Moving on Up

January 27, 2012

You probably thought the big event in Washington this week was the State of the Union address. But the real movers and shakers in town — or, at least, the movers — were at the 91st annual Transportation Research Board meeting, a gathering of 11,000 of the world’s foremost experts on road dust, aviation security, bus rapid transit, crosswalks and just about every other aspect of how we get around.

For some reason, they let me attend, too. So I set out on a route through the sessions, meetings and poster displays to seek the latest findings about D.C.

First stop: “Research on Bike Sharing,” where I met Darren Buck, who presented his study showing that Capital Bikeshare use is higher in areas with more available bike lanes. For every kilometer of bike lane within a half-mile area around a CaBi station, there were an additional 0.85 rides per day.

Then I popped my head into the panel discussion “Social Media and Public Transportation” just in time to hear Metro’s director of communications, Dan Stessel, get a shout-out for embracing Twitter — and for actually putting social media links on Wmata.com this past year.

But the most educational part of my TRB tour was “Transit State of Good Repair, Part 2.” Yes, the sequel. Last on the list of speakers was WMATA’s Dave Kubicek, who discussed “vertical transportation,” aka escalators, aka the bane of Metro’s existence (and a particularly hot topic, given the south entrance shutdown at the Dupont Circle station starting next week).

When an older gentleman got up and asked whether the Metro system’s design is overly reliant on escalators, Kubicek responded with a resounding “Yes!” and proceeded to indicate that he’s looking for places where escalators could be replaced by stairs. With that old-fashioned kind of vertical transportation, you don’t need to worry about manufacturers going out of business or obsolete technology, and you gain more space. “If we need to have an escalator, we’d better have a good reason,” he said.

After the panel, Kubicek was cagier about the stairs situation, refusing to say that any specific escalators are on the outs. “We’re doing capacity studies right now,” he told me, noting that escalators are designed to help move people through the system, and that’s becoming more critical as the crowds continue to grow. And he had nothing but praise for the new escalators at the Foggy Bottom station: “Those are industrial strength — not made for the mall.”

Whether it’s the State of the Union or the State of Good Repair, all of us regular folks just want things to be working.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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