Metrics? You Want Metrics?

If there was any doubt regarding the propensity of people who live near Metro stations to actually ride the Metro, let those doubts be dispelled. Heed (with my emphasis added):

Nearly 1 in 3 residents who live or work within a half-mile of a Metro station use the rail system daily, according to a new study that is likely to provide more fuel to efforts to develop around the region’s 86 stations.

The study, released by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, also showed that more than half of residents who live and or work within one-quarter mile also choose public transportation over their cars.

Metro officials surveyed 1,950 people who lived, worked or visited other businesses within a half-mile of 13 rail stations. In 1989, just 18 percent of those who worked near a station reported using the subway to get to work. And while the numbers are less dramatic for those who live near a station, which jumped from 45 percent in 1989 to 54 percent this year, the volume of customers has increased significantly. Ridership has jumped 43 percent since 1990, officials said, with the addition of just two new stations.

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9 responses to “Metrics? You Want Metrics?”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    That is excellent, and good news to boot. Maybe over timepeople will change their habits. And maybe over time, as more places get developed near Metro stations more people will be able to use that system.

    But it is only one metric. I’d be curious to see not so much how much they use metro, but how much they still use their cars for other travel and business. Even if these people use their cars for only 50% of travel, if you put 60% more people in those areas you will not reduce congestion or pollution.

    And unless a lot of them forgo cars entirely, such densities will require that increasing proportions of space be used for auto storage. All of the apartment buildings near the Metro stop I use have underground parking.

    Then there is the metric of cost. Even with increased ridership and jammed trains, Metro isn’t bringing in enough to cover its operating costs, let alone equipment replacement and other capital costs. Essentially, we are paying these people to choose transit over cars.

    Then there is the question of what happens a mile or two miles from the station. One reason the Metro system works because it has only a few stops, relatively speaking. But the more places you try to serve, the more stops you have and the less efficient the system is – and also more convenient.

    In other words, the more you promote and expand it, the more it starts to look like the auto system.

    Finally, the study is suspect of being self serving because it is conducted by the transit authority.

    After it is all done, we ought to ask ourselves what it is we are trying to do here. Reduce pollution? Producing and transmitting electricity is pretty inefficient, and we then use it to move an awlful lot of empty Metro seats around. When it is all said and done, what is the real decrease in pollution, and what did it cost?

    You can ask similar questions about the reduction in traffic congestion, increased health due to walking, overall economic welfare, value of real estate taxes produced, and a bunch of other arguments concerning the value of Metro.

    It is too big a project and too big of an investment to simply say it is a success because of a simple poll. Besides, if we had the real answers to the real questions, it might help us decide how to make the next extension better and more profitable.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray, you are correct on this one. It is clearly good news that people living close to a Metro station or other public transit tend to take it to and from work. That is a positive factor for TOD.

    But the analysis cannot end at this point. From what I’ve been reading, TOD must also foster an environment with fewer cars altogether. As Ray and others have noted, people still drive on evenings and weekends.

    The Tysons Corner rezoning proposals request FARs in the range of 3.0 to 3.5 and even as high as 5.0. From a not-so-scientific review of New York City’s zoning, it appears that automobile parking spaces in areas with comparable FARs are generally no greater than one space for every two living units. Isn’t it reasonable to expect a comparable limit on parking spaces at Tysons Corner and other potential TOD locations? If not, why not? I’ve not done any calculations of the ratio of parking spaces to living units for Tysons, but I do note that the Tysons I proposal alone would add slightly more than 9000 new parking spaces for the condos and offices. That is more parking spaces than at the world’s largest office building — the Pentagon, which has 8770 spaces, according to its web site. I submit that it is very likely, therefore, that the Tysons I proposal would have many more parking spaces per unit than is found in New York for projects of comparable density. That simply does not seem consistent with TOD — if the goal is truly to reduce automobiles. Simple rhetoric and the use of planning-hip terms is not appropriate.

    Similarly, for TOD to work, there must be adequate infrastructure in the immediate area, including transit. The elephant in the room is: Does Metrorail have sufficent capacity to handle all the new riders from TOD projects? If not, aren’t we just playing games or worse? We need answers now and not after big projects have been approved.

  3. Arg, but the NIMBYs who live in Vienna or Springfield or wherever else would have us maintain their sterile useless fields or empty lots around Metro stations. And they have Congressmen who are willing to intervene at the federal level!

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Several years ago, I heard that WMATA did a bus study that concluded that buses could meet the need for transpsorting passengers as well as rail along the Dulles Corridor. In fact, the study went as far as to say, in the Dulles Corridor, buses could be rail on rubber tires.

    Unfortunately, this study was done during the push for rail to Dulles.

    Those study results were not widely distributed…..hmmmmmmm!

    Could this be compared to pushing TOD around transit stations?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    This mass transit ridership news is encouraging. It will be good to get all these “new” people off the roads so I can have an easier drive again. I’m concerned, though, about the 70% and 50% that don’t take public transit. Won’t this large increase in density around transit nodes more that offset any traffic “loss” with a much greater gain?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    As I see it a half mile circle aroung 84 metro stations amounts to about 3% of a 25 mile radius serverd by metro in a more general way. If those near metro areas reduce the auto use there by half, then our investment in Metro has bought us an overall decrease in auto use compared to the total area of 1.5%. But only for three percent of the total area.

    On the other hand the total area of those spaces within a half mile of the Metro stations is 65 sq mi. If they are developed at five times the density of the rest of the area, then they have saved 228 sq miles of less dense development.

    At $10,000 per acre, that’s $1.4 billion in land, compared to the $10 billion that Metro originally cost. But the 65 sq miles of metro land may well have cost as much as the 228 sq miles metro saved.

    So, if the land value is a wash and the traffic savings is 1.5% and only in certain areas, then why did we build Metro, anyway?

    It looks like that if the development costs for metro plus the cost of developing the metro areas aren’t at least five times lower than they would have been for the other 228 sq miles, then we’ve been wasting out time and money.

    Then again, we would have had 228 sq miles sitting there doing nothing, and I suppose that has some value.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m sure Paul is speaking of the MetroWest project when he doles out lumps using the term NIMBY.

    HISTORY: In the 80’s, this area was upplanned from 64 homes to 500 homes. In the early ’90s it went from 500 to 1100-1500 homes, with community support. Then in 2003 the politicians stated that it needed to go to 2300 homes – without the greater community support. I don’t think that the Vienna Metro Station communities could be termed NIMBYs – they just objected to the breach of good faith in previous negotiations for higher density that was done in the ’90’s. Just because a Metro station is in play doesn’t mean the entire new growth population of Fairfax should be placed on it.

    We need to look at land use and determine what can be reasonably sustained – and honor promises made to communities when they previously agreed to upplan their area. To me, MetroWest is not an honorable project. And, it will add immensely to the congestion in the area and region.

    Like the area north of the Vienna Metro that was to be commercial/retail, it won’t surprise me if the MetroWest developer comes back to the Board of Supervisors for a proffered condition amendment to relieve himself of the commercial/retail component in MetroWest. TOD is only a buzz word to get a project approved in Fairfax. My concern: Honor will not prevail in the long term when politicians memory will conveniently fade, again, as to the promises that were made to area communities in the granting of this upzoning. Justified outrage is not the same as NIMBYism

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Good point.

    It’s too bad you can’t count on the government to keep its promises. If you are zoned for one hous per acre and they plop 500 more down next door, tough noogie.

    If the plan was for one house per 3 acres and they drop it to one house per 20, tough noogie.

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    12:54 If you get the chance, read the final EIS for the Dulles Metro project at Table 6.2-2. It would be nice if the extension of Metrorail through Tysons and to Dulles and Loudoun County would reduce automobile congestion. But, according to the Commonwealth’s own case, it won’t. The Commonwealth’s own data shows that spending at least $4 B of taxpayer and Dulles Toll Road user money leaves traffic congestion just as horrible as if nothing were done.

    Why, you might ask? Because building Metrorail would enable additional development near and around the rail line that would cancel any traffic reduction gains from the train. As a spokesperson for the supporters of Dulles rail says, the Silver Line is not about transportation, it’s about dense development.

    Moreover, if anyone truly believes that the final cost to taxpayers and Dulles Toll Road users will be only $4 B, I’ll sell them stock I own for only $50 a share.

    This is too expensive of a proposal to be decided on hollow rhetoric and hopefull, but empty, promises. If we are going to spend at least $4 B, should we see real improvement in traffic congestion?

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