it in the morning (my dad drove me as it's at least in the same direction as his work, if farther out)

Anyway ...

If riders spread out their rush-hour trips, instead of crowding into the "peak of the peak," Metro could accommodate an additional 140,000 trips on the subway, Metro's Bottigheimer said.

And again, this could help pay for Metro extensions and projects:

For instance, they are considering tunnels to link nearby stations on different lines; seems like solid ideas.

I've taken the orange/blue line to Metro Center and transferred to the red line quite a few times.

Of course, it's annoying to go through Metro Center, and I've wished that there was a station connecting Farragut West and Farragut North. They are studying a tunnel to connect them, as well as one to connect Metro Center to allow people to avoid having to either transfer twice or have to ride down to L'Enfant Plaza to get from the Yellow/Green line (the primary purpose of the yellow line was to allow a direct route across the Potomac from downtown to Alexandria instead of having to through Arlington); the line has only 2 of its own stations, one in Alexandria and one just outside the beltway in Fairfax; similar to how the blue & orange run together from the Potomac to the Anacostia and then branch to provide, in the east, access to two parts of PG County (and more importantly, the Marc Penn line; by the way, that ought to be extended to Newark, Delaware; then I'd be able to get home from school in DC by taking only local trains), and in the West to go to both west out through Arlington and Falls Church in the Loudoun direction, and to go south down to Arlington to the VRE station at Franconia Springfield.

And there are quite a few rail system expansions planned:

* Rail extension to Dulles, which apart from La Guardia [yes, surprisingly, La Guardia] is I believe the only airport in a metro area with rail on the Northeast Corridor without a rapid transit extension (though the Silver Line to Logan Airport in Boston is Bus Rapid Transit). I've never flown out of Dulles and would prefer they actual start construction on high-speed rail so I can get from DC to, say Chicago or Atlanta or Detroit or Nashville in 10 hours or less (and since it's warranted on that already highly traveled corridor, build that maglev from Boston to at least Richmond (if not Charlotte or Atlanta) so flights between cities on that corridor can be eliminated (certainly on the Boston/Richmond)
* Streetcars on Columbia Pike through Arlington to Fairfax
* Build the purple line as light rail fully from New Carrollton to Bethesda to provide quick dense inner suburb to inner-suburb transit.
* Build the 5 transit corridors as streetcars to fill in nearly all the gaps in rapid transit currently existing in DC

If that was all done (along with VRE and MARC extensions) it would make the DC metro area unequivocally the #2 transit metro area [of course, that would only be true if the others don't improve a lot as well) in the country (a step down, of course, from the NYC metro area); it's now sharing the #2 spot with Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Portland.

Of course, they've got real problems there as well due to sprawl and the unwillingness of (white, anyway; a far larger percentage of Latinos and blacks have been used to carpooling for years due to the expense of car ownership) Americans to become community types.

Sprawl prevents Americans from walking and (although this would take time, it's more feasible; I've been bicycling to the bus stop to get to work, although frankly I could walk to the closer one, it's only .8 miles from our house; I have to walk about that far from the road in front of the Bristol-Myers Squibb complex to the actual office, due to the silly way they built it ) bicycling to the rail station. Unwillingness to become community types means that there's insufficient parking to accommodate everyone who wants to "park & ride" to work.

We should, of course, complain heavily about the criminal insanity of our land development, car (i.e. CAFE standards; we needed an increase 10 years ago)and transit use policies.

Then again, the American people quite willingly threw out Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the Democratic Congress in 1994 (after it passed an act that hasn't been funded on rail transit). Moreover, they've elected people across the country who've allowed very, very stupid entirely unplanned sprawl to get built up on farmland over the last 40 years, because people, naturally, wanted big houses with nice lawns (and, admittedly in many cases, they also wanted to get away from the "scary black people" who'd moved into the cities). The free market, while quite good in most ways, has no way to accomplish long-range planning, and the American people have elected governments that totally failed us in that respect.

But again, nothing can be done about that.

Very few Democrats (ifThere are enough Republicans representing

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