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May | 2008 | Expect Delays

Monthly Archives: May 2008

What’s this wet stuff?

I don’t know how or when it happened, but at some point everybody that lives in the D.C. Metro area lost their ability to deal with any kind of precipitation. I realized this when I was just driving, because the roads suddenly clogged and everybody either slowed down to 25 miles per hour, or they sped up and put everybody’s lives in danger. Nobody was going cautiously but not impeding traffic.

Today I realized that public transit doesn’t know how to deal with it either. Now, normally I’m not all that grumpy about a little bit of rain while I wait for the bus. But the storm that’s blowing through right now is very cold, very windy, and very very wet. So I just wasn’t in the mood this morning.

Since my umbrella turned inside out before I got twenty feet from my front door, I though maybe I could walk to a nearby bus stop that had a shelter instead of standing at the curb like I usually do. But I racked my brain and couldn’t come up with a shelter on the right side of the road within walking distance. By the time I could have gotten to one, I would have been just as soaked as if I had waited.

Once the bus arrives, I have to hope that it’s a bus driver who actually waits for people to sit down before he pulls away. Two or three times a week I end up falling into my seat because the driver is in such a hurry. But when you couple that with the fact that the floors are soaking wet, then it’s a recipe for disaster.

While I’m discussing the floors, exactly why are bus floors all designed the way they are? It’s like they’re making a show of being anti-slip, but in fact they’re designed like a runway for your shoes. When you add water to the mix, it just gets dangerous.

Every other bus has some problem with the windshield wipers. They seem to actually get rid of the water, but in this erratic way that makes me think they’re about thirty seconds from stopping.

It all makes me wonder what the bus system in Seattle is like. Where do they stash their umbrellas? How do they keep from getting the seats wet when the people in raincoats sit down? Are they smart enough to make sure the bus windows don’t leak and spray water on the commuters?

Do they have rugs on the bus so people don’t slide around?

I won’t even get into how the metro train had two seats out of commission because they were covered in water (how does that even happen) or that flooding made delays on the orange and blue lines this morning.

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Step back, doors closing.

In Japan, they have these men on the train platforms with white gloves whose sole job is to cram as many people onto the trains as possible.

Today was probably the first time in my life that I really wished that somebody was shoving me to get somewhere faster. Because if somebody had shoved me from behind, then I wouldn’t have held the guilt from being impolite and shoving the businessmen in front of me.

I don’t understand what it is about the metro that makes people suddenly approach the speed of bored cows. It doesn’t matter what’s happening, getting on the train, getting off the train, funneling onto or off of escalators…there are only two speeds possible for commuters.

People are either shuffling and looking disinterested (or possibly lost, but those are tourists, and I mostly forgive them) or running and shoving others. Neither of these behaviors is really good for the flow of traffic. What happened to knowing where you were going and just GETTING there?

What especially irks me is that these people who are shuffling and trying to look bored then stand two inches from the edge of the platform, or subtly push in front of you when it comes time to board the train. I queue up politely, but I’m not going to stand at the edge of the platform because the next unenthusiastic woman in expensive shoes is liable to shove me off in front of a passing train (without looking up from her book club selection). So every day about three people get in front of me despite how long I’ve been standing and waiting.

Normally, this isn’t a problem, I don’t really care as long as I’m on the train.

Except this morning, I arrived at the platform about three minutes before the train did. No problem there, that’s what you get when you have to transfer trains. But the problem here was that for some reason, a minute before the train arrived a huge glut of businessmen arrived at the platform.

This morning, the businessmen were making such a big show of being disenchanted with the world around them, absorbed in their newspapers and far too good to do mundane things like care about the metro train. So they shuffled slowly into the car, leaving me standing on the platform waiting. The overhead voice asked them to please move to the center of the car. They shuffled. They stood. They made it onto the train and continued to read, oblivious to the people waiting behind them.

The door dinged that it was closing as I was stepping across into the train. I’ve actually been two or three steps away when it dinged before and still made it on just fine, but this time the guy in the suit in front of me stopped moving. He got on board the train and just stopped dead.

So I have a split second of trying to decide if I’m going to shove him, or if he’ll remember he’s supposed to get out of my way, and the doors close on me. As in I’m standing in the center of them, desperate to get onto the train and unable to move because this guy (who never turned around, glanced my direction, or too his eyes off his precious Washington Post) couldn’t imagine that maybe I didn’t want to get bruised by the door slamming on me repeatedly.

I don’t care how much you think you’re above the commute that you’re on, you’re not above your fellow passengers. Get out of their way, get where you’re going, and then maybe everybody will be much happier.

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Does nobody understand the Dulles Metro Extension?

In the past month, I’ve been spending three to four hours of every day on public transit. I bounce from the Fairfax Connector to the Metrorail system, to the University shuttle. It’s thrilling, let me tell you.

So you can imagine that the proposed “Silver Line” extension that would bring the metrorail to Dulles is of a great deal of importance to me. The bus is the most obnoxious section of my commute, and the proposed Wiehle Avenue stop is so very convenient.

Of course, even though it’s in phase one of the construction, said stop will not be operational until 2012 at the very earliest (I’m betting on 2020 myself). But none of that mattered when the Federal government threatened to completely bury the project by denying it’s funding several months ago. Of course, the news now is different: funding for the planning stages is back on but funding for construction remains under consideration.

Unlike some, I don’t care why the feds reconsidered their decision, I’m just thrilled that they did. This extension is desperatly needed, and anybody who has had to drive through Tyson’s Corner can recognize that. The only road I’ve found that’s worse than Route 7 is 95, and honestly, I don’t think there’s any saving 95.

Route 7 is a horrible mass of traffic, bumper to bumper road rage inducing idiots with SUVs. People at my office don’t really understand that most of the reason that I don’t drive to work isn’t to avoid traffic in the district, it’s to avoid traffic in Tyson’s Corner.

So I’ll be honest, the thing that annoys me most right now is people saying stupid things about the project. People who are saying, “they’ve been trying this for years and it hasn’t happened yet, why are they still trying.” Because there’s still a need.

The people who are saying, “the orange line already has a lot of passengers, we shouldn’t overtax it.” This is very true, I am baffled by how crowded the orange line is every morning. But according to the map I just downloaded on The Dulles Metro website, the Silver Line will be running through Rosslyn, so riders on the Silver Line will be evenly distributed between the orange and blue lines, I think. Personally, I’ll just be on one of the two for a few stops before I get to Metro Center. There will be kinks in the system, yes. There’s plenty of kinks in the orange line right now, but I think that the need far outweighs the challenge.

But this is the thing that bothered me the most, as I read my copy of The Express. In an article about the metro’s funding approval, a blogger is quoted as saying: This project will only bring rail to Reston. For $900 million in Federal money, decades of planning and promises, speculative development based on proposed stations, and repeated harangues from community leaders Loudoun will get exactly nothing from this deal, except perhaps even more traffic.”

Could somebody explain to me, exactly and in detail, how someone would expect to build anything connected to the District out to Loudoun without first going through Reston/Fairfax County? The railway has to serve Tyson’s Corner, and in order to connect Tyson’s with Dulles, going through Reston is only natural. Not to mention the fact that Reston is a bit more populated than people seem to think. Yes, I’m happy that the first phase of the project is bringing the metro to me. Yes, the station on Wiehle is the one I would be utilizing most.

But if the first phase only brought the rail out to Tyson’s Corner, I would STILL be all for it. I would still be cheering it every step of the way because you CAN’T build it to the end without building the middle first. It’s only logical.

I’m also not sure about how this is going to bring more traffic to Loudoun. But I have to remember that the first thing that any resident of Northern Virginia says when they’re in “doom and gloom” mode is that something will increase traffic. It’s their excuse for all of their BANANA behavior.

(For those who don’t obsess about urban planning, BANANA is the extension of the idea of NIMBY, it stands Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

When a developer wanted to completely reinvent the Vienna Metro station, and create a hub of Transit Oriented Development, all anybody could think was that it would make more traffic. The entire plan was to create a large section of homes within walking distance to the metro station, where people wouldn’t NEED to own cars, and yet people talked about the traffic. They planned to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, but of course everybody was obsessed with parking spaces.

I’m starting to feel like the only person on the planet whose life does not completely revolve around being a car owner. Yes, I have a car. But I gladly leave it parked at my house five days a week. And if I could, I would gladly donate money towards the Silver Line.

Better public transit is a necessity. The Dulles Extension is a well-imagined, well thought out necessity. People desperately need to start supporting it and helping rather than hurting.

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