Thursday, March 31, 2016

How would the DC Metro area deal with shutting down entire subway lines for months at a time for major renovation?


Wednesday, late in the day, DC Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, and Metro General Manager Wiedefeld announced to the media that the public should be braced for possible shutdowns of entire Metro lines or segments thereof for as long as six months for major renovation. The most complete story as of this writing appears in the Washington Post, by Robert McCartney, here.   The print headline in the Washington Post Thursday is “some riders may go for months without Metro”.   There are precedents: Chicago had a five-month shutdown for major rebuilding in 2013, and Baltimore plans a short shutdown this summer.

Wiedenfeld suggested it would take until early May to announce his decision on extended closures.
 
There are so many obvious questions.

First, with all the single tracking and shuttle-arounds of recent years and “rebuilding”, what has been going on?  Why only now the announcement of possible major shutdowns? Weren’t all the most critical problems really found on the one day shutdown March 16?



The announcement mentioned the Blue Line twice, but the Blue Line shares major tracks in Virginia (must of it above ground) in Virginia, and with the orange-silver from Rosslyn through most of downtown DC.  It’s unlikely that there are as many major problems above ground, so the logical implication that the underground space from Foggy Bottom to the Capitol Hill area (including Metro Center and L’Enfant) has drawn the most concern.  Evans suggested that the Red Line, which does not go into Virginia, while older, is farther along in substantial repairs and is less likely to be affected.

The Silver Line extension is new and would not be affected. The Green Line is slightly newer, and does not seem to have as had as many single tracking needs in recent years as the main Orange-Blue-Silver trunk through downtown.  The portion of the Orange Line through Arlington County, underground, seems to have more than a proportional share of incidents, especially around the longer tunnel segments. Slowdowns are common, especially inbound and approaching Rosslyn, for the train junction with Blue.  There may be serious issues with that specific intersection.

One obvious question for any line shut down is, will Metro replace the service with express busses during all service hours?  To approximate the effectiveness of the service from Ballston downtown, Metro would need to run a full bus every two-three minutes, or a double “train” bus, every five-six minutes down Clarendon Blvd and up Wilson through all service hours.  Arlington County would need to close off one lane each direction from cars, for busses only (something Cleveland, OH does along Euclid Ave, as a good example to follow), for maybe a few months, at least during weekday business hours.  All parking would have to be eliminated, although more garages could be built. Bicycle lanes could be maintained.  But the biggest bottleneck would be getting through Georgetown, as the District would also have to close many lanes to car traffic for express busses.  But “Cleveland” seems to have the best idea (and I don’t refer to the GOP and a brokered convention with this pun).  I think other cities, like Pittsburgh, have done similar things.

When I was a George Washington University college student and commuted to “home” in Arlington, I used the 2T and 2V Washington Boulevard buses in  the 1960s. Post streetcar, transit was somewhat cumbersome and inefficient, partly because the City was preoccupied with political and racial problems (the same reason the Senators baseball team was so bad).  Service was very slow through Georgetown. I also had the experience, in the latter part of 1962, of dealing with the Wisconsin Ave. buses out to NIH in Bethesda, and then to a job on Connecticut Ave, at Van Ness (the old NBS) in 1963-1964.  It was slow and inefficient.

A check of Metro shows that there is direct service from Arlington along line 3 today into downtown, but not Route 2, which would have to be restored.

Alternatives could be considered.  Could the lines be shut only on weekends?  Evans says no.  Furthermore, many people work odd hours, and depend on Metro and public transit off hours and off-direction. That’s particularly true of lower income workers, or of people who work in hospitality, or in bars and restaurants.  (Jack Evans, with his historical support of LGBT, knows this.)  It could be difficult for much of that industry to survive a prolonged shutdown near its location if effective alternatives were not available.

Likewise, other concerns come to mind.  How will service continue to major sports teams (Nats, Redskins, Capitals, etc)?

I’m reminded of a film “Five Lines” (2001), by Nicholas Panagapolus, and Brainbox, of which I have the DVD, after seeing it at AFI Silver in 2005 – getting there on the Red Line.
  
Update: April 20, 2016

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has issued a scathing letter to Metro ordering many more safety changes immediately.  Some of the changes have to do with training of employees and some are simple.  Here is a WJLA-AP report by Tom Roussey, Suzanne Kennedy, Brianne Carter with video and an embed of the letter.

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