Today’s The Washington Post reports that the METRO extension to Dulles has passed another hurdle. A week ago a blogger noted that the Federal Transit Administration gave the METRO extension to Dulles low marks in its evaluation of proposed new projects seeking federal funding. The current plan ranked “Medium” or “Medium-Low” in 7 of the 9 categories.

Two points:

1. The scores were probably fair for the current plan. However, the evaluations in at least categories of Overall Project Justification, Cost Effectiveness, Land Use, Mobility Improvement and Operating Finance would have been far higher if there was solid state/municipal/private commitment to have supporting land uses in the station areas. [See our column at “Rail-To-Dulles Realities” 4 January 2004.]

2. According to the summary of the status of the federal transportation reauthorization we have seen, the chances of getting federal funding from the current administration with grades like that are slim to none.

It is hard to understand how intelligent people can continue to propose new transport facilities without relating them to the distribution of travel demand.

In the case of METRO that means the station areas settlement pattern. In the 80s S/PI started capsulizing the problem with the distribution of travel demand and METRO’s capacity this way:

“Most of the METRO trains, leave most of the METRO stations, most of the time essentially empty.”

This is not a condemnation of the idea to build a METRO system in the National Capital Subregion or of management of the system (there is plenty of grounds for condemnation in other areas of operation), it is a condemnation of the municipal, state and federal failure to create supportive land uses in the METRO station areas.

To make METRO function well it will take more than balanced development at each village-scale station area. It will require a balance travel demand among all stations so there is healthy ridership on every train all day and into the night.

Until there is a plan that does creates balanced ridership and Balanced Communities, extending METRO is a waste of money, just as the FTA analysis suggests.


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  1. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Just to put things in perspective, can you cite a plan that received a higher score that we might recognize (the “big dig” in Boston)?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “It is hard to understand how intelligent people can continue to propose new transport facilities without relating them to the distribution of travel demand.”

    “Most of the METRO trains, leave most of the METRO stations, most of the time essentially empty.”

    But the peak direction trains are jammed to capacity. This is exactly the same problem the highways face. It is hard to understand how some people can propose higher density development without considering the travel demand they create. Saying, let them walk and ride bikes is equivalent to saying let them eat cake.

    The only way to solve the Metro problem is to move the jobs out to the terminal metro stations, then some people will be able to ride the trains the other direction.

    Except, guess what, that won’t work either. If jobs are available at the terminal stations, people who now drive to take Metro will drive to take the jobs and skip Metro. Inbound ridership will decrease and the outbound trains will still be mostly empty. But some people would flee the city and housing prices would decline untils some balance was struck. Metro can’t work without road congestion as a prerequisite.

    People who now live in the city will flock to take less expensive homes farther out. They would prefer to drive in considerable traffic than to ride in Metro cars WITH NO SEATS.

    The same thing holds for the highways. If you move some of the jobs to where the highways start, the inner highways won’t have so much demand, and the demand will be distributed to where there are more roads. The difference is that now the jobs are located near to where the houses are. Unlike moving jobs to accomodate Metro this plan has a chance to succeed.

    That is what I call more balanced and sustainable communities. Let me put it this way. Since I moved to Washington my salary has increased 5X and the value of my home in Alexandria has increased 10X. Actually it increased 20X, but I sold half of it and created more density. THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE.

    Not only could I not afford to buy my property today, soon I won’t be able to afford to keep it, and I am in far better shape than most people.

    If this was a business community the business (government) would have moved out long since. Instead, the government, which has no profit motive, just pays higher salaries and location differentials, thereby further exacerbating the problem.

    Ed Risse is right in saying we need more balanced communities, but that means less center heavy, not more. And, by the way, it is a lot less expensive to move an office than it is to move all the people and all the houses that support it.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

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