The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


And the MetroGreater winner is...

You've voted, and the winning idea in the MetroGreater contest is... [drum roll] ... installing compass roses at the entrances to Metro stations!

Photo by the finalist Robert B.

This summer, MetroGreater asked for your small, quick fixes to improve riders' experience on Metro. People across the region submitted nearly 1,400 ideas which a jury narrowed down to 10 finalists. Then, you voted to pick a winner and the results are in. Installing compass rose decals at the exits of Metro stations won the majority of the votes!

The winning idea: Compass rose decals at station exits

A compass rose is a figure that shows you which north, south, east, and west are in. Installing compass rose decals outside stations with multiple exits could help Metrorail riders get their bearings after on their way out.

Robert Biemesderfer, an economics teacher from Falls Church, Virginia submitted the winning idea to MetroGreater. Like many others who submitted ideas to MetroGreater, he recognized that there is a lot of room for Metro to improve signage and wayfinding across the system. Here's his original idea:

Exiting at an unfamiliar metro station, but don't know the direction you need to head next? Use a compass rose to quickly orient yourself.

WMATA should keep the decals sufficiently far away from the station exit that tourists won't stand over them and block escalator exits. In fact, if the decals are placed 10 feet forward from the exit, it could draw unfamiliar visitors forward and out of the way of escalators as they orient themselves.

The decals would work best if they gave primary prominence to the north direction, so that they could be read from a distance and were not dependent on reading the letters.

Here's how voting played out

Voters agreed that compass rose decals would improve the rider experience. When casting a vote, people were able to rank as many of the 10 finalists as they wanted. We then picked the winner using Ranked Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting. This system eliminates the lowest vote getter, one by one, and re-apportions each vote to that voter's next highest choice still in the running, until one gets a majority.

Here's a screenshot of the original results, before applying the Ranked Choice Voting method.

To see how the compass rose decal idea got the majority of the votes using the Ranked Choice Voting method, click the left, back arrow button on the green "Round 9" button in the interactive visualization below.

Many thanks to FairVote, for crunching the numbers and producing this tool to visualize the results! Learn more about the instant runoff or ranked choice voting method here.

Who voted?

During the two-week voting period, 1,522 people from across the region (and beyond!) ranked the 10 finalists. A little more than half (55%) of the votes came from people who live in DC. Virginians and Marylanders submitted 41% of the votes (21% and 20%, respectively). The remaining 4% of voters live outside the Washington region.

What's next?

"We're excited about having had the opportunity to work with Greater Greater Washington, CSG, and riders on this contest and are looking forward to following up on the winning idea, compass roses outside Metro stations," said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

In October, Greater Greater Washington will work with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and WMATA to host a happy hour to recognize the finalists and the winning idea. We'll also dole out prizes and talk about ways Metro can continue to make small and big changes to ensure a safe, reliable transit system. Stay tuned for a save the date!

As promised, we're also working on a series of posts about some of the ideas that didn't make it to the finalist round.

Congratulations, again, to Robert and thank you to everyone who participated in MetroGreater!


Does DC want boring architecture? Sort of.

DC has a lot of boring architecture, and that's no mistake; a cheap federal government and a bevy of paper pushers keep the District that way. At least that's what a few experts on architecture and development in DC had to say at a panel last week.

Is DC architecture inherently boring? Photo by Bossi on Flickr.

Turncoats, an urbanist debate group, hosted its first DC debate last week on the question of whether or not the District wants boring architecture. The organization works to encourage provocative discussion, fueling everyone—including audience members—with a shot of liquor before things get started and only assigning the panelists sides after they've taken the stage.

Payton Chung of the Urban Land Institute (and a member of Greater Greater Washington's editorial board), Brian Miller of Edit Lab at Streetsense, Nooni Reatig of Suzane Reatig Architecture, and Mina Wright of the General Services Administration and National Capital Planning Commission (who was careful to stress that all of her statements were hers alone and not those of her employer) participated in the panel.

Initially, Payton and Nooni were assigned the position that DC does indeed want boring architecture, while Brian and Mina had to argue that isn't the case.

Despite their supposed sides, the panelists coalesced in agreement that DC architecture is boring... they just differed on the reasons why. For example, Payton argued that it is the embodiment of DC's culture of middle-management paper pushers while Mina said it was simply the result of a cheap federal government keen to maximize usable space in its office buildings.

We (Edward and Joanne) attended the panel and discussed our thoughts in a chat format.

Edward Russell (ER): It was clear to me that the panelists, whether they took the pro or con position, feel that DC's architecture is boring. I do wish those who argued that DC does in fact want boring architecture had said more about why boring architecture can still be interesting.

Joanne Pierce (JP): I expected the panelists to discuss DC's architecture as it is now, why it appears to be boring, and whether they agree (since boring is relative). "City architecture is boring" is a popular opinion. You can google any city and "boring architecture" and get dozens of articles decrying NYC, Boston, LA, etc., for being filled with boxy, glass buildings.

ER: Exactly. I felt that some were a bit of tongue-and-cheek, especially on the con side—though the two blended together a bit—with Nooni arguing that multiple streets lined with "Soul Cycle, Chipotle and Starbucks" made her feel comfortable, which was clearly a dig at the homogeneity of it all.

JP: There were lots of zingers, which were fun and spirited. I think everyone truly enjoys living in DC, and they can still poke fun at its stodgy reputation. That was an interesting comment on the sameness of our streets, which Mina echoed with her comment about Federal Triangle being lovely, but "you don't want to live in a city of Federal Triangles." I appreciated that comment because Federal Triangle happens to be that prime example of DC federal building run amok. It's just federal building after federal building. But it can be lovely!

Federal Triangle. Photo by Irakil on Flickr.

ER: It can be lovely. There is certainly a grandeur of the federal DC, with the ordered avenues and the neo-classical buildings.

JP: I'm a little biased because I work in the Ronald Reagan Building.

ER: One thing that surprised me was how the height limit only came up once, and it was an audience member saying they didn't think that is the issue holding back DC architecture. I expected it to be discussed more.

JP: I did, too. I think that's owing to the structure, where the panelists didn't bring it up, except to say that we don't need skyscrapers. The discussion seemed to be more about the overall uniformity that exists in DC. I was also surprised that the discussion focused mostly on public or semi-public buildings, and not much at all on residences.

ER: Yes, I think that was the result of, as Payton put it, the fact that DC is a city of "middle class, paper-pushing bureaucrats." A lot of the speakers built off that. I agree that the federal government has had an outsize impact on DC architecture for decades—centuries even—but the panelists took it a step further and argued that we're a city of bureaucrats who ultimately want an unadorned box (or row house) rather than some limit-pushing designed residence, whether in a tower or a house.

JP: There's some historical connection with that comment. Lots of our boxy tan buildings are brutalist, and a lot of those came about because of the federal government. For instance, the Weaver building, which is where Housing and Urban Development is now, was built according to President Kennedy's architectural initatives. So if we think the Weaver's big, boxy (it's actually kind of curved) look is unattractive, it is because Kennedy wanted it to represent the strength of America.

The Weaver Building. Photo by Kjetil Ree on Flickr.

ER: Like Brian said: "DC has lots of cutting edge architecture, it's just from 100 years ago." Or 50 years ago in the case of President Kennedy.

JP: Concrete is wonderful! You'll see! Going back to your comment about wanting unadorned, big boxes—I'm no architect, but it seems like when your primary need is space to house many people (for housing or for work) your most logical shape is a square or rectangle, not a curve or a triangle. It seems like there should be a way to combine the two, but then you sometimes get the 20 Fenchurch building, which was Brian's example of ugly design.

20 Fenchurch Street in London. Photo by Matt Buck on Flickr.

ER: Yes, that is something DC architecture does well—maximizing the amount of space available for workers or for residents, within the limits that exist for buildings (height limit, plot size, whatever). As Mina put it, "I think the Feds are at fault. Why? They're cheap."

JP: The cheapness of government makes a lot of sense but I think it's more of a cultural cheapness. Maybe for a long time, we just didn't want to stand out. Or at least, the people in power who made the decisions didn't think the city needed to stand out. Except with The National Mall.

ER: Did you agree with the general conclusion that so much generally mediocre architecture will make the unique, interesting buildings in DC stand out? I agree with the premise but wonder how we get to the point where we have unique buildings to stand out from the crowd. Like Atlantic Plumbing (2112 8th Street NW), I do like it, it's more industrial then we generally have here, but at the same time it is still a steel and glass rectangular box.

Atlantic Plumbing. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

JP: I think that the question of what is boring should be reframed. Are we boring, or are we just not a place where we have singular, instantly recognizable buildings. Things that show up in magazines, like Brian pointed out, and things that wow people as they drive by. Is that what we consider to be the most important?

ER: We have a few remarkable buildings, but I'd say they're iconic more due to their historical significance than their architecture (the White House, the Capitol).

JP: Certainly, we have the White House and the Capitol and the monuments. But beyond that, when we talk about iconic buildings that aren't Federal... I think the premise of whether our uniformity allows the interesting buildings to stand out is totally right. The African American history museum stands out because it's brown and not in the same architectural style as many others.

ER: It certainly does, whether you like the design or not.

JP: Sometimes, you just need one bold idea to start things off.


What's so great about the Purple Line, anyway?

With a recent court decision from a group of opponents delaying the Purple Line once again, it's easy to forget how many people support it, from local environmental groups to Governor Hogan. Let's remember why they fight for this project, and why it will get built one day.

This will get built. Image from Montgomery County.

The Purple Line will be a 16-mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. It'll connect three Metro lines, all three MARC commuter rail lines, and Amtrak, as well as hundreds of local bus routes. It'll serve two of the region's biggest job centers, Bethesda and Silver Spring, as well as Maryland's flagship university. It'll give Montgomery and Prince George's counties a fast, reliable alternative to current bus service and Beltway traffic.

However, it'll do a lot more than that.

1) It'll make walking and bicycling a lot easier and safer. The Purple Line project includes rebuilding or extending trails across Montgomery and Prince George's counties, building on the area's growing bike network.

The Capital Crescent Trail, which ends two miles outside of Silver Spring, will get fully paved and extended to the Silver Spring Metro station, where it'll connect to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The trail will get a new bridge at Connecticut Avenue and new underpasses at Jones Bridge Road, and 16th Street, so trail users won't have to cross those busy streets.

Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring will get a new trail. Photo by the author.

Streets in other parts of the corridor will get rebuilt with new sidewalks and bike lanes. University Boulevard in Langley Park will get a road diet. Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring will get a new, extended Green Trail.

2) It will let more people live and work near transit more affordably. Metro has its problems, but people still value living in walkable, transit-served neighborhoods. As a result, communities with Metro stations can be very expensive. The Purple Line puts more neighborhoods and more homes near transit, as well as more opportunities to build new homes near transit, helping meet demand and fighting spikes in home prices.

How far you can get by transit from Riverdale today and after the Purple Line is built.

3) It will improve commutes far beyond Bethesda to New Carrollton. The Purple Line will dramatically improve transportation access for people who live or work near one of its 21 stations. But even those whose homes or jobs aren't near the Purple Line may travel through the corridor, getting a faster, more reliable trip.

Right now, a bus trip between Silver Spring and Bethesda can take 20 minutes at rush hour (though in reality it takes much longer due to traffic). On the Purple Line, that trip would take just nine minutes. That's a time savings for anyone passing through the Purple Line corridor, like if you were going from Riverdale (which will have a station) to Rock Spring Business Park in Bethesda (which won't).

4) It's finally bringing investment to some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Communities like Long Branch, Langley Park, and Riverdale have long awaited the kind of amenities more affluent communities take for granted. When Maryland and the federal government agreed to fund the Purple Line, people took notice. Long Branch businesses formed an association.

Riverdale residents and business owners are pushing for a more attractive station. A few blocks away, this ad for a new house being built lists exactly one feature: "located within steps of purple metro line's Beacon Heights Station (officially approved by state of Maryland for 5.6 billion)."

While the Purple Line can help meet the demand for transit-served housing, there are real concerns that home prices may still rise, resulting in gentrification and displacement. That's why residents, business owners, and the University of Maryland partnered on the Purple Line Community Compact, which creates a plan for ensuring that people can afford to stay.

5) We actually don't know everything the Purple Line will do. Transportation planners can estimate how many people will use a transit line, but we can't predict how it will affect people's decisions about where to live, work, shop, or do other things. That's the most exciting part.

Metro helped revitalize Silver Spring. The Purple Line can do this for more communities. Photo by the author.

Metro helped make 14th Street a nightlife destination. It turned Arlington into an economic powerhouse. It transformed Merrifield's warehouses into townhouses. Those changes weren't guaranteed, but as a region we took the risk and it paid off.

We're poised to do the same thing for a new generation of neighborhoods along the Purple Line.

While a recent lawsuit from a group of Chevy Chase residents will has halted the project, transportation officials seem hopeful that this will be a temporary delay. The facts remain that this is a strong project that has major benefits for Maryland.

That's why everyone from environmental groups to neighborhood groups to business groups support this project. That's why Governor Hogan agreed to build it, even if he did make some changes to save money.

And that's why, despite a small but vocal opposition, it will get built.


Breakfast links: WiFi in the Metro

Get online, underground: Riders can now use free WiFi at six downtown metro stations. The 45-day pilot program will eventually lead to WiFi at all 91 stations and cell service in tunnels. (Post)

Don't press this button: DC's 911 was out for an hour and a half on Sunday. This happened after a plumber hit the emergency stop button while working on a leak. Officials will now add more security and signage around the button. (DCist)

No to NIMBY: A Washington Post editorial slams the Ward 3 residents suing to stop a homeless shelter: "Shelters are slated for every ward of the city. One would have hoped that the city's most prosperous ward would not be the least welcoming." (Post)

Bad flip to affordable digs: Through eminent domain, DC will purchase and transform notoriously bad house flipper Insun Hofgard's six remaining properties into affordable housing. (WAMU)

McMillan moving on: DC is moving forward with the redevelopment of the McMillan Sand Filtration site, looking now for a contractor to build the planned park and community center, despite ongoing opposition. (City Paper)

There's more to congestion: Only focusing on roads and the speed of traffic won't really solve transportation problems, argues College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, even if it is a common position in the press and proposed USDOT regulations. (Post)

Expensive cities are exclusive cities: City planners once believed that cities would grow smaller as the rich moved out to suburbs. But the opposite has happened, and now cities offer little for those without privilege, class, or cash. (New Yorker)

Bugs on a train: A woman unloaded a container of worms and crickets on the New York City Subway last week. She now says it was performance art, meant to make people think about homelessness and mental illness. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


How much could you save with a Metro SelectPass? Use our updated calculator to find out!

WMATA has expanded its new monthly pass program, SelectPass. Now, you can buy a pass for nine different levels of fares based on your travel patterns. What's right for you? We've created a calculator.

Photo by Ken Teegardin on Flickr.

SelectPass gives you a monthly pass for the cost of 18 round trips (36 one-ways) at a price you select. You pick a pass at the level of your regular one-way rush-hour fare; any extra trips of the same or lesser value are free, and more expensive ones just cost the difference between that fare and the single-trip fare.

The cost of the monthly SelectPass, therefore, is 36 times the cost of the fare threshold you choose, ranging from $81 for a $2.25 SelectPass to $212.40 for a $5.90 SelectPass. It's available for every 25¢ increment from $2.25 to $4.00, and also at the maximum fare of $5.90. Is it a good deal for you?

To find out what your savings could be, use the calculator below, which Greater Greater Washington contributor Chris Slatt developed and I adapted and expanded.

We've filled it in with an example representing someone who commutes 20 days a month at rush hour between East Falls Church and Farragut West (40 trips at $3.30 each), and does a round trip in the afternoon between Farragut West and Capitol South once a week (eight trips at $1.75 each). If you don't know how much your trips cost, go to the Metrorail stations page and click on the station where you're starting your trip.

WMATA SelectPass Savings Calculator

In a typical month, how many one-way trips do you take and how much do they cost?

Trips per Month Fare per Trip

Monthly Fares Paid and Savings

Normal Fare: $
Pass level Pass cost Extra fare Total Savings
$2.25 $81.00 $ $
$2.50 $90.00 $ $
$2.75 $99.00 $ $
$3.00 $108.00 $ $
$3.25 $117.00 $ $
$3.50 $126.00 $ $
$3.75 $135.00 $ $
$4.00 $144.00 $ $
$5.90 $212.40 $ $

In the graph above, the green bar shows the pass that is the best deal for you. Blue bars show passes that will also save you money, while those with gray bars will not.

How much would you save with a pass?


Mark your calendars for our next happy hour Sept. 20 and a few others!

We hope you made it to last week's happy hour, but if you didn't (or if you did!), we're hosting another in September. Some great organizations are putting on others even sooner, and there are plenty of other ways for you to get involved in the world of urbanism as well.

Photo by beyrouth

For our next Greater Greater happy hour, we're heading back to Arlington. Join us Tuesday, September 20 from 6-8pm at Fire Works, located at 2350 Clarendon Boulevard at North Adams Street in Arlington. Fire Works is known for its pizza, but there's also a solid beer list with some local breweries on it.

Fire Works is just two blocks from the Court House Metro station (Orange and Silver lines), though you can also take Metrobus 38B or ART routes 41, 45, or 77. The nearest Capital Bikeshare stations are at the Court House Metro station and at Wilson Boulevard and North Barton Street, two blocks away.

This happy hour is sponsored by the Association for Commuter Transportation Chesapeake Chapter. ACT is an international trade association that advocates for commuter transportation options. Like GGWash, they support commuting by bus, train, bike, and rideshare. Come meet some of their board and members to chat about how the Chesapeake Chapter of ACT is helping improve commuter transportation in our region.

If you can make it, please RSVP here!

This isn't your only upcoming chance to grab a drink and talk transportation, development, and policy in our region. Check out two other happy hours (both of which are being hosted by our friends at the Coalition for Smarter Growth), along with a few other events:

Tuesday, August 30: Get the scoop on the Purple Line and BRT on Route 1 at CSG's Montgomery Happy Hour on Tuesday at 6:30 pm at Fire Station 1 (8131 Georgia Avenue).

Wednesday, August 31: Raise a glass with CSG's staff and Shaw Main Streets on Wednesday at Right Proper Brewing (624 T St NW) at 6:00pm to hear the latest on the organization's DC policy work and what we have on tap for the fall.

Next Wednesday, September 7 or Friday, September 9: The FBI Building on Pennsylvania Ave is going to be redeveloped, and the National Capital Planning Commission is gathering public input to make sure it's done right. Share your thoughts on the land use and design at one of two repeat meetings, both at 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500. On Wednesday, the meeting is at 6 pm and on Friday, the meeting is at 9 10 am.

Next Wednesday, September 7: Biking, while normally a tech-free activity, is getting hacked. Hear from people from around the region who are finding ways to improve or enhance biking through apps, gadgets, and data visualization like panoramic images of bike trails.

Next Thursday, September 8: How could Ward 4, which includes Petworth, Crestwood, Brightwood, and 16th Street Heights, be a better place to live? The District's Department of Transportation wants to know, and is holding its third public workshop on the matter on Thursday, September 8, at 6 pm at the Petworth Library (4200 Kansas Avenue NW). Share your opinions on transportation, green infrastructure, and sustainability in the area.

Coming soon, PARKing Day: Heads up, on Friday September 16, parking spots around DC will become temporary, pop-up parks as part of DDOT's PARKing Day. Don't forget to check a few out!

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at


DC has almost no white residents without college degrees. (It's a different story for black residents.)

One of FiveThirtyEight's great interactive features looks at voters in different groups (college educated whites, Hispanics, etc.) and their effect on the Electoral College. One part graphs each group and its prevalence in various states. This graph really stuck out for how unusual DC is:

Image from FiveThirtyEight.

The X axis here is how much people vote Democratic versus Republican. It's no shocker that people in DC, regardless of race or education level, overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. That's not especially relevant to this discussion. But the Y axis is how prevalent each group is in the electorate; this graph is saying that non-college-educated whites make up only 2% of DC's electorate.

Now, when you graph DC against the 50 states, it often looks like an outlier since it's far more urban than any state. Even so, that percentage of non-college-educated white voters is remarkably small. 2%???

Is that typical of other center cities? In a word, not at all. Here's the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents over 251 who lack a college degree for select center cities (since New York City is big, I included both all of New York and just Manhattan2):

Graphs by the author with data from the Census' 2012 5-year American Community Survey.

For DC, that's 11%. That's super low. Low is good—but it's not low for all groups.

There's a huge chasm between white and black when it comes to education

DC's high level of education among its white residents does not translate to African-Americans. Here is the proportions of whites and blacks without a college education in the same center cities:

These numbers are heart-breakingly high in all the cities. African-Americans, especially in center cities, lack educational opportunities at a tragic rate, perpetuating cycles of generational poverty that America has trapped them in for the nation's entire history (cf. slavery, Jim Crow, racial covenants, redlining, etc.)

To be sure, as in other center cities, DC has a significant black middle and professional class who have access to good jobs. But while most cities have some blacks with opportunity and (more) blacks without, and whites with and (fewer) without, in DC, that fourth category is basically absent.

No major center city does much better on black education levels. San Jose is a little lower, but not much, and its population is only 3.07% black. Does the racial makeup of a city seem to correlate with education levels? Not really:

What about in our region?

This effect isn't the same outside center cities. Here are the same graphs for major jurisdictions in our region2:

Again, DC has the widest gap between black and white, but Arlington isn't far behind (while being far whiter). Howard and Loudoun have the lowest percentage of black residents without bachelor's degrees; Loudoun is only 7% black, but Howard is a somewhat more respectable 17%.

Still, as the scatter plot here shows (and which won't be much surprise to many of you), there are really only three counties in the region with large black populations, and they're geographically adjacent.

The two besides DC—Prince George's and Charles—have little difference in the educational attainment level between blacks and whites (and same for the least diverse county in this list, Frederick). In DC, there's a great gulf.

If you want to play with the data, you can download the Census tables for white, black, and total population for the selected cities; and white, black, and total population for regional jurisdictions.

What do you notice?

1 The Census uses the population over 25 for this, presumably because many people under 25 don't yet have college degrees only due to their age.
2 Aka New York County, NY.
3 Sorry, small independent cities of Northern Virginia; in this analysis, you're not different enough from your adjacent counties to warrant inclusion.


Breakfast links: Yes, you have to build housing

Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
You promised affordable housing: In 2014, DC controversially approved a development in Mount Vernon Triangle with its required affordable housing in Anacostia. After historic preservation limited the Anacostia building's size, Developer Don Peebles asked if he could build fewer affordable units, but Mayor Bowser said no. (Post)

Losing your joint: A 1999 nuisance law is being used to evict residents over as little as a marijuana joint. The law gives city officials power to sue property owners who fail to stop illegal activity at their properties. (Post)

Low housing alert: Yet another indicator of DC's low housing supply is that more homes have come under contract than have been listed in 2016. The ratio in LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale is higher than the city overall. (Urban Turf)

Hassles of housing: Nationwide Craigslist data confirms a lot of what we suspected about housing prices. (Next City) ... It's not even easy to demolish abandoned buildings, as Baltimore is discovering. (NPR podcast)

Bike lanes for Irving Street?: Bicycling between Brookland and Columbia Heights could get easier. DDOT has narrowed its transportation study to 2 concepts which include protected bikeways through the difficult area. (TheWashCycle)

The price of Purple delays: Delays to the Purple Line after a federal judge blocked the project will cost $13 million per month, according to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. The FTA is asking the judge to reconsider his ruling. (Bethesda Mag)

A better Amtrak: Amtrak got a big loan to purchase 28 new trains and increase the number of trips between DC, New York, and Boston. The new trains also could travel faster if and when tracks are upgraded in the future. (Post)

Sexual harassment, too: A former WMATA employee is suing the agency for sexual harassment by her boss. When she reported it to a supervisor, she says she was told, "maybe this isn't the job for you." (Post)

The loopiest bus: What's the nation's most squiggly bus route? The W2 and W3 around Anacostia and Congress Heights could take the prize. (Next City, LEW)

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VRE's map keeps getting more diagrammatic

Last year, when Virginia's VRE commuter rail system opened a new extension to Spotyslvania, the agency completely redesigned its map. The new version follows a trend for VRE: Every iteration gets more and more like a subway diagram, and less like a true geographic map.

VRE's system map over time. Original images by VRE, compilation by the author.

The new map is at least the third completely different version VRE has tried since its launch in the 1990s. The original map was purely geographic, and oh-so '90s. The second map was a hybrid with simplified geography. The newest is a pure diagram, with equally-spaced station symbols and only the barest nods to geographic context.

It generally makes a lot of sense for transit agencies, and particularly rail providers, to use diagrams instead of geographic maps. Features like the Potomac River's many inlets, or minor curves on the rail lines, aren't information that riders need to know, but they clutter the original map, making it hard to discern the information that does matter. On the other hand, it's useful to know that the Fredericksburg line roughly parallels I-95 and that the Manassas line roughly parallels I-66.

Image from VRE.

Cameron Booth, the internet's foremost expert on transit maps and author of, reviewed VRE's new map in December, calling it a "solid" but "unremarkable" effort.

Across the river in Maryland, the MARC commuter rail map remains completely geographic.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Sizzling in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Adams Morgan. Photo by ctj71081.

Photo by Joe Flood.

MLK Library. Photo by washingtonydc.

Arlington County fair. Photo by Dennis Dimick.

H Street. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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