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


What's our vision for a next generation of transit?

Fifty years ago, visionary leaders conceived, planned, and built Metro, radically reshaping the Washington DC region. Today Metrorail is a national example of how a well-planned transit system can help fuel economic growth by revitalizing communities and helping hundreds of thousands of people get where they're going each day. But where's the plan for the next generation?

Regional transit map by John Peck and Aimee Custis for CSG. Click for full version (PDF).

Today, with a new report, Thinking Big, Planning Smart: A Primer for Greater Washing­ton's Next Generation of Transit, the Coalition for Smarter Growth wants to engage residents in a campaign to win a new transit vision and the funding to implement it.

Regional leaders have expressed strong support for transit-oriented development in their Region Forward vision and in recent state of the county addresses, but our regional transportation plans are dominated by a never-ending list of new highways and road expansion projects, with a few disconnected transit projects.

Just two weeks ago, the Virginia Department of Transporation (VDOT) added a number of new road projects to the regional plan, but not a single transit project. While the road projects march forward, transit projects are forced to beg for funding.

So, our report is both a call to action and a baseline resource. It offers the first compilation of the region's many transit and transportation plans, briefly summarizes the many benefits of transit to the DC region, and features and compares the metrics for six major transit projects or systems that are under construction or reasonably far along in planning, including the Silver Line, Purple Line, DC Streetcar, Arlington Streetcar, Alexandria Bus Rapid Transit and Montgomery Rapid Transit System.

A CSG volunteer, John Peck, worked to create a base map of all of the current rail transit lines and the six systems featured in the report. We gained a respect for the GIS professionals!

Transit projects comparison. Click to enlarge (PDF).

While we are encouraged by the new transit systems being proposed, we are very concerned that the region has no plan to interconnect the systems nor to ensure operational coordination including common fare card use and real time information, not to mention who should operate each system. We also found that the studies for these systems don't share a common set of performance measurements. So we owe it to University of California engineering student Haleemah Qureshi for creating the first comprehensive, comparative table of metrics derived from the technical reports for each of the featured transit systems.

How do we get there?

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized." Daniel Burnham's quote is perhaps overused, but nevertheless, we need a regional commitment to a new transit plan, the funding to support it, and a hardnosed commitment to implementing it.

We are recommending extensive public involvement and modern crowdsourcing. We believe that a joint committee of elected officials who serve on the WMATA and Council of Governments boards, should oversee the process and complete a plan within two years. WMATA staff, who have been leading the PlanIt Metro analyses and the development of the Momentum program, should provide the lead technical support, and be assisted by COG staff and local transportation and land use planners. Your thoughts on the process?

Finally, our report includes a recommended set of principles to justify and guide the development of a new transit vision. Do you agree? What might be missing?

Principles to guide a next generation of transit

High-capacity public transportation is the most important investment for supporting a sustainable region of livable, walkable centers, and neighborhoods.

Several factors make public transportation investments critical:

  • High energy prices and the high cost of auto transportation
  • Climate change
  • Air and water pollution
  • Failure of road expansion to effectively manage traffic, due to induced demand and related inefficient patterns of auto-dependent development
  • The significant number of residents who cannot drive, cannot afford a car or do not own a car. This includes lower-income residents, the disabled, the young and elderly, and the growing sector of our population seeking to live in communities where they do not have to be dependent on a car.
  • The benefit public transportation provides in supporting compact, efficient development, lowering per capita infrastructure costs and saving land.
Rehabilitating and improving our Metrorail system must be our first priority.

Major public transportation investments must be tied to good land use: well-designed, compact, mixed-use, mixed-income, walking and biking-friendly neighborhoods with interconnected local street networks - both transit-oriented development and traditional neighborhood development.

Supporting build-out at our existing Metro stations should be a priority, and together with mixed-use development at all stations, will ensure that our Metro trains have high ridership in both directions all day.

New high-capacity public transportation corridors must include the region's commercial/retail corridors. Given the strong commitment to preserving the character of existing suburban neighborhoods, these commercial corridors offer the best opportunity to absorb regional growth while protecting suburban neighborhoods.

We should be flexible and not locked into one public transportation mode as the answer. We should ensure we match the public transportation mode, design and service plan to the land use densities and levels of service we are trying to achieve.

Public transportation planners should ensure that each public transportation study considers all modes and the necessary mixed-use, walkable, and transit-oriented urban design essential to maximizing ridership and the value of the public transportation investment. Safe and robust access to public transportation by promoting walking and bicycling and supportive local street networks must be a part of any public transportation and funding plan.

Continuing to debate the mode after a final vote by an elected board or council isn't constructive. It delays and even harms the advancement of much needed public transportation investments.

We can be proud of our region's success with transit and transit-oriented development. But without the commitment of the public and our elected officials, we'll fail to make the investments in the next generation of transit that are necessary to support the demand for transit-oriented communities, to offer an alternative to sitting in traffic, and to fight climate change.

With this report and the engagement of CSG members and GGW readers, we aim to spark a new transit plan for the region. In the coming weeks, we'll be speaking to local elected officials, the WMATA board, the Council of Governments, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, transportation and land use planners, and the public. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 3/5/13: CSG has launched a Next Generation of Transit feedback catalog, where we'll be cataloging feedback, comments, ideas and suggestions. Keep the conversation going in the comments below, but we also encourage you to check out and contribute to the catalog.

Aimee Custis is a wonk, communicator, and professional advocate at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Her writing represents her own views, though they're often aligned with her employer's. Weekends, you'll find Aimee at home in Dupont Circle or practicing her other love, wedding photography


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Just going to pull a Willingeresque sort of spam & once again link to my DC 2100 map...

Covers the "think big" part; I'll let you all work out the details!

by Bossi on Mar 4, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

This totally isn't my area but I get the feeling that better connecting DC and Baltimore and their respective Metro and light rail may be something to consider though it does seem like opening a can of worms. The OMB (and Census by extension) already treats both quite often as a Combined Statistical Area.

by ET on Mar 4, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

Does anyone have an googlemaps version that you can work in of the WMATA map?

The metro map shown here is hopelessly unambitious. Bossi's map shown above is a million times better.

I once made a fantasy map in GoogleMaps. Let me see if I can dig that up (might take a while).

by Jasper on Mar 4, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

If we are being totally big picture and/or grandiose, I'd remove 395 and 695 from the district completely. The 395 interchange in Arlington would be come a terminus connecting to various county/state/local routes. 14th Street bridge would be repurposed for an extension of the Columbia Pike Streetcar and dedicated bus/HOV lanes leaving Rt 1 for SOV traffic. The existing right of way would be used for a boulevard and streetcar alignment which would follow 395 and 695. Extra land would be included in local redevelopment plans such as the Ecodistrict area plan in SW.

I'd remove the heigh limit in the district. The fact that there are 20 storey plus buildings in Arlington and Bethesda indicates there is a lot of pent up demand in DC.

I'd love to see a few pedestrian promenades downtown. G St between 15 and 7th probably already has a lot of foot traffic and could be a dedicated space for festivals roughly similar to Penn Ave in front of the White House. Most people driving in the area are going through rather to a destination in that area. Parking garages would have to be repurposed and owners compensated if they are no longer useable etc. U St. between 18th and 10th could work as well, or shared with a streetcar.

Couple of infill metro stations: Brightwood between Petworth and Fort Totten, Kalorama/N. Dupont Circle, N. Michigan between Brookland and Fort Totten, Lamond Riggs between Fort Totten and Takoma.

I expect by 2100 the majority of public and private vehicles will be fully automated which will present some interesting issues in the interim.

by Alan B. on Mar 4, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport


"The metro map shown here is hopelessly unambitious."

That's because it's only showing what's actually on the books. Of course we need more!

by Aimee Custis on Mar 4, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

@Jasper -- it may seem unambitious, because this is not meant to be a fantasy map, it's a compilation of all the currently planned expansions.

"So, our report is both a call to action and a baseline resource. It offers the first compilation of the region's many transit and transportation plans, briefly summarizes the many benefits of transit to the DC region, and features and compares the metrics for six major transit projects or systems that are under construction or reasonably far along in planning, including the Silver Line, Purple Line, DC Streetcar, Arlington Streetcar, Alexandria Bus Rapid Transit and Montgomery Rapid Transit System. "

by Jacques on Mar 4, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

My 9 year old, a real train lover, started a petition to the Maryland government to encourage mass transit investment. He used an old Greater Greater Washington map to support the petition. We're already at 179 signatories!

by Tina Horn on Mar 4, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

One of the biggest challenges for rail outside of the core is going to be acquiring new rail rights of way and preserving old ones. Thank god for freight rail because that's pretty much the reason that we still have the option for commuter rail in much of the country. Of course trying to increase frequency/span is going to eventually come up against logistical barriers if we want to keep using the same rail alignment for freight as well.

by Alan B. on Mar 4, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

@ Aimee, Jacques:Of course we need more!

My bad. I thought this was a plan.

by Jasper on Mar 4, 2013 4:34 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: I think it's actually a plan to make recommendations about what should be in a real plan. But maybe we should take a step back and think about whether this pre-planning should be planned out a bit more.

by Gray on Mar 4, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

Until add capacity to the Metrorail core, most everything else planned will come to a halt. Adding height (density) in the District or constantly extending the system to the exurbs without creating new trunk capacity (a separate the blue and orange, yellow and green lines) will mean very long, very slow trips for the next 50 years.

by Randall M. on Mar 4, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

CSG's aim with this report is to make sure everyone is on the same page about what's already out there, so that we can really have a discussion about what should be out there.

This report only covers the first part, not the second part - on which we want to spark discussion! (So far, so good...)

by Aimee Custis on Mar 4, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

The rolling stock for the Silver line should only include the number of new cars required to operate the service. It was 64 for each of the two segments until WMATA proposed to operate the Silver line to Largo Town Center. Now it should be 84 cars for each of the two segments.

by Steve Strauss on Mar 4, 2013 5:21 pm • linkreport

The cost of building the purple line kind of jumps out. That's expensive for surface light rail.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 4, 2013 5:56 pm • linkreport

@Steve - Thanks! We're cataloging all of the public feedback we get, and I'll definitely look into that one.

by Aimee Custis on Mar 4, 2013 6:16 pm • linkreport

Japser, feel free to use one of mine. You can download it and re-upload it to make your own version.

by Dan on Mar 4, 2013 7:01 pm • linkreport

tom coumaris - Purple Line is mostly separate right of way, true light rail transit, not just a streetcar line in mixed traffic. The cost per mile is in between the streetcar projects and the Silver Line (surface heavy rail) which seems right.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2013 8:15 pm • linkreport

One of the original members of the 1962-63 team, Ed Tennyson, and I have been working on a Phase II (justified by demand today) and Phase III (justified by future demand) for WMATA.

The substantial, but still incomplete, plans are at

Ed thinks we can almost triple urban rail passenger-miles, more than double headcount and do it with LOWER operating subsidies than today. i.e. the additions would operate at a marginal profit.

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Mar 4, 2013 9:38 pm • linkreport

To combine the subjects of two threads, how about a line to Upper Marlboro?

by Frank IBC on Mar 4, 2013 9:42 pm • linkreport

Here's my latest tinker on the subject. The optimization of Potomac crossings got me thinking on this one. Still a work in progress.,-76.955109&spn=0.298836,0.727158

by NikolasM on Mar 5, 2013 12:58 am • linkreport

To me, the priorities for separated transit are, in order:
- Separated Blue Line
- Metro-izing the near-DC and near-Baltimore commuter rail lines. At the very least, Caltrain-izing: 20 min headways, weekend travel between the two cities.
- MoCo BRT
- Purple line (obviated by beefed-up MARC)

For surface/mixed traffic transit:
- Easy upgrades to buses, like high-capacity stops, bus bulb-outs, and signal priority
- K Street Transitway
- H Street Streetcar
- Columbia Pike Streetcar
- Transit lanes in downtown DC on H and I
- On-freeway bus stops

Roughly speaking, I prioritize these based on how much change is bought per dollar, with some preemption. Core capacity is needed before we boost demand with better commuter rail, for example.

by David Edmondson on Mar 5, 2013 1:10 am • linkreport

The Fairfax County Comp Plan for Tysons assumes an extension of the Orange Line to Centreville or further and the construction of a new rail line, not specified. While the second line is not identified, many people familiar with the County's plans believe it would be a Metrorail route that follows Route 28 from the Orange Line extension to the Silver Line.

I've not heard any serious discussion of connecting a Purple Line to Tysons. The plans I've seen would establish more bus routes between Bethesda and Tysons if and when Maryland adds Express Lanes to the Beltway. The construction of the Express Lanes in Virginia and their possible expansion to connect with Maryland would use any remaining RoW. Expansion of the RoW would be politically impossible. The community explosion that occurred when TransUrban and VDOT suggested extending the Express Lanes to near the American Legion Bridge forced the shelving of that proposal. The opposition would extend to rail as well.

by TMT on Mar 5, 2013 8:01 am • linkreport

I support anything that makes commuting from DC (or points south, even) to Baltimore easier.

Frankly, I'd love to take advantage of BWI, but don't because it's so difficult to get to easily from where I am. Unless you drive, and that leads to the question of what to do with the car. It's time for some kind of inter-urban rail transit to link the VRE suburbs and the MARC suburbs. It mightn't have much use for people in the outer areas, but for people closer in it would be a godsend.

Oh, yeah, and all that blue line separation stuff, or something. (Yellow, too, but that's not nearly as urgent, in my experience.)

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Mar 5, 2013 9:57 am • linkreport

All of this is great, but if we don't have a policy of converting STROADS to either streets or roads, more transit will not solve the problem.

by JohnB on Mar 5, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

I realize this is only a compendium of what's already being talked about, which only makes it more frustrating that the southeast section of the region outside the Beltway is ignored; this implies that no one is talking about transit improvements in that area, even at the county or state level.

As for raising the hight limit in the District (mentioned above) - sure maybe. But get ready for a lot more discussions like the current one regarding the pop-up house/condo project on V Street - and that isn't even at maximum height. The height limit is not all about 20 story buildings on K Street or the Waterfront.

by DCDC on Mar 5, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

If there must be a Purple Line, then I would also support connecting it with Tyson's. Or Georgetown.

Otherwise, build a Metro loop line around the Beltwway to connect all the lines.

by Chris on Mar 5, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport


The (only?) great thing about stroads is they can be converted to major arterial complete streets. They have such a wide right-of-way that you can accommodate center-running transit-only lanes; cycle tracks in both directions; parking; and wide sidewalks. Their rather wide but regular spacing means a fair distribution of such transit.

For a project I did in Raleigh, it means you can take this and turn it into this.

by David Edmondson on Mar 5, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Have you looked at Virginia DRPT's recnetly-completed Super Nova Transit and TDM Vision Plan?

All of the state, regional, and local transit planning and its relevance/funding status/interaction is confusing. DDOT, MWCOG, WMATA, Maryland, MTA, Prince George's County, Montgomery County, Virginia, VA DRPT, VA OIPI, NVTA (Alliance), Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, & VRE are all doing some type of higher capacity transit (not local bus) planning.

by EMS on Mar 5, 2013 5:56 pm • linkreport

I don't see VRE-MARC through-routing, VRE extensions, or Fairfax's conceptual BRT routes from its 2009 TDP shown on the map. There are always more plans gathering dust out there, it seems.

Personally, I think that improving utilization of the existing commuter rail and highway infrastructure (bus lanes, tolls, ITS, removing weaves) offers the greatest bang for the transport buck.

by Payton on Mar 6, 2013 11:07 pm • linkreport

@ David Edmondson
"To me, the priorities for separated transit are, in order:
- Separated Blue Line
- Metro-izing the near-DC and near-Baltimore commuter rail lines. At the very least, Caltrain-izing: 20 min headways, weekend travel between the two cities.
- MoCo BRT
- Purple line (obviated by beefed-up MARC)"

Yet the purple line will carry more daily passengers than a separate blue line, and costs 10-20%

It also will have more daily riders than near term MARC expansion. Getting to 20 minute head-ways would require massive capital investment. I agree it needs to be done though.

Further it is the furthest along in planning, so getting it done would be easiest to get it done to improve transit.

by Richard Bourne on Mar 7, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

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