Transit Times April 2017 edition

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Transit Times

The newsletter of the Action Committee for Transit of Montgomery County, Maryland.

Inside This Issue

American Experience: The Underground Race......................................................................4 The Public Broadcasting System recently aired “American Experience: The Underground Race” about the invention of the underground electric railway (subway) and its first construction in Boston, MA. The film is based on the book “The Race Underground” by Doug Most.

Next Meetings

• April 18* - “What happened in the Maryland legislative session?” Speaker: Del. Marc Korman, District 16 *Note change from our regular meeting date due to the Passover holiday. • May 9 - “The new Metro budget - Its meaning for the future” Speaker: Robert Thomson, just-retired as Hogan Leaves Out Transit..................................3 Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock ACT issued a press release in late March to bring • June 13 - “Public input - taking it to the attention to the governor’s ignoring of Maryland’s streets” most urgent transportation needs during his meet- Speaker: Veronica Davis, nspiregreen ing with US Transportation Secretary Chao. • July 11 - “Building a greater College Park” President’s Letter.................................................2 Speaker: Ken Ulman, Margrave Strategies; These are rough times for transit activists and former Howard County Executive ACT needs your support now, more than ever. • August 8 - to be announced Sources of ACT Income.......................................5 ACT’s monthly meetings are normally held on the ACT’s treasurer Nick Brand breaks down our second Tuesday of each month, at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place. Meetings begin at organization’s income steams. Transit Street Design Guide...............................2 The Transit Street Design Guide authored by the National Association of City Transportation Officials codifies and advances the best practices in designing city streets for transit. We Need YOU!.....................................................5 ACT is looking for volunteers to help us leaflet at Metro and MARC stations as well as with various other tasks. Join us in working for more and better transit.

7:30pm. The Silver Spring Civic Center faces Fenton Street and Ellsworth Avenue. It is an eight-minute walk north from the Silver Spring Metro Station. Many bus routes can take you to and from the meeting. Ride-On #15 and #19 stop at the corner of Wayne Ave. & Fenton St.; Metrobus routes Z6 and Z8 and Ride-On routes #9 and #12 stop along Colesville Road; Ride-On #16, #17, and #20 pass by on Fenton St. If coming by car, plentiful evening parking is available at the Wayne Avenue garage and is (despite ACT’s advocacy against subsidies for drivers) free after 7:00pm.

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President’s Letter

Transit Street Design Guide

Picture the scene: a bitterly cold March morning at Metro stations. Snow and ice on the ground. It’s so cold that only the thickest gloves keep your hands warm. Despite the cold, ACT members were out distributing leaflets about proposed Metrorail and Metrobus service cuts. But it’s hard to hand out leaflets in thick gloves. So, often barehanded, we handed out leaflets to transit riders. There were only a few days left before it would be decided whether or not the cuts would be approved. The leaflets told commuters exactly how to contact Maryland’s transportation officials to speak out against the proposed cuts.

The most significant event in public transit at the 95th Annual Transportation Research Board in January 2016 at the Washington, DC, Convention Center was the workshop introducing the “Transit Street Design Guide” (hereinafter as “Guide”) authored by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). This Guide codifies and advances the best practices in designing city streets for transit. To compile this Guide, NACTO assembled practitioners and leaders from both the transit sector and street design sector. This new framework for designing transit corridors as public spaces will help cities and their residents work together to create the streets that are the foundation of a vibrant urban future. The Guide is based on the basic premise that transit is a key that unlocks street space, bringing new opportunities to create streets that can move immense numbers of people and be enjoyed as public spaces at the same time.

A huge thank you to everyone who was out there that cold day. And a big thank you to all ACT members, whose support makes this work possible. Many of the proposed cuts in Metrorail and Metrobus service, as well as a fare increase, were approved. We don’t always win. However, the initial proposal had included far more extensive cuts to Metrorail and Metrobus service. Public pushback played an important role in preserving Metrorail and Metrobus service. Transit riders and transit advocates can and do make a difference. These are difficult times for transit supporters and for Purple Line advocates in particular. While we wait on Judge Leon to finally render a decision on the Purple Line, the Trump administration is threatening funding for the Purple Line and for rail lines throughout the country. Nonetheless, there are clearly opportunities to press the case for the Purple Line. The current political situation, which is quite fluid, is likely to create more opportunities to re-secure funding for the project. The Purple Line has the advantage of already being in the pre-construction stage, not to mention endorsements from groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the Washington Board of Trade, as well as both Democratic and Republican governors of Maryland. ACT is working with our allies on the state and federal level to fight to re-secure funding. It is exactly now that Purple Line supporters must speak out loud and clear. Sincerely,

Ronit Aviva Dancis PAGE 2

By Quon Kwan

The Guide discusses three basic street environments for transit: neighborhood, corridor, and downtown (aka central business districts) and six special considerations: edgefront transit streets, side boarding island transit stops, small transit shelters, transit curbs, dedicated contraflow transit lanes, and green transitways. Each of the three elementary street contexts has its own distinct design needs and challenges related to its role in the transportation network. Infrastructure options for transit stops, lanes, and intersections are affected by the existing design of a street and the types of transit vehicles deployed on the street. [Priorities in allocating space are often dictated not by the transit service operator but factors related to the length of blocks and the nature of local businesses.] The new approach to transit design stresses the experience of people using and accessing transit and public space, along with the value of time. It treats streets as linear public spaces to help make transit both reliable and attractive. Neighborhood streets, including both mixed-use main streets and residential streets, are important multimodal routes and urban living spaces. Typically, they are one lane in each direction with low-speed vehicular traffic and moderate pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Local transit has an important relationship with neighborhood streets, but transit service reliabil-

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ity is restrained by limited street capacity. Boarding bulbs (sidewalks that protrude into the street taking over parking spaces) and careful curbside management make transit service reliable without dramatically changing the street. On neighborhood streets, improved transit stops provide a significantly better pedestrian environment and can serve as foci for other neighborhood improvements. Careful curbside management means designating space for deliveries and drop-offs/pick-ups as well as setting a fair price for curbside parking, relieving delays for transit and private vehicles and adding a safer place for bikes. Corridor streets are usually long and direct, providing venues for high-frequency transit service at the center of regional mobility. Such streets designed as highway-like arterials provide for high-speed vehicle traffic and minimal or substandard pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Prioritizing transit throughput and pedestrian safety on these corridors supports high transit capacity at a city-wide level while attracting local investment. Often such corridors are overlooked as candidates for dedicated transit lanes, better organizing the street, and reducing aggressive driving. Providing exclusive spaces for walking, biking, transit, and driving accommodates different travel speeds and needs of distinct travel modes. Downtown (aka central business district) streets have high pedestrian and transit volumes. The high density of destinations (i.e., shops, restaurants, offices, and theaters) is only made possible by transit. Separating transit from general traffic is often needed to achieve safe and efficient transit performance while supporting pedestrian activity on vibrant streetscapes. Downtown transit streets are often premier public spaces, which has to be balanced against the need to keep transit service on schedule. Exclusive transit space, transit malls, or space shared with other active modes can create large time savings and radical improvements to street life. Creative use of one-way streets can support a productive transit grid. Transit priority traffic signals, transit signal progressions, stations with near-level platforms, longer spacing of stops, and all-door boarding expedite transit boarding. Of special consideration are edge-front transit streets, which have one side bordering a waterfront, park, campus or other edge and has limited intersecting streets. Such streets can be configured for high-capacity transitways with fewer conflicts and for insulating

pedestrian and bike paths from vehicle traffic, creating a premiere streetscape, e.g., Queens Quay in Toronto, Ontario, Canada finished in 2015. Side boarding island transit stops deserve special attention for they must permit accessible boarding and alighting (defined by the American with Disabilities Act). For low-floor vehicles using bridge plates, nearlevel boarding can be achieved with a 9.5- to 12-inch platform. Platforms higher than 14 inches require all doors be configured for level boarding, and thus, may be not be compatible with some buses. Such stops should include an accessible ramp, shelter, seating, way finding, and passenger information. Additional recommendations apply depending on whether a stop is near-side or far-side. Transit stop elements, such as small shelters and transit curbs, should be considered where a small number of people wait at a given time. Transit curbs are specially-designed curbs to enable transit vehicles “to dock,” reducing the gap between the vehicle and the platform, facilitating level or near-level boarding. Types of transit curbs include concave-shaped concrete, as well as standard rectangular-section, elastomeric curbs. Dedicated contraflow transit lanes are used on streets where general traffic is one-way but allowing bi-directional transit routing. Such lanes enable connectivity, shorten bus travel times by eliminating route deviations or additional turns. Green transitways are fully-separated bus or rail routes (both center- and side-running) planted with grass or shrubs. The major benefits are improved stormwater infiltration and retention, noise dampening, and support for rain gardens and other higher biomass or high absorption areas. An example is the St. Charles Ave. streetcar line in New Orleans, LA.

Hogan Leaves Out Transit

ACT Press Release of March 24, 2017 Action Committee for Transit is glad to learn the Purple Line and Metro were an important part of Governor’s Hogan’s discussions with U.S. Transportation Secretary Chao. Both these two major transit projects are truly “shovel-ready” and would immediately benefit from Federal funding. The Washington region projects on the Governor’s priority list—highways and

Transit Times, vol. 31, no. 2, April 2017


the proposed Maglev along the Amtrak/ MARC line – are years from being ready to build. They range from being contentious to having significant opposition in the region, and have yet to even begin an environmental clearance process. We are disappointed Governor Hogan chose to ignore Maryland’s most urgent transportation needs during his meeting with Secretary Chao yesterday. Rather than seeking funds for crucial transportation systems such as Metro or statewide MARC commuter trains, Governor Hogan focused on future road widening projects that will do nothing for Maryland’s economy or its future. WMATA needs money right now. Maryland commuters learned that they will be paying more money for fewer Metrorail rush hour trains. Why didn’t Maryland’s Governor ask key federal officials for more money for WMATA? Governor Hogan had no problem asking Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties to pay more for the Purple Line, but yesterday he did not ask the federal government to contribute more money to the project. MARC, which serves more rural areas, has had shovel-ready improvements pending for years. Instead, Governor Hogan chose to give priority to the fantasy of MagLev trains between Baltimore and Washington – a transit connection MARC can achieve effectively for much less money. We urge Governor Hogan to reassess his transportation priorities list. It is incredibly disappointing that Governor Hogan wasted his opportunity to advocate for the transportation projects to help move the greatest number of Marylanders.

American Experience: The Underground Race By Quon Kwan

On February 1, 2017, the Public Broadcasting System aired “American Experience: The Underground Race” about the invention of the underground electric railway (subway) and its first construction in Boston, MA. The film is based on the book “The Race Underground” by Doug Most published in 2014. While the book focuses on the race between two rival cities, New York City and Boston, as to which one would be first to build a subway, the film (also available in PAGE 4

DVD) focuses on Frank Sprague (1857-1934), littleknown engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur who made the subway possible. Sprague conceived the idea for a subway while visiting London in 1882 before its “underground tube.” He was so excited by the idea that he applied for a patent, but his idea of a subway languished until 1891. In 1883, Edison recruited Sprague to work for him. In 1884, Sprague invented the first self-regulating non-sparking electric motor with fixed brushes. A self-regulating electric motor is able to operate at constant speed while the load varies. This invention is extremely important because it makes electric elevators and electric streetcars possible; in both types of vehicle, the load does vary with the number of people being carried. Knowing that Edison would take credit for his invention, Sprague resigned and formed his own company. Sprague attempted to sell his idea for an electric streetcar to robber baron, Jay Gould, with a demonstration in New York City, but failed when he overzealously turned up the voltage too high causing an explosion. Consequently Gould vowed never to deploy electric streetcars nor Sprague’s invention. Sprague deployed his invention of a self-regulating electric motor in inventing the first electric streetcar. In 1888, he succeeded in demonstrating the first electric street-car, which drew its electricity from an over-head catenary with a spring-mounted trolley pole (“trolley” became a synecdoche for electric streetcar). Thus, the Richmond Union Railway became the first electric streetcar system in the U.S. What was amazing was that Sprague showed his electric streetcar could climb hills of over 10% grade in Richmond, VA that horse-drawn streetcars were not able to do. Soon, electric streetcars replaced horse-drawn streetcars not only because of their power to climb hills but also because of their cleanliness (as compared to dung left behind by the horses on city streets), their cost-effectiveness (as compared to care and feeding of horses), and their speed (as compared to horses). The electric streetcar was the first revolution in mass transit for it changed the way people thought about traveling as well as how they actually traveled. Electricity cannot be taken for granted; at that time, it was perceived as dangerous, making the public feel skittish. The electric streetcar caught the attention of the larg-

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est streetcar owner in the country, Henry Whitney. Thus, in 1889, Whitney in Boston converted his West End Railway Co. made up of horse-drawn streetcars to electric streetcars. By the end of 1889, there were more than 110 electric railways using Sprague’s invention. Ironically, the electric streetcars proved to be so popular that they caused traffic congestion in downtown Boston prompting Mayor Matthew to take action. In 1891, Mayor Matthew, realizing that the future of the city depended on transportation, convened a rapid transit commission to solve the congestion problem. Of all the options considered, the most promising seemed to be Sprague’s idea of a subway because it would not only relieve congestion but reduce travel time from the outer edge to downtown by one-half to two-thirds. Thus, Mayor Matthew championed constructing a subway for Boston. Nevertheless, there were profound obstacles to the subway: (1) it was opposed for infringing on the “sacred” Boston Common, (2) it was fought by over 12,000 owners whose businesses were going to be disrupted, and (iii) it was disapproved by people wary of either using electricity or having to travel into the “underworld.” It was by the narrowest of margins that Bostonians voted to build a subway. The nation’s first subway broke ground in 1895 and opened in 1897 in Boston. The first subway was powered by an overhead catenary – not a “third rail.” The subway was the second revolution in mass transit; it not only relieved congestion, quickened travel time, and showed underground travel was not fearsome, but it forever changed cities by changing the nature of mobility and accessibility in cities. If you ride on Metrorail or a Metrobus labeled “hybrid,” you are riding on a vehicle that uses another Sprague invention – regenerative braking – not mentioned in the film. Regenerative braking allows the energy of braking a vehicle to be captured by turning the motor into a generator to regenerate electricity that is sent back to the third rail or is stored in batteries (or capacitors) until needed. Regenerative braking reduces fuel consumption, emissions, and brake wear. Sprague deserves as much acclaim for revolutionizing mass transit, if not more so than Henry Ford for mass producing the gasoline powered automobile; unfortunately, Sprague was not able to compete with the much larger companies making electric motors. When Sprague ended up having to sell his own company to

Edison Electric Co., Sprague’s name was removed from the motors and replaced by Edison’s name leaving Sprague in obscurity.

Sources of ACT’s Income By Nick Brand, Treasurer

In 2016, dues and contributions from individual members made up nearly 80% of ACT’s revenue. Labor, real estate, and civic/environmental organizations made up the remaining 21%. In total, 302 individuals and organizations were members for 2016. The year’s income amounted to $14,198.

Editorial Remarks

Your Transit Times editor is Quon Kwan. He welcomes your submissions. Cutoff date for receiving materials for the next publication is June 10. Send your materials to Quon at: or call him at: (h) 301-460-7454

We Need YOU!

Join us in working for more and better transit. Whether you want to help us leaflet at Metro and MARC stations, work for pedestrian and bicycle safety or testify at public hearings, or volunteer in some other way— we would love to work with you. Contact ACT Staff at

Transit Times, vol. 31, no. 2, April 2017


Transit Times


Action Committee for Transit, Inc. P.O. Box 7074 Silver Spring, MD 20907 ADDRESS SERVICE REQUESTED

Join ACT/Renew Your membership for 2017!

A special thanks to the many of you who have already renewed your membership for 2017! We hope the rest of you will renew or join, either in response to our dues mailing, or to this notice. Membership dues help us push for better and safer transit, sidewalks, bike facilities, and roads. You can join/renew at a level that’s comfortable for you; $ 10 – Rider $ 25 – Activist $ 50 – Conductor $100 and above – Engineer Either mail a check with your contact info to ACT at: Action Committee for Transit, PO Box 7074, Silver Spring, MD 20907. Or bring your dues payment to the next ACT meeting. We are also working to get a new on-line payment system running, and expect to have it operational by the time you get this letter. Thank you all so much in advance! Also check out our website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed for updates:


ACT Officers/Staff: President - Ronit Dancis Vice President - Jennifer Hosey Vice President - Ben Shnider Vice President - Dan Reed Treasurer - Nick Brand Secretary - Tracey Johnstone Board Member - Sean Emerson Board Member - Tracey Lewis Ex officio non-voting board members: Ralph Bennett (Silver Spring) - Purple Line Now Ben Ross (Bethesda) - meeting programs Miriam Schoenbaum (Boyds) - Upcounty Sebastian Smoot (Cloverly) - East county Webmaster - vacant Staff: Cindy Snow & Kathy Jentz / 240-308-1209 Action Committee for Transit, Inc. P.O. Box 7074, Silver Spring, MD 20907

Transit Times, vol. 31, no. 2, April 2017

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