Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

See Metro's architectural types appear over time

Yesterday, I introduced you to Metro's eleven types of station architecture. Now, you can watch the designs as they appeared with the growth of Metro in this animated GIF.

Image by the author.

In 1976, Metro opened with just two architectural types, the Waffle for underground stations and Gull I for aboveground ones. Today, it's grown to eleven basic styles and six unique designs.

In some cases, expansion brought many stations of the same type, like the 1984 extension of the Red Line from Van Ness to Grosvenor which added four new Arch I stations. But in other cases, the types were somewhat mixed, such as the 1991 tunnel for the Yellow and later Green Line from Gallery Place to U Street.

To learn more about these styles, see the original post.

WhichWMATA: A retrospective

It's hard to believe, but we've been doing whichWMATA now for 25 weeks, and you've guessed on 125 images. Let's take a look back at the series to date.

On April 16, I asked you to try to identify the first set of images. Thanks to a link from Politico, week one got over 5,000 pageviews. Though, we only got 40 guesses.

Greenbelt, from week 1. Only one person got this one right.

I'm glad so many of you enjoy the series. I've had quite a lot of fun putting it together, but it's not easy. In fact, sometimes I wonder if my job is harder than yours.

It's a fine line to walk, and it's made much harder by the uniformity of design features across the system. In Atlanta, for example, I could take a picture of blue glazed platform tiles and it could only be Garnett. But here, if I take a picture of the floor tiles, you can only narrow it down to 80 or so stations.

So I have to take photos that are unique enough that you all have a fighting chance of guessing. But the photo also has to be obscure enough that it's not too easy. It's a fine line to walk.

Some stations have few distinguishing features, so it's very hard to include those stops. It's one of the costs of uniform design.

U Street, from week 7.

On the other hand, it's fun to help you exercise your deductive reasoning, as I did in week 7. 17 of you figured out that image 5 was U Street, despite relatively few clues. Here's my blurb from the answers that week:

As I indicated in the clue on Tuesday, there was enough information to narrow this down to 3 stations. 32 stations have the waffle-style vaults. Of that subset, 20 stations have a center platform like the one pictured, but 4 of those have full-length mezzanines. Of the 16 remaining, only three have floating mezzanines at both ends of the station: U Street, Shaw, and Navy Yard. But Shaw and Navy Yard have short names that don't require the station nameplates to be double-height as those at U Street are.
And I haven't been alone. We've had guest photographers in four of the sets: week 6, week 14, week 18, and week 22. I'm thankful to Ben Schumin, DC Transit Nerd, Peter K, and Sand Box John for submitting photos, so I could go on vacation.

If any of you ever want to try your hand, feel free to submit photos to

Mount Vernon Square, from week six. Photo by DC Transit Nerd.

Through the first 25 weeks of this series, people have guessed 903 times. On average, 36 people play each week. The fewest guesses we ever got came in week 21, when only 14 people played.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most guesses we ever got in a week was last week, when all five images depicted elements of L'Enfant Plaza station. We got 84 guesses in week 25.

Georgia Avenue, from week 24. Only two people knew this one.

Over the weeks, I've tried to balance the distribution of the stations across the system. But it's not always easy.

I ride the Red and Green (or Yellow) daily, and so pictures of the other lines are generally the product of a photo safari. Some of them are older pictures that I've taken and pressed into service for whichWMATA. But the other complicating factor is that some lines have more stations with unique features than others.

In the past, we've gotten some complaints that Virginia stations weren't featured enough, and with only 34 featured photos, Virginia does come in last. But we've only featured 35 Maryland photos, so it doesn't trail by much.

And in fact, in two weeks, we've featured Virginia stations exclusively: week 12 and week 16.

Eisenhower Avenue, from week 12.

In several weeks, we've had themed sets, including week 16, which featured the newly-opened Silver Line stations. Other themes included station art (week 4) and the pylons outside station entrances (week 11).

Rosslyn, from week 4.

I'm going to keep running the series for as long as I can find material to share. But I'd like to get your feedback on how I can improve whichWMATA.

What would you like to see included? What are we missing? Is it too hard? Too easy? Tell me in the comments (and don't worry: this time there are no wrong answers).

WhichWMATA will return in a few weeks.

Thanks for playing! Good luck!

Metro has eleven types of station architecture. Learn them all with this one interactive map.

Metro is well known for its distinctive vaulted station ceilings, but not all stations are the same. There are eleven different basic architectural station designs in the Metro system. Let's see where they are.

Click the circular icons at the top to highlight the stations with that design.
Click anywhere on the map to return to the original view.

Waffle Arch I Arch II Twin Tube Gull I Gull II Alexandria Peak General Peak High Peak Tysons Peak Gambrel Unique

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'm using some of the station type names from the Washington page of In other cases, I'm using my own term.

First, the underground stations.


By far the most common station type is the "waffle" style vault envisioned by the CFA and Harry Weese. This station type is present at 32 stations, including most of the downtown stops. These vaults are characterized by the smaller rectangular coffers that line the walls, making them look somewhat like a waffle wrapped around the train room.

Most of these stations were constructed using the pour-in-place method, though Dupont Circle was constructed using precast panels.

U Street. All photos by the author.

The waffle design first appeared when the system opened in 1976. The final two waffle stations, Waterfront and Navy Yard, opened in 1991 when the Green Line started running.

Arch I

Following the waffle designs, Metro started using a different design with precast sections to save money. These stations, which and I call "Arch I," are somewhat similar to the waffle design, but instead of featuring several rows of narrow rectangular coffers, this design places just two coffers on each half of the vault.


These stations only appear on the Red Line's western end. They first appeared in 1981 with the extension from Dupont Circle to Van Ness. The final time was three years later with the extension to Grosvenor.

Arch II

Similar to the Arch I stations along the Red Line, the "Arch II" stations were built using the precast method. These stations have three coffers on each half of the vault rather than just two.

There are only a few of these stations, mostly in the newest subway stations in the system. Strangely, Mount Vernon Square, which opened in 1991, has an Arch II design, despite opening at the same time as other waffle stations at Shaw and U Street.

Columbia Heights

Twin Tube

The final type of underground station is the twin tube design. This style is used at the super-deep Wheaton and Forest Glen stations, which were bored out of seperate tubes. Instead of one broad vault for a platform and both tracks, each track has its own smaller chamber, connected by a corridor near the center.

Forest Glen

The lower level of Fort Totten has a somewhat modified version of the twin tube style, even though it's not very deep. In fact, half the platform is open to the elements.

The stations at Wheaton and Forest Glen opened in 1990. The lower level of Fort Totten opened in 1993.

Aboveground stations

In addition to the four underground station styles, there are seven aboveground station types. They fall into three categories: gull wing, peaked, and gambrel. The curving gull canopy types contrast with the more angular peaked styles. The gambrel canopies are more evocative of the underground vaults than the aboveground canopies.

Gull I

The original aboveground station type is the "Gull I" design. The roof looks like a seagull in flight. The canopy is exposed concrete like the underground stations, and the curve of the arch is reminiscent of the underground vaults.

Rhode Island Avenue

This station type has been around since day one of Metro in 1976. This roof type was most common in the aboveground stations that opened in the late 1970s.

This type most recently appeared in 1993, when the lower level of Fort Totten opened. The canopy on the lower level matches the one on the upper level (opened in 1978), but it was not constructed until the Green Line was built. The last completely new station with this canopy type was Van Dorn Street, which opened in 1991.

Gull II

After Metro completed the 1968 Adopted Regional System with the extension to Branch Avenue in 2001, the agency decided to make a break with the brutalist style of the older stations. Three stations opened in 2004, all beyond the original 1968 vision for Metro.

There are notable differences in color, materials, and motif elements. But the design is similar enough to Gull I to look like a modernized version. So I refer to this type as "Gull II."


The other big change in direction is that these stations don't include the Vignelli-designed platform pylons that are Metro icons.

Alexandria Peak

Two of the stations that opened in 1983 included a different canopy, largely because the city of Alexandria was worried the gull style would clash with the architecture of Old Town. These "Alexandria Peak" stations appear at Braddock Road and King Street.

King Street

The Alexandria peak stations have a simple triangular roof with a transparent pointed skylight running the length of the platform. The canopy at King Street is broken so that it does not interrupt the viewshed of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

General Peak

This style first appeared in 1980, when Addison Road opened. These stations feature a flat concrete roof that tapers toward the tracks and a glass peaked skylight running along the platform. The style is very different from the Gull I style, but the materials are similar. This style was fairly common in aboveground stations that opened in the 1980s and 1990s.


High Peak

These stations are similar in style to the General Peak stations, and in fact, I haven't always counted them in separate categories. But what I'm calling the High Peak stations are quite different, especially in scale, with a canopy that towers above the platform.

Southern Avenue

While the General Peak stations have a roof not much higher than the top of trains, the High Peak stations have a roof that is higher than the mezzanine and never drops to a lower level. It makes for a dramatic space above the platform, though it offers less protection from the elements.

This canopy type became more common in the final few stations of the Adopted Regional System. It's only present at Franconia-Springfield and three of the stations that opened in 2001 with the extension to Branch Avenue.

Tysons Peak

The Silver Line stations also offer a break from earlier designs, as the 2004 stations did. These canopies are lighter and feel more modern than the brutalist Gull I, General Peak, and High Peak stations.

These canopies are similar to the General Peak type, with tapering toward the tracks and a transparent peak along the platform. But the materials harken back a little to the Alexandria Peak stops.

Spring Hill


The Gambrel style also appeared with the Silver Line's opening this summer. The high vaulted canopies at these stations also feature metallic, lighter materials.

The high, arching vault-like superstructure is a tribute to the original vaulted subway stations, though these are all above ground.

The "Gambrel" name comes from the gambrel roof, which is a two-sloped type of roof, common in some barns.

Tysons Corner


In addition to the eleven basic station types, six stations have unique designs that are not replicated anywhere else in the system. The unique designs are sometimes the result of geographic constraints but in other cases were the result of design decisions.



Huntington and Anacostia are both unique stations due to geography. Between Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington, the Yellow Line runs on a viaduct over a broad valley (and the Beltway). But after crossing Huntington Avenue, the line intersects a steep hill, and the south end of the station is actually underground. Because it's elevated at one end and underground at the other, Metro used a unique design.

Anacostia is unique because the water table meant the station couldn't be very deep. So there wasn't enough room for a high vault above the tracks. Instead, the station has a bunch of smaller vaults running perpendicular to the tracks.

National Airport

Arlington Cemetery

National Airport opened in 1977 with a modified version of the Gull I design, necessary because the two platforms are very narrow. When the new airport terminal was constructed, a new northern entrance was created, and Metro built a full-length canopy over each platform. But the canopy extension didn't match the older roof or any other in the system.

Arlington Cemetery is a very simple station. The only section of the platform that is covered is the part directly below Memorial Avenue. Another interesting feature is that while the station is at ground level, the mezzanine is below the tracks, rather than above as is usually standard.

Prince George's Plaza

West Hyattsville

Prince George's Plaza is built in an open cut. Unusually, the parking garage sits atop the station and serves as the canopy. It's a quite unique design, and the hedges growing along the exposed walls west of the garage give a nice aesthetic.

West Hyattsville, which opened in 1993 along with Prince George's Plaza, is also unique. It's a pretty standard side platform station like Eisenhower Avenue and Cheverly. But Metro did not use the modified Gull I canopies as at those stations. I'm not sure why a different design was used here, but I think it looks fairly sleek for a brutalist station.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 25

On Monday, we posted our twenty-fifth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in Metro. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, all the photos were taken at L'Enfant Plaza station. But that didn't fool you. Of the 84 guesses we got on this post, 80 of you got all five correct. Great work!

Image 1: L'Enfant Plaza

The first image shows the switch indicator that is mounted on the wall of the southern mezzanine. This tells passengers (and the operator) which direction the switch is set. All of the Metro stations located just before a place where lines diverge have one of these. Everyone got this one right.

Image 2: L'Enfant Plaza

The second image shows a sign on the wall at L'Enfant Plaza. The hint here is that because the sign references the "opposite platform", it must be L'Enfant since that's the only underground station shared by the Green and Yellow lines with side platforms. 82 of you got this one right.

Image 3: L'Enfant Plaza

The third image shows the Greenbelt-bound platform at L'Enfant Plaza. The lighted circle visible at the bottom of the picture is a map of the station. There's also one on the Huntington platform, but those two are the only ones in the system. 80 of you got this one right. One person commented that it was from the 90s, but that's not the case. The map is still there, and I took the picture three weeks ago.

Image 4: L'Enfant Plaza

The fourth image shows art at L'Enfant. The vault above the Blue/Orange/Silver lines has one of these at each end. They show a dog wearing a spacesuit. You can easily see these above the fare control area at the exits to L'Enfant Plaza (9th & D) and D between 6th and 7th. 82 of you knew this one.

Image 5: L'Enfant Plaza

The final image shows what I think is one of the more interesting places on Metro: The dummy mezzanine at L'Enfant Plaza. It looks like a standard side platform mezzanine, but the difference here is that it doesn't actually connect to an exit. However, because the upper level has side platforms, the mezzanine is essential to allowing customers to transfer between northbound Green trains and southbound Yellow trains and vice versa. I believe it's possible for WMATA to add a new entrance near HUD using this mezzanine should the need ever arise. 80 of you got this one right.

Several of you made the comment that this was some sort of trick question. I can assure you it was not intended as such. Every image should stand alone, and if you can identify it, great. In this case, I actually tried to make sure the images were somewhat easy, since I was afraid people would second-guess themselves. To date, I've never featured one station more than once in the same set.

I've also been somewhat worried that people were losing interest, because the number of guesses has been steadily falling over the past few weeks. But from the strong response to this post, my conclusion is that most people only guess when they're reasonably certain.

At any rate, great work. You all apparently know L'Enfant Plaza very well. Thanks for playing!

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 25

It's time for the twenty-fifth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

The answers will appear on Wednesday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for you.

When WMATA restores automatic train operation, here's what it will mean for riders

Jerky Metro rides are on the way out (on the Red Line, anyway). The bad news is that trains will keep stopping at the end of the platform. Automatic door opening is also not returning for now.

Photo by the author.

As we discussed on Monday, after five years of manual operation, Automatic Train Operation (ATO) will return to the Red Line as soon as March 2015. I spoke to WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel to get some details about the shift.

Both 6-car and 8-car trains will be able operate in automatic mode thanks to upgrades that will stop trains more precisely. Prior to the Fort Totten crash in 2009, this upgrade was still underway, and Metro operated all 8-car trains in manual mode.

One thing that won't change, however, is that 6-car trains will continue to stop at the 8-car marker at the head of the platform. Many riders had hoped the return to automatic operation would mean the end of that practice, since it exacerbates crowding at many stations, especially at Union Station and Gallery Place.

Why do trains pull to the end of the platform?

The policy of requiring trains to pull all the way to the head of the platform instead of stopping in the center stems from a spate of events in 2008 and 2009 where the operators of 8-car trains forgot they were operating 8-car trains and stopped at the 6-car marker. This meant that the last car was still in the tunnel.

After this happened a few times, Metro only required operators to pull all the way forward on days when large numbers of 8-car trains were in operation (like for the Cherry Blossom Festival). After the system went to 100% manual operation in the wake of the Fort Totten collision, the practice became standard.

Most trains could have eight cars soon, anyway, making this moot

I asked Dan Stessel why Metro would continue the practice once ATO was turned back on. He says that for one, the other five lines will continue to operate under manual control, and some operators move between lines. Additionally, from time to time trains will be operated under manual control, so the agency wants to keep the practice standard.

Metro hopes to exercise its option for additional 7000-series railcars soon (assuming the contributing jurisdictions pony up the funding). If Metro succeeds at getting more railcars, by the time ATO returns to the rest of the system in 2017, Stessel says, Metro may be close to operating 100% 8-car trains anyway.

Why the computer can't open the doors

This is basically still necessary because Metro doesn't have a failsafe to keep forgetful operators from opening their doors when some cars are still off the platform. Without one, the agency doesn't feel safe trusting operators to know where to stop their trains.

There used to be a system that prevented operators from opening doors in the wrong place: they didn't usually open the doors at all. As recently as early 2008, Metro train doors opened immediately and automatically when a train was properly berthed in the station. But power upgrades created electromagnetic interference that disrupted this system, making doors occasionally open on the wrong side, so Metro had to turn it off.

To open the doors manually, the operator sometimes had to walk across the cab, adding some delay, but not that much. Unfortunately, some operators still occasionally opened the doors manually on the wrong side, leading Metro to require them to wait an extra five seconds and adding even more delay.

Return to ATO isn't fixing everything, but it's a good step

Without the auto-door feature and operators still stopping trains at the end of the platform, automatic train operation will be less of a victory than some had hoped for.

Still, the return to ATO will mean smoother rides for customers, less wear and tear on the railcars, and less energy consumption. It's also more efficient and generally quicker, which means that riders may see faster and more reliable trips in some cases.

The fact that Metro feels confident bringing back automatic trains on the Red Line is good for one very important reason beyond the customer experience, though: safety.

The underlying cause of the Fort Totten crash was a failure of the track circuit system that keeps trains spaced apart. Metro built a backup system to check for wrong-side failures like the one at Fort Totten, which reduced the probability of another crash. But all the track circuits and modules needed to be replaced to ensure that the crash circumstances couldn't recur.

That has now happened on the Red Line, and is about halfway complete on the rest of the system. It's a major step forward for the safety of riders on the system.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 24

On Monday, we posted our twenty-fourth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got just 15 guesses. Two people got all 5 correct. Great work, Peter K and Chris.

Image 1: Union Station

The first image shows the Massachusetts Avenue entrance to Union Station Metro. The distinctive feature here is the central entrance between the escalators. The escalators lead up to the portico of Union Station. The central passage goes directly into the lower level food court of the station. One commenter noted that the steps seem to be an ADA violation, but since this mezzanine doesn't have an elevator, it's not an issue.

With 14 guesses, all but one of you knew this was Union Station. It was, by far, the most recognized image this week.

Image 2: Wiehle Avenue

This image shows the art in the north entrance plaza at Wiehle Avenue station. The building under construction in the background is part of the TOD growing around the new Metro stop. Several of you guessed NoMa or Navy Yard, which also are seeing new construction. But the art here is the clue. Only five of you got this one right.

Image 3: Georgia Avenue/Petworth

The third image shows a public art installation at Georgia Avenue/Petworth station. I actually collected this photo for possible inclusion in Week 4's art set, but it didn't make the cut. This art is just outside the faregates, and greets customers as they turn from the entrance corridor into the train room. With only two correct guesses, this image was the hardest this week.

Image 4: McLean

This image proved to be a little trickier. It shows the new Silver Line viaduct approaching McLean station. The picture was taken from the entrance to the north side of Route 123. The primary clue here is the watercourse, Scott's Run. The other clue is the light color of the concrete, which distinguishes it as new construction. Five people correctly guessed McLean.

Image 5: Greenbelt

The final image depicts a pair of old B&O Railroad "CPL" signals from the platform at Greenbelt. These signals are very distinctive, and were unique to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (the MARC Brunswick and Camden lines run on former B&O lines). Unfortunately for fans of the historic signals, the congressional mandate for Positive Train Control means CSX is currently replacing all their CPLs with a "Darth Vaders." These signals guard the ends of the station tracks at Greenbelt MARC. It's the last place in the Metro system where you can see a CPL from a platform. Seven of you got this one right.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 24

It's time for the 24th installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday.

Red paint keeps drivers out of San Francisco's bus lanes

San Francisco is a crowded city with great transit ridership. To prioritize buses and streetcars over cars, they've set aside dedicated lanes for years. But now to send a signal to drivers to keep out, they've painted some lanes red. The data shows it's working wonders.

Church Street, south of Market in San Francsico. Photo by the author.

This is Church Street, a north-south street that carries trolleybus line 22 and the Muni Metro light rail J line. The central transit-only lanes have been there for several years. But they were only painted red in the early months of 2013.

Less than two months later, San Francisco's transit operator, SFMTA, reported that travel times on the 22 and the J were down 5% and on-time performance for those lines had increased 20%.

That's a big improvement for the some 15,000 riders who use these lanes each day. Especially considering the painted lanes only stretch for three and a half blocks.

Painting the lanes red sent a signal to drivers that "bus lane" stenciled on the pavement didn't seem to send.

Building on the success of the Church Street red lanes, SFMTA has been rolling out more red paint across the city, and has plans for still more in coming years.

New York has also been painting the town red with lanes for its Select Bus Service. Other American cities, including Seattle and Chicago have plans to introduce red lanes in the near future.

While the Washington region doesn't have very many bus lanes today, there's been talk of installing more. But they'll only work if drivers stay out.

Red paint, much like the green paint DDOT is now using to mark bike lanes at conflict points, could go a long way to keeping DC's bus lanes free of scofflaw motorists.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 23

On Monday, we posted our twenty-third photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 25 guesses this week. Twelvealmost halfof you got all five correct. Great work, Aaron, Mike B, Peter K, iaom, Andy L, MZEBE, Alex B, Eyendis, King Terrapin, Sand Box John, Rob K, and Matt and Sarah!

Image 1: Fort Totten

The first image shows the north end of the Red Line platform at Fort Totten. The primary clue here are the radio towers visible in the distance. The other clue is the single freight rail track on the left side of the fence, narrowing it down to the Red Line shared corridor between Brookland and Silver Spring. Fifteen of you got this one right.

Image 2: NoMa

The second image was taken from the platform at NoMa station. The primary clues here are the canopy ("Gull II"), which is present at only three stations, and the electrified Amtrak corridor just north of Union Station. This could only be NoMa, and 24 of you (all but one) got it right. Great job!

Image 3: Largo

The third image also has the "Gull II" canopy like at NoMa. But this is Largo Town Center. The main clue here is the parking garage at left. NoMa doesn't have any parking and Morgan Boulevard (which also has this canopy type) is below grade, so it has concrete walls on either side. Eighteen of you knew this one.

Image 4: Silver Spring

The fourth image shows Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring through the windows of an arriving train. From the image, you can tell that this is an elevated station over a major arterial, and you may have been able to recognize some of the high-rises visible above the train. As with image two, 24 of you (all but one) also got this one correct. Excellent work!

Image 5: West Falls Church

The final image shows the westbound track at West Falls Church. Only West Falls Church has this diagonal glass canopy over the trackway like this. An additional clue is visible at center left: the distinctive canopy at the north bus loop. Twenty of you got this one right.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

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