Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Prince George's residents speak out against bus cuts

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

Riders filled the Prince George's County WMATA budget hearing on Monday despite a suburban and relatively transit-inaccessible location, and made heart-wrenching please to retain their vital lifelines, bus service.

At least 100 riders attended and over 40 people gave testimony. Board Member Elizabeth Hewlett and General Manager John Catoe were both present to listen to the riders.

Many of the commenters called on elected officials to pitch Maryland's contribution in. Many audience members wore "O'Malley: Stop Bus Cuts" pins created by the Transit Riders United of Greenbelt, and said that if bus service is cut, they won't vote for O'Malley again.

Almost all of the speakers were strongly opposed to any cuts in bus service. Two blind Greenbelt residents, Laura and Shawn O'Neil, testified about the hardships cuts would bring them. Currently, they have two buses which serve both Greenbelt Metro and New Carrollton Metro. Under Metro's proposal, they will lose their service to New Carrollton, where one of them works, on both routes. His only option will be to switch from fixed route service to paratransit, at a cost of approximately $19,000 per year to Metro.

I overheard a Metro planner speaking with Ms. O'Neil in the audience prior to the hearing. Instead of offering her alternatives or even attempting to understand her condition, he blithely told her that she could find a way to cope with the changes. He completely blew off her concerns that transferring between buses in a strange place with poor pedestrian accommodations would be difficult for a blind person, and left her in tears. With representatives like this, it's no wonder the community doesn't have a lot of faith that WMATA actually listens to customers.

One speaker asked the WMATA panel if they ever wondered if paratransit (MetroAccess) costs were so high in Prince George's because the fixed route service was so abysmal. That comment got quite a few nods through the room.

A few citizens came forward to speak out against the elimination of the R3 bus, which serves the National Archives facility in Adelphi. Some riders in the area will be left without service at all times, others would lose service on weekends and off-peak. They spoke of the importance of continuing to have good access for visitors, researchers, and employees at the National Archives, and also of the general importance that transit plays in keeping livable communities accessible.

Other riders spoke out against fare increases. Some talked of the hardship of the additional cost of their commute, others were opposed to giving more money to an agency in which they have little faith. Some spoke of the waste they think exists in the agency, while others criticized what they characterized as the overpayment of workers and lack of oversight of Metro.

The meeting was at times boisterous, with applause and the occasional 'amen' from those in the audience. It was at all times civil. Most speakers stayed within the 3 minutes alloted for testimony.

Metro provided a shuttle from New Carrollton station to the hearing, which ran continuously during the proceedings. Additionally, the city of Greenbelt organized a bus to take residents to the hearing.

However, citizens who didn't know about the shuttles, might have been discouraged by the lack of regular service by the hearing site. Only one bus route, the F13, serves the church where the meeting was held, but the last return trip to New Carrollton passes by the church at 6:35 — 25 minutes before the hearing started.

Additionally, as several commenters at the hearing noted, even with shuttle service back to New Carrollton, the lack of decent bus service would make it difficult or impossible to return to their homes. One blind citizen criticized Metro for the location of the hearing, saying that they should be "ashamed" that there were no hearings held in southern Prince George's.

In fact, of the 6 budget hearings held in the region, the only one south of Route 50 is the one in Southeast Washington. The same commenter said that cross-county bus service was a "joke" and that was why the hearing didn't have even more citizens there to testify.

Many Greenbelters turned out, which is to be expected since Metro has proposed restructuring all bus service in the city, including the elimination of one route (the R3), the truncation of another (the C2), and the restructuring of the R12 and T16/17. And while no official notice has been given, some feel that Metro's restructuring makes it more likely that Prince George's County Transit will discontinue at least one route, the 15.

Many of the Greenbelters were members of Transit Riders United, which for over 6 months has been working with Metro and Prince George's County planners to improve bus service in Greenbelt. In December, members tell me, they were informed that Metro had a proposal, but couldn't release it until it was okayed by Prince George's. The plan was finally released late last week, less than a week before the hearing, and with little time to consider the implications or find alternatives.

After the meeting, I spoke with one WMATA representative, who was surprised that there were not more positive comments, especially about some of the changes in the Greenbelt area. I told him that with only three minutes each, most citizens were bound to focus first on the changes most harmful to them, and then if there was time left over, they would get around to positive comments.

Above photo by thisisbossi on Flickr

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Highways After People

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to travel to Breezewood, Pennsylvania to bike on a portion of the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike. Check out my photos below.

This stretch of the abandoned turnpike is 13 miles long, and was abandoned in 1968. It includes two tunnels, Rays Hill and Sideling Hill. I had hoped to bike the whole segment, but rain set in, and the trip had to be cut short.

So, the trip only included a ride through the Sideling Hill Tunnel, 1.3 miles of inky darkness.

This section of the Turnpike opened in 1940, and was bypassed in 1968 because it was cheaper than twinning the two tunnels. It's an eerie site. It's out in the middle of nowhere, and seems some remnant of a post-apocalyptic world. The whole time we spent on the old turnpike, we saw only two other people, local teens by the look, emerging from the darkness on foot.

The tunnels actually date back to 1881 and the construction of the South Penn Railroad, which went bust before completion. In the late 1930s, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission completed and expanded the tunnels.

However, most of the railroad line follows a different alignment from the Turnpike. In places, you can see traces. Several photos in my set show the railroad grade (and a culvert) just west of the western portal of the Sideling Hill Tunnel.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Downtown bike lane proposal needs fixes at the ends

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

NYC Bike SignalLast week, DDOT announced a plan for a set of cutting-edge bike facilities downtown, but the plan does raise some issues. The plan will dramatically improve cycling conditions downtown, but some of the constraints on the plan may call for even more innovative solutions.

One of the concerns voiced at Thursday's meeting was about what happens to the bike lanes on I (Eye) and L Streets when they end at the diagonal avenues (Pennsylvania Avenue at the west end of I, Massachusetts Avenue at the east end of L).

Because the bike lanes run on the left side of the east-west streets, cyclists will either be expected to turn into the left lanes of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues or find some other way of crossing several lanes of traffic to get to the right curb.


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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Trip to Morgantown

I know I've been absent from Track Twenty-Nine for a while, and I apologize. I've been busy of late, and got out of the habit of writing here.

Yesterday, I took a day trip out to Morgantown, West Virginia, home to America's first Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) System. The line was built as a demonstration project, and opened in 1975.

There are about 3 miles of linear dual-track guideway and 5 stations. The system is linear in nature, with all five stations lying along the course of the main guideway. However, the three intermediate stations are set up so that through trains can bypass them.

When the fare is paid, a set of options on the faregate lights up which allows the passenger to select his or her destination. This sends a signal to the computer, which dispatches a vehicle to the station. The stations themselves are pretty simple. End-of-line stations (Walnut, Health Sciences) are the smallest, and are set up as loop stations. Intermediate stations are much larger, and have station tracks, loop tracks, and bypass tracks. They also have more than one platform, for handling different directions of travel.

Each track at a station has 2 or 3 unloading bays and one loading bay. A vehicle arriving discharges passengers before proceeding to the loading bay. There are 8 seats per car and room for 12 standees. The vehicles are capable of running up to 30 mph.

I was impressed with the system. It works well in this campus setting. Some cars were running empty (shuttling to other stops), others had standing passengers. Wait times were fairly short. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes.

In Downtown Morgantown, I didn't find the guideway too intrusive, but there was plenty of other visual clutter on the landscape to distract from it. It helps that it does not run over streets (except for Walnut Street near that station). It crosses several streets, but just briefly. On the campus it is largely at grade.

The intermediate stations do take up significant space. I think they could probably be made much smaller, perhaps on the scale of the end-of-line stations. I also think that a linear automated guideway system like Miami's Metromover could be a decent substitute in other campus settings.

My visit was an interesting experience. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do it. And I would encourage you to stop by if you find yourself in Morgantown. For $0.50 per ride, it's a pretty good deal.