Building the Washington Metro
August 28, 2003 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Building the Washington Metro.
posted by plep (27 comments total)
Stumbled across this site on Blackout Day while clicking out from the GMU blackout history page, then promptly forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder, plep. I ride the DC Metro everyday, and I love it. Nothing says 1960's retro-sci-fi like those huge, cavernous Metro stations.
posted by brownpau at 9:05 AM on August 28, 2003

Cool. Thanks Plep. I wish some of the graphics were scanned a little better, but it is still very neat.
posted by eckeric at 9:06 AM on August 28, 2003

Neat site. My wife and I visitied Washington last year on a working vacation. Being from the rural South, I really had no experiences at all with subway systems and didn't know what to really expect. All I had seen were examples on TV from New York and similar. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised at how neat, clean, and useful it was. We simply bought a weeklong pass(?) or something similar. The Metro was truthfully one of the highlights of our trip.

It was actually a pretty successful trip. We got to meet 11 Congressmen and Senators and had our picture taken with 9 of them. We also got to eat lunch in the House dining room and breakfast in the Senate cafeteria with some Congressmen and Senators. We spent so much time hobnobbing with elected officials that we never really got to see as much of the sights as we would have liked. It was a full four days.

Not the "highlight" but the "lowlight" of my trip... While we were walking to the Capitol from one of the Senate office buildings, Ted Kennedy and his handlers came hurredly out of the Senate end of the Capital building. They jumped into an SUV, and promptly almost ran over us. We seriously had to dodge and they came within a few inches of hitting us as they wheeled about and accelerated. Just like a drunken driver, I swear.... :-)
posted by insulglass at 9:16 AM on August 28, 2003

Great site, plep.

If only they had built that brown line shown in the Stanley Allen 21st century map, I could have gotten in to much more trouble growing up in suburban VA.

Now I live in a city (Seattle) where all we do is fight about mass transit.
posted by pitchblende at 9:29 AM on August 28, 2003

pitchblende: all we have to do is come up with some sport that somehow involves a monorail track - linear volleyball, or long-distance bowling, or competitive leapfrog-racing. Then instead of dragging their feet even after two referenda supporting the project, the city council will suddenly allocate lots of money and get the system built in two years whether we like the idea or not...
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:52 AM on August 28, 2003

My girlfriend and I currently live in Queens and we visited DC a few months ago. The Metro is definitely cleaner and cheaper than the NYC subway, but we didn't find it to be terribly convenient.

We spent most of our time around the Mall and up near Morgan-Adams and rode the Metro everywhere we went. The biggest problem that we had was that the stations are often very sparsely placed. Whereas in Manhattan there is usually a subway stop every 5 short blocks or so (on some of the avenues), in DC we would often have to walk for much much further distances.

I know a lot of that has to do with relative population densities and such, and it made me realize that NYC may be the only city in the nation where a rapid transit system can actually be a true alternative to owning a car.
posted by bshort at 9:55 AM on August 28, 2003

bshort :- dilapidated it may be, but the Tube plays a similar role for London as the subway does in New York. (The London Transport Museum has a pretty good website, for those interested in this sort of thing).
posted by plep at 9:59 AM on August 28, 2003

The Metro is great for getting in and out of the city. Period. Trying to get from suburb to suburb is difficult or impossible.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2003

Very cool link. I grew up outside DC, and I've always loved the aesthetics, but there are two factors that seriously limit its usefulness as a comprehensive mass transit system. It's a hub-and-spoke design, but there's no circle line connecting the ends of the spokes, so it's great for going downtown and back, but not so great for going from one spoke to another. Also, there aren't stations in some places. Georgetown in particular resisted having a stop*, which is now considered a "tragic, major mistake" due to the neighborhood's parking and traffic problems. (Quote from this interesting October 2001 Washington Post article about proposed Metro expansion that would add a Georgetown stop.)

NYC may be the only city in the nation where a rapid transit system can actually be a true alternative to owning a car

San Francisco's manageable if you live in the city and work downtown.

* A favorite movie goof for DC residents is the nonexistent Georgetown Metro stop in No Way Out
posted by kirkaracha at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2003

There are a few stations that have some character (e.g., U Street/Cardozo), but the overall bland sameness of the stations is a drawback. In Montreal, the metro stops were individually designed, some with more success than others.

The need to rename each station by including everything anywhere near it is getting ridiculous, too. Woodley Park is now Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan, U Street is U Street/Cardozo/African-American Civil War Memorial...
posted by mookieproof at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2003

Great link, thanks!

It must also be pointed out that the Metrorail System is not even 30 years old yet. NYC and London have had theirs for much longer. What we use now is referred to as "Phase 1." I hope that "Phase 2" involves an outer ring, or "Purple Line." So just give us some time. There's no telling what Metro will look like in another thirty years.
posted by tommyspoon at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2003 another thirty years...
posted by brownpau at 11:03 AM on August 28, 2003

"The Metro is great for getting in and out of the city. Period. Trying to get from suburb to suburb is difficult or impossible."

A great book called Streetcar Suburbs describes urban planning in Boston during the era of streetcars--and the crumbling urban cores spoking out to disorganized suburbs that resulted. Reading it more than an hundred years after the era it covers, I was stuck by how much urban development and population movement today still reflects the same problematic trends today.

As the Metro site demonstrates, planners make plans, but (for better and worse) human nature seems perversely opposed to falling in line.
posted by Inkslinger at 11:09 AM on August 28, 2003

One interesting tidbit gleaned from this very cool site is that the Green line, which runs up 7th street to U to 14th, was originally planned to go up 13th street. It was rerouted after the '68 riots (which followed King's assasination) to try to encourage rebuilding of the burned-out areas. If the original line had been built, my house (an early 1870's rowhouse on the block on which Duke Ellington lived as a teenager) would probably have been destroyed. Interestingly, the plan to rebuild the area by introducing subway stops is starting to work -- 12 years after the metro stations actually opened, but hey, who's counting?

bshort: I have lots of friends who have never owned cars in the District, including my partner, who lived in town for 20 years (all since Metro opened) without owning a car. For me to have a week in which I don't use my car is not unusual; there's little that I can't walk or metro to. And on average, I use maybe a tank of gas per month.

a very cool link...
posted by jburka at 12:22 PM on August 28, 2003

It must also be pointed out that the Metrorail System is not even 30 years old yet.

Yep - for some reason, when I think of the Washington Metro, the Singapore MRT springs to mind as a point of comparison rather than much older systems such as London, New York or Paris...
posted by plep at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2003

Nice link, thanks for posting it - the site has been around for a while though. I'm a DC-based railfan myself; another great site is DC Underground and then there's the ODP category for the DC subway.
posted by etoile at 2:37 PM on August 28, 2003

The folks at also have a nice section on the DC Metro.
posted by PrinceValium at 3:40 PM on August 28, 2003

D.C. Metro Blog Map
posted by crunchland at 3:48 PM on August 28, 2003

Interested people should also look at:

The Silver Line (Orange Line extension) will eventually add another about 14 stations to the Orange line, running it (finally) to Tysons Corner, Wolf Trap, Reston Town Center, and Dulles Airport.

The Purple Line will hopefully at some point, connect Silver Spring and Bethesda.

And the light rail/street car system, planning 4 new lines across DC. Not as fast as new subway lines, and a hell of a lot cheaper---and Georgetown finally gets a mass transit stop. They've already started testing on the Minneseota Ave/Anacostia line.

With the current fiscal crisis, none are moving forward very quickly, but they will (and must) be completed -- DC's traffic problem is miserable. is a great resoucers for those wanting to keep up with DC transit issues.
posted by jare2003 at 4:43 PM on August 28, 2003

I second (third? fourth?) the need for a purple line. One time my friend and I didn't feel like making a whole bunch of transfers on the bus, so we actually took the Red Line from Wheaton to Bethesda. I think it ended up taking around an hour. We got their eventually, but I that's the first and last time I'll ever try to get from the Silver Spring side of the Red Line to the Bethesda side on the Metro.

Whereas in Manhattan there is usually a subway stop every 5 short blocks or so (on some of the avenues), in DC we would often have to walk for much much further distances.

Yeah, when Ivist Manhattan I am always pleasantly surprised at how many stations there are. You could always count on finding one quite close by. But hey! At least our trains are clean :)
posted by puffin at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2003

At least our trains are clean :)

True. I never once saw excrement in a train seat when I was in DC.

But, by the same token, I never once saw a cute little subway mouse sniffing around the Metro's third rail, either.
posted by bshort at 7:09 PM on August 28, 2003

DC trains are clean, true -- but I remember the cops busting a girl for eating french fries in the Metro when I last lived in DC, maybe three or four years ago. Cleanliness, sure .... BUT AT WHAT COST??

NYC (where I live now) does have awesomely close subway stations, but the best subway by far has to be Tokyo. Air-conditioned stations, vending machines which will give you change in bills, perfectly clean, fun music, no crime -- it's awesome!
posted by josh at 9:41 PM on August 28, 2003

Indicators on the Prague metro tell you how long it's been since the previous train departed. Which is always useful to know. ;)
posted by plep at 10:41 PM on August 28, 2003

Yeah, they busted the little girl for eating fries, and there was bad publicity afterwards, and they backed off. Still, most people know and follow the "no food, no drink, no smoking" rules. And now, since 9/11, there's "no cameras."

No trashcans on the metro platforms anymore, since 9/11 and the anthrax attacks.

Metro washes the underground platforms on a periodic basis. I have no idea how frequently, but the platforms are usually spotless. I've never smelled urine on the Metro like I have in New York City. I've never seen a rat crawling around the tracks, like I've seen in Chicago.

Lots of people think that the DC metro stations are sterile and lacking personality. They remind me of a cathedral. I can't imagine why anyone would need personality to a transit station... except maybe for newbies, who get confused when one station pretty much looks like every other one.
posted by crunchland at 2:46 AM on August 29, 2003

No rubbish bins on the London Tube since the 1980's... also because of a terrorist threat. Throws visitors to London every time, that.

For personality, how about the underground palaces of the Moscow Metro?
posted by plep at 3:07 AM on August 29, 2003

some of Stockholm's Metro stations are gorgeous as well. (blast, can't find a good picture link.)
posted by Vidiot at 3:47 AM on August 29, 2003

wow. I take it back. Compared to Moscow's Metro, DC's are more of a catacomb than a cathedral.
posted by crunchland at 4:27 AM on August 29, 2003

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