Demand for travel options is becoming paramount
Transportation demand management programs are often implemented gradually over years of outreach, education, and shifted behaviors, but the coming year will put traffic mitigation to the test.
As the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority begins its SafeTrack Metro repair program, tens of thousands of commuters will be added to the demand in need of management. The scale of the disruption is daunting, but the region has a vast array of options at hand to keep the many parts of its transportation system moving as smoothly as possible.
The plan, announced last Friday, seeks to address decades of deferred upkeep and return the system to a point of reliability and safety. To get there, though, years of repair projects will be compressed into mere months, necessitating maintenance “surges” along certain sections of lines. Some lines will singletrack, meaning slower travel times through the section and a lower train frequency along that entire line, and other weeks sections will be fully closed, requiring bus bridges to connect the gap and slowing trains across that whole line.
These shutdowns and modifications will mean interruptions of regular service for anywhere between 12,000 to 108,000 people at a time, by WMATA’s own calculations, depending on the segment. Many of these commuters will need alternative options, and the first instinct for those with cars will be to take to the region’s roads. Such a sudden uptick in driving could be disaster for the D.C. region when it comes to congestion, pollution, and safety.
Employers and their workforces
Thankfully, transportation and commuting options exist that could head off some of this behavior. Employers can help on the human resources side of things, as workers will require a greater degree of flexibility to navigate, literally and figuratively, the shifting status of Metro and other options during SafeTrack. Employees won’t be able to telework every day of impeded Metro service, but having the option to, especially when key sections of a commuter’s line are closed, could reduce crowds and traffic.
Pope Francis’s visit in September 2015 and the recent system-wide Metro shutdown proved how critical the teleworking component of TDM is for the D.C. region. Recent research from the Transportation Planning Board shows that while about 27 percent of commuters telework some, about twice as many actually have the ability to telework. On the highways, small shifts from driving to teleworking would have big effects when it comes to easing congestion.
Filling in the transit gaps
Giving the buses dedicated lanes on corridors that complement existing Metro routes, such as the Wisconsin Avenue NW, 16th Street NW, and Columbia Pike corridors, would keep buses reliable in the face of traffic, and would thus be an attractive option for commutes. In the Crystal City corridor, where dedicated Metroway lanes already exist during rush hour, they could be updated to transit-only at all hours. Additionally, in order to maintain the level of frequency necessary to address the thousands of new bus commuters, jurisdictions might rent spare buses from regional transit authorities or even charter buses from private companies.
With the lanes in place, other transit-related vehicles like Capital Bikeshare rebalancing vans, should be able to use them, too. Capital Bikeshare could expand its current program of rush-hour corrals in downtown D.C., and bring them to other job centers in the region, providing commuters with the peace of mind that they won’t have to hunt for an open dock near their destination.
Incentives for filling up the seats in cars
People will not only need options as alternatives to Metro, but highways will also need to be managed in a way that encourages their most efficient use. Existing HOV lanes in Virginia and Maryland could be adjusted: raising the minimum HOV requirements would get more people carpooling, and the same goes for HOT lanes. Not doing so – keeping the same incentive structure in place despite higher demand – would create congestion.
Short-term boosts in carpooling won’t just happen, however, unless employers and agencies make it easy for commuters to organize. This could involve promoting the use of Commuter Connection’s online ridematching software or the carpool matching service NuRide, or offering temporary subsidies for ride-sharing.
A close eye on well-planned parking
Where those cars end up matters, too. Jurisdictions can increase their parking enforcement to ensure that drivers are not taking advantage of spillover parking in neighborhoods outside of regional cores. The control of available spaces will be another major determinant of whether many commuters drive.
A willingness to pilot transportation options
And finally, a bit of creative placemaking through temporary bus/carpool transfer centers could get more people onboard with the process of catching a bus for their next leg. Such centers, which could be any Metro station-adjacent street or plaza restricted to buses, might have events or food trucks, encouraging people to linger and spread out the rush-hour demand.
As proven with the March 16 Metro shutdown, any degree of well-publicized disruption will be met with some self-regulation by commuters, in which people just choose not to make certain trips. But for the rest of the transportation system, especially over the year-long SafeTrack program, there are a number of demand-management choices at hand that can ease the process.
Photos, from top: Commuters disembark Metro at Pentagon City (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). A proposed SafeTrack closing on the Red Line (WMATA).