Book Review: The Great Society Subway

Although I’m certainly biased in favor of my hometown, in my opinion the DC Metro is the finest American rail transit system of the automobile age. Fast, extensive, and fully grade-separated, Metro has utterly transformed land use throughout its region. Thirty five years after its opening, the Nation’s Capital is unthinkable without it.

Metro is also the subject of a new(ish) book by Zachary M. Schrag, The Great Society Subway. The book takes the story of Metro from its origin in freeway fights of the 1950s through the final completion of the initial plan in 1990s.

If you’re familiar with the geography of the area and the system, it’s interesting to learn the story of how the lines ended up where they are. A salient fact about Metro is that it was envisioned as an alternative to a web of inner-city highways, rather than a supplement to them. Early in the book, the alphabet soup of shifting planning agencies and parade of old white guys gets a little tedious, but once WMATA (the agency’s name to this day) is formed, things pick up a bit. Aside from the narrative quality, three things stuck out for me.

The first is the shifting valence of the neighborhood activist, fighting freeways and later fighting rail lines. It reminds me of the shared reverence for Jane Jacobs, who was after all two things: an advocate for urbanism and pedestrians over the car, but also a defender of the status quo against the force of the establishment and professional planning. In cities like Seattle where the status quo is heavily auto-oriented, both sides can find inspiration in her story. In Washington’s case, underground rail lines proved less objectionable than elevated freeways, although Schrag has some pretty appalling tales (look up “Yuma Street” in the index for a particularly egregious example.)

Second, I was especially interested in the comparative experience of various jurisdictions with land use. Arlington County, Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland thought early about where they wanted the lines to go and how it would shape those areas, and they ended up with fabulous mixed-use neighborhoods. Fairfax County, VA did not, and ended up with single-family neighborhoods and parking along the Orange Line, while it completely missed the rapidly growing job center of Tysons Corner.*

Finally, it’s interesting what struggles are still interesting today and which seem petty. The aforementioned battles over routing and land use reflect legitimate differences in values and still have significant impacts today. What hasn’t aged as well is concern over cost. The Metro was not built in a particularly austere environment, but decades later compromising quality for what seem like quaint sums today seems particularly shortsighted. The struggle for $65m elevators to make it wheelchair-accessible is a particular low point. But in general costs were allowed to spiral ever upwards to preserve the scope and the region is better off for it.

If the Washington Metro is special to you, you should definitely read this book. If you’re interested in how in two decades we might look back at the rail and land use battles being fought today, the last two-thirds of the book are well worth a read.

* Tysons is finally getting rail service this year with the new Silver Line.

About Martin H. Duke

Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.




Comments

  1. Chris Hooker says:

    I’ve been on the Washinton Metro every time that I’m in DC and love the service.

    • Since Washington DC’s MetroRail is a topic, perhaps some historical memories I have may be of interest to readers here:

      After leaving the Navy, I worked for the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office in Washington, DC 1974 to 1978, just as the initial segments of Metro Rail were coming on line. The very first line opened was the Red Line from Rhode Island Avenue to Farragut North, on March 27, 1976. Photos of opening day, Rhode Island Ave station, posted by others at http://tinyurl.com/bdzwphn . I didn’t attend the opening, though I see Mayor Walter Washington was there!

      The photos show an event something like a Sound Transit opening day at a new station. Ribbon cuttings attract crowds bigger than the immediate ridership that follows…

      Later in 1976 I moved with my new wife from our apartment in Northwest DC (not near a Metro Station even now) to a house in DC we purchased a few miles to the NE of the Rhode Island Avenue station, near Mt. Rainier (!?) Maryland, where I could take advantage of the daily commuter train ride to my office near Metro Center station, the red-blue line hub everybody reading this has probably been through by now if you’ve been to DC. I commuted to and from that R.I. Ave. station seen in the photos on a regular bus that went right up to the station entrance gates.

      The morning elevated platform waiting in the early days was difficult on cold windy days, and recent pictures indicate no protection at that station has been added in the nearly 37 years since opening. As another example of non-improvement, when I go back to DC, I notice that the many station stairways where escalators were deferred because of funding shortages are still stairways.

      As I’ve written elsewhere, my morning bus-transfer-train ride in DC was fast and fine as long as I got a seat, but as the next few years went by until I moved to Seattle in 1982, the train at Rhode Island Avenue in peak was filled to SRO with commuters from further north as the Red Line extended into Maryland. (Hint about the future Link Capitol Hill Station when trains come from Northgate?) I liked standing on transit vehicles back then less than now, probably because I don’t ride transit every day like I did then.

      Time will tell at what trip length Seattle residents will stop liking standing on trains as a regular commuting event, even though standing on a train (or an elevator ride in a high rise) is widely considered (by me for example) more acceptable than standing on bus.

      When I arrived in Seattle for good in 1982, I remember liking MetroBus as a wonderful universal service that I thought much more pleasant than the buses and subways I experienced in DC. That plus reading the book The selling of rail rapid transit: a critical look at urban transportation planning by Andrew Marshall Hamer, Lexington Books (1976) led me to oppose the construction of Seattle rail mass transit from the git-go. I was delighted in the 1980s to learn that rail had been voted down in 1968 and 1970 before I arrived. Too bad friends and I didn’t drive a stake through its heart in the 1980s.

      I was a DC-based road warrior consultant during 1979 to 1982, and I don’t recall ever taking advantage of the walk-bus-transfer-train-transfer-train-walk with-a-suitcase opportunity to get to the airport from my house in NE DC. I simply drove in half the time and my clients paid for my airport parking. When visiting DC now, I nearly always use MetroRail from the close-in Reagan National Airport. I don’t mind standing, with my suitcase, just as I do on Honolulu public transit buses and other buses to/from airports all over the world.

      I didn’t work on public transit issues in my 1970s service for DC Government, but budget office colleagues in my office worked on independent long run forecasts of tremendous fiscal impact that the forthcoming DC MetroRail would have on the region and the District from its operating, maintenance, and eventual refurbishment requirements. The impact forecasts have all been realized as the years went by. Even with the Federal Government in the neighborhood and Congressional constituents riding the train to Capitol Hill, WMATA has continually come up short on funding in recent decades, as described at http://greatergreaterwashington.org/tag/WMATA+budget/ .

      One interesting observation from recent years visiting and reading about DC is how chock full many of the MetroRail trains have become in peak, even to the point of the agency having no options for capacity expansion on the train lines themselves. I’ve heard WMATA planners say in recent years that bus service improvement in the existing rail corridors has become the only option for peak crowding on trains.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. The Washington Metro is great for getting downtown, but for trips that don’t involve downtown, I have found it quite lacking. Cross-town trips are usually impossible by Metro without a long back-track downtown.

    Meanwhile, the local bus routes outside of downtown are oriented almost exclusively towards putting as many single-family homes within a one-seat ride of some Metro station. The routes can be quite circuitous and, in many cases, a transfer from one circuitous route to another is required for a trip that would have been a 5-10 minute drive down a major arterial.

    Of course, the primary reason for most of these routes to even exist is limited parking at the Metro stations (in spite of huge garages, on weekdays, they do fill up). However, on weekends, when station garage parking is free and plentiful, this reason goes away, and a lot of bus routes go away with it. Furthermore, under WMATA, train->bus transfers aren’t free – they’re cheaper than parking at the stations on weekdays, but on weekends, driving and paying for gas is likely to actually be financially cheaper than the bus transfer for most riders.

    One nice thing about Metro stations I do like, though, is that all the suburban stations seem to have plenty of taxis available, so if you are late just miss your circuitous, hourly bus, you don’t have to wait a full hour for the next one.

    As to non-motorized access, Maryland seems to do a much better job at this than Virginia. The Rockville area is mostly flat and contains good bike paths along most of the arterial streets, so biking to a Metro station is actually a reasonable option. Virginia, on the other hand, is much more hostile to bikes. Almost no streets contain bike lanes or shoulders, let alone off-street bike paths, while the sidewalks are narrow, falling apart, and right up against speeding traffic.

    • Nathanael says:

      That pattern is a leftover of the job patterns which prevailed in urban areas for nearly a century (1860s-1960s). Look at the streetcar and interurban maps from before the ‘Transit Holocaust’ removed nearly all public transportation in the US — they’re nearly all spoke-and-hub, with very few crosstown lines outside downtown. (LA was an exception.)

      DC Metro, building late, at least managed to get pretty decent “crosstown” coverage of the downtown area, which not every system did. (London did. New York didn’t. Boston didn’t.)

  3. Holy cow… that author has the same last name as me. I am not use to seeing that often…. and I guess interest in transit, especially rail, seems to run in the family.

    DC Metro also just announced their big (unfunded) future plans. They are calling for $26 billion which includes adding two new tunnels, underground walkways and a whole bunch more. Nice to see them pushing like this. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/metro-proposes-26-billion-overhaul/2013/01/23/fa31fdd4-658a-11e2-b84d-21c7b65985ee_story.html

  4. I will seek out this book. Meanwhile, since I haven’t read it, I’ll peer into the future at what a book on Seattle transit would look like in 50 years:

    – Big hits: the Rainier Valley, downtown Bellevue, Roosevelt, Redmond, Northgate.

    – Biggest hit: The mixed-use development in the Spring District was a smashing success… or so everyone assumes. The people of Bellevue were already insufferable isolated in cul-de-sacs; in concentration they’ve evolved a kind of advanced hyper-yuppie culture so that even hardened yuppies imported from New York and trained in SLU can’t stand to be there more than a few minutes. I mean, have you heard the latte orders at the Old Bentley Dealership Lane Starbucks? They’re approaching three-digit syllable count.

    – Big misses: Shoreline, Lake City, Lynnwood — the train along the freeway was useless to serve job centers there. And they never provided adequate capacity in the vital ACRS-Pioneer Square corridor.

    – Biggest miss: in a shocking turn, Snohomish County officials decided to let Point Wells developers build 100-story skyscrapers, since all the tax revenue would go to Snohomish County and all the construction and traffic impacts to King County. King County extended the 304 and 348 to Point Wells and then turned them over to ST since they were multi-county… ST promptly cut them and sent the hours to relieve overcrowding on the 550. WSDOT sensed a disturbance in the traffic models and built a deep-bore tunnel from Point Wells to I-5. Because of the 75-cent toll everyone diverted through the side streets of Richmond Beach.

    – The focus on downtown Seattle looks outdated since Seattle is basically a Cascadian Disneyland.

    – They haven’t finished planning rail lines to West Seattle and Ballard yet, but there’s an interesting plan involving rebuilding and extending the Seattle Center Monorail (still running after all these years, and it only catches fire once a year or so)…

    • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says:

      “ST promptly cut them and sent the hours to relieve overcrowding on the 550″

      Take on more of the debt service on the DSTT? Never!

      Seriously though, when will the bonds be paid off for that? 2020? I suppose by then it won’t matter as North and East Link will be coming online and they’ll kick all the buses out.

    • In 50 years we can assume Link will be built out to Everett, Redmond, Tacoma, Ballard, West Seatte, 45th, Lake City, and Kirkland. Because if this generation doesn’t do it, their children will. All the trends pointing to more demand for walkability and less driving will have matured. The blooms of urbanism in other cities that are currently brand-new shoots will have matured and people will be saying “We want that”. The elderly who can’t drive will demand an alternative, and the working-age cohort will demand an equal choice between walking/transit/biking and driving. And in 50 years there will no longer be any doubt about climate change because the extreme storms and rising sea levels will be obvious.

      So, with all that Link built up, where will be the successes? Northgate to Rainier Beach and downtown Bellevue, certainly. Downtown Redmond is partly getting there, so with an adjustment in direction it can become a DC-like urban village too. Downtown Tacoma is ready to rebuild its downtown the jobs and money come, so it’s really a matter of whether it can turn around its fortunes, which is too iffy to predict. Downtown Lynnwood and Federal Way have a lot of catching up to do, so they’ll have to get seriously building density or the jobs and people with a choice will bypass them and go to the more established urban centers.

      Shoreline and Lynnwood-99 will not be as successful as they could have been with Link on Aurora, but they have significant potential anyway. Aurora will be built up with TOD around RapidRide/Swift stations, and east/west feeders will evolve. RapidRide E will certainly be improved in 50 years, and its travel time could be brought down to 30 minutes with a few transit lanes and stop closures. Whether it will still be called RapidRide then, and whether it will be bus or rail, are secondary considerations.

      Downtown Bellevue will have extended to 116th, and a continuous curve of urbanism will make an arc from there to the Spring District and Overlake and back down to Crossroads. Around it will still be single-family houses. NE 8th Street between 120th and 156th will have some scattered development but will still be lower density than Crossroads. So middle-class people who want an urban life outside Seattle will go to Bellevue. Housing costs will be more than Crossroads is now but less than the downtown Bellevue highrises are, so middle-class non-drivers will have a good range of choices on where to live rather than the very few they have now.

      Des Moines, Kent, and Renton will probably urbanize late in the game, and will risk being bypassed like Lynnwood. But all it takes is a few pedestrian/bicycle/transit activists in those cities to get things moving, so a renaissance is still possible.

      “Big misses: Shoreline, Lake City, Lynnwood — the train along the freeway was useless to serve job centers there.”

      Lynnwood’s job center will be around Lynnwood TC. Shoreline was probably not going to get any large employers anyway; it’s more of a residential/retail city. If 220th station is added, that will serve Lynnwood’s second employment center. And Lake City will surely have a Link line, which will start being built sometime in the next twenty years.

      “And they never provided adequate capacity in the vital ACRS-Pioneer Square corridor.”

      The TMP streetcars and HCT are sure to be started sometime in the next two decades. The political climate and budget priorities won’t always be the same as they are now.

      “The focus on downtown Seattle looks outdated since Seattle is basically a Cascadian Disneyland.”

      I hope that never happens. Otherwise you’ll see the next news bombshell: John Bailo is moving to downtown Seattle! He’ll buy a large chunk of the waterfront and build Southcenter II there.

      • The blooms of urbanism in other cities that are currently brand-new shoots will have matured and people will be saying “We want that”.

        I’m sorry, but that’s a load of bullplop. The “blooms of urbanism” will have nothing to do with getting built a rail system that is so hostile to urbanism. There will be no Magic Lynnwood or Reborn Everett; indeed, the “blooms of urbanism” may kill off and ghettoize such anachronistic places entirely.

        No matter how awesome WMATA may be, no matter how much money they pour into high-profile “rehabs”, places like Tyson’s Corner are permanently lost to “urbanism”. At least Tyson’s Corner has the inertia of powerful employers and moneyed shoppers to keep it financially chugging when its spatial “reinvention” inevitably fails. Lynnwood has fuck-all.

      • I was talking growth like DC and its suburbs, not like your so sacred inner Boston. It’s possible to make things better than they are now, even if making them as urban as New York or Chicago or Boston is a perhaps impossible task. Those cities built their narrow streets and subways and large multifamily neighborhoods in the pre-automobile era, and it may not be possible to fully replicate that a century later, especially with the amount of opposition we face and limited funds.

      • (Whoops, in looking for a visual demonstration of how anti-urban our transit plans already are compared to DC’s, I accidentally linked to an old map with Graham and First Hill stations intact.

        It’s actually so much worse than that. My bad.)

      • In [Martin's] opinion the DC Metro is the finest American rail transit system of the automobile age. Fast, extensive, and fully grade-separated, Metro has utterly transformed land use throughout its region.

        You’ll notice that BART, built concurrently, has achieved no such effect.
        Hmmm… what’s the notable difference between WMATA and BART?

        Oh yeah: the former thoroughly criss-crossed the city and connected it with inner-suburban nodes ripe for targeted redevelopment, while the latter was a gigantic middle finger to urbanism.

        Learn nothing, achieve nothing.

      • Martin H. Duke says:

        BART barely extends beyond the CBD in SF and has no plan to do better. Link already has firm plans to serve two quadrants of the city beyond the CBD. Every credible plan for the next phase serves at least one more of the quadrants. But of course none of that fits in to your narrative that Ballard deserves service and nothing else does.

      • FWIW this post was just supposed to be a big non-serious send-up of various tropes in the comment section of this blog, with bits of true things thrown in for flavor (like the fact that Lynnwood TC’s walkshed will be occupied largely by park-and-ride spaces, a freeway, a mega-arterial, the interchange between the freeway and mega-arterial, and a swampy creek… not the sorts of things that are right by the major transit hubs of real walkable commercial centers).

        Um, yeah. Anyway, I was actually thinking of throwing in something about the contrast between the DC Metro and BART but I couldn’t think of a way to make it funny. But apparently since some people starting posting serious stuff I didn’t succeed in making any of it funny, so the joke’s on me.

      • I laughed!
        (Then I wept.)

      • Jonathan Hopkins says:

        DP,
        Comparing Link to the current map of DC Metro is like comparing a 10-year old person and a 40-year old and criticizing the 10-year-old for lagging development.

        Check this out: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/4835/the-evolution-of-metrorail-1976-2010/.

        DC Metro work was mostly completed 25 years after its first line went into operation, providing the 106 miles of track it has today. ST Link will have 55 miles of track 15 years after the first line opened.

      • I laughed too. But it is worth discussing what things will look like when all this stuff is done and the other development that will happen anyway and societal trends that are just starting now mature.

      • I’m sorry, Martin, but your parallel is simply mistaken.

        BART serves The Mission, Glen Park, San Francisco City College. It’s not fare-integrated, though probably will be someday. Thanks to the urban stop spacing along this stretch, it could be said to “serve” the Eastern quadrants of SF better than Link plans to serve our eastern quadrants. (Crux: that’s not exactly saying much.)

        Jonathan, aside from one advocate with no sense of how money works, we don’t have an operable 30-, 40-, 60-, or 100-year plan to serve one iota of this city in the “mature” way that DC Metro does. A 1973 plan of the DC system will already reveal an intent to achieve what it has achieved. Our plan does no such thing, distracted as it is by promises of mall-anchored Chia Cities and spindles connecting the outer fringes of everywhere to nothing useful anywhere.

        Martin’s glibness aside, this isn’t h

      • Martin’a glibness aside, this isn’t just about Ballard. It’s about whether we can acknowledge that we are NOT on the path to “utterly transform” this city’s land use or to build a transit system useful enough that our city could be “unthinkable” without it.

        We are not on that path. That’s what this post should be about.

      • John Bailo says:

        What..you don’t like food courts and LIDS?

      • Jonathan Hopkins says:

        D.P., now that IS an interesting point. The ST Long Range plan doesn’t have the fidelity that DC Metro’s plan had prior to the first track being completed (that DC plan was essentially fully built out by 2001 or so).

        Given sub-area equity, and a balance of known construction being in Snohomish or E King, it does seem that there will continue to be build-out in Seattle that is beyond BART but not quite DC (as predicted by Andrew Smith in http://seattletransitblog.com/2009/03/30/lessons-from-dc-metro-and-bart/).

        So given that baseline, what would you do to boost the urban benefit of Link? What funding source and mass transit options would you use? And what would it look like in the end?

      • Jonathan,

        Just for starters, Seattle and the politicians who supposedly represent it at the city, county, and transit-district levels (including the likes of Dullard Dow, who takes us for granted) need to learn a thing or two about what actually makes urban mass transit usable. Then, they need to grow a spine and strongly advocate for those things.

        No deletions, no substitutions, no watering down.

        I find the way “sub-area equity” has been interpreted to be obscene! Seattle residents wind up paying for stuff that has been built to the specifications of cross-county-commute interests, simply because that stuff happens to be within our borders. We’re paying every cent of a ROW to the Snohomish border, even though 99.9% of Seattlites will never have a reason to ride the line one inch past Northgate. (Since it goes nowhere walkable or useful, we won’t even have the ability to use it.) We’re also paying for a Rainier/I-90 station that isn’t even in our top-100 list of transit priorities.

        But when a piece of infrastructure would actually help stitch this together, ST throws us under the proverbial (but also literal) streetcar.

        They’ll scream “soil conditions!” (b.s., anything is surmountable), and “insufficient staging area!” (b.s., ST has some kind of giant construction site addiction), and “FTA funding jeopardized!” (b.s., Bush-era algorithms were awful, but if you went to bat for a vital segment you’d win).

        But the upshot is that the suburbs get what we pay for, and we get streetcar replacements that don’t work. Forever.

        And don’t think this can’t happen again.

        I’m also in favor of divorcing sub-area self-taxing rates from one another, which ST and Olympia oppose because they would lose their ability to leverage pro-transit Seattle votes for their anti-urban projects elsewhere. That’s the grossest kind of politics, the kind that are a direct assault on useful results. Let Seattle pay a higher rate to get better — and more necessary — projects expedited.

        But again, it’s mostly about spine. To their credit, most of the 2005 City Council tried to go to bat for First Hill’s Link station. The next attempt to short-change urban needs for the sake of a useless 73-mile “spine” needs to be our Waterloo.

    • ROFL

  5. Mark Dublin says:

    In 1970, my first job out of college had me splitting building stone with a hammer, and then driving the dynamite truck for Stoneyhurst Quarries in Potomac. I may have delivered the first case of dynamite to Dupont Circle Station, and also to tunnel work under Rock Creek.

    The Washington DC area sits on the roots of an old mountain range, so just about everything that needs to be excavated first needs to be blasted. Would be interesting to know how thoroughly Dupont Circle station was equipped as a bomb-shelter.

    Some years later, watched the DC subways clear the working population out of Downtown in the middle of the kind of snowfall that generally paralyzes our nation’s capital worse than happens when it snows in Seattle.

    No question WMATA has a great rail system. However, on employee-advisory-committee-oriented visits during Downtown Seattle Transit Project days, always really liked seeing joint-use light rail and bus system in Pittsburgh.

    In those years, PAT transit really carried the pertinent lessons for us.

    Some of our best experience also came from there. It would be good if the Seattle arts community could restore the quilt memorial to architect Ed Elliott, now fading from its bench under the vine leaves at Westlake Station.

    In the time-frame realistic for regional transit systems, the years between 1970 and now will appear in retrospect as a very short space of time. Present patterns of development are already going the way of the farmlands of Maryland.

    We really are just getting started.

    Mark Dublin

    • Don’t be surprised if farmlands return to Maryland. The changes being wrought to the world by uncontrolled global warming are well beyond any of our abilities to predict.

  6. As a DC area native now living in Seattle, I miss the Metro for getting to work, getting downtown on weekends, etc. But the maintenance costs/delays/red line breakdowns (escalators, track work) gets on riders’ nerves. Does the book talk about the fatal accident a few years ago near Catholic U– (IIRC, one train ran into the back of another), which if Metro had used a switching system that BART used, would have avoided it (but was cheaper)?

  7. Dc metro is the best, but also the most expensive, subway iof the automobile era. It will be interesting to see what la’s subway looks like when they are done.

  8. Jonathan Hopkins says:

    The DC Metro experience over the past few years has a lot of lessons for us all:

    WMATA (Metro) is funded by Virginia, Maryland, DC, and the federal government, but not of those funds are dedicated, meaning those jurisdictions don’t always ante up in a timeline fashion. During the last decade, a lack of consistent funding combined with bad WMATA governance resulted in excessive amounts of deferred maintenance in order to fund operations. “Deferred maintenance” is one of the most bedeviling concepts in the world, as demonstrated in the 2009 Red Line crash that killed 9 due to malfunctioning track bed sensors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_2009_Washington_Metro_train_collision and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/red-line-crash/). This resulted in a massive ($8 Billion), multi-year investment to bring maintenance and safety back on track, non-voluntary NTSB oversight of municipal and commuter lines, and manual driver control of trains instead of the automated mode they ran in prior to the accident.

    Given all of that, it is good to see that WMATA is able to look forward again–all with improved governance and a culture of better safety. The second largest system in the country with 750,000 boardings per day, it has reached capacity. Once the Silver Line trains come on line to Tyson’s Corner and Dulles in the next couple of years, tunnels will be at capacity, and trains are already packed.

    Just this week, WMATA released it’s 30-year, $26 Billion plan (noted above by Andy). To me, it is a very impressive effort at selling all that transit does for the city. It includes new tunnels serving more destinations in the DC Core (Georgetown, Thomas Circle), passageways connecting nearby stations by foot reducing crushing transfer levels at certain stations, a renewed dedication to BRT or priority bus lines, and extension of existing lines. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/red-line-crash/

    Worth checking out are the facts and figures on pages 10-14 regarding the impact of transit as well as the mapped-out improvements on pages 31-35 (especially if you’re familiar with the DC area. Because the Metro was only started in the 45 years ago, it doesn’t have the robustness and redundancy of parallel lines like NYC, and thus more resembles BART built at the same time. With these improvements, however, they are building in more redundancy, more parallel lines in the urban core, and would make it possible to route around choke points in the system when special events or emergency closures happen. Overall, as a DC Metro rider, it is good to see both current safety improvements, and their focus on long term growth of the system.

    What DC lacks and the Sound Transit service area benefits from is a dependable source of revenue and no need to rely every biennium on states and jurisdictions to dish out funds to Sound Transit, always unsure of the quantity to be appropriated. Furthermore, Sound Transit builds all of its own infrastructure (less the DSTT), unlike DC where some of the infrastructure is built by other entities (such as the clean-government-challenged Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for the Silver Line) and handed over to Metro for operation.

  9. Will Douglas says:

    The key is at the end of your post, where you note that WMATA (generally) prioritized quality service over cost concerns. There is always more money available if we are willing to put in the work to go get it, and that money is easier to obtain if you are offering better kinds of service (more stations, more routes, faster speeds). A good lesson for the Puget Sound area to keep in mind.

  10. Mark Dublin says:

    From my dynamite delivery days during DC Metro construction, I think a great deal of the expense came from the geology and topography of the service area, especially in Washington DC itself: whatever was not solid rock was swamp.

    I haven’t been in DC for over 20 years, but not surprised to hear that any piece of the infrastructure of this country is presently falling apart. I wish the Democrats would stop using the word “stimulus”. Just putting the US back in working condition will employ enough people to completely restore our economy.

    And DC has a special political problem: the Constitution- in language likely written by the same people who said blacks were 3/5ths people- prevents it from having either voting representation in Congress or its own city government. When we lived in Bethesda in 1970, the House District Committee were the exact kind of Democrats who are now the same kind of Republicans.

    Not wanting to go OT, will save request to the NRA to help the citizens of our capital to obtain their rights for next open thread- and finish with observation that reported condition of WMATA is good summary of same for the rest of the United States.

    Mark Dublin

  11. John Bailo says:

    And yet if questioned about the most significant transportation structure in Metro DC over the last half century, it certainly would not be a rarefied subway, but the Beltway. The famous beltway is how Washington truly modernized from a set of stone monuments to a techno industrial complex of cutting edge industry and research in everything from material science to economics.

    I think this is the reason our metro has stagnated…the inability to build belt highways around the old urban core to let free flowing traffic get to new industries, not dependent on the old!

    • In the D.C. area, transit, by and large operates radially in and out of downtown. Most trips whose drive would involve use of the beltway take far longer by transit than by car, often with multiple transfers.

      That being said, while the beltway moves a lot of cars, one cannot discount the huge numbers of people the Metro moves in and out of downtown every day.

    • This post is perfect.

      Yes, the beltway is really important and has had an enormous impact. Much of that has been negative, as with all freeways.

      We did build a belt highway. It’s called 405. There might be some tech companies and fast-growing cities out there or something.

      Our metro has not stagnated. The fact that our highways congested is evidence of this.

      Detroit has free-flowing belt highways precisely because it has stagnated. When it was booming there was more traffic for obvious reasons.

      More sprawl would be awesome, except for the pollution and the habitat destruction and the urban destruction and the negative impacts on the existing city.

      If the new industries weren’t dependent on the old industries nor indeed the old city they could go build anywhere they wanted. The fact that they build in or on the periphery of existing cities suggests otherwise.

      • “More sprawl would be awesome, except for the pollution and the habitat destruction and the urban destruction and the negative impacts on the existing city.”

        And the fact that you can’t get to sprawl jobs without driving.

  12. Definitely want to read this book — I lived in DC in the 60s during the Kennedy years, pre-subway (and beltway). The bus service was horrible.

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