A fairly quick post from the capital of the United States. Central Washington is exactly as you’d expect: a grand planned city of monuments and monumental vistas. It is a place designed to inspire awe with a scale that renders humans as insignificant. The scale of the avenues and spaces around the National Mall also makes walking very difficult, a common outcome of planned capitals. The city does have a blanket height limit which effectively limits all buildings to about eight stories. This gives it a very dense, yet horizontal form. Quite Parisian in fact. They do have a bike share scheme here and I think that cycling could be the best way to get around… if they had a bit more cycling provision and a bit less traffic. I guess tour bus and limousine is how it really happens.
Outside of the Capitol precinct this all changes. Residential Washington is a surprisingly dense, human scaled place. The inner suburbs are all historic terraces and low rise apartments, primarily black working and middle class residents, not yet gentrified but probably heading that way. There is a lot of infill development mimicking the traditional style, most of it well executed, some not. The neighborhood I stayed in was characterized by neighbours chatting on their front porches, people walking dogs in the leafy streets, and friends meeting up at the local pizza store on the corner. A new urbanist’s old utopia still happening.
In these neighborhoods back lanes take care of the cars, parking, rubbish and service access. This leaves the fronts for porches, gardens, walking and trees. How I wish we had lane ways in residential Auckland.
So the transit. As all ways this great city has a great bus system. Frequent regular service on all main roads. However here the idea of a bus lane is conspicuously absent, and buses do get stuck in Washington’s notorious traffic. However there is an alternative, the metro. A relatively recent construction of the same era as San Francisco’s BART and Melbourne’s City Loop, the metro is fast, capacious and efficient. Several sections are underground while others run alongside intercity rail rights of way. The thing I like best about the system is the transit centre station, which is the connecting point of several lines on two perpendicular levels. Through clever design each level acts as the concourse for the other, allowing very simple transfers and a highly efficient station to fit in a relatively compact space. If Auckland had a little more headway on North Shore rail then Aotea could have been designed like this, but I figure it’s probably a step too far in terms of future proofing.
Finally, an excerpt from the timetable showing the metro frequencies. Trains every six minutes at peak times and every twelve minutes across the rest of the day, with reduced service late at night. Several lines double up in the inner parts of the network, giving three and six minute headways respectively. Same service on weekends and weekdays, excluding the peak frequency boost. What I like about this timetable is it shows exactly what the CRL can deliver for Auckland. Trains every five or six minutes from all stations at peak, and every ten or twelve minutes across the rest of the week, with double-quick frequencies where the lines overlap in the centre.
Quite simply, the CRL buys us a metro system as good as the capital of the richest nation on earth!