All the Stops in Washington, D.C.?

A view from the Rhode Island Avenue Metro stop, one of D.C.'s 86 subway stations. Photo by Em Hall.

What can blogging do for the public dialogue on transportation? As we wrote about last week, the localization of blogging leads to available and accessible information in the public sphere, strengthened ties among advocates, experts and citizens, as well as increased accountability of public service providers. And as we’ve written before, garnering public input from a broad cross-section of the population integrates different perspectives into planning and implementation, which could better serve the end user and ensure that infrastructure is equitably distributed. Reaching out and marketing to the public is also something that a number of transportation agencies are doing, particularly the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in Washington, D.C.

Blogging, open source technology and crowdsourcing are all relatively established sources of information and innovation in the U.S. and they are rapidly catching on abroad. A plurality of voices leads to more transparency and responsiveness of government agencies.

One blog, called Metro Ventures: One Year, One SmartTrip card, Infinite Adventures, written by a resident in D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, two miles north of the U.S. Capitol, contributes to the District’s vibrant transportation and urban planning blogosphere. Em Hall, the conceiver of the blog, originally gave herself one year—now turning into a year and a half—to visit all the metro stations in the city (there are 86 stations and more than 100 miles of track) and ride at least a portion of every bus line in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) reach.

She documents it all in a steady stream of reports, from the woes of her morning to commute, to ratings of metro stops, to worthy sites for a visit near metro and bus stops. Hall says her goal is to figure out why D.C. Metro is the system “everybody loves to hate.” She says she doesn’t have any larger advocacy goals but hopes to get more involved in transportation meetings, even though the project has already been very time consuming.

Hall’s interest in the blog came from the fact that she frequently rides the bus and was looking for information on bus lines that she couldn’t find.  She decided exploring the system was the best way to convey information to other Washingtonians and answer her own questions.  Many non-native residents don’t ride the bus, according to Hall. When they think of D.C.’s public transportation, the first things that come to mind are usually Metro, the DC Circulator, and now, Capital Bikeshare, the city’s new bikesharing program. Hall wanted to show the shortcomings of the system but also it’s usefulness in her everyday life. Ultimately, the blog is a smart commentary of D.C. transit from a local user perspective. She also has a wishlist of metro suggestions. Here are some highlights:

  • quiet cars, where there’s no talking or cell phone use during morning and evening rush hours. The regional MARC commuter rail system already has “Quiet Cars,” where passengers “must not use cell phones and must keep all audio devices, such as laptops, PDA’s and pagers turned off or in a silent mode,” according to the website. “Passengers may speak, but only in low whispers.” Further up the Mid-Atlantic coast, New Jersey Transit is also piloting the idea of chat-free coaches.
  • a PDF-less Metro website where trip planning incorporates other modes of transportation supplied by services such as DDOT, Ride-On and MARC.

Other ideas presented on Hall’s blog include the need for more turnstiles at the Clarendon Metro station in Virginia to more vibrant pedestrian culture in the city. Ultimately, Hall says, D.C. is a city of neighborhoods and people tend to get involved in any issue that resonates in their specific community.

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