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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. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 96

It's time for the ninety-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

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Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 95

On Tuesday, we featured the ninety-fifth challenge to see how well you knew the Metro system. Here are the answers. How'd you do?

This week, we got 23 guesses. Twelve got all five correct. Great work J-Train-21, dpod, maxG, Sunny, Stephen C, Solomon, Peter K, We Will Crush Peter K, JamesDCane, AlexC, PeoplesRepublicSoldier, and David Duck!

Image 1: Southern Avenue

This week was a themed week. All of the stations are located on or very close to a jurisdictional boundary shown on the Metro map.

The first image shows a view from the mezzanine at Southern Avenue, one of the four "high peak" stations in the system. This station, as its name indicates, sits on Southern Avenue, which forms the boundary between DC and Prince George's County. The main clue here was the bus loop bridge at the far end of the platform. We featured it in week 31.

17 knew the right answer.

Image 2: Friendship Heights

The second image shows Friendship Heights from the Western Avenue mezzanine. This is one of the "arch I" stations that are located along the Red Line northwest of downtown. Friendship Heights is the only one of those stations with two mezzanines. It also has globe lights atop pylons, which are only usually used at outdoor stations.

This station sits almost entirely in the District, but the northern wall of the station is just south of the Maryland line, but two of the four entrances from the Western Avenue mezzanine lead into Montgomery County.

20 guessed correctly.

Image 3: Takoma

The third picture shows the solitary elevator faregate at Takoma station. Takoma is the only above ground Red Line station that has a platform faregate. This is because the elevator here is located a good deal farther north than the escalator entrance at the southern end of the station. So it has its own fare control.

This station sits entirely within the District of Columbia, but Montgomery County (and the city of Takoma Park) is located just across Eastern Avenue, less than a block away.

19 got it right.

Image 4: Van Dorn Street

The fourth image shows the platform at Van Dorn Street, viewed from the sidewalk along Eisenhower Avenue. The outdoor nature of the station and the "gull I" canopy limit this to one of 12 stations. Since the station isn't elevated, you can further narrow the possibilities. But this four-lane road means it has to be Van Dorn Street, the only station that fits.

This station sits on the border between Alexandria City and Fairfax County. The station is in Fairfax County, but the road and bus loop is in Alexandria City.

21 figured it out.

Image 5: Capitol Heights

The final image shows the street elevator at Capitol Heights. There doesn't appear to be much to go on in this image at first glance. However, with a close look, you can spot a "Welcome to DC" sign in the center. This sign welcomes people driving in on Central Avenue as they cross Southern Avenue into DC from Prince George's County.

This station is entirely within Prince George's County, but is just across the street from the District.

16 came to the correct conclusion.

Great work, everyone! We'll be back in two weeks (on December 6) with another quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 95

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

This week, since Thursday is Thanksgiving, you'll get a little extra time to guess. We'll post the answers on Friday, so you get a few more hours to submit your guesses.

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Please have your answers submitted by 10 am on Friday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 94

On Tuesday, we featured the ninety-fourth challenge to see how well you knew the Metro system. Here are the answers. How'd you do?

This week, we got 43 guesses. 30 got all five.

Normally when we get so many perfect scores, we don't list everyone. But this week it feels like people could use some positive energy, so here goes. Great work, TWillis, kevinfly, hopscans, Steven Yates, PLKDC, MZEBE, Wizfan, JessMan, MtPDC, Stephen C, Solomon, Andy L, JamesDCane, Transport., lioki, Yes2Kwasi, bsl35, DM, Justin..., Robb, Kevin M, Peter K, J-Train-21, Adam H, AlexC, Ampersand, dpod, ArlFfx, We Will Crush Peter K, and Peter K is a nice guy, don't be hatin' on him!

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The first image shows the sales office at Metro Center, near the south entrance to the station. This office will be closing permanently on November 15 as part of Metro's budget cutting. Whether the structure will be removed, I don't know. The sales office is itself fairly distinctive, but other clues included the broadness of the vault (the Blue/Orange/Silver platform below is wider than at typical stations) and the lamps on the far wall, part of an art installation.

40 guessed correctly.

Image 2

The second image shows the sunset viewed from the Cheverly station mezzanine. You can tell from the photo that this is one of Metro's few side platform stations. Since it's outdoor, that limits the possibilities to just three stations. One of the clues here is the transmission line visible at left.

These structures stand above the CSX Landover Subdivision, which used to be part of the electrified Pennsylvania Railroad freight bypass of the city. The catenary has been removed, since the line no longer uses electric locomotives. But the overhead lines still carry power to the Amtrak Northeast Corridor, which is located on the other side of the station, out of frame to the right.

36 got it right.

Image 3

The third image shows a sign outside Arlington Cemetery station. This station is only open to serve the cemetery, so when the cemetery is closed, the station closes. Since the cemetery has different hours in the winter months, so does the station. One other clue is barely visible: the platform elevators are screened by tall hedges, but you can just see them peeking out.

41 knew the right answer.

Image 4

The fourth image shows a closed entrance to Pentagon City station. This entrance leaves the station directly across from the mezzanine entrance and tunnels under Hayes Street to the northeast corner of the intersection with 12th Street. The entrance has been closed for years, but I've heard Arlington plans to reopen the entrance in the near future.

The station's southeast entrance and street elevator are also visible here. 33 got the answer correct.

Image 5

The final image shows the eastern escalator and platform elevator at Tenleytown station. The station is not directly under Wisconsin Avenue here. Instead, it's angled to make the curve into Yuma Street less sharp. Tenleytown is the only Arch I station to have a direct street-to-platform elevator, with a faregate on the platform. Because the station is angled, the elevator is also. The back wall of the elevator (left from this vantage point) is even with and parallel to the south wall of the station, so that should give you a sense of where the station sits relative to Wisconsin Avenue.

The angled elevator was certainly the primary clue here, as was the canopy-free escalator entrance. Some of you also recognized the awnings for Panera to the left.

37 came to the correct conclusion. Great work!

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with our next quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Alienation and inclusivity

This year's campaign season and election have been very divisive, and has left many members of our community feeling alienated. This includes people of many races, national origins, sexual orientations or identities, religions, or other qualities. Our hearts are with you today.

Whatever happens in years to come, we want to emphasize at this moment in history that we strongly believe that being inclusive and welcoming to everyone is a big part of why our region and nation are great, and it is important to making them even greater. It's something we as a Greater Greater Washington community, and we as a country, don't always get right, but we want to keep working on it for ourselves and our society at all levels.

Our volunteer contributors and staff are working on posts about election outcomes, from transit ballot initiatives to ANC races to the bigger implications of the urban-rural divide. As we write those pieces in the coming days and weeks, we're excited to share them with you. Tomorrow, we'll be back with the first of those posts, as well as our traditional urbanist coverage, including WhichWMATA and other local issues.

Moving forward, no matter who you are and whom you voted for, we hope you will continue to live and work here if you can, and collaborate with us to build informed and civically engaged communities who believe in a growing and inclusive Washington region for all.


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 94

It's time for the ninety-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

This week, there's an additional challenge. Before submitting your guesses, if you are eligible to do so, go vote (if it's still Tuesday before polls close when you are reading this). That is the most important thing you can do.

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Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


How would at-large seats change the Prince George's County Council?

Prince George's voters will decide whether to create two new at-large county council seats in the November 8 election. If the measure (Question D) passes, it will mean more councilmembers who have the entire county's interest in mind.

Photo by Carol Raabus on Flickr.

Currently, the Prince George's legislative branch is made up of nine council districts of roughly equal population. Each district is represented by one council member, and residents can only vote in the race in that district. The county executive is elected at large by residents throughout the county.

Question D would change the makeup of the council. In addition to the nine council districts, there will be two at-large seats, and all county residents will be able to vote for those at-large members, like they do for county executive now.

Parochialism and sprawl go hand in hand

Matt wrote about why Prince George's would benefit from at-large council seats in 2013, after he went to testify on an issue in Upper Marlboro (the current county seat, pending a possible move to Largo) and found the only council member paying attention was his. In his case, as with many others, the other eight council members had no need to pay attention or fear retribution. After all, only their district's residents can vote for or against them.

A district-based focus is particularly a problem when it comes to establishing priorities at the county level. For example, every council member wants development in their district, but the result of that is sprawl.

Without at-large members, the council can have difficulty thinking of the good for the county versus only the good for their districts. So instead of focusing development around Metro stations and existing communities, some council members push for more development in their districts even though they may be far flung from existing infrastructure.

At-large members, on the other hand, would be responsible to county residents as a whole, which incentivizes them to think of the county rather than just their district. It won't necessarily mean that the needs of any one district won't sometimes prevail over the needs of the county as a whole, but at-large members will help to shift the debate.

Prince George's council districts. Map from the county.

Term limits and cost add controversy

The current proposal before Prince George's County voters calls for the creation of two new at-large seats. In addition, district members will be eligible to run for the at-large seats, even though Prince George's County has a two-term limit for council members.

This proposal means that, hypothetically, a district council member could serve two terms and then get two more terms as an at-large member. The Washington Post therefore mocked the measure as "a jobs plan for Prince George's County council members."

This initiative would have had an easier political road if it didn't mean a budget increase for the council to cover new salaries, staff, and discretionary budgets, or effectively lengthen existing eight-year term limits, which the county's voters recently narrowly affirmed.As it stands, for those who are passionate about term limits, this proposal is a Trojan horse that allows politicians to stay in office longer than the spirit or the letter of the current charter allows.

On the other hand, for those who don't think term limits are a good idea (which in 2014 was 49% of Prince George's County voters), this part of the proposal is a benefit. Creating a small path for career advancement for legislators through the at-large system actually could be a good way to ensure the best members can keep serving the public, they argue. Oddly, the Post editorial board recommend against term limits for Montgomery County while criticizing the Prince George's proposal for weakening them.

Creating at-large seats could have equity impacts as well

The county's charter provides for the council districts to be drawn on the basis of population after each census, to contain roughly equal population. That's why the districts bordering the District of Columbia are relatively small and and they're much larger farther out.

Voter registration, however, is not nearly so evenly distributed:

voters (2012)
2010 pop.% registeredAvg. median household income by census block% 19 & younger
Total568,591862,83766%did not calculate27%

In District 2, where Tracy serves on the Mount Rainier city council, only 40% of the population is registered to vote. There are a lot of demographic reasons for this: there are more immigrants and lower incomes in this part of the county, both of which tend to make it harder to both register to vote and to actually get out and vote.

In districts 6 and 9, on the other hand, the vast majority of the population is registered to vote. That means at-large candidates building from these bases will have an advantage when running. It also means places with more poor people and immigrants have less of a voice in choosing those representatives.

The county needs voter registration, education, and turnout efforts in order to actually fulfill the hoped-for potential of the at-large seats. Otherwise, the densest and most urban parts of the county will continue to be under-represented.

At-large seats likely mean more accountability to voters

The legacy of this decision extends far beyond the next one or two elections. Over the long term, demographics in the county will continue to shift, voter registration efforts can pay off, and the basic political theory undergirding at-large seats (that those holding them have an incentive to think regionally) will still apply. The people sitting in the at-large seats will be accountable to more voters.

If Prince George's is going to be competitive in the region and attentive to the needs of all of its residents, it's important that someone at the legislative level is thinking about the good of the county as a whole, and not simply one district.


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 93

On Tuesday, we featured the ninety-third challenge to see how well you knew the Metro system. Here are the answers. How'd you do?

This week, we got 37 guesses. Nine of you got all five. Great work, ERD, Alex B, Peter K, Stephen C, J-Train-21, Solomon, AlexC, dpod, and JamesDCane!

Image 1: Rosslyn

All of the stations featured this week have one thing in common: They're all served by the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines on the common segment between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory.

The first image shows the outbound end of the lower level at Rosslyn. The "welcome to Virginia" sign is distinctive because it's the only one of its kind in the system.

An additional clue is the wall to the left. Because it's a flat wall instead of a coffered wall, you can see this is a split level station rather than a side-platform station.

All 37 of you got it right.

Image 2: Smithsonian

The second image was taken looking up from the Independence Avenue entrance to Smithsonian station. There are two signs partially visible. The upper sign "...ture" is attached to the Department of Agriculture, which is located next to this station.

The lower sign is also a clue, though one that misled some of you. The "Ca..." isn't the first part of "Capitol South", but rather "Carmen Turner", to whom Smithsonian station is dedicated. Carmen Turner was the general manager at WMATA from 1983-1990 and became Undersecretary at the Smithsonian Institution after leaving the transit agency.

30 figured it out.

Image 3: Eastern Market

The third image shows a portion of the nameplate at Eastern Market, visible through the train windows. Eastern Market is the only station on the Blue Line to start with the fifth letter of the alphabet.

31 knew the right answer.

Image 4: Foggy Bottom

The fourth image shows the mezzanine at Foggy Bottom. The main clue here is the solitary escalator at center. This is the only place in the system where a single escalator drops down through a hole in the mezzanine unaccompanied by stairs or an elevator.

We featured it from a different angle in week 30. 21 of you remembered.

Image 5: Potomac Avenue

The final image shows Potomac Avenue. Solving this clue took a little base knowledge of the system.

The waffle-style vault narrows it down to 32 stations, and eliminating side, split-level, and cross-vault stations narrows this to 17.

The definitive clue was the presence of a single escalator next to an elevator on a T-shaped mezzanine. Virtually all of Metro's early island platform waffle stations have a mezzanine with side-by-side escalators at one end, and an elevator at the other end.

Potomac Avenue is unique in having a third escalator next to the elevator. Waterfront has a similar design, except it has a staircase next to the elevator rather than an escalator. And at Federal Triangle, the third escalator is alone, with the elevator descending through the center of the mezzanine.

Finally, the shape of the mezzanine is fairly distinctive. Most mezzanines are golf club-shaped or hatchet-shaped, when the entry is through the side of the vault or spatula-shaped, when the entry is from the station's end wall.

Typical island-platform station mezzanine types. Sketch by the author.

Potomac Avenue is T-shaped because it has long sections on either side of the entry, rather than just on one side, like with a golf club-shaped mezzanine.

12 of you put the clues together.

Thanks for playing. Great work! We'll be back in two weeks with another quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 93

It's time for the ninety-third installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its 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.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Metro is proposing service cuts, again. Will riders ever see the benefits?

Metro has fallen and it can't get up. That's the reality facing riders, agency staff, local officials, and the WMATA Board of Directors. In yet another slap at riders, Metro is proposing service cuts to allow for the the work time necessary to fix the system. But will it make a difference?

Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

For the better part of a decade, Metro riders have faced deteriorating service, both in quality and quantity. Even bright spots, like the Silver Line opening, have been bittersweet, with the cannibalization of railcars for the new service leading to maintenance problems and train shortages across the system.

In the wake of the deadly 2009 crash at Fort Totten, WMATA started taking steps to bring the system back into a state of good repair.

The agency was up front with riders: repairs would take time, and they would be painful. The needed work would delay trains and detour riders. But it couldn't be helped. The only alternative was to let Metro fall apart at the seams.

Metro first asked customers to sacrifice reliable and frequent weekend service. Then the agency cut into weeknight service, increasing wait times and delaying trains. Midday service was slashed next, to give more time on the tracks.

More recently, the agency even began asking riders to sacrifice during peak hours, with round-the-clock SafeTrack work in particularly troublesome areas for weeks at a time. Late night service has been cut altogether for now, and even special event service has been nixed.

Yet after seven years, riders aren't seeing benefits. Trains still break down with unreasonable frequency. Emergency track repairs have become commonplace. Crowded trains and stations are par for the course, not because ridership is skyrocketing—in fact, it's falling—but because trains are infrequent and oft-delayed.

Metro said in 2009, and many times since, "bear with us. There will be some pain, but things will get better." But things aren't getting better. Riders aren't seeing service quality increase. There seems to be little to no benefit for the sacrifice riders have had to make, even after seven years.

And now, Metro is coming to riders again. If the agency doesn't get more time to work on the tracks, it says, the system will deteriorate. The only way for things to get better is to face another painful cut. This time, a permanent cut to late night service, extending the 12-month suspension necessitated by SafeTrack.

But this is an insult to riders. Not least of all because we have seen no evidence from WMATA to date that these cuts are the ones that will actually do the trick, or even what else beyond this it would take to do the trick.

I sadly expect that one year hence, the WMATA Board will come to riders again and ask for yet another service cut. It's a pattern that has become all too familiar after three quarters of a decade of the same.

I had a conversation recently where a person with transit experience correctly pointed out that cutting late night service is the least painful cut Metro could make. And that is true. I'd much rather lose service at 2:00 in the morning than 2:00 in the afternoon.

The issue is larger than that, though. This isn't the first cut Metro has made. Inside of rush hour, service quality and reliability is declining. Outside of rush hour, the frequent single-tracking and long waits are driving even the most dedicated of customers away.

This cut may be fairly innocuous as far as transit cuts go, but it's the thousandth cut for a Metro that is bleeding to death on the floor of the emergency room waiting room.

Today, the Metro Board is asking riders to weigh in on the proposed cuts to late night service. But I have no faith that accepting yet another cut is what it will take to get Metro back on its feet. Metro needs to stop the hemorrhaging of riders. The agency needs band-aids to stop the gushing, self-inflicted wounds it already has, not yet another stab wound.

Unfortunately, Metro has a track record here, and it doesn't bode well for the patient. Or those riders who rely on the region's transit system.

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