Build the Invisible Tunnel!

Farragut_tunnel_2I can't take credit for this idea--I read it somewhere else--but it's so good that it needs to be promoted and publicized until Metro takes notice and implements it.

The idea of linking the Farragut North and Farragut West metro stations with a tunnel has been around a long time (I found a W. Post article from 1994 that mentioned it) and makes good sense. WMATA published a comprehensive study of the tunnel option, including capacity and ridership impacts, 2004. The primary impediment to building the tunnel is money. WMATA's recent Station Access & Capacity Study estimates a cost of about $25 million.

The tunnel is a great idea and probably should have been built at the time the system was built. In the meanwhile, while we wait, the technology exists to build a virtual tunnel right now. Right now!! And there is absolutely no reason WMATA shouldn't. Ridership's about to pick up again in September, so let's create the virtual tunnel right away.

What is the virtual tunnel? Simple. Metro riders who have SmarTrip cards can leave one Farragut station and enter the other station within a certain time window--say, 10 minutes--and not be charged, a free transfer (click on the image above for a map/diagram). The 2004 tunnel study estimated about 15,000 people per day would transfer using the underground tunnel (using 2003 ridership numbers). Given the greater inconvenience of going up on the street and coming back down and having to cross two intersections (300 steps from faregate to faregate. . .I counted), fewer would choose to use the virtual tunnel than a real one, but still thousands per day I would guess. That would relieve pressure at Metro Center as well as convenience the passengers who choose to take advantage.Smartrip

Here's the key point: there is no downside to implementing this idea. No downside. No studies required. No excuses to put it off. Repeat: no downside. All it takes is a little computer programming and a press release to get the word out. It adds flexibility to the system at virtually no cost. No one will be additionally inconvenienced, since passengers are more than welcome to continue to use the system as usual: if you don't want to make the transfer and walk, just keep using Metro Center as before. I have wracked my brain and cannot think of a single negative impact--all pros and no cons. If someone can think of a downside, please comment and let me know what it is.

I sent a note to Arlington Board member and WMATA Board Chair Chris Zimmerman a couple of months ago recommending he push this idea to WMATA, but I didn't hear back. I don't know the ins and outs of making things happen at Metro, but this is a no-brainer; they should just do it. And what better time than right now?

Kill the Bike Path; Save Our Environment!

No_bikesSarcasm alert on the posting title!

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Montgomery County is considering eliminating portions of the planned bike trail alongside the Inter-County Connector (ICC) for "environmental reasons." Give me a break! Evidently I have been a bit asleep on this issue, as it's been debated and opined on for quite a while. Here are some links:

WABA: ICC Trail: Your Help Needed Today!Waba_logo745682

The WashCycle has a very long and detailed posting on the issue: ICC Fail and ICC Fail Part 2 and previously here: What Happened to the ICC Trail. There was also a posting back in January after some sort of meeting: MoCo Looking to Add ICC Trail Back

And here's a notification from an organization I had not heard of before: The Montgomery Bicycle Advocates: ICC Trail Alert

The Washcycle post points out the most egregious contradiction. Evidently the Environmental Impact Statement cites the bike trail as an environmental benefit of the project but now the county wants to eliminate parts of it because of its adverse environmental impact. I don't think you can have it both ways.

All the gory details can be found on the Montgomery County Planning site here including testimony from the July 10 public meeting.

It's pretty clear in my mind that a decision to not build the entire trail is very short-sighted. Although it is likely I would never or rarely use it, since it's not in my neck of the woods, on principle I adamantly support all efforts to build the entire length of the trail along the ICC.

Walking Directions from Google

Google Maps has introduced its walking directions--currently in Beta. When you select directions you are given the choice in a drop-down menu of "By car" or "Walking."

Google has taken on a gargantuan task, in my opinion. New_picture_2 The enormous number of shortcuts available to savvy walkers is virtually infinite: plazas, alleys, cut-through buildings, pathways, etc. Then there is the opposite problem--places where a map indicates a street or road, but that would be either impossible or unsafe to walk. How they will sort that all out is going to be interesting to watch.

For instance, I tested out the directions from my house to the Ballston Mall (I live just off I-66 about a mile east of the East Falls Church metro). The shortest and most pleasant way for me to get there on foot (or bike) is on the Custis trail, but Google Maps doesn't know the Custis Trail exists, so it routed me along Washington Blvd., adding about 1/2 mile to the distance., which also provides walking directions also did not indicate the trail.

I think this is a great idea, though, and I hope Google and are successful at making this service accurate and useful. Try it out for yourself.

Rule of Thumb #6 - Size Matters

Central_airWhen we bought our house in Arlington in 2000, our agent noted the outside air conditioner and commented, "I like to see these big air conditioners. They really keep the house cool." He was so very, very wrong. His comment was the equivalent of saying, "I really like these big refrigerators. They really keep your food cold." Huh? It's not the size of your refrigerator that determines how cold it is.

When it comes to central air conditioning, bigger is not better. In fact, smaller is generally better for several reasons--particularly in a humid climate like this one. EPA Energy Star has a fact sheet about this very topic.

FanHere's your simple test. On the hottest days of the year--when it's 95 degrees or above-- note whether your air conditioner cycles on and off. If it does, it's too big. An air conditioner should be sized so that it runs continuously on the hottest days of the year, essentially from 3 or 4 in the afternoon until 8 at night nonstop. (If it runs constantly all the time, even when it's only 80 and doesn't seem to cool your house, you have a different problem and need to get it looked at.)

What's the dif, you ask? A larger air conditioner sucks up more energy, costing you dollars and adding to harmful emissions. Air conditioners do their best job dehumidifying and reach peak efficiency after they have been running for about 10-15 minutes, so if yours is cycling on and off, it's not dehumidifying well and it's running at lower efficiency. People with air conditioners that are too big often lower the temperature to make up for this, exacerbating the costs of running it.

Here's an analogy. You're driving on a street with timed traffic lights. Having a too-big air conditioner is like having a muscle car and racing from one light to the next, then stopping, then racing to the next one. A right-sized air conditioner is like having a smaller car, driving along at an even 25 mph and hitting the lights all green. You get where you're going at the same time, but use less gas driving the smaller one at a steady speed.

So what do you do? Well, don't go out and replace your AC unless you were planning to anyway. But when you do, make sure you show the EPA fact sheet to your contractor and make him or her do an accurate sizing calculation. Then don't be swayed into rounding up for safety's sake. If anything, round down in size for comfort's sake. (On a side note, your ductwork is probably all wrong, too, making the situation even worse. Aargh!)

But for now, the thing to do is have your programmable thermostat raise the temperature while you are out and lower it just before you come back. Then your AC will run longer and more efficiently for at least that one cycle, saving you money and dehumidifying better.