Category Archives: Transportation

The newest Goodyear blimp is longer, faster and actually a zeppelin

My friend Chris tipped me off on this Wired article and video about the next generation of Goodyear’s airship fleet:

…Wingfoot One, a new airship that Goodyear designed along with storied airship builder Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (yes, the same zeppelin of hydrogen-filled Hindenburg fame). Zeppelin’s hopes for a high-tech, dirigible-driven future largely went up in smoke with the Hindenburg. But today’s helium-filled design could propel us into a new age of flight, minus the airborne conflagrations.

How Goodyear Revamped Its Zeppelin for a New Age of Flight


So, they’ll look different and fly faster.

Of course, there is a bit of a helium problem (NBC) right now. Perhaps using this scarce and expensive resource for birthday parties wasn’t the best idea. Oops.

On a lighter note, blimp pilots are rarer than astronauts:

Blimp pilots have a great vantage point, but lead solitary livesThe Post

Blimp pilots are kind of lonely, but they get a great view. I’m sure my mother, who worked for MetLife, appreciates that their blimp was featured too.

So, when does Tom Wolfe write about these brave airship pilots? He could call it The Light Stuff

I’ve mentioned it before, but growing up in Vienna, we lived below the flight path of blimps headed to Dulles Airport. Mostly, it was the Goodyear blimp, Enterprise, but once or twice it was the McBlimp. My mom called Dulles to ask about it and a presskit came in the mail a few days later. We should have kept that one. Here’s how west Texas reacted to McBlimp back in 1985:

Also, my grandparents also lived outside of Lakehurst, N.J. a major hub of airships, even after the Hindenberg.

So, I’m a blimp guy or airship enthusiast I guess. Naturally, the stories linked above was a must-read and even blog about…for posterity.

Now can we please let commercial blimps fly around BeltwayLand again? Maybe in October…

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REDUCE SPEED: These neon signs used to be all over the New Jersey Turnpike. Photo by Ian Ligget.

REDUCE SPEED: Vintage neon NJ Turnpike sign for sale on ebay

Can somebody please buy, ship and store this outstanding New Jersey Turnpike neon sign for me? It’s only $2,000! You can drop it off with me when I get a house. A really big one, apparently.

In 2013, I mentioned the coming end of NJ Turnpike exceptionalism when it comes to signs. The Turnpike Authority has begun modernizing (note: I did not say “upgrade”) highway signs to comply with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Though not necessarily directly related, the neon “REDUCE SPEED” signs that have been on the Turnpike since time immemorial are being removed in favor of modern LED signs.

I have been wondering what will happen to all of these classic neon signs. I hope that some are saved for museums. Maybe I’ll tweet at them to buy this one, though on second thought the Turnpike ought to donate one. There probably ought to be one or two at a service plaza on the Turnpike itself.

The sign itself probably weighs at least a ton and it has to be picked up. This isn’t a really good time for me to do that logistically or financially. So, a little help?

Failing the acquisition of this neon sign, I’d be okay with a Turnpike trailblazer. A Garden State Parkway, Capital Beltway and even a Pennsylvania Turnpike sign while you are at it.

Photos © Ian Ligget

h/t Steve Anderson

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I-95: Chesapeake House reopened

Chesapeake House the second service area, err travel plaza on Interstate 95 (John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) north, reopened last Tuesday. Both the renovation and reopening seems to be lacking in the fanfare of Maryland House, but it’s good news for I-95 travelers.

In my experience Chesapeake House, originally opened in 1972, is less crowded than Maryland House, so I have preferred stopping there over the years. The last several years have seen three completely rebuilt service areas along a 40 mile stretch of I-95 between Baltimore and Wilmington. The Delaware Service Plaza was rebuilt in 2008.

Maryland Transportation Authority sealService areas are lasting vestige of the pre-interstate toll roads area. In order to promote commerce along interstate corridors, service areas are banned and have been since the early 1960s. Some interstates were assigned to existing turnpikes like parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and the service areas were grandfathered in.

Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed during the reconstruction of these service areas — flyover ramps from the right side. It would have been eight overall (2 off, 2 on in each direction) but for whatever reason, the Maryland Transportation Authority did not choose to go n that direction. Safety and traffic flow are better when exits and entrances are from the right side.

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dc-traffic-light

An explanation of the D.C. traffic signal system

The Post has a good video explaining the Washington, D.C. traffic signal system. It can be adjusted in real time as needed, for events like Washington Nationals games.

By the way, the photo above is the most popular on my flickr stream with over 11,000 views. Here’s an old-school “art deco” style Crouse-Hinds signal:

These were ubiquitous for decades, but the one pictured was removed around 2005, along with all the other survivors.

UPDATED

I found out after the fact that this was posted on the 100th anniversary of the first traffic signal.

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Whiele-Ave-Silver-Line-Station

Generations in the making, the first phase of Metro’s Silver Line is open

Saturday afternoon was a big day for transportation in Northern Virginia and greater Washington, D.C. – the first phase of the Silver Line opened between Whiele Ave-Reston and East Falls Church. Five new stations, including four in Tysons, one of the largest office districts in the U.S., are now in service providing greater connectivity for the entire Washington, D.C. region.

My family and I rode the first train to Whiele Ave-Reston from Courthouse station in Arlington. We were in the front car which was a little more than half full. Several people were in the very front with their cameras. Other riders took the train only as far as some of the Tysons stops, particularly the Tysons Corner stop which serves the two malls. When the train left the Orange Line tracks for the new Silver Line tracks, there was mild applause.

I jumped out at each of the stops to take a few photos, but with the whole family along, including our 1-month old son taking his first Metro ride, I did not explore. It was interesting to get a new perspective on the familiar Tysons area from the elevated tracks. The best view of the Tysons skyline is on the big curve from the media of the Dulles Access Road to VA 123.

At the Whiele Ave-Reston East terminus, there was a celebration hosted by Comstock. VIPs got to go indoors, while the public was entertained by a DJ playing a bunch of music that came out when I was in middle school. We had a quick picnic there anyway, before returning to the platform to take the Silver Line back to Courthouse.

[flickr : Silver Line Opening Day/slideshow]

The ride was smooth, though not as fast as I would have thought, particularly on the return trip.


Rail to Tysons (and eventually Dulles Airport) was something I wondered if would ever happen. Like baseball in D.C., it made a lot of sense, but there were obstacles to getting there. Increased Metro service is a bigger deal than baseball, but the absence of both for most of my life was frustrating.

George Mason University history professor Zachary Schrag (Q & A: The Great Society Subway) made the case in his outstanding book, The Great Society Subway, that Metro should have been built to Tysons rather than Vienna all along. Instead, the Orange Line was built through the median of Interstate 66 all the way past the Nutley Street interchange. Though recent development, mostly in the form of low-rise apartments has come to the Orange Line corridor outside the Capital Beltway, the primary role of that Metro Line is as suburb to city, commuter rail, rather than an intraurban subway. Ultimately, the Silver Line will do the same though. The increasingly urbanized Tysons Corner and its four stations will be the only ones, with the exception of the Dulles Airport station, that are not within the median of the Dulles Toll Road. The commuter rail/subway hybrid has always been a compromise to maximize the constituency (and funding partners) of Metro.


Getting this far with the Silver Line has been messy and expensive. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority struck a deal with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government to build the Silver Line in exchange for taking over the Dulles Toll Road. Much of the funding (too much), is coming out of automobile tolls. Some subsidy from motorists is appropriate, but perhaps a comparatively token fee, such as a $1 a ticket, passed along to Dulles Airport flyers would have been more helpful. The partnership between two public authorities MWAA and Washignton Metropolitan Transit Authority isn’t ideal and this will never be a great deal, but as the saying goes, at least it got built.

The Silver Line has also created a squeeze at the Rosslyn tunnel which has cut into Blue Line service. I ride the Blue Line several times a week, but I have found it to be manageable, albiet more crowded. Come September, it could get very crowded. Optimization of the Rosslyn tunnels is an urgent need and long-term, more tubes under the Potomac is also needed. That will be another 15-25 years, I’m afraid.


Building the Tysons portion above ground rather than below it is a flawed decision, but at a certain point, the attitude of “at least it got built” wins out again. I don’t mind the views, but this was pennywise and pound-foolish. Will it hold back Tysons development? Probably not, Chicago seems to do fine with elevated trains and locally, Silver Spring and Alexandria have strong transit oriented development near above ground Metro lines.

If the Silver Line is to succeed, it will be in spite of its builder, not because of it.

I believe that the Silver Line will ultimately be successful and vital to region, but it, like much of the area’s transportation and development isn’t a home run.

FURTHER READING

Post coverage of the Silver Line

WAMU’s coverage

wh02

I-495, Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia opened 50 years ago today

On April 2, 1964, Administrator Rex Whitton participates in the dedication of I-495, the Capital Beltway from U.S. 1 to the Shirley Highway-the last segment in Virginia. Photo by FHWA

It was on this day fifty years ago that the Capital Beltway was completed in Northern Virginia. I suppose many commuters would have found it opening a day earlier more apropos as the road seems more a burden than anything else and the SPEED LIMIT 55 signs to be a mockery. Back in 1964, most of Virginia’s 22 miles of Beltway was only 2 lanes wide each way. Now, with the HO/T (high occupancy/toll), EZ-Pass Express Lanes, it is 6 lanes each way between Springfield and Tysons.

Inside the Beltway wouldn’t be coined until 1969 (by Mike Causey, then of The Post, now with Federal News Radio), but the highway formed a big wall literally and figuratively in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria. There currently are only 23 automobile crossings of I-495 in Northern Virginia and 15 of them have full interchanges with the road, while another has a partial interchange with lanes. Another one, Live Oak Road, is not a through route. The are also 3 Metro rail crossings (Orange, Blue and Yellow lines) and 2 Virginia Railway Express rail lines penetrate it as well. There are a few pedestrian/bicycle trails too, but overall it is tough to get from one side of the Beltway to the other. A “bridge to nowhere” was built between Van Dorn Street and Telegraph Road, but it never became connected to anything and was torn down in the early 21st century.

The Beltway divides the sprawling newer suburbs with the more established and often denser populated pre-World War II areas like Arlington and Alexandria, whose residents don’t even necessarily think of the Beltway much. Tysons Corner, once a crossroads of two country roads grew into the 11th largest business district with two large shopping malls and a growing skyline most of which is just outside the Beltway. In fact when USA Today left Rosslyn for its own campus, I recall then publisher Tom Curley making it a point to mention in an interview that they’d be outside the Beltway. It really abuts the Beltway by the way or at least it did before they sold off their land with the softball field and path. I digress.

Back in ’64, the Virginia portion of the Beltway was signed only as Interstate 495 as Interstate 95 was then routed along the Henry G. Shirley Highway into Washington, D.C. over the 14th Street Bridge and planned to cut through Northeast D.C. and Takoma Park then onto points north. That didn’t happen and in 1977, the eastern-most portion of the Beltway in Virginia was changed to I-95. That proved to be confusing, so I-495 multiplexed back on the I-95 portion of the Beltway around 1989.

The original Beltway exit numbering began in Alexandria with Exit 1 at US 1 (note US 1 is also Exit 1 in several locations throughout the East, including just over the 14th Street Bridge on I-395) and increased sequentially clockwise until finishing off at Exit 38 for I-295 just east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Around 2001, the exit number was changed in Virginia for the first time (it had changed in Maryland after I-95 was moved to the southern and eastern portions of the Beltway) to be a counter-clockwise continuation of the Maryland numbering scheme that began east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge all the way to the Springfield interchange (Exit 57) where I-95′s mileage-based exit numbering took over, the there is a jump from 57 to 172.

The entire Beltway opened in August 1964, so I’ll have more to say then.

FURTHER READING

Capital Beltwaydcroads.net

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3687860914_0d27049cb6_z

Nats: The Curly W used to be on road signs, why it isn’t anymore

Photo used with permission of Flickr user SteelYankee
A few weeks ago, DC Sports Bog (The Post) answered a reader question about why the Washington Nationals “curly W” logo was removed from signs along Interstate 395 (Southwest Freeway) for Nationals Park: What happened to the Curly W on D.C. freeway signs?. Presumably, the curly W’s will are have already been removed from other roads like I-695 (Southeast Freeway) and I-295 (Anacostia Freeway).

Something similar happened in 2010 when the Maryland State Highway Administration removed curly W logos from big green signs too. Frankly, I was surprised they were there in the first place. I inquired with the SHA back then and was told they violated the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards. A follow-up email was never answered by SHA and I never got back to writing about those signs, though I did note that both the Washington Redskins & FedEx Field (located at EXIT 16 of I-95/495 Capital Beltway) and the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens and M&T Bank Stadium logos were still posted. One wonders why just one team was removed, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

In the DCRoads.net Facebook group, Mike Tantillo, a member of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Device gave some me more background the rationale:

In no other city are the sports team logos placed on the signs. And a symbol is technically defined as a pictogram, which the official definition states is a symbol that represents a government agency or other public sector institution. The public sector bit was inserted into the MUTCD for the specific purpose of preventing entities like sports teams and shopping malls from putting their symbols up on primary guide signs (they would be allowed on the “attractions” category of Specific Service/logo signs…along with gas, food, lodging, etc.).

So naturally after arguing the point about public sector vs. private sector in front of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, FHWA was none-too-amused when these logos showed up on the signs right next to their headquarters. So FHWA challenged DDOT and Maryland SHA on the use of the logos, saying that these did not represent pictograms and would therefore have to become “experimental” and go through human factors testing, just like any other experimental traffic control device.

So they did the human factors testing, and they had to prove that the curly W’s actually enhanced drivers’ ability to find Nats Park, without being a distraction…which is the same standard given to an experiment of any other traffic control device. As part of the experiment, DDOT and Maryland SHA had to agree that they would hold funds in reserve to abort the experiment if there were safety concerns or the results were not positive. In this case, the results were inconclusive and showed a distraction, therefore the experimental signs were removed according to the agreement that DDOT and SHA had with Federal Highway Administration.

In order for a symbol to be effective, it has to be simple, easily recognizable, and its meaning needs to be easily understood by all drivers, even those who have not been “taught” in advance what it means. I think DDOT would have had more successful experiment if they had placed a sign saying “Nationals Park, follow ‘W’ “, and then just used the W like a trailblazer. In this circumstance, you’ve taught the unfamiliar non-local driver (remember, that is who we design signs for) what the ‘W’ means in terms of the traffic/road sign context. However part of me thinks that DDOT didn’t originally intend for the W’s to be part of a navigational exercise and thought they could just slap them on as taxpayer-funded advertising for a private enterprise. And lots of it, seeing as these were on primary guide signs, so they were repeated multiple times in a sequence.

I don’t find fault with the decision to remove the curly W, though I would have thought it was a much more useful than their tests showed. That’s why I’m the road geek highway enthusiast and the transportation professionals make the decisions. Note, this line of thinking is not at all applicable to things like analysis of sports or other things of great import.

Having commercial logos on official signs is certainly problematic so that’s reason enough for me, even as a Nats fan. The publicly financed stadium is more than enough. I certainly hope that Maryland has removed those other team logos as they did, so swiftly, with the curly W.

I wonder if the DC United logos have been removed as well.

By the way, it isn’t unheard of for mass transit systems to use team logos in their stations — I remember seeing an Expos sign in the Pie-IX Metro when I visited Montreal in September 2004. I think the Addison stop on Chicago’s L has Cubs logos too. The Nats wanted WMATA to add the curly W to the Metro map and signage (JDLand), but the transit agency declined. By the way, if you are wanting a transit system to add your logo, you may want to think about putting down a deposit to keep the system running.

Lastly, the conversation that came with posting the DC Sports Bog story made me realize that one of my favorite posts, comparing the Nats cap to other post-expansion caps, was lost in a migration. I’ve put it up again. Yay.

Opening Day is 43 days away

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Maryland House service area by C. Patrick Zilliacus

I-95: New Maryland House service area re-opened, Chesapeake House closed

The first service area on Interstate 95 north, Maryland House, reopened recently. The facility was knocked down and replaced after closing in September 2012.

Private money built the new facility, and a private company will operate it.

Here’s what Maryland gets:

“Over $400 million in state revenue over the length of the partnership,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

The 35-year private-public partnership will also mean hundreds of local jobs.

The new Maryland House travel plaza will also have 40 gas pumps.

From 50-Year-Old Maryland House Set To Reopen As Ultra-Modern Rest Stop

Here is the official release: New $30 Million Maryland House Travel Plaza on I-95 Now Open

Further up I-95, the Chesapeake House will be closed until late summer or fall to be rebuilt.

PREVIOUSLY

I-95 Maryland House service area closes this Sunday09.11.2012
I-95’s Maryland service areas to be rebuilt02.13.2012
Upgrades coming to Md. I-95 service areas10.06.2006

Photo used with permission of C Patrick Zilliacus

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Praise for Mike Pettigano and Bergen Record/NorthJersey.com on breaking the Christie GWB scandal

NorthJersey-com-Christie-scandal-mike-pettigano
The allegations that officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration ordered the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close some lanes of the George Washington Bridge (I-95, US 1 & 9) is disappointing on several fronts. What isn’t disappointing is that my friend and former colleague from my Gannett days (and fellow Penn State College of Communications graduate), Mike Pettigano, has been part of the Bergen Record/NorthJersey.com team breaking the story. Some of you may even remember Mike from when he was running Penn State sports blog Black Shoe Diaries or the preview magazine, We Are Penn State 2013 (He’s doing that again this year).

As for Christie, I’m disappointed the people he selected appeared to have acted in such a vindictive way. I’ll be curious to see what the Record learns about his involvement. I have great affection for the Garden State, having been born there and then visiting family, friends and of course, the Jersey Shore, regularly and I was pulling for Christie to rise in his party. Now, I’m probably not feeling that way.

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@Metro_Nomad’s valiant effort to visit every Metro station falls five short

Looking out of a Metro rear car
On Saturday, Steve Ander @Metro_Nomad , a Northern Virginia resident, set out to visit every station on the Metro system, defined as such:

The carefully crafted itinerary will keep him riding until he has stopped — and exited for a photo — at each of the 86 stations in the system.

WTOP live-blogged, from which the quote above came from, the whole journey.

Metro_Nomad was unsuccessful by a mere five stations:

That’s quite a journey nonetheless. The current Metro rail system is over 103 miles long with 86 stations. It can probably be done with a little luck and on a Friday when the system is open from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next morning. That is until the Silver Line opens. We hope.

I like living in an area where the subway system is too big to clinch in day.

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